Friday, December 31, 2010

Faves of 2010: The Year In Reading

First off,


But secondly, I have a confession: I made an Excel spreadsheet of all the books I read this year.

(I debated admitting it, you know. I don't want to seem totally weird - like a neat freak, who organizes obsessively. I didn't always make a list of the books I'd read. Definitely not when I was in school. Or even when I started working in the publishing industry. But sometime last year, I started listing what I read in the back of my journal. And this year, I up'ed the OCD-ness with Excel: noting the title, the author, the date I finished, the intended age group, whether or not it was part of a series, whether or not I'd read it before, whether I read the book for fun or for a specific project, and also, just for kicks, fiction or non-fiction.

See why I was hesitant to mention it? Now, the depths of my weirdness have been revealed. My good friend Angela would say that I did it because I am a Virgo. Sigh. I always thought Virgos were the most boring sign ever. This may prove it.)

But because of Excel, I have some stats to share with you:

In 2010, I read a total of 104 books. Muahahahahaha. (Yes, I proud of myself. I reached my 100 book goal). :-D

But another confession: Yes, I snuck in 29 books I'd read before. Many people can't stand to re-read books or re-watch movies. I am definitely not one of those people. I have lost count of how many times I've read certain favorites, such as Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel, and the Harry Potter series (both of which I did indeed read again this year).

I read 47 middle-grade books, well more than any other age group. Since it's my fav, I'm totally not shocked by this. I was surprised that the age group in second place was actually Adult books (37), and I actually read fewest books in the YA category (20).

But 17 books were nonfiction! FYI, that's ridiculously high for me.

Last but not least, I have some awards to give out. These are not necessarily the best of the year, because I'm really way too particular to judge that. But these are definitely, without further ado, my....


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

You know when you read a book, and it's like taking a much-needed vacation with some of your favorite people? For me, this book was like taking that vacation again - with the added comfort of familiarity.

The DUFF, by Kody Keplinger

I know. I told you all about this book already here. But seriously, it's completely fantastic. The main character feels like someone you've known your whole life...and somebody you want to keep around for the rest of it too. :-)

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother & Daughter Journey to the Sacred Places of Greece, Turkey, and France, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

No description necessary here, because the memoir's subtitle really says it all. :-P It's a very good book in its own right, but I love this one for entirely personal reasons: a) I was in a traveling mood when I bought it, and b) after I read it, I passed it onto my mother, who enjoyed it too.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

This one came from my ex-roomie Angela - a birthday present. I put it off for months (we usually have very different tastes in books), but she kept asking if I'd read it yet. So, I did. Wonderful! Totally worth the first hundred or so pages of slow "good manners" Britishness.

"It reminds you that love really can conquer all," Angela told me when she handed it over, and the book also shows you how love can transform you and your entire life - even if you're a widower passing your retirement in a tiny, conservative English village.

Honorable Mentions: Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain and Carlos Ruis Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz

Jo kindly gave it to me this galley, because she knew it was totally my cup of tea. And OMG, I loved it. It has old school fairy tales (which means blood, gore, and very brave kids), but the narrator's voice makes it fresh and new. Gidwitz brings the old stories to life so well goosebumps sprout on your arms - as only the best storytellers can do.

Honorable Mentions: Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me and Neil Gaiman's Coraline

Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta

I left this one for last, because I don't know how to describe it...besides just saying, awesome, Awesome, AWESOME! That's generally what happens when I want to talk about any of Marchetta's novels: every page packs a punch, the plot carries a million different subplots, and her characters are so layered, so complex, and so real that the book hits you at your core.

I read this somewhere: a great book is the one that alters you and your perception of the book's subject forever. I can't think about a young monarch assuming a throne - one of my favorite fantasy plots, btw - without thinking of Finnikin of the Rock and all its themes.

Go read it.

Actually, go read them all. :-)

Okay, I think I'm gonna go be a geek, grab a book, and read until 2011 rolls in.

In case I don't get around to it tomorrow,

Happy New Year!!!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tales of Christmas 2010

Our tree on Christmas Eve

-My twenty-year-old brother shoved me while I was taking the picture. Then he made me forward him the photo, because it looked "artistic." *gives bro stern elder sister glare* Actually, my sister - who looked over my shoulder just now - agrees with him.

Our tree after I told my brother what a punk he was

-So cute, right? It's roughly five feet tall. We needed one that would fit inside the car. (The other option was strapping a tree on top of the car for a hour-long winding drive through the mountain highway during a snowstorm.) My brother and my father weren't here yet, so I sawed off the end of the trunk and screwed it into the tree stand myself. *proudly flexes handy-woman muscles*

-I knitted my sister a quilt for Christmas. I knitted three pieces of it in front of her, and she was STILL surprised when she opened it. (Yes, I'm v. v. v. proud of myself.)

My great-grandma and another quilt I knitted her for Christmas.
My grandmother took this pic and sent it to me this morning.

-I debated on whether or not to mention it in this post, but after last night's shoving, the debate was over - embarrassing stories can be told. My brother and I made my great-grandma's infamous eggnog. (Yes, the same great-grandmother pictured above. Her eggnog is infamous, because of how much whiskey she puts in it.) Because I beat the egg whites, I let Clint beat the cream. I thought it was cute, so I stood back and took a few pics. BIG mistake. 'Cause he whipped the cream into butter. Luckily, we had extra cream on hand, so nobody was too unhappy about it. Then the eggnog turned out great, so that made us pretty cheerful too. :-)

-Last night, after the rest of my family went to bed, I stayed up late reading my most recent B&N purchase, Isabel Wolff's A VINTAGE AFFAIR (yeah, I'm sure you're completely shocked - it's totally out of character). On page 75, I read "it's lucky to find a nail, to eat an apple on Christmas Eve, and to accidentally put a garment on inside out." I paused (mainly because it was warm under my covers and NOT warm out of bed) before deciding that it was too much of a coincidence. Besides, with my own book(s) coming out soon, I could really use all the luck I could get. So, I climbed out of bed, snuck into the kitchen, and groped around in the dark until I found the fruit bowl. I must say that green apples make fantastic late night snacks, even on Christmas Eve, but I'm not totally sure it gave me any luck: I woke up with a cold this morning...but then again, I'm sure staying up late didn't help my immune system much. :-P

- (See if you can follow the family tree in this one.) My grandmother - ie. my father's mother - gave MY mother a cookbook for Christmas. Not just any cookbook, but a local one from Louisiana. (Both sides of my extended family live in or near Texas, so this isn't as random as it sounds.) Leafing through the cookbook this afternoon, my mom discovered a long lost recipe for "Condensed Milk Pie," submitted to the cookbook by Mom's father's brother's wife. BUT, Mom says, this recipe was actually invented by her grandmother, ie. Mom's father's mother. Scandal! (P.S. If you followed all that, you deserve so many point. Also, believe it or not, the story could've been a lot more complicated: my mother has four siblings, which gives me eight cousins on one side. But my mother's FATHER had TEN siblings, which means she would have to sit down with pen and paper and a family tree to figure how many siblings SHE has.)

- We had turkey for our big Christmas meal, which means that everyone was too sleepy to reach for their computers right away. Which meant that I had enough time to sneak onto the internet and throw a blog post together.

I hope everyone's holidays have been as fun, silly, and random as mine!!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Case You're Curious...

During my last post, I actually didn't mention what I've actually been up to in the past three months.

So, in case you're curious, and without further ado, I...
  • Got my author photo (Actually, it was a bunch of photos, and I haven't picked one yet. Wanna see one? Wanna? Look right! Honour Hiers took them. She's absolutely awesome.)

  • Replaced all the software on my poor crashed comp. (I actually like the new Microsoft for Mac. I even set up Outlook, because I missed its calendar. Yes, I am a dork.)

  • Started walking again (although less now since it got so freaking cold)

  • I found Sarabeth’s jam at Sur La Table and have used up almost the entire jar. (If you are wondering why this is worth mentioning, you probably haven't ever had Sarabeth's jam. Go get some! Totally worth it!)

  • I knitted and embroidered four Christmas gifts. I would be more specific, or maybe even post pictures as evidence, but some of my family members read this blog. - I don't want to spoil the surprise.

  • Watched ALL of Avatar: The Last Airbender (so CUTE! I know everyone says this, but the series is much much better than the movie. Even if you've seen the movie, don't give up on the cartoon without watching a few episodes. )

  • Reread EAS#1 and made a TON of revision notes

  • Wrote a more detailed synopsis for EAS#2 for Jo (yaaaaaay! I actually don’t mind synopses so much. It’s more the timelines I set for myself.)

  • Was sick – like SICK IN BED and totally out of it – for two weeks straight

  • Sickly, I watched a ridiculous and random amount of films on my laptop, including all of the Harry Potter movies (I, uh, bought the box set at Target *whistles awkwardly in her fandom*) and Anne of Green Gables (Does anyone else remember this one? I loved it so much as a kid. It's the only time I ever had a crush on a dude named Gilbert.)

  • Wrote and rewrote the beginning of EAS#2 at least six times. Sigh. Still not totally happy with it.

  • Filed ALL of my receipts from the past 18 months (I think I also caught some sort of organizing bug right after my flu phase.)

  • We did Thanksgiving, and I ate a ton of Turkey and took a four hour nap.

  • Saw Harry Potter 7: Part I with Angela over Thanksgiving (OMG!! Did they really have to end it there????)

  • Reread HP7 (Yes, after the movie. The order is important. I enjoy the movies so much more if I don’t read the book beforehand.)

  • Actually, I only read 18 books.

  • But I finally finished the FABLEHAVEN series, and OMG, they just kept getting more and more awesome.

  • Visited my sister in Charleston for her birthday. (Actually, this was my first trip driving on the highway by MYSELF – at least outside of Montana.)

  • Snuck in a half-hour trip to the beach on the way back from Charleston, where I had lots of epic EAS#2 thoughts.

  • Did the dreaded Christmas shopping. (I even braved the mall...)

  • Went to my high school and told my advisor (ie. homeroom teacher) that I’m gonna be published. *grins* He was excited. (And now you know what I looked like the day I graduated from high school....about the same, actually. I wonder if Waps minds that I put his picture on this blog. Hmmmm. I will have to ask him when I see him in January.)

  • Wrote some Christmas cards. (Before Christmas even!)

  • Sent some Christmas packages with the cards. (Also before Christmas! I'm totally on a roll this year.)

  • Helped my mom and dad put on a company party for 30+ people (Except for the meat plates, Mom and I made all the food. I swear, my arms are STILL sore from mashing those potatoes. In fact, we may still have some of those mashed potatoes.)

  • Relocated to Montana for Christmas and New Year's, which is where I am now. I am aiming to write as much as possible (Hmmmmmm. So far it's working pretty well, I'd say) AND to reach my goal of reading 100 books this year (two more to go!).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

After the Race

I know. I've been completely MIA for - *pops out to check archive* - over a month and a half.

(I haven't even been tweeting regularly. Seriously, how hard can 130 characters be?)

A part of me is ashamed of my bad blogging self. But a bigger part of me acknowledges that stepping away was completely necessary.

In the fall, I hit a major milestone: my first deal. This was a dream that was nineteen years in the making. (I would say twenty-four years in the making, but that would be cheating. Before the age of five, I technically didn't know what a writer was.) I had every expectation - every inclination - to jump in the blogging pool and swim some victory laps...ahem, I mean, write inspirational, moving posts.

But I didn't.

Instead, it really felt like finishing a race. Not a nineteen-year race, because that's just silly. But a fourteen-month race, one that started July 2009 when I first had the idea for EAS and realized that this was the story that begged me to try to get it published. (Previously, I had only written for myself and writer workshops and maybe a small circle of trusted, book-loving friends.)

To be more specific, getting published is like one of those long distance races - the endurance events where your time almost doesn't matter: only getting to the finish line is important.

Those of you who have been in races - both the running and the publishing kind - can see while the analogy comes in handy. You have this goal (to finish/get published), but if you're like me, the big goal is was too overwhelming to approach head-on. You have to break it down into smaller goals. In other words, while you're running and running, your vision tunnels to one thing - the next mile-marker, and a voice chants in your head, Come on. Keep going. If you can get to that sign post, the one where people are cheering, you'll be a quarter of the way. There won't that be awesome? (And then, if you're me, you also promise yourself that you can stop, take a short break, and catch your breath. But maybe that's just me. I'm a terrible runner. I have to lie to myself to trick my body into not stopping.)

These were my "mile-markers:"
Now, I don't know how it is for other people, but for me, the last fourth of the race is always, always complete hell. My entire mind is reduced to the thud of my feet against the asphalt, the stitch in my side, my ragged breathing, and the effort of forcing one leg to move, then the next, and the next, and the next...

My eyes may be on the finish line, but despite my determination to get there, I am fully aware that my body - or in the case of this extended metaphor, my manuscript - may give out. For some races, it's simply not your day to reach the finish line. You'll have to stop, cut your losses, regroup, and start the race all over again on another day (usually with a completely different manuscript).

I don't know any of these girls,
but I wish I could run like them.

I lucked out. With the hard work of the amazing Jo, my manuscript made it to the finish line...and took me along with it.

The finish line feeling is pretty cool: the people closest to you are patting your shoulder telling you what a good job you did, but your body still feels like you're running. You kind of can't believe that the race is actually over; your blood is thumping in your ears; and you have to take a few moments to get air back in your lungs and slow your breathing before you can actually talk to people.

I barely remember the day the deal happened; the strongest memory is a sense of disbelief and breathlessness.

But the really, really awesome feeling is a few minutes after the finish line/days after the deal: the endorphin hits you like a ton of deliriously happy bricks. You feel relief. You feel triumph! You made it! You accomplished your goal. You have so much energy - more than you expected to have after a long race. The world is at your feet, and nothing is your life is impossible. This is when most of the best celebrating happens.

(And I'm sorry, dear blog reader. I didn't post anything in the celebratory phase besides the announcement post. A lot of the elation was spent dancing around in random places and treating myself to way more Pinkberry than is healthy.)

And then, something else happened. It happened to me the same way that it happens after finishing a race, but I haven't heard about it happening to others. (Maybe I was in the unique position: I had the book deal, but since I didn't need to start revising right away, I had some free time.) ((Or maybe I just haven't been in the blogosphere for a while.))

After running a race, after the elated period, the endorphins wear off, and all you can think about is bed. Maybe you also debate about how necessary it is for you to take a shower and rinse off the race sweat before climbing under the covers, but bottom line: you need sleep, and you need it ASAP.

Actually, this is me. I think.
Probably before the age of 2.
(I don't have many pics of myself sleeping - go figure. :-P)

Readers, a week or so after the book deal, I crashed - completely exhausted.

I have workaholic tendencies. (I'm not sure if I mentioned this or not - I hesitate to mention it now. I have a no complaining policy on this blog, and writing this comes pretty darn close.)

For a long time this summer, I didn't even pay attention to to how much time I spent working. I took breaks only to visit the gym, or to take pictures of the bear, to watch SYTYCD, or to call my parents and tell them that I didn't get eaten by the bear. Realizing something is wrong, I started to keep track of my hours in July, and I sincerely hope that it was the height of my unhealthy pace: I spent 10-14 hours a day working at my revising desk. I didn't take weekends. I actually only took three days off that month, and two of them, I spend driving to and around town for supplies.

(This was the last fourth of the race, the difficult part.)

Anyway, after the deal, early in October, I was so worn-out that I actually told Jo that was going to take a month off, because I didn't know when I would get another opportunity to take a break. I did, and it was enormously helpful.

But my body was greedy and wanted more rest. When I jumped right back into work early in November, I quickly got a virus. Which turned into a sinus infection, and I spent two solid weeks in bed. Feverish. Reduced to a diet of soup, Motrin, and as many movies and TV-via-internet shows as my computer would allow.

Now that I've recovered and have moved past the crashed stage, a completely new feeling has taken over. You know, like the day after the race - when you put Band-Aids on all your blisters, put up your running shoes, and start tackling all the errands and the homework you made an executive decision to ignore until you passed that finish line (or not). You still feel good - ahem, just a wee step down from giddy - about what you've accomplished, but the tunnel vision has disappeared. You have other things to do.

Let's call it the Okay, now what? feeling.

Part of the answer is obvious. I was extraordinarily lucky: I have a two-book deal, which means I have one ms to revise and another to write (and then revise). That part is well underway. (Woot!) I'm confident that I can handle that.

Another part of the answer is just as obvious: after the past year, I can see that the work isn't the problem. It's the way I work. I can't spend the rest of my life working at the pace I did in 2010. So, I'm trying to strike a healthy balance between working and living. (I was happy to see some awesome posts, where other industry peeps encourage others to do this: Veronica Roth, Molly O'Neill, and Meredith Barnes.)

Here's where we get to the murky part.

I have finished the race. I have accomplished my dream - a dream, you remember, has been nineteen years in the making. I won't lie. This dream has defined most of my life - at least the parts I had control over. I can be shockingly single-minded like that.

Even though I still feel incredibly lucky and blessed, the question I keep asking myself is "Okay, now what?"

I don't have the answer.

At least, I don't have a complete one. Not yet. But I do know this: dreams change and grow, same as people do. Yes, I have accomplished the dream of becoming a published writer. But the dreaming has not stopped. Now that goal has been reached, I'm uncovering a whole bunch of dreams that were less pressing. I'm starting to realize, Now that I am an author (*grins*), I have to discover what kind of writer I am...and what kind I want to become.

That's no small feat. Especially when you're only twenty-four and you're just now beginning to understand who you are as a person - let alone what you have to offer as a writer.

I will be honest. It scares the heck out of me. But so did leaving New York, and querying, and going on submission.

It's just another race, really. But this one is even longer. Maybe as long as a lifetime.

Wish me luck.

Because I have ever intention of taking all of you with a blogging way, of course. :-P