Reading Cycles of Summer

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So happy to see our one sunflower bloom yesterday… early in the summer a deer ate most of the plant, but it came back! (Photo all rights reserved!)

I haven’t been reading much lately. Summer has been busy with gardening and dog training and outside fun and (most importantly) time with my daughter who was doing an internship in Maine and living with us while she did. I loved having her home and the freedom of summer to do whatever the day brought, but I didn’t do much reading. I wasn’t too worried—I do know that my reading always seems to go in cycles—but when first one writer friend, then another, asked what I was reading and I came up completely blank, I realized it had been so long I couldn’t even remember what I’d read last.

By the way, I clearly wasn’t blogging this summer; I haven’t posted a blog since the beginning of the year! Actually all my writing was in a lull this summer, my focus on other things, and I have a blog on Writer Unboxed about that on Monday.

The busy-ness all ended a few weeks ago when my daughter went back to medical school, then summer extended by a visit from my son and new fiancé. We talked and laughed and cooked good food and made ice cream together and spent time in the garden. MEH (My Engineer Husband) took the week off and went hiking with our son and fiancé in Acadia National Park and was joined in garden weeding duties by them as well.

After they left and MEH went back to work, the house seemed very quiet and felt really empty. (Turns out even a very vocal and energetic rescue hound can’t fill the void of my favorite people.) I wasted a couple of days with all-day news TV binges, but when that got too depressingly repetitive, I turned to Amazon and ordered a few new books.

This morning I picked up my Kindle to read. I started with Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and was immediately hooked, but I also looked at another book I’d downloaded, a time travel novel: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn. I was immediately drawn into that one, too. After that I have The Outsiders, All Our Wrong Todays, The Weight of Ink, and about 100 or 1000 or one million more books I want to read.

Oh, and I remembered the last book I was reading (my Kindle reminded me), and maybe that’s one of the reasons I took the break… I really didn’t like it very much and probably won’t finish it. Enough said.

Does your reading go in cycles, like mine does? How was your summer and how did you spend it?

 

A Final Good-bye

Photo by Greg Wagoner, Flickr's Creative Commons

Photo by Greg Wagoner, Flickr’s Creative Commons

Online life can be strange. We “meet” people, friends, and connect briefly…or permanently. We can connect superficially or deeply. Often it’s like our friends IRL—we aren’t really sure what draws us together. Something unknowable, intangible, fleeting. Right place at the right time? Maybe something serendipitous or simply a similar interest.

Like writing.

One such writer I’ve connected with is Tracy Seeley. She was one of my earliest writer friends in my online writing community. I don’t really remember exactly how we “met.” On a blog? Twitter? (Not Facebook, I know that, because we were never friends there.) I only know that we connected deeply over her memoir My Ruby Slippers about a roadtrip to explore her past in Kansas and Colorado, spurred on by a cancer diagnosis.

I wrote to Tracy after reading her memoir, first on email, then on paper…by snail mail. I told her how much I enjoyed her book, and I was honored she wrote back. We exchanged a handful of cards—talking about our shared interests in gardening, places we’d both lived (Colorado and San Francisco), and of course writing.

We also talked about her ongoing battle with breast cancer.

We stopped writing to one another a few years ago. It wasn’t anything in particular that stopped us—not even that we ran out of things we could say—it was just that we both got busy, as friends do.

So today, when quite by accident I stumbled upon Tracy’s obituary, I was caught short. She died last year, and I didn’t know. That’s perhaps one of the cruelest tricks of modern life: someone who you’ve never met in person, who you think you know, feel like you know, can be gone just as quickly as they appeared. And you don’t even know. It feels like Tracy could be alive because I never saw her at the grocery store or on my way around the block with the dog or every year at a family reunion or conference and I never even talked to her on the phone or Skyped or Google-chatted with her as I have with many of you.

From time to time I talk to MEH (My Engineer Husband) about what he should do if I die suddenly. How he will tell my online community…who he will tell who will then spread the word. We’ve never come up with a hard and fast plan. He doesn’t even remember where I keep my passwords. In truth, I keep them on my Macbook, on an electronic post-it, but of course he’d need my computer password to see them—that’s on the same post-it. I’m not sure it would be the first or second thing he’d think of; maybe he’d never think of it at all.

I do. And yet I don’t know what the answer is. For me. I imagine it’s different for each of us.

What I do know is that I wish I’d written to Tracy one more time. To say good-bye. To thank her for her lovely book—which I’ll treasure even more now. To say how much her cards and time meant to me; her acceptance and affection as a writer.

But mostly, I’d say this:

I’m so glad you were my friend, Tracy. You were a beautiful and wonderfully warm woman and lovely writer who I’m so happy to have shared time on Earth with, however briefly. Thank you for being my friend. I will miss you. Love, Julia

My love to you all,

Julia

 

NaNoWriMo Fail…Life Win

 

The sunrise over Salem Harbor

Sunrise over Salem Harbor

This year’s National Novel Writing Month goes down as a fail…in word count, anyway. In fact, I wrote fewer words in November than I have in any month this year.

But I see the month as a personal success. Big time. Here’s why.

In early November I attended the Writer Unboxed Unconference. I learned from the greats: Don Maass, Lisa Cron, Kathryn Craft, and Anne Greenwood Brown (to name a few). See my post at Writer Unboxed about one tiny part of what I learned. I made progress on my WIP in ways I’m still unraveling. I met writer friends I’d to date met only online or talked to on the phone: most notably Therese Walsh, my fearless and amazing editor at WU; Kim Bullock, my wonderful fellow assistant editor; Kathryn Craft and Vaughn Roycroft and John Kelley and Mike Swift and Jo Eberhardt and Rebeca Schiller and Chris Blake and Heather Webb and Keith Cronin and Tonia Marie Harris and Jeannine Thibodeau and Bernadette Phipps-Lincke…so many…writers on WU I’ve known for years. But what surprised me most was the friends I made that I’d never met online. Wonderful and loving writers all, now amazing friends for life. I could go on and on because “the UnCon” was truly a life-changing event for me, at least in part because as an introvert, I was afraid to go (almost didn’t)…but I challenged my fear…and I did it.

Later in the month, I went to Virginia to see my son and his wonderful girlfriend. While in Charlottesville, my son and I went to Monticello, where we had an amazing tour with one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had anywhere, which of course inspired more story ideas; we read and wrote a lot together (they are both studying for big exams); and we ate a lot of good food. It was a marvelous trip. And…to make the trip, I challenged my fear of flying…I was only slightly terrified, but I did it.

Finally, November is a win because I am reinvigorated in my story. I am looking at it in new ways and realizing how close I am to the (very rough draft) end. I’m hitting December with a positive attitude about writing and life—and that’s bound to translate into a winning December and coming year in word count and in happiness.

How can I ask for any better result from a NaNoWriMo fail?

How was your month? How are you feeling about your writing (and life) as you head into December and the new year? 

Happy Book Birthday: Author in Progress

 

Today I’m excited to announce the release of Author in Progress, a book for novelists in progress, published by Writer’s Digest and written by the writers on Writer Unboxed (including me!!). On Writer Unboxed today, there’s a full description of the chapters in the book, along with a GIVEAWAY!!

A little over four years ago I had my first post at Writer Unboxed: I’m Not Above Spying. Since then, I’ve gone from being an occasional contributor to a regular contributor to an assistant editor and contributor. Writer Unboxed started out as—and still is—my favorite blog for writers. It inspires, educates, informs, but above all else it’s positive and empowering. This is what sets WU articles apart from what you might see on other sites for writers, and it’s also what sets Author In Progress apart from other books for writers—all thanks to the vision of editor Therese Walsh, also the co-founder and editorial director for Writer Unboxed.

Author in Progress is for novelists in progress at every level, featuring all new essays on everything from how to push through challenges to how to thrive throughout the process of writing a novel, broken into 7 sections:

  1. PREPARE
  2. WRITE
  3. INVITE (critique)
  4. IMPROVE
  5. REWRITE
  6. PERSEVERE
  7. RELEASE

My essay is very-appropriately located in the section on persevering. It’s called, “The Torturous Waiting: How Waiting Becomes a part of Writing”—because I’ve done a lot of that. Let’s face it, we all do a lot of that—waiting for agents, for publishers, for critique partners—and it’s important to keep a positive attitude while we wait, focusing on the one thing we really can control: the writing.

Here’s a tip I offer in the article: find a writing accountability partner (like I have), someone to check in with weekly, to talk about how the writing is going, and to bounce ideas off of.

I hope you enjoy the book and find it as useful as I’ve found it (and I hope you’ll check out Writer Unboxed, if you don’t already!).

Cheers,

Julia

 

Adaptation: The Missing Link

IMG_2928Today I’m on Writer Unboxed with a post about Adaptation. Specifically, as a writer why it’s so necessary during life changes to reassess how things are working in your writing life then to adapt to current circumstances—but more specifically than that, about why it’s so necessary in my writing life right now.

It didn’t feel right doing that (talking about things, deeply personal things) that I haven’t shared on my personal blog. So here I am, out of my comfort zone for the second time this month (see last week’s post), writing about something I’ve grappled with about whether or not I want to talk about publicly.

Here’s the thing. A few years ago, I wrote about MEH (My Engineer Husband) losing his job. I’ve written a lot about MEH in general—he is, after all, a huge part of my life. My partner in crime. My ummer (don’t worry, I don’t expect you to understand—he will). Last week I wrote about how I met MEH. The story of how we fell in love.

What I haven’t written about here is MEH’s depression. After he lost his job, he fell into a depression. Clinically diagnosed. It’s been hard—hardest for him, of course, but hard on our relationship, too. And hard for me. MEH has always been the most positive, upbeat person I’ve ever met. It was hard to see him not be that way.

Things are much better. We’re okay now. More importantly, MEH’s back. Really back. For a while I felt like I was holding my breath, but now I can breathe again. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a ways to go (he does, we do), but the depression is in our rearview mirror. And that’s a very good thing.

My post on Writer Unboxed isn’t about the depression—not really. I only mention the depression in passing, to illustrate my point—but it didn’t feel right to not tell the story here first, the whole story (as much of the whole story as I’ll tell right now). Because you all know MEH, some of you have even met him in person.

So, now that you know, I hope you’ll read my post on WU. It would mean a lot. Because for a while now, it’s been hard to write, and now I feel pretty vulnerable even posting a blog at all, but especially a blog post that is this intensely personal, and I could really use your support right now.

What have you struggled with that’s been hard to write about? More importantly, what do you need from me right now? I’m here for you.

Sending love to all of you, and out into the world, too,

Julia

The Big Reveal

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On the Half Continent: in Belize

I’m one day late posting this, but I thought that would heighten the drama. That’s a lie. I had a really busy day yesterday, and the only chance I would have had to write a blog post was in the car zooming to Boston to have dinner with MEH (My Engineer Husband) and our two kids for the first time since Christmas. That wasn’t going to happen. Dinner was wonderful. (Truth.)

Anyway, I’m ready for some big reveals: what’s true and what’s not from my last post but also some revelations from my life.

I grew up all over the world, and I’ve lived on every continent. LIE.

Did you guess this as the lie? Congratulations! Especially because this was kind of a trick statement. The first part is kind of true, but the second part is false. The truth is, I’ve only lived on 3-1/2 continents. What does that even mean? I was born in France (Europe = 1). I lived in the United States for about three-quarter of my childhood (North America = 2). I lived in Africa for about one-quarter of my childhood (Africa = 3). And I lived for a little over a year in Belize (Central America = 1/2). I consider myself a TCK—third culture kid, which means I grew up (some of the time) outside of my parents’ culture—which has created both wonderful and difficult times in my life.

My first kiss was with a boy named Martin, and I married a man with the last name Martin. TRUE.

When I was in sixth grade, my family lived in Kenya. I never felt like I fit in after that (part of the TKC thing), so when I was a freshman in high school and senior Martin Radley invited me to a dance, I was over the moon. He was my first date…a senior! My parents were out of the country, and my grandmother was staying with my brothers and me, and I like to think that if my parents had been home, they’d have forbidden me from going out with an eighteen year old guy. After the dance, Martin drove me home, and he parked his car across the street from my house, away from the streetlight (and my grandmother’s line of sight). I remember my back pressed against his dark blue sedan when he leaned down to kiss me.

I felt very cool going on a date with a senior, but when he kissed me I felt nothing. (True story.) Later, when my parents came home, my dad teased me—for many years—about dating “Boo” Radley. My apologies, Martin, for admitting (after all these years) that I really wasn’t enamored with you but especially for you finding out that my dad called you Boo.

When I was in college, I worked as a squid cleaner at a seafood restaurant. Also TRUE.

Seven years after the date with Martin, I met MEH. I was a squid cleaner and dishwasher at a restaurant near Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz, California, and MEH Martin worked at another restaurant with my boyfiend (yeah, I know it was a train wreck, but the truth is I met MEH through my boyfriend). Anyway, MEH came in to have lunch at the restaurant, and I decided he’d be perfect for one of my friends and offered to set them up (I was the original Tinder, let’s face it). He accepted. I was unreasonably annoyed that he was willing to go along, and I had to admit to myself I was smitten. The blind date never materialized—MEH was too shy to call my friend.

A few months later I went to work at the restaurant where my boyfriend and MEH worked. (They as cooks, me as a waitress.) One morning I invited MEH out to breakfast on the pretense of helping me pick out a present for my boyfriend (I told you: train wreck). After breakfast we went to the beach, and that’s where we fell in love. The ensuing days were not fun, and I ended up moving from Santa Cruz to Berkeley. MEH followed. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Were you right with your guess? Have you checked out Hallie’s reveals (she tagged me to play Two Truths and A Lie)? You should also check out my friend Jamie’s Two Truths and A Lie post about why she’s not blogging (I tagged Jamie in my last post).

 

 

Two Truths and a Lie

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Truth: One of my favorite things to photograph are dinghies.

When my friend Hallie Sawyer tagged me today to write a post based on the Two Truths and a Lie game, of course I jumped at the chance. For one thing, I haven’t posted a blog since February. (Truth. Sad, but still a truth.) For another, Hallie and I just talked about how I wanted to blog more (Again, truth). But, most importantly, Hallie is one of my very favorite friends I’ve met in the blogging world. (Truth.) Hallie is one of the funniest women I know–we laugh together all the time–and she has a heart the size of Kansas. She’s a mom to three kids, a holistic health advocate, and a physical fitness guru who has helped me become more physically fit. So when she tagged me, I couldn’t turn her down. (Truth. This one’s for you, Hal. Love you.)

I’m going to list two truths and a lie, and then I’ll challenge another blogger to do the same. So…here goes…one of these is a lie and the two others are truths:

  1. My first kiss was with a boy named Martin, and I married a man with the last name Martin.
  2. When I was in college, I worked as a squid cleaner at a seafood restaurant.
  3. I grew up all over the world, and I’ve lived on every continent.

Leave me a comment with your guess of which one is a lie (or which two are truths). Come back on Monday when I’ll post another blog and you can find out whether you’re right! Thank you Hallie for the push to post a blog. You’re the best (Truth.).

Now my turn to tag someone: Jamie Miles, one of my favorite bloggers. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly where I met Jamie…but it was about four years ago. We connected over our sense of humor and our kids and (of course) writing: Jamie has been a beta reader for one of my novels, and I hope to return the favor. She lives in Georgia, she’s an award winning humor columnist, she blogs, and she writes fiction. Jamie has three kids and one of her kids has the same name as one of mine (Truth.). She and I both love okra (Truth. I’m not sure Jamie knows this; I learned it today from her blog.). She is an avid runner and, I’m just guessing here, is always on the go. Will you play along, Jamie? I hope so because I love your blog posts–they always make me laugh!

Jamie, this is a two post game–like Hallie said–you state your three things in one post, adding a link to the blogger who tagged you (that’s me!). In the second post, you admit which of the three things was a lie, and you tag another blogger.

Now, you should go read Hallie’s Two Lies and a Truth post…and then subscribe to her blog. Because she’s the best. If you want a blast from the past, here’s another Two Lies and a Truth post I wrote back in 2011!

And don’t forget to guess which of my three statements is a lie. And just for fun…leave me three of your own and I’ll guess, too!

Writing as a Lifeline

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Luna and Sasha

My last post was on December 12, 2015. I’ve missed major holidays and events. “Happy holidays,” “happy new year,” and “happy St. Valentine’s Day,” by the way. I missed my blogaversary. As of February 4, I’ve been blogging for five years—I can’t believe it.

And while this isn’t the longest break, it’s the first time I’ve seriously considered stopping. Blogging. Not writing. I’ve been doing plenty of writing. No. That’s not completely true. I’ve been writing. I kind of have been on a hiatus from fiction writing, too. For a while I had a technical writing contract, but that’s not why. I’ve also felt too distracted to write.

Why? A lot of life changes. Big and small. Now, the potential for a move to a new state. Away from Maine. Away from Maine? Where I raised two children. Said good-bye to two dogs. Owned two houses. Have lived the majority of my married life. Have taken hundreds upon thousands of photos and videos. Written millions (yes, I’ve calculated), millions of words.

It’s not definite. And if it does happen, it won’t be for a year (or so). But the writing is on the wall. Funny, that particular expression coming to mind. The fact is I can write anywhere—I know because right now I’m writing from a garrison in Newton, Massachusetts, overlooking not a tiny New England town but busy traffic on Walnut Street.

Right now it’s like I’ve stepped into another life—because in essence I have. I’m living with and caring for two dogs while their owners are on the other side of the world for the month. When I walk the dogs, I see first familiarity then confusion on the faces of neighbors. Who is this woman? Not the neighbor they expected. The dogs are the same, the person not. If they look carefully enough they’ll see reflected confusion in my eyes. There are times I feel like I’m not myself. Different house, different dogs (my own sweet dog gone over a year ago), different neighborhood, different people.

I miss my friends, I miss my life and routines. I know that if I moved to this area permanently, I’d meet new friends, I’d develop new routines, I might even get a new dog. This situation is temporary. The problem is that everything in my life feels pretty temporary right now, and it has for a little while.

But here’s what I’ve come to this morning. One thing hasn’t changed: my writing mind. My ideas, my thoughts. My writing. My blogging. Which brings me back full circle to why I will not close down my blog. The opposite. I’ll be blogging more. My goal is weekly (we’ll see).

Writing. It anchors me. It’s my lifeline. It’s what keeps me, me.

Cheers,

Julia

Getting In Touch With my Inner Perfectionist

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A photo from my recent trip to California

“I need to make a change,” I said to MEH (My Engineer Husband), my feet hitting the floor much too early this morning.

“What?” He mumbled.

I have a blog going live on Writer Unboxed today. (You can read it here.) I’d worked on the post all day yesterday, the day before, too. As I always do, I woke up early, especially early knowing I have a post going live.

I used to blog everyday. Everyday. My husband reminded me of that. But I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I’ve neglected my blog a bit lately. Probably because my writing is more varied, a lot going on. I have two novels under revision; in addition to being a contributing writer, I’m also an assistant editor for Writer Unboxed; I’m helping a friend with a tech start-up company (I’m doing the—big surprise—writing; I’m also about to start a part-time gig with another tech company.

What hasn’t changed is that I’m still a perfectionist. I get nervous when any of my work is about to go public—whether it’s on a blog (my own or another), in a published article, to a tech customer, on submission to an editor or agent, and even being read by a beta reader. I want to put my best foot forward, but more than that, I want my writing to make a difference.

For some of my writing—the technical or business—that means helping someone understand a product or service. For some of my writing—the fiction—it means connecting on a more personal, a feeling level. Finding a way to infuse my writing with the feelings I have, with the feelings I’d like my readers to have.

And that brings me full circle. My post today on Writer Unboxed is about just that. Feeling the feelings. Recapturing the feelings. Because whether I’m writing for a technical audience or a more personal one, that’s important to me. Reaching the reader. Getting to the heart. In that way, writing is writing. Bringing me even more full circle—this is why I started blogging (over four years ago), to say this: Words are words. And whatever those words communicate, and for whatever purposed, they better be the right ones to communicate the right thing.

Because I’m a perfectionist that way.

Precious Autumn Sunshine

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

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