What I’m Working On….

I’ve started work on a new novel – a second novel set in the Underworld established in my upcoming The Life and Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn.  It isn’t a sequel, per se, since it’s a new set of characters and is (mostly) set in a different part of the Underworld, so I guess that makes it a spinoff…?  Whatever it is, I’m having fun writing it and getting back into the rhythm of writing just about every day.  Figuring up what’s left of the summer, if I write 5,000 words per week, I can have a 60,000 word rough draft by the beginning of Fall semester.  This week, I only got in 2,000 words, but the beginning is always hard – when you’re in the habit of editing more than writing, it’s hard to switch gears and stop thinking your ideas to death.  The rough draft process, for me, requires letting go of 90 percent of my impulses to control the story…usually my subconscious seems to have a much clearer idea of what to do than the rest of my brain gives it credit for.  I can clean up any places where it got sloppy later.

Given that I’ll be out of the country for a month (and extremely busy) this summer, I’m not sure how likely I am to end up with a complete rough draft before school starts again, but I’ll give it a shot!  If I can churn out 54,000 words in 30 days (NaNoWriMo 2010), I don’t see why I can’t do this.

When I Go to Russia….

For half my life now, I’ve wanted to go to Russia.  In less than a month, I’ll be heading to St. Petersburg for a four-week program on museum studies and the history of Russian art.  The first question most people ask me when I tell them I’m learning Russian is, “Why Russian?”  I find this question incredibly irritating (I’ve never heard anybody question why any other language) but that’s a rant I don’t need to get into here and now….

Anyway, the answer is, because I love Russian literature.  It’s what got me started being interested in Russia, starting with Dostoevsky and expanding to Lermentov, Bulgakov, Chekov, Gogol, Pushkin, and Turgenev.  No, I’ve never managed to really get into Tolstoy, in case you’re wondering.  And though Dostoevsky and I disagree on some major philosophical points, he remains one of my all-time favorite authors.  His ability to make thoroughly despicable people into heartbreakingly sympathetic characters and his intense portrayal of the fragility, beauty, and horror of the human psyche at the height of his literary career is impressive in itself, but his growth and change as an author is possibly even more admirable.  In his early works, he writes like an awkward, dreamy young man (not unlike many of his early narrators).  After his arrest, mock-execution, and exile, his writing flourishes – all his early skill with writing beautifully-crafted words from the heart bursts out of his dream-state youth into full awareness of the realities around him, and his full strength as a writer, as a social commentator, as an observer of human behavior, finally came through.

As a writer, I find the intensity of his development inspiring.  I can’t say that I ever want to experience a last-minute pardon from execution or a decade’s imprisonment in Siberia, but I can say that I hope that any difficult, frightening, awful times in my own life (because, let’s face it, everybody experiences some hard times) will push my writing to new levels, open me up to new and profound possibilities, and strengthen my creativity into something with real power behind it.  A good writer is a nice thing to be, but to be a great writer takes not just ability, but growth.

The Dostoevsky Museum isn’t on my program’s list of sites, but I’ll definitely go on my own to see it, and his grave site nearby.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about that visit when the time comes!

Happy Mother’s Day!

People have been asking me what it’s like to have a writer for a mom for as long as I can remember.  I always liked making up stories, but Mom has been my unfailing encourager and supporter throughout my writing life – my first editor, the first person I bounce new ideas off of.  Mom wrote my stories down when I was too young to write myself (patiently taking time out of her own writing schedule for my extremely frequent interruptions).  She typed my stories on request until I was about eight, when she taught me how to type.  She gave me my first computer so I could work on my first book when I was ten.  She took me to writer’s workshops, science fiction conventions, and weekly Southern Indiana Writers Group meetings, introduced me to other writers, editors, and publishers.  We were our own little writer’s workshop while I was growing up, and still are, in a lot of ways.  If either of us is stuck, we know the other will happily brainstorm with us over the phone.

Having an instant writing buddy in your mother is something you appreciate all the more when you’re around other writers later on, when you realize that most writers have to actively seek out other people who understand the process, the love, the frustration, the mindset that you can and will use anything as material, the sparks of inspiration, the terror of a blank page….  Writers are a little bit (or, in some cases, a lot) crazy, and it can be lonely when you’re the only one around.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have always had someone around who gets it – who has as much fun as I do brainstorming story ideas, coming up with writing exercises and story challenges, explaining imaginary alternate endings to movies that could have been good (if we had written the script)….  So the answer is, having a writer for a mom is awesome.  Thank you, Mom – for everything, but especially for your friendship and encouragement.

Chinchilla Monday!


Since rainy Mondays are pretty depressing things, I’m posting about my chinchilla today, who is cute enough to cheer up just about anybody.  I’ve only been a chinchilla owner for about four months (I’m normally a cat owner), but I definitely enjoy getting to know this little critter.  Her name is Dasha (of course I named her a Russian name!) and her favorite things in the world are chewing on everything, bouncing off of solid surfaces, trying to dig out of her cage, falling asleep curled up in my hoodie, and hard rock guitar solos.  She’s especially fond of AC/DC, Guns ‘N’ Roses, and Led Zeppelin.

Here she is with her “salad bowl” – which is made of woven grass and is therefore edible for her.  Her current favorite toy is an inclined cat scratcher that my oldest sister gave me.  For Dasha, it constitutes a ramp for jumping off of, a hiding place to nap under, a chew toy, and something fun to roll around on.  She has her own toddler xylophone keyboard, but as soon as she figured out how to play it, she stopped being interested in it (except when she’s in trouble for chewing things she isn’t supposed to, when she plays itIMG_0007 to get praise and attention back).

Her natural habitat is the Andes, so she likes the cold and can’t tolerate much over 72 degrees, and she also can’t get her fur wet (she’s secretly a Gremlin).  She takes dust baths in volcanic ash, which she gets everywhere unless well contained while she’s bathing.  She’s mainly nocturnal, although she wakes up periodically during the day and is most active at dusk and dawn (when she begs for treats incessantly).  Her favorite treats are raisins and craisins, although she will get bored with any treat if she gets it multiple days in a row (no, no, she isn’t spoiled, I swear!)  She also likes dandelion treats, dried papaya, rosemary, plain oats, and puffed rice.

And that’s Dasha in a nutshell!