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As we do, I went into 2017 with plans for all kinds of improvements to my life. At work, I cleaned my desk off, and so far it’s produced mixed results. I’m less depressed to come to work, because my space is more orderly, but the cleanliness of my desk seems to invite people to make more requests of me. Perhaps because my work is not so clearly displayed, they think I don’t have enough of it?

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I re-started my home yoga practice, which is almost completely to the good. Of course there’s time for it. There was always time for it.

nyt_bestseller_010416Oh, I made the NYT Bestseller list. Which is not quite the result of any change on my part, but an outcropping of a lot of years of work and several lucky breaks. Or maybe it was all my positive thinking. (Probably not, I don’t really do much of that.)

This week, however, I found a thing that I used to think I wanted to change about myself, but now realize I don’t. When my editor and agent delivered the good news that All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was officially a bestseller, they also asked about my next project. Did I have a synopsis I could share with them?

Welllllll … I don’t really do synopses or outlines or any sort of planning when it comes to writing. I’m a complete pantser (which Autocorrect thinks should be panther.) I write lots and lots of words and after I’ve put several thousand of them together, I start to see the shape of a story. Then I write more words. Usually a lot more words. Then out of this mountain of words, I carve the story I want to tell. It’s not pretty. It’s not simple. But I realized this week that it totally works for me, and I need to stop feeling awkward or ashamed about my messy, chaotic process to creation.

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Now, I did produce a synopsis for my agent and editor to look at, but it’s just a big pile of guesses. (Shh, don’t tell.) I don’t know if that’s what will happen in the story I’m working on. I’m okay with that. I used that crazy method to produce All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, and that seems to have worked out for me.

So whatever things you may have resolved to change in 2017, remember there are plenty of things about the same old you that are worth keeping.

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Well, I may have been number two on Goodreads, but the Book of the Month Club has declared All the Ugly and Wonderful Things Book of the Year! This is really amazing, because this is the first time in their 90-year history that they’ve awarded a Book of the Year. They even have an adorable name for the award: The Lolly. (Named after their first Book of the Month Club selection, Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Fun fact: fellow Kansas William Allen White was on that first panel of judges who selected Lolly Willowes for the Book of the Month Club.) The Book of the Year even got a write-up in Parade Magazine!

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To celebrate being Book of the Year, I’m going to be taking over the Book of the Month Club’s Twitter feed tomorrow, January 4th. It should be fun.

Also coming up is a live Q&A with me on Facebook. If you’ve read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things and would like a chance to discuss it with other readers and ask questions of the author, that’s what we’ll be doing on Tuesday, January 17th, 7:30-9:30 pm (CST). For more information on the Q&A, just visit the official event page on Facebook.

Hidden Cultural Gem™

On this otherwise dark day, I’m here to note that the ebook of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is on sale for $2.99 across all platforms just for today.
 
 Vogue Magazine called my book a “Hidden Cultural Gem!” This is simultaneously flattering and really funny.
 

And now I return you to mourning all the people we’ve lost in this dreary year.

When I was in high school, I was in the marching band. Depending on the venue, I played either the baritone saxophone or the bass saxophone. All 5’5″ and 90 lbs. of me, so it was no easy feat. During my sophomore year, we traveled to an away game that would decide whether the football team went on to the state championships for our division.

During that game it rained, it sleeted, it snowed. The marching band performed valiantly, and the football team a little less so. We lost to a team whose quarterback would become my brother-in-law a few years later. By the time we loaded onto the bus for the long ride home, the marching band was mostly frozen into our uniforms. We were lucky they were heavy wool, because although we were all soaked and frozen, we were fairly warm sealed up inside that wet wool. I spent most of the ride home with the harness for the bass sax still attached, because my hair was frozen to it.

On the drive there, we’d done much cheering and chanting, but the ride home was more subdued. A well-meaning, but misguided cheerleader started up a familiar cheer. At the point in the cheer when the audience was supposed to respond with “We’re Number One!” I answered in my loudest, crowd-piercing voice: “We’re Number Two!” I got some glares, but the tired and frozen brass section behind me took up the chant. Honestly, we weren’t bitter. The team had made it further than anyone expected us to. There was no shame in having come in second.

atuawt-cover-w-goodreads-badgeThat’s how I feel this morning, upon being informed that All the Ugly and Wonderful Things received the second highest number of votes in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Fiction. 27,000 people voted my book! I got more votes than Jodi Picoult (mind=boggled).

So in honor of all the second place runners up, I am celebrating!

I’m Number Two!

And thank you to everybody who voted for me! If you’d like to celebrate with me, please consider leaving me a review on your preferred online venue. Reviews really do make a huge difference.

I’ve had a not-so-secret dread of family gatherings ever since I was a child, and the holidays are a special kind of hell. For most of my life, Thanksgiving and Christmas involved herds of people who had some blood claim on me, crowded into a too-small house for hours on end. As a child, I can remember hiding out in a variety of places to avoid being forcibly squeezed in between a burly cousin who liked to tickle me, and an aunt who liked to pick scabs. It’s been my experience that it’s your family who most often feel totally okay about violating your consent with forcible contact.

all-the-cousinsFamily gatherings have always seemed like a recipe for an introvert’s nervous breakdown. Being forced to socialize, make pleasantries, endure hugs and kisses, be quizzed about your life, your love life, your profession, your very existence.

Over the years, my family herd has thinned, as the elderly members died, and my generation failed to reproduce in the numbers necessary to pack a room. As those blood relations died, we replaced them in smaller numbers with friends, until this Thanksgiving, there were more non-relatives than relatives. Someone remarked on this, and on the importance of being able to form your own family from people you’re not related to.

This struck me as wildly funny, since that is the very nature of marriage: forming a family with someone you’re not related to. It’s what we do, so why does it so often strike us as strange or modern to bring outsiders to our family table? After all, we’re building families around strangers, when we marry them. To me, the joy of holidays with non-relatives is that I’m allowed to set boundaries with people who aren’t my family.

I think about this today, sandwiched as it is between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because of the deleted scene from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things that I’m sending out in my December newsletter. It’s about what happens after that awkward Christmas dinner at which Wavy’s ragtag family is reunited. It’s about making truces, setting boundaries, and agreeing on ground rules for all the future gatherings you have to face with people you don’t particularly like, but who are your family.

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A tale of two evils

During the 2000 election, I was living in Florida. A lot of talk was made about Al Gore being the lesser of two evils. Like the Clintons, he was deeply connected with Big Banking, Big Pharma, Big Ag, Big Oil, Big Guns, and Big Prisons. In short, despite his pro-environment talk, Al Gore was in bed with all the moneyed interests that have worked so hard to turn America into an oligarchy. He was influence and controlled by the same powers controlling Bush.

Looking around at the problems that existed in America in 2000, I decided I didn’t want more of the same. I didn’t want an oligarchy. I didn’t want the kind of welfare reform and “tough on crime” nonsense that was a thin cover for the ongoing oppression of black people in this country. I wanted change, radical change. (The same reason I supported Bernie through the primaries this year. I still want change.)

ralph-nader-buttonI supported Nader, and not just at the voting booth. I campaigned for him. I knocked doors and rang phones for him. He was by no means a perfect candidate, but he was not part of the oligarchy.

On Election Day 2000, I voted for Nader. In Florida. I justified it to myself with the excuse that Gore was the lesser of two evils, and in doing so, I overlooked the fact that a lesser evil is inherently less evil.

I don’t know what the moral of this story is. You vote however your conscience or your pragmatism tells you to vote today, but remember Florida in 2000.

Hindsight, being what it is, how many of us Nader supporters think Gore would have been a worse president than Bush? More than 537 of us?

Did I dress up for Halloween? Not really. I always wear black and I’m wearing black today, so I basically look the same as I do every other day of the year. My costume is on the inside.

I had a couple of interviews published over the weekend, and in the comments of one, a reader tried to inform me that I was in error to have a “personal” interpretation of a piece of literature. This reader informed me that I was missing or ignoring the “universal meaning” of the book in question. Well, holy shit. My surprised face, let me show you it.

This idea is not new to me. After all, I have a couple literature degrees, so I’ve spent plenty of years in intellectual servitude to the “universal meaning” of literature that any given professor espoused. When it was for a grade, I could regurgitate the meaning I was supposed to have absorbed from a novel, play, poem. I could reproduce the meaning traditionally ascribed to the author of the piece.

Once I got free, however, I started having my own interpretations of meaning that didn’t require me to check in with anybody else, including the author. It was a pretty radical experience, even inside my head, to not check in with the dominant cultural point of view as I read. Having been trained to view books from that POV, though, it’s easy to slip back into that mode. To have discussions about literature based on the perspective of middle-aged upper class white men.

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I almost let it happen this weekend, but then I remembered that I hadn’t read Lolita as a middle-aged upper class white man. I read Lolita as a working class pre-pubescent girl. While it’s all well and good for Nabokov to have had specific intentions, I was under no obligation to feel what he wanted me to feel. I experienced the book from my own particular perspective, one distinctly different from the received wisdom about the “meaning” of Lolita.

So today, on the inside, I’m the default reader. My interpretation of a book’s meaning is valid. If you want, you can join me in being the default reader. It’s easy and it doesn’t require grease paint. Just go through the day feeling confident that your perspective and interpretation of any piece of literature is correct. If we make it through today, we’ll try again tomorrow, until it’s not a costume.

And if you’re curious, my two interviews are here:

For the Kansas City Star‘s FYI Book Club (jointly hosted by the Star and the Kansas City Public Library.)
On Writer Unboxed, interviewed by Liz Michalski, author of Evenfall.

My November newsletter goes out tomorrow with more deleted scenes from All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. There’s still time to sign up.

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