How I Read Voraciously and Still Get Stuff Done: Or why novellas and YA and YA novellas are a must-know #adulting life hack

Surprise, kittens! (It’s the internet, I assume you’re all kittens who’ve evolved opposable thumbs or at least figured out how to force your humans to scroll for you.) Two posts in one day!

In my last post, I explained why reading and writing voraciously–even though I should be too busy completing my Ph.D–is one of my best modes of self-care.

And even though that post is completely true, I have to admit something:

whispers I can’t add time to the day to make sure I get to everything that HAS to be done AND do self-care. I just can’t. I’M NOT MAGICAL, YOU KNOW, EVEN THOUGH I DO CREATE WORLDS IN WHICH MAGIC EXISTS.

So, uh, how do I take care of my physical and mental needs while still teaching and writing a dissertation and creating a podcast (did I mention my podcast yet?! It’s AHMAZING. Clink the link. Do it! Do it!) and training my puppy, and cooking and doing laundry and dishes every once in a while, and biking to school, and spending time with The Mister (ugh, I’m never calling him that again.), and, you know, #adulting?

Guys, GUYS, don’t hyperventilate. I lead a busy life–you do, too probably. Unless you’re kittens with opposable thumbs and then you probably just nap all day and have also probably already stopped reading this. I KIND OF LIKE YOU, even if you are kittens with thumbs, so I will share my secrets.

Lean in close, now: I READ LOTS OF SHORT THINGS. Lots and lots of short things.

Novellas, for instance. Because we’re currently living in the golden age of novellas:

I also read a lot of YA, which is also short and also AMAZING:

And while reading these has been really convenient considering the amount of time I can reasonably spend reading in a day or week, I just want to be absolutely clear on something: THEY AREN’T ‘LESSER’ IN ANY WAY JUST BECAUSE THEY TAKE LESS TIME TO READ THAN A 400-800 PAGE VICTORIAN NOVEL. The ones listed above have actually turned out to be some of my favorite books. Like, EVER. I have a tattoo inspired by Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway for goodness’ sake!

So now you know my secret. Do with it what you will. And let me know in the comments if you’ve read any must-read YA or novellas lately!

 

Reading and Writing as Self-Care

It’s been a bit, dear readers. But on this blog I’ve always been pretty transparent about the fact that these posts are an occasional pursuit compared to my full time obsession with churning out other content like…I don’t know…my dissertation, my podcast, my novels and short stories (including “H&D Plumbing,” which is forthcoming from Fireside Magazine!).

Anyway, this is one of those occasional times when I feel like I have something to say that is best said here and not on Twitter or Facebook or even Instagram.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what writing means for me, and what reading means too.

I read voraciously as a child, but after my B.A. I’d read so much and so widely in my favorite genres that I started to feel like I’d read all of the good stuff and had only the slush pile to pick through for the rest of my life.

Of course, that cynical thought was really naive–I’m currently awash in amazing work by amazing writers. But it FELT true, and so I started reading a little bit less. And then I started an M.A. program, and read a bunch for school but very little at all for fun.

And that, my friends, basically destroyed me. 

Last year, at my wits end with anxiety and stress and insomnia that skyrocketed right after I graduated with my M.A. and only got worse and worse leading up to some major exams I had to take for my Ph.D program, I started seeing a therapist. She asked me what I do to relax and take care of myself, and I shot off a few rote answers like “drink tea,” “do pilates,” and “take deep breaths.” All of which are great. Really. But over the course of weeks and months, my therapist helped me realize that engaging body and mind in something you’re passionate about is also immensely beneficial to well being. My creative outlets and passions, the first things–along with exercise–I had been in the habit of letting drop when life and work got busy, help me acknowledge that my anxiety is real, but that it’s lying about what matters. They help me process this crazy world and my place in it. They help me get things out of my head and sleep at night.

So I’ve been making an effort to amp up my creativity when I’m feeling out of sorts, anxious, and exhausted.

And, guys? I think it’s working.

See, I’ve been doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge for a few years and I’ve noticed something interesting this year. When life gets hectic and stressful and insane, I READ MORE and, when I’m smart, I WRITE MORE, TOO.

I’ve given myself permission to turn to a good book, even when there’s something else I need to be doing. And let’s be honest: I’m a doctoral student and instructor–there’s ALWAYS something else I need to be doing. But that impulse to bury myself in a story–be it someone else’s or my own? That’s my body telling me I need a break. And I intend to listen from now on.

My insomnia isn’t magically gone, but I am getting more sleep.

My anxiety is still there, but I can still breath and relax and think about the future without turning into a vicious tangle of stupid emotions–even when there are PLENTY of reasons turning into a vicious tangle of stupid emotions would be a perfectly legitimate response to life right now.

 

 

 

What I Learned about Writing from Seanan McGuire’s October Daye Series: Ethical Representation

It’s a well-known and much bandied about truism that writers are like magpies: we find inspiration everywhere and borrow tricks and tropes and things from one another ALL OF THE TIME. A Google search for “writers like magpies” pulls up 1,010,000 results.

Sometimes, the shiny bits we steal aren’t ideas so much as best practices. And that’s what I’m going to focus on in my new, monthly “What I Learned about Writing from” series of posts. I’m kicking the series off with Seanan McGuire’s lovely October Daye series, which I discovered just as I was starting my PhD program and have been reading loyally ever since, because the series taught me something that’s been heavy on my mind, of late.

(Speaking of magpies and Seanan McGuire, the other day I ran across this post on her Tumblr and it is amazing.)

Anyway, to return to the topic at hand. Writing. Learning about writing.

shuffles through notes

Oh, yeah. THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t yet read A Red-Rose Chain (Sept. 2015), you may want to stop reading here. And you may want to reconsider your life choices. Hie thee to a library or bookstore and read it (and the rest of the series, and everything else she’s ever written) ASAP.

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Calabacitas Meet Enchiladas: or, Veggie Enchiladas Fiery Enough to Warm this NM Expat’s cold, cold heart.

Even though I love living among the trees and rain in the Pacific Northwest, I miss my home state’s food. Especially during green chile roasting season.

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People keep suggesting local Mexican restaurants, but I prefer my enchiladas NOT to be doused in tomato sauce with cilantro and oregano seasoning #thankyouverymuch. So, I’ve taken to concocting my own recipes.

Before I give you the recipe, I just need to mention that I put enchiladas together the LAZY way. I stack them, instead of rolling them. If you’ve ever made lasagna, the same principle applies here. Feel free to roll these if you’re morally opposed to stacking, but know that I’ll be giving you serious side eye. Because why make life harder for yourself? The enchiladas are just as tasty the lazy way. #teamstacking

This recipe makes 1 large (9″) and 1 small pan (bread loaf sized. Not sure of actual measurements) of enchiladas.

You’ll need:

  • 2 jars of green chile sauce of your choice (I use El Pinto’s, because it’s the only authentic New Mexican stuff I can get my hands on in the Pacific Northwest. It’s only available in medium, here, but very flavorful. Tastes like home.)
  • 3-4 roasted green chile, peeled and diced
  • 3 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
  • 2 medium bell peppers, diced
  • ~15 oz frozen corn
  • 24 corn tortillas
  • ~8 oz grated cheese of choice. I recommend a sharp cheddar.
  • Sour cream (for topping)
  • ~160z refried beans
  • olive oil (2-3 tablespoons)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1-2 tsp salt (to taste)

Toss zucchini, bell peppers, and corn with olive oil, cumin, chili powder, cayenne powder, and salt. Spread into a thin layer on a sheet pan and roast in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes (until soft but not smushy). I did not defrost the corn, so my roasting time was on the higher side.

Once roasted, transfer vegetables into a large bowl and mix them with 1 1/2 jars of the green chile sauce. Reserve the remaining 1/2 jar for later.

Oil a large, oven-safe casserole dish and line the bottom with six corn tortillas. It’s fine if they overlap. Spread a generous amount of beans on the tortillas (about 1/2 of them). Sprinkle with cheese and cover with six more corn tortillas. Spread about 1/2 of the vegetable mixture. Layer six more corn tortillas on top of the vegetables and spread those with a thin layer of beans, some cheese, a small amount of the remaining vegetables, and about 1/2 of your remaining green chile sauce, and 2/3 of your diced green chile.

Repeat this process with the remainder of your ingredients in the smaller baking dish.

Bake 35-40 minutes (or until the tortillas are soft / easy to stab with a fork), remove from oven, and top with more grated cheese. 

Top with sour cream, chopped onions, avocado, or just as is. Whatever floats your enchilada boat.

Enjoy!

NOTE: the green chile sauce I use contains roasted tomatoes. If yours doesn’t, you may want to add some diced tomatoes to your veggie mix about halfway through the roasting time.

ON THE BOOKS WE SHARE

I’m becoming an aunt this year, and like the bookworm I am my first thoughts on hearing the good news were “what books should I buy for the baby shower?” and “I knew bookmarking that site with all the bookish onesies was a good idea.”

Sharing books can be a very poignant act. I helped teach several of my younger siblings to read with my favorite books, and we bonded over our enjoyment of the characters’ hijinks. Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, Ivy Cottage (of the Biscuit, Buttons, and Pickles Series) by E.J. Taylor, Laughing All the Way by George Shannon and Meg McLean, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak were all particular favorites. Especially Frog and Toad. Even today, when I pass on books I’ve loved to friends, family, or even acquaintances, I feel a sense of excitement and camaraderie that’s hard to beat. When you and your friends have read and loved the same book, you’ve expanded your friendship beyond this workaday world and into whatever exciting new realm exists between the book’s covers.

To put it lightly, I am more than excited to share the worlds and stories I’ve come to love with my little niece or nephew in the years to come. But while I wait, I thought I’d share my mental list with all of you. So, here are just a few of the books I hope to share with my family’s newest addition:

Infant-Toddler Years

I’ve already mentioned early-childhood favorites like Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, but I’m also looking forward to sharing classics like Beatrix Potter’s tales and A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series. Oh, a Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, because who doesn’t love that book?

Early School Years

When the little niece or nephew is old enough to read, I’ll want to share the books that helped me develop my sense of self what now seems like way too many years ago: The Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary, everything by Roald Dahl (but especially Matilda), The Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and the Hank the Cowdog series by John R. Erikson.

Middleschool Years

This is where the fun really starts, because this is when I get to introduce the kid to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and basically everything by E. Nesbit (especially The Five Children and It). These books were the source of my make-believe sessions for years and years.

Junior High and High School Years

Most people don’t look back on adolescence fondly, and I think that means it’s a time when we really need books that speak honestly about the world and help us come to grips with everything we’re going through. So, in these years, I’d like to share Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes.

There are a LOT of books I didn’t list here (the Victorian novels I teach, the sci-fi and fantasy novels I binge read every chance I get, the random bookstore finds that bowl me over and leave me with a new perspective on the world), but as I realized while writing, it’s hard to know what to share until you know the person you’re sharing with. Personality is a huge factor in book recommendations, even and especially with family. So I’ll look forward, for now, to reading Days with Frog and Toad together and playing all the rest by ear. Maybe I’ll recommend Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and maybe I’ll recommend Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. Who knows?