I want a month of muse

The only problem with the weekend was that it was only a weekend. I read Good Faith by Jane Smiley and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I liked both but didn’t love either, which got me thinking about the way in which I classify books.

This is how books break down in my head:

Category 1 – yuck. I couldn’t get past Chapter 3. I always give a book three chapters or thirty pages. If the author doesn’t hook me by then, the book goes back to the library.

Category 2 – meh. There was something in the book that kept me reading – a character or plot twist, f. ex. – but the whole story didn’t hang together for me. This is a very useful category because books like this help me understand where my own weaknesses as a writer are.

Category 3 – good enough. About 85% of what I read falls in this category. I kept reading because I was engaged in the characters and the story, I closed the book with a feeling of satisfaction. The author did her/his job and I will look for more that s/he has written. Usually there was one quality of the book that stood out for me. In Good Faith, it was the evocation of the early 1980’s, in Gilead, it was the language and voice that was so perfect for the story itself. But the book was not good enough to break into ….

… Category 4 – amazing. These are the books I rave about and buy multiple copies of for friends. These are the books that make me laugh out loud or weep. These are the books that take me away from this world and transport me into the world of the story – so much so that I lose track of time and get in trouble for it. Only a couple of books a year fall into this category. (Sometimes a year will go by without me reading a book that I feel is good enough for Category 4. That is depressing.)

In addition to reading, I worked on a couple picture book manuscripts and wrote in my journal (the old-fashioned one) for the first time in years. BH and I took a long walk up at Fort Ontario when the sun was shining. There is a small graveyard there where Revolutionary War soldiers are interred, and the body of a baby born while her father was posted to the fort. There was mist on the horizon. The line where the lake met the sky was blurred and lavender. Hunks of ice bumped against the shore. BH made the best batch of chili ever last night and we ate it while watching the March Madness selection show. Eight Big East teams!

If you live in the area and are looking for something to do tonight, my dad, Frank Halse, is giving a poetry reading at the Mexico Public Library at 6:30pm. He turns 79 in a couple weeks and he is still writing new poetry and giving public readings. I think that’s cool.

Writing Question #2

I’m wondering, do you start at the first page and write each scene in order until the end? I often find I’m inspired to write a certain scene, so I jump ahead to it, which can mean that my events in between don’t end up flowing, so I feel like I’m constantly rewriting scenes and always tell myself, if i would just write from start to finish – in order – maybe this wouldn’t happen. What do you think?

I start at what I think is the first page and go from there. Once I am through the first draft, I ALWAYS wind up moving scenes around and sticking in new scenes and throwing some scenes out. And sometimes I change the opening completely. FEVER 1793 used to have eight additional chapters preceding what is now Chapter One. And TWISTED had a very different opening way back in Draft One.

Sometimes I will see a scene or chapter further in the book than the one sitting in front of me. I do not hesitate to jump to it. You can always write “Chapter Four: Something happens”, then move on to Chapter Five, if, for you really know what you want to put in Chapter Five. But if, as you say, you feel that jumping around interferes with the flow of your story, then experiment with not jumping and see if that helps.

We had my parents over for dinner last night. The dog (formerly known as the Creature With Fangs) gave my mom a massive wet dog kiss. My mom giggled and laughed and looked totally blissed out. So now the dog is the Creature Who Can Do No Wrong. Mom calls her the Granddaughter with Long Ears.

Other things on my to-do list today:
Study picture book manuscript – decide if it can be salvaged.
Follow the men’s Big East tournament.
Think about WIP2 plot issues.
Hang with Stef and Charlotte. (Here’s a link Stef sent me last night for anyone fed up with crazy consumer culture.)
Go to the library!

Warning – mushy romantic post

Some of you know this story, but for those who don’t here goes.

I have known my husband since I was three years old. He was six when we met; an older, wiser man. Our mothers were best friends and liked to drink coffee in the afternoon, so he was in charge of walking me home from kindergarten. We spent a LOT of time together as kids, but never romantically. In fact, when our moms would predict we’d wind up together, we’d groan and shriek and spit “Ew!”

That attitude changed when we were hit with the puberty stick.

And then it changed again when I went away to college because we were young and stupid. We married other people and went almost twenty years without being in contact with each other. When our first marriages ended, our paths crossed again. The second time around we weren’t so stupid.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

Happy Book News, with vicious rant behind the cut

It’s official: PROM is available in paperback!

::happy dancing::

PROM was also honored by making VOYA’s Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers (check out the whole list for other great titles).

::more happy dancing::

And FEVER 1793 proudly sits on the
2006 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults List
, chosen by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association.

I love the way this committee organizes the list. It comes up with fun, funky categories every year. Check out this year’s (descriptions stolen from the committee’s press release):

“Books That Don’t Make You Blush: No Dirty Laundry Here” Books that are fun to read and appeal to all teens.

“Criminal Elements” Fiction and nonfiction about teens that find themselves in opposition to or on the wrong side of the law, as well as stories about lives affected by encounters with the legal system, gangs, law enforcement, and prison.

“What Ails You?” Fiction and nonfiction about how diseases, disorders and other general health related symptoms affect our lives. (This is the list that FEVER is on.)

“GLBTQ” Contemporary fiction and nonfiction for teens of all persuasions.

If you’re looking for something good to read, I strongly suggest you print out the list and take it to the library with you.

::stops dancing to stare at mountain of paperwork on desk::

In the cranky news category: I spent hours and hours again yesterday trying to straighten out the host of Medicare issues that have been hounding my parents for months. Many of you probably don’t care about this so I’m putting it behind a cut:

My rant about Medicare and companies that abuse the elderly and weak


The funeral and family stuff filled up all of Saturday. The pastor was an 80-year-old woman; the perfect choice for my Aunt Janet. I think I want an elderly woman with a crinkly smile and slightly shaky hands to stand in the pulpit when it’s my turn to go. (Which, btw, I have scheduled for sometime in the the mid 2050s.) After the service we trooped back to my cousin’s house and caught up with each other and laughed a lot. That’s how our family deals with pain – we laugh at it. Don’t get me wrong. There have been a lot of tears shed over her death, moments of absolute rage and sorrow. But now we have to keep going, and we might as well do it with a smile.

Spent yesterday reading letters and journals written during the Amer Rev. These didn’t have anything to do with the incidents I am focusing on in my book. I was reading them for language, looking for phrases and words which people in the time period were comfortable using, and which I can appropriately use in my story. I have a lot more of that in front of me today.

I also finally unpacked the last of my boxes of books from the move last summer. I can’t afford the bookshelves I want yet, so for the time being, they are laid out on the floor, watching me type. It was so nice to see some of them again. I missed them.

Yeah, I’m strange like that, but it works for me.