Monday, May 20, 2013

Are these weird writer things, or just weird things?

If there's one thing I've learned about writers, it's that we're all a little eccentric. This is probably true of many professions. I'm sure firefighters and teachers and nipple clamp testers have unique quirks of their own.

The quirks often have nothing at all to do with the profession, though I'd argue they probably equip the individual for success in his or her field. Over the last week, I decided to keep track of the things I said or thought or did and then scrunched up my forehead and thought, "was that weird?"

Then I tossed out the ones that are illegal in several states and came up with the following:
  • I hate shopping carts. I've reached the end of my grocery shopping mission when I exceed the limit of what I can carry in my arms or my reusable shopping bag. Not only do I hate using a shopping cart myself, but I can't stand encountering them in stores, and will deliberately avoid an aisle that's packed with them. It's not a germ issue, I swear. It's that they inhibit my ability to maneuver. Like if I were attacked on the grocery store aisle, I need to be able to whip out my ninja moves and escape. Ninjas don't use shopping carts.
  • Let's say I need to reheat my tea or defrost a frozen chicken breast. I can't just set the microwave for two minutes. It has to be something like 2:04 or 1:57. Round numbers are not acceptable.
  • If I see a penny on the sidewalk, I absolutely must pick it up. I have been known to halt my car at a stop sign, spot a penny in the crosswalk, and get out of the vehicle to claim it. If I don't do this, it will bother me for hours afterward, and my superstitious nature will convince me something awful is going to happen. Once I've acquired the penny, I must drop it down the front of my shirt to secure it in my bra. Inevitably, I forget I've done this and earn myself a strange look from my gentleman friend when I disrobe and reveal a filthy penny stuck to my boob.
  • I can't stand to have anyone touch the palm of my left hand. The right hand is just fine.
  • If I'm working at a computer, I must have a glass of ice water beside me at all times. The water level must remain above the halfway point, and the ice must make up approximately 50% of the volume. If either of these elements dips below acceptable levels, I must get up from my desk and refill. I've experimented with using different sized glasses, but the rule remains in place regardless of my chosen beverage receptacle.
Rereading that list, I guess some of them sound a little OCD. Huh. Now I need you to tell me your little eccentricities so I don't feel bad. Share them in the comments, and I'll pick a winner on Monday, May 27 to receive a signed copy of Believe it or Not (my romantic comedy packed with plenty of its own eccentricities).

So tell me – what little quirks do you have?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An illicit peek at what’s on my nightstand

There’s a conversation I’ve had several times since I became a published author, and it goes something like this:

New writer: I was wondering if you could give me some advice?

Me: Lock the dog out of the room before bumping uglies with your significant other.

New writer: No, I mean advice for becoming a published author.

Me: Oh. Sure, I’d say read.

New writer: Read?

Me: Read everything you can get your hands on. Read inside your genre, outside your genre, in your bed, or out of your comfort zone. Read fiction, nonfiction, magazines, medical journals, cereal boxes, and fortune cookies.

New writer: Yeah, well—I’m not really much of a reader, and I really don’t have that kind of time…

At which point I will either politely excuse myself from the conversation, or beat the person’s head against the bar. It depends on how full my wineglass is.

Suffice it to say, I’m a fervent believer in reading as the cornerstone to improving your skills as a writer. There truly is no better way to study the craft and learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to putting words on a page.

I thought about this the other day when I was asked in an interview what books I’m currently reading, and I caught myself giving a censored answer. Not because I’m ashamed to be reading porn (I’ll happily admit that) but because I read so many books simultaneously, it sounds a little absurd.

I’m not afraid of sounding absurd here, so behold, I give you the current rundown of what I’m reading and why I’m reading it.

Title: Caught up in Us
Author: Lauren Blakely
Genre: Romance
Why I picked it: My agent recommended it.
What I love about it: This is a fun, fluffy, flirty, sexy romance that flows well, offers solid writing and interesting, likeable characters. Is it a little predictable? Of course! But sometimes that’s exactly why I choose a romance novel. I want my happily-ever-after, and I want some good sexin’ along the way. This has both, and it served as a terrific reminder of what I love about the romance genre.

Author: Kyra Cornelius Kramer
Genre: Historical nonfiction
Why I picked it: A friend recommended it.
What I love about it: I adore when a book sheds new light on a subject I thought I already knew pretty well. I’ve read plenty of books about England’s King Henry VIII, the Boleyn sisters, and the Tudor dynasty, but this book made me rethink a lot of things I thought I already knew. The author explores the possibility that Henry may have suffered from a medical condition that caused him to do crazy shit like behead friends and wives, and also made it difficult for him to sire children. The author’s expertise in medical anthropology is fascinating, but what I really loved is how entertaining and approachable she makes the material. I got so engrossed reading it on the elliptical machine, that I ended up doing a two hour workout. Even if I hated the book (which I obviously didn’t) I have to feel grateful for the excuse to eat bacon and have an extra glass of wine that night.

Author: Maria Semple
Genre: General fiction
Why I picked it: The book club I’ve belonged to for 14 years chose it as our April selection.
What I love about it: This charmingly funny story is told via the mixed media of humorous FBI documents, emails, letters, and narration from several characters trying to piece together what happened to a quirky wife/mother/architect who vanished. The characters are offbeat and unique, the writing is tight and hilarious, and the vividly-described Seattle setting had me laughing out loud at all the idiosyncrasies of my native Pacific Northwest. Just when I thought I’d pegged a character a certain way, the author would reveal another side to him/her that kept me breathlessly turning pages. And laughing. Lotsa laughing with this one.

Author: Wednesday Martin, PhD
Genre: Self help
Why I picked it: I spent the first 36 years of my life steadfastly, devoutly childless-by-choice, only to find myself in a relationship with the single father of two amazing kids. That was two years ago, and while my gentleman friend’s offspring are adorable, smart, funny, well-behaved, and lovable, the fact remains that I’m on very unfamiliar turf being around kids at all, let alone functioning in a semi-sorta stepparent role.  When something makes me uncertain or uncomfortable, I research the hell out of it. That’s sorta my thing, and it’s how I ended up with about a dozen stepmother-themed self-help books on my nightstand. This one was my favorite.
What I love about it: Many of the books I picked up had a doom-and-gloom approach, sharing commiserative stories about unsupportive men and bratty kids, or spouting statistics about how few women would get involved with single dads if they had it to do over again. I’m pretty far from that scenario, and just wanted more understanding of the human dynamics and what’s at the root of them. This book offered oodles of case studies, a good dose of psychology, and a healthy helping of validation that most of the things I’d been thinking and feeling are normal. Well, in this realm, anyway.

Authors: Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine
Genre: Self help
Why I picked it: A fellow author who’s been on the same divorce/dating a single dad track as me recommended this book at the same time I suggested Stepmonster to her. If you’re involved with a single father, odds are good you’ll need some sort of relationship with the mother of his offspring. While things have gone just fine for me in this area, I’m always looking for ways to gain more understanding and improve my own coping techniques.
What I love about it: This book is co-written by a duo of women married to the same man. Er, that didn’t come out right. The ex-wife and new wife share their experiences from the different perspectives of the mom and the stepmom – each "the other woman" in her own way. Though I’m only a few chapters in, I’m enjoying the she said/she said interplay and the quizzes and worksheets that force readers to confront their own snarky issues and secret evil thoughts. Not that I have any of those.

Title: The Best Man
Author: Kristan Higgins
Genre: Romantic comedy
Why I picked it: Kristan Higgins is on my auto-buy list anytime she releases a new book. I adore everything she writes, and this was no exception.
What I love about it: I love studying the work of the grand dames of the romantic comedy genre, and Kristan Higgins is one of the masters. She strikes precisely the right balance of funny and poignant, and her characters are always charming and unique. I read this one on the beach during a recent trip to Hawaii, and it promptly became one of my all-time favorites among Kristan’s books. Her brand of rom-com leans more toward bittersweet and less toward the wacky realm where mine tend to fall, which is another thing I love—studying the different approaches to comedy. Or you can forget all my overanalyzing crap and just enjoy the book, because it really is awesome.

So that’s the roundup of what’s on my nightstand right now. Er, among other things. How about you? Please share!