Top Three Books of 2016: Jeffe’s Picks

Every year since my birth, my mother has given me a Christmas ornament. She usually gives it to me at Thanksgiving, so that I have it for decorating my tree. This year she gave me a Nambé star for a tree-topper. I may have made a special request, as I love all things Nambé, and I love this, in particular. One day I hope to have Santa’s sleigh, but … alas the price! 

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is a round-up of our three most memorable books of the year. I think it’s interesting that we frame it as “most memorable,” as opposed to the best, or most loved or favorite. There’s a difference, isn’t it?

At any rate, come on over to find out what mine are!

Why I Like Being Hybrid

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Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, whether your mom was good or terrible, still with you or not, and whether anyone’s ever acknowledged your own mothering. Special love and gratitude to both my own mother – the blonde in our family photo there – and to my second mother, my aunt sitting next to her. I’m blessed to have you in my life!

I’m over at Word Whores – changing to the SFF Seven! – where we’ll be discussing all week the various publishing paths and what’s best for you

Why Dropping a Ball Isn’t Such a Bad Thing

001Longtime readers of my blog know that my mom has given me a Christmas ornament every year since I was born. These last few years, we’ve formed a tradition of shopping with my stepsister the day after Thanksgiving. Not big box store mob sale shopping, but at this lovely outdoor mall in Tucson. Our first stop is always Crate & Barrel, where I now get to pick out my own ornament(s).

This year I spotted these sparkly castles – just perfect to remember that this is the year my Twelve Kingdoms books come out. I’m so in love with them.

Once again, however (this make two years in a row – eep!), I’ve decided not to put up a Christmas tree. Jackson, though no longer a kitten, is still wild to tear up any and everything he can. He’s also become keenly interested in climbing.

Uh huh. Exactly.

Also, we’re going on a bit of an odyssey this year. We’ll drive to Tucson for Christmas, then drive up the western slope over several days to Billings, Montana, for my stepson’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. We won’t be home until January 2, at best. Maybe later if the driving weather is bad, since we’ll return down the front range.

(For those who don’t know the Rocky Mountain region, the weather on the western side of the mountains is typically much warmer and drier than on the front range, the eastern side.)002

Though we’ll have a house sitter, that’s still a lot of opportunity for Jackson to wreak havoc. And, by the time we get home, I won’t want to deal with TONS of clean-up. Last year, however, I found I really missed getting out all of my ornaments, revisiting all those Christmas memories. So this year, I plan to do a lot of garlands and suspend the non-breakable ornaments from those.

(I haven’t SEEN Jackson climb walls, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.)

One of my nephews has gotten into juggling lately, so we’re getting him a copy of Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle. It might be a bit dense for him, but he’s struggling with adolescence and I think the themes of being dispossessed and discovering who you are will speak to him. Plus, juggling!

I recall that book for the way his learning to juggle gave Valentine the keys to handling his problems. It’s been a long time since I read it, so forgive me if I get the details wrong, but I recall the concept that, while keeping the balls in the air is part of the point, dropping one isn’t the end of the world.

I think about this sometimes because I often use juggling as a metaphor for keeping up with everything I’m doing. We all do, really, referring to “dropping the ball.” (Or is that a sports metaphor? Brilliant, really – the metaphor that works for both sportsing types AND theater geeks!) The problem with that is, I get so focused on keeping those balls going, adding in more, concentrating on catching and throwing, that it’s easy to lose the sense of fun.

And yes, juggling is fun.

Also, occasionally dropping a ball is part of the game.

If there wasn’t the possibility of dropping a ball, then juggling wouldn’t be interesting. The real joy, too, is when you get them all flowing.

Like magic.

What Genres Do You Read While Drafting?

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Edward Zelster Photography

This is the Kensington cocktail party at the RWA conference. I’m apparently describing something very large to Alexandra Nicolajsen, who manages the digital marketing for the house. Maybe a bus ad.

(That’s the lovely Carolyn Crane sitting next to me.)

As I mentioned previously, I brought back a lot of paper books from RWA, along with a wish list of ebooks I want to download to the Kindle. However, I also have a big road trip coming up. Today I’m flying up to Denver where I’ll help my mom and Stepdad Dave rent a U-Haul truck. My mom has sold my childhood home – after 41 years! – and they’re moving permanently into their Tucson house.

I’d already taken some things a few weeks ago and my aunt went and took some things. Then they had their friends over for a “take some things” party, followed by an estate sale. So there’s not THAT much to convey to Tucson. But there will be two vehicles and neither of them are all that comfortable driving alone for long periods of time. We’ll drive down to Santa Fe on Saturday (about 5.5 hours), spend the night, then go on to Tucson (~8 hours). I’ll hang out on Monday, then drive their “extra” vehicle back to Santa Fe, where it will now be ours. All of this boils down to one thing: audio books.

I sorely need to listen to some books, to help pass the solo driving time.

So, I went to Audible to find the right ones. After all, this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on books I really want to read – for research or because friends wrote them or because they’ve been on my list for a while. But then the two books I wanted most weren’t on Audible! I considered doing them on the Kindle text-to-voice, but I don’t LOVE that. The robo-voice takes away from the story for me. My friend, Sassy Outwater, who is blind, essentially told me I couldn’t bitch about that because, hello, welcome to HER world. I see her point, because Audible books are *expensive* – but I still like them better.

At any rate, I was in the odd position of finding books, any books, on Audible that would be good for the trip. And I didn’t want to burn a lot of time searching. Also, since I’ll be losing writing time doing this trip, I wanted books that would at least feed the story I’m working on, which is an Adult Fantasy. (Book 2 of Twelve Kingdoms, for those who don’t have my life memorized.)

Here’s where I get to my point, because I do have one (shocking!). I wonder what better feeds an in progress story – the same genre or a different one? Someone at the conference says she never reads books in her own genre, because she’s afraid of accidentally stealing ideas. That doesn’t really resonate for me. But I do think it’s better for me to read other genres than the one I’m cooking in.

I ended up choosing the first in Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English m/m detective series, as it’s been recommended to me many times. I’ll listen to Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ contemporary romance Ain’t She Sweet, though I’ve read it before, because it’s practically the text book on how to redeem an unlikable heroine – which I’m dealing with in the story I’m writing. Finally, I got Christina Lauren’s erotic romance Beautiful Bastard, so I can find out what got people so excited about it.

So, I’m curious. For writers, what do you read while you’re drafting? And for the non-writers, do you choose genre by what else is going on in your life?

One commenter will win a book from the ones pictured in Tuesday’s post. Except Sarah MacLean’s A Rogue by Any Other Name – that one has been snapped up by a previous winner.

Why I Hate Thank-you Notes

003Jackson has been enjoying the summer, by which I mean, he totally wears himself out playing and then crashes into deathlike sleep for hours on end. He never moved when I took this pic.

I was playing around on Twitter this morning as I contemplated what to blog about today. My list of potential topics is over 40 now, which is truly unmanageable. I really need to cull them. Some I’m no longer fired up about. Or I’ve delayed too long and they’re no longer relevant. But this is one of those things I think about as I’m browsing my top-heavy list and then, once I happily settle on a topic, I close it and move on.

By the time I’d finished going through emails and various other sorting tools for the day ahead, I’d seen this tweet go by:

People of New York – if you are paying $100 for delivery of a Cronut – there may be something broken in your priority setting mechanism

The person was referring to this deal, if you care. I don’t, but I searched for it, so you don’t have to. I’m generous like that.

What left a sour taste in my mouth was, not the willingness of people to pay for pricey pastries, but the judgement of the person sending this tweet. It presupposes that the tweeter knows what the correct priorities are. It also demonstrates a lack of compassion for other people’s lives. Maybe a cronut doesn’t seem worth it to me, but how am I to judge its worth to someone else?

It dovetailed with a lingering annoyance about a Dear Abby letter I read last night – and made a note to add to my topic list. The person wrote this:

DEAR ABBY: In this season of graduations and weddings, I would like to urge the honorees to send proper thank-you notes to friends and family who give them gifts and money. Time, money and preparation are put into these events, and the effect is spoiled when guests have to contact stores or scrutinize their bank statements to learn if their gifts were, indeed, received but simply not acknowledged. Thank-yous aren’t difficult. Some “rules”: Rather than text or email, write a note on paper and mail it with a stamp via the U.S. mail. If you do, you will be forever known as “that polite young couple” or “the young man/woman who sent the nice note.” Three lines are all that are needed: “Thank you for the —-. I look forward to using/enjoying it when we entertain/grill/vacation/walk the dog, etc. Again, I appreciate your thoughtfulness.” That’s it! If showing good manners isn’t incentive enough, remember this: These are the people you will be inviting to weddings, baby showers, and your own children’s graduations and weddings in the not-so-distant future. A little courtesy goes a long way. — APPRECIATIVE IN HITCHCOCK, TEXAS

 Now, those of you who know me, know I have a THING about thank-you notes. I even have used the tag on this blog before. And this particular letter sums up everything that I hate about them. Among them:

  1. “proper thank-you notes” – appreciation is not enough, it has to be the Proper Kind. There are RULES.
  2. “the effect is spoiled” – because the spirit of giving is simply not enough.
  3. “Thank-yous aren’t difficult” – there’s that judgement thing. You don’t know what is difficult for someone else.
  4. “Some ‘rules'” – why are there freaking RULES about receiving a gift that should be freely given???
  5. “rather than text or email” – why? why? why? why does only paper “count”???
  6. “you will be forever known as…” – so, really, this is a form of social blackmail, right?
  7. the template – if it’s this formulaic, what on earth makes it meaningful? this isn’t gratitude, it’s a receipt.
  8. “If showing good manners isn’t incentive enough…” – then we should do this to ensure steady delivery of future gifts? Isn’t that awfully damn mercenary?

Back when I was graduating from college, my mom and I had a Terrible Fight. We have never fought much, but this was a doozy. In fact, I recall it as the biggest fight we’ve ever had. (I don’t know if it felt that way to her.) 

And it was over thank-you notes.

So, there I was, spring semester of senior year. As usual, I was way over-committed, a lifetime tendency I’ve attempted to curb. I was taking a full course load – including re-taking freaking Immunology because I’d inexplicably gotten a D in it and I needed a C- for my major. I’d passed both semesters of Organic Chemistry, but Immunology? No no no. (I did pass – with a C-, even on the second go! I have no idea what my deal was.) Anyway, there were classes. Plus my honors thesis in Religious Studies, which I’d delayed from the previous semester. I was in a play, so I was in rehearsals or performance most every night. I was director of our peer counseling center and we’d had a number of issues. We were having trouble with my sorority chapter, in which I’d invested so much time and love. I was working at the med school on a research project and applying for grad schools and interviewing for the Peace Corps and trying to decide what to do with the Rest of My Life. On top of all of this, I felt the onrushing deadline of college ending, which meant I would lose this family I’d become a part of. I knew that, though, we’d keep in touch, that the friendships I’d made would end in this very temporal way. I wanted to be with people as much as possible.

I was frankly overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, all the wonderful people who’d supported me growing up, were sending me graduation gifts. Thoughtful, wonderful and generous gifts. And I was not writing thank-you notes.

(This is why it really puts my back up when someone proclaims that something “is not difficult.”)

Of course, it became one of those tasks that simply grew worse the longer I neglected it. At first I hadn’t written one, then I hadn’t written five, ten, twenty. And these were my mom’s friends, asking her if I’d received their gifts. She felt I made her look bad. We had a big fight on the phone and I ended up sobbing because it was just more than I could bear to deal with.

I profoundly wished that none of those people had sent me gifts at all.

It all worked out. I eventually wrote the thank-you notes and my mom and I joke about that incident from time to time. She had her own stuff going on that got displaced into our fight. She also declared me officially detached and that I could bear the social burden of non-thank-you noting on my own, which I gladly accepted.

This is why you will never get a thank-you note from me. Certainly not a proper one. Really, if you need one, I’d really rather you not give me anything at all. I’m totally good with that!

I’m also, always and forever, absolutely fine with you not sending me a thank-you note.

So, here is my message:

DEAR EVERYONE: In this season of graduations and weddings, I would like to urge those giving gifts and money to friends and family to also give the gift of tolerance. If you feel the effect of your time and money is spoiled when you have to contact stores or scrutinize their bank statements to learn if your gifts were, indeed, received but simply not acknowledged, then don’t send anything. Thank-yous may not seem difficult to you, but for people going through major life events, they can be the thing that knocks over the teetering, towering To Do pile. Some “rules”: Texts and emails – even phone calls – can still be heartfelt communications. Please don’t measure the sincerity of someone’s appreciation by the price of a stamp and notepaper. People can still be “that polite young couple” or “the young man/woman who sent the nice note” if they avail themselves of electronic communications. Please recall that your gifts of time and money are totally voluntary. You are not required to give anything and it might be best if you don’t, if you’re only giving so you can receive a particular template response. Often the greatest gift you can give is understanding and compassion. A little tolerance for the pressure other people are under goes a long way. — APPRECIATIVE IN SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO