Saturday, January 16, 2016

My Aching Body, My Aching Pen

I realize I haven't been on here for a VERY long time. By way of explanation, 2015 was a super challenging year in so many ways, and it still seems I am trying to drag myself up from the murky depths it left me in.

In April of last year, I thought I had injured my knee. It ballooned up like an elephant's, and I couldn't put any weight on it. After several doctor's visits, I had some fluid drawn to check for infection etc... Meanwhile, my shoulders began to ache. Then my hips. Then my wrists and my fingers. My husband said it's like I went from 45 to 85 practically over night. Whatever had me in its grips had spread like a wildfire throughout my body. I was terrified, and even the smallest tasks felt daunting. I kept teaching, but the mornings (when I normally would be writing) were excruciating and exhausting. Finally, the results came back that whatever was happening in my knee was a rheumatoid response, and after several more visits I was finally diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. It's an autoimmune disease which causes an inflammatory response in the joints. My body was essentially attacking itself; I was literally self-destructing.

Suddenly, all of those prescription drug commercials on TV were aimed at me. I had never even heard of this thing before. But despite the prescription promises, the drugs I was prescribed took almost four months to kick in. And what this meant for me in the interim was that I stopped writing. Sitting at my desk was difficult, typing hurt. And I was absolutely and completely distracted by a very uncertain future. For a long time, I began to wonder if this was just the way my life was going to be from now on. I tried to envision a daily existence where I was in too much pain to sit at my desk, and wondered how on earth I would ever write another book. And then, finally, miraculously (though hardly over night), I started to feel better. The magic pills (which apparently are used in chemotherapy treatments -- um, seriously?) started to kick in. And slowly but surely my life started to come back to me.

But the novel that was due in October was hard work. I managed to complete a draft, but every single word was difficult to write. I have never thought of writing as work before this novel. Just as I'd never appreciated the ease with which my arms rose to put a glass away in the cupboard, or of my knees bent so I could climb stairs, I never thought about how readily stories came to me. How easily sentences seemed to craft themselves. In the strangest way, it felt like I was writing a novel for the first time.

And now, even as my immune system has been put in check, I am still struggling with this novel. Every morning I sit down and stare at the voluminous notes from my editor and want to cry. And then I look at the book itself and DO cry. It is hard work, and it hurts. BUT, slowly, incrementally, it seems to be getting better. The edits seem just a little bit easier to make. As with my body, there are good days and bad days. Days I'd really just rather go back to bed and hide.

So, that is where I am. Struggling. Just in case anybody was wondering.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter: A Review

Ugly GirlsUgly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love it when poets write fiction. There's a meticulousness of language, of imagery when they do. And this book is written with a poet's sensibility. It is the story of two girls -- Baby Girl and Perry -- who are both teetering on a precarious edge -- just one (more) bad decision away from disaster. Poverty, addiction, sex, and violence: this book is like a raw wound. I was totally captivated.

Friday, December 26, 2014

My Reading Re-Cap 2014

2014 wound up being an incredibly busy year, so busy in fact that this blog was neglected for most of it. I've been feeling really, really awful about how few books I managed to read and hesitated even writing this post until it dawned on me that I did, in fact, read thousands and thousands of pages this year - and many, many books -- though most of them were my editing clients' and students' unpublished work.

I read (and edited) twenty-one amazing unpublished books this year. I also read, on average, 200-300 pages of student work per week. I taught classes online, in person at Grossmont Community College, in workshops at San Diego Writers, Ink and in my weekly Read & Critique groups. I got to read work that was hot off the press and work that has been toiled over for years and years. I also read drafts of friends' and colleagues' work that will be published next year.

This has, actually, been one of the most literary-focused years of my life. I wrote and revised a new novel (which will be out in 2016). I completed NaNoWriMo with a rough draft of a novel, and am about to finish the first draft of an additional one.

And I did manage to read a few published novels as well. Here are my favorites from this year (in no particular order -- and with links):

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22367526-my-sunshine-away


 
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18112175-remember-me-like-this

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18656036-the-fever

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18528250-orion-s-daughters?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18668231-the-other-side

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17871515-a-life-in-men

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18404194-a-paris-apartment

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18142427-life-drawing?ac=1

I'm half-way through this one -- and am loving it:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18651980-fourth-of-july-creek?ac=1

And these 2 are on my TBR list (but they're both written by friends, so I KNOW they're going to be great!):

https://www.goodreads.com/book/photo/20710718-forest-of-fortune

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23168800-benefit-of-the-doubt?ac=1

Happy New Year (and Happy Reading) to you all in 2015!

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Life in Men by Gina Frangello: A Review

A Life in MenA Life in Men by Gina Frangello
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had the pleasure of meeting Gina Frangello last month at the Tucson Festival of Books, where we spoke on three separate panels together. We also spent a lot of time between panels chatting in the authors' green room, and so I heard a lot about this book (as well as about her process of writing the book) prior to finally sitting down to read it. Gina was an engaging speaker, as well as a fascinating person, and so I was eager to dive in.

A LIFE IN MEN, is a sweeping story of a woman named Mary Grace who, at seventeen, is diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (a life-shortening pulmonary disease typically diagnosed in early childhood). And so just as her life is about to begin, her life expectancy is suddenly abbreviated to an unfathomable six years.

The novel is not about illness, however. Nor is it about dying. It is, instead, about living. About embracing life, embracing the world, and all of the people in it.

There is an urgency to everything about this book, despite its epic scope. We travel with Mary from Greece to London, Africa to Mexico, Amsterdam to Morocco. We watch as she struggles to compress a lifetime of experience into these few precious years, to ignore her illness even as it incites this manic sort of approach to living. Book-ended by two tragedies: the Lockerbie disaster and 9/11, Mary's life becomes a sort of luminous, shimmery thing in between.

The story is told to us in a meandering omniscience, her character revealed via the various men in her life (as well as by her vibrant best friend, whose death sets the story into motion). The cumulative effect of this is the understanding that an individual's life is not a solitary thing, but something which has far-reaching trajectories. It also suggests that perception and truth are not mutually exclusive: "There is never only one Truth," Frangello writes. "There is only one truth at a time."

I really loved this book.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Coming Up for Air

Gasp. That is me, coming up for air. For a moment.

And those are first three sentences I have written in months that haven't been in response to someone else's writing. And that makes me sad. I have been teaching and editing so much in the last three months, that I am not even sure I remember how to write anymore. Two online classes, a Saturday workshop at San Diego Writer's Ink, a Tuesday evening class at Grossmont College, volunteering at The Monarch School every other week, two weekly Read and Critiques, and back to back to back editing jobs. At one point last month I was reading (and commenting on) almost a thousand pages a week. Don't get me wrong - I love my editing work, and I really, really enjoy teaching, but my own words seem to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.

By all accounts, I should be feeling great. I recently optioned the film rights for Bodies of Water to an amazing actress who is, at this very moment, turning it into a beautiful screenplay. Bodies also was just named a finalist for a Lambda award. I am doing an interview with Brad Listi for my favorite podcast, Other People, later this month. And I am headed to Tucson this weekend for the Tucson Festival of Books where I will get to see my friend, Jillian Cantor, and have dinner with Alice Hoffman (one of my literary idols). But instead of feeling awesome, I am feeling both anxious and somewhat melancholy.

I am waiting to get the edits of my next book back -- trying not to think too much about it (otherwise I go into panic mode that it's not nearly as strong as I hope it is). I finished a draft of a book during NaNoWriMo that I KNOW stinks.  I have an idea for a different book that is distracting me, luring me away from that really crappy draft of what is supposed to be the next book -- due in OCTOBER, and I can't decide if I should just follow the shiny new thing (squirrel!) or muscle up and tackle the clean-up of that steaming pile of ca-ca I made in November. I am also waiting (always waiting) for some other things to pan out. But they're not panning, and I'm getting sick of waiting.

Anyway.

And now a brief dispatch from the Mermama front:

1. I made an eel costume today. Esmee is Flotsam in "The Little Mermaid" next week.
2. We signed the girls up for a week at Camp Downer -- the sleepaway camp both my mother and I went to.
3. This means Patrick and I get a whole week alone at the pond in Vermont.
4. Had to enact some tough love when Esmee stole money from her savings to buy herself Candy-Grams for Valentine's Day.
5. Allowing Kick to go to Starbuck's with a friend after school today...sounds small but feels really big.
6. Kick's middle school jazz band kind of rocks.

And now, holding my breath, and diving back in.


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2013

I have read more this year than any other year of my life. However, most of what I have been reading are my editing clients' unpublished works-in-progress. While I absolutely love this work, it leaves little time for pleasure reading. I did manage to read a few books with 2013 pub dates (as well as several books from previous years). Here are my favorites from 2013 -- in no particular order:

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

MargotEleanor & Park
Heart Like Mine Schroder

Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward: A Review

Men We Reaped: A MemoirMen We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeous, difficult, heart-breaking memoir by the author of SALVAGE THE BONES. MEN WE REAPED is the account of five tragic deaths in five year's time in Ward's life, but it reads both like an investigation and like an elegy. It took me nearly a month to read this book...it is to be read in carefully calibrated does. It is that potent.

Ward has earned a life-long reader and fan.