Monday, January 28, 2013

My Hometown A to Z Challenge

Staten Island has been my home for nearly thirty-seven years. Everything I have experienced in this life has been through the filter of a native Staten Islander's senses.

Whether we approve or not our homes help frame our lives and our personalities. For the next twenty-six weeks I am going to embark on a blogging A to Z challenge of my own creation giving a nod of respect to the place that made me who I am today: each week I will post one creative non-fiction post inspired by a Staten Island location beginning with that week's letter.

I hope to flex my memoirist muscles with this activity and, at the same time, share a little bit of myself and my home with you. If you are a fellow writer/blogger who would like to join the challenge I'll be starting next Monday with an essay based on a memory of a hometown spot that begins with an "A" - come on back and share your link in the comments section, I'd love to have a buddy along for this ride!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fighting to Finish

Neil Gaiman
In November 2011 I participated in NaNoWriMo and "finished" a novel. It's an interesting way to put it because all I did was write a first draft. The novel itself was far from finished.

When I sat down to edit in 2012 I signed up for a critique workshop online and joined a writing group that met locally to help me along my path.

Mark each as a fail.

The online workshop was a bust (some confusion with the workshop leader) and the local writing group was inconsistent at best. I was floundering and, without a support system, I filled my days with other distractions. I needed eyes other than my own to read my words, and loved ones just wouldn't do in this situation.

This Fall I went into a deep writing hibernation that extended even into my blogging (as is evident with a quick glance at the sidebar). I wrote in my journal and other notebooks, started a bunch of new stories and came up with ideas for new novels (two that I am really excited about), but I typed nothing. I also read a lot. I read novels and graphic novels, for sure, but I also read about writing. I was searching for... something.

In the interim, Nail Gaiman seemed to be popping up all over. And over and over again his one bit of advice would tear out among the rest: FINISH. Every time I'd hear (or read) him say it I'd feel a fire shoot up my spine: What am I doing? I'd feel guilty about my abandoned love,  Why can't I finish? Then, last week, when I was watching John and Hank Green's "An Evening Of Awesome At Carnegie Hall" event on YouTube while reorganizing my entire living room and dining room, he showed up again.

There, on my giant TV Mr. Gaiman, was doling out writing advice to an audience of Nerdfighters. Of course, I knew he wasn't really talking to them, he was telling me that I should FINISH things. He said that I would learn so much more from a finished project that's a failure than a whole bunch of unfinished fantastic ones.

Repetition works. I know this. As a teacher I employed this daily - repeat, repeat, repeat - no one gets it the first time. So there I was, a student of Mr. Gaiman's, and after being pummeled in the head countless times, the lesson was finally seeping in... I stood there, covered in a flock of dust bunnies and realized I owed it to myself to see Dear 302, my first draft from NaNoWriMo 2011, all the way through to its end. I had to take action.

Strange things happen when you have moments like those; it's like the universe is waiting for them in order to pour opportunities over your head. That Thursday the good people at NaNoWriMo hosted a "What Now?" twitter chat where the topic of beta readers came up. As a first step, I volunteered as a beta reader for who ever would have me, just to get myself reconnected to my online writing community.

It worked.

I am a beta reader for two NaNoPals. While reading, I continued my own rewriting and editing, and, in turn, felt confident enough to throw some of my pages out into the ether. The comments came back this morning. They're awesome! I feel like I'm "in it" again and ready to go all the way this time.

To add to the excitement, I just found out this week that the online critique workshop I was in last year was such a flop I have been offered a refund and free admission to a new workshop hosted by the site. The timing is perfect. I was not ready for this any earlier.

So here I go again, back into the deep end. The newbie novelist learning as she goes. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Tao Teh Chung by Lao Tzu (translation by John C. Wu)

This is my first reading of the Tao Teh Ching, so I can not compare John C. Wu's work to other translations, but I can say that I enjoyed the reading thoroughly. Each page reads as a meditation in and of itself. For those who can read Chinese, this edition of the book included the original Chinese written characters of each poem rather than any illustrations or pictures.

If you were raised in Western traditions, as I was, reading the Tao Teh Ching can begin to give you a perspective of the individualistic nature of the Taoist philosophy where following "the way" or "the path" is simply a journey of self requiring no institution or grand gestures of ritual. To sum up this sentiment, I give you Chapter 47:

Without going out of your door,
You can know the ways of the world.
Without peeping out your window, 
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go,
The less you know.

Thus, the Sage knows without traveling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado.
I look forward to rereading this book as well as checking out other translations, as I have heard that this is truly the way to get the most out of this writing.

Have you read Tao Teh Ching?
If so, which translation(s)?  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Picture books mark a child's first introduction into the wonderful world of reading. What better way to do that than with some simplistic, friendly art and a touch of humor? I loved the book I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen! This is a great read aloud book with a surprising ending that will put your whole audience in stitches.

I'm going to say this: even if you don't have kids, you owe it to yourself to take ten minutes to read this book in your local bookstore or at your library!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Goodreads Reading Challenge

I did it!

For my 2012 Goodreads Reading Challenge I challenged myself to read 52 books in the year. I figured one book per week wasn't too much of a stretch for someone who loves reading as much as I do. It shouldn't have been, anyway, but by December I found myself over 15 books behind on my reading.

I didn't think I was going to squeeze it out and, some may say that I "cheated" in the end, but before the clock struck 12am on January 1, 2013, I had read 54 books.

Now I have to catch up on my reviews! I have a lot of books to review and share. The whole year was an awesome read, but December was particularly exciting with so many stories jammed into such a short amount of time. There were novels, graphic novels, children's books and audiobooks all absorbed during the holiday season.

I was so inspired by my December Read-a-Thon that I quickly created my 2013 Reading Challenge and decided to really reach for the stars:

My new goal is 100 books, and I've already read six! I'm looking forward to sharing them all here so you can find yourself in some book love this year.

Happy Reading!

Do you participate in any kind of reading challenges?
What do you think is a reasonable amount of books to read in one year?
Do you think children's picture books should be counted as "reads"?