Social Media and Me

I used to be online-savvy.  Really, I did.  In like, 2004.  These days, I have a Facebook page, but that’s about it.

Now that I’m gearing up to publish a book, I’m looking around at other authors’ web sites and blogs and Twitter feeds, and I’m realizing that I am way, way out of the loop.  I sent a frantic e-mail to my extraordinarily social-media savvy friend,  Melissa Anelli.  Here is the text of that e-mail.

What is an @?
What is a #?
I do not get it.

She put me straight, and I started a Twitter account.  It’s just sitting there.  I’m not sure what to do with it.  Tweet things?  What things?  It makes me nervous.  I’m a voyeur right now, watching what other people say, trying to figure out how to jump in.  I feel like I’m watching two jump ropes swinging in opposite directions and I’m supposed to leap in without tripping and start doing double dutch.

There are other things, too.  Things that are mysteries to me.  Tumblr.  Instagram.  I hear these things from the mouths of my middle-school students, so I know they are of vital importance, but I don’t know what they are.

It would probably help if I had a cell phone.  Oh, I know.  I KNOW.  No cell phone?  How do I live?  Technically, I have a cell phone, but it doesn’t count by today’s standards.  My husband and I share an emergency disposable phone that does the following things: 1. Makes calls.  2. Receives calls.  (I think you can also send texts with it, but I don’t really know how to do that, either – I KNOW.)   My point is that it’s not a Smart phone. It is a Sad phone.

I have promised myself a really cool phone when I sell this book (notice I am not letting myself say if).  I will do other, mature, responsible, adult things with my advance also.  But I will buy a cool phone, because I will deserve it – and possibly need it. And when I have my cool phone, I will Tweet like a bird and Tumbl like a ninja.  Or whatever the cool kids are doing these days.

(Edited to add: this article helped.  One thing at a time.  Cool.)

The Casual Vacancy, Part 2

Well, I finished it.

I about vomited at the end.  Instead, I curled up and cried for half an hour.  I actually threw the book across the room when I finished it.  Totally threw it, chucked it against a wall and said some things I won’t repeat here.  Haven’t done that since finishing Order of the Phoenix.   So it was definitely JKR. 

The Casual Vacancy

I am a Harry Potter fan.

That’s an understatement, and I’ll get into just what an understatement that is on another day. 

The point is, I got J.K. Rowling’s new book in the mail yesterday.  I avoided all press about The Casual Vacancy, wanting to go in completely without expectations.  Still, I had two expectations I could not shake, based on my experience as a reader of Harry Potter.

1)  I expected the characters to be real people who could make me feel real emotions.

2)  I expected humor.

The book has delivered real people, but the sense of humor is very different than Harry Potter trained me to predict.  There’s nothing “ha ha” here.  Just uncomfortable, internal recognition as the characters are exposed in the most horribly frank and human ways.

However different it may be, I’m glad to have new Rowling to read.  I’ll savor it to the last word.

This is your brain on jumper cables.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King talks about the time he spent teaching, and how hard it was to write after coming home from that job.  He says that “by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.” 


People often tell me I’m nuts for teaching middle school, but it’s the best.  I absolutely love teaching that age group.  The amount of energy that 7th and 8th graders require is pretty insane, however – and that’s only the teaching part of my week.  There’s also being a mother and a partner, both of which are also full-time jobs.

The upshot is that writing has taken a back, back, backity back burner for the past several days. 

I also got a reminder this week of how lucky I am, and how little I have to complain about.  I took my son to a Make-A-Wish event at a local Barnes and Noble.  A fifteen-year-old girl with brain cancer had written a book, and her wish was to have it published.  She managed it, even while undergoing cancer treatment, and even though she lost her mother a few years ago to the same disease.  Unthinkable.  Amazing. 

The girl’s name is Stephanie Trimberger, and the book is called The Ruby Heart.  She did a book signing, and the turnout was huge, and she got her moment.  Stephanie signed my copy of her book to the students at my school, and I donated it to the school library and told my students about it.  During silent reading yesterday, I saw that one of my kids had checked The Ruby Heart out of the library.  

So that was a success too.  But that one was for Stephanie. 


9 pages.  2,700 words.  Blood from a stone.


I’ve got the book down to 399 pages.  It was 435 pages, when I started cutting.  I managed to cut the length of a couple of chapters, and I’m proud of this effort, though I know it’s not enough.  399 is still too long for middle-grade fiction.  And it’s not 399 Courier – it’s 399 Garamond.

I know that Garamond isn’t the traditional manuscript font, but I can’t write in Courier.  Courier is depressing.  However, it’s worth noting that in Courier (which is how I’m supposed to take a real word count), the manuscript is actually 581 pages.  According to Word, the manuscript is around 120,000 words, but if I do the word count calculation properly (250×581), it’s 145,000 words.

Too long, too long, too long.

I wish it didn’t matter.  I hope it won’t end up mattering as much as I fear.  When I was asked to cut 50-100 pages, I hoped that 50 would be enough – and maybe it still will be.  I think I could surrender another 14 pages if I absolutely had to.  Another 64, though… I don’t know how that would work.  It’s not clear to me.  It would mean gutting three chapters’ worth of material, and everything that’s left now is critical to the development of the story, the characters, and the series overall.  Or at least, I think it is.

That doesn’t mean I think it’s above improvement; I’m sure it can be made better.  It just means that, at this point, I’ve done what I know how to do.

The Cutting-Room Floor

I have heard nothing more about the status of my book.  Life has gone on, full as ever, but I feel like I’ve hit ctrl-A on my entire existence and underlined it with waiting.

The waiting is good.  Patience is good.  I don’t have enough of it.  Honing it is good for me.  As a middle school teacher, I should ideally have bags and bags of patience, but it’s never been a strong suit.  I am terribly impatient.  I hover.  I am a hoverer.  When my husband reads something I’ve written, I hover nearby and wait for him to laugh or make a noise, so that I can say “What?  What was funny?” and spoil the experience for him.  These past two weeks, I’ve hovered over my e-mail, as if checking it more often will speed a reply.  But it won’t, and I shouldn’t want it to, because I’m getting good work done.

I’m cutting.  I’ve been asked to cut 50-100 pages of my book.  I understand why, so I’m doing it.  And to be honest, cutting is work I enjoy.  It’s ruthless work.  I’m rereading the story I love with a knife in hand, slicing away weakness and repetition and adverbs.  Lots of adverbs.  I love cutting adverbs, because it allows me to see that the things I wrote have their own legs and don’t need extra support – most of the time.  Some of the adverbs are shiny and lovely and true, and those can stay.  The rest must go to the slaughter.  I’m using Track Changes as I cut, and as I scroll up through the changes, the balloons that line the right side of the manuscript are bloated with adverbs.  Perhaps the most embarrassing (enlightening?) part of this process is seeing how often I use the same ones.

Of course, cutting adverbs won’t downsize this manuscript by 50-100 pages.  I have to cut some of the actual story.  That part is going to hurt. 

New Year

I’m a teacher.  For me, the new year starts when the kids come back to school in late August, and it ends when they leave again in June.  The hang time in between, the endless and unbroken weekend of no alarm-clock setting that is summertime, just came to an abrupt halt, and I’m back in the classroom.  Back on the clock.

I’ve never gone back to school kicking and screaming.  Reluctant, sure.  I’m not made of stone – I love summer.  But I also love my job, and having had a lot of jobs that weren’t true love, I know how lucky I am.

This year, it’s even easier to go back.  And even harder.  This year, there are no “I wish I’d done X” with my summer regrets.  I did exactly what I set out to do.  Now, I just wish I could keep on doing it without having to balance everything all at once.

One of the reasons I became a teacher is that I love teaching.  Another is that I knew I wanted a family, and a teacher’s schedule (depending on the teacher and how much they choose to devote themselves to additional school activities) can be a very family-friendly schedule.  The third reason I became a teacher, I told myself, was so that I could write.  But although I did write, it was slow.  And I doubted I’d finish what I started.  Sometimes it was worse than doubt.  Sometimes I really believed I wouldn’t ever do what I’d promised myself I would do, and I believed it so completely that I stopped writing sometimes, thinking that maybe it was time to stop pretending.

This summer, I finished rewriting my first book.  Well – not my first book.  There were others.  But they don’t count, because they were terrible.  Or maybe they count very much because they were terrible.  Either way, I consider the book I just finished to be my first book, because it’s the first one I love.  It’s the first one I believe in.  And it’s the first one I’m sure will be published.  I’m sure of that because, even if I can’t get it published traditionally, I will publish it myself.  That’s how much I like it. 

Still. I want to see it as a physical book.  I want to hold it in my hands, the way I’ve held so many books I love in my hands. I can’t help it.

Right now, things are looking okay.  An editor – a very good editor – likes my book.  Nothing is set in stone yet, and maybe it never will be.  The waiting game has begun, the back-and-forth conversation that happens long before publishing even comes into view, where all I can do is wonder whether this editor likes it enough, and listen to the feedback, and see if this is the kind of author-editor relationship that develops and takes that next incredible step.

There’s no knowing.  And waiting to find out isn’t easy.  It reminds me of what it was like waiting for my son to be born.  His due date came and went… and went… and went… and for those two weeks, I was emotionally suspended in a surreal sort of hyperstasis.  I knew – I couldn’t stop knowing – that something extraordinary was about to happen, and that it would change my life forever, but there wasn’t any way to know when, or even how.  I mean, technically, I knew how.  But… how?

And then he was born.  Now he’s almost two.  He’s an excellent little person, who helps a lot with the waiting.  And he’s proof every moment that time passes, not slowly, but much too quickly.

No more waiting tonight.  I don’t have time to wait, anyway.  There are things to do.  Lessons to prep.  Husband to hang out with.  Cats to feed.  Maybe some Netflix to watch.

But I’ll be waiting.

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