Normally, I am not a fan of turning a noun into an adjective.
But in this case, I can't help myself. I love Scrivener! And I wanted to offer a quick shout-out to the delightful folks who introduced this program to me (Hubby--forever I thank you). If you are a writer, try it. It cost a measly $40, which is an incredibly low cost for such an incredible program. In writing my most recent novel, I found it so easy to navigate. Here's a link to buy the program.
I organize by scene within each individual chapter, and especially in these last couple of months of editing, it's been so great to review the way my chapters are working and make quick on the fly changes that don't take hours. I also love switching between the more visually appealing index card view and the linear, text document view. I've learned a lot about how my brain organizes information and what works best for me.
And as I'm plotting my next novel, I'm learning all over again why I love it. So thank you to programming gods who created this incredible tool.
Writers, write on!
I've been thinking about sex again. As a woman and a feminist and an educator, I've been struggling with what to do about the sexy stuff in my own writing.
Have I mentioned I love romance novels? It's a guilty pleasure--and one most folks don't expect me to have. More than once, I've been accused of creating that snooty I only read literary fiction kind of atmosphere. But it's not true. It's not me. My favorite novels of all time are:
1. Dune, by Frank Herbert
2. A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold
3. Fool's Fate (the 6th book in the Assassin/Fool series), by Robin Hobb
ALL genre fiction.
I remind myself: I am an educator, and over the years, I have seen so many teenagers who are having sex, some happily, some un-. In most cases, I believe it wasn't the best choice for them, boys and girls. And it is a choice--one I recognize high school students have the opportunity and time to make.
In my workplace, we create a sex positive culture intentionally--in policy. We offer an incredible Sex Ed course from 4-12th grade (each year more developmentally appropriate than the last). We offer time to talk about individual choices and situations in Gender and Ungendered Mysteries Council, and we puzzle together about how much we don't understand about sexuaility, both teenagers and adults alike. And I still often counsel students to wait, to focus on their own growth and put off sexual exploring until they are older.
So I decided to cut the sex scenes from my YA novel. Not because I believe that ignorance and abstinence are best for our teens. I decided that my protagonist needed to focus most heavily on the other pieces of her story. Her romance with the hot lead guitarist is just one part of her story--and not the most important part.
But other authors are doing teen sex scenes and doing it right. Rainbow Rowell is undoubtedly one. Another is John Green.
I'm curious. As parents, as writers, how much sex do you want to see in genre fiction you or your teen is reading? And why?
Odyssey Community School and my Co-Director Megan Martell partnered with racial justice educator Justina Prenatt and Clover Heart Concepts for this four part series. The first seminar was a basic introduction to the concepts of Racism and Racial Justice, among them the Invisible Backpack and White Fragility. The seminar format follows an initial hour of engaged lecturing and the remaining time for workshop.
Next week's presentation focuses on what teachers and parents can do. I'm looking forward to it. I've heard we will spend part of the time choosing a class where we can experience a developmentally appropriate lesson from a skilled educator. I excited to see what teachers are creating in the classroom.
Other great resources in Asheville and beyond: the Building Bridges series offered by Building Bridges of Asheville. Among educators, this seminar has set the standard for racial justice work in Asheville. Odyssey staff and faculty, including me, are on the docket to attend the next seminar, and I'm so excited!
About Race: Our National Conversation about Conversations about Race - this now canceled podcast may be uncomfortable to listen to in moments. And that's okay.
And for writers (my people!): Here's a great tumblr blog about writing characters of color.
Miller's prose is incredibly plain. Her language is unadorned and direct, but like an arrow it strikes at the reader's heart. I especially love her presentation of Chiron, Odysseus, and yes, even Achilles--a character on the first read of the Illiad that I found pompous and annoying.
Her choice of a protagonist is her first and best step toward creating an unforgettable book. I love novels that are told from the "outsider" perspective, and Miller has managed to take a story we all know and turn it on its head. This alone could make me love her novel, but what could be a parlor trick becomes more and more relevant as our anti-hero takes his journey to Troy's gates.
Her female characters and her portrayal of women in general feels terrifyingly accurate. Miller is a classical scholar, so I know that she has years of research and education rattling around as she wrote this book. And yet, when I read the text, that sense of knowing goes beyond reason and begins to fall into the realm of sense and emotion. It's this "felt sense" that moved me and the teenage girls in Literature Club to screaming excitement at how good this book really is!
Read it. And then recommend it to two other people and fanatically convince them to read it. *Notable for its ability to bring discussions of gender, power, and sexuality into any room. My husband and I ended up talking about it for at least an hour after I convinced him to pick it up for a quick read.
The last three weeks have been some of the politically hardest of my adult life. I feel challenged, as a writer and a teacher, to show up and participate in the current political realities of our country. And I find myself wanting to shut my computer, turn off the radio, and turn away from the suffering that is increasing on every front in my country.
I'm busy and tired by the end of every single day. I run a private school (not the more politically correct public) centered on Integral, mindful education; I'm finishing a novel and raising two boys who both need reminders that the world is a loving, giving place--a place where they will be able to find their own way in the coming years--which is a promise that world is increasingly unable to keep.
I have more education and more responsibility than my parents did, but less income and benefits. I have no pension or retirement and have worked only in the small business community. I have an auto-immune condition, which kept me from having healthcare until the Affordable Care Act passed, and I was forced to go bankrupt during the last recession after an employee embezzled over 90k from the business at which I worked. I've been a die-hard Southern Democrat since birth, although not a Blue Democrat. And I've grown increasingly Progressive as I've watched my generation (Generation X) fail to thrive in the modern marketplace.
After Bernie Sander's run came to an end, I voted for Hillary because I was excited to have a woman in the White House, and I appreciated, as only a female executive can, what it's like to bide one's time and wait for the big, well-earned opportunity. But the day after Trump was elected, I woke up to a new reality. I could no longer stand back, vote once a year, and watch the political landscape unfold as I struggled to pay bills and provide quality food and opportunities for myself and my children. If I had a good job, and this daily, weekly, monthly struggle was my reality, I was forced to ask myself: what was the reality for those who were working minimum wage jobs or worse, the migrants, mentally ill, poor, and homeless in our communities?
And the answer was: for many Americans, their reality was much worse than my own. And Trump's America endangers more of us every day: immigrants, children enrolled in public education, those in the scientific community, black communities, Jewish, Muslim, to name a few. I could no longer afford to hang onto the story that I was telling myself and my children: that America was a loving, just place; that they would have opportunities I did not; that racism, discrimination, and inequity was a thing of the past. Suddenly, my citizenship required much more of me. Suddenly, I needed to be engaged. And I'm answering the call.
In this Brave New World, I'm learning how to show up.
I invite you to do the same.
The mountains of WNC have been ablaze for the last several weeks--since Trump got elected--and for that same amount of time, I've been fighting off the feeling that the world really is burning down around me. My children haven't been able to go outside and play, because of the poor air quality, and to top it off, our oil heater broke. Winter is coming, and I'm not sure yet how we're going to make it through.
So when a good friend emailed me and another small group a list of things for which she was thankful and recommended that we all do the same, I took it to be a reminder from my higher power--stay focused on what is working and be thankful.
I took the hint and made this list:
1. Our new mattress
2. Hubby's steadfast perseverance
3. Little E's smile
4. S' good heart and strong sense of justice
5. Organization, at all levels
6. Celery juice, fresh first thing in the morning
7. Painting and redesigning our bedroom this summer
8. My mother
9. The writing group:Billie, Eben, Hubby, and Jean
10. Unexpected generosity
11. Hard won peace and happiness
12. A musician in our home (Keep playing guitar S!)
13. My new, perfect sunglasses
14. High Falls and swimming in its cold, clear water
15. Hot yoga
16. Loving my tiny house more
17. Easy laughter between Hubby and I, old love becoming new love
18. My house filling up with friends more often
19. Amber's green beans w/ chicken, white wine, and preserved lemons
20. Praying more regularly and sometimes having it not be about me
21. Falling asleep with my kids
22. The women in my life, their intelligence and laughter
Take a moment and do the same. Try to be as specific as possible with at least some of the items. And make generalities in others. You'll walk away uplifted, I hope. I know I did.
Disclaimer: I love a good heist. So if that genre doesn't delight, then this book isn't for you!
My next favorite element: the large cast of characters. I love meeting new people, and that interest extends into my fiction choices. In particular, "The Palace Job" does a great job of exploring racism and sexism through the vehicle of fantasy, without ever coming off as moralistic or sanctimonious.
Instead, the narrative voice is casual and sly in the way it talks around the racism dark-skinned humans face, as well as elves, dwarves, and fairy creatures. In the Republic, there's more than enough bias to go around. For young readers, like my twelve year old son (he's a precocious reader, so yes, this is a book that grown-ups will love. But there are elements of sexuality that may make for some very lively conversations at home, if your tween or teen is reading it too.) the world of Heaven's Spire provides a great mirror to the "real world" and could be a jumping off point for the difficult conversations many of us have been having at home and in the classroom about human rights and privilege in America in the 21st century.
And lastly, the pacing is incredible. From the first chapter, the reader dives into the story and is dragged forward at breakneck pace until the final pages. This book will read you, so reserve a few hours of time to get on the ride and stay there. I started listening to the audiobook on Kindle and then couldn't wait to get to the end so I started reading it instead. "The Palace Job" ended up being the first book I've finished reading on my phone (Yes, I realize that dates me). Then I plowed through Book 2 "The Prophecy Con" and am just getting starting on the most recent "The Paladin Caper."
This book would make an excellent Christmas present for anyone who loves high fantasy.
In three words: Funny. Smart. Eccentric.
Next three: Buy it now!
Inspiration: it's the flame that carries us creative types forward, especially when every project is long term, and every deadline is months, if not years away.
This summer, in order to stave off boredom, I made a bucket list, and then I had each of my kids make his own list. Then, in keeping with one of my kids' favorite tv shows, Adventure Time, we've set about doing those things we dreamed about in the first days of summer.
Like the first handful of freshpicked ripe blueberries, there's something about exploration that brings freshness and new life. Canoeing, skinny-dipping in hidden grottoes, picking berries, and yes, learning to make a really good pie are great ways to stay connected amidst lots of work and play.
The dog days of summer are a tough time to feel rejuvenated. In the South, a body spends more time sweating, than he or she planned (I'm not pointing fingers here). In the effort to avoid that overcooked feeling, spend some time today to sit down and daydream. Then write some of those dreams down. Tape the list to your bathroom mirror.
Wake up tomorrow and mark off one thing.
Then do it again.
I promise you'll end up with some unexpected surprises, maybe a few bruises, and at least one great story to tell.
It's a great irony that for those of us involved in education, the end of the year comes right at a time when the natural world is waking up, coming alive, refreshed.
I've come to accept that odd feeling of disorientation, that I am out of sync with the natural order. And lately I've been taking time to mourn. A friendship. A project. And my novel.
Did I mention I'm down to rewriting the last seven chapters of my novel?
And I've been pondering how to go out with a bang, both literally and figuratively. Remembering how many of my favorite books end. And what makes the end of a novel sooooo satisfying that you can't put it down until you are totally finished, done, and know exactly what happened.
I've come up with a short list of must haves:
All the threads must be tied up. I don't wear pants that are unhemmed, and I don't like my stories to be trailing unfinished business/character arcs/plot details. It may sound old school, but that's ok, I'm over 35 now and can be honest about who I am.
As a married woman, I'm bored with stories that end right as relationships begin. I know the best is yet to come, and I want to peek into the journey two characters take together. Case in point, Eleanor & Park. I love that these two protagonists work through a complicated situation together, while they become physically involved. Show the nitty gritty of true relationship--it's riveting.
When possible, blow shit up. I mean this metaphorically. Don't leave any stone unturned. At the end of one of my favorite novels Animal Dreams, the main character finds out that her sister has died, and she has to decide whether to actually land in her hometown or not. During the last chapters, Codi, the main character, realizes so much truth about her childhood, family, and home that it's off the hook. The metaphor I'm looking for here is fireworks.
Whose heart doesn't light up with wonder at fireworks?
The best endings keep 'em guessing, people.
Don't underestimate the power of stillness.
Recently, I took a four day retreat and went on retreat alone (No family, yes!). I spent most of my time sleeping, eating healthy food, walking around, and staring at the Ocean. Within 24 hrs, I felt myself sink down into the deep, murky depth of myself. I relaxed. I came alive!
In Taoist Chinese medicine, they call the still, dark part of the self (of the Universe really) the yin. My acupuncturist (yes, I have one) is always nattering on about yin. It's the passive part of the ebb and flow of life. In healing, building yin takes time--the body's resources are not replaced very easily. Wisdom and strength can't be cheated into existence, and what I've come to think of as the American way, the direct route, the fastest, the hardest working path, doesn't get you anywhere.
Not an easy lesson, right? I want TO DO things. I write lists and check items off. Every week, I review where I'm at in my novel, in my leadership role at Odyssey, in my life as a parent, in my relationship with my husband, and I make decisions and choices about where I need to go next, what I need to change, how to be better, smarter, more compassionate, more successful than I was the week, month, year before.
But the success I'm chasing is not characterized by a circle; it's a straight line. And we all know life happens in cycles. It is not linear, despite my best efforts to make it such.
Ceaseless revision is not always productive. Not in one's creative work. Not in life.
So my (writing) advice: take a break. Take a breath. And be.
Artists, children, shoot almost everyone needs time to refuel the inner creative force. To see and touch and taste. To take in the beauty of the world we inhabit.
And then return to work.
Then watch what unexpected gifts a break brings to your work.
Coranna Adams is a writer, filmmaker, and educator from Asheville, North Carolina.