Blog has mooooved

Hello friends, I am now blogging on my very own domain, It is not much fancier, yet, but it has a lot of other flashy behind the scenes stuff, like the ability to subscribe to a newsletter based on your preferred topics! (Assuming I actually post more in 2015 than I did in 2014!

Hopefully by the end of the year it will be fancier, as I figure out this development stuff. In the meantime, come by just to say hi!

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#ROW80: Starting 2014 with a plan

I’m starting late, but that’s no surprise. It takes me a long time to process the old year and make plans for the new, so I think I’ve finally figured out my status from last year, and how to kick some more butt in 2014.

Last year was a little…odd, in terms of personal achievement. I incorporated a non-profit writers’ group, and established a small publishing company to publish books from the writers’ group. (website for that still in progress!) It only looks like two things, but of course they were a massive amount of work. (The amount of personal free time I dedicated to one item on the list, “writing the articles of incorporation,” is a little ridiculous.) I also launched a fundraising campaign for and began the process of publishing two collaborative short story collections. Again, a massive amount of work. (Fortunately, there is a fabulous team for each one of these things!)

But it was a year of mis-prioritized priorities. On the personal side, money was really tight in 2013. I was laid off in December of 2012, and found a temp job in February…and I’ve been working as a temp ever since. It’s income, so that I’m grateful for, but at the same time the pay is lower than previous years, and as a result of a car loan based on my higher income, I seriously suffered in the fun and adventure department. (First world problems, I know. Still maintained a small business loan through Kiva and managed to donate to a few other charities!)

I like to think that this volunteering and startup stuff is good for my resume, but the results of my year-long job hunt have proved otherwise. So the big goal in 2014 is to earn more money. I think I have a ways to go before I can branch out as a full-time freelance writer and editor, so that means finding new professional employment.

I’m obviously tied up in the anthology projects I began in 2013, so this means I have to cut back on my personal writing, and still keep the fun at a minimum so I can send more resumes and do more networking. But there are still things I’d like to accomplish this year, both for my writing and otherwise, and I’ve settled on 10 personal goals for 2014.

1. New Job, develop career. I’ve been volunteering as a community organizer for at least five years, and before that I was a professional youth program director, and I love creating experiences, introducing people, and matching opportunities for growth and learning with a person’s skill set. So it’s really a no-brainer that this is where I should focus my professional efforts. Unfortunately, this experience doesn’t translate well in the corporate world. It’s slightly easier with non-profits, but is still dependent on the organization and its needs. This means pretty much re-writing my resume every time. I’m leaning towards membership development, training, and volunteer coordinating. We’ll see how that goes.

2. Buy a house. Yo, seriously, I’ve been talking about this for at least three  years. WTF, time to get it together and actually do it. This involves:

3. Paying down debt and reducing DTI. All these financial things that I don’t quite understand but need to. Paying off one of the two credit cards I have left should take care of it. So less extraneous spending. I’m pretty sure I can do this by limiting myself to three lattes a week, although I’ve never been able to sustain such a minimalist habit long term (ha). Considering changing to a latte-based rewards system. Updates to follow.

4. Publish two collaborative short story anthologies. Already in progress, with a great team. Part of this goal is to contribute a short story to one of the anthologies, which has not been finished yet. Enter ROW80 Round One (see below).

5. Finish editing and start querying the 2013 NaNoWriMo manuscript. Again, see below for ROW80 goals.

6. Win NaNoWriMo again. I love NaNo a lot, and I’ve been winning for several years, so this should be an easy one. (Easy to say when talking about it in January!)

7. Learn Spanish. This has been a goal on the back burner for probably a decade. But I discovered in 2013 that podcasts are a great way to keep my mind busy while slogging away the miles on a treadmill, and rediscovered a podcast I had listened to years ago. One listen to Coffee Break Spanish, and I got real excited to get back on the path again. After two successful weeks on ROW80, I’m going to order their bonus materials, and later on this year I’ll look for a Spanish discussion group. Not until after the anthologies are published :)

8. Run a race in 3 states. A long-term life goal is to run a race in every state. I figured if I did five states a year, that would be a good ten year fitness plan, to keep training so I can run one half marathon and a few smaller races every year. But finances being so low in 2013 meant that I only competed in two states. So next year I want to focus and run at least three. So far on the plan are Kansas (at the Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz!), Massachusetts, and possibly Nevada. Always exciting to plan these things, just have to budget enough to pay for them! Then, if the new job comes through, in 2015 maybe we can get caught up!

9. Up my outdoor activities. I run an outdoor adventure group, and I have sadly neglected it since getting so caught up in the South Jersey Writers’ Group. And I miss being outside on the weekends (see above for “writing articles of incorporation” for what stole away my summer). Some of my plans are to coordinate an outdoor rock climbing event (as well as a few indoors, at a local climbing gym), lead a backpacking trip, lead a camping trip, lead at least one day hike, preferably two, and coordinate a kayak trip. This is more exciting to me than anything else on the list! We also have a few “go play” events throughout the year, and I’d like to keep up with those too.

10. Continue to spread out the work for the SJWG so the president job becomes easier and easier. This is so when I step down in October 2015, the Board of Trustees are each managing their own departments, and the president only has to run board meetings, keep Board members on task and help them find new volunteers when needed, and champion the group in the community. (Bear in mind that the VP, K.A. Magrowski, and I were doing pretty much everything, administratively, before October!) Managing volunteer expectations–and production–is always a difficult, delicate task, but we’ve been lucky so far with an absolutely die-hard team of committed volunteers, and hopefully I don’t overtax them too much!

11. (Bonus) Blog twice a week. This is a tough one, but I really, really want to get on top of this! One book review, which I got in a pretty good habit with, and one “other” post, whether adventure or fitness or job search or networking or thoughts on editing and writing. (Plus the ROW80 posts too!) I’ll worry about this if all the others are caught up (this may not happen until after anthology #2 is published!)

So, if everything goes well, this should be a pretty busy year. At the end of 2012, I had just been laid off, so I had a lot of time to write down detailed plans and micro-goals. But I got pretty sick just after starting the new job, then had to refocus and then started the incorporation craziness. I fell off the checking-in wagon, and only accomplished a few of them. Being a little more flexible this year with deadlines. But not with goals!

On to ROW80. I’ve neglected my own writing for a long, long time. It’s always the first thing I put off. But if I’m honest with myself, I prefer interacting with people, working with my hands, moving around. Sitting at a computer with only one thing to do is, well, boring, sometimes.

At the same time, I love developing story ideas, and then, of course, editing them. So I suck it up and plow through a first draft during NaNoWriMo, then revisit occasionally throughout the next year. I’m fairly consistent until I get stuck, and then I ignore it until the following November. After 8 years of this, of course, I have a number of manuscripts in various stages of incompletion. Many of them are the beginnings of series too, leaving me with potentially dozens of books to write. Well, what’s the POINT if I don’t finish them??

One of the goals I DID actually achieve from 2013 was meeting with a critique group monthly. I didn’t always have a story to read, but I met with them and reviewed their work just about every month. They’re a great group of ladies and their novels are really entertaining!

And Shelley Szajner and I have entered into an accountability pact, with money on the line. (This, plus the public humiliation factor, are really what motivates me…) I had already decided to do ROW80 before we started our pact, so I may be doubling up in the accountability department. But I’ve heard good things about ROW80, and am hoping that by being accountable in multiple ways I can make at least a little progress. I may not get to blog ROW80 twice a week, at least not until the next anthology is done.

So here are my PERSONAL writing and life goals for the first six months of 2014. No community to ask, no feedback to get, no response needed. Just do it!

1. Write 3000 words a week, or spend four hours editing my work. I would like to say I can write every day, but sadly, I can’t. Okay, sure I can. But on those busy days I don’t accomplish anything substantial. It takes about 30 minutes before I can get focused, due to all the fires (emails) that I couldn’t find time to respond to earlier in the day (sometimes week).  And I’ll be honest, sometimes after work, the gym, and a two hour meeting, I really don’t freakin feel like opening my computer at midnight after I’ve found time to eat dinner and do the domestic duties. So do I force myself to stay up until 2 am to eke out 100 words a day–for a total of 700 a week? It makes more sense to set up a routine a few days a week where I can sit down and focus for a stretch and crank out 1000 words an hour. Starting with two for now, until the upcoming anthology is published. Hopefully, as I can get more consistent, it becomes a little easier to settle in and finish more.

During this round, I’ll be primarily working on a short story for inclusion in the first anthology. But there are two anthologies. Not sure if I’ll have the time to contribute a short story to the second one, but we’ll see how it goes. (Also ZERO ideas for that second story right now.) And after the short story (stories?), I’ll be working on my project from NaNoWriMo 2013, a middle grade story, probably the first in a series!

2. Apply for two jobs a week. This takes a lot of time, so I’m planning to dedicate one night per resume. So weekly, that’s two resume nights, two writing nights (or two nights and a dedicated session over the weekend!)

And that’s it. Keeping it simple until I can unclutter some of the responsibilities I’ve managed to collect in 2013. As always, a work in progress.

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Testing the Microsoft WordPress App

I spent ALL DAY today updating subscriptions, downloading software, backing up and synching the laptop I bought back in August. Better late than never…

I installed all kinds of “apps,” thinking they would make the computing experience a little easier. Except, apparently Microsoft Apps are only extremely scaled-back versions of the actual websites, e.g. WordPress, Goodreads, etc. All you can do is view stuff, and there are a ton of things you can’t really manage?

I can create a new post, but apparently not edit an existing draft, which is what I really want to do. Looks like if I post it first though, maybe I can edit it? (scratching head) Ok, posting as a test…..

…And immediately back to edit. Why does the font change like that? Don’t get it. Also I can’t categorize or tag this post. Disappointing! Oh well. I guess I’ll skip this “App,” and stick to the web version. I feel like I just got used to Windows 8, making links & tiles & whatnot, and then I downloaded Windows 8.1 and all those web pages I bookmarked (Pandora, eg.) were wiped out and I had to start from scratch.

Patience will prevail…my patience needs to be placated by a cookie right now… I will say I like the distraction-free typing space. And there’s even  button to put in an image. But I think categorizing and tagging would be better….

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Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was so heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. I’ve learned a little about the “Trail of Tears” on trips through various National Parks, and as sad as the story was then, it’s almost sadder now to read this modern story of life for the descendants of the indigenous people who were forced to leave their ancestral lands two centuries ago. Confined to a Spokane Indian reservation, with only a few options for school and career, 14-year-old Junior seems destined to follow the path of his father and the other adults.

But someone believes in Junior, and he realizes that he doesn’t want to be resigned to the same sad fate. He takes a chance and sacrifices a lot to go to a better school, miles away, and somehow manages to make things work both at school and on the Rez. Loved it! Junior is a pathetic but determined root-for-me hero, and you can’t help but get caught up in his story.

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Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Image courtesy of Goodreads

I couldn’t put this book down. I’m a bit of a science junkie, although a rather clueless one. But this was a fascinating exploration of the the evolution of cell cultures, the culture of African American healthcare treatment, the history of consent in medical testing, and the injustices of the modern healthcare system.

The author weaved in the part she played in the story–tracking down the human behind the “indestructible” HeLa cells, the scientists who had developed them, finding the descendents of Henrietta Lacks, and learning that they had benefited in no way from their mother’s legacy. The author’s part was a little distracting maybe. But I think it enhanced the humanity and the reality of the story, to see from a third party perspective the contrast between the glamor and renown of Henrietta Lacks’ cells, and the dismal poverty of Henrietta’s descendants.

Completely captivating story, and I love that the author has created a foundation for the descendants of people who were used for medical testing without their knowledge. This was unfortunately rather common in the 50s and 60s, notably with the experiments conducted at the Tuskeegee Institute, giving rise to modern medical privacy and protection laws.)

I finished this over the summer, just before the Supreme Court decision that the BCRA cancer cells–or, in fact, any cells, genes, or mutations that are created by nature–cannot be patented by any company or individual. Highly relevant, and highly recommended :)

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Giving Thanks for the NaNoWriMo Win

This post was reblogged from the South Jersey Writers’ Group blog.

photoIt’s the end of November, and I’m feeling like I do every November. Worn out, run down, a little (or a lot) overwhelmed and a just a tetch grouchy, probably due to too much caffeine and staying up too late to write.

Every November is like this, though, since I started doing NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar, National Novel Writing Month is held every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. This averages to 1667 words a day, which, depending on the kind of mood I’m in, takes anywhere from an hour & a half to an entire weekend. It’s an intense exercise in setting and meeting goals, and a fantastic excuse to not clean your kitchen for the sake of “being a writer.”

I’ve been putting myself through this every November since 2005, with slowly increasing success. I didn’t win for the first four years; I fell short of the 50,000 word minimum for four years in a row. This was probably due to the same writers’ block that had stopped me from ever really writing anything, aka “perfectionism.” So in 2009 I gave myself an ultimatum: write 50,000 words this year, or never do this again.

But I couldn’t help it, the wackiness is addicting. The write-anything-just-get-the-words-out mentality. The complete strangers (and sometimes friends) you write with who throw out a character name or the right turn of phrase when you need one. I was finally able to break through the hangup of “I’m too good of a writer to write a story with bad grammar” (pun intended) and just emptied my brain on paper.

I can’t imagine a non-noveling November. So with the ultimatum, I won in 2009, and I’ve won every year since. And I’m 12,000 words behind, but I’ll win again. (Thanks to having a no-travel Thanksgiving and Black Friday off!)

Of course, the “winning” is arbitrary. What do you win? You win a cheesy certificate that you can type your name in, and it’s signed by the NaNoWriMo people. I did win 50% off Scrivener, so that was nice, but when non-noveling friends ask me what the payoff is, I inevitably feel a little silly. It’s just the accomplishment. It’s a deadline, a reason to put your life on hold and prioritize your big, scary, pie-in-the-sky dreams for awhile. And it’s the one time all year where you don’t have to worry about grammar and punctuation and spelling and even things like quotation marks and capital letters. Freedom to write, freedom to scribble and scrawl whatever I can think of to continue moving the story forward in whatever way I can.

Finally, after eight years of taking on this crazy challenge, I’ve figured out that November, for me, is writing the backstory and developing the characters. The plot doesn’t have to progress, it almost doesn’t matter what happens. If you get stuck, just end the scene and start a new one. All the issues that held me back when I tried to write, such as “transitions” and finding the perfect character or place name, suddenly didn’t matter, in the face of such an intense deadline. And with grit and determination, lots of coffee, and some fabulous writing buddy encouragement, I’ve managed to win every year since 2009.

So four years of winning means I have four, er, collections of words, loosely gathered under one umbrella of an idea, usually about the same characters from start to end. (And at least three of them end with, “and then the zombie apocalypse happened. The end.”) But it doesn’t matter what those words say, really. What matters is that I made the commitment and achieved the end result. I wrote every day (or almost). I developed a story idea that I never would have taken the time to write otherwise. Or rather, I took some action on a story idea I would have thought about for years, but everything else would have gotten in the way of actually writing it. The bottom line though, as Papa Hemingway allegedly declared, “The first draft of anything is s—.” So why not just do it in a month and get it over with?

After NaNoWriMo 2012, four years of so-called victory, I finally joined a critique group, and committed to editing one of my stories, providing a chapter a month to other writers. That was hard too, but it’s just another side effect of being a writer. If you want to be published, someone is going to have to read your story eventually, and they’ll probably tear it all apart. So why not start with some friendly reviews? (More on that in a future blog post.)

At any rate, in the past year, I’ve realized that editing is really what I like to do. 50,000 words of world-building and character development is not publishable, sure, but it’s a great start to a novel. It has occurred to me that the NaNoWriMo draft–or, as Chuck Wendig calls it, “Draft Zero“–is a lot like making the clay that an artist will sculpt with. The NaNoWriMo words are just a starting point. They’re a little rough, not very pretty. They might be falling apart a little, maybe need a little more kneading so they hold together better. But eventually, I’ll mold them into a story that somewhat resembles my original concept, although hopefully better, more developed, and even more fun. (Note: Chuck Wendig is very funny, and very useful, but he uses very naughty language.)

I still have those four unfinished NaNo novels (well, three of them at least, one is MIA, to the point that I actually forgot what it was about). They still have promise, and I’d love to revise them eventually too. But for now, I’d better get back to this year’s project, still 12,000 words short of a victory. But even if I do fall short with only four days to go, my Thanksgiving will consist of noveling instead of football, extra coffee, and giving thanks for chasing big dreams and reaching impossible goals.

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Book Review: The Trajectory of Dreams by Nicole Wolverton

The Trajectory of Dreams Cover by Nicole Wolverton

Leila White is a sleep lab technician who has taken the fate of the space program into her own hands; she is convinced that astronauts who don’t sleep well are at risk for destroying the space shuttle. But she becomes involved with one of the astronauts she has assigned herself to study, and as things go beyond her control, the line between reality and the figments of life her imagination created thins until it is crossed, with devastating results.

This was one of the most intense books I’ve read in a long time. I could only read a little at a time, as it was out of my usual comfort zone. But it was masterfully written; I completely empathized with the protagonist, had a crush on her boyfriend and hated her unwanted roommate, even as her plans baffled and horrified me. I think I held my breath through the entire last third!

Saw the author speak at an event sponsored by the South Jersey Writers’ Group and was intrigued by the concept. Glad I bought it! :) Congrats Nicole!

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Book Review: The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George

The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George book coverPicked this one up at the South Jersey Writers’ Group monthly book swap. I’d never heard of the author or the series, but it had a few wishes on and I’d just finished another book, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

I was totally hooked in the first chapter. A girl who can hear other people’s thoughts learns a dangerous secret, and she and her mother head from California to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest (win!) to escape her stepfather and his secret. Her mom drops her off at the ferry to stay with an old friend, a woman Becca has never met, with a cell phone and a promise that she’d be there as soon as she took care of a few things. Great premise, right?

But then…well. I think the best way to describe the whole thing was “contrived.” Whidbey Island, in my head, was like a movie set seen off-camera — houses with only the fronts and curtains where it shows, fake trees with fog on cue, convenient empty buildings, random strangers with impeccable timing, characters that were supposed to be acting one way but were actually acting another.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the plan does not go, er, as planned. Becca meets a boy, Seth, who is beyond nice, but who also seems to be the object of many other townspeople’s hate, for reasons that aren’t really fully developed until the second half of the book. Then she has a strange attraction to a popular boy, who seems to like her too, for NO REASON whatsoever? And Becca also makes an enemy, a raging, angry b** who is determined to make Becca’s life miserable, again, for NO APPARENT REASON. (Or maybe to be more accurate, the evil and hatred directed toward Becca is not in proportion to Becca’s actions against her antagonist.) And then, Derrick, the popular boy, gets into a bad accident, and Becca and Seth have to figure out the mystery.

I am not a huge fan of “reactive” characters, who let things happen to them and then make stupid decisions. I am also not a fan of characters with unreasonably low self-esteem, although I usually give them a chance. Becca King fit both of these descriptions, and while I felt bad for her, I wanted to shake her a little and say “stop wallowing and DO something already.” Derrick was really the only character who was believable, meaning that the author said he was popular and his actions and the perceptions of the other characters backed this up.

Another thing I didn’t like was that the book is entirely in Becca’s head (in 3rd person limited) for the first half, but then inexplicably, we hop back and forth to other points of view for the second half. It would have been okay if we’d had these people’s opinions in the beginning, but it felt really out of context and I didn’t like that there was no warning! There was a lot of character development and backstory that didn’t seem to have anything to do with either the mystery of Derrick’s accident or Becca’s mystery. And besides, I kept waiting for one of the other characters to give us a positive opinion on all the things Becca didn’t like about herself, or at least some clue as to why they wanted to help her out. But it didn’t really happen. All the other characters verified that Becca was a little heavy and had ugly hair, and they all appeared to pity her, even though she wouldn’t tell anyone about why she had been exiled. No mention of any kind of personality. And very little personality in the character herself.

All in all, it was a boring mystery within a more interesting mystery, but the interesting mystery was hardly touched on. And there was a lot going on; it was hard to keep track of the characters and their actions. Oh well. It appears that this is a series, but I am probably not interested enough to keep reading. I’d like to know the ending to the interesting mystery though!

Here’s a link to my Goodreads review! Be my friend! What are you reading this week?

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Book Review: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer Book Cover

I’ll be honest, I came into this expecting not to like it much, because 1) I knew the story of McCandless, and had already formed opinions, and 2) I completely and totally LOVED the movie, from the howling, gorgeous Eddie Vedder soundtrack to the adorable shirtless Emile and the breathtaking cinematography. (I even liked Kristen Stewart’s awkwardness. #irony.)

So all that combined, plus being a dweeby adventure wannabe myself, I expected to just write this off, reading it because all my other adventure friends had read it. Guy shoulda been more prepared, why dinnhe take a map, etc. But I liked the story, the piecing together of McCandless’s last years, and correlating the adventure-seeker in human nature with other famous (and infamous) wilderness-seekers over the years. It wasn’t quite as lovely as the movie, and Vince Vaughn wasn’t there, but it was still an interesting exploration of mankind’s spirit of adventure.

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In other news, still managing to stay in full-on NaNoWriMo mode; hoping to finally finish my NaNo Blog post today!

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Book Review: Reached by Ally Condie (Matched Trilogy)

Reached CoverCassia is reunited with Ky and Xander, in the last book of this dystopian romantic triangle. They have joined the Rising (ok that’s probably not a spoiler) and are infiltrating back into Society to engineer its takedown. But separately, much to their disappointment. But as it turns out, the Rising is not all they believed it was. The revolution is as divided and infiltrated as the institution. Cassia and Ky have to decide who they will be loyal to, and, well, I’m sure you can guess they will only be loyal to each other.

This book hopped around quickly from Cassia to Ky to Xander, and I liked the different, quicker pace, although it did take a little getting used to. Unfortunately though, much like in Crossed, the poetic style overlaid across all points of view sort of muted the differences in the character, and sometimes I had to double check the name at the beginning of the chapter to figure out where I was. There were, however, a couple of parts that just completely had me holding my breath. It’s tough to convey such urgency while still keeping the poetic tone, but I think for the most part it worked (probably due to the present tense writing)

On a somewhat unrelated note, a friend of mine (who also loaned me the books!) told me that her students hate Xander. How can you hate Xander?! I ended up just feeling very sorry for him. I liked having his point of view, actually, and I was probably more interested in (and surprised by) the continuation of his story, than with Cassia and Ky’s happy ending.

Overall I liked this series, and would recommend it. It was pretty different in style, I think, than the books I generally read, but I thought it worked. (Hooray for stretching boundaries.)

One final note, if I haven’t convinced you to dive into the series yet, pretty much the whole thing is based on the Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Gentle Into That Good Night.” And now I hope you’re convinced. :)

(And here’s the link to my review on Goodreads)

And now that this series is done…next review is a book I helped publish! Not YA, not dystopian (okay maybe a little dystopian), not fantasy (okay, it’s a little fantasy too), but a satire on what life is like after you’ve died. (!)

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