A rough start

A few days after ringing in the new year, I came down with a cold. It started as a mild sinus infection, but has gotten worse and migrated down to my chest. On top of that, my German shepherd is having hip problems and has to be on rest for two weeks, which is driving her insane because she can’t burn off her energy. That, in turn, is driving everyone else insane, including poor Lexi, who just wants to be left alone.

A German shepherd resting her paw on a Welsh corgi's butt.

And then… our pipes froze. There doesn’t appear to be any damage, but it took us all of Saturday morning to get them defrosted. Imagine me, coughing, waving a hair dryer over my pipes, kicking all sorts of dust and grime into the air, making me cough even more.

What fun!

So despite my plan to start revising my novel on January 1, I’ve yet to touch the thing. Now I feel like it’s taunting me from its resting place on my shelf (it exists as a handwritten scrawl in a 5-subject notebook).

I started this novel—which I affectionately call my “dead people novel”—in 2011. Seven years ago! Today, it certainly feels like it will take another seven years to finish. To be fair, I haven’t been working on that novel continuously for seven years. I wrote half a draft, realized it was all wrong, started over. Wrote another 20,000 words, then decided I wanted to do a collection of short fiction for my MFA thesis. That book took me three or four years to put together, and then I got back into my dead people novel, with a few more breaks for other projects.

Still, it feels like I will never ever ever finish this novel. Especially when I’m busy hacking up a lung and trying desperately to stay on top of all my other, non-novel-writing responsibilities.

That’s the constant struggle of the working writer. Anything and everything will eat into your writing time if you let it. And sometimes, you HAVE to let it. I don’t care if some dude with an MFA from Iowa or Columbia says you should write every day and never let anything get in the way, ever, because that guy probably doesn’t have a boatload of student loan payments and frozen pipes to deal with. So screw him.

I will revise my novel this year. And I will get started soon, hopefully later this week. But first, I’m going to give myself some space to rest, catch up on a few things, and feel better, so that when I come to the page I have actual coherent thoughts to put down.

Here’s to hoping your 2018 is off to a smoother beginning than mine!

A brave new world

Last month, I quit my job at the library and dropped out of library school. I want to talk about what happened, and I want to talk about it honestly and fairly, without malice.

I’m not sure I can do that yet, because frankly what happened is shitty and unfair, and because I don’t want my words or actions to harm anyone who still works at the library. And I don’t want you, potential library-user, to feel any sort of weird bad feelings toward the library, because you should absolutely not (which reminds me that a few of my books are a day late…)

So instead of detailing the events that led up to me quitting my job, let me talk about what I’m doing now.

First, I am teaching fiction writing classes at the Community College of Allegheny County, in the community education (non-credit) program. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, but got scared away by endless adjunct tales of woe and the need for affordable health insurance. Thankfully, I’m in a position now where I don’t have to worry about health insurance quite as much, making part-time teaching a possibility.

And I have to say, it feels good to be sharing the thing I most love doing (writing fiction) with people who are excited to learn. My students range in age from around my age to retirees, from judges to hydro geologists, and I am learning as much from them as they are from me, I’m sure. I’m going to give teaching a trial run for a year, and if I find at the end of the year that I still love it, I’m probably going to apply for PhD programs (creative writing PhD in Hawaii? Yes, please) to up my chances of getting a “real” teaching job (and also because I want to write an ecofeminist dissertation on Star Wars, but that’s a tale for another time).

Second, I am working part-time at Riverstone Books, a new bookstore in the North Hills that will open later this week. In addition to working the floor, I’ll be working on the store’s social media as well. Right now the main focus is on getting the store up and running for the grand opening tomorrow, but I’ve got lots of content ideas percolating, and I’m really excited about the store and this opportunity.

Third, I am freelancing, which is something that had to fall by the wayside while I was working full-time and taking classes. So far I’ve had work published in The Millions, Health.com, and Next Pittsburgh. Where will my name pop up next? Who knows! I missed writing nonfiction, so it feels good to dip my toes back into the business of facts.

Journalism has always felt like an odd side appendage I don’t know what to do with—I know I’m not really interested in hardcore investigative reporting, but getting to write about topics I’m passionate about (food! writing! migraines!) for more than my blog is only a good thing.

Fourth, and most importantly, I’m writing more. My writing sessions don’t have to be limited to fifteen- or thirty-minute sprints before I head into the library. My mornings are open, so I can write for one hour. Two hours. Even three hours. I am still giddy with delight at this bounty of time. So I am shopping my short story collection, revising a small collection of flash fiction, and plotting a serial novel for NaNoWriMo next month.

What’s more, my partner’s fears that I would just play Pokemon Go for eight hours a day if I quit my job have not come true! I still only play for a very moderate average of one hour a day!

This is all still new, and still a little scary, but ultimately, I’m hopeful that good things will come of this brave new world.

My head hurts too much for new words, so here are some words of advice about writing

a picture of a thistle

Awhile ago I read Colum McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer. I enjoy McCann, but he’s a little bit outside my genre wheelhouse, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. It was amazing. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

You don’t speak for people, but with people. You are here to rip open the accepted world and create it anew. Often a writer will not know the true reason for writing until long after the work is finished. It is when she gives it to others that its purpose becomes apparent.

spring flowers at phipp's

Just keep your arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Stare the blank page down.

Sometimes getting started is the hardest thing, but it’s the most important. You get nowhere if you don’t start. There’s a metaphor about how writing is like tending a garden (hence the flower pictures), but my head hurts too much to tease it out. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.