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stephanieburgis August 22 2014, 19:34

A Friday Chapter

Happy Friday! I've just uploaded one more chapter of Courting Magic to my website, so you can now read both of the first two chapters free online.

(I actually meant to do this almost a week ago. Oops. The downside of publishing a book while on family vacation...)

I hope you enjoy both chapters! And here's the lovely graphic that Patrick made me for the occasion. :)

kellyrfineman August 21 2014, 16:02

It's a mental health day

Perhaps this won't make sense to anyone but me, but I am taking a mental health day today. (If you're not familiar with the term, it's a day taken off work just to have a day off work, not for any other purpose.)

"But Kelly," you say, "you don't have an actual job."

You have a point, of course, since my writing job is entirely self-appointed, and the other jobs I do are of the cooking/taking care of the house and yard variety.

But I find myself restless and unsettled and vaguely put-out (for no apparent reason, although maybe it's something planetary or biorhythmic). Also, a bit tired. Also-also, my rheumatologist confirmed yesterday that I am a tense mess (my lower back is a board, yo), and the list of painful joints was essentially all of them, so there's that as well. All of which may explain the earlier portion of the paragraph, except that they've been a constant for a while now, and I haven't felt this particular way until today.

At any rate, whether my issues are mental or physical (or both), I am taking today off. No must-dos at all.

Of course, this means that I immediately wanted to write something – hence this post. But I have decided that nothing today is a "have-to", and that has freed me up to do whatever I want, which includes writing, the mere idea of which felt appalling before I decreed the mental health day. I suppose it's a form of reverse psychology, though I never told myself I couldn't write today. And I am quite excited to be making prime rib for dinner tonight. (As of now, that's the entire dinner menu. Hmm. Probably that will change.)

Perhaps I will do a bit of crafting. Or watch a movie. Or paint my toenails. Or go shopping, just to go out. Or perhaps I will do none of those things. There's a bit of adventure in not knowing what I'll decide to do next, even though none of the likely choices are especially exciting in and of themselves. But I sort of think that's the point of a mental health day.

Have you taken one lately? Do you need one? Can you manage to take one if you do? If you can't manage a full day, can you manage a morning or an afternoon to yourself?

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carriejones August 21 2014, 15:25

Why Revising a Novel is Like A Carwash Fundraiser

Why Revising a Novel is Like A Firefighter Carwash

No. Really it is.

So, usually when I start revising a book, I feel like this:

This is the person organizing the fundraiser, which was a bunch of firefighters washing cars to raise money for Dana Farber's efforts to eradicate cancer. Notice how she has money in her hand? That's sort of like an author after the publisher buys her book and gives her an advance. Also, notice how she is hunkering down with her hands raised? This is because she is totally overwhelmed because she now has to REVISE her book.

Okay... Which brings us to this stage... See this guy? He has started actually revising or as I like to call it SUDSING UP THE SUV.
He's working hard. He's lightly touching the handle of the door for balance or in case he needs to escape all the suds... Because, seriously? LOOK AT ALL THE SUDS! These are all the corrections and insertions that need to be done, all the track changes. It is the cleaning up of the dirt, eradicating the mistakes...

How the heck is he ever going to manage this?
No. Seriously. HOW?

Because it isn't just about the suds it is about GETTING RID OF ALL THE SUDS, which I call the HOSING OFF! This is where the author is like, "Holy cannoli, I used the word, LOOK, 847 times in an 87,000 word manuscript. Whimper.

 But the HOSING OFF stage is okay. I promise, because it makes us better writers with better vocabularies. It makes us rethink the moments where we use weak words, our go-to words, and we hose them the heck out of there to make a cleaner, stronger SUV... I mean book.

Plus, it defines our forearms as evidenced by the above firefighter. Managing a hose (or a vocabulary) is hard work. It builds up muscle.

And it's also about the next stage, REFINING, paying attention to detail or as I like to call it CLEANING THE RIMS OF YOUR TIRE THINGIES... Hubcaps? Those are hubcaps, right? Obviously, my vocabulary skills still need some work.
This stage of revising is that part where you go through the manuscript all over again and again, look for plot holes, repetition, emotional depth, inconsistencies in logic, all that arch stuff (internal, physical, emotional), and more. This is the nitty-gritty part. It requires bending and a soft, bright blue cloth.

And it seems overwhelming, right? It seems almost impossible? But it's not. And do you know why it's not? Because you are not alone.


Just like these firefighters working on a policeman's car, washing it clean, aren't alone, YOU the writer aren't alone either. There is an editor, a copy editor, sometimes beta readers, sometimes teachers, sometimes agents, readers, your check-out clerk at the grocery store, publicists, marketing people, random friends with ideas, women at bars, random blogs with suggestions, all sorts of people out there at the computer with you, helping your brain to gather all the things you have ever learned to make the right choices, the strongest choices to get the cleanest car story that you can have.

That's so cool, isn't it?

So, often writers go into revision feeling like we are all alone. But we never are. There is a community of people present, and learning past, that is right there with us, hosing off, detailing, worrying, and cleaning. At least that's what I tell myself when I start to feel lonely and worry and get scared.

I get scared all the time. That's okay. We all do.

*These pictures are all from the Bar Harbor (Maine) Fire Department's Car Wash this Spring where firefighters cleaned cars to raise money to support Dana-Farber's efforts to eradicate cancer. Our past fire chief, David Rand, died of cancer yesterday. He was a great loss, a hero, a man who served. The entire community will miss him. My deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends.
kellyrfineman August 20 2014, 21:06

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

Well it's all tra la la and hey nonny no around here, now that I've read The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, the 13th (and penultimate) book in the Pink Carnation series.

You should know up front that the only beefs I have with this series are: 1. I sometimes have to wait a year or more! for the next title to come out; and 2. For reasons known best to the publisher, they quit issuing books in hardcover with the 12th book, which makes for an inconvenient collection on my shelf, because OF COURSE I KEEP THEM ALL -- I RE-READ THEM, for Turnip's sake!

Speaking of Turnip, which I was just now and also with the "hey nonny no" business, this new book is all about his headstrong younger sister, Sally, whom we met in Turnip's (and Arabella's) book, The Mystery of the Mistletoe, involving Jane Austen, spies, and Christmas puddings. But I digress.

Major kudos to Willig for sneaking in references to The Princess Bride, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, and more (I didn't take notes, though I noted the references as I read - I shall undoubtedly re-read it quite soon, and figure out what others I've forgotten), and for the inspired addition of a stoat to the book at the behest of Justin Zaremby, according to the author's note.

The modern-day woman who sets the frame for the Regency stuff, Eloise, is back in the States, working on her thesis and teaching students. She misses her British boyfriend, Colin, and that is not all that is off/wrong. Their story was actually pretty adorable in this book, and sets up the final book fairly nicely. Meanwhile, there's the story that gives the book its title, which features Sally Fitzhugh and Lucien, Duke of Belliston.

Sally is in her second Season, and is quite bored with the whole thing and finding life a bit flat. It's set-up is quite similar to that of Sarah Maclean's The Season, a YA title which I loved when it came out in 2009 (and would STILL love to see sequels for!), which is the reason I picked up the Pink Carnation books in the first place (on Sarah's recommendation!). But I sort of digress: Sally goes outside at a ball, notices that there are lights on in the formerly neglected town house of the neighboring noble, and heads on over to investigate, meeting our hero (the aforementioned mysterious noble) while trespassing on his grounds. Perhaps it's a tried-and-true Regency meet-cute, but this is only the second time I recall seeing it in a book. Anyhoo . . .

This book adds a wrinkle to things, and allows Willig to critique the sorts of things that happen in response to popular literature, such as Miss Gwen's The Convent of Orsino (reference throughout the series, but most clearly in The Passion of the Purple Plumeria), which included, among other things, a vampire. You see, there are rumors swirling that the noble, the Duke of Belliston, is, in fact, a vampire. And/or a bloodthirsty madman. And/or the product of a cursed lineage. Sally is fairly certain that he's none of those things, and when someone tries to frame him for murder, she sets out to prove his innocence. As one does. The book is funny and smart and a complete page-turner, as per usual. I raced through it yesterday, start to finish, and am already looking forward to a second reading, and to picking up a couple others of my favorites from this series (as I am wont to do when I remember how very delightful they are).

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stephanieburgis August 20 2014, 01:02

Being home (a rambling update)

So, it's been a pretty intense couple of weeks, in a lot of ways. This summer was the first time my brothers and parents and I have been all together in about 7 years, and the first time we've ever been together as a whole group with my children. It was amazing. But then, of course, I had to say goodbye to both brothers, one by one, and to my wonderful new sister-in-law, too, as they flew back to their two different homes around the world. It was hard.

Being back in Michigan for the first time in so long has been so fantastic and fun and enriching - and also hard, because of course it reminds me how much I love it here, something I'd forced myself to ignore or forget over the years because there was no point in remembering it when I couldn't afford (or couldn't manage, for other reasons) to visit. I'm crossing my fingers like mad that we'll manage to make this summer visit a yearly tradition. That would be wonderful for so many reasons, including my simple, selfish homesickness.

Being an ex-pat and a dual citizen is wonderful, and - I'm a repeating record here today! - it's hard, too. I truly love both countries. I feel at home in both places in different ways. We're settled and rooted in the UK now, but I'll never stop loving and missing America. I want to come back regularly, and I'm scared - no, honestly, I'm terrified, to the point where I feel sick whenever I let myself think about it - that that won't be possible, financially. Oh, this is where I curse our unreliable freelance income!

Anyway. I don't want to ramble too much, but you get the idea...and also, I feel a bit odd about only posting the fun publishing stuff when there have been such complex emotions shifting around inside me as we approach the end of our visit.

(Also, Baby X is teething like mad - he's popped out three new teeth in the last few weeks and is still NOT done - so I'm really exhausted, which is more than enough to make me melancholy.)

But! There have also been so many great moments, even in the time since my wonderful brothers and sister-in-law all left. I've spent time with some of my oldest and closest friends from childhood; I got to catch up with the woman who was one of the most important mentors of my life; I've been sharing my kids with my parents, which is such a genuine treat for all of us.

I haven't been doing much writing, unfortunately, because Patrick has a big deadline for his upcoming novel (which is available for pre-order at The Book Depository, Books-A-Million, B&N and elsewhere NOW! Soooooo awesome!), so I'm finally getting the chance to pay him back for all the times he supported me during my own book deadlines by shifting into being the main childcare person for the duration. (Luckily, that job is made SO much easier for me since we're currently staying with my parents!)

However, I did draft a new short-short story one evening earlier this week, when I fled to a coffee shop for an hour, and I'm in the middle of another new story, which I'd love to finish sometime in the next week or two, so those small projects are keeping my writer-self mostly balanced. But of course I am SO looking forward to having more writing time so that I can really sink into bigger projects again.

And I can't possibly end this entry without saying: thank you SO MUCH to everyone who's signal-boosted, read or reviewed Courting Magic over the past week. I can't tell you how much it means to me. I love, love, love hearing that it's connected with readers. Thank you.
kellyrfineman August 19 2014, 17:00

Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

Dear Readers,

You really should get your hands on this graphic novel for the younger set, which is, for all intents and purposes, a most excellent picture book (there, I said it). It includes multiple panels on some pages, but nothing that's difficult to follow, and it should therefore not deter a single soul that it is technically a graphic novel and not a picture book.

The plot is adorable. The art is adorable-er. Julia moves to town (her house, it should be noted, moves with her on the back of an enormous tortoise, which is never mentioned but can be seen on the interior title page), and settles in, and finds that things are a bit too quiet. So she does what anyone might do, and puts out a sign that reads "Julia's House for Lost Creatures".

The first to arrive is an adorable patchwork kitty named "Patched Up Kitty". It has odd behaviors, but is excellent company. Next comes "a very sad troll", followed by a host of creatures, most of them mythical in nature.

Don't you just love it?

Needless to say, things go terribly wrong before they get set right again by use of another sign - this one establishing a variety of chores for the house's many inhabitants. Julia makes one final sign at the end of the book, this time seeking someone for repairs, odd jobs, and plumbing. The call for help is answered by someone(s) who look a lot like Hatke's Little Robot.

If you are looking for fun or whimsy, this is your book. If you are looking for a great bedtime story or a rollicking tale, this is also your book. If you are looking for a (gentle) lesson on cooperation and possibly delegation of tasks, guess what? That's right - this is your book. If you are looking for a not-Halloweeny Halloween-like title, this is also your book. If you like mythological creatures like mermaids and trolls and folletti, . . . well, you already know what I'm going to say.

It is magical and adorable and special and I am only sad that I am in possession of an Advance Reader's Edition (thanks to the good folks at :01 First Second), and not a finished copy of the book, because the ARC isn't holding up to repeated hugging the way I believe the final, hardcover edition will when this book goes on sale in mid-October. (The 14th, to be precise, but perhaps it will be available early? Because really, you want this book. Stat.) I know that I'm putting the date on my calendar because I really need to replace this advance copy with the real thing.

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carriejones August 19 2014, 12:06

My tweets

  • Mon, 17:09: RT @malie129: @carriejonesbook Hi, nice to meet you. I'm trying to turn collab writing into a fun game. Playful, challenges creativity. pls…
  • Mon, 18:54: Overheard quote - people think I am so serious, but I just made up four songs changing the word heart for shart.
  • Mon, 18:54: RT @NYTArchives: 94 years ago today, with ratification of 19th amendment, US women gained federal right to vote http://t.co/dsIrpNlcPZ http…
cynthialord August 18 2014, 12:01

Downeast Maine

I spent the weekend way downeast in Maine at the Machias Blueberry Festival and taking photos to use in my school visits one day for my next novel, A Handful of Stars, which is set in that area.

This is wild blueberry country. The blueberries have just the right conditions and they grow in huge barrens.

Miles and miles of them.

At the Machias Blueberry Festival there were lots of lots of booths selling all kinds of things.

I bought a small one. Yum!

Seaglass is in Touch Blue and loons are in Half A Chance, so I had to have one of these!

It's a beautiful part of the world.

carriejones August 18 2014, 01:38

The Ice Bucket Challenge is Not Evil or Why I'm Not Cool With People Calling Other People Sheeple

Okay, here's the thing.

I was totally going to write about revising, but I am tired of people judging other people when they don't know their stories.

For example, there is a lot of judging about the ALS ice-bucket challenge, where people are called out to give $100 to support efforts to negate ALS. Instead, they can dump ice water over their heads and give $10 instead, while calling out other people to do the challenge, thus spreading it all around social media.

And now there are a bunch of people saying that the challenge is:

1. Ridiculous (They use stronger words usually)
2. Doing nothing to raise money or awareness of ALS despite news reports to the contrary
3. Just a bunch of sheeple, which means people who are followers, people who are sheep, people who are doing something just because they think it's cool or because all their friends are doing it. Hashtag activism means nothing they say, because trends come and go.

So, yeah, basically something that involves caring and awareness is cool so now we have to deride it. The thing is that humans are followers and leaders. We are all sorts of things mushed into bodies and communities. That's the key. This challenge, even for the people who don't send $10 to ALS, builds community. People reach out to one another. They post. They think for a second. Maybe some don't. But a lot do.

If even one person thinks a little about ALS, or sends in $10, or inspires, or motivates? Isn't that better than nobody doing it? Maybe half of the people doing the ice bucket challenge aren't sending in money, maybe it's more than half. But, it is still raising awareness and money if it gets anyone to volunteer, to care, to donate.

And the other aspect of the derision that I find unhelpful is the concept that people are being called sheep for doing this one thing, this one potentially positive thing (despite its waste of water, a precious resource). How can a random viewer possibly judge another person's sheep status because they were involved in one social-media, celebrity-endorsed fundraiser?

So, I looked at my newsfeed on Facebook and scrolled down. The first ice bucket video I saw tonight was of a fire chief and his bonus daughter.

That fire chief? Hardly a sheep. This ice-bucket challenge? Hardly the hardest thing he's done for this community. He coaches kids' football. He helps raise funds for Dana Farber, his very job is about putting his life on the line for people when he fights fires, responds to accidents or mass casualty incidents. And those are only a few things I know about him.

His bonus daughter? She's still in high school, but she helps her mom raise money for cancer. She cares about kids, volunteers for things all the time, and has empathy up the wazoo.

They aren't sheep.

They are people who care.

I'm actually not sure the fire chief knows what a hashtag is; let alone hashtag activism.

But their activism isn't just about ALS. Their activism is a part of their lives. They don't yell it out on bullhorns. There are some things that they expend more energy on, but they give and they give and they give.

The next ice bucket challenge on my feed was another local guy, a Rotarian, carpenter, and real estate agent. A guy who loves the Marvel Universe and his community and who can strike a pose whenever the camera is nearby. I think he's maybe 30? 35?  In the year I've known him, I've seen him dress up like Prince Charming to help raise money for a wheelchair project in Panama, spearhead a mini-golf tournament to help raise money for local health agencies, cash-out tourists eating lobsters at a seafood festival, feed bicyclists who were riding to raise money for another incurable disease.

But yeah. He's a sheep, right? A hashtag activist? Just giving up his nights and his Saturdays while scraping together a living because he's all in it for show? Hardly.

And these are just the big things those people do, the obvious volunteering. I'm not even talking about the countless times they smiled, or cared, or offered a ride, or a hug, or a job. These are the tiny moments of activism that never get shouted about. They just are.

That's the point. Don't judge someone's level of caring or action from one tiny video on the internet. Don't judge their intentions when you aren't in their brains. Instead, maybe search your own heart and be grateful that they did anything. Instead, maybe hope that they did more than that video or profile picture change or tweet. Or even better? Don't judge them at all. Instead realize that we all have our own levels of caring, of ability, of time.

Yes, it can be annoying to watch everyone you know dump ice over their heads. But here's another thing: You don't actually have to watch. You can ignore it if you want to. And, yes, you can even deride it and mock it and say that it isn't doing enough. That's your choice. However, I hope that you choose to look at people (with all their issues) with love instead of with snark. I hope that you choose to be an example with your own life rather than a naysayer about others.

Remember, we don't know everyone's stories, not all of the scenes and chapters. That's why we should be grateful for the things that try, the people that try, no matter how imperfect their execution, or how 'sheepish' it seems.

Because here's the final point. You're sort of right. None of us can ever do enough. But that should never be an excuse to not do anything, or judge others for what they can do and have done.

kellyrfineman August 15 2014, 23:00

The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg

Over the past couple of months, I've been reading The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg, perhaps most famous for her book, Writing Down the Bones, which is on my bookshelf, but thus far unread. (I know, I know . . . I'm getting there.) It's not that the book requires that much time, but I had a habit of dipping into it before bed each night, reading a chapter or less each night. It was a good way to go, in my opinion.

In addition to writing memoir and writing books, Goldberg runs a lot of writing retreats, some of which she calls "True Secret" retreats. This book talks about a lot of things: what her workshops are like, what some of the people in those workshops are like, which poets Goldberg finds inspirational, what writing exercises she recommends (not in full, obviously, but there are a few in the book), and what it feels like to be Goldberg (there's a lot of it; it's hard for memoirists not to share, I think).

As Goldberg notes in the introduction while talking about the book's title, "Of course, no one possesses the one single true secret. If someone says he does, run for the hills. It's a dangerous idea. Life is not a commodity and is not singular but full of diversity." Interestingly, while Goldberg begins the book by admitting that the phrase "The True Secret of Writing" was something she came up with in a tongue-in-cheek way to tweak people who arrived late to her sessions, she does eventually share what she feels is the true secret, and it's communicated in just four words: "Shut up and write."

It's that simple, and that hard. As Goldberg explains, both in summary at the end and throughout the book, to get there, you have to put aside lots of things: fears and distractions, hubris and self-doubt. You have to know how to write, too - not just finding the right words, but waiting through any delay in their coming, sharing things that you might prefer to keep hidden, and more.

There were parts of the book for which I had little patience, such as the chapter with the heading "Dogen", and the title "Write with the Whole Body", and yet somewhere in there, after working through the parts that made me roll my eyes, which was largely quotes from Zen Master Dogen. He may be right, and I don't doubt it, but I couldn't handle it. And yet. She later shares a poem by Peter Levitt, a poet and Zen teacher, that made me catch my breath and want to write like that.

Definitely worthwhile overall, even if not every part of the book works well for you. Especially valuable is the reminder given by a dying friend to "live every single minute. You don't know how long you have." And "Two: if there is something you want to do, do it now, don't wait."

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stephanieburgis August 15 2014, 22:26

A Day to Remember

OK, there are some days that need to be recorded and remembered.

I woke up this morning and the first thing I saw was this amazing, in-depth, thoughtful review of the full Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. Here's a quick snippet:
Imagine a younger sister in the Bennet household investigating magical occurrences and getting into scrapes, while the plot of Pride and Prejudice goes on in the background and interacts with the magical goings on, and you will have an idea of what these books are like...These books are a joy to read – fast paced, fun and charming, and highly recommended for both kids and adults who enjoy magic and historical settings.

It was an amazing way to start the morning, after a mostly-sleepless night with Baby X.

Later in the morning, just before I had to head out the door to take MrD to day camp and run errands with Baby X, look what arrived in the mail: the first real, published Kat box set!

I was so thrilled, I was tearing up (even as I had to GET MOVING to get MrD to his beloved camp and counselor on time and not linger to pet my beautiful box set, no matter how much I wanted to)!

I got MrD to camp just on time. (He announced on his way into the room where his counselor and the other kids were waiting: "Now I'm here!" It was Snake Day. He was NOT going to miss it! ;) ) I found a good (I hope!) birthday present for my seventeen-year-old niece (the one Courting Magic is dedicated to). I dealt with a very grumpy Baby X who wailed nonstop in the car through every ride to every errand. Finally, finally, we all staggered out of the car, ears ringing from high-pitched baby screams, bringing MrD back home from his afternoon at day camp (he got to hold a garter snake! it was awesome!)…

...and found out that Thea from The Book Smugglers had reviewed Courting Magic on Kirkus - and it is a wonderful review! Just check out this snippet:

Her happily ever after is every bit as sweet as Kat deserves. Absolutely recommended, for fans both old and new.

So. Well. You can imagine how I felt when I saw that!

Baby X is still grumpy. I'm still behind on almost every obligation I have in terms of packages to be mailed, chapters to be beta-read, etc., etc., etc.

But it has been a really, really amazing day. :)
kylecassidy August 15 2014, 22:19

Don't you hate it when?

In some meeting room 8 or 10 or so years ago someone said "I think when Standard Definition video is played on a 16:9 HD television, the default should be 'stretch video to fill screen'." I'm betting that person was not an engineer.

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kylecassidy August 15 2014, 15:40

Standing amidst the roar of a surf tormented shore .....

Last night: I'm standing in an enormous hall with vaulted ceilings and books everywhere, great, majestic piles of them, along the walls, on rows of low book cases, everywhere. There's a woman with shortish blond hair and large sunglasses standing next to me. I'm looking at the books, she notices me and says:

"Oh, you're real person."

"What?" I say.

"We're both dreaming, our dreams got crossed. Now that I told you, you're going to wake up soon."

And I feel this weird feeling, because I know it's a dream, and it's like I'm being pulled out of there and everything's getting all tingly.

"How do I know you're real?" I say, realizing that I'm waking up.

"My favorite bands are Kaylea Ann and Woodpecker K-A-Y-L-E-A; keep repeating that until you wake up and then write it down quick. You'll like them."

I woke up repeating "Kaylea Ann and Woodpecker & dutifully wrote them down.

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