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Our Birth Story: Timing is Everything

Our Birth Story:  Timing is Everything

I wasn’t expecting her to come early. My due date was February 4th, and I’d been told that first babies always come late. I planned on having a few more weeks to polish up a draft of my current manuscript, not to mention to make freezer meals and organize the nursery.

My husband and I were planning on having a home birth, and everything with my pregnancy was normal and healthy. But then, about a month before the due date, my feet started getting itchy. Like, really itchy. It was so bad I couldn’t sleep. One night, while not sleeping, and with cold packs wrapped around my feet for relief, I googled “itchy feet during pregnancy.”

Turns out, itchy feet is one of the only symptoms of a very rare and very serious condition called cholestasis of pregnancy in which the pregnancy hormones cause the mother’s liver and gallbladder to stop functioning properly. It can cause severe problems for the fetus, including death.

Naturally, I freaked out and called my midwife the next morning. She told me cholestasis was extremely rare but I should get tested to make sure. So I went to get my blood drawn.

Unfortunately, Labcorp botched my first blood draw, and I had to go back for a second time two days later. They then took their sweet time (nearly four days) getting the results back.

“If they hadn’t messed up my blood work the first time, we’d know by now,” I grumbled to Paul. I’d convinced myself that I didn’t have cholestasis and that everything was fine, but I still wanted to know for sure. The cure for cholestasis is delivery, so if the blood work came back positive, I would likely go to the hospital to be induced, thus putting an end to our dream of an intervention-free birth at home.

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I didn’t make it past 38 weeks…

 

Well, to make a long story slightly shorter, guess when I found out that I DID have the beginning stages of cholestasis… About twenty minutes after my water broke!

“It looks like your body is taking care of business on its own,” the midwife said when we called her. Then she came over to talk to us about our options.

She told us it would probably be fine to have the baby at home, but cholestasis is so rare that in her twenty-five years of practice, she’d only ever had one other patient with the condition, and the outcome had not been great. “There’s not a lot of information about it out there,” she said, showing us an article in a medical journal that had only managed to round up thirteen cholestasis patients for the study. “I think, to be safe, you should go to the hospital where they can give you an external fetal monitor.”

“When should we leave?” Paul asked. “Should we take showers first?” (Everything we’d read about labor stressed the importance of not going to the hospital too soon.)

She gave him a strange look. “Um, I think you should go right now.”

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Here I am having a contraction in the squatting position.

 

So we headed to George Washington University hospital in downtown DC, which has a midwife practice within the hospital. And we brought Kathy, one of our home birth midwives, with us to be our doula. By the time we arrived and got checked in, my contractions had gone from mostly painless to the worst period cramps ever. Baby was on the way!!

It was a bit annoying being in the hospital. (The room was cold, they made me get an IV port, and the nurse had to adjust the fetal monitor every five seconds – often while I was having a contraction.) But otherwise, it wasn’t too different from home. We listened to music and dimmed the lights and Kathy suggested different positions. The GW midwife left us alone for the most part to labor in private.

We labored all night and into the morning – for about ten hours – and then I was ready to push. “The NICU team is going to come in,” the nurse told me. “But as long as they hear the baby cry, they won’t take her away. They just want to make sure she’s healthy and then they’ll leave you both alone.”

So there I was, pushing out a baby with Kathy, Paul, the midwife, two nurses, the NICU doctor, and a handful of medical students standing around watching.

“Um, how long is this going to take?” the NICU doctor asked. “Should we come back later?”

That’s when I gave a final grunting push, and my daughter (all 6 pounds 13 ounces of her) was born. The nurses placed her on my chest, and she looked up at me, cooing. Only a few minutes old, and she was so alert! It hadn’t happened like we planned, but it had happened all the same. And I can still hardly believe it. Two weeks later, I still look at her from time to time and say “I have a baby. This is my baby and I love her so much.”

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Baby is only a few minutes old here!

 

I keep telling people that the birth was the best possible hospital scenario – no drugs, no interventions. We got to have the birth we wanted, just in a different location.

And weirdly, I owe it all to Labcorp’s incompetence. If they had gotten the lab results back in a timely manner, I probably would have gone to the hospital for an induction, and my birth story would be totally different.

It reminds me that sometimes the things that seem like annoyances, setbacks, failures, or heartbreaks become the things we are thankful for in hindsight.

I lost my literary agent a while back, and I’ve had trouble finding a new one.  At times it feels like a major setback for my writing career, but I’m hoping that hindsight will prove it was a good thing after all: I’ll realize he wasn’t the right agent for me, or that it’s better in the long run that this new manuscript I’m working on be my debut novel. I’ll realize it was all in the timing, and that it just wasn’t the right time for me to be published.

As my daughter proved to me, timing is everything, and in the end it doesn’t so much matter when or where or how something important happens, just that it happens at all.

 

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2 weeks old

Baby!

Baby!

Loyal followers of this blog (there are some of you out there, right??) may have noticed I didn’t post a blog entry last Wednesday. It’s because last Wednesday I was giving birth to my daughter.

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I had every intention of writing a post for this week, telling you (my loyal followers?) about the birth, and perhaps relating it somehow to writing and the creative life. However, it turns out that caring for a newborn is an all-consuming task that leaves very little time for anything else. For example, yesterday at 2:30 in the afternoon I realized I had yet to brush my teeth for the day. And I haven’t worn make-up (or, full disclosure, deodorant) for the past week.

But, every day my husband and I learn a little better how to take care of the baby (and manage to still take care of ourselves). The first few nights, I got essentially no sleep. Now I’m up to getting as much as four and a half hours at night with a nap during the day. I’m hoping this week will be a little less crazy and sleep-deprived than the last, and I’ll be able to find the time to write a little post about the birth and/or my new life as a parent.

I know I’ll have very little time for writing for the next few months. But I also know that my beautiful baby girl is going to give me so much to write about.

Stay tuned…

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If I look tired in this picture, it’s because I am!  I am also un-showered.  No judgment.  

Writing & Math: The Magic is in the Discovery

Writing & Math: The Magic is in the Discovery

This is my last week of tutoring before I go on maternity leave for the rest of the school year. As much as I’m ready for a break (and as much as I want time to prepare for the baby), I know I’ll miss my students.

The other day in both of my tutoring sessions I got to do one of my favorite things as an educator: make my students discover the answers on their own. When I was a full-time math teacher I tried to do this as much as possible, but with classes of students at varying levels and a long list of standards to “get through” before the end of the year, it wasn’t always realistic. In one-on-one tutoring, however, the “discovery” method is often the way to go.

I’m always telling my students that this is what real mathematicians do: they solve simpler problems and see if they can apply those ideas to more complex situations; they look for patterns and make theories; they test their theories and try different methods.

What I try to impress upon my Internet-age students is this: It’s okay if you don’t know the answer right away. It’s okay to try things that don’t work. That’s how you end up discovering what does work.

It’s similar to what I have to remind myself as a writer: it’s okay if my writing isn’t perfect on the first go-round. It’s okay if I write a whole chapter only to end up cutting it. (Or a whole book only to end up hiding it in a drawer.) It’s okay to take my time in order to discover what works.

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Here I am at my baby shower two weeks ago.

 

The other day I came home and my physicist husband was bemoaning the fact that no one does math anymore – they’ve forsaken it for computer simulations that, he says, don’t always have as much meaning as old-fashioned pen-and-paper proofs.

“I don’t know if this will make you feel any better, but…” Then I told him about how I made both of my students discover the answers to their homework questions on their own.

“And when he figured it out,” I said, talking about my ninth grade student, “he got excited and was like ‘oh I see it! I see the pattern! That’s cool!’ He had a little light bulb moment, and those are the moments that make kids love math.”

“I guess that makes me feel a little better,” he said.

My husband loves math. Not only is it what he does for a living, but he actually reads math textbooks for fun. Sometimes I feel bad that I can’t talk to him more about his interests. I minored in math in college, so there was a time when I knew Multivariable Calculus and Analysis. But most of that has fallen out of my brain by now, and besides, Paul has a Masters in Applied Mathematics and a PhD in Physics. His knowledge of math is way deeper than mine ever was, even at the height of my mathiness.

Luckily, he likes hearing stories about my students and how I teach them math. One day I was telling him about a student of mine who is smart but always making careless errors. As I was describing him, Paul said, “I know exactly what his problem is – I used to do the same thing as a kid.”

Paul said when he’s working on a problem (both when he was in high school and now), he often intuits the answer long before he understands the nitty gritty of why it works. “I’ll be thinking about the problem, and then I suddenly see the answer, and my intuition says it’s right, but I have to figure out how to actually prove it.  And that’s where I end up struggling and making mistakes.”

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I do a lot of fractions with my students..  Not exactly the same sort of math that my husband does on a daily basis.

 

It occurs to me that the way people do math is not so different from the way people write. A few years ago I wrote a middle-grade novel. I knew how it would begin, and I had a very clear sense of how it would end, but I didn’t quite know how to get from point A to point B. Like Paul, the middle — figuring out the nitty-gritty details —  was where I struggled.

Other times, I start out with a character or situation or inciting incident and have no idea where the story is going to end up. Like a mathematician, I try different things, writing scenes and doing character studies. I think about what might be possible for the story, I write and write and write to figure out what I’m trying to say, and then one day I have a flashbulb moment where I put the pieces together – I finally see the climax or conclusion I was searching for.  Those moments are what can make writing so exciting.

In the end, the most important thing to remember in both math and writing is that it’s okay to make mistakes.  Instead of being discouraged if you don’t get it right at first, learn from your failure and keep trying.  The delight is often in the discovery at the end of the tunnel.

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Paul, me, and our soon-to-be-born baby!  (Painting by Heather Renaux.)

 

 

The Voyage to the Magical North by Claire Fayers (Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf)

The Voyage to the Magical North by Claire Fayers (Meagan & Eva’s Middle Grade Bookshelf)

THE VOYAGE TO THE MAGICAL NORTH by Claire Fayers

Published by Henry Holt & Co., July 2016

Suggested age range: 8 – 12 years

SUMMARY:

Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.

When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists. If Brine is lucky, she’ll find her place in the world. And if she’s unlucky, everyone on the ship will be eaten by sea monsters. It could really go either way.

-courtesy of Amazon

 

IMPORTANT TOPICS AND THEMES:  

Themes include history (What counts as history?  Who writes it?) and stories.  Also there are pirates and magic.

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Eva & Meagan. Read more of our opinions about middle-grade books here!

So what did we think?  

Eva:  There was so much to enjoy in this imaginative book.  I love the way magic is described in Brine and Peter’s world:  

“The magician takes a quantity of magic, forms it into the correct spellshape, and releases it.  The process appears mysterious because most people cannot see magic.  All they see is the magician’s hand moving and the flash of light as the spell is released.”  

I was tickled by the notion of a “magical north,” which is like the magnetic north pole except with magic.  I also liked that the famous and heroic pirate, Cassie O’Pia, is a woman, and that there is an island library where no men are allowed.

 

Meagan:  Yeah, there’s a lot of interesting detail in the imaginary world the author created.  The role of fish and birds as magical minions was funny.  I also liked that the librarians and the pirates both functioned as essentially “good guys” but neither were perfect.  They all did some wrong things.  

 

Eva:  Fayers earns an A+ for imagination and world-building.  I’m not so sure about the point of view she chose to use, however.  I suppose we can call it omniscient narration, but it wasn’t really.  It was more like close third — hopping from one character’s POV to another’s, chapter by chapter, as it served the story.  In some ways this is good — readers can choose to identify with Brine or Peter or even the pirates.  But because of the POV-switching, I had some trouble getting fully invested in any of the characters, and I didn’t always understand their motivations.   

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Meagan:  I had a hard time with character motivation as well, especially with the changeable relationship between Brine and Peter.  They were friends one minute and rivals the next.  That could be okay, but it often didn’t feel properly motivated.  In a given moment, I couldn’t predict whether they were going to work together or against each other until the author told me.  It’s like their motivations didn’t really grow out of the story, but rather were there to facilitate what needed to happen next in the story.

 

Eva:  I agree.  Character motivation can be really hard to show in writing.  One way to do it is through interiority — the character’s internal thoughts.  We definitely got some interiority in this book, from Peter especially, but maybe getting more interiority from him about his feelings towards Brine would have helped us understand their relationship.  

 

Meagan:  My favorite parts of the story were the scenes between Peter and the evil magician Marfak West.  Without giving too much away, it felt totally believable that Peter would be drawn to learning from Marfak West even though he knew he shouldn’t trust him.  This made for great tension because I never quite knew what Marfak West’s plan was, and I didn’t know how far Peter would go in aligning himself with Marfak West.

 

Eva:  Those scenes were interesting, and definitely a large source of tension in the book. My favorite parts were the little book snippets at the beginning of each chapter that gave us insight into Brine and Peter’s world.

I also really liked the beginning two chapters — they totally sucked me in.  But, they were also problematic in light of the rest of the story.  I remember hearing an agent talk about the “promise of the first page.”  Essentially, if you introduce a mystery or question on page one, it should be answered by the end of the book.  

On page one of The Voyage to the Magical North, we get this:  

“[Brine] had one clear memory of waking up in a rowing boat three years ago, surrounded by people, and that was all.  They’d asked her her name, and she couldn’t remember — she couldn’t remember anything.  So they named her Brine because she was crusted head to foot in sea salt.”   

Immediately, I was intrigued, and I assumed that the book was going to be about figuring out the mystery of who Brine is and where she came from.  But instead, Brine and Peter take up with some pirates and journey to the magical north.  It’s a grand adventure, but I was confused because it wasn’t the journey I was promised.

Towards the end there are some hints that Marfak West knows who Brine really is, and it seems like perhaps the sequel is going to be about Brine’s journey to find out about her past, but in some ways I felt tricked — I got invested in a mystery that was barely addressed.   

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Will we learn about Brine’s mysterious origins in the sequel?

 

Meagan:  You make a great point about the “promise” of the story.  It reminds me of the concept of Chekhov’s gun.  If you place a noticeable detail (such as a gun) in a scene, the detail must be essential to the story (someone has to fire the gun later), otherwise leave it out.  I think the same goes for statements like “she couldn’t remember her name.”  The reader is going to implicitly trust you that you intend to either reveal her name, or at least reveal why she can’t remember it.  All they must do is keep reading.  In fact, hooking readers with interesting mysteries is one of the major ways to get them to keep reading, BUT you gotta keep your promises in order for your reader not to feel cheated.

 

Eva:  That being said, I’m sure there are a lot of kids out there who will enjoy this book and not care a hoot about “the promise of the premise.”  As I’ve mentioned on Middle Grade Bookshelf before, sometimes it’s hard for me to reconcile my adult sensibilities with what I liked as a kid.  This is a very imaginative story with lots of adventure — sea monsters, pirates, magic.  Fun stuff that kids tend to like.  
THIS BOOK REMINDS US OF:

Meagan:  I haven’t read the Pippi Longstocking books since I was a kid, but are those kind of similar, aren’t they?  Light, humorous, episodic adventure.

Eva:  I haven’t read them since I was a kid either, but I can definitely see that as a parallel.  They include some sea-faring adventures as far as I remember.  And I LOVED the Pippi Longstocking books as a kid.  I’m beginning to think that kids are much more accepting of episodic stories than adults are.  Maybe adults want a plot that culminates whereas kids want a story that just keeps on going?  Something to ponder…

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THIS BOOK IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF:

  • Imaginative world-building
  • Inverting tropes (i.e. female pirate, a boy who has to disguise himself as a girl)
  • Building tension

 

FINAL TAKE-AWAYS:  

Eva:  For me The Voyage to the Magical North didn’t fulfill the promise of the first page, and ultimately I was not as invested in the characters as I would have liked.  On the other hand, the world-building was incredibly fun and imaginative.  Kids who love adventure will certainly love this book.  

Meagan:  There can be a lot of successful anchors for story.  A story can be primarily character-centered, plot-centered, theme-centered, setting-centered, etc.  A story needs all of those things, but not every story is going to be equally strong in every area.  It seemed to me that this story was anchored in its setting.  The unique world and its fun details seemed like the freshest and most inspiring aspects of the novel.  They were enough to keep me reading, but not enough to push this book onto my personal favorites list.  

 

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Transitioning: In Writing and in Life

Transitioning: In Writing and in Life

It’s the beginning of a new year. A time for reflecting on what’s past and preparing for what’s to come. A time of transition.

My husband and I are in a very clear state of transition right now. We are going from being a childless couple to brand-new parents. Our baby girl is due February 4th. Among many other preparations (taking an infant CPR class, gathering supplies, creating a birth playlist), we are currently transitioning my office into the nursery.

Although, as it turns out, we don’t have enough space in the living room for my desk and filing cabinet and book shelf, so the room will have to be office on one side and nursery on the other. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t picture myself doing a lot of work at my desk for the first few months anyway.

As a person who loves order, it’s a little maddening to live in this state of transition. On the nursery side of the room, there are baby things in boxes and storage crates that need to be sorted and washed. We need to figure out where to put everything and how to decorate. I’m still doing work at my desk, but I’m hyper aware of the baby clothes and children’s books on the other side of the room.

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Office on the left, nursery on the right

 

A few years ago my friends Rob and Edith, who I hadn’t talked to in a long time, called me and said, “we did something interesting the other day… We had a baby.” I hadn’t even known that Edith was pregnant, and I sat there sputtering on the phone for a few seconds trying to decide whether or not they were joking (they weren’t). To me this is proof that there’s a good reason to post a few pregnant photos of yourself on facebook– so that people don’t go into shock when you one day show up with a baby in your arms.

Rob and Edith recently had another baby, but this time they told me about the pregnancy several months beforehand, and then I actually saw Edith when she was eight and a half months pregnant. When their birth announcement came in the mail, it was a lot easier to comprehend.  I didn’t need week-by-week belly pictures or anything, but knowing Edith was pregnant was helpful.

In other words, we need time to transition so that we can understand that things are changing, that we are moving on to something new and different.  This is helpful, both in our lives, and in our writing.  You don’t want to jump forward in time or skip to a new topic in your writing without giving the reader any warning.  It’s as jarring as being presented with a baby when you didn’t even know the mother was pregnant.

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Okay, okay, I’ll give you a belly picture.  This was taken on Christmas Eve, when I was 34 weeks pregnant.

 

I recently read the book Losing It by Emma Rathbone and was particularly impressed by a simple transition in Chapter One.

The main character, Julia, decides to quit her job in D.C. and take some time off. Her father suggests she go to North Carolina and stay with her eccentric Aunt Vivienne for the summer. Julia thinks this is absurd. “No. Nope. I’m not going there,” she says to her mother on the phone. “There’s no way I’m doing that.”

Then there’s a space break, and the very next line is, “One month later I drove down a thin driveway, gravel popping beneath the tires, towards a house with white columns in the distance…. I looked at the piece of paper on which I’d written Vivienne’s address: 2705 Three Notched Lane.”

I LOVE this transition because it’s very clear what’s happened, and yet we don’t know exactly how it happened. In that one month, Julia has obviously changed her mind about Aunt Vivienne’s, but we don’t really need to know the nitty gritty of her decision-making process.  I love that Rathbone cuts out everything else and hops us right to the catalyst moment. She bridges the gap from Julia quitting her job to Julia arriving in North Carolina with nothing more than a space break and the words “one month later.” Transitions are important, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be short and sweet.

This also shows us that a transition can be used to skip over trivial information. We don’t need to know what Julia did in that one month because it’s not part of the story Rathbone is telling, which is the story of Julia’s summer with her Aunt Vivienne. Good storytelling means skipping over all the boring and non-important parts, and good transitioning is what makes that possible.

In real life, we can’t skip over all the boring/messy/difficult in-between stuff. We’ve got to handle the decision-making and the organizing and the to-do lists before we can get across the bridge from one thing to the next. The story of how I sorted and washed baby clothes might not be a compelling one, but I don’t mind doing it. It’s helping me with my own emotional transition. Handling these little baby things, finding a place for them in my home – maybe that will make it easier to comprehend that there’s a freaking baby in my belly and that in one month she’s going to be in my arms.

If I were writing a book, here’s how it would go:  At the end of December, my husband and I started turning my office into an office/nursery. One month later, the drawers were filled with clean clothes and diapers, the books were lined up neatly on the shelf, and the walls were decorated with circus-themed art.  We were ready to meet our new baby.

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Paul and I commissioned a painting from artist Heather Renaux to commemorate the birth of our baby.  It’s not on the wall yet, but here it is.  Adorbs, right?

My Year in Books: What I Read in 2016

My Year in Books:  What I Read in 2016

Last year I decided to list all the books I’d read in 2015, broken down by category. I don’t know if this was interesting for anyone except me, but I did point out which books I recommended and which I definitely did not.

I decided to do the same thing this year. This year, you’ll notice, I read A LOT of Young Adult and Middle Grade novels. I’m trying to become a YA/MG author, so this is called doing my homework. You’ll notice that within the self-appointed homework assignment, I stopped for a while in the Judy Blume cannon. I realized I’d never read the classic Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, so I read that and then went back and reread a couple other Judy Blume books.

You’ll also notice there isn’t much in this list that I highly recommend. I don’t know if I’m becoming pickier or if books are becoming crappier, but these days I rarely come away from a book with rave reviews. (See my post about that.) At Thanksgiving I was so dejected by my inability to find amazing books that I reread two of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials novels just to comfort myself.

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I’m not sure what to do to remedy this problem. I started using #AskALibrarian on Twitter, but I’ve been disappointed by several of the books they’ve recommended to me. I recently read The Year of the Gadfly and Searching for the Rose Notes, both suggested to me by librarians on Twitter.  Although they both started out promising, the plots and character motivations became more and more muddled and ridiculous as I continued, and by the end of both books I found myself saying “Really? I read all the way to the end for this?”

I really want to find some amazing books to read in 2017, especially since I’ll be on maternity leave, and I’ve heard that breastfeeding is a great time to settle in with a novel. I guess I’ll keep asking friends and librarians and the Internet for suggestions, and I’ll  remember that if I’m really not enjoying a book, I don’t have to read to the end. There are plenty of other books to choose from, and I know there must be books out there for me to fall in love with.

What do you guys recommend?  What have you read this year that you loved?

Here is my list of books. (The * means I didn’t finish the book.)  Happy reading in the new year, everyone!

 

YA/MG: 35

The Voyage to the Magical North by Claire Fayers

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

George by Alex Gino

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro*

Trash by Andy Mulligan

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (I wrote a blog post about this one)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Hired Girl Laura Amy Schlitz

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher*

Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead – RECOMMEND A really well-done contemporary Middle Grade novel.  I wrote a post about it here.

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Ash by Malinda Lo – (Cinderella as a lesbian of sorts.  Beautiful writing; terrible plot.)

Fairest by Gail Carson Lavine

The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (I wrote a blog post about this one)

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas (I wrote a blog post about this one)

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell — HIGHLY RECOMMEND – A quiet YA romance between two misfit kids. Rowell creates so much tension and emotion within simple school and home scenes. I loved the characters, the dialogue, the interior monologues, everything. Beautifully-written and a great example of a story told from two points of view.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy — RECOMMEND – A YA comedy-romance about a fat Texas girl who decides to enter a beauty pageant. If you want a tutorial on how to plot a contemporary fiction novel, this is it. Murphy puts all the emotional highs and lows in just the right places and takes the reader on a charming roller coaster ride. She’s also created a fantastic character in Willowdean.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

A Path Begins (The Thickety #1) by J.A. White

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Blubber by Judy Blume (reread) — HIGHLY RECOMMEND Loved this book when I was a kid, and, to me, it is still the perfect contemporary middle grade novel. There are a lot of books for this age group about bullying, but in so many of them the bullying is predictable or generic or stereotypical.  In Blubber the characters, situations, and the bullying itself are all highly specific, and that’s what makes this book so real.

Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson by Judy Blume

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume (reread)

The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (reread) — HIGHLY RECOMMEND Loved this book as a kid and still love it now. Raskin breaks all the rules (adult characters in a middle grade book, “head-hopping” in the narration, etc.), but she won the Newberry Medal for The Westing Game in 1978, which just goes to show that you can do anything you want in a book, as long as you do it well.

A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan

I Am Drums by Mike Grosso

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This is what the cover of Blubber looked like when I read it in the late 80’s.

 

ADULT FICTION: 17

In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault

Each Vagabond by Name by Margo Orlando Littell

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee — If you’re in the mood for something super light this is for you; it’s like Gossip Girl in book form.  And it’s set in futuristic Manhattan.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The Girls by Emma Cline

Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian

The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman (reread) —  HIGHLY RECOMMEND — Extremely imaginative and well-written fantasy.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman — RECOMMEND — Beautiful and haunting and strange.  A sophisticated fairy tale of sorts that’s like Coraline for grown-ups.

Elligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Predjudice by Curtis Sittenfeld — HIGHLY RECOMMEND — I LOVED this book, and I’m not even a Jane Austen fan. I thought it was such a clever farce. Sittenfeld takes the P & P characters and story but modernizes and enhances them in such creative ways. Loads of fun.

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia *

Cemetery Girl by David J. Bell

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

The Bees by Laline Paull*  — Very cool premise, and I loved it at first, but then I got bored about halfway through.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters — I mostly enjoyed it, but I’ve enjoyed other Sarah Waters books a lot more.

The Melting Season by Ira Sukrungruang

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

Losing It by Emma Rathbone — I’m only to page 65, but I assume I’ll finish before the end of 2016.  So far I’m enjoying it a lot, so we’ll see.  It could be a RECOMMEND!

 

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I highly recommend this book.

 

NONFICTION: 8

Hidden Figures The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age by Katherine Ozment

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams by Deepak Chopra — RECOMMEND — This is a short little book with a lot of good, simple advice for how to live a happy and satisfying life – whether or not success, in your mind, includes money and accolades.

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two by William Sears, Martha Sears, Robert W. Sears, James Sears

Girl in the Woods: A Memoir by Aspen Matis — I absolutely hated Aspen as a character and found her insufferable, and yet I couldn’t stop reading. I don’t know whether that’s a recommend for this book or not.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot -– HIGHLY RECOMMEND I’m sure you’ve heard of this book already, but the hype is real. It’s an interesting example of narrative nonfiction and an author who really inserts herself into the story.

Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert —  Normally I love Liz Gilbert. I loved her novel The Signature of All Things and I loved her first nonfiction book The Last American Man. I also loved Eat Pray Love. But I did not love this book. It was okay — not terrible — but mostly forgettable.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman — HIGHLY RECOMMEND — Written in a chatty, anecdotal style, I actually read this book before I got pregnant – just for fun. It’s very interesting and shines a light on how culture influences parenting styles.

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I highly recommend this book, whether or not you’re an expectant parent.

How Much Should You Reveal About Your Novel or Your Baby?

How Much Should You Reveal About Your Novel or Your Baby?

Last weekend, my college girlfriends threw me the most amazingly-detail-oriented baby shower imaginable. It was circus-themed, so they served caramel corn, candy-apples, veggies and fruit (including a watermelon carved into the shape of an elephant), and cupcakes in a freaking cupcake Ferris Wheel. They also created carnival games like ring toss (with teething rings and bottles), “diaper dunk,” and “bobbing for babies.” We won tickets at the games, and we could even cash in our tickets for fun prizes.

On a whim, I decided to create my own carnival game: Guess the Name of My Baby. My husband and I have had our name picked out since before we even knew if the baby was a girl or boy. Paul has started telling people because he finds it impossible to keep a secret for very long, so I decided if he was telling people, I should, too.

But, I have to admit, it was a little scary to reveal the name.

I know a lot of people keep the name a secret until after the baby is born, and for a variety of reasons: they don’t want other people to steal their name, or they haven’t quite decided on one, or – and this would have been my reasoning if we’d chosen to wait – they don’t want to jinx anything. They don’t want to speak out loud the name of a baby who isn’t quite a sure-thing yet.

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Watermelon carved into an elephant — impressive!

Just as I was a little nervous about revealing the name of our soon-to-be-born baby (due February 4th), I often get apprehensive when people ask about my novel-in-progress. When I’m in the “first trimester” of a writing project, I rarely tell anyone anything other than perhaps the genre or the vaguest description because I know that the draft is in a fragile, early stage and may never actually go anywhere, or may become something totally different by the time I’m done.

Right now I’m in the third trimester of my pregnancy, and, I suppose, the third trimester of my writing project. At this point, my baby has all of her pieces and parts. All she’s doing now is fine-tuning her organs and senses, and putting on weight.

Similarly, I have finished a first draft of a middle-grade novel. It has all – or most – of it’s pieces and parts and now just needs some fine-tuning. I’ve gotten some great feedback from beta readers, and I’m waiting for a bit more feedback before I dive into a revision. My goal is to have a revised draft finished by the time baby comes. Maybe I’ll even write a query letter and send it out to agents before I go into labor. We’ll see.

So you’d think at this point I might be ready to tell people about my book. To reveal its name, so to speak. (Although, ironically, I have yet to come up with a good title…)

But still, it’s scary to talk about my novel out loud. To people.  Especially people I know.

It’s not scary because I think someone will steal my idea. In most cases, even if someone “steals” your idea, they will use a totally different approach and write a totally different book than yours.

And it’s not scary because I haven’t decided important things about the book. That might have been true at the beginning, but now I have a pretty good idea of the shape of the story.

The fact is, it’s scary to talk about my draft because it’s not a sure thing yet. And I don’t want to be one of those people who blabs about the novel they’re writing and secretly everyone rolls their eyes because they know the novel will never actually happen.

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Prize booth!  (Of course, the best prize will be my baby!)

 

But, here’s the thing I’ve realized lately. Talking out loud to other people about the book you’re writing makes it more real, and sometimes that’s a good thing. People might have questions or comments that point out holes in your plot or possible themes you didn’t notice. Talking about your book to other people might make you more motivated to finish it, or revise it, or seek representation for it. In a way, talking about your book can make you take it more seriously. This is not just some project you’re working on alone in your room, never to see the light of day, this is something that you are planning on bringing out into the world.

It was a little scary at my baby shower when someone guessed the name, and I said “yes, you’ve got it!” and handed her a roll of tickets. But in a way, it made this whole baby thing more real. My husband and I are to the point where we really have to get ready: buy a car seat and set up the nursery and pack an emergency hospital bag. Telling people our baby’s name is one way of saying, “hey, we’re serious about this. In a little over a month, we’re bringing a baby the world. And this is what we’re calling her.”

Sorry, I’m still not ready to talk about my novel, or reveal my baby’s name, to the Internet.  One thing at a time…