Blog

Before Starbucks: Remembering the Late-Nineties Independent Coffeeshop

Starbucks may have been founded in the 1970s, but it didn’t make its way around Michigan until the early 2000s. Before that, the quirky local independent coffeeshop was the only game in town.

Here’s a little taste of the long-gone coffeeshops that fueled my late teen years in the late Nineties.

Writing Across the Color Line

Last week I did an interview for a couple publications that will be coming out around the time We Hope for Better Things comes out to help spread the word about it. One of the questions the writer asked me is one I expect I will get a lot as people begin to encounter the book:

What did you, a white woman, do to ensure your black characters were authentic?

In answer to that question, I talked about my minor in US History in college and my year of extensive research into the black experience in America before I put pen to paper.

After that, I told her about Nancy, Mary, Debra, and Booker.

At various stages of the writing and revising of the manuscript that would become We Hope for Better Things, I asked black friends and writers to read and critique it, looking specifically for issues with black speech and characterization. Looking for anything that didn’t feel authentic to them, or that smacked of misinformation or stereotype.

Waiting for their critiques was sometimes nerve-wracking, especially since some of them were personal friends, not just other writers.

Today I’m with Nancy Johnson (who is now my critique partner) over on Writer Unboxed talking about how we’ve worked with each other to bring out the best in our writing, specifically how we’ve approached questions of race in our writing.

If you’re a writer who wants to populate your stories with a diverse cast of characters but you’re worried about getting something wrong or unintentionally offending someone, come join the conversation!

If you’re a reader who wonders how writers do what they do, come read about it!

NaNoWriMo Success, a Goodreads Giveaway, and the Return of #Debut19Chat

The past week has been busy in a good way.

I topped 50,000 words in my newest novel manuscript and won National Novel Writing Month for the second time (the result of the first time will actually be my second novel, coming out in September, and which has a shiny new title I can’t wait to share with you).

I finished up several PR items my publicist needed in order to spread the word about We Hope for Better Things.

I actually did my very first interview with a writer for a magazine!

I made much progress on an advance reader copy of The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill by James Charlesworth, another author who will debut in 2019.

dusted. I actually dusted.

I decorated for Christmas.

I did some laundry (finally).

I prepped food for a church potluck.

I started my Advent reading, Wrapped in Grace by Deana Lynn Rogers.

And #Debut19Chat is running again on Twitter, with new questions and answers to get to know 2019 debut authors and their projects.

Now I sit back a moment and consider the reality that 2018 is racing to a close and I have a very busy year ahead of me, in which I have two books coming out (one in just a month!), two books in the process of writing and revising, and I’m directing my beloved WFWA writing retreat.

If you want to keep up with what I’m doing, including my book launch events, speaking and workshops, my podcast, and more, you can get my newsletter in your email inbox by subscribing here.

If you want to enter to win one of ten free copies of We Hope for Better Things, you can enter the Goodreads Giveaway here!

And if you want to listen to me riff about the cute online animal videos I would have attempted to make as a child had the technology been available to me, click here to listen to the latest Your Face Is Crooked podcast episode. Or click the graphic below, which is my husband communing with a goat.

 

Snow Day, More Podcasting, and Looking Forward to Release Day

It’s the first snow day of the season today. Rain turned to snow overnight, making for nasty driving conditions. We woke up to about four or five inches, and it’s still snowing. We managed to get the patio furniture covered and get some firewood inside before it all started coming down.

Sleeping in, fresh cinnamon rolls for a late breakfast, and a snug day inside our little brick house. Snow days aren’t so bad. And now that the boy is ten, I actually get some work done as well.

This weekend I edited and scheduled the next several weeks’ worth of the Your Face Is Crooked podcast (including this week’s episode). Today I will record a new outro to add to the end of each episode. We’re just about five weeks away from the release of We Hope for Better Things, and starting in January, I’ll no longer be telling people about how they can pre-order it. Instead, you’ll actually be able to buy it outright! (A great use of all those Amazon and Barnes and Noble gift cards you’ll be getting at Christmas.)

I’m excited and nervous (mostly about my two live events which I’m kind of dreading). I’m trying to decide just what to do on release day to keep my mind off it and avoid constantly refreshing Amazon to see where it ranks. Since it comes out on New Year’s Day, I guess I’ll be taking down the Christmas decorations and cleaning the house. It’s a glamorous life, but someone needs to live it.

For today, I’m working. And writing. And cooking my own Thanksgiving dinner because every year we go to someone else’s house and so I never get any leftovers. If you find yourself at home today because of snow (or if you’re one of those unfortunate souls stuck at an airport because of it) you might want to check out the Your Face Is Crooked podcast. Each episode is short and amusing and maybe they’ll brighten your cloudy day a bit.

Here’s this week’s ep:

Space Invaders

As an introvert, I don’t typically start conversations. And I almost never start them with strangers (unless I’m trying really hard to be approachable). So I’m always taken by surprise and always a bit uncomfortable when strangers start conversations with me out of the blue.

First, they may not know it, but they have actually interrupted a conversation I was already having…with myself…in my head.

Second, I find that to me personal space is more than just physical. It’s aural. And if there have been no formal introductions or good manners have not dictated the talking (as in the cases of telling to the person behind the counter your coffee order or saying excuse me when you bump into someone) it almost feels inappropriate, like when you watch that brief ungloved hand touch in the Kiera Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice and somehow that’s the sexist thing in the whole movie until she catches sight of Darcy striding toward her in the morning light after the countess visits her, and then they ruin it in the American version with that stupid sappy tag on the end with them sitting outside by the reflecting pool at his house…

ANYWAY.

That’s what this one is about…

 

1-Week NaNoWriMo Check-Up

We’re one week into National Novel Writing Month and I hope that any of you who are participating are finding success. I’ve been happy with my progress thus far — 15,535 words — and I have to admit it is due to two things: lots of pre-thought and a little pre-writing.

On the pre-thought tip, I’ve been ruminating on this story for at least a couple years, and in the past couple months my disparate ideas codified into something with enough layers and complexity to work for a novel.

As for the pre-writing, in the week or so before November started, I forced myself to write chapter summaries for where I saw the beginning chapters going and managed to get up through chapter 17.

What has that meant for the writing? Well, in this first week I’ve managed just shy of a chapter a day because I already knew the main plot and character points I was going to cover in each. I doubt very much that I can keep up that pace all month with a heavy workload of writing copy for the next catalog and Thanksgiving coming up. But a solid start does wonders for my motivation to push forward, and all those chapter summaries make it easier for me to write in short bursts that I can fit in here and there throughout the day as time presents itself rather than waiting for perfect conditions of a long block of alone time that will not be interrupted.

So what happens when I reach chapter 18 and the summaries are no more? Well, at that point I should be over the halfway point of the novel and the forward momentum of all that story should make the going easier. Plus, I do know the ending already. I may take an hour or so and write out the next five or ten chapter summaries before I go on writing the novel. Or I may find that that would just slow me down.

One thing’s for sure, though. NaNoWriMo came at just the right time for me this year and the progress I’m making on a new story after so much time fiddling with old ones or making false starts on new ones has me feeling much less anxious than I have been in a long time.

How to Be Approachable

Does everyone and their brother talk to you when you’re out in public? Or do you avoid conversing with strangers like the plague — like they literally might be carrying the plague and if you talk to them you’re probably exposing yourself to it?

I recently tried to switch from one modus operandi to the other. Here’s how that went…

 

Calvin as Calvin (and Hobbes)

As far as Halloween costumes go, we seem to now be past the point of animals, firemen, and superheroes. We have entered the realm of clever cultural references half of the people won’t get. Which, to me, is a lot more fun than the stuff at the Halloween store.

I made that Hobbes toy for Calvin when he was just a little guy. I striped the shirt with fabric paint last week. The gun is the portable transmogrifier that turns Calvin and Hobbes into various things…

Image result for calvin and hobbes transmogrifier

Zach and I both read Calvin and Hobbes rather obsessively as kids, as did a lot of people in our generation, and it’s been really satisfying to find that they resonate with our Calvin as well.

This was such a simple (and cheap) costume because he already had everything but the shirt (which I found on clearance for less than $3 at Target) and the gel to spike his hair (which we got 30% off at Borics). And when it comes to something you will wear only once or twice (Halloween parties and trick-or-treating) I’m all about simple and cheap.