La vie en France

me at the Med

Me at the Mediterranean.

My dad suggested today that I post some of my thoughts on France. I’ve been here a week now, and I’ve actually done a fair bit of journaling (for me), so I thought I’d share some of that here rather than trying to come up with something new and clever. The following are all excerpts from emails I’ve sent or journal entries I’ve written. I’ve also included a few of my pictures.

journal entry, 5.17
I’ve been here just over forty-eight hours now. I’m still horribly jet lagged, and I’m fighting a migraine, but the sun is shining and I’m content. This morning we had croissants. Mine was delicious, but then [my hosts] apologized for not getting the really good ones. “These aren’t the good ones?” I said. Tonight we might make duck confit. I’m trying to try new things. I also sat in on a French lesson this morning. I’m not as bad as I think I am, I just need to get more confidence and practice more. One of those things, however, depends on the other.

travel journal entry, 5.16
Toulouse: Today I killed a lot of spiders. Over a dozen, probably. But the one I missed fell off the ceiling and may now be in my bed. Joy. Today was a lazy day. I walked into town with [my host and her dog], but we got rained on. Pour le dîner, j’ai mangé chicken parmesan et du vin rouge. C’était très bon. Now excuse me. Another two spiders are getting uncomfortably close to my bed.

email to my family, 5.20
I may have moved forward in the Great French Spider War of 2013 (GFSW13). I woke up this morning and found none (except for the little black one, still on my ceiling; until he provokes me, I’m treating him as a deserter). None in my room, none in the hallway, and just one dead guy, right next to my toothbrush. He definitely wasn’t there last night. I think after I demolished the forces in their frontal, aerial assault, they were demoralized. Maybe they thought to bring me the same type of fear by leaving a dead guy near my toothbrush, but what they don’t realize is that I cheer at every spider death.


The view from Puycelsi.

travel journal entry, 5.18
Tournefeuille: I figured I should list where I actually am, not just the nearest big city. Today we went to Gaillac, where we met with some of [my hosts’] friends and their daughter (and her daughter). Then we drove to Puycelsi. It’s a beautiful walled village up high in the hills. Some words I learned today:

livraison: home delivery
ruche: beehive
rappel: reminder

email to my family, 5.19
We went to the Mediterranean today, and to Carcassonne. Apparently there’s a story about Carcassonne that says that, back when they were being besieged (is that how you say it?), they had almost given up hope, and then they fed the last pig the last bit of the grain and then threw it over the walls. The pig died, and the opposing army cut it open to find all the grain inside. They assumed that meant their siege was doing no good and that the people had tons to eat, so they left. It’s probably not true, but it’s still a great story. It was a cool city, but it’s been so commercialized. It was a bit sad, actually. Also, a lady got mad at me in Carcassonne. I asked, in French, if she spoke English, and she said, “a little,” but in such a thick accent that I thought she was still speaking French. I responded in French saying I didn’t understand, and she got mad at me. Oh well.

a tower in Carcassonne

A tower in Carcassonne.

email to my family, 5.21
GFSW13 is going well! Only killed one yesterday. I think I demoralized their troops. The little black defect spider, though, may be reconsidering his choice of sides. I’ve left him alone because he’s left me alone, then yesterday he wanted to hang on near my bed all day. I can’t find him anymore. I’m hopeful he’s moved on to an area that isn’t a spider dying ground.

We stopped at the mall [today], and a woman asked me a question. I didn’t understand at first, so I asked her to repeat. She said, “Are you finding everything you need?” and I said, “Yes,” and turned around. As I was turning, though, I noticed she had a weird look on her face, and only then did I realize that what she actually said was, “Can I help you find anything you need?” Oops! I swear one of these times I’ll do well! I successfully ordered a croissant and a drink at the bakery today, so that’s something, I suppose. Of course, all I had to say was, “One croissant and a Fanta, please.”

2012 review in books (stats and favorites)

I’m incredibly late on this post (you can find the first part here), but better late than never I figure. First, here’s a breakdown of the goals I set for the year as well as some information on how I did.

books: 52
pages: 20,000

books: 52 (100% to goal)
pages: 20,595 (103% to goal)
on average, I finished a book every 7.0 days
on average, each book had 396.1 pages
this means I read just over 56 pages per day, on average
24/52 books were by women, 15/32 authors were female
24/52 books were new books (yikes!)

TOP FIVE FAVORITE (NEW) BOOKS (in no particular order)
Ayiti, by Roxane Gay
This Is Not Your City, by Caitlin Horrocks
Mother and Child, by Carole Maso
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Cataclysm Baby, by Matt Bell

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

FIVE MOST DISAPPOINTING BOOKS (not necessarily ones I disliked, just ones I expected more from)
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery
Out of Sight, Out of Time, by Ally Carter
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

literary fiction: Mother and Child, by Carole Maso
poetry: The Folding Star and Other Poems, by Jacek Gutorow
story collection: This Is Not Your City, by Caitlin Horrocks
nonfiction: The Girl Who Was on Fire, edited by Leah Wilson
adult fantasy: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson Continue reading “2012 review in books (stats and favorites)” »

My favorite female characters

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss is focused and unapologetic.

Katniss Everdeen, from Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Series
I know a lot of people don’t like Katniss. They say she’s whiny, or that she’s deliberately toying with Peeta and Gale. I see something different. To me, Katniss is a survivor. At times she is emotionally tough and at others emotionally vulnerable. She cares about her family more than anything in the world—more, even, than herself. It takes her three books to make up her mind about which man to be with because she constantly has to deal with other, more important things. She sees the pain she is causing the two men and does her best to do right by them, but also by herself. She’s a fighter but she does not truly relish the fight.

Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
Here is another character who isn’t afraid of who she is. She follows her desires and, on the whole, she has a well-tuned moral compass that doesn’t lead her astray. She is genuinely kind. She feels, but she doesn’t let those feelings run her life. She is innocent yet strangely astute, and the way the older Scout looks back on her childhood makes it certain that she grew into a strong and smart woman.

Elsha, from Sherryl Jordan’s Winter of Fire
Elsha, who lives in a world heavily divided by class and gender, wants equality and respect. She is outspoken even when her words will ultimately bring her pain. But more, she backs her words up with actions, often risking her life and liberty. And through this all, she rarely judges. She tries to befriend those who insult her; she tries for reasoned argument with those who disagree with her. She feels hurt but does not pity herself.

Cammie Morgan, from Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series
Cammie is smart and talented but still insecure—and unlike many YA books where insecurity is the humanizing characteristic in an otherwise unlikeable character, Cammie truly shines. She doesn’t know yet what she wants from life, and while she is genuinely afraid of what might be, she never lets fear or unease stop her. She is part of a sisterhood, and she will risk all to protect that sisterhood. Continue reading “My favorite female characters” »

The fight of the genres


My sister and Ally Carter. I’m invisibly standing on the other side.

On Friday, I went to Ally Carter’s book signing with my sister. During the Q&A session someone asked her why it is that books for young adults are better than books for adults. “I pick up my daughter’s books,” she said, “and they’re more interesting than my own.”

Now, a few minutes before this question, someone had asked what advice Carter had for people who wanted to be writers, and her answer agreed 100% with mine, and was, I admit, fairly predictable to a writer: Read lots and write lots. (I think sometimes people think there’s some secret, since they keep asking, but really it comes down to this.)

Anyway, after hearing this answer, I was sort of nodding along, and I’ll admit to feeling a bit superior that we had this writing thing, at least, in common. But Carter’s answer to the question about YA vs. adult literature took me completely by surprise. Namely, she agreed.

I’m used to having people make fun of me, a writer of “serious” adult fiction, when I confess that I read—and enjoy—a lot of young adult writing, including, in this case, Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (in a nut shell: a series about an all-girls spy school). I’ve defended YA and other genre literature, and worked hard to stop referring to anything I enjoy as a “guilty pleasure,” as if it somehow means less. I was not, however, prepared to hear that tossed at literary fiction by the genres, however (and please note, I’m using these terms because they’re common, not because I necessarily agree with them).

My immediate thought was that, if there are people who think YA is far superior to adult fiction, they aren’t reading the right books. If the comparison is 50 Shades of Grey, okay, sure, we can talk about one being better written (and I think few people would argue), but to toss a whole genre aside?

I had to leave the signing shortly after this question since I had a soccer game to get to, and I left feeling frustrated. There’s so much competition between the genres, so much nastiness and name calling, and while Carter was very polite in her response, I never expected an author to take on a genre not her own in such a public place. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not angry, just a bit sad. And Ally Carter was funny and outgoing and she clearly loves her job and her fans. Still, I wanted to respond.

So here, for Ally Carter and the woman at the bookstore, are five books of grownup fiction (and I limited myself to novels written within the past five years) that I think absolutely rock:

Renting, 2013 edition

My lease at Beacon Lake will be up at the end of March, and while I have the option of resigning—at a higher rent rate—I’ve spent a fair bit of time lately looking for something else. There are a variety of reasons I don’t want to return. Mostly, a lot of little issues have sort of coagulated into a larger dislike.

First, I tried to buy a house. I figured I could afford a decently priced house since I’m doing just fine spending a decent amount on rent each month. But then the bank decided not to count a large chunk of my income, since, as I understood it, I’m in a risky profession. Anyone could lose their job at any time, but I guess it only really matters if you’re a professor. Also, despite the fact that I made a certain amount of money last year, the bank doesn’t agree that I’ll make anything near that this year. The bank said I can only afford $400/month in housing expenses.

Then I thought about renting a house. There are probably great, realistically priced houses out there for rent, but I have no clue how anyone goes about finding these places. I’ve used every Google search I can think of, asked tons of people for recommendations, and I have yet to find a house for rent in a good neighborhood at a decent price. Continue reading “Renting, 2013 edition” »

2012 year in reveiw in books (the books)

January saw the beginning of my second semester as a professor at Michigan State, except this time, instead of only teaching first-year writing, I also got to teach an editing and publishing class in professional writing. However, the real news this month was that I had my first ever short story accepted for publication. When I found out, I called my dad at work and left a message with the front office asking him to call me back, and when he did, I was near tears on the phone. He said later his first thought was that something horrible had happened, so when I told him I was going to be published, his reaction was, “Oh, is that all?”

Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line, by Ben Hamper
This was a book I meant to finish before the end of 2011 (I was up until midnight reading it), but I just ran out of time. I think, however, that I would have been able to move through it more quickly had I enjoyed it more. It’s a good book. I can recognize that. And it was really interesting to see the sort of invisible work that goes into our fancy (and not so fancy) cars. Still, this book wasn’t quite my style.

The Subversive Copy Editor, by Carol Fisher Saller
This was a book I assigned in my editing and publishing class. Usually class books don’t make my list because I don’t make the students read the whole thing, and so I end up only skimming sections I know they’re going to skip. This book I did end up giving to my students in full, however, and I would have read the entire thing even if I hadn’t. The book is written by the same woman who writes the FAQ page on the Chicago Manual of Style’s website, and it’s just as awesomely hilarious. My one complaint is that I prefer the spelling copyeditor to copy editor.

The Way of KingsThe Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
I think I started this book back over the summer, but the delay in my finishing it really had very little to do with the story itself. Yes, I did think some parts could have been put into summary, or could have moved at a faster pace, but I felt connected to the characters, and I really found myself cheering for them. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, which is rumored to be coming out later this year.

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins
This is the first book in Suzanne Collins’ middle grade series, and while I enjoyed it, I found it too predictable. It’s really quite good for its audience, but it’s probably not a series I’ll return to unless I’m one day reading it to a child. Continue reading “2012 year in reveiw in books (the books)” »

New year, new plan

I’ve been thinking lately about this blog and how it functions. When I started it back 2009 (I actually had it before that, but someone hacked and infected my blog site), I had wanted it to be a blog of reading, writing, and popular culture. And while I said popular culture, I really wanted to talk a bit about issues important to me, such as politics, women’s rights, etc.

But over the four years I’ve had the blog, I haven’t actually done much writing. There are posts here and there than I’m happy with, but mostly, it’s felt like an unwelcome commitment to me. The  more I think about this, the more I realize it isn’t that I don’t want to blog, it’s that I’m unhappy without a clear blogging purpose. So my goal this year is to fix that, to find my purpose. That means I’ll be experimenting with what I post. I’d like to talk more about the reading I’m doing, but I’m also going to let myself write about different types of things (such as my teaching, or the hunt I’m on right now to find non-apartment housing, or the fact that I’ve started a second Day Zero Project). I’m also going to try to take and post more images. Basically, I’m going to try to turn this blog into something I’m happily committed to.

My first order of business will be to do my annual year-end review in books—something I genuinely enjoy writing each year—but then, I’m going to sit back, relax, and try something new. Hopefully, after playing for a while, I’ll have a clear idea of what I want this space to be.

It’s my state, too

In the last few days, my state has passed a wide variety of extremely conservative measures. First, we became a right-to-work state. Despite the massive protests from those of use who support unions, legislation was jammed through in five days, and Snyder signed the bill behind closed doors. Later, he claimed the bill would actually make unions more effective.

Then, they repassed emergency manager legislation that contains key aspects of the previous law that voters overturned a month ago; a massive anti-choice bill that was too controversial to pass before elections and that will make Michigan one of the most extremely restrictive state in the nation; a concealed-carry law that will allow people to take concealed weapons into day care centers, churches, schools, and stadiums despite the large amount of gun violence we see already; finally, they repealed the personal property tax, which will give businesses almost a $600 per year tax break—yes, this in the state that has slashed tax breaks for low- and middle-class citizens (EIC, a child tax credit…). All these bills are expected to be signed by Snyder, though he promised us once that he was about making the touch business decisions, not about gutting social rights.

“Take the state back,” people say on the right. “We need to take the state [and the country] back.” But my question here is always: “Back from whom?” Liberals aren’t holding the people hostage; we are outsiders who have come to crush American ideals. We live here too, and our ideals promote peace, unity, justice, fairness—and I’m pretty sure all of those are American ideals.

In the last few days, my state has begun to feel like a hostile place. I was happy to move back here after graduating from my MFA program. I was proud to say I was from Michigan. I love my state. So much so, in fact, that I was willing to make a one-day sacrifice for my own goals and dreams and stay here instead.

You see, I want to teach creative writing. Ideally at a graduate level, but undergrad would be good, too. Except, until now, I’ve always seen that dream as fairly far-fetched. I didn’t want to leave Michigan, didn’t want to leave the Lansing-area, despite the fact that I would almost certainly have to move, one day, for the job I want. Until now, my love of Michigan—my home—and my career goals were too close in importance to call. But now…

But now, I think I’d be—perhaps not glad but rather content to leave. This isn’t the type of threat people make after each presidential election (“I’m moving to Canada!”). I plan to be in Michigan for many years to come still while I finish writing and then sell my first book. I don’t hate it here, but in many ways, I don’t feel welcome here. My voice is not, and will not, be heard. Too many are determined to have it their way or no way, and that, definitely, is not an American ideal.

Day Zero: The final update (for now)

My 1001 Day Zero days ended a while back, and while I’m getting ready to start a on a new set of 101 goals (to end on the eve of my 31st birthday), I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about what I did and did not accomplish. I finished 67 of my 101 goals. Some of the goals I didn’t accomplish but still want to do (and so they will reappear on my new list), while others are no longer things I have much interest in doing. This post has a brief (or maybe not-so-brief) overview of my goals. If you want to see the complete list, that’s at Continue reading “Day Zero: The final update (for now)” »

Yes, writing and editing are real jobs, and they deserve real compensation

This post is in response to some requests I’ve received recently from friends and acquaintances, requests that I’m sure to receive again. What happens is this: I get a Facebook message or email—usually from someone I haven’t spoken with in years and with whom I was never very close—asking if I will perform some editing and/or writing work. Usually, after exchanging a few messages, in which I ask about the project, it becomes clear that I am being asked to do this work for free. The one time I was offered any type of payment up front it was in the form of “I’ll buy you lunch at this beloved but very cheap local restaurant,” which I interpreted as, “In payment for the work you will do for me, I will take you out on a date.”

I always turn these requests down—politely at first, as I tend to operate under the assumption that these people honestly don’t realize how rude they are being—but if the person persists, I stop caring so much about being nice in favor of caring about being valued as a working professional in a very legitimate career field.

For those of you who don’t know, I freelance these services. I have worked freelance or contract projects on web design, writing, developmental editing, copyediting, and consulting. The lowest amount I ever charged was $15/hour for web design work while I was still a student (and even then I short changed myself fairly severely). Now I primarily write and edit for freelance work. I charge between $40 and $65 per hour for this work.

If you have never worked as a freelance writer or editor, or if you have never hired a freelance writer or editor at a fair wage, these prices may seems exorbitantly high. They aren’t. I actually tend to charge on the low- to mid-end of industry standard rates ( I have never had any professional client balk at these rates. In fact, the rate I pitch is usually accepted right away, without any type of negotiation, which tells me that I still could (and maybe should) make more. Continue reading “Yes, writing and editing are real jobs, and they deserve real compensation” »