All I want for Christmas is a book

It’s that time of year again. As you complete your last minute Christmas shopping, it’s inevitable that you will give – and receive – one or two gifts that will end up being returned or donated to Goodwill.

Luckily, if you live in Germany, all is not lost. German trade publisher Bastei Lübbe in tandem with book retailer Hugendubel have invented a vending machine that allows you to deposit that novelty toilet coffee mug or your 1000th peppermint sugar body scrub, and receive a brand-spanking new copy of one of seven titles from the Bastei Lübbe catalog. It’s a win-win situation: you get a new book, and all unwanted gifts are donated to charity.

Now if they would only bring this brilliant invention to the United States…




How I learned to stop hating myself and quit NaNoWriMo

“Don’t half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”   ~ Ron Swanson

Here it is, folks. That time of year when aspiring writers everywhere either congratulate themselves for surviving the gauntlet of NaNoWriMo, or shrugging their shoulders and saying “Well, at least I tried.”

I count myself among the latter. This is partly the reason for my very long absence, as is the usual–promotion to a new position at work, working on a master’s degree, yadda yadda. I’d taken a break from the blogging to make sure I didn’t overextend myself, which I have a tendency to do. But then, alas, I got the itch to write again. I partially satiated the need by entering and earning third place in the Write Practice Writing contest with my story, “Laura.” And then I remembered that November is the month of NaNoWriMo. And I thought, “You know, I’ve got a good balance going with work and school. Maybe I can find time to write 1667 words a day on the side, too.”

It started out well. I had a solid idea and I ran with it, far outstripping the expected word count for the first few days. But then? I got fatigued. I skipped a day here so I could work on a class assignment. I missed a day there because I had a long day at work. I got angry at myself for not giving myself time to relax on the weekend and doing instead what I do best–stressing myself out about things that aren’t necessarily a priority.

Don’t get me wrong. I have big dreams of achieving mediocre success as a writer while I also make great strides in my full-time career as a librarian. But in mid-November, when I woke up at 5am once again to add to my daily word count (which I was far behind on by that time) in addition to completing my reading and discussion post assignments. And I found myself feeling unable to focus on anything I was doing. I felt like I had been hit by an 18-wheeler. And then I realized I had overextended myself…again.

Quitting NaNoWriMo was the right decision for me. While I am very excited about the story I began developing, and disappointed that I have started and not finished yet another novel, it hasn’t been worth feeling like I’ve been walking through a fog for the last two weeks and only staying conscious because of my good friend, caffeine.

So, fellow writers, do yourself a favor and don’t mistake genuine fatigue for writer’s block. Don’t push yourself over the edge until you feel like you need a month in bed to recover. If your characters and your story are anything like mine, they will gently prod you every once in a while to remind you that they are still there, waiting for you, when you are ready to see them again.


Image: Reddit

Editing bad writing

3 Bestsellers I Started, But Just Couldn’t Finish

Happy Sunday, all! I have been conspicuously absent of late – what with the start of school, busily writing entries for short story contests and publishing my first post on the Hack Library School blog,  my poor little book blog has fallen by the wayside. But never fear, I have been busy reading as well…except for never finishing the three following titles:

Maisie Dobbsby Jacqueline Winspear. I do admit, I was interested in this one at first. I was listening to the audiobook, and the narrator was pretty good, the story was fairly interesting, and I am always intrigued by females filling traditionally male roles in historical fiction. However, the action was interrupted by a giant chunk of exposition detailing how Maisie Dobbs came to be who she is. Woah, what? Can’t you just sprinkle that in throughout? Or maybe start with that?

The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty. Library patrons have raved to me about this one, so I thought I would try listening to the audiobook. Perhaps this is just a case of not caring for the genre, but if the “secret” is that your husband was cheating, that’s just not compelling enough for me. Perhaps that’s not the secret, listening to the audiobook version was challenging for me as the storyline skipped around to so many other characters. As a result, I didn’t give a hoot about any of them. Next!

Armada, by Ernest Cline. I was fortunate to be in a decent position on my library’s waiting list for this one. Once I got it though, I  didn’t even make it to page 100 (it’s a miracle I made it that far!). I had read Ready Player One and noted that Cline makes some super newbie writing errors (writing passive voice, getting too wordy, using too many pop culture references). Despite these, I felt the storyline was compelling enough that I finished the book and got some enjoyment out of it. Not so with Armada. He makes all the same mistakes, tenfold. With each page I forced myself to read I found myself yelling at the book for being so passive and relying so much on references to nerd culture. Even more frustrating is that he introduces the inciting incident on page 1, but doesn’t revisit it until page  90. In between is a very detailed description of how to play a specific video game. BOR-ING!

The redeeming part is this whole experience is knowing that I can do better than this. It gives me the fuel I need to keep on writing!

Image: A girl and her eBooks

Five Authors

I know you haven’t heard much from me lately. It’s mostly because I’m enjoying this short time before library school to read–a lot. I’ve devoured quite a few titles lately that have inspired me in different ways, and I’ve been using that to channel my creative writing.

I also got to thinking, since I’m a budding author, that it would be interesting to sit down with some of the authors I’m reading  to hang out, have a beer, and talk about the craft. Here’s the list I came up with (in no particular order):

  1. Stephen Hawking: I recently read My Brief History, and have also seen Theory of Everything, a wonderfully made movie about his life with his first wife, Jane. I am fascinated with this man, who speaks of his struggles with ALS frankly, while also using it as impetus for continuing his work. He also manages to keep his sense of humor through it all. While he doesn’t write fiction, I would likely drill him on his writing process, and how he manages to break down complex scientific concepts in layman’s terms.
  2. Stephen King:  I’ve been reading On Writing, which is fascinating, wonderful and incredibly funny. Since I’ve realized that I have an affinity for writing horror, I’ve wanted to see how the master creates his monsters. Yet I admit I am still a bit scared to do so, which should be a compliment to his work, if nothing else. I would probably spend most of my time asking him how he sleeps at night after writing such terrifying stories, and somehow slipping in that we share a birthday and therefore must be friends for life.
  3. Jane Smiley: I’ve been pretty obsessed with Jane Smiley lately. A Thousand Acres and Some Luck are my most recent reads, and her ability to pinpoint the idiosyncrasies of small town Iowans was both fascinating and comforting to this Iowa native. I would probably ask her about her time in Iowa, why she chose to write about it and why she left.
  4. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Yes, she’s long dead, but I would like to think that if she were alive today, Mrs. Wilder would have a hard cider with me and talk to me about growing up on the prairie. I’ve been re-reading the Little House books, as well as devouring Pioneer Girl, the annotated autobiography that Wilder wrote when she was in her sixties, but wasn’t published until December 2014.  I would ask Wilder about all the things she couldn’t put in her children’s books. Because you know that it wasn’t all hunky-dory in the wild, wild west.
  5. Joyce Carol Oates: I actually have stayed away from Ms. Oates’s work since I read We Were the Mulvaneys years ago, and the experience depressed me for weeks. However, I’ve realized recently that what I’m trying to do in my work is similar to hers, so I’ve recently picked up a couple books of her short stories, Lovely, Dark, Deep and High Crime Area. She reminds me a bit of Flannery O’Connor (one of my other favorite authors) in the way she portrays a character’s darkness and fear with unflinching honesty. If we could hang out, I would apologize for boycotting her work, and tell her that really, the fact that I hadn’t read her for so long was because her work had so profoundly affected me.

What authors would you like to hang out with, and what would you do? Let me know in the comments!

Liebster Award!

Ok, so I’ve seen people around the blogosphere doing these things, and I’m excited to be doing one  myself! It reminds of those “chain letters” I used to get in elementary school–if you didn’t duplicate and pass out ten more copies of the letter you would have bad luck the rest of your life and never find a good husband. Better not risk it, see my answers below.

A big thank you to The Literary Counselor for the nomination (I hope you will forgive my Americanized spelling)!

The Rules:

  • Each nominee must have under 200 followers
  • Thank and link to the nominated blog
  • Answer their 10 questions and propose 10 new ones for your nominees
  • Nominate 10 blogs and tell them that they have been nominated
  • Write a post containing the questions
  • Include these rules in the post

Questions from The Literary Counselor:

  1. What made you want to start blogging? I’ve always wanted to blog. I’ve actually started and given up on many blogs in the past. It wasn’t until I found a focus–books–that I actually felt like sticking with it.
  2. What was your favorite book as a child? My and my brothers’ favorite picture book was Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse, by Leo Leonni. Our mom read it to us so many times, we had it memorized and could do all the voices with her particular inflection. Once I was reading on my own, I was obsessed with Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume, about preteens being best friends. I checked it out from my library over and over again, wishing I could have friendships like theirs.
  3. If you could recommend only one book for me to read, what would it be? A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley. I am obsessed with this book. It won a Pulitzer, just trust me on this one.
  4. What and where is your favorite book store, and why? Hole in the Wall Books, Falls Church, VA. It’s literally a hole in the wall. It’s a tiny house, filled floor to ceiling with books. They are generally organized, but the fun part is sifting through them all to find the hidden treasures.
  5. What hobbies do you have other than reading? I like to work out, I run and kickbox. I also love playing with my dogs, and writing fiction.
  6. If you could have one magical/mythical animal as a pet, what would it be? I’m going to have to be pretty boring on this one and say dragon. They’ve got the flight factor and general baddassery that appeals to me.
  7. How do you decide if you want to read a book or not? If it piques my interest, I read it. If it sucks, I put it down. I’m a very simple woman.
  8. You inherited a bookstore (Congratulations!) but you have to change the name. What do you call it? Something with fox in the name, because I love foxes. I would call it the Fox Den if it didn’t sound like a strip club. Fox Books, then, by default.
  9. What was your least favorite book to read in school and why? I rarely have such disdain for a book, but I really despised The Picture of Dorian Gray. As well as anything else I had to read for that English 202 class I stupidly took the spring of my senior year of college.
  10. If you could visit Hogwarts (the fictional version) or Narnia, but not both, which would you choose and why? Hogwarts, no contest. You think it’s too late to change my major to Defense Against the Dark Arts?

Nominated blogs:

  • Heather Reviews
  • Author KD Rose
  • Rose’s Reids
  • Jayasree’s
  • Catherine Rose Putsche
  • Cheri Vause
  • Insight Muse
  • A Girl Who is a Geek
  • Down the Rabbit Hole
  • Storm in the Stacks

My questions:

  1. If you could hang out with any author for an afternoon, who would it be, why, and what would you do?
  2. Which fictional character would you want as your best friend and why?
  3. If you could live inside the fictional world of any book for a day, which would it be?
  4. What is your favorite book and why should I read it?
  5. What is your favorite genre to read?
  6. What book do you hate?
  7. What are your ideal reading conditions? (i.e., a roaring fire and snow falling gently outside your window, & etc).
  8. Katniss or Hermione?
  9. Is there a book that changed your life, or had a profound effect on you?
  10. What is the best book-to-movie adaptation you’ve seen?

Introducing Our New Writers!

Hey all, here’s some great news! I’m one of nine new contributing writers on the Hack Library School blog. I’m excited to contribute my knowledge of the library field and my experience in library school. Keep an eye out for my future posts!


HLS is proud to introduce our nine new writers. With an impressive range of experience and interests, we can’t wait to hear what they have to say! 

EltringhamJennifer Eltringham is a first year MLIS student at the University of Denver, where she is torn between specializing in public libraries and archives – she hopes to find a way to reconcile the two. When not processing interlibrary loans and answering reference questions at the Pikes Peak Library District, she daydreams about traveling, knits socks, pretends that her work environment is like a public library version of The Office, and thinks about how intersections of race, gender, and class affect the way human beings exist in the world. You can find her at her blog, tumblr, and instagram.

Cross-MenziesAmy Cross-Menzies has worked in libraries for about eight years, currently as a Library Assistant for an academic library in the North…

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A close encounter of the writer kind

Summertime is busy season at public libraries. Summer reading is in full swing, kids are out of school, and everyone is coming in to beat the heat.

This morning while I was manning the front desk, a woman approached with a few items. I can usually tell what a person wants when they come to me. There is a certain questioning look that I’ve become quite familiar with in my years of library service. But I couldn’t place this woman’s intentions right off.

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Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge

As a writer, I believe I should write pretty much everything that comes my way, to flex my creative muscles. Today I decided to accept a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig over at TerribleMinds. The assignment: to write a 1000 word story that includes a phrase from this random phrase generator. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy to fit “crafty drilling” into a story without it sounding completely…well…random. Read on to see what I did with it!

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What book inspired you to write?

Recently I read a Buzzfeed article that listed authors and the books that inspired them to become writers.  I was hoping to see  a short quote or interview that explained why these particular books inspired them to write. It was, however, just a picture of the writer, holding up a handwritten sign with the title and author of the book. I was disappointed. Why no context? Was there a particular passage that inspired them? Was it something about the plot or characters? How did they really know after reading these books they were destined to become writers?

I was more disappointed in this article than I should have been, but it got me thinking. Is there a book in my life that inspired me to write? The problem is, I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I just wrote stories because I wanted to and because it felt good to do it. And that’s why I do it today. I’ve also read so many books–it’s hard to pick just one that definitively shaped my writing destiny.

The closest I could come was  A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. I had been interested in reading her books since Some Luck and Early Warning have been hopping on and off our library shelves, and since they are set in my home state of Iowa. I had been thinking about writing a story that takes place in Iowa, and A Thousand Acres so deftly captured the people, land and culture of the state that I knew I had to write my own story.

So while it didn’t necessarily make me decide to be a writer, I found a book that inspired me to write a story that I’d been carrying around inside my head for too long. Do you have a book that inspired you to become a writer? Let me know which one and why in the comments!