Saturday, July 27, 2013

Of Libraries and the Books that are in Them

My hometown library when it was new.
It looks much the same today.
When I was growing up, Tuesday was library day, or maybe it was Thursday. I can't remember now, but I do remember going with my mom every week without fail. I grew up in a small post-industrial town south of Buffalo and north of Pennsylvania surrounded by farmland. Its heyday, as a center of tool and die, brick, and furniture manufacture was history long before I was born. But Western New York was a lovely place to grow up, and Jamestown had an excellent library.

My mom dumped me in the children's room (fine with me) and went off to collect her reserves and pore over the new book shelf and maybe read a few pages of the New York Times. Once I was finished assembling my own pile of books, I would swing by the little art gallery or maybe fiddle around with the microfische machines or just go directly to bugging my mom. 

I have always loved reading. Earning my English degree forced me to read broadly and taught me to read deeply. Throughout my education, including my masters in Library Science, I assumed that everyone read for the same reasons I did, to encounter great thinkers' thoughts directly on the page, to wallow in lavish prose, to savor poetry. For me, reading is an adventure, as with all good adventures, I thought some exertion should be involved. I still look for books and authors that will challenge me, show me new horizons, maybe even change my mind. 

After I got my MLS degree I moved to New York City to work at the central branch of the Queens Borough Public Library. Living in the city was eye-opening, so was working in a big public library. I discovered that I was only one kind of reader, and that people read for a myriad of different reasons. *

Queens is an incredibly diverse borough, and QPBL carries a huge range of material. I remember looking at a spin rack of Korean romance novels. Inside, the back covers were covered with Korean symbols that the readers had penned. I asked the librarian who worked in that department about it. She said that each reader would write their Korean initial in the back of the book once they'd read it, so that they wouldn't read it again by mistake. I thought, how satisfying could a book be if you could accidentally read it over and not know? Yet those books were read to pieces, the back covers of every one filled with readers' marks. 

It slowly dawned on me that I had a very narrow idea of what I thought reading was. Like most unexamined definitions, it encompassed exactly one person, me. Sure there are like minded souls out there, but there are also rafts of readers who seek entirely different pleasures than I do. 

As Shakespeare said, "There's more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." ** 

This understanding has made me a better writer. Right off the bat, I know I'm not trying to write for everyone. I think, I'm not so much trying to find an audience as I'm trying to find my tribe. Fiction or non-fiction, no matter the genre, all a writer can do is try to reach across time and space, to connect with those readers who seek to share the same challenge or solace or sense of humor with them. I'm looking for that reader who will share my world for a few hours and mark the back cover of my book with their initial. 

* Of course, people come to the library for more than just books. They come to to get music and DVDs. They come to learn English or Spanish or Farsi. They come to look for a job, to surf the web, to learn to type, or sew, or meet friends. They come to play computer games. And if they don't have a home, they come in just to sit in the air-conditioning, and that's okay too.

**  Hamlet (1.5.166-7)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Writing the Pomodoro Way

Summer and its more relaxed schedule is such a mixed blessing. I love not dragging my girls out of bed at six in the morning. This year we have several weeks with no camps at all, when I'll be working from home. It's lovely, even if the together time gets a little intense (queue the sibling squabbling). I write best on a strict schedule: that's what's great about the school year. In the past, I've played around with The Pomodoro Technique, but recently I've started using it more and I think it might just be my summer solution. 

I have to admit the first couple weeks of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, I was seriously struggling to meet my commitments. It's not just finding the time, another big part of the problem is that I'm working on longer projects. I didn't plan this, it seems to be just happening. I have no trouble diving into revisions for a 10 to 20 page story, but the one I'm currently working on is 45 pages and set to get longer.*

In fact, I'm using The Pomodoro Technique right now, to write this blog post. The idea is to just commit to 25 minutes at a time, with short breaks in between and longer ones every three to four Pomodoros. By keeping track of how many Pomodoros it takes to complete a project, I also have some data about how long it takes to, say, edit 60 pages. Data that will definitely help me plan my upcoming writing.

But the real strength of this technique, is that it helps me break through a particular emotional barrier that often causes me to put off work. It's the reluctance to even start on a project that is certainly too long and complex to accomplish in a couple of days. Instead of thinking of those 60 pages, where it seems every single sentence needs fixing and every other paragraph needs rearranging, I just focus on putting in 25 minutes. My obligation is no longer to revise this whole stack of pages, just to do what I can while the timer runs down.

I don't use the actual tomato timer pictured above. I don't think I could write through the ticking. I have Focus Booster on my computer which has a nice bar that changes from green to red to yellow as the time goes by. I have Focus Time on my iPod, this one costs a couple of dollars but there are some free ones also and, obviously, any timer will work. (Don't let me love of gadgets and apps deter you from trying this simple technique.)

So, if you have big projects but don't have big swaths of time, ** consider trying the Pomodoro Technique.

And now for something completely different. If you haven't read The Gyre yet, it is now available to read for free on The Colored Lens' website.

* Last week, I took the first 6,000 words (30 pages) of my current story to my Writers' Group. I got loads of valuable opinions. At the end, I asked the group if I should go shorter - try to pare it down to short story length, or go longer. Everyone said, "Longer!" Some even suggesting it could be a novel. I was all like, "Whoa, let's not get crazy here." But, I can see many points where I can expand this story to novella length. 

** Pretty much the foreseeable future for me.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Futile the Winds in Interzone 247

Futile the Winds is now available to read in Interzone 247, which should be on newsstands, in bookstores (or in your mailbox if you're a subscriber) any day now. I'm thrilled that this story found a home in such a lovely publication. 

One of the inspirations for this story was the Mars One project, which I mention at the end of this post. The other inspiration, and the title, was taken from this poem by Emily Dickinson:

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!