August Book Report

Oh my goodness! SO many great books this month!

Here are some of them…

Eleanor by Jason Gurley: Lovely kind-of-time-travel story, but I would have edited it down a bit more. I read the kindle version, so I don’t know exactly what page, but the first 15% or so of the book should have been cut out and redistributed as flashbacks or exposition delivered in another way. It was all beautiful writing, it is just not where the story really began. I enjoyed the writing itself (I especially liked some of the water descriptive passages), but overall the book just not quite tight enough for me. There was a whole character that kept showing up that I didn’t really understand the point. It was not clear at all and if Gurley thought he was planting little hints at all, I didn’t pick them up. I just trusted it would all tie together (it did. Mostly. Eventually).

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith: I really loved Cuckoo’s Calling (and want to add a bunch of mysteries to my to-read), so I checked out this one from the library as soon as I could. I read it in 2 days — and I probably could have read it faster if it hadn’t also been the weekend before #30Lists registration opened. It turns out I really like Rowling’s writing style. I spent much of the reading vacillating between making notes to myself about how to improve my own writing and wondering who the hell the killer was. (sidenote: I have a seed of an idea for a mystery series to write, so I’m going to use that as an excuse to buy every Galbraith novel and re-read them)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: I love books like this with very distinctive, unapologetic voices (The Magicians and Jonathan Strange and Jonathan Safran Foer’s books come to mind). It’s a fantastic combination of slang/street plus untranslated Spanish plus nerdy allusions plus Dominican history. Ex: “Don’t misunderstand: our boy wasn’t no ringwraith, but he wasn’t no orc either” (p 119). The book is written from the P.O.V of a family friend, but you don’t actually learn that specifically until about halfway through the book. It’s not really about this friend — it’s more a coming of age about this adorably nerdy Oscar and how all of his family for generations kind of came together to make up who he is. Reminded me a little bit of The House of the Spirits in that way. I really liked it.

Crash by David Wright and Sean Platt: Another from the guys at Sterling and Stone, but this is just a simple stand-alone novel so more my style. It’s a heart-breaking ghost story. Rather short; I think it is more of a novella, but I can’t be sure. One of the best 5-star reviews on Amazon says something like ‘This book will ruin your life’, but it is also the best I’ve read from this author so far so there’s that. I wasn’t able to guess the ending. I got it on kindle for $1 during launch week – deal and a half.

Random by Tom Leveen: I love Tom (knew him when we lived in Phoenix) and I will buy every single one of his books (contemporary Y.A.). That said, Random was a bit too spot-on-after-school-special for me. It’s about a girl who is being accused of cyber-bulling and gets a random call from someone about to kill themselves. You can probably see where this is going. Maybe I’m just used to “YA” books that are plenty complex for adults, or maybe I’m just cynical, but this was not my favorite (even though I read the whole thing in 2 hours). Start with Party or Sick if you’re just checking out Tom’s books.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: I adore books like this. Ensemble cast, lives interwoven over years, very subtle details and observations realizations. Wonderfully real and complex characters. Feels a bit meandering until it all ties in together. GAH! I want to write books like this. Loved it (reminded me of The Art of Fielding and The Marriage Plot). It’s just beautiful.

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman: The final book in this trilogy. I LOVED them all. I can’t wait to make Andrew read them. From the first chapter: “It didn’t matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home.” I mean, really. I’ve heard people describe these books as ‘Harry Potter for grownups’ … but they are not exactly. They’re much to close to literary fiction to be Harry Potter-y. But I love them. Literary fiction through a filter of fantasy.

(and others… )

This is a note for a totally different post, but if you are a voracious reader try following/making friends with self-published writers. SO many of them give away books in exchange for reviews (like here and here and here and Brush with Darkness in June). Eleanor was sent to everyone on Gurley’s email list. For free. OR at the very least, you can get on their mailing list and learn when sales are going, since indie authors have way more control over that stuff. Just sayin.

I also spent a lot of time this month editing short stories for an anthology I am part of! It should be free on kindle when it gets release so I’ll tell you all about it.

Read anything good lately?

P.S. I’ve added all of your recommendations to my To-Read list. But since there’s 1800+ books on there, please forgive me if I don’t get to them all right away.

P.P.S. I recently tried out Overdrive App at the recommendation of my friend Jessica and HOLY COW! I can now borrow ebooks from my local library so I may never do anything productive ever again! The 1 deterrent is I don’t have a kindle, just a laptop and it’s not exactly snuggly.

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Around here

thursday 3


2014-08-17 17.13.31

couch bed

the interestings


Last week we *finally* gave up and hired a gardener for our front lawn. I feel a little bit guilty and a little bit exhilarated.

We are trying to conserve water, but I can’t figure out how to reset my sprinkler system, so instead I just have an alarm set for me to do it manually.

I want nothing more than for it to be about mid-September. Not because I’m dreading anything in these next few weeks, but because I want so badly for the weather to cool off so I can sleep in my own bed comfortably again.

I am nervous about how much money we have spent lately, even though I know it’s worth it. I mostly hate spending money on myself.

I have been reminded why I love literary fiction so much. I want to write books like The Art of Fielding, Middlesex and The Interestings. I want to re-read all my Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald and E.M. Forster.

I could not be more proud of my husband and where his career is going. I have always been the ambitious one in our relationship, but he is so much more focused and hard-working and it is totally paying off. I can’t wait til I’m allowed to tell you all about it!

I’m excited about all the TV show seasons that are coming available on Netflix now (previous seasons of Parks and Recreation or The Walking Dead, for example). I just may watch them without Andrew.

My cats are just cracking me up. Fang has learned what it sounds like when I take the lid off ice cream (vanilla to go in my iced coffee) and comes running because she wants some. Khaleesi has learned I don’t like it when she plays with the cords behind the TV so she goes back there only when she wants something and to get my attention.

We had some plumbing issues over the weekend and Monday and I am so very grateful to be married to someone who is happy to take care of it all for me.

Once I have finished this rough draft I am currently working on, I’m not going to start any new novels until mid-September (when I go to a writing weekend in Austin).

I am excited to be moving forward in my U.S. History class. I’m getting a book about James K Polk this week.

I’m a little nervous to be doing my #30Lists digitally this time. I haven’t actually started them yet which is WAY behind schedule for me.

I have been immersing myself in the business of blogging. Both for myself and to prep for this weekend’s live event.

What’s new with you?


NURTURE: On 6 months of saying No

My One Little Word for this year is NURTURE. I think I’m doing OK with it.

At the beginning of the year I decided I needed to slow down, cut back, get to know my new life without a cubicle job and so much more. I wanted to spend more time saying No than saying Yes. I wanted to see what I could do with the products I already have than just launching a new one.

I’ve been backing away and keeping to myself and doing more or less the bare minimum I needed to do to keep up with everything.

I had more ideas of what I wanted to do this year, but I needed a break. I needed to stop looking forward and start saying No.

At about 6 or 7 months of not looking for the next big thing I feel…

  • Behind. Like everyone else is moving forward and I am being left behind.
  • Relaxed. Mostly.
  • Poor. Made far less money this year than last.
  • Lazy.
  • Productive. But only in writing fiction. L&R feels stagnant (to me).

Finding a common thread? It turns out when I don’t give in to my ambition and extreme work-ethic I feel bad about myself. <sarcasm> That’s healthy. </sarcasm>

To be honest, it IS good that I had planned on pulling back this year. Because Andrew has been working so very much, I need to be available for the house and to do things for him that he just doesn’t have time to do (when he’s only home 20 minutes out of a 6 day period). Also, I did finish some things, like my Scotland Blurb book and a few novel drafts. But overall when I look back at 2014 so far I feel unproductive.

So, that settles it. Not pursuing goals is bad for my self-esteem.

I’m going to be spending the next couple weeks going over my goals and my direction and what I want to accomplish before the end of the year. I’m really excited about setting up a new little niche site on Friday! It’s going to be a fun project for me that can also benefit you all.

I’m going to say Yes to a new opportunity. I’m going to say Yes to taking a new risk. I’m going to say Yes to growth and planning and working hard.

I want all of it to remain in the NURTURing vein, but I need to be working. I need to DO stuff and not just relax.

I can’t wait!

How do you feel about 2014 so far?

SHIFT_free creativity guide


What it means for me to work from home

When I tell people I work from home and I rarely leave the house they look sympathetic. But I love it. The solitude and the comforts of home and not having to commute or wear make-up. My house is the second best part of me quitting my day job.

The best part is the flexibility.

Friday night I was alone at home, camped out in our living room, minibook stuff all over the coffee table, halfway through Friends Season 9. Plus, I am totally counting it as ‘work’ because the minibook was in preparation of the minisite launch this Friday.

I know, I know. You all want my life.

So Friday night … I’m sitting alone, minding my own business when there’s a knock on my door. We live in a quiet suburban neighborhood and it’s almost dark out. Who on earth would be knocking on my door?

Even better? We don’t have a peephole, so I have no way of checking without opening the door.

“Who is it?” I called.

“mmsoudoiin” someone mumbled. Maybe not mumbled, but I didn’t hear what was said.

I open the door and there stands my cousin. Who lives a whole state away. He just appeared on my doorstep.

I love my family. They are awesome and crazy. Turns out he had gone to our uncle’s house (close to me), and they had all hopped in the car and dropped him off on my door step before they went to dinner. And then my uncle drove around the corner so it would appear as though my cousin had appeared from nowhere.

He asked me, “Maria’s or Presidente?” No idea what he meant so I questioned him and harassed him and finally figured out what was going on.


Here’s the kicker: Because I was able to quit my day job and work for myself, I just had to change out of my at-home-for-the-night clothes and then I could join them all for dinner with zero notice.

I texted my husband (he was jealous) and I grabbed my purse and I was out the door for the night. Total spur of the moment dinner and ice cream with my aunt, uncle and 2 cousins. I suppose I kind of invited myself, but, hey. It’s family.

We talked about Matt’s recent trip to Europe and about what Lucas would be doing in college and about my aunt’s plans to redo her floor and about how I had a bell pepper for dinner just before they arrived so I wasn’t really hungry. You know. Normal stuff.

And the only reason I could even be there was because I had built myself an online platform that let me design my own life. All because I had quit my day job to work for myself. 14 months earlier I would have been at work on a Friday night when Matt showed up.

That is us in the back of my uncle’s car. Matt (in the left of the photo) is an engineer in Phoenix. Lucas (on the right) will be leaving for college in NYC in just a week or so.

Other things I can do now that I’ve built my online platform and work for myself?

  • Take an afternoon off for a micro-adventure with Kam
  • Be available at any time of day for Andrew. Bringing him home-cooked meals or clean clothes to work because he hadn’t been home in 4 days.
  • Work from wherever Andrew is. I’ve blogged from the control room of a recording studio, recently.
  • Make conference call or meeting scheduling easier on other people because I’m totally flexible
  • Get back to my early-morning schedule and work before Andrew wakes up
  • … and lots of other little things that make my every day so much happier

Are you BUILDing your online platform?

Don’t forget I’ll be setting up a site live this Friday!


July Book Report

Much fewer books read this month — mostly because I started writing a new first draft and because 2 of the books were big, thick, SLOW books.

I’ve adjusted my library list a little to get some fun, faster reads for this next month. And (as always) lots of U.S. History. I am finally moving on to John Tyler this month!

Some of my reads from July:

The Magician King by Lev Grossman: The sequel to The Magicians. I was reading the first part of this book, trying to explain to Andrew why I like this book so much. It has such a clear, entertaining voice that I feel like I could turn to any page and find a sentence I just love. A character described as “almost alarmingly short” or describing the Middle Ages as “some point between when Jesus was alive and when Shakespeare was alive.” At one point the MC mentions feeling like he’s in a Monty Python sketch, and also at different points quoted both Friends and Die Hard (I texted Andrew immediately: ‘I genuinely love this book’). I love this. I want to write like this. The third book in the series comes out this week (I think) and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I somewhat enjoyed this book, but I’m kind of surprised it is a best-seller. It’s rather long and slow. Kind of Meh. Good, yes, but rather overdone. I didn’t really care about the characters much or what was happening to them. A good book I think about in between reading and can’t wait to get back to. This one I had to make myself read. It was rather dense and detailed. Not to say that is bad, but it doesn’t strike me as the kind of book that the masses would read. I would be interested to find out how many people bought the book for the hype and never finished reading it. There are plenty of people who love it but you should know, by the way, if you get to page 100 and still don’t like it just give up. It is not any different in the other 600 pages.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: I read this as part of Kristin’s NovelTea Book Club and really really liked it. I love books. I love the idea of mystery. I love totally normal people finding themselves on a quest of some sort. It’s hard to talk about this book without spoiling it – so I’ll just say that I immediately added it to Andrew’s to-read book pile.

(and others…  including MOST of a John Quincy Adams biography. I love him)

Read anything good lately?


June Book Report

June I did A TON of reading, but not a lot to add to this list.

Why? Because last month I edited a gigantic novel for a new writer. I read it through twice (took me 2 weeks). I imagine the final version will be changed from the version I read, too.

Turns out I LOVE editing fiction. I can do it from my hammock. I love to read. And I love to think through and solve problems. I’ve got a few more editing clients coming up in the next few months, but if you’re looking for an editor definitely hit me up.

So, other than unpublished novels … My favorite reads from June:

Anne of Green Gables seriesMy annual re-read. I still love this character so much. This year, Anne actually inspired a whole new book series idea for me (that Andrew says is my best idea yet). I will never get enough of the Anne series.

Brush with Darkness by Jamie Maltman: This is book 1 of a projected series, and I edited book 2 for the author (so we agreed I should probably read book 1 to get caught up). To be honest, I did not expect to like it as much as I did. Pseudo-historical fiction (Rome/Greece/Mediterranean) + fantasy. Not really the kind of thing I would seek out. The story was really good, though. I love being sucked into a story. He did something interesting with art being the source of the magic/power in the world. Still some amateurish bits in the writing, but I imagine that will improve with later books in the series. Here’s another review with more details re: the story.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman: Really liked it. Appreciate that it was not for children. It’s kind of compressed Harry Potter + Narnia for 20-year-olds. The main character was only sometimes sympathetic, but it went with the story, really, that you want to smack him several times throughout the book. I actually really like this review even though it is 1 star, particularly point#4.

I plan on getting the sequels (The Magician King and The Magician’s Land). Any other magic-as-a-hidden-part-of-real-life books I should read? Other than Harry Potter, obviously. And Jonathan Strange (a favorite). I don’t love made up worlds (like Middle Earth, Narnia, etc), but magical rules in ‘real life’ are fun. Ideas?

Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis: I love Michael Lewis. I plan on reading all his books. This was his first and has been on my to-read list for a long time. I’m kind of glad I kept putting it off, though. I really think I enjoyed it more because I have listened to the first 6 months of Planet Money (and so understand the economics of the mortgage bond industry slightly) and seen The Wolf of Wall Street (so have a visual for the chaos). Liar’s Poker is a memoir of wall street from about the same time as the DiCaprio movie. (P.S. counting this for U.S. History (but I won’t be posting my review there until I get to that rough time period)).

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown: Yea, I know. Garbage in, garbage out. But all of his books must have been best-sellers for a reason, and I’m trying to figure that out. I have in mind an idea for a mystery/thriller series and I am finding Dan Brown’s style interesting (not ‘good’). Knowing exactly where to stop a chapter so the reader really wants to turn the page is a skill.

Interestingly, while still not a great book, Angels and Demons is far better than books 3 and 4 in the Langdon series. This one was published first. Then Brown had his insane success with book 2 The DaVinci Code. So I’m imagining his editor working hard on book 1 (Angels and Demons ) and then throwing up his hands and saying ‘screw it, who cares,’ and putting out far worse books 3 and 4.

The Dream Engine by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant: This book will be published *very* soon, but as it was the book they wrote ‘live’ as the Fiction Unboxed project, I’ve been reading a little bit every day through the month of June. It’s about a 15 year old girl who learns that she is special and is plucked by a secret organization to save the world. You know. Most YA books. I like it, but don’t love it but can’t put my finger on why. I think just the simple fact that there is a heavy focus on world-building, and I don’t feel like I know the characters terribly well.

(and others… )

Read anything good lately?


1 year quit-iversary: An ode to support from a spouse

I quitRather quietly last week I celebrated the 1 year anniversary of quitting my day job. My last day in a cubicle was Friday, June 21, 2013.

There are a lot of things I could say in this post, like how to quit your day job yourself, or 3 things I wish someone had told me, or plans for my future non-cubicleness. …

But really, I just want to tell you how grateful I am to my husband because I 100% could not have done this without his support.

I suppose as a proper blogger, I should be focusing on a good takeaway for you the reader. I should be able to distill this into a couple good lessons or tips for you do use in your own journey. I shouldn’t make this all about me.

But I can’t do that. Because I could not have quit my day job at this point in my life without Andrew’s whole-hearted commitment to make me happy.

You see….  When I quit last year, I was *barely* making enough money through L&R, #30Lists and working for Maggie to cover what Andrew’s salary did not.

Since then, a year later, I have not really increased my income at all. We still have very little money. And what is Andrew’s response to that? “Read in the hammock. Watch a movie. Do whatever makes you happy.”

Yes, I have read a lot in the last year. 50+ books since the beginning of 2014. But I have done more than read in a hammock too. I’ve painted the garage and done more yardwork than I ever wanted to. I launched a minisite and a book club just for fun. I’ve written 2 novel rough drafts, and edited 2 more. I’ve completed my big ecourse and grown that community. I’ve shot a few weddings and shuttered that business. I spent a whole week taking care of my grandmother in Phoenix. I’ve dropped everything to drive to Andrew’s work for an impromptu date. I’ve thought and dreamed and planned and worked (and planned some more).

I may not be making any more money than I was a year ago, but I am approximately 17,000x happier than I was in the cubicle.

All because my husband supports me, supports my goals, and (most of all) believes that me being happy with zero expendable income is a much better way to spend life than me being miserable and having a bit more money to spend.

I’m super excited for my next year of cubicle-less-ness.

Feel free to go tell Andrew how awesome he is on his Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. It will embarrass the heck out of him.


still taking BRAVE steps

Even though my “Year of BRAVE” is technically over, I still want to consciously make BRAVE steps. All the time.

Ali has talked about this with her own One Little Words – words from previous years stick with her. I am 100% finding that to be true. It’s hard to shake a whole year of developing a new habit and mindset. Especially when it has all worked out so brilliantly!

Making the brave choice is ALWAYS in the forefront of my mind. Always. Is it braver to say yes to an opportunity to expand my reach or to say no because of opportunity cost? Is it braver to attend a social function (because I’m an introvert) or to stay home and work on my novel (where I want to move my career)? These are the kind of questions I (repeatedly) filter through my BRAVE One Little Word AND now my NURTURE One Little Word.

For example … In the last couple months I:

  • filed the paperwork necessary to dissolved my photography business
  • filed the paperwork necessary to create my small online media business that will serve as the umbrella for several smaller sites.
  • spent money to join a group of writers (more on this later this month)
  • committed to writing a short story for an anthology (even though I haven’t written a short story since about… 2004).
  • registered a new URL for an author site (more on this and the above as I have news)
  • asked people to unsubscribe from an email list
  • braved Lowe’s by myself, looking like an idiot, trying to explain what I needed for a plumbing project even though I didn’t really know

…. and probably more little things here and there that I am not remembering because being BRAVE is so much more part of my life than it was a year ago.

Last year I spent a lot of time thinking and weighing options and really trying to figure out what works best for me. This year the decision-making is getting easier, but still scary as hell. I’m coming up on a year of being 95% self-employed and I still love it. Even though we have *far* less money than before. Even though I *still* only see Andrew an hour or 2 every other day.

Are you trying to take a BRAVE step? Trick your brain. Tell yourself it’s only temporary and you can always change things back.

Some of these ALSO fall under my NURTURE One Little Word. I’ll write about that soon!

What BRAVE steps have you taken lately?


May Book Report

You may notice something about this month’s book report: I actually read less this last month. I tried to, you know, get other stuff done. Imagine that. And we had new friends staying with us.

Plus, I was a guest on That’s What She Read podcast. And, of course, got some good recommendations for books from those ladies too. I’m excited to get started on my summer reading list!

I abandoned a history book that I could not get past page 30. I very very rarely abandon books but A) Garbage In, Garbage Out and B ) I feel like I read enough that I can justify it? Right? I’m not missing anything by not finishing that particular book.

Most of my reads from May:

Under the Dome by Stephen King: Andrew and I decided we want to read all of Stephen King’s work. Little by little. Of course, this book is 1100 pages – not exactly “little”. I think I have an advantage that I haven’t read any of King’s earlier work. Just The Shining. So I don’t have to compare his new books to his glory days. That said, Under the Dome was … bloated. He needs an editor to restrain him a bit. However, I still liked it a lot. There was even one part I read that I felt my heart racing! I’d say that’s a sign of a good storyteller. I don’t know if I care enough to watch the TV show, though.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon: Another good one to read right after Steal Like an Artist. In this one, Kleon expands on the idea of being an artist and sharing your work. While you are working, after you’re working, as well as how to deal with it (like dealing with critics). I keep trying to give Andrew ideas for how to show his work to market his recording services. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely reread it.

The Inferno by Dan Brown: I fully realize that this book might go against my whole garbage in, garbage out mentality, but as I am *trying* to write a novel and I KNOW it is slow and boring, I approached this book as a writer. What is it about Brown’s books that make people devour them in a day? This one wasn’t *quite* as compelling as The Lost Symbol (for me) but I did notice it had more than 100 very short chapters. I assume that is part of the machinations of a “thriller”? Getting the other 2 Dan Brown books soon for a similar look.

Plus I read a few U.S. History books

You might notice this is far fewer books than usual ….

Also this month I read a few Vanity Fair magazines (I like to save them up and then binge-read them) as well as my friend’s first novel (twice). I was one of her beta reader! It was really (really) fun to be one of the only people in the world that has read this particular story as well as do what I could to make it better. Luckily for me, it was a well-written novel with a good story. If my friend had told me it was going to be published as-is I would have believed her. That said, I still got to exercise my grad-school-critical-reading skills and point out a couple holes and suggest ideas.

SO fun. As of right now I am sure I am a better editor than writer.

Read anything good lately?


June is for …

  • Fiction Unboxed. Post to come.
  • Father’s Day and my mother-in-law’s birthday
  • 1 year anniversary of being cubicle-free!
  • Write another 20,000 words or so of my third novel
  • Annual re-read of Anne of Green Gables series
  • Trying to get an oilstain out of our driveway
  • Trying to keep my garden alive
  • Photographing a wedding with Maggie

What do you have planned?