The Pet Sematary readalong starts tomorrow!

pet sematary readalong

Mind you, I thought it started today.  All week now, I’d been thinking Saturday was March 1. And as you all probably know, Saturday is not March 1. Sunday is.

This post was actually supposed to be titled, “The Pet Sematary readalong starts today!” Which would have been kind of embarrassing, but luckily I’m not organized or efficient enough to write and schedule my posts ahead of time.

On the bright side, I’ve now got a one day jump on things. This is a good thing, as I have a tendency to “fall behind in terms of stuff in general”, and I understand this is to be a totally stress-free readalong so now I won’t get stressed. Right?

There’s still lots of time for you to join us! The readalong runs from March 1 to April 15, which gives you six whole weeks to join in on the fun. Hop on over to Jill’s post to read all the details. It’s pretty informal – all you’ve got to do is say, “I’m in!” in the comments on her blog, or on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #gangstercats, and then readalong with us.

Why #gangstercats? Because gangster cats are funny, not scary. The same probably cannot be said of Pet Sematary.

Just how scary is it? I suspect the answer might be “very very scary”. In the intro, Stephen King writes,

“When I’m asked (as I frequently am) what I consider to be the most frightening book I’ve ever written, the answer I give comes easily and with no hesitation: Pet Sematary. It may not be the one that scares readers the most – based on the mail, I’d guess the one that does that is probably The Shining – but the fearbone, like the funnybone, is located in different places on different people. All I know is that Pet Sematary is the one I put away in a drawer, thinking I had finally gone too far. Time suggests that I had not, at least in terms of what the public would accept, but certainly I had gone too far in terms of my own personal feelings. Put simply, I was horrified by what I had written, and the conclusions I’d drawn.”

Seriously, doesn’t that make you want to just dive into the book right away?

Neil Gaiman stealth signs Trigger Warning copies

trigger warning by neil gaiman

Yesterday I was going through Facebook and I saw Neil Gaiman’s status update:

 

Stealth-signing! I loved the thought of Gaiman taking the time while he was waiting for a flight at an airport to stealthily sign his latest book at the airport bookstores. And also the wonderful surprise not-in-the-know purchasers of Trigger Warning must have felt when they opened the book.

(I’m using past tense because, from the comments on the update, it appears the books sold out pretty quickly.)

I wonder how many people drove to the airport just to buy a copy of the book? I can just imagine it now:

“Got to run. I want to buy a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning.” Looks at time on phone. “If I leave now, I should get there in an hour and a half.” Opens wallet. “Crap. Not enough money to pay for parking. Guess I’ll just use my credit card.”

“What are you going on about? The bookstore’s ten minutes away. Parking is free.”

“Who said anything about going to the bookstore? I’m going to the airport.”

And it also got me thinking, what if he’d been caught by some bookstore employee who didn’t like to read fiction and had no clue who he was?

“Sir, I’m afraid you’ll have to buy that book now that you’ve vandalized it.”

I wish I’d been in the area! To get a signed copy of the book yes, but especially when he was stealthily signing them. I might have recognized him – that would have been fun!

Were you lucky enough to get one of these stealth signed copies of Trigger Warning, or know someone who did?

Putting a habit trigger to work: daily journaling

Have you heard of habit triggers? In addition to helping you get rid of bad habits, you’re supposed to be able to use them to get develop new, positive habits, too.

According to Leo Babauta,

Habits become automatic after we’ve created a bond between the trigger and the habit — the stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.

He then goes on to outline some common triggers, which include waking up, eating breakfast, your morning commute, your afternoon commute – really, anything that you do every day can become a habit trigger.

I have wanted to develop a consistent journaling habit for a very long time. The key term there is “consistent”. I have so many notebooks and journals lying around with a page or two filled, a sign of my many attempts to develop a journaling habit.

journal

And why do I keep trying? Because I do feel that compulsion to write things down, as Joan Didion describes in her marvellous essay, “On Keeping a Notebook” (pdf):

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

It’s just that I don’t feel that compulsion consistently. Hence all those aborted attempts at keeping a regular journal.

So I decided to try using a habit trigger. I have a morning ritual that’s quite indulgent – it includes meditation (good) and surfing around online (not so sure about this one). It’s not the most productive of rituals, but it’s definitely become my morning ritual.

Last week, I decided I’d add journaling into the mix. And to make things easier on myself, I also decided to use my Bullet Journal. I put all of the rest of my life in that journal anyway, so why not, right?

What I’ve been doing is writing in my Bullet Journal every morning. I write about what I’m thinking, ideas I have, what I’d like to get done. Then I do a very very short to-do list for the day. I love the idea of to-do lists but I’m very bad at them. Even though I only have between two to four items on my daily to-do list, often I only accomplish half of the items. Some days, only one.

How has it been working out? It’s only been a week, but it’s already starting to feel like a habit! So this habit trigger thing seems to work.

Once I have this new routine nailed down, I’d like to work on a nightly observation log a la Lynda Barry.  The only problem? I don’t have something I do consistently every night (other than going to bed and all the things associated with that – none of which feels conducive to sitting down and writing).

When I’m on deadline, I usually work until I am too tired to think straight. And when I’m not on deadline, I do a lot of puddling around, but nothing consistently. I was thinking maybe my night time ritual should be reading followed by an observation log. And the habit trigger could be … feeling tired? Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like it will work!

Photo credit

Reading 365 short stories

Last month was so hectic, ALL of my 365 projects ambitions fell off track. I am now beginning the process of slowly picking each one up, dusting them off and seeing what adjustments I can make to the project so it will work for me (instead of constantly filling me with guilt and more guilt – I’m not good with this whole guilt thing.)

First up is the Short Story a Day project. In the month that I did it, I realized two things:

  1. It’s not that easy to read a short story a day. I like to pick my short stories randomly, from my short story box, so I never know what I’m going to get. Some days it’s a story that’s short in length, other days the story is closer to a novella. So I never know how much time I’ll need, which kind of adds to the stress when it’s midnight and I’m thinking, “Shoot! Forgot about today’s short story!”
  2. Short stories are addictive. When I do happen to have a nice chunk of time and I sit down to read one, I often want to read another. But words can have strange control over me. Knowing I was doing a “short story a day” project, I felt reluctant to dive into another one. Because, you know, that would be two, or even three short stories a day. (As you can see, I am easily controllable).

Photo 2014-12-17, 4 10 31 PMThe Short Story Box, for Totally Randomized Reading Fun

As I pondered the situation, and the mess this 365 day project had become, the solution came to me. Rename the project! So now, it’s my 365 Short Stories in 2015 project!

I love how easy and painless that was. And since I just recently finished Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning, it turns out I am right back on track now! I have now read 58 short stories so far this year.

Now I can peel away some of my 365 day project guilt. Two more to go …

Snapshot: February 24, 2015

Time:

Feeling: A little on the bleh side. Had a bit of family drama erupt last night. Took me by surprise and today I’m feeling kind of drained. I much prefer reading about family drama than being involved in it!

Reading: I finished 84 Charing Cross Road and all I can say is, it is such a lovely, lovely read. I’d had it in my to-read list for so long, and it’s definitely one of those books about which one says, “what took me so long to get to it?”

And as for what I’ll be reading next … Well, I still have the second half of 84 Charing Cross Road to read: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. And I really want to get back to Norwegian by Night – I’ve read the first three chapters and left off on an interesting part, but it’s on my ereader and I seem to be giving all my attention to print books lately.

spring tide

I’m also eyeing Spring Tide by Cilla and Rolf Börjlind, which arrived from the library yesterday. It looks like it will be an interesting mystery/thriller, and I’m rather in the mood for something like that. And this came in from the library yesterday as well:

seconds

I’ve heard such a lot of good things about Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds and am really looking forward to it.

pet sematary

And of course, there’s the Pet Sematary readalong! It starts March 1st, and the hashtag for this one is #gangstercats (read Jill’s post to find out why).

Listening: I’m listening to Patricia Cornwell’s Flesh and Blood. It’s my first Kay Scarpetta book in eons. I got really tired of how gory they were, way back when. I kind of have the impression she’s toned it down a bit these days. Hopefully this is true, or I won’t be able to listen to this in audio for very long.

Writing: I just finished a short story. It’s about a haunting but it’s not scary. I’m going to leave it for a few days, do another read and some revisions, and then send it off to beta readers. This year I plan on submitting more of my work, so this could be one of the first to get sent out.

I also received Memory’s feedback on my children’s fantasy, Waverley. I’m all pumped up about getting this one out of first draft status now! I sent Memory a very messy first draft – I try not to reread what I’ve written, so I’ll often write two or three versions of a scene, and sometimes add a character or plotline as if I’d already written about that character or plotline. Very confusing, but luckily Memory braved through it all and gave me back such great comments.

Working: I’m working on a couple of articles on student loan forgiveness (I know, not the most enticing subject in the world – well, unless you’re a student mired in student loans). And there’s an index on immigration due later this week too.

Creating: *sad face* Nope. But soon, I hope! I’ve just been so excited with the writing, it’s been hard to remember to do something artsy too.

Photo of the week:  Creeper and Hobbes are a riot sometimes. Hobbes has decided he wants to share Creeper’s box too. So here the two of them are:

Creeper and Hobbes in box

Looking forward to: Starting work on the revisions for Waverley. I’ve promised myself once I get started with the second draft, I’ll treat myself to a membership to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)!

The rest of today: Taking Dylan to dance class, and finishing up those two articles. Nothing glamorous, I’m afraid!

Reading: 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

84 charing cross road

I am reading 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff right now, and it’s absolutely delightful.

Delightful is a word I love to use to describe a book, but it’s also not one I get to use that often. The books I usually read tend to toward descriptors like intense or epic (as in fantasy, not awesome, although lots of them are awesome too) or edgy or suspenseful or terrifying (in a good way). (There are better descriptors I’ve used before, but my brain is kind of fogged up right now and won’t cough up any of them.)

But this book is, most definitely, delightful. It makes me want to surround myself with old books, preferably ones purchased in an antiquarian bookstore.

84 Charing Cross Road

I wish you hadn’t been so over courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of on the flyleaf. It’s the bookseller coming out in you all, you were afraid you’d decrease its value. You would have increased it for the present owner. (And possibly for the future owner. I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins. I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.)

I thought this excerpt was rather appropriate given my recent interest in marginalia.

84 Charing Cross Road quote 2

And they NEVER read anything a second time so they don’t remember a word of it a year later. But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON’T THROW IT OUT! NOT IF IT HAS A HARD COVER ON IT! Why not? I personally can’t think of anything less sancrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book.

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to drop a book into a wastebasket, but I do give books away, all the time. Hardcover or not!

It turns out this volume I have contained not just 84 Charing Cross Road, but also The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. I’m looking forward to this second book too.

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: A new book by a favourite author (Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning)

There’s nothing like the excitement of a new book by a favourite author. No matter what the book is about, you can be pretty sure you’ll be in for a good time.

My list of favourite authors is a mutable, ever-changing beast of a list. But there are some authors who will likely be on it permanently. Neil Gaiman is one. Stephen King is another. J.K. Rowling – and wouldn’t it be something if she wrote another children’s fantasy series? Newer additions to the favourites list include Tana French, Laini Taylor and Justin Cronin. Other writers on the list (P.L. Travers, Elizabeth Peters, L.M. Montgomery, Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl, Reginald Hill) are, unfortunately, no longer here with us.

Over the past few days, I’ve been indulging in the bookish bliss of reading a new book by a favourite author: I just finished Neil Gaiman’s latest, the short story collection Trigger Warning, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

trigger warning by neil gaiman

In any short story collection, there’s usually some unevenness. Some stories will be better than others – yes, even when they’re all written by your favourite author!

I enjoyed all of the stories and poems in Trigger Warning, but of course I had some clear favourites:

“The Thing About Cassandra” about a boy’s imaginary girlfriend.

“The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains”, which is a reread for me. It’s appeared in a previous anthology, Stories, but while I do have that anthology, I don’t think that’s where I read it initially. It might actually have been somewhere online …

“Orange” – I loved the questionnaire format and how Gaiman was able to tell the story so well using that format.

“The Case of Death and Honey” – a Sherlock Holmes story, and another reread, as it had originally appeared in A Study in Sherlock.

“Nothing O’Clock”, a Doctor Who short story. Need I say more?

“The Sleeper and the Spindle”, because I love how Gaiman portrayed the queen.

And finally, “The Black Dog”, because it’s a Shadow short story. In the introduction Gaiman says:

There is one last [Shadow] story to be told, about what happens to Shadow when he reaches London. And then, if he survives that, it will be time to send him back to America. So much has changed, after all, since he went away.

I can hardly wait until he tells that last short story! Hopefully it will mean that’s when Gaiman intends to start writing the sequel to American Gods!

Have you indulged in a new book by a favourite author lately?

Following your heart, blog post images, games, kidlit and more {From My Haphazard Twitter Files, No. 8}

Haphazard-Twitter-Files7

The week has just flown by so fast! It’s Saturday again, and here are some of the links I tweeted on Twitter this past week. It was another eclectic week of links – I read such interesting things online!

  1. When You’re at the Crossroads of Should and Must really spoke to me, as I feel more and more these days that’s where I am, and I need to make the choice that’s right for me. The Should is so tempting because it’s comfortable, it’s familiar, it’s what I’ve been taught to do, but as I get older, I find myself with so many regrets because I never had the courage to choose my Must. I’m hoping things will change this year, and I’ll be able to embark on a path that includes the things that are in my heart to do.
  2. We all need images for blog posts these days, and when I saw this list of 32 free image sources for your blog at Lifehack, I immediately saved it to Evernote. I know this list will come in handy!
  3. Writer, Get to Work! is a free board game “of procrastination and misplaced competitive angst for 3-5 scribes”. Created by Jill Murray, writer and game designer, all you have to do is download, print to two sheets of letter-sized paper, add your own die and game tokens and off you go! I haven’t tried the game yet, but it looks like a lot of fun.
  4. Elegy for a Dead World is an experimental game that turns players into poets and writers. It’s available on Steam and I’m thinking of giving it a try. It’s another game that looks like fun.
  5. If you’re a Harry Potter fan and haven’t seen these yet, you’ve got to click through and check out these truly awesome interactive illustrations created for the first Harry Potter book by artist Kincso Nagy. I found these via @TifTalksBooks – thanks, Tif!
  6. This post from Flavorwire is filled with famous authors’ handwritten outlines – I love love love handwritten notes and things, and it’s quite a treat to be able to see how famous writers like J.K. Rowling outlined their books.
  7. This Guardian article, Children’s books are never just for children, poses a really interesting question: “Many adults – many well-known authors in fact – re-read books that in childhood had a big impact. So why is children’s literature not considered worthy of major awards?” My personal opinion? Children’s literature is in no way lesser literature simply because it’s written for children. Perhaps one day a children’s book will win a major book award, when the judges finally lose their biases against children’s books.

Blogger business cards: do you use them?

Blogger business card

I’m not the most observant person around, but ever since I started using Instagram more, I’ve been seeing glimpses of what look like book blogger business cards.

I never even thought about getting a business card for blog use, until I saw these!

So my question to you is: do you use blogger business cards?

Okay, I lied. I have more than one question.

If you do have blogger business cards, when and how do you use them? Are they just handy for when you send snail mail to other bloggers? Is it to further brand your blog? Do you use them when you go to author events?

I’ve noticed, too, that the ones I’ve seen are often quite uniquely designed – nothing like the business cards I normally see in regular life.  Not having ordered business cards for a very, very long while (mainly because my business is mostly word-of-mouth), I feel rather out of the loop on this one. I love the gorgeous designs I’ve seen so far, but where do you go to get such great designs?

In the meantime, I’m filing this one in my Undecided folder, the one where I keep my “should I have a Facebook page?” question.

Photo source: Pixabay

Maintaining Inbox Zero with the Mailbox app

Mailbox appYay! I’ve been doing it!

Ten days ago I used the Mailbox app to achieve Inbox Zero. It was as easy as taking care of the handful of emails that needed taking care of, and then hitting the handy “archive everything” button on the app.

But the thing is, I’ve done this before, not using an app but directly in Gmail. I’d “select all” and then “mark everything as read”. But that pleasant, empty mailbox state of affairs never lasted. Two or three days later, the emails would start piling up again, and within a week I’d be back where I’d started, with a gazillion unread emails waiting for me.

So the real question was, could I maintain Inbox Zero?

It’s been ten days, and I am pretty confident now that I can. See those pretty empty Mailbox pictures at the top of this post? The Mailbox app shows you a different one each day, but only if your inbox is empty. It actually makes my day to see each pretty new picture.

I’ve managed to empty mine out every day since I first got my inbox to zero, so lots of pretty little pictures!

I don’t think I could have done it without the Mailbox app, though. Here’s what I’m doing to maintain a clean inbox:

  • For the first couple of days, I unsubscribed to everything that landed in my inbox that I knew I would never get around to reading.
  • I now check each piece of email once and (this is the big thing) I do something with it right away.
  • Here are my options for each email: reply then archive, trash, archive or put in a folder. I also sometimes use the Mailbox app’s snooze function, which lets me put an email away for now but have it scheduled to show up again at a later time, like later today or tomorrow or after the weekend.
  • So far I have the following folders: To Do, To Listen, To Read, To Reply, Reference, Indexes and Writing. Every piece of mail that I don’t archive or trash goes into one of these folders.

The only downside is that I now prefer checking email on my phone – the Mailbox app just makes it so easy to go through my email. From the inbox screen, all it takes is a swipe. For an opened email, it just requires a tap.  If your inbox doesn’t have a lot of email in it, there’s even a way to batch sort the emails – you can swipe from the bottom and send all the emails to your archive, to the trash, or to a folder.

So I’ve taken to checking my email on my phone rather than on my computer, even if I’m actually sitting in front of my laptop. Then I’ll go to Gmail on my laptop and deal with anything I’ve put in “To Reply”, because I much prefer typing on my keyboard rather than on my phone.

Maintaining Inbox Zero has been quite effortless. I do need to set aside time every day or so to go through everything in the to-do folder, but that’s about it.

In the past, I’ve had times when I’ve had over a thousand emails in each of my two Gmail accounts. I’d trained myself to tune out the little red alert on the mail app on my phone, until I discovered I could just go into settings and turn the alert off. Even though I didn’t realize it, having all those unread emails sitting in my inbox was draining – I knew eventually I’d have to deal with it all. Not only that, I’d gotten to the point where important emails from clients would sometimes get buried in that big mess of unread emails.

I feel so much more productive these days, simply because I’ve got a good handle on my email. The best part? Nothing slips through the cracks any more!