Aug. 5th, 2015

rockinlibrarian: (rebecca)
Time and again I've mentioned how far away I've gotten from my two #1 childhood-- and adolescent and early adulthood and basically PRE-MOTHERHOOD-- hobbies, reading and writing. I guess I keep moaning about it because it gives me an identity crisis, that's how tightly BOOKS have been tied to WHO I AM my whole life. People STILL associate me with books. I'm always getting Facebook-tagged for something book-related, or someone reads/hears/sees something bookish and is like "I was thinking of you today." The tie is so strong that even POST-(the-beginning-of)-motherhood, at least six years post, my daughter was being tested on basic vocabulary in preschool, had to identify a book, and allegedly immediately volunteered "my mommy knows a lot about those," as soon as she had. Well, okay, I am a librarian, and people do associate librarians with books even if there's so much more to it than that. But beyond the library tie-in, when people say to me "YOU! You're the one who loves BOOKS!" part of me kind of blinks and feels like a fraud, because... maybe I really don't?

It's not true, though, that I don't. It's more like I avoid reading and writing because I'm a little terrified of them. Maybe it's BECAUSE they're so tied up in my identity. Maybe cause and effect is backward, and I'm terrified of reading and writing because I've been having an identity crisis. MAYBE IT'S ALL A GIANT COLE SLAW OF CAUSES AND EFFECTS CAUSING PSYCHIC INDIGESTION.

READING is a bit less traumatic. Okay, I used to read approximately one novel a day; whereas now I've managed to complete two novels in the past three months or so.* I still get excited when a new book by an author I love is coming out (which both those books naturally were), but whether I get around to READING them is something else. But it's not because I don't LIKE it anymore. I'm just afraid to start because it always happens: if I love it (and why bother if I don't?) I will eventually NOT PUT IT DOWN. I will not be able to manage being a Responsible Grownup while reading. Everything else will be shunted aside. It's my fatal flaw Inertia rearing its head again: if I start, I can't stop; if I stop, I can't start.

But once I stop, it's easy to trick myself into forgetting the magic. I'll read the internet for awhile-- quickly written bits and pieces of essays and opinions and comments, so my brain is swarming with words and ideas and opinions thrust on me by the masses and I'm like "JUST BE QUIET FOR A LITTLE BIT, WORDS! I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF WORDS TODAY!" But when I DO get sucked in to a REAL BOOK, a work of fiction, one that's been finely crafted by a master (because again, anymore I'm likely to only bother picking it up if it IS by someone I know is a master), I remember WHY, WHY I would bother to suck so many of these down in a sitting. THESE are words that unlock the imagination, let you experience a true alternate reality in the comfort of home.

So yesterday morning I woke up, having gotten to bed late because I'd gotten into the climax of that last book and couldn't stop until I finished, and my brain was telling stories to itself. Basically that's WHY people write, isn't it, because their brains won't stop telling stories. Anymore my brain does all its storytelling late at night when my inhibitions are turned off and I'm securely dreaming, but reading had apparently reminded my brain that I don't HAVE to stop dreaming when I wake up. But I'd already written this story. This was one of my former Works In Progress. I'm not sure when they officially STOPPED being Works in Progress, somewhere between 3 and 5 years back, but if you've been around long enough you might remember me blabbering about Ian Schafer-- or more likely, his superhero best friend Billy 'Arrison. Loved those kids. In the back of my head I always thought, "when am I finally going to give them a book worthy of them?" I got pretty far. I drafted a whole book during a correspondence course, and the instructor thought it had genuine promise. Still needed work. Rewrote the first few chapters a few times. Had one of those initial chapter rewrites critiqued by Bruce Coville at an SCBWI conference and he didn't hate it, which made my entire life for awhile. Decided to rewrite the whole thing from scratch with an entirely different opening chapter, which I wrote and then... I stopped. It just wasn't happening. I just wasn't happening.

But yesterday I woke up smiling as I watched the final showdown with the big bad playing out in my head again, and thought, "That was fun. I want to read that book again. Just as a reader." So I did.

Yeah, still needs work, if it is to be Publication-worthy, but I'm not sure it CAN be fixed. Maybe I've never been able to wrestle the plot into submission because it's not MEANT to be wrestled into submission. Maybe its technological confusion over whether it's the present day or the 1990s, or its insistence on being a middle-grade story with a 17-year-old protagonist, is just PART of it. Maybe it's all just silly fun. Maybe it's time to leave it be and move on. It was a great practice novel.

And I feel okay about that. I can let it be. I'll always have Billy and Ian and Hannie and Ashlynn even if nobody else does.

That said, it was also way better than I've given myself credit for. I mean I ENJOYED it as a reader, reading it now several years later when I haven't been thinking about it. I fell in love with those stupid teenagers and their awkward chemistry all over again. There was a lot of REALLY GOOD STUFF THERE. When I left it I only saw its insurmountable problems that would never find it a home with a publisher. But I haven't been trying to get it published for years. I haven't been trying to publish ANYTHING for years. I've just been trying to WRITE again.

...or BELIEVE in myself enough to even ATTEMPT to write again...

So this time I still saw the flaws, but I saw the good stuff too, and it was GREAT stuff. It Wasn't Half Bad. I did that. I wrote an entire book and the characters made me laugh and cry and the plot took some neat twists and there's these lovely little character-building details you'd almost miss and there's Overarching Themes and STUFF.

Oh, and here's the best part. I also found an even earlier draft. That, too, had some good stuff, but the latest draft was SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER. That means I can learn.

So I'm still too terrified to attempt to write something. I'm still swirling through this identity crisis thing. But-- there's one rope for me to hang onto, at least.

*BOOK REVIEWS HERE, for the interested:
The other month I read Elizabeth Wein's most recent of her books about young pilots in WWII, Black Dove White Raven. This one was not quite as devastating as the other two, but considering this one included a detailed mustard gas attack on a Red Cross hospital camp, that really just tells you something about how devastating the others were. The most interesting thing about this one is it takes place in Ethiopia, which, seriously, I know We Need Diverse Books makes me feel worthless as a writer, but as a READER, I'm like, DARN YOU Colonial Europe with your stories of Savages in Darkest Africa, why did you hide all this FASCINATING HISTORY from us?! Everytime I read a book set in Africa that is not starring animals or happening in Ancient Egypt, I feel this way, this TELL ME MORE, TELL ME ALL THIS STUFF NOBODY TOLD ME EXISTED! Specifically in this book, among other things, did you know Ethiopia had its own branch of Christianity dating back to the beginning, not through some colonial missionaries? Didn't you, like me, just think ALL the early Christian sects eventually were united under the Roman Empire, and then didn't separate again until the Orthodox churches broke off? NO DUDES, there was a completely DIFFERENT sect down in Ethiopia all along, and they have a big part in this book! How COOL is that? I DIDN'T KNOW THAT AND NOW I WANT TO KNOW ALL THE THINGS!

*AHEM*

The book I finished the other night was Frances Hardinge's Cuckoo Song. I never adored her Mosca Mye books as much as a lot of people, but The Lost Conspiracy blew my mind, so it was on the strength of that I decided to read this one. It was slow going for the first chapter or two, to be honest: our protagonist is very confused and has a lot of blanks in her memory, so it was a little hard to grab onto for a currently-sort-of-reading-averse person like me. But then I got through a whole bunch of chapters at one sitting that involved a lot of waiting, and then I couldn't wait to get back, and got more and more SUCKED IN as I went along. This is a very creepy book, creepiest at the beginning when you're not sure what's going on-- a well-read adult will figure out what basically had happened to our heroine long before she does, but it's still creepy, and it's twisty and full of delicious details and there are enough moments of triumph throughout that you're not bogged down by the horror, and, as in Hardinge's other books, the characters are all so layered that everyone spends some time feeling like a good guy OR a bad guy, except maybe the Very Big Bad, I don't remember him having ANY Good Guy time (okay, EDIT: I'll give him that his motives are extremely noble from a certain standpoint. He's just pretty awful how he goes about things).

Anyway, so me finishing a book is in-and-of-itself a thumbs-up from me (me write negative reviews? I would, but I DON'T FINISH THOSE BOOKS), but now you know that these two passed the test.

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