Highlight Your Adverbs (and More) with Scrivener

This post assumes you’re working with Scrivener 3.0. If you haven’t yet upgraded to 3.0, check out this post for a basic overview of the software update. 


If you’ve ever attended a writing conference or picked up a Writer’s Digest, you’ve heard how adverbs are the enemy of good writing. They weaken our verbs, and by association, our prose. But sometimes it can be hard to see our own writing objectively. Our eyes can skim right over things without seeing them.

So I’m loving this new feature in Scrivener 3.0. It’s called the Linguistic Focus.

Linguistic Focus in Scrivener 3.0

Select the text file in the binder that you want to focus on, go to edit -> writing tools -> linguistic focus.

When the option window pops up, click “adverb.”

As soon as you select the type of focus you want, everything else in the document will fade out and you’ll get something that looks like this:

As a fun side note, you don’t have to select adverbs. You can choose direct speech, nouns, verbs, prepositions and more.

It’s one of the many new functions that the folks at Scrivener added when they did their recent software update.

Stay tuned for more posts on all things Scrivener.

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Write The Ending That Everyone Expects

expected endingNot long ago I heard a piece of writing advice that went something like this: tell your friends the main idea of your story and ask them how they think it will end. Go there. Write the expected ending.

The Ending Everyone Expects

She had me up until that last part (I’m all for feedback and beta readers), but go there? You mean, take the story exactly where every reader will expect it to go? No way.

As writers, the last thing we want to do is tell a predictable story, miright? We want to amaze and surprise and do anything except what is expect of us.

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Satisfying Endings

Hear me out. When Luke Skywalker goes to take out the Death Star, you know he’s going to be successful. When Dorothy sets out to find her way back to Kansas, there’s really little doubt that she will get there. The endings of those stories are satisfying because the characters end up exactly where we knew they would.

I’ve always thought that endings had to surprise the reader, but when I really think about it, it’s not the ending that needs to be unexpected, it’s the path to the ending.

It’s About the Journey

Who would have thought that Dorothy would fight winged monkeys and melt a green witch when all she really wanted to do was go home?

And when Luke turns off his guidance systems and uses the force – I mean, that’s the cool part, the part where you worry for just a second that he’s making the wrong move.

It seems to me that this is our challenge as writers, not to blow people out of the water with an ending they never saw coming, but to instead make things so hard on our characters that it seems impossible that we can deliver them to the expected ending. Then, when you get them there, it’s not boring or tired, it feels super satisfying.

Exceptions Make the Rule

Maybe it’s just me. I know there are examples of outstanding stories that veer way out from what is expected. Fight Club comes to mind. As do some more narrative works of fiction like Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist.

What do you think? Should an ending be predictable? Is it more satisfying as a reader to land right where you pretty much expected you would?

 

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Reflections on a Successful Query
(aka I Have an Agent!)

About nine years ago, while I was still working on my masters degree in writing at USC, I took a class called The Business of Writing. On one of the final days of the class an agent came to listen to our elevator pitches and gave us each a bit of feedback. He said that we were all welcome to come meet with him in his office and that he’d be happy to give more feedback, but that in all the years he had been a guest speaker for that particular class, no one had ever taken him up on the offer. That sounded like a challenge to me.

A week later I was sitting in his office in Beverly Hills. I wrote a blog post about it, but I kind of figured he maybe didn’t want me throwing his name around, so I called him the FHA (Fancy Hollywood Agent). He gave me some advice on my story and said I could send him a few pages when it was ready. So I did.

Well, I am super excited to announce that the FHA is now officially my agent. I mean, how cool is that? He’s been at the top of my list for nine years and he loved my story.

His name is Joel Gotler of Intellectual Property Group. My agent. I’m so excited.

My Querying Story

I got a pretty decent response from my query letter, with four of my initial ten queries resulting in requests for the full manuscript. Of those, one passed, one had a death in the family and ended up unable to read it, and two asked to represent me. I talked with them both last week and by Friday it was official.

I’m feeling super lucky because I know this kind of timeline is not the norm, but I’m also allowing myself a bit of pride, because I worked damn hard to get here. And since I try to keep this blog focused on craft, I’d like to share a few of the thing I think I did right, just in case they might be helpful to my fellow writers out there.

Here are the steps I took. None of this will be revolutionary if you’ve done ANY reading on the topic of submitting your manuscript. I didn’t use any gimmicks or tricks. I just tried to present my story in the best possible light by being super professional.

Reflections on a Successful Query

  1. Finish the manuscript right. This should be a no-brainer. Don’t just call it done because you’re tired of working on it. Keep editing until you’re confident that it’s the best it can be. Have it fully formatted and ready to go in Word, and as a PDF.
  2. Write a professional query letter. There are about a gazillion websites on this topic, so read up. I like Jane Friedman’s blog – good, useful tips on how to present yourself like a pro.
  3. Query agents for a reason. I started each query letter with a sentence or two telling the agent why I thought my book might be of interest to them (and I wasn’t bullshitting). It took me two days to send out ten letters, so consider that personalizing these things takes time.
  4. Sweat the blurb. I agonized over my blurb, like, a lot. It was the second paragraph in my query letters, right after the two lines about why I was writing that particular agent, so I knew it had to be good. I asked writer friends to read drafts. I rewrote it a bunch of times.
  5. Send them what they ask for. Again, this should be a no-brainer. They wouldn’t go through the trouble of outlining what they want in a query if they didn’t care. Do your homework. Check their website. Ignoring their requests is just rude.
  6. Have a one-page synopsis ready. I know some agents ask for a longer synopsis, but I figured it would be easier to add things back in after cutting the story down to one page, so I started there. I had one request for the 1-pager, no requests for anything longer. (btw – I obsessed over the synopsis even more than the blurb – that baby took a WHILE to get right).

And that’s it, in a nutshell. I made a list of 30 agents, prioritizing from Mr. Gotler on down to agents I didn’t have a connection to, but who I would still be thrilled to have represent me.

The plan had been that, every time I got a rejection, I would just send a query to the next agent on the list. All in, I got 4 letters of “sorry, it’s not for us” and another three agents who simply never responded. But lucky me, by the time I got rejections, I was already in discussion with my soon-to-be-agent.

So there it is. New Years Resolution accomplished. I guess my revised goal for 2018 is to write a draft of my second novel.

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Ask Why 5 Times

ask why 5 timesI struggle with backstory. I’m never sure how deep to go into my characters. I’ve heard people say that you need to know everything about them, and there’s a certain logic to that, but EVERYTHING? Do I really need to know what kind of ice cream my antagonist enjoys? Maybe. Or maybe not. Who can say?

Well, I stumbled across this little trick I’m calling “Ask Why 5 Times.” I overheard someone talking about it at the Writer’s Digest conference, so I’m sorry I can’t cite my source, but stay with me here. It’s a good idea (I wish it were mine).

Ask Why 5 Times

The basic idea is to make like a toddler and just keep asking why. Start with something that your character does. All writers know how this goes: You’re writing a scene and your character says or does something you didn’t expect. For instance, I’m working with a character right now in my second novel who is a jerk to women. He just kind of came out that way. So I asked why.

  • Well, he had his heart broken recently.

Why was his heart broken?

  • He was naive and young and out in the world on his own and kind of latched onto this girl who was much more worldly and she just wasn’t that into him.

Why was he out in the world at such a young age?

  • Because his parents died, and he didn’t have anyone to take him in.

Why?

  • His parents died because they were in an accident. No one would take him in because times are tough, and his one aunt simply couldn’t afford another mouth to feed.

Why are times so tough?

  • It is the middle of the Great Depression.

What We Can Learn

Okay, so now I have a better sense of this guy. He’s not just a dick. He had a really rough childhood marred by the death of his parents and rejection by his aunt. He is (or at least was) really lonely and fell hard for a girl who brushed him aside. So he has repeatedly turned to women for comfort and been rejected. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it does help me understand it.

Each answer in the above sequence could be a story all it’s own. In fact, I get little glimpses of scenes as I re-read my answers. I’m not going to write out all those details, not for this minor character, but I could. And if this were one of my main characters, I totally would.

It’s an interesting exercise to bring to my writing, especially now that I find myself at the beginning of a new project. It’s not so fun with the manuscript I just finished. When I ask why 5 times of my first novel it’s less exciting because I know all the answers already. I figured them out without this little trick, it just took me nine years to do it.

So there you go. May my eavesdropping save you a few years of floundering.

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Research for Fiction: Where to Start and How Much To Do

Research for fictionI’m working on the first draft of my second novel right now. It’s an idea I’ve toyed with for years, making random notes and tucking research away for safe keeping. Then, in November of 2016, while my first novel was resting in a drawer for a little while, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge and got a solid 50,000 words on the page for this story.

Now, as I go through the process of querying agents for my first novel, I am finding that it’s really nice to have a well-established work in progress to turn my attention toward.

It’s kind of a beast of a story, as it is now. It jumps around in time and POV. I am absolutely enamored of it, partly because it’s like a giant puzzle I have to figure out. Which parts of the story are important? How does it unfold? How much research do I need to do?

It’s that last question that I’ve been thinking a lot about.

Amor Towles

A few months ago, at an Open Book event in Pasadena, I had the pleasure of seeing Amor Towles talk about his book A Gentleman in Moscow, which is set in the early 1900s in Moscow. One of the things he talked about was the research he did. He said two things that were surprising to me:

  1. He tried not to do too much research
  2. He didn’t do it until he had the story down

His rational, which makes a lot of sense to me, is that your story is not (or at least it shouldn’t be) about the historical events that are happening around your characters. Novels are about people, their lives, their loves and losses. Find the human story first.

He was also quick to add that both of his acclaimed novels are set in times and places that he had a base knowledge about before he started writing, a general sense of things that came from simply being interested in the era. It wasn’t liked he threw a dart for the place and rolled dice for the year to set it in. He had always been curious about Russia in the early twentieth century so he knew what he was getting into.

Kristin Hannah

Contrast Towles with the Author Kristen Hannah. I heard her speak at the Write on the Sound conference in Washington just a few weeks before the Towles event. She said that, when she was working on The Nightingale, she researched everything. Everything.

She said she started with a world perspective. She read up on the global politics of the second world war in order to place herself in the world of her characters. Then she narrowed in on Europe, then France, then the small town, and the lives of specific people.

Her advise on researching was to keep going until you’ve read two non-fiction books in a row on the topic/time/place without learning anything new. Dang. That’s some thorough research.

My Own Research

I definitely fall into the Towles camp of wanting to focus on the human story. I also, thankfully, had the sense to set my story in a time and place that I am (and always have been) intensely interested in. So I’ve got that going for me.

But I’m also taking Hannah’s advice to heart. I’ve started devouring every book I can find that might be even tangentially related to the story I want to tell. I’ve been underlining passages and compiling everything I find into a Scrivener file I’ve set up with the draft (yet another reason I love Scrivener).

I know I have a long road ahead, but at least right now I am loving the process. Being a writer is like becoming a little mini-expert, over and over, with each new project. It’s kind of like going back to school for a mini-masters degree, but without the tuition.

If you’ve ever worked on a research-heavy project, how did you manage it? Did you start or end with the research? How did you organize it? I would love some advice as I start to sort through everything I have in front of me.

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Scrivener 3.0 ~ What You Need To Know

Scrivener 3.0If you use Scrivener, you are probably aware that the company recently released an update for the software: Scrivener 3.0. If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little nervous about it.

Worth It?

I like to think of myself as pretty tech savvy, but updates always make me cringe. Because even if they’re great (and let’s face it, software upgrades can be full of glitches) updating can mean wrapping my brain around new ways of doing things.

So even though I’m a total Scrivener nerd, I dragged my feet a bit on downloading the update. But last week I decided to go for it and let me just tell you now, officially, for the record: it’s good. You can update now and go right back to writing. Seriously, it didn’t require any extra brain power to get up and running with it.

And though they added a lot of cool functionality (which I will be blogging about in the weeks to come), it is basically like it was before with a slightly muted color scheme. It’s $20 for an upgrade from Scrivener 2.0 and $45 if you’re starting fresh. (Use the code APRILDAVILA for a 20% discount.)

What You Need To Know About Scrivener 3.0

There is only one tiny thing I would say you need to know to avoid frustration as you make the transition and that is the new location of the search bar. The search bar used to be at the top right. In the update they’ve moved it to the header, but it’s kind of hidden.

See the header bar at the top, and how it tells you want section you’re looking at. In this case, it’s my whole manuscript.
Scrivener 3.0

If you hover over the header bar, it now tells you your word count and word count goals. (more on this in future posts)
Scrivener 3.0

And if you click on it, you get the search bar:
Scrivener 3.0 So now you know.

Watch This Space

As I mentioned, I’ll be blogging about some of the cool new features in Scrivener 3.0, so make sure to check back, or sign up for my newsletter and get posts delivered directly to your inbox every Friday.

A few teasers of what I’ve discovered so far:

Ohhh… there are fun times ahead. Stay tuned.

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Create an Audio Recording of Your Manuscript for Better Editing

audio recording manuscriptIn November, while at a writing retreat at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, I took a day to record myself reading my manuscript out loud. It was an idea I got after listening to Lindsey Lee Johnson talk about writing her debut novel The Most Dangerous Place on Earth. (Yet another reason to go see writers talk about their work in person.)

She mentioned, just off hand, how she had recorded herself reading the manuscript when she thought it was done and ready, and then played it back to take it in aurally. She said that she noticed things in it that she hadn’t before, when she listened to it like that. So I decided to give it a try.

Here’s what I learned.

How to Make an Audio Recording of Your Manuscript

audio recording manuscriptI did a little research on good recording apps and settled on VoiceRecorder. I didn’t need any bells and whistles, just a good, reliable recording device that would allow me to easily back up my files.

I made one recording for each chapter and saved the file as that chapter name (see the image below with the heading “Recordings”). When I got to chapter 10, the app wanted to list it after Chap 1, which kind of messed up my system, so I had to name chapter 10 “Chap 910,” and chapter 11 was “Chap 911.” It’s a little wonky, but I found that when the time came to play it back, things went much smoother. In fact, the app doesn’t so much as click as it transitions between chapters, so when I had everything in order and hit play, it was super easy to listen through.

audio recording manuscriptAs for the actual reading, I debated whether to print out my draft, but settled on reading it from the screen. It turned out to be a good choice because I could fix little typos as I came across them, which saved me the hassle of having to go back over a paper draft to make quick and easy edits.

Because I was reading from the screen, I kept my notebook open beside my laptop for bigger notes. I tracked thoughts and ideas as they came to me, organizing them by chapter. When an idea hit (say I realized a continuity issue, or noticed an opportunity to add a detail), I would just hit pause on the app and scribble in my notebook. The app can hold the pause as long as you need, and in the playback it is completely silent. Good for bathroom breaks too.

One thing I learned a little too slowly was that I didn’t need to read loudly. I started as if I were reading to a crowd, nice and clear and strong, and by chapter three my throat was killing me. The mic is super sensitive. You can use a soft, quiet voice and it will pick it up just fine. And I highly recommend having some throat numbing cough drops handy. And tea. Lots of tea. It took me about nine hours to read it through. In hindsight, it might have been better to break this into two days.

When I was done, I backed up the files to my Google Drive, but you can also email them to yourself or upload them to DropBox. Your choice, but backing up just seems the wise thing to do.

Make The Most of Your Playback

I recorded myself reading my manuscript on the last day of my writing retreat. Then I came home to Thanksgiving week and the kids were off school, so I took a week away from it. When it was time to jump back in, I wasn’t sure how best to go about it. I didn’t want to read along, because the whole point was to take in the story as an audio book, but I didn’t want to listen to it while I was walking the dog, because I knew I would want to make notes.

I settled on sitting at my desk. I kept my notebook on my right, and had the manuscript open to the chapter I was listening to, but to keep myself from reading along, I used a coloring book. Yep. I colored.

The kids got me this coloring book for my birthday last year and frankly I hadn’t touched it. I mean, who has time to color? But it was perfect for keeping my hands busy while I listened to my story. And I actually love the pages I worked on. Coloring is fun. I had completely forgotten.

Anyway, I let the recording play through, pausing to make notes as they occurred to me. I broke the task into two days of work.

When I was done, I had three pages of notes to address. Partly, that was a list of words that I felt I used too much (felt, seemed), but mostly it was specific story notes, anywhere from three to nine notes per chapter. Some were simple and others required a little more thinking, but there was nothing dramatic. I finally have a story I’m happy with.

I took the first half of December to make all those edits, then sent the final draft off to a copy editor, because seriously, I can read a typo like fifteen times and not see it. She sent the draft back to me this Monday, so now I’m going through and making final final edits.

And then out it goes… Yikes.

So that’s how I created an audio recording of my manuscript. I will probably never listen to it again, but it was very useful when I needed it.

I’m a big believer in the idea that it’s the little things that make a big difference. These tedious final steps, the ones I’ve been so sorely tempted to skip over, have brought my novel to a place where I feel really good about it. From here, I guess only time will tell.

 

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My 2018 Resolution: Find an Agent

2018 Resolution Get A Literary Agent #infographic

I am all about resolutions. The beginning of a new year seems like the perfect time to take stock and set goals for the coming months. I like big goals that can be broken down into lots of little steps (and I couldn’t pass up this infographic, which seems pretty spot on to me). Seeing progress even before I cross the finish line keeps me motivated. It’s satisfying.

My 2018 Resolution

For about eight years my goal was to finish my novel. I set that goal every year with every intention of hitting it, and seeing as I wrote something like thirteen drafts, I more or less did hit it, sometimes twice a year, but in 2017 I actually finished a manuscript I was happy with. A copy editor is looking it over this week (because I am the queen of typos), and then I will start sending out queries. So I guess my 2018 resolution is clear enough: to find an agent for my novel.

If I break that goal down into steps, it looks like this:

  1. Compile my list of dream agents, then research and rank them. I have collected about thirty names over the years. Some are agents I met at conferences, some represent writers I adore. I need to look each one up, determine what they want to see in a query, and rank them from one to thirty in terms of being a good fit for my work.
  2. Write a kickass description of my story. This is proving much harder than I expected. I’ve written a few versions, but I’m not happy with it yet.
  3. Bite the bullet and write a full synopsis for my story, because odds are at least one of the agents on my list will want to see the story in its shortest form.
  4. Write cover letters for the first ten agents on my list, being specific about why I’m querying them, and being sure to include all they ask for.
  5. Hit send and find some way to quell the panic that sets in.
  6. Get rejected (it will happen). Call my husband and cry for a few minutes. Then send a carefully crafted query to the next agent on my list.

I have no idea how long this process will take or if it will even be successful. I know I won’t have much time to even start working until the kids are back in school next Monday. Until then, I guess I can work on step 1 when I have a few spare minutes here and there (taking my own advice on how to support my writing while juggling family).

But once our schedules are back to normal, it really shouldn’t take too long to get things rolling. I expect to be cycling through steps 5-6 by the end of January, depending on how long it takes for agents to get back to me.

What Comes Next

I will admit to being nervous, simply because I don’t know what to expect. I have friends who, after finishing their manuscripts, sent out a few queries and within a couple weeks were trying to decide which agent to go with. I also have friends who queried and queried and never heard anything, not even a no – it was just dead air out there. I know writers who received huge advances and others who self published with some success, and even more who just gave up.

I’m trying really hard to shift my mind into a place of detachment. It’s done. I’m happy with it. In my mind, my job is to write the next one. That alone is reward enough for finishing the first.

A Question

That brings me to a question for my readers out there.

I blog about writing, not publishing. I have, in fact, already started writing my next novel and my intention is to continue to blog about what I learn about the actual art of writing as I go, but I’m curious if people want to hear about the process of getting/trying to get published. If so, what in particular do you want to hear about? Or is it just helpful to get the gory blow by blow? I am open to suggestions.

Happy New Years! May it be a great year for us all.

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The Best Books I Read in 2017

I read fifty-six books this year, forty-eight of them all the way through (if you follow along, you know I don’t have any qualms about not finishing books). That’s one less book than I read last year, and I had set a goal of sixty, but I have to give myself credit: at least four of the books I read this year were over 700 pages long. If I count them each as two, I totally hit my goal.

Anyway, of the forty-eight books that I finished, nine really stood out as fantastic books – the kind of books that I find myself telling people they need to read. Here they are, in no particular order and with no regard to publication date:


So Much Blue

Percival Everett, 2017
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Kevin Pace is working on a painting that he won’t allow anyone to see: not his children; not his best friend, Richard; not even his wife, Linda. The painting is a canvas of twelve feet by twenty-one feet (and three inches) that is covered entirely in shades of blue. It may be his masterpiece or it may not; he doesn’t know or, more accurately, doesn’t care.

What Kevin does care about are the events of the past. Ten years ago he had an affair with a young watercolorist in Paris. Kevin relates this event with a dispassionate air, even a bit of puzzlement. It’s not clear to him why he had the affair, but he can’t let it go. In the more distant past of the late seventies, Kevin and Richard traveled to El Salvador on the verge of war to retrieve Richard’s drug-dealing brother, who had gone missing without explanation. As the events of the past intersect with the present, Kevin struggles to justify the sacrifices he’s made for his art and the secrets he’s kept from his wife.


The Girls

Emma Cline, 2017
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Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.


Revolution of Marina M.

Janey Fitch, 2017
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St. Petersburg, New Year’s Eve, 1916. Marina Makarova is a young woman of privilege who aches to break free of the constraints of her genteel life, a life about to be violently upended by the vast forces of history. Swept up on these tides, Marina will join the marches for workers’ rights, fall in love with a radical young poet, and betray everything she holds dear, before being betrayed in turn.

As her country goes through almost unimaginable upheaval, Marina’s own coming-of-age unfolds, marked by deep passion and devastating loss, and the private heroism of an ordinary woman living through extraordinary times. This is the epic, mesmerizing story of one indomitable woman’s journey through some of the most dramatic events of the last century.


Ready Player One

Ernest Cline, 2012
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In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.


The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Lindsey Lee Johnson, 2017
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The wealthy enclaves north of San Francisco are not the paradise they appear to be, and nobody knows this better than the students of a local high school. Despite being raised with all the opportunities money can buy, these vulnerable kids are navigating a treacherous adolescence in which every action, every rumor, every feeling, is potentially postable, shareable, viral.

Lindsey Lee Johnson’s kaleidoscopic narrative exposes at every turn the real human beings beneath the high school stereotypes. Abigail Cress is ticking off the boxes toward the Ivy League when she makes the first impulsive decision of her life: entering into an inappropriate relationship with a teacher. Dave Chu, who knows himself at heart to be a typical B student, takes desperate measures to live up to his parents’ crushing expectations. Emma Fleed, a gifted dancer, balances rigorous rehearsals with wild weekends. Damon Flintov returns from a stint at rehab looking to prove that he’s not an irredeemable screwup. And Calista Broderick, once part of the popular crowd, chooses, for reasons of her own, to become a hippie outcast.

Into this complicated web, an idealistic young English teacher arrives from a poorer, scruffier part of California. Molly Nicoll strives to connect with her students—without understanding the middle school tragedy that played out online and has continued to reverberate in different ways for all of them.


The Nix

Nathan Hill, 2017
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It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson hasn’t seen his mother, Faye, in decades—not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she’s reappeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.

To save her, Samuel will have to embark on his own journey, uncovering long-buried secrets about the woman he thought he knew, secrets that stretch across generations and have their origin all the way back in Norway, home of the mysterious Nix. As he does so, Samuel will confront not only Faye’s losses but also his own lost love, and will relearn everything he thought he knew about his mother, and himself.


The Bear and The Nightingale

Katherine Arden, 2017
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Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.


Moonglow

Michael Chabon, 2017
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In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon traveled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California, to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon.

Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and marriage and desire, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at midcentury, and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of keeping secrets and telling lies. It is a portrait of the difficult but passionate love between the narrator’s grandfather and his grandmother, an enigmatic woman broken by her experience growing up in war-torn France. It is also a tour de force of speculative autobiography in which Chabon devises and reveals a secret history of his own imagination.

From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of the “American Century,” the novel revisits an entire era through a single life and collapses a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most moving and inventive.


Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi, 2017
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Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.

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Using a Bullet Journal to Organize My Life and Writing

Bullet JournalI’m a pretty organized person. It’s one of the reasons I love technology. I have always found that tech (from my iPhone to my apple watch) is very helpful in organizing my life. But lately I’ve been feeling a little uncomfortable with the way that technology has infiltrated my life. I’m tired of the constant alerts. And I am hyper-aware of the habits that I am modeling for my kids.

Enter The Bullet Journal

It was probably due to this nagging sense of irritation that I decided to check out bullet journaling. A few friends had taken it up and at first it struck me as a big ‘ol waste of time (I’m never going to carry around a case of different colored markers with which to decorate a glorified day planner), but out of curiosity one night, I decided to do a little research into what this bullet journal thing is really about. I started with this YouTube video:

The very first image caught my attention because I am totally the kind of person who carries around piles of notes. I tried taking pictures of them so that I could store them in my phone, but then they got mixed up with photos of my kids and were hard to find. So then I tried using apps to organize them (Evernote being one of the best), but it just didn’t work for me. I kept having scraps of paper everywhere – from shopping lists to story ideas.

After watching that video I decided to give it a shot. I found a journal I had lying around and entered the basic formatting to plan for the month of November. I decided I would give it a try for a month, just to see if I liked it. Long story short: I do.

Planning For My Brain

One of the things I liked right off the bat was how I could customize it to match how I think. At the end of November, when it was time to set up for December, I was already shifting how I drew the lines of my daily calendar to leave room for a to-do list, and to include a space at the end of each day to write something I’m grateful for.

Then I started to integrate my writing. Now, instead of carrying around a separate notebook for all my different writing tasks, I have it all in one place, right alongside my calendars and to-do lists. I have pages dedicated to story ideas. And I have pages dedicated to planning for my blog. I also dedicated a few pages for ideas relating to my next novel. It’s so refreshing to actually know where everything is when I need it.

Prioritizing

The biggest advantage of the bullet journal so far is how it has pushed me to focus.
When I caught myself adding pages to my index to keep tack of things that really weren’t that important to me, I had the realization that I could just cut those things out of my life, and promptly did.

For instance, after recently reading Light the Dark, I fell in love with this quote by David Mitchell:

You’ve only got time to be a halfway decent parent, plus one other thing.
For me, that one other thing is: I’ve got to be writing. I have a few ways to make sure I can carve out time.
Part one: Neglect everything else…

It inspired me to get super focused on finishing my novel. But it’s really easy to get distracted.

I was filling out my to-do list for December in my bullet journal when I realized I had a bunch of time set aside for pitching magazines on story ideas and that this task was in no way helping me to finish my novel. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it was a real epiphany. I crossed out the page with one diagonal line to remind myself that I would come back to all of that once my draft was out the door to agents. And you know what I did then? I finished my novel.

The Challenge

The only hard part about using a Bullet Journal (or BuJo as the kids say), is that you actually have to think about how you want to organize your life. It takes some experimenting and requires that you be comfortable with the fact that it takes a little while to get used to.

It’s important to NOT fill in a whole year of calendar months right off the bat, but to instead do each month as it comes so you can adjust to make space for the things that are important at any given time.

Here is a quick video I found with some easy hacks:

And I really like the BuJo videos by this lady:

From there, you can explore a bit on YouTube and find all kinds of videos with different takes on the BuJos. If you have a favorite trick, please share. I am going into my third month on bullet journaling, and though I do find it very useful, I’m sure I have more to learn.

Cheers!

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