Monthly Archives: September 2015

Readers!

I’m in the home stretch on the third draft of my novel! With just a few chapters left to revise, I’ve started to prepare for the next phase of the process: identifying my non-writer Beta readers.

To clarify, I’ve already had several Beta readers in the form of my writers’ group, who – over the past year and change – have given me both encouragement and valuable feedback. And of course there’s my BFF and uber-talented artist/writer Mari, who is my trusted First Reader for every novel, essay, or story’s initial exposure to the world outside of my head.Love Reading

But non-writer readers are a different story, and identifying the right ones can be tricky. It is crucial to select readers who: 1) enjoy reading 2) enjoy reading your genre 3) will be forthright and detailed in their critique while never forgetting that your writing is an essential part of you, like your lungs or your liver. Insensitive or dismissive comments can be hurtful, but even worse, they do nothing to help improve the work.

Our natural inclination is to reach out to our loved ones. They already adore us, so of course they will also adore our writing, right? Maybe, maybe not. I once made the apocalyptic-scale blunder of asking my then-boyfriend to read an early draft of my novel. Not only was he was not a novel reader by nature, he was so unsure of his own ability to provide useful feedback that he simply avoided the whole exercise*. As my manuscript gathered dust on his bedside table, my faith in both my writing and my relationship took a major plunge. If the man who was supposed to love me had no interest in my work, then who would??

These days, I make sure to communicate my needs and expectations to my readers (as well as to my boyfriends). My ultimate goal is to write a kick-ass novel, one that all kinds of readers can enjoy. But I’m going to need a little help.

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* For the record, we were in our 20s and had not yet mastered the fine art of clear communication. Actually, I’m still working on that…

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“Inspired By A True Event!”

There’s a saying that goes something like this: “Memoir is 90% fiction and fiction is 90% memoir.”*

While I’ve never plugged a real life experience “as is” into a work of fiction, my experiences absolutely inform my characters and story lines. For instance, I recently dug into my own life for inspiration, and struck gold with a shower scene that received rave reviews from my writers’ group.

Let me explain.

Do you see the faces? Two dogs, and duck for good measure.

Do you see the faces? Two dogs, and duck for good measure.

I’ve been struggling to establish attraction and intimacy between two of the characters in my novel-in-progress. The consistent feedback from my beta readers is: “I’m not totally sure what they see in each other”. The triumphant shower scene was inspired by the time my boyfriend and I spent ten minutes in the shower spotting dog faces in the granite pattern. I’d done this in private for years, and was oddly exhilarated to share it with him. It was a small moment, but it brought us a little closer.

Most writers reflect on their own experiences for inspiration, but what about when we are inspired smack dab in the middle of said experience?

Just this past weekend, my boyfriend and I were dancing (badly) to bossa nova music – in my living room and in our underwear. We giggled as we stepped on each others bare feet, fully aware of how ridiculous we must look. And as I snuggled into him, I thought, “You know, this could be a good scene to show more intimacy between Alice and Patrick.” But then it hit me: I wasn’t in the middle of a “scene”. I was in the middle of real life. And I was missing it, buried in my thoughts about my novel.

So I snapped myself back into the present, and tucked away that nugget of inspiration for later. Stay tuned on that account.

And in the meantime, I will leave you with that short but sweet shower scene “Inspired by a True Event!”

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I’d always found showering with someone else a little awkward, taking turns washing shampoo out of your hair, standing there naked in the bright bathroom light. The first time I’d showered with Patrick, I stood with my arms across my chest, shivering, until he pulled me under the water, pressed his wet skin against mine.

“Do you see the faces?” he asked, pointing to the granite walls. “In the pattern of the stone. See, two eyes, a nose and a mouth,” he said, tracing the shapes with his finger. And right before my eyes, the indistinct forms came together into a woman’s face, complete with long wavy hair. “And here’s a dog’s face,” Patrick said, pointing to the left of the woman. “And a cat over here.”

I’d showered every day in that bathroom for two years and had never once noticed the faces looking back at me. But now they were everywhere.

“This one looks like a horse,” I said, my eyes searching over the granite. I’d completely forgotten to feel awkward. “And this one looks like a walrus, if you tilt your head a little. And here’s a bear!”

It was such a dumb thing to get excited about, but I couldn’t help myself.

We spotted faces in the granite until the hot water ran out. And from then on, every morning when I showered, I looked for new faces so that I could point them out to Patrick the next time he was over.

If we were going to break up, I was going to have to move. How could I ever shower in my bathroom again?


* Percentages are approximate

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Books for Everyone! (Well, Not *Everyone*)

The first Little Free Library popped up in my neighborhood about a year ago. It looked like a deluxe birdhouse topped with wooden bunny ears. How adorable! I thought. When I peeked inside, I saw that the contents were largely children’s books or the kind of bestseller that I can’t often swallow. Still, I liked the idea of the Little Free Library. What a cute vessel for book exchange!

Recently a second book-filled birdhouse appeared just up the street from me, this one crowned by an open-mouthed blue bird. 

Later when I got home to my WiFi, I visited littlefreelibrary.org to get the scoop. The non-profit organization’s mission statement is declared on the home page: “To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.” 

A worthy cause, no doubt. Who doesn’t want to promote literacy*?

I clicked on the World Location Map and saw that these little birdhouses are popping up across Northern America, with a smattering in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed that the Little Free Libraries are located almost entirely in middle-class and affluent neighborhoods; places where literacy is already promoted in high-performing schools and most of the population can afford to buy their own books. Here’s the catch: while the organization provides tips and tricks for setting up and maintaining your Little Free Library — and sells a number of do-it-yourself kits — it is up to the individual to invest the time and money into the effort. Of course, most low income people can’t afford to buy books, let alone cough up $150 for the basic birdhouse kit.

The net effect? Free books for everyone, except those who really need them.

As much as I adore these little birdhouses, if the goal is truly to promote literacy, we will all benefit if those of us who can afford to buy books do so at our neighborhood bookstores**, and then after reading them, donate them to a local under-resourced library or to organizations that directly support literacy programs.

(Stepping down off of my soapbox. For now).


* With the exception of several unnamed countries that ban women from reading, driving, speaking in public, showing their ankles…you get the idea.

** Shout out to Walden Pond Books in Oakland!

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