Tax Preparation for Writers: Tips and Zen and Pain

If you haven’t prepared your tax return yet, check out this great article on tax returns for artists, complete with an expense checklist for writers. This CPA’s site and ebook have all the info you need (note: this is not my own accountant).

I’m a lifelong math phobe. So tax season sends me trudging into the dining room for what I’ve come to think of as my annual tax Gethsemane.

I have my bag of receipts and canceled checks.  I have a clenched jaw, a tremble in both hands. I have a mountain of regrets for (1) My terrible childhood math teacher and (2) My conviction that numbers are really just a bunch of 9th-century hieroglyphics masquerading as 21st-century digits and invented to give us night sweats.

I’ve created my own homemade tax-prep technique.  Using my accountant’s categories, I write said categories on a bunch of sticky notes and place the sticky notes in a double row along the dining table. Next, I unfold and assign each collected receipt to its appropriate stick-note category. Then, I total the receipt amounts and write that total on each sticky note. And finally, I write that amount on the appropriate line on the tax form.

Look, numberblocksI know that it’s second-grade math.  I know I’ll never get into CPA school. But it’s the only way that works for me.

Believe it or not, this tax-prep stuff has a saving grace. For a busy woman who often can’t remember what she did last week, tax-prep season is a rear-view glimpse into the past year.

And it was a good year, full of blessings and surprises. On a freezing night in March, on the nights of my Gethsemane, I need to be reminded of that.

For example, here’s a receipt from a dinner out with three other working women writers. Oh, yeah, now I remember that night. We yapped and chatted and chewed the writers’ fat until the waiters started dimming the lights.

Oh, and here’s a canceled check for a payment to someone named Daniel. Daniel? Daniel … Webster? Boone?  Oh, Daniel. Yes, how could I forget that hipster who sold me the used desk and matching file drawers for my home office, my little writing haven?

Speaking of checks, here’s one from my favorite writers retreat. Days writing in my room. Evenings sharing dinner and chat with one of my oldest friends. Seriously, does life get any better than that?

Oooh! Here’s a fully intact MTA parking receipt from … when? Christ, with all their tax-fare hikes, you’d think that the Massachusetts Transit Authority, the MTA, could print their ticket dates clearer? Just this once, MTA, couldn’t you and your buddy Charlie be the men who actually do (tax) return?

Wait. It’s coming back to me. The receipt is from that fall afternoon, a Sunday when I took the train into Boston to read and present at America’s first public library.

And then … (cue the creepy music) … it’s time for my annual attack of tax  paranoia.  Instead of this tabletop, karst landscape of sticky notes and receipts, I see every crack, every cockroach that skitters across the floor of my prison cell–as in, tax-evaders’ prison cell.

Gulp!  And listen, why should I trust an accountant? Isn’t she also in the hieroglyphics club? They probably all have their own secret social media page, all communicating and chortling away in that mad language that …. Yo, writer. Yo. Zen. Zen. Now.

Let’s just log onto the IRS website to check and double-check these official allowances and write-offs.

“See the page on …” “Read the addendum on …” “Read our set and subset and footnotes of hieroglyphics for blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

And then, here’s the flash point of sin or redemption for every writer during every tax season:  “Was this trip for business or pleasure?”

Phew. I’ve got the rest of my receipts. I’ve got my mileage amounts. So no final phone calls from the prison pay phone for me.

Okey dokey, what have we got here?  Oh look!  It’s from my teaching stint at the Ocean Park Writers Conference in Maine. Hot summer days. Maine ocean breezes. Front-porch conversations with my students.

And it was all, all business (heh!).

Posted in business side of writing, tax preparation for writers, writer with a day job, Writers resources, Writing process | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Writers dish on balancing writing with work and family

I’m delighted to announce that Alizah Salario, a freelance journalist from Brooklyn, NY, is the winner of my signed book, Writer with a Day Job. All of the names were entered for a random drawing.

Check out Alizah’s work at her website.

Below are Alizah’s tips on writing and you can read all of the tips in the last blog post.

Tips from Alizah Salario:

1) Don’t confuse your job with your career: Because the type of writing that pay the bills and the type of writing that creatively fulfills and sustains me are two separate things, it’s easy to feel like I’m not a “real” writer if I’m not earning money doing what I love. I often remind myself there is no shame in doing something for money in order to do what you love.

2) Find an ally: Even supportive friends have a difficult time understanding the unique rhythms of a writer’s life. Find a fellow writer – through a writing group, a friend, or simply write to someone you admire – who can relate and help you stay on track when it feels hopeless.

3) Create your own criteria: So much of what is considered “successful” on the web is determined by the number of comments, likes, or tweets. Remember that some of the best writing out there gets the least attention, and there are countless talented people who don’t get the credit they deserve. Make your own markers of achievement that don’t have to do with responses from others – otherwise you’ll constantly be looking for external approval.

Thank you to all who shared their writing processes and tips. I know I learned a lot.

Posted in Inspiration and infatuations, writer with a day job, Writers resources, Writing process | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writers, Join this book giveaway by sharing your tips

This week I was lucky enough to be featured at The Writer’s Place, a spiffy blog by writer Nancy Christie.

Then, today, the interview gets included in Help for Writers.

I enjoyed the entire Writers Place interview, but I was especially charmed by Nancy’s last question in which she asks for my “top three takeaways” (or tips) for balancing creativity with work (based on my book, Writer with a Day Job).

Here are my top 3 tips for balancing writing and life:

1.  Define your own path to writing and writing success. Comparing ourselves with other writers is counterproductive—even deadly.

2.  If you’re a beginner writer, create an overview of your month’s typical schedule and commitments. Circle the items that can either be outsourced or dropped altogether. Only keep those commitments that are truly, honestly as or more important in your life than writing. Even if you don’t use your freed-up time for actual writing, use it for writing-conducive activities such as reading, yoga or just sitting and staring into space.

3.  Learn how to say, “no.” When we do, people are not as miffed or disappointed as we assume that they will be. We fall into these “I should” and “I must” habits because —duh!— we’re not clear with others about what we need in order to nurture our talents as writers.

So you’ve got my three tips. Now, what are yours? Insert below in the Comments section and join my book giveaway. 

If we get 15 responses (each with your hot tips), I will enter all names in a random drawing for a signed copy of my book, WRITER with a DAY JOB. I will mail the book to the winner, so make sure to include a website or blog where I can rez8079-writerdayjob6.jpgach you. Sorry, U.S. addresses only, please.

We need a minimum of 15 responses … so … pick and post your best tips… and spread the word  … 

Posted in Author Interviews ( Q & As), writer with a day job, Writers resources, writing and publishing, Writing process | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers: Ernest Hemingway’s “Truest Sentence”

Should some writing come with a “made-in-China” label?

In our digitized 21st century, how much of our writing is too cheap, too quick and too disposable? Has the sheer volume of digitized, podcast, broadcast and hard-copy content spawned a  24/7 static, a persistent distraction?

I have been a lifelong lover of the jigsaw process of writing, of yoking apparently disparate ideas together for a cohesive whole.  As a teacher and a writer, I have told my students and myself to “let yourself play in the word box to find that first, unfettered draft.”

But lately, I have been questioning my own advice. In the time that it takes us to pen that first draft of a 3,000-word essay or story,  have the writing and publishing rules already changed? Has everyone already gone onto the next and louder message?

December has not been a good writing month because the first week was spent in my native Ireland, where I flew across the Atlantic to visit my family and to close out the mourning year for my late father’s death.

It has not been a good writing month because my day job was really busy.

It has not been a good writing month because I was jet lagged and tired, addled, anxious and often awake at 3 a.m.

In fact, though I’ve managed to complete some essays and start a new book project, it hasn’t been a very good writing year. For most of 2012, I have been plagued by this sense that some of us are destined to be the gauche maiden aunt at this hyper hip, hyper loud and hyper mercenary party called modern writing.

Or let’s put it this way: This December, we tele-witnessed a young man gunning down 20 school children, another man pushing a stranger in front of a speeding train, and another man shooting up firefighters on Christmas.

So what the hell good are we?

And, worse than being ineffectual, aren’t we writers–aka “content providers”– part of the problem?  Our words are part of that blathery static that postures and obscures and, by extension, belittles the gut-crushing realities of life, death and loss?

Two nights ago, on the evening of December 30th, I was thinking about all of this when I suddenly remembered that line from Hemingway:  “Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Ernest Hemingway

But after the madness that has been December 2012,  I could find or write no fixed, existential truth.

At least, not about anything out there outside my office window.

But a quick Google search threw up this wonderful writing exercise from a Canadian writer who encourages us to adapt Hemingway’s advice to write some truths about ourselves.

To atone for our year of spin and cruelty and sycophancy, I tried to call up that one true thing about me.

I wrote down 20.

Some are those bare-knuckled truths that set us on the offensive or make us brace or duck for the next upper cut.  Some of my self-truths made me hold my breath. A few made me tremble. One made me cry.

The fact that I wrote 20 truths on 16 single-spaced, handwritten pages doesn’t make me super prolific or super honest.  It simply and sadly means that,  in the busy-ness and babble of life, in the gussied-up version of me that I present to the world, I had abandoned what was true.

Now, all 20 of my truths are written down. They are an excellent blueprint for 2013.

Thank you, Ernest Hemingway. I don’t like your writing. Given your macho, hard-living shtick, I probably wouldn’t have liked you.

But in a world turned mad and bad, I love your saving advice.

Posted in Uncategorized, writer's prompt, writing and publishing, Writing process, Writing prompts | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Thanks (giving) for my writing life

“It’s Thanksgiving,” he said down the payphone. His American voice sounded woken-up cranky.  “So my roommates are off work and gone home. ‘Like, Thanksgiving’s a holiday over here.”  Oh, come on, I wanted to say.  I mean, with nobody getting born or killed or risen from the dead,  just how big could this ‘holiday’ of yours really be?  

 The year was 1986. The era: way, way pre-cellphone. The setting: My native Ireland.

But only for one more month. That day, the day before Thanksgiving, 1986,  the American Embassy had issued me a temporary visa. My lucky day. How lucky? I had even found an un-vandalized payphone to call across the Atlantic to one of my expatriate  friends. Now that I had my visa, I needed a landing pad in the land of the free.

I watched the last of my money clink into the payphone slot. “Is there a message?” The man asked.

“Yes,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. “Please tell my pal Mary that I’ll ring again next week. When she’s back from … um … this … Thanksgiving.”
“Sure,” he said.
Then … Clunk.

 Standing in that phone box, I was one of the 19% of unemployed young Irish people. I was among the estimated 30% of college graduates for whom there were no suitable jobs in our own country.  And we’re not talking “dream job” or “creative job.” In fact, I didn’t even know what these terms meant.

As an unemployed person–then and now–you don’t feel like part of an unemployment statistic or a unified group.  There’s just you. There’s just you and your shame and your assumption that everyone else—especially your old college friends—all have jobs. And those friends who have moved overseas? Yup, they have jobs, too. And new jobs mean new friends—the kind of friends who invite you home to their family for secular-sounding American holidays that aren’t named for a saint or a savior.

Even more than a job, I needed a place to be—somewhere far away from that damp, November afternoon in Ireland.  Oh, yeah, as I left that phone box to walk through Dublin’s city center, I knew it in my soul: I needed a life.

But there’s one big advantage to being 24 and jobless.  Your emigration to-do list is really short.

Get yourself a temporary American visa. Check.
Empty your savings for a transatlantic airline ticket. Check.
Start saying ‘goodbye’ to your family.  Check.
Track down an expatriate friend to lend you a couch and a place to stay.

Um … well … I was working on that last one.   But I couldn’t work on it until this Thanksgiving thing was over, when I’d scrape up enough courage and spare change to call across the Atlantic again.

A month after Visa Day, I landed in JFK Airport, New York on a freezing afternoon. I had a backpack and a borrowed $200 and yes, a place to stay.

I never did get to California, at least, not to live. From New York I took a Trailways bus three hours upstate, where, as an act of mercy, a family member had set me up with his American friend. That American friend, a man I had never met before, would  pick me up and put me up until I got on my feet.

In America, I went and found me some jobs. I became a waitress, a bartender, a secretary (when we still called it that), a college administrative person, a marketing assistant, a substitute elementary school teacher (quelle disaster!) and … well, a host of other things. One year, by the time Tax Day rolled around, I submitted a whopping nine W2 forms. I went back to grad school at night. And, even with a strange accent and with substantial holes in my resume, even during the most recent U.S. recession, I managed to stay (mostly) employed.

But did I really like any of my jobs? Did any of them feed me or my vague, dreamy hope of one day being a writer? As an immigrant and as a child of working class parents, there were many, many years before I even let myself consider these questions.

My writing and editorial skills led to better and more fulfilling jobs. Almost at the same time, I began submitting my writing to literary magazines. Suddenly, the rejection slips were intermingled with a few “we’d-like-to-publish” notes. Eventually, and still with a jittery disbelief, I found myself with a dual career as a creative writer and as communications professional.

Messy but beloved kitchen counter

Yesterday morning, as I prepared for my 25th Thanksgiving in America, and before I left for my office and job,  I took my cup of coffee to the kitchen counter.

In my iPhone, I went through my last minute Thanksgiving list:

Turkey? Check.
Cranberries? Check. 
Sweet potatoes? Check.
A really good writing life?  Check. Check.  

Posted in Inspiration and infatuations, Writers resources, writing and publishing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Balancing writing with a career in publishing

Today I’m delighted to chat with Stephanie Grossman, who hails from the Hudson Valley area of New York and commutes to her publishing job in NYC. Stephanie has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a minor in business (just in case) from Marist College.  

As well as writing (check out her work at Fiction365), Stephanie is a sales assistant in the Subsidiary Rights Department at Simon and Schuster in New York City.  

1. Stephanie, what do you write?  

I primarily write fiction, both short stories and novels (of course, I haven’t finished a novel yet). I’d like to think of my writing as literary, or at least that’s what I try for. Depending on the story, I also have a tendency to include slightly supernatural and/or experimental elements.    I do believe in writing honest, character-driven stories that can incorporate any type of plot or style, from realist to fantastical. Maybe the reason I haven’t finished a novel yet is because I spend a lot of time at my ‘other’ job—my day job.

My other commitments include pursuing a social media marketing certificate, helping my dad out with marketing for his local HVAC business, blogging on my blog (which counts as writing)…also eating, sleeping, exercising, being social…too many things that pull me in directions away from sitting down to work on my fiction writing. And yet, I think it’s important to have a life outside my writing, especially one that pays the bills.

2.  You have a long, long train commute to your job in NYC. Any tips on using the commute to keep up with your writing?

Yes, that hour and a half to two-hour commute each way, while extremely time-consuming, is actually pretty great for doing writerly things. Writing on the train isn’t exactly the most comfortable environment, but it does give me a pocket of time to be productive.

I of course use it for reading, and I keep a small notebook in my bag for  ideas, and even hand writing drafts of stories if I won’t have time (or will be way too tired) to work on at home.  While I’m writing on the train, I’m secretly wondering if the person sitting next to me is a big-time editor who will ask me what I’m working on. A writer getting discovered on a train actually happens more than you’d think.

3. What online and other writer groups do you belong to? Where can you be found on the Web?

I’ve got to say, I really love Duotrope.com. It’s an amazing resource for finding literary magazines and contests. Instead of buying the physical Writer’s Market (which needs to be updated every year), Duotrope is a free alternative that helps you find and keep track of places to send writing. I am also a part of the Yahoo group, Creative Writing Opps for weekly updates on writing venues/contests.

As for a true writing group, some friends and I have been trying to revive our writing workshop group from college, the Literary Arts Society. Right now, we have decided to primarily work together online, using a mix of Facebook, Google+, and Google Docs. We go by a nice little morbid title, SRVF, which stands for Stones and Rocks in Virginia’s Frock.

Besides Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (now that I’ve slowly become open to Twitter), you can find me on my blog, The Anxiety of Authorship. And Goodreads, of course!

4. You’re a relatively recent college graduate. Can you talk about that transition a bit–the switch from being in formal college classes and in the company of students to being kind of alone out in the working world.

Although I do miss the college learning environment and being around inspiring friends all of the time, I don’t miss all of the homework. That has definitely been a part of the transition from college to working–I can leave my work at work (usually). Which should leave me a lot of time for writing then, right? Well, in theory. Now that I don’t have to fill all of my free time with school-work, I have definitely been able to get more writing and literary things done. At the same time, though, working full time often leaves me too tired to use my free time productively. In college, I always had work, but classes only took up about 3 hours a day at the most and I could usually go to sleep and wake up whenever I wanted. In the working world, I wake up early and don’t come home until very late. It’s been a very tiring transition.

As for being in the company of other students, college was definitely the place for socializing. At school, between my friends, English classes, being in the Literary Arts Society, co-editing my school’s academic paper, etc., there was an endless supply of friendship and writerly inspiration. In the working world, I’ve found it’s harder to make friends because everyone has so much to do in a day. And when I’m done, I just want to get on with my long commute and get home already. I have reached out to many colleagues though, whether my age or even older, especially when we connect on a writerly/readerly level (which you are more likely to find in the publishing industry).

5. Do you find a crossover between publishing (your day job) and writing?  

There is immense crossover between working in the publishing field and my own writing ambitions. I don’t think I go a day at work without thinking about myself as a writer and the ways working in publishing will help me. What I think any writer working in publishing should do is to build contacts. Put yourself out there, latch onto a really nice editor and ask to meet and discuss writing. It doesn’t have to mean you are presenting them with finished work and asking what they can do. It’s more for information, and for them to be informed that you are serious about your writing. Keep them informed periodically if you get a story published or if you’ve hit a tough spot in writing your novel. That way, even if you eventually move publishing companies, or into another industry altogether, you still have friends in publishing.

I also have to say that working in publishing makes the whole “getting published” process seem so easy, and yet so hard simultaneously. I’ve overheard editors’ conversations with their authors, and it just sounds so easy–the author throws out an idea, and BAM!–book deal. At the same time, almost all large publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. When my department received unsolicited, or “slush” manuscripts, my boss just throws them out, or sends to an editor with a note reading “slush.” So if I can take one thing away from that, it’s to find an agent if you plan on going the traditional publishing house route (self-publishing is completely different). Agents know what they are doing–they know how to market your work to publishers/editors in a way that keeps it from entering the slush pile. Some of my friends are editorial assistants, and I just see how ridiculously busy they are. Even if you have a great manuscript, editors simply won’t have the time to read it unless an agent has handed it to them.

I’ve  been surprised to find that not many people I know in publishing are actual writers. All are avid readers, of course, but people still seem to get excited if I mention I write. Being a writer is very special.

6. Why have you chosen to hold a day job while also being a writer?

I know that many writers wish to pursue the “starving artist” route. They want their profession to be their art, and that’s it. They want to only make money from that. Isn’t that a dream job? Being able to just write all day and make money? I admire that working-horse breed, and would love to one day do something like that, but the whole living-off-your-art lifestyle just isn’t for me. I’ve also heard from many, many sources that most writers do not make their money solely from writing novels.

I think I’d go a little nuts if I was just at home every day writing for the rest of my life. It feels a bit too isolating. Where would my material come from? Where would my money come from? I think unless I become a superstar writer, I need to have the stability of a regular income. I wouldn’t say I’m being pessimistic—I still dream of my writing taking off and making all of my dreams come true—but I think right now, as a young person just getting started, I need a job. I need to establish a professional career so that writing isn’t the only thing I rely on. It’s too much pressure.

I also like that if things aren’t going right at work, I can turn to my writing and feel okay. And if things aren’t going well with writing, I can do the same by turning to work. I think it’s balancing for a writer to have other interests, another source of income, another source of inspiration.

Thank you, Stephanie.

Have you switched day-jobs during your writing career? Is it better to have a day job that’s completely divorced from writing, e.g., house painting? Or does it help to at least work within a related industry?

Posted in Author Interviews ( Q & As), books and reading, editing, writing and publishing | 1 Comment

Writers, Learn Lots from a Wind Chime

“Where did we get that new wind chime? I asked my husband.

We had just brewed some Saturday morning coffee, so my brain was still in sludge mode.

Sitting there on our back deck, he peered over his coffee mug at me. “You-bought-it,” he said.

“No I didn’t.”

 “Remember?” He said, using that sloooow,  nursing-home voice. You gave it to me as a gift? Two Christmases ago?” 

“Not that wind chime,” I said.

“You said you found it at an art show in Florida.”

“But that wind chime was twice this size. And it had those long, beautiful strips of turquoise stained glass.”

“The stained glass broke off last winter” he said.  “It’s been gone a long time.”

Finally awake, I studied our broken wind chime. For the first time since I had swaddled it in my socks and stuffed it in my airport carry-on bag, I finally saw this remaining, plainer part with its clear and deep blue sea glass.  

Writers, let’s call this the parable of the wind chime. And let’s remember the parable of the wind chime each time we are (1) So dazzled by our own eloquence that we shush that inner editing voice that cries, “Cut! Cut!” and (2) Already clicking the “send” button, even though we know that our current draft needs one more read and edit.

In business, creative, expository and journalistic writing, less is always more. If you want to find the richest, truest part of your work, be ready to trim all that extra fat.

With the extra parts gone, you can see what’s left and beautiful.

Like the remains of a broken wind chime.

Here are my three favorite editing techniques:

1. Email myself the manuscript. Then read and edit the email. This new format allows me to switch from the role of writer to reader.

2. Read the manuscript out loud. This is invaluable.

3. Save it in an online document storage site like “Dropbox,” then read it on my phone. This miniature view brings me up close and personal with the text.

What are your favorite tips or techniques for editing your own work?

Posted in editing, Writing process | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Labor Day: Seamus Heaney and Other Thoughts on Work and Writing

I wrote this exactly a year ago, never thinking that it would become one of many international elegies  for a great poet and wit and humanitarian.

Séamus Heaney’s poem, “Digging” has always been my favorite piece of literature about work.

Have a listen to Heaney reading from his poem, “Digging.”

Or read the printed version (below).

Random Thoughts on Poetry, Writing and Labor

As an undergraduate in Dublin, I was lucky enough to have Seamus Heaney as my professor and the chair of our English Department. As I sit here now, today, in America, I can shut my eyes and hear him reading to us in that second-floor classroom, to a rag-tag group of 18-year-old undergrads who were too young and too immature to appreciate what we were really hearing.

Years later, just before he became a Nobel laureate, I read an interview with Heaney in some Irish magazine in which he spoke briefly about his then-dual life as a working professor and as one of the world’s most esteemed poets. In the interview, I loved the part where he stated that he always considered it his first duty to earn a living and provide for his family.

My father also dug his share of potatoes and turf and God knows what else. Above all else, my father believed in paying his way, in working hard.

In 2011, a year before Dad died, he told me that he was most proud of having produced an equally hard-working family.

Today, on Labor Day, I am proud to be the kind of hard worker who could make my father proud.

+++++++++

Séamus Heaney  (1939-)

Digging

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.

My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

– from Death of a Naturalist (1966)

Posted in books and reading, Inspiration and infatuations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Reading Life: Thank You

Last week, I contributed to this wonderful blog, The Books They Gave Me, in which readers get to “reflect on the books given to us by loved ones.”

For my contribution, I decided to write about my first ever gift of a children’s book by the hugely popular British author, Enid Blyton.  In 1970, a beloved aunt gave me the 1966 edition of “The Hollow Tree House.” I’m sure my aunt didn’t know it then, but her gift of a paperback children’s novel started a lifelong love of reading–and writing.

In terms of time input and multiple drafts, the “Books They Gave Me” post was an absolute beast.  This mini essay took several rounds of scribbled bedside notes and balled-up yuck drafts.  In the end, I found myself keeping it short, sweet and to the point.

Why was this piece more difficult to write than, say, a 3,000-word personal essay or a 1,500-word feature?

In effect, I was penning a long overdue thank-you note not just for a gift, but for a life.

Over 42 years ago, I finished that children’s novel and looked around for another.  I craved trips to the town library. In between our trips to town, I re-read the books I had previously read.

After that first book, there was no turning away, no defection from this new and thrilling world, this universe of words and people and places and sensibilities that were a million miles away from my childhood home and our small farm in south Mayo in the west of Ireland.

I read my way through a rural, dreamy childhood. I read my way through the turbulent teens. I’ve read on planes and trains. I’ve read in bed.   I’ve read my way up to and through a hospital surgical procedure. I read in the bathroom–even the stinky public ones.  I’ve read through broken romances and … more broken romances (Men? Who needed ’em anyway?).  I read after my cat died. I read in the waiting rooms of the Irish hospitals where my late parents spent their final days.

Reading calms me. Reading thrills me. Reading is how I understand the world around me and the places I’ve been and never will be.  Reading is how I seek to understand myself.  Reading tells me what to believe, what to say.  Reading begets my public arguments and my private joys.

Across two continents, multiple jobs, two college degrees, 17 house moves, 5 cats and many, many different dress sizes, books have been the constant–the constant happy.

How could we ever adequately thank someone for such a gift?

What are your early reading memories? Feel free to share in the comments (below).

Posted in books and reading, Inspiration and infatuations, Uncategorized, writer's prompt | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Next Big Thing: Blog Hop on Writers’ Work in Progress

Week 8: The Next Big Thing: Work in Progress

Thank you to Donna at Girl Who Reads who invited me to join this blog hop, in which writers dish a little on our current work in progress. Thanks, too, to the other scribes (see list at end of post) who have decided to post next week. Check out their works in progress  on August 22.

What is the working title of your book?

It’s a novel set in greater Boston–with small parts of it in Ireland. I had called an earlier version, “Waverly Farms,” but the plot has changed considerably since then, so I don’t really have a working title yet. But I’m intrigued by my own unfolding story–and that’s always a good sign.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The  creative itch  for this book can be traced back to my 10-year bug to write about wealth and its effects on people, and just how much will someone sacrifice or compromise themselves to hold onto wealth and what money can buy.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a YA crossover novel. This is my first time really dabbling in this genre. But in my 2nd novel, I enjoyed creating the teenage character very much, and found that I really got inside of her head. I’ve also completed a very layered, sassy short story with a 14-year-old character. So … I’m building on these and trying a full-length novel with a 16-year-old character.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Gee, I’m not good with actors at all. But my teenage character, Drey, would have to be played by someone fairly complex, with the ability to master or balance a  cheeky worldliness with an inner sense of injury. For the male main character, Nathaniel, I think Jeremy Irons would be perfect.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A 16-year-old girl is forced to give up everything when her family declares bankruptcy, files for divorce and her mother emigrates to, and disappears in, America.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Either an agency or an independent literary press.   I don’t self-publish fiction.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I haven’t completed the first draft yet.  But between the day job and my other shorter projects, I’m working on it.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Not sure.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

As an expatriate who left Ireland 25 years ago, I have watched from afar as the country underwent a huge economic boom and crash.   Recent financial articles have highlighted the prodigal greed and unfettered borrowing and development that contributed to or fueled Ireland’s current economic crisis.  So I imagined this spoiled teenage character whose family suddenly loses all of its wealth, and the mother and daughter are forced to emigrate.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Despite the context above, the novel is not a sociological study. Instead, it’s part mystery, part psychological thriller and an unusual blend of two main characters: A teenage girl and a 60-something Brahmin New England man. The man is really quite crazy.

Next up: August 29: Check these 5 writers’ blogs or websites to hear and see what they’re working on:

Carolyn Roy Bornstein

Daniela Ginta

Lori Grace

Jennifer Karin

Ted Mitchell

Posted in Author Interviews ( Q & As), Uncategorized, Writing process | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments