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Friday, December 23, 2011

Making Time to Read

Somehow I managed to read 55 books in 2011, completing my GoodReads reading challenge. Yay! Of course, I have at least 55 books I DIDN'T get to, but I'll save those for 2012.

I'm sometimes asked how -- and when -- I managed to read that much with novel revisions and edits, freelance work, and a preschooler. I know a lot of parents who can barely sit down and read a magazine article, let alone a novel. A relative of mine recently bemoaned the fact that with two little ones under the age of four, she hasn't read a book since the first was born.

My answer? Reading is a total priority for me, right up there with writing. It feeds my soul. It continually teaches me new things about my own writing. There are days when I'd rather read than eat, and often I multitask and do both at once.

I read late at night -- I love my nook for this purpose. I read in the car. No, not while driving, but while waiting in the school parking lot to pick up my son. I don't do audiobooks because I don't seem to have the attention span to listen to books read aloud; my mind wanders (and besides, my son has taken control of all electronic devices in car and house; I'm lucky if I can hear one weather report). If I'm alone, I read while waiting in line. I read in waiting rooms. I always have a book or two on hand. My late grandmother taught me that habit; she was never without a book in a little brown paper bag, tucked inside her purse.

I read in the predawn light, a few pages before diving in to my own work. I read in the evenings while my husband occasionally watches sports; the noise in the background fades away as soon as I open a book. (That's another secret to finding time -- I don't follow any sports at all. Which is why I'm never invited to Superbowl parties I guess).

OK, here's my big secret to finding -- or making -- time to read. Ready?

I do not watch TV.

Well, not much, anyway. I watch exactly two shows with my husband. One is The Amazing Race (we're addicts and vicarious travelers) and it has blessedly short seasons, so it's an intermittent Sunday evening addiction. The other is a lovely British comedy/drama called Doc Martin, which features the talented Martin Clunes as a small-town doctor with poor social skills and a phobia of blood; it's riveting and well-written, and each episode makes me feel like I've read a satisfying short story.

And that, my friends, is all.

I know I have a cultural void. I can't participate in many water cooler conversations. (If I even had a water cooler to converse at; I'm self-employed). I've missed the whole Friday Night Lights phenomenon. I never saw one episode of Lost. I enjoyed some episodes of Mad Men but couldn't get sucked in to a huge ongoing drama as I knew it would eat into my reading time. It beckoned to me, but I resisted the siren songs of the compelling characters and lush filming style. I cancelled my Netflix trial subscription and turned back to novels.

Following TV shows can add up to a lot of hours. The one time I gorged on TV was when I was nursing my infant son and couldn't physically hold a book. I logged enough TV hours for a part-time job. I saw some great shows, but almost would rather have had the part-time job -- or more reading time.

I know there is great writing in American and British television these days, but if I have to make choices, I'm going to choose books. When I'm old and in some nursing home and my eyesight is failing, maybe I'll kick back and catch up on the shows I've missed over the years.

Incidentally, I know of people who read 100+ books a year. And blog about them, and write up thoughtful reviews on GoodReads. And they keep up with TV shows. And see movies to boot. (Did I mention I don't watch many movies these days either?) I don't know how they do it, but my hat's off to them. I'm guessing they give up something else. We are surrounded by so many options for entertainment these days; everyone has to make choices.

When do you find, make, scavenge, or borrow time to read? What have you relinquished in order to make room for books?

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Dazzling Distractions: How do writers survive the holidays?

How do writers keep writing amidst the many distractions of the holiday season? I admit, it's tough. Especially when your mom is visiting from the West Coast, and your child's school vacation days hit, which means more creative desk time scheduling. But over the past week, I gave in. I actually crawled out of my writing cave to join the merry makers. I drank some egg nog, strung Christmas lights on two shrubs, saw the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, sang non-denominational seasonal carols at the Solstice Assembly at my son's school (seriously), set up a Christmas tree, decorated for Hanukkah, and participated in several other seasonal festivities.

Here are two highlights:

I took my mom and little guy to a wonderful exhibit at the Concord Museum here in Massachusetts. Concord -- home of literary luminaries Emerson, Alcott, and Thoreau -- has a strong literary tradition, which is honored every December in their stellar Family Trees exhibit. Thirty-six Christmas trees are displayed throughout the museum, each decorated by a professional artist, and they all honor children's books, picking up on images from the book's illustrations or storylines. Every tree focuses on a particular book. This year, my favorites included a Pippi Longstocking tree with red yarn hair braided throughout, a Polar Express tree with a streamlined train spiraling down on a track, and a Hundred Dresses tree that actually wore a dress (pictured on the right). The trees are placed throughout the old building, amidst historical artifacts, and often integrated into the exhibits themselves. The Little Women tree was in an recreated 19th-century bedroom, for example, and the Polar Express tree made a strikingly modern contrast to Ralph Waldo Emerson's study. Place by each tree is a tiny antique chair and a copy of the corresponding book. My mom and I had a wonderful time letting my son choose what trees to sit by and we read about eight picture books during our visit.

The other big event for me this month was my taiko drumming performance. The group I study taiko drumming with stages a Winter Extravaganza every December. It's fun to hear what other classes have been working on all semester, and to share our love of this art form (a combination of martial arts, music, dance, and vocalization) with fellow drummers as well as people who've never experienced it before. I survived the song my class played -- it was a difficult one -- and we had amazing solo artists perform with us. That was a new challenge for me, keeping a beat going while soloists did their own thing. It's a lot harder than it looks! I'll post a video once it's available.

TOKYO HEIST also made an appearance at the taiko show too -- on the silent auction table! I donated one galley copy to see if it might help raise some money for our organization. I was thrilled to see people actually leafing through the book and bidding on it, and the pre-published copy went to a classmate of mine. It was also fun -- and kind of surreal -- to see the book on the table next to things like an autographed Red Sox baseball, an art museum membership, theatre tickets, and Japanese art objects!

Despite some lost work days, I'm glad I fought my usual winter impulse to be a hermit. After logging a lot of computer hours this year, it's been good to get out in the world, to experience other forms of art, and to reconnect with family and friends. I've fed my imagination in various ways -- for zero calories!

What are your highlights of the holidays so far? What's fed your imagination and your soul?

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Word for Teens Guest Post and TOKYO HEIST Giveaway

Today I'm guest posting at a really fabulous blog called Word for Teens. I'm talking about Japan and giving away an ARC of TOKYO HEIST! Drop by if you can, and be sure to check out the "December Debuts" features all this month for sneak peaks of great YA titles coming out in 2012. Many of my fellow Apocalypsies will be featured on Word For Teens between now and December 31. There are interviews, guest posts, and giveaways galore! Many thanks to Nicole for hosting me today and for showcasing so many forthcoming books.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Giving back

It's December! The holidays are approaching (or encroaching, or looming, depending on where you are in your preparations). It's also the time of year when many of us like to show our gratitude or give back to our communities however we can. As a busy 2011 draws to a close, I  feel so grateful to my family and friends for all their support of my writing career, as well as to everyone on my publishing team who has been working so hard on behalf of my forthcoming book. I wouldn't be where I am right now without all these fantastic people.

If you're feeling as grateful and sentimental as I am this season, here are a couple of writerly "giving back" opportunities that you might want to check out. I'm participating in both of these.

This month, my favorite group writing blog, Beyond the Margins, is sponsoring their first annual Above & Beyond Award. This is your chance to nominate anyone in the writing community who has gone out of their way to help fellow writers. Between now and December 31st 2011, you can send in a 250-word description of how you know this person and how he or she has gone above and beyond the call of duty. The winner will be profiled on Beyond the Margins for all the world to see, and also win some sort of snazzy award.

Another organization I'd like to highlight this season is Boston GLOW (Girls Leadership and Organized Women). This phenomenally energetic group runs an initiative called IGNITE CHANGE. IGNITE CHANGE gives teen girls in underfunded Boston schools the opportunities to learn leadership and communication skills, and to use their voices to  promote local change. They raise thousands of dollars in scholarship money and run an annual essay contest for teen girls (I'll be a panelist for this contest in 2012). They'll be holding their fundraiser, IGNITE THE NITE, on January 12, 2012. I encourage local folks to come out and attend, and encourage anyone to check out the group's website and consider donating funds or auction items for this important cause.

Do you know of other organizations or events where writers and readers can give back this season? I'd love to hear of more and add them to the list!

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