Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Top Five Reasons to Go to College...and Write While You're There

When my students inform me that they have no intention of going to college, a small piece of me dies. I don't feel badly because I let them down, or the school let them down, but because they are depriving themselves of so much life. Most often, they choose this path not because of grade or finances but because they have no motivation to attend school any longer than they absolutely have to. And that breaks my heart. I firmly believe that college, at least in some form, is a necessity. Now, some of you out there may be rolling your eyes and saying that it's very privileged or sanctimonious of me to say so. But hear me out...

In high school, we were forced to attend a ridiculously motivational assembly during the first day of my freshmen year. During the course of that painfully long assembly, we were reminded, time and again, that high school is (you guessed it) "the four best years of your life". Blah-de-blah-de-blah. If that were actually the case, wow, we humans live a very pathetic and trivial existence. Thankfully, my high school experience wasn't half-bad, but it was still high school, i.e. annoying drama around every corner, zits, parents in your business, boring part-time jobs on the weekend, the reek of B.O. in the hallways, zero to nil actual independence, etc.

But I digress. Fortunately, my sisters and I were blessed to grow up in a home where we knew we would go on to college after high school. It was just expected. We worked hard and received scholarships and were able to get additional help from our parents and the money we'd saved from the jobs we'd worked since we were 14. However, when I first arrived at college, I'll admit that I panicked. Now what? As the eldest of four sisters, I was always the first to try everything, and here was another case of jumping in blindly. Then, I looked back over my high school years and thought again, "What do I mean, now, what? Now, everything!" And so I began to immerse myself in the amazing world that is a university campus. Coming from a teeny, tiny town in the middle of nowhere, I embraced the wonderful activities, courses, and sports that I found. Most of all, I welcomed new experiences, and I met a variety of incredible people from all around the state, country, and world. Life was awesome. I have to say the best year of my life was my senior year of college (in fact, every one of my college years would far outrank my high school years), when I lived in a dilapidated house with 7 of my best friends (6 of whom I'd met in college), had met the love of my life, and finally felt that I'd  truly discovered who I am as a person. So, without any further ado, here is why I love, love, love college:

1. The people. Whether you're from just east of nowhere or the heart of the city, you've acclimated to your own little niche of people all your life. In college, you have the opportunity to meet all types of people. Some will become your best friends, while others may become your enemies, but never dismiss the opportunity to meet people from outside your typical social circle.

2.Campus activities. The perfect opportunity to broaden your horizons. I went to a state school, and not a very large one at that, but there was still every single activity and club under the sun. Everything from yoga to rugby when it comes to sports, and a million social, religious, political, and educational clubs.

3. Study Abroad. Traveling anywhere in the world, learning about foreign cultures and languages, having an amazing adventures at the height of your life- for me, at least, it was a given. I spent a semester in Scotland, and, though it it took most of my bank account to get me there and keep me there for the full semester, the experience itself was priceless.

4. A ridiculous amount of free stuff. Heck yes, I had to include this. Yes, it is one of the sillier reasons on my list, but just ask any college kid and they will tell you that, as a college student, people will offer you free food and books, as well as coupons for bowling, sporting events, etc. You will likely also have access to free concerts, fitness centers, a variety of activities, and speakers just from being on campus (or at least these things will be greatly discounted). Granted, you probably won't have any spending money, so things practically have to be free...but I think it still counts.

5. Finding Yourself. It sounds uber cheesy, but you can bet by the time you're out of college, you'll be a different person than you were when you started. Usually, hopefully, you're a better educated, well-rounded, more open-minded, intelligent, and creative version of yourself, though that's not a guarantee ;) Regardless, the experience will be an important part of who you are.

The most important thing that I did, through it all, was write everything down. Every day wasn't perfect, but, looking back, it's obvious that these college years are the real best days of life.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mystery novel

Here's a peak at the first scene of my mystery novel. It's set close to my hometown in Northern Wisconsin, and I'm trying to create a slightly-awkward but entertaining and strong female lead. Let me know your thoughts.

Chapter 1
I screamed when the eight-legged monster jumped from the shelving above the oven, missing my head by inches and my scrambled eggs by even less. Fortunately, I quickly recovered and beat the spider to a pulp with my trusty old hiking boots. I shoved the dirty brown boot back in its place near the door before returning to the stove top and giving the eggs another stir with the spatula. One more joy of living in my parents’ not-so-well insulated log cabin: bugs around every corner and crevice, preparing for attack. I was at least 72% certain that the bugs in this little four-room building had a personal vendetta against me from day one, and, after only two weeks here, they were winning. It was me (Jordan Nimsby) vs. the Evil Bug Bastards (or EBB for short).
            Yes, that’s correct; my parents gave me a boy’s name, but I’ve grown used to it, to say the least. My friends used to call me “Nimsby” in high school, probably just because they thought it sounded funny. Now, however, most of them call me Jordy, partially because I’m a huge Cheesehead and #87, Jordy Nelson, is one of my favorites. Seriously, don’t come over during a Packer game, unless you’re bringing fresh cheese curds or kolatchze to share. You may laugh, but we don’t jest about our cheese and European baked goods here in Northern Wisconsin.
            I shoveled the scrambled eggs onto a slightly-chipped plate and moved to sit in one of the two dusty armchairs that face the large double-hung windows in the “living area”. I call it the living “area” because it’s technically just an extension of the kitchen. The kitchen and living room combo are basically a narrow, 6’ by 14’ room with a refrigerator, maple-stained cabinets, sink, and oven on the kitchen end and the armchairs and a bookcase on the other end. In between the “kitchen” and “living” sections is a narrow hallway containing doors that lead to the tiny bathroom, a bedroom, and another room that could technically be used for a bedroom, but is just a storage area for me at the moment, since I’ve just recently moved into the cabin. My parents still have an old wooden bunk bed in that room, leftover from when my younger sister and I were kids. A few other awkward touches, such as the duck-patterned wall paper in the bathroom, and the Northwoods-themed animal decorations in the bedrooms, make me feel like I’ve somehow gotten trapped inside my childhood vacations.
            I finished the eggs and had a hankering for toast, but I tragically haven’t had a chance yet to buy a toaster, so I substituted the toast with the amazing nectar of the gods, AKA black coffee. I had no shortage of mugs to choose from and selected a “Coffee is the name of my other lover” slogan printed on a hot pink background.
            “Hah- as if there was another man in my life,” I laughed and winked at my coffee cup. You can judge me; it is an unnatural relationship that I have with this mouth-watering beverage that makes life worth living.
            Carefully filling the mug to the brim, I made my way back to the cozier armchair (I swear the one on the left was missing some stuffing in the cushion). I settled in with a sigh. Then, I breathed in the delicious Mocha Nut aroma of the flavored brew, letting the air slowly out of my lungs.
            Today would begin the first day of my new job, and I had some thinking to do. In fact, I had a lot of thinking to do, seeing as I had basically taken a ginormous leap backwards in the job and life department as of late. You see, I wasn’t always a single, 27-year-old living in my parents’ old cabin. I used to be successful. Haha. Okay, you caught me; I used to be relatively successful, in comparison to someone greatly unsuccessful. I have tried for years to convince myself that it isn’t my fault, however. I had good intentions, I swear!
            After graduating from Loyola University in Chicago with a BS in Criminal Justice, I became a private investigator. It had always been my dream job, and it’s why I went to school in the city to study the field. However, after five very unsuccessful years, I had little to show for it. I’d been working with a firm in downtown Chicago, certain that I was on my way up, even though I’d been relegated to a desk position for my first four years, doing little more than secretarial work no matter how hard I worked to try to prove myself. When I finally saw the opportunity to advance, I was quickly passed over for some freshly-graduated, tough-looking guy who “knew the neighborhood better”. As if. And even if he did, so what? Being from the area wasn’t exactly part of the job description, and I made the mistake of pointing that little fact out to my boss. Of course, I did also add, “Now, if this guy knows the criminals in the area, then he’d have an advantage over me.”
            Apparently, my boss didn’t deem that comment as productive as it was and I found myself without any job a few days later. While searching for a new job, I moved in with my aunt, who lives in a downtown condo. My student loans were piling up, and I certainly didn’t have enough in my savings account to cover the pricey rent of most Chicago apartments, even with the odd job here or there to supplement it. Fortunately, Aunt Melani works in some fashionable sales firm downtown and insisted that I only pay half of the electricity and internet bills. The rest was on her. It was nice living there when she wasn’t around, which was quite often. When she was around, my comfort level dropped immensely, as she’s a vegan hipster without a door on her bathroom who claims to be allergic to even the smell of meat. Fortunately for me, she was gone quite a bit due to the traveling aspect of her job, and I still, to this day, do not fully understand what it is that she does.
            Needless to say, it reached a point where I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere in the field or in my retirement account, so I ended up returning home…more or less. My parents live in Tomahawk, about an hour southwest of their cabin, and they had been talking about selling this old log home for years. They kept it up fairly well (if you don’t count those bitter insects and a thin layer of dust), but they just didn’t see the point of keeping it any longer. As my mother said, “It was so much more valuable when you and Cynthia were little. Then we would go up to the lake to swim and fish…we just don’t do that much anymore…”
(I know what you’re thinking- my sister’s name is Cynthia? Seriously, Mom and Dad, why did you give her the uber feminine name? Did I really look like a member of the male species when I was born? Sure, I was born bald, but throw me a bone here already. Sigh. I digress…)
            My parents wanted to sell the cabin, long story short, and I had just enough money saved up to offer them a reasonable price for it. At first, my mother felt bad about making me pay for the cabin, but my father reassured her that I was a “grown adult” and “more than fully capable” or spending my money on my own necessities. (Now, don’t ask me how someone can be “more than fully capable”; it seems to defy the realm of reality.) So, a short investment later, and I was back in the only-slightly-neglected cabin. I wasn’t terribly saddened to return back home, and honestly, the cabin is in fairly decent shape, maintaining some semblance of coziness. To the left of the large windows in the living area are the sliding glass doors that open up to a small patio with Loon Lake a short walk beyond. On the patio (where I really would be sitting, if it wasn’t so gloomy out, the clouds threatening to burst any moment), my father made me a lovely wooden table with four chairs. They’re stained the same color as the house, sort of a burnt oak, and they really add to the patio area, I must say. He carves and sells furniture for a living, so they look damn good, naturally.
            In my own sad attempt to bring my personality into the cabin, I have added a few knick-knacks here and there, like the sign that used to hang above my private investigator business in downtown Chicago, currently hanging over the bookshelf beside me. I’ve also added one of those cheesy wooden placards with the 1950’s-style woman picture and the words “Sarcasm: Now Served Daily!” to the wall in the kitchen. I’m not really a great decorating guru, never watched any of those HGTV shows, but I do try.
            As I took another sip of my coffee, my thoughts drifted back to my new job. Along with my move to Northern Wisconsin, I now had a new job as a barista at a locally-owned coffee shop/bookstore about eight miles up the road, on the outskirts of the quaint town of Eagle River. In a way, I was looking forward to the peace and quiet of this type of job, but I also felt a bit like a screw-up. I was supposed to have left the small town life behind and venture off into the wilds of the big city, and I did just that for several years. Unfortunately, chalk it up to bad luck, a bad economy, or both, my dream just didn’t last for long. Now, I was back into the jobs of the high school/college student crowd, at an age that was just slightly too old to actually desire those jobs. Still, I would be working with two of my favorite things, coffee and books, so I couldn’t whine for too long and loud about the opportunity, as unfulfilling as it likely would be. 
            An old high school friend of mine, Jenny, was the owner of the shop and, once she heard that I was back in the neighborhood, she was quick to offer me a position. “Nearly everybody has moved so far away!” she exclaimed at my “interview”, which basically amounted to a gossip-session reminiscent of high school days. Now Jenny was always a really sweet and cheery girl, but she was never known to be the brightest crayon in the carton, so I was a little surprised that she owned her own business. I suspected that maybe she’d changed a great deal since high school, but about two minutes into our interview, I realized that Jenny was still partially stuck in high school, as though the drama and gossip from that time were still enticing to her. “It’s so nice to see a familiar face from high school!” she had said at the start.
            And it went on like that from there. For every reasonable interview question, like, “What are your greatest strengths?” there were at least two or three tidbits of random gossip that I couldn’t care less about honestly, so that the interview went a little like this:
            Jenny: “Did you hear that Matt McDonalds is now the owner of a Fortune 500 Company? I mean, seriously, who could have seen that coming?”
            Me: “McDonalds? You mean that kid with the funny glasses who always used to quote stock prices…uh, yes, ironically I do believe I saw that one coming.”
            Jenny: “Have you heard that Erika is having her third child now? And each one with a different father! Can you believe that?”
            Me: “Erika Sneider? The one who used to wear super short skirts with thongs and dated half the football team? Oh, yes, that’s mind-boggling…”
            Jenny: “And, oh-my-God, you won’t believe what happened to Tiny Tina Tinkerson. She gained, like, a bazillion pounds and ended up on one of those weight loss shows last year. She didn’t lose enough to win the competition, though, only like 19% of her body fat…”
            Me: “I do remember her having a fondness for baked goods at the senior picnic…”
            And so on and so forth until I began to seriously question working for her. However, when I found out that she’s really only there half the time (“So busy with my family now, you know, twin boys, can you believe it?”), and the fact that I really needed to make money somehow unless I didn’t want any utilities in my rustic cabin, I accepted the fact that I wasn’t in any position to refuse any kind of job at all, much less one that seemed relatively simple yet still managed to pay a few dollars above minimum wage.
            That brings me to today’s business: my first day on the job. The sensible part of me smiled at the thought that I would once again have a steady source of income. But another part of me (a part that demanded hungrily from the pit of my gut why I felt it was worth my time to study in college for four years just to throw that money down the drain) felt like kicking myself in the face (though I may need to do more stretches to manage that maneuver) as I drained my coffee cup and poured another serving into my sparkly metallic green travel mug. “I like my coffee like my men,” I joked to make myself feel less awful, “dark and covered in metallic green glitter.” I jest; I’ve never dated a man who wore glitter of any sort; I guessed the closest I ever came was Anthony Jespoal, who was an actor I dated in college. He had to wear make-up in most of his performances and actually didn’t seem to mind it.
            I stepped into my red Ford Taurus and rolled down the windows to let in the fresh morning air. The clouds seemed to be dissipating, so maybe it wouldn’t be too gloomy of an early June day after all. The sun was low in the sky, but that was probably because it was only 7am, and, despite the clouds, I could sense the promise of warmer weather to come. I was supposed to be at the coffee shop at 8am to start my first day of training, but I was giving myself plenty of time to arrive a bit early. I wanted to make sure that I was fully prepared, and that typically meant having at least three cups of coffee under my belt beforehand.
            The driveway to the cabin is a small gravel lane. I drove down it and pulled onto the also small, also gravel road that wound around the lake and led to several other cabins. I had a feeling that not many people actually traversed this road in the winter, so I was a little nervous about driving when the winter season rolled around, especially since I wasn’t even sure if they would bother trying to plow this road. However, I had plenty of time to wait on that; for now, it was the start of summer, and the gravel road was relatively busy by Northern Wisconsin standards; I actually saw two cars pass me on my way out to the highway.
            Turning onto the highway, I cranked up the local radio station, until I realized they were having a polka marathon. Quickly, I flipped the dial to some alternative rock station that just barely reached listeners up here in the far northern reaches of their coverage area. I rocked out with the windows down, a nice cool breeze in my curly brown hair, unnecessary sunglasses covering my hazel eyes, and my free hand cradling my travel mug of joe. Hearing an upbeat Of Monsters and Men tune come on the air, I tried to focus on the positives in my life. It was difficult, moving up here to the rural wilderness after the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago, but it was also refreshing. For instance, consider the lovely fresh air that I was currently inhaling; it didn’t have even the slightest hint of car exhaust, pollution, or random smelly people. That was a lovely change of pace. And where in Chicago could my carpool possibly be the same distance in miles as the time it took to get there, for instance? Unheard of, but here, that 8 mile drive to the coffee shop could easily be managed in just over 8 minutes. I was fortunate to live within walking distance of just about anything when I lived in the Windy City, thanks to Aunt Melani and her condo, but if I ever tried to venture out of the city or to different parts of the city, oh, God help me. I hated driving in city traffic. Basically, my feeling about driving in Chicago was this: why would anyone want to sit completely still on a crowded 5-lane highway with absolute psychos cutting you off and flipping you off just so that they could sit completely still in another lane? Do you see what I mean? If not, take a drive around Chicago sometime, preferably on a Friday evening, and then you will soon understand.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mother, Teacher, Writer- though not necessarily in that order...

...or at least the order changes from day to day. Lately, I feel that Mother has surpassed my Writer persona, invading the time I'd typically spend blogging and writing novels in coffee shops, drinking too much caffeine and daydreaming about the next scene or character. Instead, my hours are spent changing diapers, nursing, rocking, and singing bizarre made-up songs in my far-from-melodic voice. When I do get a chance to go out for coffee, I find myself working on my online teaching job, so the Teacher persona now rules at coffee shops- jamming out emails, lesson planning, and grading, all the while rocking my son's carrier to hopefully lull him into a peaceful sleep for a moment or two.

This past week, the Teacher and Mother thirds have been bending under a lot of stress. The little dude and I both managed to pick up a cold, so we've regressed to sleepless nights and difficult feedings, not to mention dealing with a lot of mucus (the baby's, not mine...well, okay, both of ours, if I'm honest). In the teaching world, our virtual charter school has recently implemented a new website that allows for a lot of versatility for the students who work at home with their parents on paper curricula. It is a way for us to work with the students and parents on assignments that are unique to each individual student and to determine which standards they are meeting (ah, the beloved Common Core- I say this with no small amount of sarcasm, though I am discovering that there are some positive aspects to said standards…maybe…). However, no less than four mothers immediately freaked out about the new website, sending me what I can only refer to as angry mom hate mail. And a part of me (maybe in the Mother piece) understands where they are coming from- they like to do what they are used to, and they truly think believe that it is what’s best for their kids. They don’t want to change. They are too busy to change. Change is their enemy. And, for the most part, in our crazy world, that is very understandable.

Still, a part of me doesn’t understand their angst, because I believe that change is a necessity in life. Adults and children need it to get by, and you need to teach children to be able to adapt to it unless you wish to create a highly dysfunctional adult. Seeing these mothers angrily grit their teeth and deny their children this new opportunity, butting heads with teachers all the way, makes me sad. Being a teacher in modern America, I am, unfortunately, used to the idea that everyone from politicians to actors think they know more than I do when it comes to teaching kids, never mind the fact that I’ve gone to school for four years specifically studying English Education, spent another half-year in what basically amounted to an unpaid internship (ah, student teaching), and then taught three different grade levels for two years. If I were teaching in some other era, some other country, perhaps our new ideas would be accepted merely from the fact that we are teachers and want what is best for children. However, in the here and now, we are judged unworthy.

Still, as I digress from my teacher rant…I feel that Mother and Teacher do inevitably go together for me when it comes to opening students’ eyes to new innovations and opportunities. I like to think that I would be on the side of the parents who are gung-ho and ready to roll on this new program. I wish to be a mother who allows my children new opportunities, and I hope I am already doing so. In a way I think that all of these parts of me are deeply interconnected: Writer, Teacher, and Mother. I teach because I care about children, and I write because I care about learning, and as a mother, I understand more deeply the importance of both learning and writing for myself and for the future generations.

So I guess, in the end, it isn’t a matter of which comes first; all three personae blend together in a way I hadn’t previously considered, and perhaps that is for the best.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Moving Again (and maybe this time it won't be the hottest day ever...)

Apparently, there is some stupid and annoying need inside me to move once a year. I can't just say, "Hey, whatever, forget this job or that school and make the world come to me for once!" Nope. I have no such authority. I move constantly. Ever since my freshmen year of college (2006, if you're fishing for my age), I have moved at least once a year, sometimes two or three times, as in the case of moving into and out of campus dorm rooms to return home for the summer or studying abroad for one epic semester in Scotland.
I'm actually not half-bad at packing and hauling a surprising amount of crap in a tiny space, say a compact Korean car, for example, as I've done it several times. This time, we're moving for my husband's job. The time before that was for my job, so I suppose we're even. Technically, I can now move anywhere since I work online, but I would like to stay put. I envision myself writing novels in an epic tower room of our fictional mansion someday, but that's not exactly in the cards, as they say, so we will continue to rent and pay more than we really should to live in someplace that isn't truly ours.
I shouldn't get down on renting, though; I mean, I have had several decent renting experiences, and it's not all bad. For instance, you don't have to replace any appliances that break (unless it's something really vital that landlords strangely don't provide, like say your coffee pot) and you get out of plowing the driveway and shoveling the sidewalk (except in the tragic case of the aptly named Casa Blanca, circa 2010-2011- the house was on a corner, for Pete's sake, now that's just mean...). Overall, however, yes, I do someday dream of being an author who makes enough money to maybe, just maybe, afford our dream house. Or, at least, help to contribute money for the land upon which we will build said dream house. I am working hard and diligently on my writing (my husband and son can attest to that) when not working my virtual teaching job, cleaning the house, or taking care of said son, so hopefully, someday, my day will come :)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Notes on My Birthday (AKA just another day of being a mother)

I guess I should have seen it coming. Now that I have a little family member, one who is practically another limb, I am slowly accepting the fact that I will never really have free time again. At least not for 18 seriously...
So I ask myself now, nine days later, why would I have expected my birthday to be any different? The little one managed to keep me busy for nearly the entire day, and when he did go down to sleep, I was fortunate to be able to catch up on my online job. Whhoooee! I sure know how to have a good time. I guess I've already had the funeral and service for the wild days of my youth and am moving into a brief period of mourning. For starters, when am I going to get my writing done?! Anyone who says that being a mother is not a full time job is sadly mistaken, and I only have one small child! I can only imagine the hectic life of a woman with multiple little ones scurrying around. Thank God for my husband, who watched over the little dude for two hours on Saturday, during which time I hurried off to a coffee shop, typed out 3,000 words at the pace of the Flash, and hurried back home before it was feeding time again. Note that I did leave a bottle of milk, just in case. Also note that the little stinker managed to finish off all 4 ounces of the pumped milk before I got back home and harassed my husband with his sad little hunger screams for about 5 minutes before I pulled back into the driveway. See, even when I plan it out well, it seems that I'm still doing it wrong, and the little guy is still not satisfied. At least I was able to feel the satisfaction of getting a few pages of fresh writing on my latest novel, something I hadn't had the opportunity to do for several weeks. (It's been 200 words here and there when the little guy is sleeping, or, if I'm feeling up for juggling my laptop and a baby, when he's eating.)
Ho-hum. Anyway, yes, I did still celebrate my birthday with my friends. Two days late, but it did happen, and that's what matters. A dinner out at a restaurant during which I had to huddle in the bathroom and feed my always-hungry son again. And the waitress couldn't honor the free birthday dinner since it was two days late, despite the fact that I explained I was alone with a needy child recovering from a little cold that day (the downside of my husband's job is that he is occasionally out of town for the week, like for my birthday...awesome). But I am beginning to accept this as my new life. Nothing is what I expect anymore. For example, I can no longer expect to go to town without some sort of spit-up/milk/poo combo on my clothing...or expect to get through errands without my child attracting attention with his spontaneous screams, making me cringe and look like an awful mother as I hustle off to feed him before he gets any louder.
It's not all bad, though. In fact, I love the tiny dude to bits; it's a crazy feeling that you seriously can't imagine until you have a baby of your own. (Trust me on's like the feeling that you would rather die than have the baby feel any discomfort; now THAT is crazy, but it's motherhood.) Take this moment, for example. I had to run a couple of errands downtown, but I still managed to cart the little guy around in his stroller without any cries yet- and it's been over an hour! Little dude is even smiling in his stroller as I drink the latte I managed to grab! It's the little things.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New Baby vs. Writing Schedule

Well, eventually that time arrived, and our little son was born on August 13th, 10 days early. They say that's unusual for a firstborn, being born almost 2 weeks early. They also said that it's unusual to feel the really early labor pains that I had to tolerate for 23 hours before being admitted into the hospital for the "real thing". Exciting! LOL. However, it wasn't really that laughable at the time, mostly just torturous, especially since being admitted only meant that I then had a few more hours of much more intense labor before delivery since I opted out of the drugs...
Either way, the painful part is all over and done with, and we are off on a new adventure in our little family! Like they say, it's worth it. It's been 12 days with a newborn needing feedings every 2-3 hours and attention at random times both day and night, so my writing schedule has been basically nonexistent. Fortunately, I have had a little time to get prepared for my online teaching job these last few days, but I haven't been using baby's nap times for writing just yet. I'm still adjusting and trying to catch up on lost chores and business matters. Hopefully, life will get into a new and improved routine shortly, and I will be back up and writing in no time. For the time being, I think about how this new experience will lead to new ideas that I will likely pen to paper in the months and years to come. Watching a newborn experience even the most simple things with a fresh perspective makes you see the world with a new perspective, as well. A walk around the block becomes an epic journey. A simple mobile becomes symbolic. It's all brand new, and I hope to soak it all in. Experience is everything for writers, and it appears that that's true for mothers, as well.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Favorite Genres

At a writers' conference that I attended back in April, one of the speakers said that writers should pick a genre and stick with it. "Nobody wants to see a chick lit written by Stephen King," she said in way of explanation. Her comparisons were quite humorous, but I could see the point she was making. Writers become associated with the genre and style of writing they do. (I guess it must be the same for actors. For example, I would be very creeped out if I suddenly saw a new serious action thriller starring Will Ferrell.)
I think, for the most part, this idea only applies if you are already a successful, published author. I mean, if nobody but your friends, professors, and family have read your books, poems, or stories, why shouldn't you feel free to write whatever you like? Still, even if you do become successful and published, I think you should have the right to write what you like. Sure, your fan base will change, and marketing your work may become more difficult, but if the writing is superb, I like to believe that everything will work out eventually.
Of course, I'm still in the process. I do love to write in multiple genres, however. My favorite is young adult literature. I love the creative power that you can have with writing for that age level. It's just fun! Plus, as a high school English teacher, I am used to reading and writing YA lit. You can imagine yourself expanding their vocabularies and imaginations as you write your novel, nerdy as that may sound. I also love action and mystery. I recently started outlining a mystery series that I would love to write, and I can't get my ideas on paper (er, Microsoft Word, I should say...) quickly enough!
I think it's completely awesome to expand what you might consider your genre limitations. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself. What genres do you like to read? What ones do you write in?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Finding Time to Write

Perhaps my greatest downfall as a writer is not setting aside enough time to write every day.
During the school year, I easily fall into the pitfall of saying that I don't have enough time; being a full-time high school teacher these last two years, I was incredibly crunched for time during the school year, and free moments were spent just trying to keep the house clean, pay the bills, or go about the other necessities of daily life, like sleeping or eating... It didn't help that I had several additional after-school (and sometimes weekend) duties that went along with my job and a daily commute of about 1.5 hours eating away at my non-working hours.
However, this summer, I started with a fresh slate, telling myself that I would write every day. For the first month, I wrote 2,000 words a day (except for Saturdays) in any of the three novels I'm currently working on. I was dedicated and motivated. Then, the summer became busy. Relatives' weddings, friends visiting from out of town, baby showers for our soon-to-arrive little bundle of joy (and all the doctors' appointments, baby-proofing and planning that goes along with that little bundle), and my search for a new, more flexible teaching job all began to bog down my Summer of Writing. Fortunately, the best thing about goals (at least in my personal opinion) is that you can readjust and get yourself back on track even if you fell off of your original course. I have about a month left of the summer, and I intend to once again dedicate myself fully to my Summer of Writing. I am setting daily goals, even if they aren't as grand as my original goals, with the full intention of meeting them. I can do it! I hope that any of you other writers out there will take that advice, as well. Even if life gets in the way and drives you off track, you can pull yourself back up and put your pen to paper once more. I think the best motivators for me have been the following:
1. Setting a realistic and specific daily goal. For example: I will read/edit what I wrote yesterday and then write 1,500 new words.
2.  Giving yourself rewards for meeting your goals. For me, I like to promise myself a half-hour of reading after an hour of writing or maybe a trip to the local coffee shop to finish up my daily writing with a tasty reward.
3. Post a longer-term goal for your writing in addition to the daily goal. For example, I have goals of the word counts I would like to see for each of my manuscripts by the end of August. As I see myself getting closer, it is even more of a motivator! 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sci-Fi Dystopian Novel Excerpt

Be sure to check out excerpts from my young adult science fiction dystopian adventure, New Pangaea. I will be posting parts of the novel on the new page of this blog; I hope you enjoy it. The novel takes place 200 years in the future and involves an evil government infiltrated by a dark enemy bent on destroying the world. My main character is Zinthia, a low-key type of rebel who ends up becoming a rock' n' roll diva in a time when music has long since passed away. Will she and her friends be able to save the world?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Questions about Place

In my novel Hometown Girl, Claire grows up in my own hometown- Minocqua, WI- and goes through some experiences that were similar to my own. Growing up in a small town that is known as a tourist paradise in the "Great Northwoods" can be interesting... In the winter, it felt as though the "Island City" was sleeping under its blanket of snow and ice, watching the locals go by. Every summer, the town awoke to the hubbub of chatting tourists, honking cars, and the whines and roars of boats and jet skis circling the Chain of Lakes. As if the two seasons weren't distinct enough by the vast change in weather, the atmospheres and personalities of people seemed to alter drastically as we made our way once again through spring, summer, autumn, and winter. I always loved the finality of autumn- the chaos and bustle is over, and now is the time to settle in with books around the fireplace or to pull up to my notebook or laptop for some writing with a cup of strong, hot coffee. You could truly rest and think in winter. Now that I live in a community that seems relatively unchanged by the passing of the seasons (besides the fickle weather; I am still in Wisconsin, after all), I wonder about how much of a role community really plays in one's writing and/or in one's childhood. How has your own hometown changed your life? How has it made you who you are? Was it someplace to retreat to later in life, or someplace to escape from at the earliest possibility?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Efficient Writing

When I was at my first-ever writing conference last month, an editor and agent asked me if my novel New Pangaea had "sharp dialogue". I wasn't exactly sure what she meant, but I assumed it had to do with being efficient with the dialogue; avoiding unnecessary dialogue and using it to carry the story, in other words.
This idea of efficiency had me thinking about the way that I speak and act and how I am as a (real life) character. Overall, I am a fairly efficient person in many aspects of my life. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'm not entirely certain, but it does make shopping a lot quicker and easier. Take, for example, my mission to find Mother's Day cards for my mother and grandmother last week. A quick scan of the pink and flowery Mother's Day section let me eliminate all of the ones that played music, allowed personal voice recording, were 3D, covered in 20 pounds of glitter, waterproof, glow-in-the-dark or edible. (If I had the money, I would spend $1,000 on my mother, but a card for $5.99? That's just ridiculous, and she would agree.) Another glance and I eliminated all of the ones with cartoon characters, kittens, and overly mushy sentiment. Within 20 seconds, I had efficiently narrowed down my selection to about 5 choices. Then, I merely had to pick the one I liked best for the best price. It took all of 1 minute. That's usually how my shopping trips go. Unless I have to try on things like jeans or shoes...there's a reason I don't like shopping for those...
While looking back through my completed novel this weekend, making final edits per recommendation of the professionals at the conference, I kept this idea of efficiency in mind. With that word pounding in my brain, I hope my characters' voices are unique, to-the-point, and entertaining, as I've had fun getting to know all of my characters, including Claire in the latest work, Hometown Girl. If you haven't already, feel free to check it out on the Latest Work page. You're welcome to provide feedback, as well.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Just updated with a full chapter on my "Latest Work" page! It's been more spring-like lately, which feels very motivating for writing :)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In the "Latest work" page, you can check out my latest story, Hometown Girl. This manuscript is currently in the works, but I will be posting updates to the novel at least once a week. I will just add on to the bottom of the existing content. Feel free to comment with ideas, suggestions or questions. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Welcome to Words & Coffee, a blog about writing and life. I'm Sarah, a high school English teacher and writer who loves to explore the outdoors and to inspire others. I'm an avid reader and thinker, and I write young adult novels mainly (though I love to write a little of everything) because I enjoy the energy and versatility of minds at that age. I am always listening for new ideas by observing the life around me and searching for inspiration. I have a lot of faith and I love being around people, most of the time. My greatest passions include cuddling up with coffee and a good book, canoeing down a lazy river on an autumn afternoon, writing in a busy coffee shop, and sitting around a bonfire with friends on a summer evening, to name a few. I strongly believe in the strength and power of the underdog as well as believing in yourself, even in the darkest of circumstances.  Feel free to explore my blog, where I will post my latest stories and ideas. Thank you for visiting.