Reading Challenge Accepted

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Part of my ritual for starting a new year is joining the Goodreads Reading Challenge. In years past, I’ve set my goal between 30 and 35 books. 2017 ended up being the year I couldn’t read enough and I topped out at 48 books, (well above my goal of 35).

What can I say? It was a good year of reading! In the spirit of celebrating a goal reached and to perhaps inspire readers to join this year’s challenge, these are my Top 5 favorite books from last year. By all means, add them to your list!

  1. Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

Wrought with both brutal and tender honesty, this is Green’s best novel to date. This is not just another YA novel as the emotions are too real and too relatable to be just for teens. This is for anyone who has ever felt trapped or knows the pain of loss.

2. Crazy Rich Asians Series – Kevin Kwan

Kwan’s satire slices right into an utterly preposterous world that is far removed from the reality where most of us reside, which makes it all the more irresistible and hilarious. In many ways it’s reminiscent of Wuthering Heights; a world filled with detestable characters that bring disaster upon themselves and you just can’t look away. Kwan, however, turns the detestable into a hysterical spectacle that perfectly blends dry British humor with spot on commentary of Chinese culture. This combination is particularly strong in Kwan’s sometimes snarky, but brilliant footnotes. A great beach read, while also inviting deeper contemplation of social norms and class society.

3. Lord of Shadows – Cassandra Clare

One of the things that always amazes me about Cassandra Clare’s work is her ability to make the Shadow World mirror the real world. In Lord of Shadows, the arrival of The Cohort and it’s desire to return Shadowhunters to a position of power at the expense of Downworlders has so many parallels to our world today, I’m eternally grateful that so many young people will be reading it, (and will hopefully take it’s message to heart).

4. Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

Albertalli offers up a fun yet socially conscious exploration of the LGBTQ youth experience. She touches the entire spectrum from fear, acceptance, bullying, self-doubt, and ultimately love. Love, of course, being the common denominator that pulls us all together.

5. We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson

While alien abduction and saving the world seem to be the central plot line, this is really an exploration of mental illness on a number of different levels. References to depression, anger issues, Alzheimers, cutting, grief, and suicide are brutally honest and dig into the underbelly of a reality that is often ignored. At the same time, this is a story about finding self-acceptance, which is beautifully aimed at the LGBTQ community, but also reaches far beyond to anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t belong.

I read a lot of YA and I know that raises some eyebrows. However, they are well worth reading no matter where you fall in the age spectrum. The stories are powerful, the characters are compelling, and the insight is deeper than you think.  Aside from long held admiration of the genre, I happen to write YA as well!

My full reviews for these books are on Goodreads. Please friend me and lets embark on a reading adventure in 2018 together! Search for me by my name or just click on the reading challenge button on my sidebar.

For 2018, I’m joining the Goodreads Reading Challenge with a goal of 40 books. That’s the highest goal I’ve ever set and it’s a little scary! But, I’m off to a good start – I’m already one book ahead of schedule. I started reading the Mara Dyer Trilogy by Michelle Hodkin and it is amazing. I read the first two in under a week. Add it to your list!

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Happy Reading! 🙂

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c.b.w. 2018

 

 

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Checking Off The 2017 To-Do List

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Last year, I made a to-do list instead of New Year’s Resolutions. Weirdly, it worked better than any set of goals or list of resolutions I’ve ever made. Some boxes still need to be checked, but overall I can count 2017 as being quite productive.

Item #1: Declutter

Give the state of my head, this one makes sense! However, the clutter in my head is only part of the problem. The house is cluttered, My classroom is cluttered. The past is cluttered.

Done! As someone who just seems to naturally collect things, this was a tough task. I cleared out more than 150 books, 100 CDs and DVDs, 20+ dolls, countless objects from closets, and even more stuff from my classroom and associated storage areas. My classroom in particular feels like an entirely new (and open) space.

In many ways, I have a clean and clear slate. It feels great! There’s still a little more work to do on some shelves and one closet, but I’m ready to dive in and clear even more out.

Item #2: Publish Something

Over the last couple of years, I’ve written over a thousand haiku. I think it’s about time to put together a chapbook or two! I’m probably going to self-publish using a digital platform. There are so many options out there, many of which are free, so I don’t have much of an excuse not to do this!

The same goes for my novel. I’m going to get back into the game of sending out query packages, but I’m also going to dig deeper into research regarding self-publishing outlets. It’s time to get this done!

This is still on the to-do list, unfortunately. However, it isn’t from lack of trying. I managed to score some little victories that pull the dream of publication closer to reality. Between personalized query responses, a top ten finish in a poetry competition, a full manuscript request, and upcoming competitions, this item still has my focus.

Item #3: Read 35 Books

As I have for the last five years, I’ve once again joined the Goodreads Reading Challenge.

Done! I was a lean, mean reading machine this year with a grand total 47 books.

Item #4: Survive National Board Certification

The road to National Board Certification has been brutal … I have one more component to finish and hopefully it will be enough to not only survive, but achieve National Board Certification.

Done! By some miracle, I not only finished, but achieved National Board Certification. It’s still sinking in and it still feels totally and completely surreal.

Item #5: Take Better Care of Myself

I need to eat better, sleep better, and leave more stress at the door. I let the day job invade much too large of a space in my life and it’s time to push it back to where it belongs: at work.

Done in some areas, needs work in others. I’ve definitely created stronger divisions between my personal and professional life and it has impacted me in a positive way. I’ve eliminated a huge source of stress and I feel much better on a daily basis. It’s amazing how setting clear guidelines for your personal and professional time can make such a big difference. Sometimes work does have to come home with me, but I’m careful about how much time it’s allowed to take. Most things I think have to be done right now, can actually wait.

As far as eating better – I’m working on it. That darn chocolate and severe dislike of cooking are hurdles I will have to work harder at overcoming!

As for sleeping better – I’m a lost cause. I’m an insomniac to the core, but I’m getting better at relaxing at more reasonable hours.

Item #6: Go Somewhere

I miss traveling. It’s time for another adventure. 🙂

Yes, it is! My husband and I renewed our passports this summer. We were unable to go anywhere in 2017 due to our elderly furbaby who needed constant care. However, with his sad passing and taking the time to grieve, we have reached a new chapter in our lives. Amsterdam is at the top of our list for the coming summer!

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As 2018 approaches, I’m already thinking about what’s next on the To-Do List. Stay tuned! 🙂

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How did your To Do List go for 2017?

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c.b.w. 2017

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Nuggets of Good News

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It’s been a good month …

Three years ago I started the process for National Board Certification. For teachers this is an advanced credential that goes beyond state licensure, (and is often accepted in place of a Master’s Degree). Less than 5% of all teachers nationwide have National Board Certification. The process is rigorous and I almost quit after a few setbacks.

However, I stuck with it and didn’t give up. I’m proud to say I found out this weekend that all my hard work has paid off – I am a National Board Certified Teacher!

Like a dork, I put those little letters – NBCT – after my name within in a hour of receiving my scores. In my real-life, day job, this is huge and it’s still sinking in.

In my writing life, slow and steady progress continues. I participated in #PitMad on Twitter earlier this month and actually got a hit! An editor liked my pitch and requested a full manuscript. That’s the furthest I’ve ever made it in the query process. It still may end up as a rejection, but I’m still taking it as a victory for the simple fact that I’ve reached that mythical step of a manuscript request.

After a Top Ten Finish in the 2016 November PAD Challenge (via Poetic Asides and Writer’s Digest), I rode the momentum wave and created a chapbook for the 2017 competition. I’m in the final editing stages and will be submitting it within the next week or so.

With Winter Break approaching, I’ll be making the most of all this momentum. Stay tuned!

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c.b.w. 2017

Plugging Along

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Summer’s reprieve from the day job leaves me with a lot of time to relax (which I desperately need no matter how much I try to deny it) and dig into the To Do List I created instead of New Year’s Resolutions. As with all lists, some items are easier than others!

Item #1 Declutter

It’s a work in progress, but I have made some headway. Two out of three closets at home are cleared and so is most of the junk I was hoarding in my classroom. I’m pretty sure my colleagues thought I was losing my mind – I tossed out an entire three-drawer file cabinet of handouts and folders, (all for classes I no longer teach). Then, I got rid of a ton of stuff from my supply cabinets, bookshelves, and office storage area.

However, what I’m most proud of is thinning out my Barbie collection. I’ve been collecting for most of my life, which lead to amassing more than 120 dolls and accessories. To say I’m attached to them is an understatement. Yet, I realized that my preferences as a collector have changed, so I sold or gave away 24 dolls and there are more I’m looking to clear out. It was surprisingly easy to do once I made the choice to let them go.

I still haven’t touched the DVD or CD shelf. Yikes – they are pretty daunting.

My writing area is better, but not organized. Everything is in a box until I decide what to do with all the shelving units in the guest room.

Item #2: Publish Something

I’ve made some good headway on this front, too. The summer actually started with a piece of fan mail from an avid reader of my poetry blog, Haiku Tree. She wanted to know if I had any books out and that gave me quite the boost to work on my chapbook! So far, I have 75 haikus selected from my journals. The goal is to get to 100, so I’m getting close. I’m writing all new pieces for the last 25.

Last month, I attended a query package workshop at Phoenix Comicon. It ended up being the kick in the pants I needed. I rewrote my query letter, cranked out a synopsis, and compiled a new list of agents. This week, I started putting together query packages with all my new materials for each agent on my list. While the sting of rejection is imminent, I’m jumping in head first. Let’s do this!

Item #3: Read 35 Books

I’m right on track according to Goodreads! At the moment, I am reading Book #17.

Item #4: Survive National Board Certification

Done. I’m still alive. I finished the final component last month, but I won’t know until November or December if I scored high enough to be certified. Fingers crossed!

Item #5: Take Better Care of Myself

Working on it. Being away from the day job is helping, but finding my mojo after such a stressful year has been challenging. I’m using some of my summer time to rediscover all the things I gave up during the school year.

One thing is certain, when the school year starts up again, I am determined to protect myself and my time.

Item #6: Go Somewhere

This is delayed. The furbaby needs a lot of special care. If that means staying home, then I’m staying home for the time being. Meanwhile, I will be planning a future adventure! I finally sent my application to renew my passport.

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How are your goals To Do List items going?

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c.b.w. 2017

It’s Go Time

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It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and seriously work on my writing. The day job was seriously crazy this school year, but that will all come to an end tomorrow (helloooo summer!). Two months off will give me plenty of time to focus on more than just blog posts and scribbling random ideas into my journal. To say I’m excited is an understatement!

The first big project I’ll be working on is dusting off my query package for my novel. And I’m kicking this off in an unconventional way! As it turns out, a trip to Phoenix Comicon will not only be my moment to fangirl until I drop, (the Autograph Ninja will be on the prowl! ), but also a chance to mingle with authors and publishers. This year’s event features workshops with YA authors and pros in the publishing industry. I will be participating in two workshops to up my game in the pitching process. First, I’ll be attending a Q&A session that features a YA author I admire  – Aprilynne Pike, (her Wings Series is amazing!). Attendees can ask anything about their books, writing, or the industry. Second, I’ll be going to a workshop that focuses on pitching and the query letter. This has been a struggle for me (as it is for so many writers), so I’m hoping this event will help me figure out what isn’t working in my query package.

Aside from taking advantage of Comicon opportunities, I’ve also put out some feelers for some freelance work. I thrive on deadlines at my day job, so why not apply that trait to writing? In particular, I’m looking to write about fandoms or television recaps. Not too long ago I wrote about how fangirling has enriched my life, (see Things I’ve Learned From Fangirling) and that got me thinking: Why not turn that passion into something that pushes my writing forward?

Then, there’s the haiku chapbook I’ve been working on since January. This is the one project I’ve been working on consistently despite the day job! I’m about halfway done with selecting the haikus that will be part of the collection. Once I’m done selecting, it’ll come down to the messy business of deciding the order in which they will appear. It’s going to drive me crazy, but I’m looking forward to the process.

Like I said, it’s go time!

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c.b.w. 2017