Ingrid and Andrea

Last week, I posted “Shared Dreams, Shared Success: The Power and Value of Critique Partners” over at Writer Unboxed:

For almost 10 years now, Sarah Wedgbrow, Stephanie Mooney, and Ingrid Palmer have been my critique partners. Somewhere along the way, they also became some of my closest friends. When we all lived in the same city, we would meet every week at Barnes & Noble and mark up printed pages with comments and questions. Now we use Google Hangouts to span 3 time zones and 4,600 miles, emailing each other files to read and discuss.

I can say without a doubt that I would not be the writer (or the person) I am today without these women. We each bring our own strengths to the group, and then we use those strengths to build each other up. Sarah is a master of character, with impeccable story instincts. Stephanie’s imagination never fails to dazzle and delight me. Ingrid could rewrite the phone book into poetry.

The value of our group has been top of mind recently, because two weeks ago, Ingrid celebrated the launch of her debut novel, a tough but hopeful Young Adult contemporary called ALL OUT OF PRETTY.

It feels incredible and surreal to see this book out in the real world, to hold a finished copy in my own two hands, after spending years going over the pieces of it with Ingrid. This story may not be mine, but I feel love and pride for it all the same. And for Ingrid. And for her bright, beautiful, resilient protagonist Andrea.

Next week, Ingrid will return to Cincinnati for the Ohio launch of her book, hosted at our beloved indie bookstore Joseph-Beth. I can’t wait to see her again, to hug her, to scream and jump with excitement with her. This is a dream come true — hers and ours.

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Recently viewed: Hidden Figures and Gifted

“Recently” might be too generous of a term, in the case of Hidden Figures, which I watched several months ago. But I really enjoyed this movie and have been intending to post about it ever since.

Although I no longer watch Empire, I will always be drawn to Taraji P. Henson — and of course Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae are rock solid too. Together, they play three black women who, in real life, were geniuses and pioneers within the NASA program. I loved how each woman had her own professional and personal storylines, but also intersected with one another in tender, humorous scenes of supportive friendship.

Though it is all presented in a relatively palatable way, the movie’s themes of feminism and racism are, unfortunately, still quite relevant.

Speaking of Octavia Spencer, she must be one of the busiest women in Hollywood, because it seems like she is in everything I watch! Or maybe she and I just have similar tastes in stories? That wouldn’t be such a bad coincidence.

Gifted tells the story of a family at odds with itself. In the aftermath of his sister’s death, Frank is raising his niece Mary (with some help from his neighbor, played by Octavia Spencer). When Frank’s mother discovers that Mary is a math genius, she swoops in and tries to take custody away from him. The ensuing battle brings up a compelling knot of love, ambition, sacrifice, and blame.

Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the theme of a mother’s ambition driving her relationship with her daughter is something that I plan to explore in the near future. As a mom myself now, I can see how easy it is to fall into the trap of projecting your hopes and dreams onto your children.

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2018 so far, and 2018 to come

I had intended to post this in January, as a way of looking forward. But time sneaks by, and here we are, knocking on March’s door.

Sometimes you wonder where the days and hours have gone. But in this case, I know exactly where. They’ve gone to Elmo, and flashcards, and Old MacDonald’s farm, and bubbles, and cutting up more fruit than I fathom.

I’m happy to give that time to my daughter, but it does mean less time for myself, for my own pursuits. Since I can’t make more time, I have to make more of the time that I do have. Which has never been my strong suit, but I’m trying.


“2017 Was the Year We Fought for Democracy — Now What?” by Lauren Duca

Democracy was always intended to be a dynamic process fueled by active civic engagement. Perhaps the one optimistic take on this godforsaken year is that we’ve begun to recall that the American project is not a historical accomplishment to be celebrated but instead an ongoing process of figuring out how we ought to live together.

Politics is not something separate that only certain people do, closed off in some room somewhere. It is not miraculously vacuum-sealed off from our day-to-day routines. “Politics” impacts everything… We must come to understand participatory democracy as something that is seamlessly integrated into our daily existence, rather than distinct from it. We have to figure out how to enjoy our lives and be invested in politics.

I’m still calling, still donating. I’ve spent so much time feeling sad and angry about the latest headlines, the latest horrors — but I refuse to feel hopeless. “Politics” is a process. It’s never over. We can always nudge things in a better direction. That’s what democracy is all about.

2017 was a year of shock and coping. I think 2018 will be a year of renewed strength, and of quiet but powerful progress.


Last week, Andy treated us to a vacation in Lisbon. (Thanks to the crazy miles he accrued from work travel!) As much as we missed IB, it was nice to travel like we used to, walking everywhere endlessly, unencumbered by snacks and diapers.

Lisbon is lovely. Quieter and easier-going than some of its flashier friends (Paris, London, Barcelona) but with similar grace, intelligence, and beauty. We lucked into the most perfect weather — sunny and 60s every day — and we especially enjoyed the street art, the tiles, the pata negra, and the pastel de nata.

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As I wrote in an email to my agent, 2017 was a letdown of my own making, from a writing standpoint. Despite having part-time childcare for much of the year, I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped to. I’m not happy about that, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it either. Live and learn. Try and fail, and then try harder. Or smarter. Or both.

In reflecting upon last year, I’ve come to a few realizations. Much of these are not new, but I seem to need to learn them over and over again.

  • The more I write, the more I write. So it’s better to have a small momentum than none at all. And it’s better to work on something — anything — than nothing.
  • Sometimes I get this strange feeling, like if I write too fast, I won’t be in control. As if writing is a bicycle, and if I speed downhill, I’ll crash and fall off. I’ve never thought of myself as being afraid of success, but that’s sort of what this is. (“Success,” in this case, meaning to produce a lot of words.)
  • The real fear is that if I write too fast, what I’m writing won’t be any good. But objectively I know that going slow doesn’t guarantee quality anyway, especially not for something as large and unwieldy as a novel, which cannot be judged by individual lines or pages or even chapters, but rather must be evaluated as a whole. Which means that even the most beautiful day’s work might be “bad” in the context of the rest of the book.
  • That’s why my goal this year is to develop a habit of finishing. To push forward, rather than dawdling. To get to a point where I’m nurturing a whole forest, instead of obsessing over individual trees.
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Week in review (Jan 31, 2018)

Opening credits

Several months ago, I wrote a column for my dad’s newspapers about life as a new mother. Now I’m working on another one, about the part that technology played in our first year of parenting.

Recently I read my friend Jasmine Warga’s second book, HERE WE ARE NOW. On the surface, it’s about a daughter reconnecting with her long-lost father, who has become a rock star. But on a deeper level, it’s a love letter to music, to immigrants, to artistic ambitions, and to the messy ups and downs of relationships of all kinds. I adored it.

I also found a very pleasant surprise at the end: my name in the acknowledgments!

Feel-good funny

While This Is Us and The Good Place were on winter break, I needed some well-written, light-hearted TV. I decided to try Brooklyn 99, and it did not disappoint. Like Michael Schur’s other creations (Parks and Recreation, The Good Place), the show focuses on characters that are basically good people, who care about each other, their work, and the world at large. That’s not necessarily a great setup for comedy, but the characters are so quirky, and they play off each other perfectly.

Rosa is my favorite — for some reason I am often drawn to the “tough chick” — but even as I say that, a part of me wants to take it back and make a case for each of the other characters. I love them all, and can see pieces of myself in every one.

A voice for the voiceless

The Shape of Water is not a feel-good funny movie, but there were, to my surprise, several moments where I laughed. (“No, no, don’t play with the kitties.”)

I did not love The Shape of Water the way so many people seem to, but I did admire its beauty, its ambitions, and its themes. I find myself thinking about it a lot, which is just as significant as loving it, I think, but in a different way. It’s a story about outcasts, and how hungry we all are for love. Sally Hawkins was tremendous in the lead role, and Michael Stuhlbarg sneakily wormed his way into my heart as Dr. Hoffstetler.

Speaking of tough chicks…

I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan from the beginning, but I’m not against an artist evolving with the times. (I hope to be given that opportunity myself, after all.) Overall, I’ve enjoyed her progression over the years.

That said, I was pretty wary of her latest album, Reputation, after hearing the first couple of songs. It’s not that they were bad, but… The heavy-synth sound is not my thing, and the petty, repetitive lyrics did not impress me.

I’ve now had the chance to listen to the entire album on Spotify, and on the whole I’d say it’s fine. Not great, but fine. The Old Taylor is, contrary to reports, still alive and well (particularly in “Don’t Blame Me” and “Getaway Car”) and the New Taylor is, if not excellent, at least interesting.

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My favorite books of 2017

You lose a lot of reading time when you’re taking care of a baby — or at least I did. I read fewer than 10 books in 2017. I did read tons of articles, and several short stories, but still. It’s a little bit sad.

I think not reading as much also has a noticeable impact on my writing. Less input, less output. So lately I’ve trying to make reading more of a priority, even if it’s just for a few minutes before bed each night.

Anyway, these were my favorite books in 2017, in order of when I read them:

   

I talked a bit about the three YA titles over at We Heart YA. Here, I want to share a few lines from HOMEGOING, a book that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I loved the characters, the themes, the back and forth “twin” structure. It’s brilliant and beautiful, powerful and moving. (I actually doubled over in agony at one point!) My top favorite of last year, no question.

It had created an impossible situation, and those who had been determined to stay on the fence found themselves without a fence at all.

Among other things, this line reminded me of the 2016 presidential election.

She was staring at the bark on the palm trees, the rounded diamonds crisscrossing against each other. Each one different; each one the same.

I love the simplicity of this image, and the beauty and truth of the observation.

“There should be no room in your life for regret. If in the moment of doing you felt clarity, you felt certainty, then why feel regret later?”

That is something I really struggle with. I agonize over decisions, even dumb little ones sometimes, and if I later find out that a different choice would have been better, I have a hard time letting it go. What a useless way to spend my time and energy. And worse: it’s me undermining myself.

I’ve been working on it, though, and I think I’m getting better.

The word hit her like a memory. Though she had never been there, she could sense its presence in her life. A premonition. A forward memory.

love that phrase, “a forward memory.” I have had that feeling before, but never had a name for it. Such a strange and beautiful thing.

(Early in my relationship with Andy, we broke up. I remember so clearly this feeling in my gut that it wasn’t The End, that it couldn’t be. I just knew in my bones that there was supposed to be more to us, as if I had already seen it, already lived it. Happily, it turns out I was right.)

Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in your world began as the evil in your own home.

Such a smart, important, and difficult truth.

“Just because somebody sees or hears or feels something other folks can’t, doesn’t mean they’re crazy. My grandmother used to say, ‘A blind man don’t call us crazy for seeing.'”

I never really thought of it that way, but it’s a good comparison. A good reminder of how and why to respect other people’s perceptions.


For previous years’ favorite books, click here.

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