Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review - So, You Want To Be A Writer? by Vicki Hambleton and Cathleen Greenwood

Vicki Hambleton and Cathleen Greenwood came together to write a fantastic book for young adult aspiring writers. So, You Want To Be A Writer? How To Get Published, and Maybe Even Make It BIG! is so wonderful that even I, at nearly 36 years of age, found it to be entertaining, informative and useful. In fact, while initially I was planning on giving this book to my husband to put in his classroom after I reviewed it, I have now directed him to purchase a copy for the class, as I plan to keep my copy as my own personal writer's reference!

You may be wondering what's so great about this book that I couldn't find searching around the Internet or many of the writing books I have already read and put up on my reference shelf, well, here are a couple of things that set this book apart:
  • The Voice: While this book is intended for a younger audience, it never talks down to its reader. The content is rich and uses the terminology of the publishing world while introducing it clearly and simply. Also, at the end of the book, there is a glossary containing all of the pertinent vocabulary!
  • The Design: The book can be read cover to cover for a reader who wishes to learn everything they need to know to get started in their writing career, or the reader can jump into which ever chapter(s) s/he wishes to learn more about. In this way, the book will end up being a handy reference for all who own it.
  • The Anecdotes and Author Profiles: Within every chapter, there are anecdotes from established authors about their own experiences as well as profiles of young writers demonstrating how they found success in writing. With these sections the reader is introduced to the diverse potential and career options for those interested in a writing life.
  • The Full Scope: At 192 pages, this book is short and sweet, but within that small package the entire scope of the writing life is exposed. The twelve chapters of the book cover everything from the "Tools, Time and Turf" needed for writing, selecting a genre to write, finding a career to match your writing style, the process of getting published, and even has writing exercises and resources that the reader can continue to use over and over again.
There was only one problem I found with this book after I finished reading it: it should have been published 20+ years ago!!

Personally, I think every middle school and high school writing teacher should have this book available as a reference for the aspiring writers in their classes. If you are not a writing teacher, but you happen to know a young aspiring writer (or you are one yourself), this is a great gift idea. Let's let our young writers know that they can begin living their writing lives now!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

John Green Is A Hobbit

Did you know that hobbits don't get gifts on their birthday, they give them? It's one of the things I love about hobbits and their culture. I suspect that John Green, the best selling, award winning author and Vlogbrother is at least part hobbit.

You see, I just found out that John Green's birthday is August 24th and, if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or GetGlue then you know exactly what I was doing on August 24, 2012. It all began in my mailbox...
FB Status B&N
That afternoon, I walked up the block to my Barnes & Noble (Yep. That's right. I claimed it. It's mine.), grabbed a stack of books to look at and start reading.

However, there was really only one book in that stack I was thinking about when I left my house. It was The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  It's the book I've been wanting to buy all year. It's the book I somehow missed at BEA. It's the book I've been wanting to read, but, to be honest with you, I have been afraid to. You're probably saying, Nicole, really? Book fear?! Well, it was more like emotion fear... the protagonist is a young girl with cancer. I lost my mom to cancer in 2006 and I wasn't sure I was ready to voluntarily place myself in a fictional world that would cause me to face the monster again. Here's what happened when I finally, bravely, started reading:

The Fault In Our Stars
That's all it took. I trusted John Green to take me where I needed to go. Not too long after that I bought the book and brought it home. I read until I fell asleep. On Saturday morning I woke up and finished reading the book in my bed - in my PJs, without breakfast - without moving until I finished the book. Here are the reactions (the few times I stopped for a moment to document them) during my read:

1. Compliments to the author:
The Fault In Our Stars reaction 1  
2. When I noticed my shirt was getting soggy from tears:
The Fault In Our Stars reaction 2 
I grabbed a roll of toilet paper...

3. Proof of my unconditional love of my little brother:
The Fault In Our Stars bookmark 
4. The dramatic conclusion:
The Fault In Our Stars FB Conclusion

It was John Green's hope that readers "feel all of things" when reading this book, well, I did. And I needed to. For that alone The Fault In Our Stars was an amazing gift. It was a gift from John Green to me on his birthday and I didn't get him ANYTHING! This is my proof that John Green's family lineage must extend back to the Shire. John Green is a hobbit and that is that. Perhaps some day I will be able to meet him for second-breakfast and thank him for all that he gave me within these pages...

Have you read The Fault In Our Stars yet? If so, what did you think?

LEVITICUS from GNT My Book --God

The following post is taken directly from my hand-printed Reader's Journal. I will be sharing these reflections each week on the Rivera Runs Through It blog. The date at the end of each post is the date of the original writing, which is typically the date I completed the book. The reflections are short, but represent my initial reactions to a book, a brief summary of the book or the questions it raised for me at the time. I hope you enjoy this segment in my blog and feel free to comment on what you read here.

LEVITICUS from GNT My Book --God

This book discusses all of the rules for God's people. From the day of the Sabbath to how to check your house for Mildew (?!) - it's all here. Also the first discussion of boundaries of sex (man and man "God hates that"). I found out what animals were "clean" to eat and which were not. All of the Jewish holidays and traditions were explained and God spoke of a time when His people would be exiled from their land. No "stories" here, but very interesting.

Dated: 03/13/04

To read about how I ended up with this particular version of the Bible, check out my Genesis Reading Journal entry from last week.

It is funny reading this entry now, more than eight years after I first wrote it, and seeing the note "God hates that." I remember being struck by the language, which I suppose I didn't note at the time is a result of the translation of the Bible I was reading. I distinctly remember thinking that this sounded outright silly to me. The God I know and was raised to love didn't "hate" anything. Since I was already questioning the content of the book I was reading (where the heck were all of the great biblical stories I had learned about?!), this new disconnect with the God in this translation of the Bible disconnected me from the book even more. This was the last part of the Bible I read for a long time and now that I'm realizing that, I'm wondering if I would have gone a bit further had I read a different translation!

Which leads to my question of the week: What is your favorite translation of the Bible and why? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

10 Bookish Confessions

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There's a new book-related top ten list every single week and it is a great way to get to know other book-loving bloggers! Everyone is welcome to join in the weekly linky party, even if you can't think of TEN for a certain Tuesday (just think of as many as you can!), just make sure you link back to The Broke and the Bookish if you do!

This week's topic is:
Are these secrets? Some of them, for sure. Others are just me being me and those who are close to me would expect nothing else. Either way, I have not professed them all in such a public fashion as this week's list implores me to do so. So, before I even get started I'm going to ask you for forgiveness just in case anything that follows offends your bookish sensibilities. 

1. I currently owe the library just under $30 and three books! Who knows what the heck happened there. I have the NYPL iPhone app which allows me to renew my books from home, but I kept missing the date. Also, why haven't I finished reading The Maze Runner yet, anyway?! On Saturday, I decided I should just sit down, read it cover to cover and head back over to my library on Sunday. I'd been telling myself this ALL summer, but when I saw that I had to confess this week I gav myself the Sunday deadline. I didn't make it. I'm up to Chapter 21 in The Maze Runner and I had to return it! I think, by the end of this week, I'll probably break down and go take it out AGAIN!

2. I'm an "in-store" reader. I live down the block from a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Ever since the store opened my friends and family have come to know that if I am missing chances are you'll find me there. Due to this fact there are many books which I have read, cover to cover, while sitting in the store. I will hang out, read, take note of what page I'm on, and then pick it up on my next visit. Yes... it is like stealing, but very often I end up buying the book before I'm finished with it anyway. So far, I think I have only managed to complete an in-store read twice.

3. I like to write in my books. It was sophomore year of high school. I had purchased The Lord of the Flies to read in class and we had tons of notes to take on the story when it occurred to me: Why do I keep the notes in a separate notebook? Wouldn't it be easier to reference RIGHT HERE in my book? Well, that was it - I started taking notes in the book and LOVED the completed product. Not only was William Golding's entire tale held between the covers, but so was all that I had learned about it's symbolism, characterization, themes and author! I don't do this all of the time, but when I see a book as a learning experience I write ALL OVER IT. These days that happens in particular in books on the craft of writing like On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont and The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith.

4. I prefer audiobooks to music. I don't know when this started exactly - probably when I first came home from the hospital after my diagnosis with Intracranial Hypertension. Audiobooks serve two purposes: they sweep me away to magnificent other worlds while calming me and resting my eyes. I am a super-fan of audiobooks when I am in the middle of doing chores I really want nothing to do with (ie. chances are if I am folding laundry, I am listening to a story!).

5. I just started re-reading. I have always been of the belief that there are far too many books in the universe for me to spend time re-read one that I have already experienced. However, I have spent a lifetime re-watching television shows and movies just for the sheer enjoyment - why didn't I understand that I deserved this same enjoyment in my reading life? I don't know why it took me so long to realize, but now that I have, I've been having a great time!

6. I love assigned reading. I enjoyed almost every single novel that was ever assigned to me to read in school. Therefore, after graduating high school and being freed from the lifestyle of assigned reading, I found myself at a loss for awhile as to what I should read next. It is for this reason that I find myself obsessed with reading lists of all kinds: from magazines, blogs and school. I collect these lists and perceive them as my own type of assigned reading. 

7. I loved the experience of reading the Twilight series. While the paranormal romance is not one of my favorite series that I ever read, the experience of reading the Twilight books is one that I look back on with nostalgia and hope to recapture again soon. I was teaching and noticed many students reading this book with an apple on the cover. I was excited they were reading at all and became curious myself. Then, a bunch of teachers decided to read the book all together. As I read the books and carried them with me, strangers would approach me discussing their own experience with the reading. It was something I had not experienced since reading Harry Potter and I thought it was magnificent: people were unified around reading! This is why I will always have fond memories of reading the entire Twilight series before the films came out.

8. I feel guilty when I don't want to read a book. Intellectually I know this is ridiculous. I have different tastes than others, different preferences and I should not have to read every book that is ever discussed in the public domain. However, I often feel guilty when I have no desire to read a book that is gaining popularity. This is, I believe, due to the joy I find in reading books with large groups of people (see #7 on this list), but I shouldn't have to convince myself to spend time reading a book I'm not interested in just to engage in literary conversations. Currently, I am having this issue with Fifty Shades of Grey, a book I have NO interest in reading that confuses my family because they are all enjoying it and I'm the one who "reads everything."

9. I'm a Disney kid. I grew up with Jimeny Cricket, Pinnocchio, Dumbo, Bambi and Cinderella in all of their animated glory. As the years passed I gobbled up more and more animated films from Disney Studios and never once questioned their interpretations. I know these stories as they were shown to me; it is only now, as an adult, that I am beginning to wonder how my worldview would have been affected had these stories been initially read to me. I have not read any of the Disney animated stories in the original form (except Winnie the Pooh and a bit of Alice In Wonderland). This is something I wish to rectify and perhaps will turn into a Rivera Runs Through It blog challenge now that I am thinking about it!

10. I judge books by their covers. I can't help myself, however, particularly when I am strolling around my Barnes and Noble, I get an impression when I see the cover of a book. Over the years I have stumbled upon some pretty awesome reads before they became super-popular just based on my own impression of their covers! Some examples I can remember are:  Life of Pi, The Lovely Bones, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time. In each case, I saw the book, grabbed it and sat in a big comfy chair to start reading right away. I did not read the back cover, I just sat down and started reading page one (attempted "in-store" reads that were all purchased the day they were found) and couldn't stop!

That's it. Ten confessions from this book-chick. What about you? Are you ready to confess? Do you share some of my own weaknesses?! Share below in the comments!

Monday, August 27, 2012

From 60 to 16

It has now been one week since my second lumbar puncture (spinal tap). I had waited over three years for the event, and was looking forward to the spine-poking test with hopeful anticipation. My first spinal tap on June 10, 2009, had been one of the most fantastic medical procedures I had ever experienced in my life. When I laid down upon the table and felt the needle pierce my spinal cord the relief I felt was nothing less than euphoric. In the year (or more) preceding that tap I had a pressure building in my neck, my head and my eyes that was unyielding. I felt as though I was losing my mind. I felt 24 hour pain, pressure and confusion while the world around me saw a healthy face. I knew something was wrong; I knew my body was screaming at me for attention, but no one else could hear those cries. I was alone, I was frightened and I thought I was losing my grip on the world I lived in.


Thankfully, that first spinal tap found the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) that had been squeezing me from the inside. The tap took away a bunch of the fluid (four vials!) and gave a name to the culprit inside stealing my sanity: Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH), or Pseudotumor Cerebri (PTC - so called because the symptoms are the same as those with a brain tumor even though there is none present, psuedotumor = "fake" tumor). The diagnosis was reached because, on that spinal tap, I had an opening pressure of 60 with no sign of infection. The pressure was abnormally high for inexplicable (that's what "idiopathic" means) reasons.

That was then...


Last week I didn't know what to expect. After two weeks of tapering off of the Diamox (the drug I had been on to control the CSF) I did not immediately feel as though my brain had been thrust back into the crushing grasp of an overflow of cerebral spinal fluid the likes that I had become accustomed to last decade. I still felt headaches. Dizziness continued to be a major factor, but I could see the world and I could see it without the distractions of floating auras, flashing lights and dented faces (that actually happened right before my diagnosis - very freaky!). What did it mean? According to my doctors, only a good old spinal tap could tell us the answer.

For some reason I was in great spirits the day of the tap. To be honest with you, I credit you. Every single one of you who read the post leading up to the test, every single person who prayed for me, thought of me or just wished me well - something lifted me up that day. I was uncontrollably optimistic. I was told
  • the test would be done without a fluoroscope (no fancy x-ray to make sure the doctor hit the right spot), 
  • that I would have to be stabbed sitting up then keep the needle in while I do some wacky-balancing act in fetal position while tiling my body over to lay in that position for the procedure,
  • that the only people in the world who don't have a bad experience with LP are those with high pressure, and
  • that I would have to help the doctor hit the right spot by guiding her when or if she hit a sciatic nerve.
Then I was asked if I would like any drugs to keep me calm. I smiled. I laughed. I said, "No, I don't think so. What for?" Who the hell was I? I went into the room with the doctor and the attending nurse laughing and joking about my icy cold hands. We discussed how silly I was for still keeping my old license which screwed up my medical records everywhere. I politely told the doctor I felt weirdness in my right leg. I heard the panic in her voice as she moved the needle, but could not fathom what was so worrisome... just move the needle! I laid on my side, half hanging off the bed like some weird monkey feeling just fine and thought, "This is almost done," when I heard the doctor say, "Sixteen."

My heart skipped a beat. A number. Could it be my opening pressure?! A sixteen is a NORMAL opening pressure. I could feel no pain. I did everything to stave off the tears of joy. I didn't want to jump to any conclusions, but I couldn't help myself. I don't know what else we did in between - what we talked about or joked about through the rest of the procedure, not until I asked the doctor outright, when the needle was out and I was lying on my back, if my assumption was correct. It was.

I have not yet seen any of my specialists. My first appointment is this week and I'm trying to bump up my next one - with the guy who planned this whole experiment - which is currently in late September. I don't want to jump the gun here, but 16 is very good news to me. Anything under 20 is considered "normal." Normal is pretty awesome.

I know I'm not out of the woods yet. I'm still getting headaches and the dizziness is still crashing every little party I throw in my brain, but they both could be from something else. The fact is, I don't think I need the Diamox to hold back my CSF anymore. I fear typing it, but I've been toying with that very sexy "R" word again (remission!). In August 2011 I found out my Crohn's disease was in remission, why not add IIH to the list in August of 2012?! Crossing my fingers that my pseudo-medical degree, which I achieved through years of Internet study and doctor/specialists inquisitions, has taught me enough to give this hopeful claim some merit!

Since the Tap 
In the meantime I've been reading and writing. I've been thinking and dreaming. I've been wondering what comes next? I know it's up to me and I know not to push myself too far too fast, but part of me is holding out hopes that maybe just maybe the headaches and the dizziness is after-shock from three years of Diamox... Part of me is daring to dream that I might just get to taste life again as a healthy human being baring only two scars - the one only the highly trained eye can see when examining my left eyelid, and the other only visible to me in the form of my own vision: fractured, broken and inconsistently depth-deprived.

If it is a dream, I beg you, just let me sleep a little more...

And Finally

One last thing. To all of you who kept me in your prayers and sent me good wishes I can never ever thank you enough, but please know that my heart sings your praises with every single beat.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lumbar Puncture #2

Back in June my neuro-opthalmologist proposed an experiment for me to undertake in order to ascertain whether or not I could safely discontinue taking Diamox (acetazolamide) without my Intracranial Hypertension threatening my vision and my life. The proposal was simply enough explained: Taper off Diamox in a two week period (as per his instructions) and have a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) at the end to measure the pressure of cerebral spinal fluid without medication. Tomorrow I will be getting that lumbar puncture at 3pm EST.

Diamox Sequels
My unexpected virtual silence in these previous weeks has been as a result of unforeseen side effects from tapering off the Diamox. I have been exhausted, confused, nauseous, in pain, but, most of all, I've been dizzy. This room is spinning right now, in fact, and I'm hanging on tight to my keyboard in between taps. My doctor told me to keep going unless my vision is affected, so here I am, Diamox-free spinning on solid ground praying that these side effects are only a sign of withdrawal and not of active disease. I had one questionable moment of color blindness earlier this week that has been the only thing piercing tiny holes in my life preserver of confidence and hope that I will not have to take this medication again.

I am not writing to bad mouth Diamox. Not by any means. Diamox has helped me save what fractured vision I have left. Diamox has helped turn day long headaches, pressure, confusion and pain into daily, or sometimes even less frequent, headaches that allow me to find corners of the day in which I can write, communicate with others and live my new low impact lifestyle. Diamox wrapped a lasso around my unbridled, untamed cerebral spinal fluid teaching my insides lessons yours may already know. I don't hate Diamox, but it has its own payment that I think I have paid long enough: it is a Pregnancy Category C medication which means, "Animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks." While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of the drug's safety after the first trimester, all stories of women taking the drug any earlier, that I have heard, have been heart-breaking and frightening.
So tomorrow's a big day. I won't get the results right away (at least I don't think I will), but answers will be on their way. Even though I know all the side effects I'm feeling right now will not disappear over night, I'm fairly certain I will feel somewhat better when the lumbar puncture is behind me. (pun?)

Part of me wants to say my blogging schedule will come back to life on Tuesday, but I'm gong to be realistic about this: I'm taking one more week of brain and eye rest. Rivera Runs Through It and all of my blogging life will go back on schedule starting Monday, August 27th. I look forward to the return of my routine! I just hope my eyes and brain will be ready for it!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

10 Characters I'd Switch Places With for 24 Hours

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There's a new book-related top ten list every single week and it is a great way to get to know other book-loving bloggers! Everyone is welcome to join in the weekly linky party, even if you can't think of TEN for a certain Tuesday (just think of as many as you can!), just make sure you link back to The Broke and the Bookish if you do!

This week's topic is:

24 hours is the key to this week's list in my eyes. If the topic was simply characters I'd like to switch places with period, I think a bunch of these choices would be off right away. On the other hand, knowing that I can enter the world and life of my choice for one day and, no matter how scary or surreal that world may be, return back to the simplicity of my own dull life I felt a bit braver in my choices.

1. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.

I know a thousand people will have this character as one of their selections. I mean who doesn't want access to a magical world just beyond the reaches of our own and a time turner? I don't think this requires a whole bunch of explanation.

2. Annabeth Chase from Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan.

 A half-blood daughter of Athena, Annabeth gets access to Camp Half Blood out in Long Island and has cool friends like Percy Jackson, his brother Tyson and Grover Underwood. Being Annabeth for 24 hours would give me the ability to see beyond the mist so I could see all the awesome mythological, godly and magical stuff happening right in front of me every day!

3. Any hobbit from The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings by JRR Tolkien.

I want to see the Shire, live in a hobbit hole and have one full day of hobbit life. This should include merriment, lots of eating and - hopefully - not be my birthday (hobbits have a tradition of giving gifts to everyone else on their birthday, this way they gifts all year round, rather than just one day). 

4. Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

I'd like to meet Aslan. Since Lucy was always the most faithful of the Pevensie children chances are, even with a mere 24 hours, stepping into Lucy's shoes give me the greatest chance to do so. However, even if the great lion doesn't drop by, at least I'll be able to explore Narnia which is awesome!
5. John Smith/Number Four from I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore.
It's all about the power here, not the impending doom of another alien race set on my demise. John Smith has super strength, speed, telekinesis, Lumen (an awesome power that allows him to shoot heat from his body and be able to resist fire whenever he needs to),  but my all time favorite power that he possesses is Animal Telepathy! I need this power! While I'd love to have it in my own home, so Champ (the ShihTzu) and I could really talk, just getting into the mind of any animal would be fun for me.

6. Sookie Stackhouse from the The Southern Vampire Mysteries series by Charlene Harris.
Although this is kind of cheating (I feel like I cheat every week in Top Ten Tuesday!!) since I haven't read the books yet, I know enough about Sookie's life from friends who have read the books that I think I'd like a day in the life of Sookie. This is a combination of world exploring and character exploring. First, I need to check out a world in which vampires are publicly recognized, and I want to mingle around. Second, Sookie is a super-charged fairy with magical friends, I'd like to take her powers for a spin!

7. Marcus Yallow from Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
Marcus has some pretty fantastic computer and hacking skills. I'd like to be him for 24 hours and, while him, spend the 24 hours writing up a how-to manual for the real me to make me the most web-savvy person I can be. I just hope I won't get distracted with an ARG. On the other hand, I will accepting LARPing distractions; they sound like loads of fun!

8. Grover from The Monster At The End of This Book by John Stone.
Alright. There. I admitted it. I want to be a muppet. It's only for a day, and why not be the most lovable furry blue monster on the block in Sesame Street?

9. Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
I'm not into mak-up and doing my hair all fancy, or even getting dressed up all that much, but I would like to spend 24 hours experiencing all the insanity that is the Capitol and I feel like Effie could get me right in the middle of that muck. I'll treat that day as my own Halloween as I take part in all the garish flamboyance that is expected as the norm. 

10. Hobbes from Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson.
I love to surprise and terrify those I care about. I hide behind doorways, under counters and in darkened halls waiting for the perfect moment to jump out and SCREAM! It's wonderful when the victim screams as well, when you see their eyes turn into saucers and you can run and hide before they shake off the fear and realize they just want to murder you for the time you've shaved off of their life... This is something I relish in. However, in my nearly 36 years of practice in this art I have never mastered a pounce the way Hobbes has. I love when Calvin is creeping through his front door knowing that Hobbes is just waiting somewhere quietly in some shadow to pounce on him. Calvin knows it, but it doesn't matter. Hobbes gets him every time. I want to be Hobbes for one day so I can - in my long, furry, agile tiger body - deliver the scare I have been reaching for my entire life. 
...and then maybe after that Calvin and I can play with the Transmogrifier.

Who's on your list? You've got 24 hours to be any character from  any book; who do you choose? Who did I forget? Post your answers in the comments section below!