I’m publishing a book! And another one!

In 2015, I wrote a young adult novel called Bright Eyes during National Novel Writing Month. In 2016, I wrote its sequel, When Light Falls.

After months (and in the case of Bright Eyes, almost two years) of stressing about whether they were good, stressing about whether I should consider showing them to anyone, and stressing when I finally did, I’m happy to share that I’ve decided to self-publish both books!

I need to say right away that none of this would be possible without the wonderful Casey Baumberger, who I profiled in December as she prepared to self-published her own NaNoWriMo novel, Breaking the Pocket. Getting to speak to her about her process and her motivations for self-publishing was what made me consider following her lead, and I’m so, so incredibly grateful for her cooperation (and her support, as she’s one of a handful of people who’s read a Bright Eyes draft!).

At this point, I’m not sure what the publishing schedule will look like. I’d love to get Bright Eyes out by the end of 2017, but that will depend on a few things I can’t put on a timeline just yet, including editing time (shoutout to Macy Griffin for offering to be my first copy editor). After Bright Eyes goes out, I envision When Light Falls following it in a few months, if not sooner.

Now that I’ve finished rambling – but, really, thank you to everyone I’ve mentioned, as well as the dozen or so people in my acknowledgments section so far – I’d like to show you the synopses I wrote for both books during their respective NaNoWriMos (I’ve very vaguely tweaked the When Light Falls synopsis to avoid minor spoilers, FYI):

Bright Eyes:

Emily has just graduated from high school and is moving across the country to start college in the fall. But before she can leave her hometown behind, she has to spend her summer contending with Alexa, her longtime best friend who is suddenly maturing way faster than she is, her parents who own a business together and can’t stop bickering, a boy that she’d never thought about like that until recently, and Kelsey, her mysterious soon-to-be roommate who refuses to divulge much about herself in their e-mails to one another. When Emily makes a chance excursion to Kelsey’s hometown a month before they are due to move into the dorms, Emily finds out why Kelsey has been keeping her personal life to herself – and Emily isn’t so sure she can deal with what she learns.

When Light Falls:

The beginning of college has come and gone, and Emily is settling into life with her new roommate, Kelsey. While she thought they could be the best of friends – or at least, pretty good ones – Emily is finding that sometimes in college, the people you go in knowing aren’t always the ones you’re closest with. Can Emily make new friends so far from home, or will her college choice lead her to lose more than she thought she’d gain?

Meanwhile, Kelsey is having a rough time at college, but she’d never admit that to anyone. Even though she has more time to herself now that she doesn’t have to co-parent her three younger siblings, she’s learning that free time can lead to making some questionable decisions if you’re living life by your standards for the first time. As Kelsey sinks deeper into a dangerous life she never imagined herself living, she grows more jealous that her roommate seems to have it all together and wonders if going to college, even to get the education she needs for her dream job, was the best idea.


Thanks again for everyone who’s supported me so far, and I can’t wait to share these with you!

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To Dave Fichman: Ten Words

One morning in 2005, I arrived to my high school World History class earlier than usual and found my teacher busy scrawling onto a cardboard coffee cup.

“Have you ever done this before?” he asked, holding up the cup after he’d finished writing a particularly long item. “Made a list of your favorite words?”

“No,” I replied, intrigued.

He explained, “I read an article earlier today about it. There are a lot of really great words out there. You should make a list.”

So, in honor of my dear departed teacher, Senior Project mentor, and the man who once startled me in the waiting room at the dentist as I was shaking my cell phone so he could point out with a grin, “You know, it won’t work any better if you do that,” here is my own list of my ten favorite words, which I have edited every few months for the past ten years:

  1. acatalepsy
  2. conglomerate
  3. frigate
  4. nomenclature
  5. penchant
  6. proxy
  7. verklempt
  8. vestibule
  9. obnoxious
  10. desultory

I’ll miss you, Fichman. Thank you for everything you did.

The city that never sleeps, but occasionally takes a sick day

(Possible emetophobia trigger – in text only – below.)

About an hour before I left Manhattan on Monday morning, bound for the antiquated-as-all-get-out LaGuardia airport, I read an article in the New York Times detailing the plight of the “sick passenger” (and those unlucky enough to share a train with them). Just as life imitates art, art imitates life: as I was preparing to get off the E, completing my final train ride of this trip, I heard the unmistakable sound of retching from the other side of the car. Before allowing myself to dwell upon it, I sped out of the just-stopped car as quickly as I could manage with a medium-sized rolling suitcase in tow.

Aside from that anecdote I wish I didn’t feel the need to tell, some good things happened on my weekend jaunt to New York, too. A lot of good things.

On Saturday, I passed the 50,000-word goal for this year’s National Novel Writing Month. While I have yet to actually complete my story, I believe this ties my 2009 speed record – 21 days – for reaching 50,000. Unfortunately, this means I am less motivated to complete it now, since I’ve been running on fumes for the past 10,000 words trying to reach the goal. But that’s what the month is all about: quantity, not quality. I have the rest of my life to aspire to the quality of work I expect of myself in any other circumstance.

To celebrate my achievement, I visited an overall Cute And Fun bagel shop in the general Gramercy Park/Stuy Town area (neighborhoods are AWFULLY CONFUSING when you’re not a local and the place in question is situated on the border between two of them – but I digress). I have to say, while I mentioned on Facebook that it was surprisingly my first NYC bagel experience that didn’t involve a Dunkin Donuts, the bagel I had was almost indistinguishable from the ones I inhaled regularly at Ultimate Bagel when I lived in Spokane. Which isn’t bad, necessarily – it just made me miss Spokane a little bit.

Saturday evening, after enjoying some (cheap!) Peruvian food, Lee and I (you remember Lee, don’t you?) headed out to Brooklyn to see Real Enemies, which I cannot accurately describe in my own words, so I’ll use BAM’s instead:

Bandleader and composer Darcy James Argue’s (Brooklyn Babylon, 2011 Next Wave) 18-piece big band Secret Society melds minds with filmmaker Peter Nigrini, writer/director Isaac Butler, and designer Maruti Evans to investigate America’s fascination with conspiracy theories. On projection surfaces teeming with found footage, live video, and historical texts, the narratives behind the Red Scare, the Illuminati, Edward Snowden, and alien sightings are meticulously examined and interrogated. Musical motifs from Argue’s exuberant score mimic the byzantine “everything is connected” inner workings of mass collusion to plumb the grassy knoll and give paranoia itself the probe.

You know how people say things are roller coaster rides of emotions? This was that, except more true than any time anyone has ever said it before. (Aside from this indescribability, I really just liked the music. Who knew professional musicians were that good at their instruments? I need to get out more.)

Later that night, I learned that there is a laundromat called Spin City at the corner where the protagonists of RENT live as we wandered around Alphabet City trying to find a suitable place to eat. We ended up at a diner with a health department “B” grade, chanced it, and didn’t die.

Sunday, I had the double pleasure of paying $16 to see a 2-D movie (Mockingjay Part 2, and I at least didn’t feel ripped off once I watched it) and having dinner with my NYC relatives (and Lee) at my aunt and uncle’s apartment. (The above photos were taken from their balcony.) I learned only that day that my grandparents didn’t know I was coming, so it was a really great time surprising them – especially my grandma’s reaction when she saw the person I came with was not the husband she had just watched me marry in July.

And then on Monday, I was an earwitness to a Sick Passenger, saw some ultra-casual (read: ultra-blatant, but thankfully nonviolent) racism on the part of the TSA, ate two Auntie Anne’s pretzels in two different states, and landed in Iowa, where I suddenly remembered that it gets cold and snows in places that are not New York, where it was a balmy 50 degrees all weekend.

I know I haven’t written here in several months, and I promise I have many solid (or at least “plausible”) reasons for that – being back in school, for one – but it seems like leaving Iowa every once in a while tends to help spike my creativity. If I had unlimited funds for travel…you know, I’ll just try my best to write more anyway.

Missouri, or, I Finally Did A Thing Worth Blogging About

Last Friday, with my new (to me) car ready to assist me, I left the state of Iowa for the first time in almost three years and headed down to Columbia, Missouri to engage in some good ol’ shenanigans. But really, my very good friend from high school – who, like the non-Iowa states, I hadn’t seen in nearly three years – was visiting the university and I couldn’t not take the opportunity to see him while he was within driving distance. There was no damn way.

I left my house at around 11:00 on Friday morning with the intention of making it to Columbia about a half-hour before the 4:00 intro-psych lecture I wanted to sneak into on campus (accounting for bathroom breaks, food, and the like). I ended up stopping a grand total of one time, at a Casey’s just inside Missouri, where I consolidated the bathroom break and food stop into a single five-minute excursion. (Side note: Somehow, Missouri Casey’s potato wedges are far better than any I’ve had at an Iowa Casey’s. I’m sorry.)

So, with my total travel time just shy of four hours (combined with managing not to get lost), I found myself on campus with an hour before the lecture was due to begin.

The lobby area where I waited for the hour to pass before “class.” Glorious.

Once I got into the lecture hall, the real fun began. (I’ll emulate the greatest writer of our time, Stephenie Meyer, when I add this: Heavy sarcasm.)

I retrieved my laptop from my backpack – totally blending in – and turned it on, only to be greeted by the Eternal Loading Bar of Doom. Only one person was sitting behind me, and I like to assume he was silently feeling bad for me as I hard rebooted, keysmashed in vain, and eventually slammed the damn thing shut as it defeated me. It was all good, though, since the lecturer apparently didn’t allow laptops in his classroom anyway. (Nor did he provide PowerPoint slides of the lectures for his students, so they all had to take notes by hand. In 2015. What a monster.)

If anyone who’s reading this doesn’t already know, I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and I picked this class to attend so I could feel good about what I’d achieved in college. And because the main topic of the lecture was the bystander effect, typical Psych 101 fare, I 100% did.

After the lecture I made my way out to my hotel about 10 minutes from campus (it made me miss the Sheraton in Iowa City that is basically on campus, but is relatively inexpensive considering the convenience), where I hung out for most of the night. Except for the couple of hours I spent at HuHot by myself, cutting a line of groups of 4-5 people to be seated alone within 5 minutes of my arrival. Glamorous.

Anyway, here’s a gratuitous photo of me enjoying the most comfortable bed I’ve slept on in years (intentionally upside down, in case you wondered):

And another of the effects of me furiously attempting to get my laptop to start when I woke up in the middle of the night (this story ends here – I ended up reinstalling the OS when I got home, and it clearly works just fine now):

Anyway. Continuing the play-by-play. I woke up after my second attempt at sleeping at 6:30 AM (really 6:13 – I realized too late that the clock radio in my room was 17 minutes fast) and headed to the gym, and breakfast, and then back to the room to get ready to leave. All of that stuff was entirely uneventful, minus the fucking guy I saw in the gym wearing a fucking “Meninist” hoodie, so it only gets one total sentence. Blah blah, watched some TV, checked out of the hotel, waded in the horrors of consumerism at both the Mizzou student center/paraphernalia shoppe and Starbucks, and THEN –

REUNITED.

Because he was short on time, we hung out in the parking lot of the tiny, tiny airport for an hour and a half – still worth all of my travels, forever and ever – discussing our adventures in Columbia (his were better), hometown-type stuff, and basically every other topic that two good friends who haven’t seen each other in years will touch upon during their brief reunion. And all too soon, it was time for him to get on a place back to California, and for me to drive back to Iowa.

It rained on the drive back, and I stopped in a different tiny Missouri town to eat at a Certain College-Type Food Establishment (aforementioned tiny town had not one, but two colleges) and to get gas for the first time all trip (have I mentioned how much I love my car?). When I returned home, my handsome-as-fuck fiancé sleepily listened as I recounted my vast exciting adventures (remember, I hadn’t been outside of Iowa in years), gave him a pair of Mizzou sweatpants I’d purchased for him at the ~*swag shop*~ on campus, and went right to sleep at 7:00 PM.

Really. That’s how my grand adventure ended. Here’s a picture of the dog in the snow to make up for the disappointment I’ve surely caused:

In less exciting news that is not quite blog-worthy but I may as well stick it here anyway, I got my very first call back from an employer since my job-searching spree began in October, had a great interview, and was very kindly rejected for the position a week later. So that’s still going.

I can’t promise that I’ll write here any more often than I have so far this year, since the next item on my agenda [of life things remotely worth writing about] is getting married in July. But as I say to placate y’all just in case, who knows what might happen in the meantime? (Not, like, calling off the wedding. Just…something at all happening between now and then. Gosh, I’m getting bad at this. Bye, friends.)

Positive retrospection

*exhale*

I have really wanted to write about this particular part of my life for a couple of months now, and also wished to write some kind of “2014 in review” post before the end of the year. So, this is both. This was the most difficult decision I had to make this year, but also, eventually, the most freeing. Without further ado:

At the end of October, I chose to leave my graduate program.

After two and a half ridiculous semesters, under a year shy of graduation, I withdrew from my classes and abandoned all the work I had already completed. And while I’m not here to justify my choice to anyone, I’ve never really written about it in this kind of detail, so at the very least I hope you get something – anything, really – out of this extended rant/vent/thing. (I did.)

(Quick disclaimer: I still believe online education is incredibly valuable when executed properly, as I had experienced in the past. I don’t regret choosing this program, because there was no way I could have known any of what ended up standing in my way would happen. This is just what happened to me, and how I chose to handle it.)

My favorite professors during undergrad were equally knowledgeable and approachable. They recognized that students needed to be able to see them as someone more than a lecturer who provided information that had to be memorized for an exam, as people just as complex and interesting as their students. Beginning with our shared enthusiastic interest in the subject matter, I developed meaningful relationships with these professors, and ended up with strong, personal letters of recommendation for graduate school.

Once I started grad school, I assumed that most – if not all – of my professors would share this same pride in their work and be more than happy to inspire their students to better themselves throughout the program. But in this program, I found for the most part that the opposite was true.

Most of the professors seemed unfamiliar with the coursework, and gave only vague responses (if any at all) to students’ questions about assignments. They weren’t able to answer questions about the lectures because, in most cases, someone else had recorded them years before. As a result, they were unhelpful and didn’t seem to care about anything except finishing their grading before the semester ended.

And to put it bluntly, when I say “most of the professors,” I mean all of them I had except one, from whom I was lucky enough to be able to take two classes. She helped contextualize assignments by providing links and analysis of current events, and eagerly answered e-mails within hours. I got the most out of my time in the program from her, if that wasn’t already clear.

My grades in all of my classes were great, and I could have finished my degree with an A average. But that’s not the point. In the end, I wouldn’t have truly learned anything. And when it comes to this degree, in my chosen field, it wouldn’t have been enough in practice to show off my good grades and expect them to get me somewhere. My aptitude as a student – being able to absorb information and effectively study for exams – was the only thing getting me through the program.

The idea of dropping out – or withdrawing, or leaving, pick a term – was terrifying at first. I would have been receiving my degree in May. I just had to hold out a few more months and it would have all been over. But, I mean, that’s just it. A few more months of professors ignoring my pertinent questions about assignments? A few more months of them skimming my papers and giving me a good grade without comment because it looked like I might have tried hard enough to earn it? A few more months of insecurity, both with the program and about my future prospects?

I realized very quickly I was more terrified of finishing this degree having learned nothing than of having to regroup after withdrawing. The choice was clear.

Right now, I’m back to looking for work in about the same capacity as I was during my year off. I don’t know how much weight a year-plus of master’s degree coursework will have on my attractiveness to potential employers. But, not to repeat myself, that’s not the point at all.

What’s occupying my mind as I write this is how damn proud I am of myself for having the courage to identify the issues with this thing I’d put over a year of my life into and to make a life-changing decision based on that. I learned a lot about myself in the week or so it took me to make the call, and I have no complaints about how it turned out. I know I am a better person for it, and I can absolutely take solace in that.