Tag Archives: reading

Blah Blah Blah and Dogs


Do you ever have looooooooooooooong days?

I don’t.

My days are short and I wear stilettos with tight jeans and my house is spotless and my child never ever ever poops on the front room floor. Ever.

But let’s not talk about that.

That’d be silly.

This is a moment of disengagement. I think there’s a lot to say. Like when I was in high school, I was a closet romance reader. Bad books. Not bad like DOING IT bad, but bad like my mom got me this set of four books that had those crappy covers with drawings of girls who look sort of lonerish and sad and then some hunky guy standing in the background by a tree or a car or a dog and he’s smiling at her. Little does she know he’s smiling at her. At HER! Yay!

when my mom gave them to me I acted all cool about it. Like barf. What am I supposed to do with these?

You don’t have to keep them, she said. Janet had them and thought you might like them.

My mom was an elementary school librarian. Her best friend, Janet, was a high school librarian. Janet thought I might like them? Whatever.

I read those books, those four books, over and over and over and over and over again. Sometimes I’d turn to certain parts and read those over again. Like when he says, Ella, don’t you realize how beautiful you are? Don’t you know how much I’ve wanted to kiss you, kiss those sweet sweet lips of yours?


Sweet lips.

I think reading can be violent.

It changes you and you can never go back. All the sudden this boy, this hunky man named Chuck was a possibility to me. Sweet lips. Would a boy ever look at me and want to kiss my sweet but cracked lips? Were there boys standing by cars or trees or dogs just dying to be with me but I am too scared and blind to even see them? Why wouldn’t I just open my eyes, Open my eyes!

One time I was in Hong Kong being a missionary. My companion missionary was from the philippines and we were chased by dogs. Not every day but one day we were.

Afterwards when we were panting outside a McDonalds, she said, “I am scared of dogs.”

I said, “You are?”

She said, “Yes because a dog bit my butt. Twice.”

“What? Twice?”

“Twice,” she said. “I have a juicy butt.”

There was more to the story but that’s what I remember most. The dog biting her juicy butt, twice.

Now, whenever I see a dog, I think about her and her juicy butt. I also wonder why dogs don’t bite my butt. I also wonder why I’d wonder that because I don’t want a dog to bite my butt.

These are stories. Stories open up possibilities to us, they make things we have never experienced or thought a part of us. That’s why it is scary. It can be scary, there’s no doubt about it. When I read, I am the character–to a certain extent–and I get/have to live through them for awhile. There are things I don’t want to live through. There are possibilities I don’t need burrowing into my head. All of that. And I feel the same way about my children. They are so small right now and I find myself skipping over words, situations, endings IN PICTURE BOOKS that I don’t think are right for them. Things I don’t want them thinking about just yet. Things I don’t want as part of their world.

Stories have such power. That’s why there’s so much fear. But as has been said over and over again, we get to choose. I get to choose for myself what I will or won’t let in. What I want and don’t want as a part of my possibilities. I also get to choose for my kids right now. They don’t know how to read. But what will I do when they can read?

Carol said: So there. Freedom. Freedom for us all. To write. To read. To close the book when it less than truthful.

I hope I can give this to my kids. We’ll see.


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Part (ish) Two–Where I (Sorta) Take Back What I Said (But Not Really)

So wah, wah, wah!

Last week I’m talking about books that go too far and how people should be able to write what they want when I found a book that I will never read. It’s called Doing It. Now I remember Dr./Mr./Bishop Crow telling  about this book several year ago when it came out.

“Have you read Doing It?”
Silence. We stand in his office and eye each other in a bit of an embarrassed way. Two older readers (Chris was about 63 at the time, I was barely 20).
Was the title in his office? I think so. But for some reason I didn’t borrow that book.
“That’s all the book is about.”

I put the book on my list to read because I was willing. To read it. I never found the book again. But I *did* remember the title. So I looked it up on Saturday.

I’m going to give you the same look Dr./Mr./Bishop Crow gave me.

He’s right. It seems to be all about sex. And here is a book that I am not going to read. I’m not going to read it because of topic. I read the first two pages online and I saw, “Nope, this is not the book for me.” I’m exercising my closing-the-book skills.

There’ve been plenty of times I’ve done that. Closed a book (though I must admit, this is a skill I learned as I grew older. Like Dr. Jim Jacobs, I only have so many years left now. I don’t have to read every novel I pick up.)

I leafed through a wildly popular book when it came out and saw that the poor writing style was going to keep me from reading THAT title. Then Cheri Earl forced me read that book. Because we were going to teach a  class together. I was in school at the time, getting my MFA. I didn’t want to waste precious reading moments on that book. But I did. (And now I am glad.) (Because I can talk about that book.)  (And believe me, I do.) (Talk about it.) (The book, I mean.)

That book caused me physical pain. When I was halfway through, and saw that I was ONLY halfway through? I felt ill that I had to keep going.

Lest I be called a snob, I will read a book that I think could be written better as far as style. I’ve read plenty of them. Right now I am reading one of my own books to my kids. And believe you me, I could have written that book better. Where was my editor? Why didn’t my critique group stop some of that. (Sigh.) Okay, why didn’t *I*?

But Doing It is one of those books that isn’t for me for more than a stylistic reason. It’s one of those books that I would say to my kids, “Okay girls, I didn’t think I would say this, but I don’t want you reading this book. It’s graphic. And stylistically, it’s pretty stinky, too. At least what I can tell from the first two pages.”

I have to wonder was the book written to just raise eyebrows? To see how far the author could go?

Once, a long time ago, after I had sold my novel The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson, I handed the manuscript pages to my sister. She read the novel, gave it back to me and said, “Why did you make the mom so nice?”

It kind of threw me. Yes, the mother is violent in that book. But she isn’t THAT violent. I worried about what my sis said. The book, however, was off to be printed, so I could only worry and think about the what I had written. And what I came up with was this, “I could have pushed the topic. I could have kept going. But the story felt complete the way it was.” That’s why I stopped where I stopped, why I put the scenes in that I did, why I chose to focus only on what I focused on.

The story *wasn’t* my real life. I had written this novel the best I could, the way it felt should be written.

Same with Glimspe that’s coming out in June. It’s a dark look at things, for sure. But it could have been much more dark. I chose to look at just a glimpse myself. I tried to stay true to the story of THAT book.

I have no idea what the Doing It author thought as he wrote. And I won’t read on to see if things get more palatable for me. I was curious, but as I glanced ahead I could see that I was going to have to wade through too many situations I’m not interested in reading.

So there. Freedom. Freedom for us all. To write. To read. To close the book when it less than truthful.

Oh, so there is a truth is us as readers, too. Hmmmm.

So if there had been something more than a few boys talking about sex, I might have gone on. (Reading, I mean.) (I’ve read plenty of books with sex in them.) (Or that were only about sex.) (But this one wasn’t right.) (For me.)


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Guest Blogger Amy Finnegan: How to Stalk Without Getting Arrested

Amy Finnegan has been an event coordinator for Utah Children’s Writers and Illustrators, and a chapter president for the League of Utah Writers. She was the first place winner in the children’s and young adult category of the 76th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. As a writer, she tries to apply the wisdom of Leonardo da Vinci: “When the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” And, currently, she’s craving one of those yummy pretzels you can get at a mall or movie theater. With parmesan cheese.

Twitter, Facebook, Blogs galore . . . most nationally published authors have a plethora of ways for me to follow them, but I would never get any writing done if I tried to keep up with every single one. What I’ve found, though, is several children’s lit authors who I like to follow for different reasons.

Sarah Dessen, for instance, talks a lot about her family life, her errands, and other craziness throughout her day—I can totally relate. I wonder how she gets time to write. This makes her feel normal to me, not superhuman. It helps me believe a busy mom like myself can accomplish a lot, too.

Neil Gaiman posts bits of his personality several times a day. It’s really just entertainment value for me there. But he also posts his upcoming speaking engagements and appearances, and I’ll admit it’s kind of fun to follow someone who I think acts more like a rock star than a writer.

As for Laurie Halse Anderson, I follow her somewhat religiously. Her snippets are often related to writing, and both inspire and educate me. Here are a few of her recent Tweets:

“Revision means throwing out the boring crap and making what’s left sound natural.”

“Writer’s Block has as much power to stop you as you give it. We are our own worst enemies in this regard.”

“NOBODY sees my first drafts. My editor usually gets draft 5. What you see in the book is usually Draft 7.”

Why do these bits and pieces from authors inspire me? I have a tendency to believe things come so much easier for excellent/successful writers. I mean, look how easily the story flows on the page. Reading WINTERGIRLS was like watching the summer Olympics—those gymnasts seem to toss themselves into the air for a triple back flip without an ounce of strain. How did LHA write such a tough story so effortlessly? Well, now I know that it took a lot more effort than she made it look. And that, for a dying-to-get-this-right-writer, is comforting.

Do I check for author updates daily? No. And rarely during writing time—only if I’m stuck and need a little break. But writing can be a lonely world, and it’s nice to know there are others in the world who know what it’s like to stare at a blinking cursor for an hour, or be faced with the painful task of cutting your favorite scene from your manuscript.

Personally, I wouldn’t suggest being linked into Twitter on an RLS feed, meaning that every time someone Tweets, you’re notified. Don’t you get enough email already? Some authors post updates multiple times a day so it’s easy to get caught up in it (many people do).

The best solution I’ve found to keep up with my favorite feeds is to connect to an author’s Facebook wall. Most authors have linked both their blogs and their Twitter account to their Facebook account. So as long as you’ve subscribed to their Facebook fan page (or in some cases become their “friend” on Facebook), your own Facebook home page will show you every Twitter post they make, and each time they post a new topic on their blog.

Technology is getting pretty fancy, I think. And convenient. And oh-so-distracting!

How do you decide which blogs/tweets/etc. will help you grow as a writer? Not that I’m scientific about it, but if I were to make myself a list of formal questions, it might look like this:

1) Can I learn something from this writer? Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean I think their writing itself is spectacular, but let’s say that their connection to their readers is—that they have a massive, active, online following. Or that their publisher is doing a killer job marketing their books. If not for the author’s writing tips, would it be worth following him/her to learn a thing or two about these other things? I think so.

2) Is it a stroke-my-ego fest? Obviously, when you go to anyone’s blog, Facebook wall, or whatever, you can expect a certain degree of narcissism. It is their blog after all. But I have a hard time respecting authors who insult their agent, editor, or publishing house in a public forum. And it’s most often phrased in a way to solicit comments such as “Oh, Mary Sue! Your book should be on the bestseller list! Your marketing team sucks! And OMG! You didn’t like your cover and they made you have it anyway?” I think this is unprofessional. And immature. True or not, these are frustrations to discuss privately with friends and family (and especially one’s agent or editor) not fans.

3) Does a particular author encourage or discourage my own progress? Some authors have a way of making me feel like it was just so easy for them to sell their first book, so what in the heck is wrong withme? They have no sense of humiliation or appreciation for the process. They’re just amazing without any effort at all. Others, like Carol Lynch Williams and Ann Dee Ellis, remind me every day that this business is tough, that it takes work. Lots and lots of work. There are highs and lows, and most of the time, it’s pretty lonely in the trenches. And if this is the life of even successful writers, I must be on the right track. One day, I’ll get there, just like they did.

When I read these blogs and Tweets, I think I’m subconsciously looking for a reason to keep writing. It would be so much easier to give up. Call me needy, but I have to be reminded on a regular basis that most published authors were once exactly where I am now: so close that I’ve never felt so far away.

It sucks that I’m not Stephenie Meyer. Or Edward-the-beautiful. But I’m not. But neither was J.K. Rowling, and she’s now richer than the Queen of England. So there.

Side note: Rowling was told by her agent that she’d never make money in children’s books—not a promising prospect to a single mother on welfare. Her advance for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was 1500 GBP. The first print was just 1000 copies (half of which went to libraries). In the U.S. and U.K. alone, book 7 sold over 11 million copies in just the first 24 hours.

This sort of stuff keeps me going. It makes me believe!

If you want to be similarly inspired, check out the online domains of authors whose writing you respect or who you think can teach you something about marketing themselves. The best of the best will fall into both categories—become one of them!

On Twitter feeds or Facebook pages, there are usually links to author’s websites as well. On blogs, look for the box where it gives you an option to receive an RSS feed for posts (your inbox may get slammed if you select the “comments” options). If you select the “posts” RSS option, you’ll only be notified when the author posts a new topic on their blog. Usually, by looking at the subject line on your email, you’ll know if you want to take the time to read the post. The Throwing Up Words blog you’re reading right now has its RSS option box on the right side of the page.

To get you started, I’ll include a list of some nationally published writers whose Twitter feeds I like to watch. From there, you can follow them yourself, or check them out elsewhere on the internet.

A Sampling of Nationally Published Children’s Lit Authors on Twitter:

Carol Lynch Williams – carolbooks

Neil Gaiman – neilhimself

Laurie Halse Anderson – halseanderson

Jessica Day George – JessDayGeorge

J.K. Rowling – jk_rowling

Libba Bray – libbabray

Rick Riordan – camphalfblood

Sarah Dessen – sarahdessen

Meg Cabot – megcabot

Scott Westerfeld – ScottWesterfelt

Nathan Hale – MrNathanHale

Shannon Hale – haleshannon

Sara Zarr – sarazarr

Bree Despain – breedespain

Melissa Marr – melissa_marr

Aprilynne Pike – AprilynnePike

Brandon Mull – brandonmull

Emily Wing Smith – emilywingsmith

Robin McKinley – robinmckinley

Laini Taylor – lainitaylor

James Dashner – jamesdashner

Wendy Toliver – wendytoliver

Brandon Sanderson – BrandonSandrson

Carrie Ryan – carrieryan

I tried to find you Ann Dee. Are you not a Twit? 😉

Everyone, please leave comments about your own favorite author feeds/blogs/whatever. In a future post, I’ll list blogs and such from the many editors and agents who have an online, public presence (this is a good way to get to know these professional minds before you submit to them.) And also on helpful writing sites. Thanks in advance for your contribution!


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Ann Dee: What I Want to Write

I love The Bell Jar.

I found it on Saturday as I was moving boxes from one room to another so that I could make room for an elliptical machine that my sister is giving me which counts for the next five Christmases and Birthdays and that is totally worth it. I was moving the boxes because unlike where we lived before, there are no book shelves here. And that is bad. All the books stay in boxes for now unless I’m moving them which means I’m really opening them and finding The Bell Jar.

I read it for the first time when I had just graduated college and I could not believe, could not believe, the ease of the voice.

Okay, not really. Not going to use jargon for this book.

What I want to say is, when I read The Bell Jar, I was blown away. Somebody understood me*.

Here’s the thing: Sylvia Plath, someone who lived far far away from any of the places I’ve lived, someone who lived a life a thousand times different than mine, someone who didn’t know anything about me, in fact, someone who died fifteen years before I was born, someone like her had managed to write a character who I connected with on many many levels. It was sort of unbelievable.

Here’s a passage:
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.
From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was EeGee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and one by one, they plopped on the ground at my feet. (77)

I remember reading this. I remember sitting on my bed, books and clothes and candy bar wrappers, and alone on a Friday night, and reading this. It was exactly how I was feeling. What was I doing with my life? What could I do with my life? What had I let rot at my feet? Why couldn’t I make a decision?

How did she know?

I keep typing in passages and then erasing them. Like when her mom tells her she didn’t get into the writing course she had applied to and she suddenly has nothing to look forward to. Or when she is in her room and hears someone outside so she crawls on the floor and shuts the blinds, just in case. Or when she decides to write a novel just to show everyone. So she eats some raw hamburger and egg and sets up a card table and counts out three hundred and fifty sheets of paper and sits there and thinks and writes a paragraph and is proud that she described drops of sweat like insects even though she thought maybe she’d read it somewhere and then it’s been hours and she only has two paragraphs written and her mom comes in and asks her why she isn’t dressed, it’s three in the afternoon, and she says,”I’m writing a novel . . . I haven’t got time to change out of this and into that.” I keep writing them and then erasing them because I don’t know what this post is about.

I think what I’m trying to say is I love books. I love books that make me feel normal even if normal is the Bell Jar. I want to write books that make someone far far away think, How did she know? And I won’t know. But she’ll know. That’s what I want to write.

*Don’t be scared.


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