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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Faves of 2011: The Year in Reading

It's been an awesome year for reading, people. Thus, I have a lot of ground to cover.

I tried to edit myself, I swear! I just have so much book love to spread!

Favorite Newly Discovered Authors of 2011

Requirements for this category:
  1. I have to discover them this year.
  2. Then, I must become so obsessed with them that I read ALL their books.
  3. They must have more than one book out, because with each book, my love for that author exponentially increases.
(Last year, the only author in this category was Melina Marchetta, but she is SO awesome. My love for would put her on the list three times. I actually turned around and reread ALL her books again earlier this year, because I just missed her so much.)

Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna & the French Kiss and Lola & the Boy Next Door

You knew this lady would be on here, didn't you? I've already talked about her a lot this year, especially in this post and this post.

But what you might not know is that her blog is pretty awesome. And she likes to recommend books on it, which led me straight to the other two authors...


Sarah Addison Allen, author of Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and The Peach Keeper

I think of her as the Southern Alice Hoffman. Tales of magic, love, heartbreak, and healing set in small town, probably North Carolinian Appalachia. I devoured all four of her books in the space of two weeks, and I've been giving them as gifts ever since.



Laini Taylor, author of The Drowned, Blackbringer, Silksinger, Lips Touch, and the recently released, chart-topping Daughter of Smoke & Bone

She could always write a gorgeous, lush, gut-wrenching story, full of the most marvelous stuff, objects you would risk a curse to go purchase at a Fairie Market. But Lips Touch and Daughter of Smoke & Bone are where she really starts to shine, hooking all the threads together in a tapestry of WOW. Note: Taylor uses the whole spectrum of tones here, people - gruesome and glorious, so she's definitely the dark/gritty to Perkins's light/fluffy.

(Fun fact: Perkins and Taylor are critique partners and good friends! I like it when my favorite people like each other.)

Favorite Books of 2011

For Early Readers



The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless, by Allen Woodrow

Funny, evil, and my very favorite super-villain-in-training of all time. Please read for zucchini-flavored gum, scary squirrels, and a loyal best friend. Probably best for fans of Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants books.





Cinderella Smith
, by Stephanie Barden.

Sweet, humorous, and heartwarming. This book is about an absent-minded, lovable little girl, who gets nicknamed "Cinderella," because she has a terrible habit of losing her shoe. Probably best for fans of Sara Pennypacker's Clementine books.






(Disclaimer: I've already written about most of the following, so click on the title or cover of the book if you want to read more about it.)

Middle Grade


Winner of the Most Exciting New Series Award!



Winner of Best Tearjerker Contemporary Award!

Flyaway,
by Lucy Christopher


Winner of Best Tearjerker Fantasy Award!

Breadcrumbs,
by Anne Ursu

Honorable Mention: Liesl & Po, by Lauren Oliver
(They were neck and neck, but Breadcrumbs is just slightly more my cup of tea.)



Winner of the Best Humor with Heart Award!

The Origami Yoda Books,
by Tom Angleberger







(The second might even be more wonderful than the first.)






Winner of the Full of Sheer Awesome Award!
(a.k.a. the "there's nothing else like it" award.)

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland
in A Ship of Her Own Making
,
by Catherynne M. Valente

Honorable Mention: Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick
(There is something like it, though. It's called The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)



Young Adult





Winner of the Most Exciting New Series Award!

Divergent,
by Veronica Roth



Winner of the Tearjerker Contemporary Award!

The Sky Is Everywhere,
by Jandy Nelson

Honorable Mention: If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
(The Sky Is Everywhere made me cry slightly more.)



Winner of the Humor with Heart Award!

Hexhall and Demonglass,
by Rachel Hawkins


Adult



Winner of the Contemporary Tearjerker Award!

One Day,
by David Nicholls

(One of my best friends made me read this. It made me cry, and then she made me give it back to her. That almost made me cry too.)



Winner of the Best Paranormal Romance Award!

The Shadow Reader,
by Sandy Williams


Winner of the Best Nonfiction Award!
(Those Pulitzer People thought so too. :-P)

Cleopatra, A Life,
by Stacy Schiff

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Five: Stuff-I-Learned-About-My-(Author)-Self-in-2011 Edition

1. I like to make the same jokes over and over.

In fact, if I'm forced to edit out something funny (usually for space reasons), the joke will usually make it back into the manuscript somewhere. Which, I suppose, completely cancels out the point of cutting it in the first place. Hmm.

Even worse: They make me giggle. Yes, my own jokes.

Thank gumdrops for my agent and editor, who catch all the super unfunny ones and line edit them out for me. Clearly, I can't contain myself. ;-)

2. I write long books. For example, the first draft of Ever Afters #2 is 150,000 words long.

(This may also explain why it took me so long to write the darn thing.)

Backstory is my downfall. I want to give every single character a history. My MC's best friends. My major villain, and my minor villains. The grown-up allies my MC meets and befriends. Even the girlfriend of the MC's father. Seriously, everyone. The tough part is distinguishing what I personally need to know to tell a good story and what the reader actually needs to know to enjoy that aforementioned story.

*ponders*

NOTE: The draft I sent to Jo was in the 135K realm, and we're planning to cut it even shorter than this. So, don't worry - it won't be so long when it reaches the world. :-)

3. I can keep a large-ish middle school-aged audience entertained for at least fifteen minutes.

I did two school visits earlier this winter, and I have to say: I was totally terrified. I mean, first off, public speaking isn't my favorite thing in the world. I remember yawning through a ton of presentations when I was that age, and I didn't think I could handle watching kids get restless as I bored them to death.

So, I overprepared: I wrote outlines. I practiced. I brought props.

And readers, when I presented, I...made them laugh! More than once! (Sometimes, they laughed when I wasn't trying to be funny, but hey, I'll take it. :-P)

This was something I didn't know I could do. (I won't lie: I'm wondering if I've just jinxed myself at this moment. O.o) I don't know if every presentation will go that way, but I'm very grateful the first two went so well. Yaaaay for confidence boosters!

4. I don't know how to handle a compliment, especially one about my books.

I mean, it certainly makes me grin and go all warm and fuzzy on the inside. But the brain inside my head goes completely blank. I never ever know what to say. Sometimes, "Thank you" slips out. If I've had an extra lot of caffeine, I might even stammer, "I'm glad you enjoyed it."

But usually, my brain empties itself completely.

This is what you find if you google "an empty brain."

I plan to work on this in 2012. (Not that I expect a whole bunch of compliments in the future. I still chew my nails at the thought of reviews!) And you know what has helped a lot? Phoebe North's great post on the same subject over at YA Highway. Go check it out!

So, if you ever say something nice to me about my books, please know: It's not you. My brain has just short-circuited. :-)

5. I read a lot of books.

You may be shocked by this. I did just blog about how I kept missing deadlines this, after all. But like I mentioned in this post, it's easier for me to keep my brain screwed on straight if I'm reading something else.

The Stats (As of Today)

TOTAL BOOKS READ THIS YEAR: 123.

Only 34% of those books were intended for grown-ups. I obviously love myself some kid's books.

(And only 15 books were nonfiction. We know which genre is not my favorite.)

Unsurprisingly, I read slightly more MG books (51) than YA books (30), and I reread more books this year than last year.

Check back here after tomorrow, and I'll let you know which of those were my favorite reads.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: The Year of (Missed) Deadlines

Don't look at me like that. I didn't miss all of them.

I just missed the same one. Four times.

Yes, my friends - I'm talking about the Dreaded Second Book.

(FYI: I actually have a lot to say about Book 2, and this one post can only hold so much. I'm planning a whole blog series about it early next year.)



This is what I imagine Joanna's expression looked like every time I emailed her to say, Book 2 isn't ready yet. I'm still writing/revising/slaving over it. (But I'll finish it in time for Courtney to see it next year, I swear!!)

She was actually super patient with me, and I really really appreciate it.

Initial Estimate: mid July (har, har)

Actual Date turned in: December 10

I'm not a slacker, y'all. My pride just wants to make that clear.

Turning Stuff In Late is in my Top 5 Least Favorite Things To Do. It even ranks above going to the dentist. I hate, Hate, HATE feeling like I'm letting somebody down.

So, the second part of this year was rough. My brain wasn't a comfortable place to live in.

But anyway, after I sent the Dreaded Second Book to Jo, I started thinking back over the year, wondering what my deal was and why I couldn't get the stupid book in at a reasonable time, etc. Mainly to make myself feel better, I listed out all the months of the year with everything I was working on during each month. Then I realized something important:

Every single month, I either had a deadline, or I was working toward a deadline in a few weeks.

EVERY SINGLE MONTH.

(Yes, I'm counting the ones I missed.)

In fact, in October, November, and December, I was working toward more than one deadline at a time. In those months, deadlines would literally interrupt other deadlines. Insanity!

And here's the really scary thing: I can't expect things to ease up next year. In fact, it might even get worse. I thought that 2010 was the year of the deadlines, but 2011 really gave last year a run for its money.

So, it's probably not surprising that I dropped the ball somewhere. Until July of this year, I had a perfect record. Right now, it's...well, less than perfect.

Which led me to my next Important Realization:

Deadlines are just part of the writing life. They're not really going to change.
So, instead I need to change how I handle those deadlines.

This is my plan for the future:

Cut out the angst.

You would think that this is obvious, but it's not. Deadlines are terrifying things when you're a newbie writer, and then they're still scary even when you get used to a few things. All the doubts pour in.

Edit letter: Ack, my editor's right! This section sucks! I'll never fix it. *wails*

Copy-edits: What if I'm wrong about the correct usage of "each other"? The copyeditor knows so much more than me. *wails*

First pass: This is the last time I'll really be able to change anything. What if I miss something important? What if I screw it up and I can't fix it later? *wails*

Finally: *sob* Another deadline? Right now? Seriously? *wails*

Okay, so there wasn't really any wailing. I almost burst into tears a few times, sure, but mostly, I calmed myself down by taking long walks, venting in my journal, and begging my mom for hugs.

Do you see the pattern here?

The deadlines themselves aren't bad, but the angst over them is extremely problematic. And time-consuming.

I can save so much time if I just stop wigging out over the things and just do the things! Or at least minimize the wigging. Because really, everything pretty much worked out okay.

Moral of the story: Angst = time too precious to waste.

Be more honest with myself, my agent, and my editor about how do-able deadlines are.

This one is tricky. It's hard to schedule stuff accurately when you don't know when an editorial letter will arrive in your inbox or your copyedits will land on your doorstep. (Note: it's hard for agents and editors too!)

Confession: the July deadline I missed?

I
picked it.

I think I picked it back in January or February. I'd started writing Ever Afters 2, but I hadn't even started revising Book 1 for Simon & Schuster. I had no idea how long it was going to take.

But time management is still key, and (I hope) I'll get better with experience.

Let go, and enjoy it.

I am living my dream. That's a fact.

Living your dream can be stressful. That's also a fact.

But it shouldn't be that way. The great and wise Joanna wrote a post on the NC Lit blog (read it here), which reminded me of this.

And honestly, it's not all stressful. In fact, I usually got the most stressed out right before I started working for the day and right before I fell asleep at night. You know, when the deadline looms larger in my mind than the actual, in-the-trenches writing or revising.

Because you see, I like the work.

Okay, I love it. I love the way I can discover new things about my characters and my world in a first draft. I love ripping a messy scene apart and stitching it back together in revisions. In my deepest, darkest heart, I love copyedits too - it means someone was paid to sit there and take my little manuscript seriously enough to point out all its tiniest faults.

It's only when I think about the consequences of missing my deadline that the STRESS MONSTER rears its ugly head and screams, Doooooooom.

Looks strangely similar to a dust mite, don't you think?

So, I need to let go of the consequences - to deal with them as they happen, and not before.

You only get so much time, people. You better enjoy the life you got, especially when you're living your dream. :-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Life Whiplash and Book Reports

How is it that I haven't blogged for a month?

That seems impossible, but now that I think back, the past month has been filled to the brim: First pass pages for Of Giants and Ice took over my Thanksgiving (in the best possible way). A couple school visits and other events popped up next on my calendar, and revision for Ever Afters #2 stole all the time in between. (But Book 2 is with Jo. Yesssssssssss.) Then, I went ahead and started a move across the country on December 10 - driving from Charlotte, North Carolina to San Antonio, Texas (to visit grandparents) and back up to Sante Fe, New Mexico in less than a week.

Now, I'm in Big Sky, Montana for the holidays. Jo's notes on Book 2 will come in this week, but currently, free time spreads out for a few hours - enough time to blog. Of course, so much has happened that I'm having a hard time narrowing down what I would like to write about.

(Disclaimer: I still have whiplash from the crazy turns my life has taken recently, so I'm not totally sure my head is screwed on straight. Apologies for scatterbrained-ness.)

I think good books will come first. More of a book report than a book review, but still necessary. After all, some people are still holiday shopping, and some others have new bookstore gift cards burning a hole in their pockets.

And so, without further ado,

a few book reports on novels I've recently loved:

Entwined, by Heather Dixon

Age/Genre: YA Fantasy Novel
Description: a Gothic, Victorian-era retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses"

NOTE: When I say Gothic, I mean the literary genre, which you can learn more about here if you're interested. It has scary bits, but it's not super scary. Think Jane Eyre-level of creepy.

Take the sister relationships of Little Women, multiply the four March girls by three, and set them in a world of domestic magic like you find in Robin McKinley's fairy tale retellings. Add a Dad of twelve, who strongly resembles Mr. Darcy - ie. I love you so much, but I'm way too stodgy to show it. Then stir in not one but three attractive suitors, spice it up with an ancient villain, and you get Entwined.

(If you've read this post, you know that McKinley's books and Pride and Prejudice are some of my favorites ever. So, this is high praise.)

Seriously, I adored this book - it's lovely and long. It's the type of book your mind returns to again and again, because a big chunk of your imagination wants to live in this world (without the villain, obviously). Also, with the balls and the twelve sisters and the fancy dresses, it satisfied my rarely indulged craving for girly princessy things - without going over the top.

My only regret is that this is currently the author's only book, so I can't go out and find more.

BONUS: check out agency sibling Dan Haring's interview with Heather Dixon here! (She's working on another book! One with more action!! SQUEE!!!)

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu

Age/Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Description: Modern, literary retelling of "The Snow Queen" (Are you sensing a trend here? Good. - I love fairy tales, and I want to spread that love.)

If you're into middle grade, you probably have heard the buzz around this title. I heard it too, and I was wary of it (I didn't connect with some of Ursu's previous middle grade heroines). But y'all - that buzz?

TOTALLY deserved.

This book is delicious with gorgeousness. It's the language that does you in - the narrator's voice. It's about how hard it is to be a child - how change can come, the worst kind; how there are some things you can fix, some things you can't, and some things you simply must try to do. Like A Tale Dark & Grimm, it shows you the dark side of fairy tales. Like Walk Two Moons, it breaks your heart and mends it again.

Let me give you some snippets from Breadcrumbs, snatched straight from tumblr, so you know what I mean:
It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems. It was the sort of snow that transforms the world around it into a different kind of place. You know what it’s like—when you wake up to find everything white and soft and quiet, when you run outside and your breath suddenly appears before you in a smoky poof, when you wonder for a moment if the world in which you woke up is not the same one that you went to bed in the night before. Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.

***
I believe that the world isn’t always what we can see. I believe there are secrets in the woods. And I believe that goodness wins out. So, if someone’s changed over night - by witch curse or poison apple or wereturtle - you have to show them what’s good. You show them love.

***

“Now, the world is more than it seems to be. You know this, of course, because you read stories. You understand that there is the surface and then there are all the things that glimmer and shift underneath it. And you know that not everyone believes in those things, that there are people—a great many people—who believe the world cannot be any more than what they can see with their eyes.

But we know better.”

***

“Hazel had read enough books to know that a line like this one is the line down which your life breaks in two. And you have to think very carefully about whether you want to cross it, because once you do it’s very heard to get back to the world you left behind. And sometimes you break a barrier that no one knew existed, and then everything you knew before crossing the line is gone.

But sometimes you have a friend to rescue. And so you take a deep breath and then step over the line and into the darkness ahead."

The Shadow Reader, by (agent sister) Sandy Williams

Age/Genre: Grownup Urban Fantasy
Description: Fairies and Shadow Trackers and Game of Thrones, Oh My!

Best book for adults I've read all year, hands down.

First off, I need to confess: I don't read a lot fantasy for adults. I used to - between grades 7 and 10, it was almost ALL I read, and I think I maxed out. I can't stand to eat Annie's microwave macaroni and cheese for that same reason, but every once and a while, I get a craving that can only be satisfied by Epic Fantasy of Awesomeness.

Cue: The Shadow Reader. I bought it back when it came out in October, where it sat unread in my neglected TBR pile (see the craziness of my life as described above). But I shipped it to myself here in Montana, knowing that I would eventually have more time.

Then, somewhere between Houston, TX and Roswell, NM, the craving hit. I needed fantasy. Not just any fantasy, but for The Shadow Reader. I started seriously wishing that I had packed it.

As soon as I got here, I dove straight into my box of books and devoured it. As in, stayed up into the wee hours of the morning until I reached the last page. That NEVER happens anymore. In fact, I tend to read the last pages of a book first, so I don't end up reading till 4AM. That didn't work with this book - I still couldn't sleep until I reached the last page.

Why? (I have been pondering this myself for a day or so.)

Lovable, tough, vulnerable, smart heroine? CHECK!

(Loved Mackenzie Lewis from page 1. That also never happens. Page three and chapter two, yes, but from page one, that's almost impossible with me.)


Two equally hot fairies to complete Mackenzie's love triangle? CHECK!

(Confession: I tend to hate love triangles. I hated them before Twilight popularized them. I'm not sure why, maybe I always felt sad and guilty for the Jacobs, maybe I disliked heroines for leading on dudes who deserved better, but the truth is: I usually put down a book if it featured a typical love triangle.

BUT I LOVED THIS ONE!! Because the love triangle doesn't define Mackenzie, or her relationship with both fairy dudes. And the love triangle is a symptom of Mackenzie's growth through the course of the book. So well done. My hat is off to you, Sandy!)


Complex, yet-easy-to-understand magic system and Fae society? Tight pacing? Great action? Lovable supporting characters? A civil war that shows horrific atrocities and heroism on both sides? CHECK!

---

Go, people - read these books, and love them the way I do. :-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

COVER!!!

Okay, readers, I have the go-ahead. After a few hours of technology malfunctions, I even have pictures.

ARE YOU READY FOR THE PRETTY?


Look at Rory! Look at the way she's staring out at you! You don't know whether to give her a big hug or challenge her to a duel. The expression on their faces is just absolutely perfect!! The artist, Cory Loftis, did a fantastic job.

Now look at it again:

Does the angle of this shot mean that I was lying on my stomach to get a decent pic?
You betcha. :-P

Excuse the poor camera work. It's mine. (But it's not from my cameraphone!)

This is not the finished book, by the way. My fantastic editor Courtney sent me cover proofs, which arrived yesterday, and I just wrapped one around another book to get an idea of what it will look like.

AND ISN'T IT SO PRETTY???

After that, I might even have carried it around the house and set it up beside me, pretending it was the finished book. I possibly may have told it, "Hey, booky-book" a few times and waved. I mean, allegedly. I confess nothing.

And now, look at the wide view:


Do you SEE the dragon? Do you see the pretty pretty spine? Do you see all the lovely details Chloë Foglia at S&S BFYR added??? SQUEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

The cover makes me so SO happy. It's just...epic. Words are failing me with the amount of joy gushing through me right now. *pets cover*

Oh, and guess what?

According to S&S Canada and Amazon, I have a RELEASE DATE!!!

The Ever Afters: Of Giant and Ice comes out July 24, 2012!!

Yep, this is the day of the happy dance. Who am I kidding? This is the WEEK of the happy dance! :-P

Friday, November 4, 2011

Asheville, Part 3: ...and the BEST

So, the last week in Asheville turned out to be the BEST OF ALL.

On the writing front, the sometimes-a-chapter-a-day productivity returned for the last week. (To be fair, I also sent a serious email to Jo about my writing struggles, and we worked out a more realistic deadline. Not feeling like I was totally behind helped too.)

AND!!

Sorry for the blurriness. My camera is old. But you see that look on my face?? Pure SQUEE.
I am the short one.


I got to meet Stephanie Perkins. (She lives around Asheville, you know.) I went to her launch party for LOLA & THE BOY NEXT DOOR at Malaprops. Actually, I'm pretty sure that I sat next to her in-laws.

This is her second book, and at the launch, she spoke openly about how hard this book was to write. Which was very helpful to me, because I was finding The Ever Afters #2 so hard to write.

I am newly obsessed with Ms. Perkins, in case you couldn't tell from what I said about ANNA & THE FRENCH KISS in this post. LOLA is just as fantastic as ANNA, by the way.

I'm not the only person who thinks she's awesome, by the way. Look at how many people showed up at the launch!
And I wasn't even at the back of the line!!!

Reading her books is like eating candy. NOT like gorging on Twizzlers or nerds or gummi bears, where you feel puketastic from sugar. More like savoring a fancy, artisan truffle - you get the omg, chocolate feeling right away, but inside, you also taste the threads of other flavors: the mint, or the caramel, or the cinnamon. With a Perkins novel, you get the giddy, cute-boy-great-love-story feeling right away, but it holds genuineness that some romances - YA or otherwise - lack. You see two very real characters with their own histories and dramas and insecurities. You watch them work through their issues to make their happy endings.

If you have not read either, GO FIND THEM. (Hayley T., you romantic you, if you're reading this, and if you're still a fan of P&P and Audrey Hepburn romantic comedies, seriously, I really think you'll be a fan.)

Also, one more thing happened, which was the weirdest and most rewarding of all.

You remember the cool teacher in high school? Sometimes younger than the rest. Her clothes are cooler, and her passion knows no bounds. You may not even be in her class, but because your friends love her and talk about her so much, her enthusiasm rubs off on you anyway.

I'm sure you remember a teacher like her, but ours was Ms. Lillian Crutchfield. She taught 9th and 10th grade English, and 12th grade Creative Writing. I sadly did NOT have her. She left the school before my senior year - to write her own novel.

And I thought about her in 2009 - when I decided to quit my own job and write my own novel. Remembering her helped me believe such a thing was possible.

So, I SAW her. In the Dripolator. The last Saturday afternoon I was in Asheville.

Have I mentioned how delicious the Dripolator is yet? Because it definitely was.

It was one of those strange, chance, gift-like meetings. I kept staring at the blonde woman, scribbling in her notebook, and when I realized she was Ms. Crutchfield, I really hoped that I hadn't weirded her out too bad.

They also do this with their lattes.
I was SO impressed. (No, that is not sarcasm.)

I reintroduced myself, and that thing happened that usually happens when two writers with a smidgeon of Shared History get together: we talked about writing. About finding the right balance of being close enough to your family to share their lives but far enough away that you can get writing done without interruption. About how cranky you get when you haven't written for a while, how writing becomes a necessary release valve once you get used to it. About how sometimes you have two callings sometimes (hers is writing AND teaching - she is now a college professor).

But the conversation was a rare kind. It made me feel so calm and so passionate at once. It was like a midair refueling, very improbable seeming but also necessary.

So, y'all - THAT was my trip to Asheville.

Full of WIN, yes?

But I have decided to move. Over the holidays, I think. I haven't decided where, but I think it'll be like Asheville. I'll try places on for size.

Stay tuned for more of Shelby's Hometown Shopping Adventures... :-P

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Asheville, Part 2: ...the Bad...

Okay, I almost didn't post this part, because I love Asheville to pieces.

So, just know, my dear readers - The problems I had after the first wonderful ten days had nothing to do with Asheville, and everything to do with me. Asheville is full of WIN.

And considering how well my routine worked, it was also clearly the place I should settle for a long, happy life of bookwriting, right?

THAT'S WHAT I THOUGHT TOO!!!

Halfway through, I started seriously considering moving there. The writing was going so well. I sometimes managed to crank out a whole chapter in a day, and Asheville had so many lovely things.

BUT--

You were sensing that But, weren't you?

Okay, people - this is where I get a little weird. Feel free to skip this post if it gives you the willies.

Do you believe in Signs from the Universe? Because I do. I believe that if something isn't quite right, you'll get a feeling - a creeptastic one that nags at you like that thing you forgot to do but you can't completely remember. I believe it especially now that Asheville told me in No Uncertain Terms not to wear out my welcome.

As soon as I started seriously considering relocating to Asheville, weird things started making me feel uncomfortable.

Exhibit A: Sleep abandons me.

I was staying in an older, stately home I found on Craigslist - under renovation by the owner. Very nice place. It had two rooms upstairs, and I took one. About halfway through my visit, the second room was rented out, and something changed.

I think it was, because my roommate had completely different hours than I did. And sometimes, she would call for delivery at 4AM.

I hear you out there. You're like, so? Just find a new place where you choose your roommate.

I thought that too.
Exhibit B: The writing began to dry up.

This made me cranky. I blamed the sleep situation, but I wonder now... Maybe my writing retreats should never be longer than ten days. I mean, there's a limit

Exhibit C: I got food poisoning, which was v embarrassing and uncomfortable when you're sharing a bathroom. (The restaurant in question - though delicious - has not been named on this blog.)

Exhibit D: A dog bit me. Hard enough to draw blood but not bad enough to need stitches.

She wasn't rabid or anything. The pooch belonged to the houseowner, and when she saw a stranger (ie. me), she defended her territory.

It was just so random. I haven't been bitten by a dog since elementary school. The weirdness shook me up and made me wonder if I was missing something very obvious.

Exhibit E: A bird pooped on me.

I really WISH I was kidding, because it's kind of gross to sit down to lunch outside, scaring off a flock of little sparrows -- and discover that one of those cute birdies left a thumb-shaped present of white caca on the left thigh of your jeans.

That finally made it very clear: enjoy yourself here, but don't get too comfortable. Stay for too long, and dogs will bite and birds will s**t.

So, I made a firm decision then NOT to relocate to Asheville.

And then, like someone had flipped a switch, the city was my friend again, and seriously awesome things happened.

To Be Continued in Part III.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Asheville, Part 1: the Good...

Okay, y'all - considering it's been over a month since my Asheville writing retreat ended, I figured I better write about it, or I might never get to it.

It was super long, so I'll divide it up into three posts for your bite-size reading pleasure. :-P

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I have thought, more than a dozen times, that if Asheville was located on the coast, instead of in the mountains, it would be the perfect city for me to live in.

Technically, this is the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it's very close to Asheville. Feast your eyes on the prettiness!!

This definitely factored into my decision about where I would go write and try to finish this manuscript.

This is the Biltmore House. If you look up fancy in my brain's dictionary, this is what you would fine.

Maybe I've visited it one too many times at Christmas - to see the Biltmore House all lit up and sparkly, but to me, it feels like a Southern fairy tale world, like in a Sarah Addison Allen novel: old Victorian-era homes, small beautiful shops, an addiction to bookstores, and hill-like green mountains where small magics can happen, It's where living means pursuing passions and savoring happinesses. Bumper stickers proclaimed, Follow your bliss! and Don't postpone joy!

So, it's a happy place - happy in an artistic way, a mecca for creatives - full of coffee/teahouses, and vintage shops, and record places, and fun quirky restaurants, and art galleries, and stationary stores, and BOOKSTORES.

Malaprop's, indie bookstore of awesome, a.k.a. my new love.

I admit: the first and the last on this list were the ones I visited the most often.

I arrived at the end of August. I found a routine by the beginning of September:

-Wake at an hour that's not too ridiculous (ie. hopefully closer to 9AM than to 12PM)

-Head to Greenlife, the grocery store down the street, a.k.a. the breakfast land of delicious scones and cheap coffee.

-Write through two cups of coffee.

-Walk up the hill to the Downtown Asheville library, the next chapter's playlist pounding through my headphones.

This was the view from where I sat.
I know. It's a tough life. :-P

-Write until my finger hurts or my mind goes numb.

-Stop for lunch: at Bouchon's, a creperie tucked away in a courtyard off of Lexington Avenue. Or at Doc Chey's, a noodlehouse a few blocks away. Or Salsa's, if I was in the mood for something heavier. Or Malaprop's cafe, if all I wanted was a smoothie.

-Back to the library to write some more. The key at this point was WRITE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

-Head back, and maybe, depending on how much I had written and how much I felt like rewarding myself, stop for BOOKS.

It was almost impossible to NOT stop for books, by the way. Temptation #1: The library was having a half off book sale during the month of September, ie. basically the WHOLE TIME I WAS THERE. Temptation #2: Malaprops, Indie Bookstore of Indie Bookstores - literally less than a block away. Temptation #3: Downtown Books, the epicly well-stocked used bookstore on Lexington.

These are all the books I couldn't resist in Asheville. It doesn't even count what books I got on my LAST BORDERS RUN EVER. Sigh.

-OR I could stop at French Broad Chocolate Lounge and have cake before supper.

Quintessential Chocolate Cake - It's the Best Chocolate Cake I had ever had.
That is not an exaggeration.

(credit for photo goes here)

-OR head to the Dripolator for some delicious beverage to squeeze out a couple more pages and/or unwind.

-Dinner (sometimes at Greenlife, or sometimes leftovers)

-Reading of the recently acquired books, usually into the wee hours of the morning, which should account for why my wake-up times became more and more like a college student.

YOU GUYS, DOESN'T THIS SOUND IDYLLIC???

Because it WAS.

And then, like a switch had been flipped, something changed...

To Be Continued in Part II

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!!!

This was my pumpkin! Yes, those are gummi worms dangling from the nostrils. :-)
I found the design here.

I hope everyone's Halloween was awesome! Ours was: we ran out of candy three times and had to send out for reinforcements. We saw lots of green lanterns, one Harry & Ron duo, 4 smurfs (who sang), a lollipop fairy, a M&M bag, a shower, and one Freddy Kreuger who scared my three year old cousin into hiding behind the door.

And now...major sugar crash... :-P

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Flyaway

Note: If you haven't taken a look at my Review policy, you can check it out here and also here.

Flyaway
by Lucy Christopher
Chicken House/Scholastic (October 2011)

Jo gave me a galley of this over the summer, and since I saw it in bookstores this week, I thought I better post my book report.

Btw, you need to check out the hardcover edition.
With all the specs and detail throughout the interior pages,
it's lovely lovely lovely.


Cover copy:

In a heartbeat, in a wingbeat, it happens. Isla's father falls. They're racing across the fields, following the swans flying in to winter at the lake like they do every year, when something goes wrong. And before she can even catch her breath, they're in the back of an ambulance, she's holding his hand.

At the hospital, upset and scared, Isla meets Harry. Unlike the boys at school, he doesn't laugh when she tells him about her love of birds. He listens. But what is he doing there?

As Isla struggles with her father's frailty and the new feelings she has for Harry, she's determined to help the only way she knows how. Outside the hospital windows, Isla watches a lone whooper swan struggling to fly. If only she could save the lost bird, would that somehow heal her dad, and cure Harry, and make everything good again?

By the author of the Printz Honor Book STOLEN, an uplifting story about "the thing with feathers" - hope.

Confession: I didn't recognize right away that "the thing with feathers" was an Emily Dickinson quote. In fact, I didn't realize I should recognize it until I saw the phrase on this:

click through for Etsy source

I present this as proof that cruising Etsy can be productive.

----

I ADORED this one. I kept thinking about it and smiling for days afterwards.

It's rare that I remember the exact moment I fall in love with a book, but I do for this one.

The book started a touch slow for me - Christopher's portrayal of Isla's family life is so complex and layered that she needed quite a few chapters to set it up.

But then came Chapter 40. (I see you gasp out there in the blogosphere. SHORT chapters, people. Very short.) Isla takes a first, can't-back-out-now step in making a Da Vinci-style flying contraption. To tell you more would spoil the magic, but my heart rushed out to hug Isla in that moment and hasn't let her go since.

Remember Sharon Creech's early novels? The Newbery Medal-winning Walk Two Moons and my personal favorite Chasing Redbird? This novel reminds me of those, with a little Fly Away Home mixed in.

(Did you ever see that movie? With a young, brunette, pre-Sookie Anna Paquin? In middle school, that movie ranked right up there with Mulan, A Little Princess, and the Secret Garden on my list of Best Films of All Time. I watched it over and over.)


the movie in six minutes
Watch this, if only to giggle at the 90's outfits

Flyaway features swans, yes, but the way that Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light features dolphins. It's really about how terrible things can happen to a person and her family, and what you do to emotionally survive when you can't do anything to make the situation better (ie. to make a sick person well). It's about how brave you have to be just to endure a wait at hospital bedside when you might lose someone you love.

*Writer Tip Takeaway:

Lucy Christopher has mastered the hospital scene. Read her if you need to write one.

Because of the book's subject matter, there are many, but you know how almost all hospital scenes tend to feel the same? Namely: So-and-so is near death, and everyone is so sad? These aren't like that. Christopher uses the fact that the characters are in a hospital, surrounded by death, as kind of a dark shadow that throws Isla's regular thirteen-year-old girl dramas into brighter relief.

Example?

Cute boy named Harry. 'Nuff said. :-D

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Five - the My-Brain-Is-Sadly-Fried Edition

Hello, my dears!

I am still recovering from a Week of Doom and Stress and Deadlines and Weddings and then Dancing - both in chair and on dance floor (more information below). As a result, my brain is operating only at half capacity.

So, instead of writing a long post full of wisdom and structure, I'm going to cheat and do a Friday Five. I'm 95% sure that I can make a Friday Five make sense. :-P

But noting that 5% that says brain mush will win out - read at your own risk...

1. The Scariness (not related to Halloween):

You know what I don't recommend? Telling your agent that you'll get a new manuscript to her THE SAME WEEKEND you're going to be a bridesmaid in an out-of-town wedding.

I'm not sure what I was thinking. It's clear that these are both BIG, time-consuming activities. Sleep was sacrificed to the powers of Productivity. Since I came down with a sinus infection that same week, and one of my meds kept me up till the wee hours of the morn, I ended up sending Jo an incomplete manuscript at 4AM (ie. 13 hours before the wedding). From the floor of the hotel room closet, because I was concerned that my frantic, last-minute typing skills were bothering the other bridesmaid I was bunking with.

This has lead to Serious Thought on such topics as: Boundaries, the Value of Time, and Work-Life Balance.

Seriously Fuzzy-Brained Thought at the moment, however. Hence, this post is a Friday five rather than a discussion of those topics.

2. Happy Ending #1:

The Burton-Kasprak wedding was beautiful. The bride (now Mrs. Kasprak) is a dear friend I've known and loved since age 13 - the one childhood buddy who loves books as insanely as I do. She was gorgeous and poised and funny (during toast, not ceremony). I didn't embarrass her by tripping during the ceremony, or getting lipstick on my teeth, or fouling up the reading she asked me to do (Shakespeare's "Let me not to the marriage of true minds" sonnet, a.k.a. the poem Kate Winslet recites in Sense & Sensibility).

Poem starts at 0:29, in case you're curious.

But I might have embarrassed her on the dance floor. The reception afterwards was awesome. Especially after I changed out of my heels into another pair of flats. :-P

3. Happy Ending #2:

The ms I sent Jo on Friday night was missing the final chapter. That one, I finished on Sunday night, partially in the airport, partially on the plane, and partially at my dining room table. Yes, my Powers of Extreme Concentration - honed during years of doing my homework on the schoolbus - have not deserted me.

Y'all, it's DONE. It's 150,000 words long, ie. 500 pages, ie. WAY too long, but still DONE. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I have enough clay now to mold it into something BOOK-shaped.

This is a VERY good thing.

4. New Deadline:

The manuscript is back with me. I have until Thanksgiving to make it pretty and book-shaped.

I have cuts and themes and rewrites in mind.

It will be EPIC. It may even be FUN.

5. Florence + the Machine:

Um, is anyone else SOOOOOO spectacularly EXCITED for their new album? (I LOVE Florence Welch. We share a birthday, you know. Month, date, AND year. This totally makes us besties by default, even if she has no idea I exist. We were born on the same day - OF COURSE, we're connected.)

November 1 can't come soon enough for me. I've already downloaded their new song and added it to EVERY SINGLE PLAYLIST I've listed to this week.

Yes, this includes my EA'S writing music. :-P

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Okay, peeps - please excuse all typos and lack of picturedom. I'm currently blogging by phone, and I'll fix after I get back to my laptop....

ETA: Videos! Better than pictures! (Perhaps they'll distract from the typos I didn't look for...)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Clay, or Strange Musings from a Sleep-Deprived Mind

Hello, friends!

I am no longer in Asheville. In fact, since I returned from Asheville a week and a half ago, I figured I should tell you about it.

I'll write a better post (with pictures! And other fun stuff!) later, but for now, here are the update-y things:

I have not finished my manuscript. I didn't expect for it to become so long, and I didn't expect to work so slow. A couple weeks ago, I had to contact poor Jo in a panic to work out a new deadline, which is now October 14. (One week away... *gulp*) I am now in Charlotte. The fall weather is nice. I see it through the windows when I type frantically at the library or in the dining room.

But I'm not actually in terrible shape. I do feel under the gun, because instead of just writing, I'm also preparing for a wedding next weekend and also another secret thing. In general, though, my mind is calmer than it was before I left Asheville.

This first draft has taken longer to write than any other draft I can remember, and for a while, I fretted over that. (I love the word fret, btw.) I mean, after all, completing the first draft of Of Giants and Ice didn't take too long. I worried that I was doing something wrong. I thought that by handling this one differently, I was messing it up. (Ooooh, I hope I didn't jinx myself by saying that. Considering that no one has seen it yet but me, I have no idea if I have messed it up or not.)

But one day, I had a very helpful thought:


You need to make the clay before you can shape it.

I don't know how I know this, or if maybe tons of people know it too, but many serious potters make their own clay. (This article has more information, although some people purchase powdered clay rather than just digging it up in their backyard.) You add water to the dry stuff; it looks like dirt soup for a while; and then after it sits for a while, it dries out enough for you to work with it.

But it's the same for a first draft. Here I was thinking that my first draft needed to look like the bowl that it would become - maybe not the prettiest bowl in the world, but you know, recognizable as a bowl. But I was skipping a step. I was asking too much from it. All that a first draft must do is exist. This draft is just the raw material that I can mold into a real novel. Before that happens, I first need enough of it - I need a beginning, a middle, and an end to work with.

And...well, maybe it's not like this for everyone, but for me, most times, it is more difficult to create something out of nothing than it is to shape something you already have.

I need to make the clay before I can shape it. That's the thought that is spurring me to the end of this draft.

Okay, people, I'm signing off. This is the last deep breath before I plunge into the end of the novel. Endings, I've noticed, tend to feel like a gallop to the finish line. But that's a post topic for another time. :-)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tenth Anniversary: The Lit Edition


I might come across as a little self-centered as I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway.

This is what I thought when I saw this cover:
  1. God, that's so sad. It would suck to lose your dad, and suck more for it to happen on a day everyone talks about.

  2. "The Children of 9/11".... That sounds like a novel title - like the American version of Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie.

  3. How old would that make them now? 9? Technically less than 9 and 9 months?

  4. Those are middle grade readers. That's my age group. They might read my books!
I told you I might come across self-centered. But hear me out:

I don't mean this in an eager-beaver, everyone's-a-potential-reader kind of way. I mean, those kids weren't even alive when 9/11 happened. In fact, most of my target audience wasn't even born on September 11, 2001. Even the oldest kids in this age group weren't more than two years old - way too young to remember it.

So, they only have secondhand knowledge to compare it with. Which includes anything I might have to say or write about it.

Does anybody else think about stuff like this? (Am I the only one with this particular flavor of weird?)

I stole this straight off of Alex Bracken's Tumblr.

I do remember September 11, 2001.

I had just turned 15 - a sophomore in high school. Before second period, the principal called all students into the cafeteria, which set off little warning bells in our young minds: the last time he had done that, he'd announced that a kid in the class above me had died.

Before the principal got there, one of my friends - who is now married with a beautiful ten-month-old son - arrived at our table. She was crying. She said a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. She had seen it on the news in photography class. She said she was scared. I told her it was going to be okay, privately thinking that she must have misunderstood. I just couldn't see how that could happen.

But she was right.

My scope of reality had to grow a little bigger. Something impossible had happened, and it changed my world forever.

This is not an unusual story. It's just mine. People all across the country have their own.

But this about this for a second: if you're part of my generation, if you were in your teens or early twenties, think for a second how that affected you - how it changed you.

Not just the day, but everything that came afterwards.

Think about the word terror for a second. Whether you hear it in the word terrorist or in the phrase War on Terror, how many times have you heard terror in the past ten years?

Literally too many to count.

If you don't hear it in conversation, or in school debates, then it's on the news, or at the pulpit or in the paper (whether print or online). How many issues of the New York Times from September 12, 2001 to today have been printed without the word terror in it? (Someone should check that out. That's a senior year project for some college kid right there.)

Don't you think that shapes you? If you were in your teens or your twenties on 9/11/2001, then this last decade has been a major part of your development - the time when you're just figuring out who you are, and what your world is like, and how you feel about it, and how you can live in it. This chant of terror terror terror has defined a part of you in the same way the civil rights movement defined many of our parents, and WWII defined many of our grandparents.

Now think for a moment about this year's debut novelists - how many of them are in their twenties or thirties now? How many have become adults hearing the terror terror terror chant every single day?

Maybe it's just the circle of Twitter friends I hang around with, but I would say around half.

Our books are coming out now, and if you write MG or YA, you aren't speaking directly to your peers. Your words are aimed at the generation that comes after you, the "Children of 9/11," the kids who were a little too young to remember it for themselves.

Does anyone think about what we're saying about terror, about fear? It's a huge theme in ALL literature. Seriously, how many interesting conflicts can you create without fear?

This may be gross conjecture at this point, but if someone pointed a gun to my head and made me voice an opinion, I'd have to say: For the most part, today's emerging writers treat fear as a huge and overwhelming force - one that you have to confront and conquer on the personal level before the external ones. In other words, the fear inside you, the one trying to control you, is way more important than anything outside your own mind.

There are a lot of books out there. You can't apply this theory to every new YA or MG. But some definitely do. The book that comes to mind is the one I just finished (re-)reading:

Divergent, by agent sister Veronica Roth, who happens to be in her early twenties.

Now, I know that everyone in the world hasn't read this awesome, amazing, powerful book, so I'll try to keep this spoiler free:

In this dystopian novel, Beatrice/Tris (the MC) joins an organization called Dauntless, a group of people who prize bravery over everything else, but especially over every other human virtue. A large part of her initiation is spent conquering all of her fears - phobia by phobia.

Still not convinced my theory applies?

Take a look at some of these quotes from the book - in the context of a post-9/11 world:

"We [the Dauntless] believe that preparation eradicates cowardice, which we define as the failure to act in the midst of fear." (77)

"I ignore my fear. When I make decisions, I pretend it doesn't exist." (145)

"Becoming fearless isn't the point. That's impossible. It's learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it, THAT'S the point." (239)

Terror isn't about politics or nations for most people. It's about how to live day-to-day life in a world with so much fear.

This is why I'm totally blown away when adult readers belittle MG or YA - when they call it unimportant, or silly, or not serious. Books for kids help them confront and cope with stuff their parents never had to face.

Let's take a thirteen-year-old reader, for example. She will confront completely different fears than her forty-something mother did at the same age. When her mom was a teen, she had to worry about getting an airplane, because the engine might fail and there were no parachutes. The teenage daughter has to worry about that, and as she takes off her shoes at airport security, she has to worry about someone taking over the plane and crashing it into a national monument.

The teen has to worry not just about getting cancer, but about a stranger releasing anthrax, or some other biological weapon, into the air at her school, her gym, her grocery store. The teen has to worry not just about learning to drive, but whether or not the planet will have enough gas to fill up her car.

We are growing up in a completely different world than our parents did. There is so much they can't teach us.

But books can.

Maybe they can't teach us how to fix everything, but they can teach us how to cope with tragedy and terror.

And coping, coming to terms with something so overwhelming...well, that's always the first step.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

So, I'm in Asheville...

Yes, Asheville - the land of countless galleries, small green mountains, the Biltmore Estate, and Stephanie Perkins.

I know. I didn't give you any notice. I didn't even mention it on Twitter.

But don't feel left out. I didn't make a big fuss over it. In fact, I said just about the same thing to my family last Sunday.

Except I replaced "I'm in" with "I'm going to." Because you know, they would worry and stuff if I just disappeared.

It's kind of a writer retreat. Like this one and this one. Except this current one is a month long. :-D

I can hear what you're saying. Something like: "Dude, this girl goes on a lot of writer retreats."

Why, yes - yes, I do.

Because I HAVE A DEADLINE AND IT FRIGHTENS ME.

(There. I'm done. I promise I won't spend this whole post freaking out. Much.)

But because I need to figure out where I'm going to live next, I'm also going to try out new cities on a trial basis.*

Do you hear me, Asheville? You are on probation! Be on your best behavior, if you want to see more of me!!


But no, haha, so far (all four days of it), Asheville is treating me pretty well! In the half mile I walk to reach the library, where the majority of the writing gets done, I pass four or five coffeeshops and two bookstores! One of which is the glorious and much-lauded Malaprops!

This is my view when I'm walking away from the library,
where presumably, I've written many magnificent and brilliant pages.

(Which is dangerous, because if I buy the books, then I am tempted to read them INSTEAD OF WRITING. Noooooooooooo. But they have such a great selection - Even though I resisted with all my might, I bought two books from them! On two separate occasions. No, but yeeessssssssss. Cannot resist the lure of pretty book-type objects.)

Anyway. Ahem.

The only real complaint I have is that it reminds me of college, where basically everyone dresses cooler than me. So, if you spot someone who sports a look that can only be described as "Preppy McPrepsterson" among all the elegant earth goddesses and the bright-red-lipstick-wearing, messy glam hipsters..... well, that would be me.

But it's okay. In an effort to blend in and minimize blisters on my swollen feet,*** I purchased these super soft, almost loafer-like shoes****:

They are comfy. :-)

Also, I think my casual shoe stock is down to four pair - excluding flip-flops, boots, and heels (that would add another five. Wow, I have less than ten pairs of wearing shoes. That's just sad.)

But - and now I finally get to the main point of this post - I am away, and I've mentally reached the Land Where First Drafting Is The Most Important/ONLY Thing On My To Do List.

That means you won't see much of me online. I'm really REALLY trying to cut back on my internet time.

I've even taken email off my phone! And started checking it later in the day! Aren't you proud of my willpower/insanity??

But that includes blogging, and tweeting, and sometimes tumblring.

And if you do see me doing these things (especially the last two, which are more addicting), you have my permission to chase me away.

Like so:



(Muahahahaha. Now, I've made you want to rewatch Ferris Bueller's Day Off, haven't I??? :-P)

Last but not least:

HAPPY SEPTEMBER!!!

Footnotes:

*The initial plan was to fly out to San Fran for the first experiment, which I have been talking about FOREVER. But I need to be in North Carolina to get my adorable new car fixed. So, then there was Asheville.**

**Not that there's anything second-rate about Asheville. The biggest strike against it in my Book of Awesome Places I Might Live is its proximity to Charlotte. When they were my age, my parents moved over 1200 miles away from the town they grew up in. Living so close just would just feel so NOT grown up. On the other hand, I picked Asheville, because it was close enough to drive back if I forgot something/the parts came in to fix my MINI's bumper.

***SO not used to walking everywhere anymore. Bad, lazy, out-of-shape Shelby.

****On sale, because I am my mother's (bargain-shopping) daughter.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Quarter Life Crisis

Okay, so there's really not a quarter life crisis.

But I've been joking about it all month - I couldn't resist putting it in here too.

Maybe it's just a family joke: If you know me well, sooner or later, I'll tell you that I'm going to live to be a hundred. I sound like I'm joking, but I'm really joking the way that Karou jokes with her art school classmates in
Daughter of Smoke & Bone. As in, the tone is right, but the words are true.

I seriously am shooting for a hundred. A century sounds awesome. I'll be like Beverly Cleary (95), sharp as a tack - no, sharp as a freaking samurai sword, and lording over her legacy with deft skill of master-craftswoman. *daydreams*

What?! It could happen! Three of my great-grandmothers lived well into their nineties.


If you look up centenarian on Wikipedia, this is the picture that comes up.

I'm seriously not kidding about that. Her name was Muriel Duckworth. She was Canadian. I hope, on my 100th birthday in 2086, I remember to wear a color that brings out my eyes.

WOW, what a tangent.

I turned twenty-five this week. Hence, the Quarter Life Crisis joke.

(Sadly, jokes are never as funny if you have to explain them, which I have done above. Le sigh.)

But okay, I am still halfway to thirty. - Well, as my friend's fiance pointed out, it's technically halfway to fifty. But I'm not going to think about that.

If I wasn't happy about things, I could have had a mid-twenties crisis. I could whine about how I'm not doing anything with my life. How I'm not where I want to be. How I really want to be doing X, Y, and Z. I could be miserable.

But as you'll notice, I'm not.

I'm actually really grateful. Instead of feeling anxious on my twenty-fifth birthday, I felt all giggly. I'm talking little girl giddiness. Like Christmas Day, how-fast-can-I-open-these-presents joy.

You know what Sandra Cisneros says in her short story, "Eleven," about birthdays?

What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don't. You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only it's today. And you don't feel eleven at all. You feel like you're still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.
I've talked about being a writer since I was five.

Five-year-old Shelby and twenty-year-old Shelby, thirteen, and twelve, and eleven year old Shelby, and all of the other Shelbys underneath -- they're all rather pleased with twenty-five-year old Shelby. Proud of me even.

Because all of them know that by the time I reach twenty-six, I will be able to hold my book in my hand. And turn the pages. And give it to people. And put it on a shelf in my house and see my own name facing out at me - every single day.

(Wow, apparently I'm kinda proud of twenty-five-year-old Shelby too. :-P)

Anyway, I spend a fair amount of time in panic, freak-out mode. Like - OMG, revision deadline! OMG, synopsis time! OMG, copyedits!!! Copyedits in the three days!!!! There's stress in this business, most of it self-inflicted.

But despite how I feel sometimes, I'm exactly where I wanted to be. This is what I've dreamed about for pretty much as long as I could remember. If I could go back in time and meet my younger self, the five-year-old Shelby would think I was cool. How many people can say that?

According to five-year-old Shelby, I'm a success. And that's actually not such a bad measure of success.

I think I'll keep it around for the day I turn thirty.

Of course, I thought a lot of things were cool circa age 5. I present exhibit A:

This may actually be four year old Shelby.
But it's clear from this pic that I've always been a lady of taste.
Tigger, for instance, TOTALLY goes with this outfit.