We are very pleased to welcome guest author Jamie Ford to the ball today. Jamie is the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Ballantine) an Indie NEXT List Selection, and Pennie’s Pick at Coscto, both for February 2009. Jamie will also be hanging out online at BarnesandNoble.com where he will be featured as their New Reads Book Club author for March.
“I collect spores, molds, and fungus.”—Dr. Egon Spengler, Ghostbuster
When asked about hobbies, that quote was the first thought that came to mind. Not because of the grinning absurdity of it all, but because of the commitment involved. (Then again, what else would you expect from Egon, a man who also claimed that the only toy he ever had as a child was “part of a Slinky,” which he straightened).
Personally, I’ve always regarded hobbies as something akin to tattoos; they have a permanence that scares me, and require a dedication that I’m barely capable of. Stamps? Bird Watching? Just not my cup of Darjeeling.
The closest thing I’ve ever had to an actual, honest-to-goodness hobby would probably be my whole “art thing,” which began when my well-meaning, but over-protective parents rarely let me play in the snow, (or rain, or wind, or…you get the point…) so they kept me inside on blustery days and urged me to entertain myself by drawing and painting.
As a result, I actually became a decent artist, good enough to win a gaggle of art scholarships and a fast track to a promising career in which I’d barely be able to feed myself or pay rent. (Thanks Mom & Dad!)
To their credit, and my survival, I later sold my creative soul to the highest bidder and became an art director, and eventually a creative director for a respectable ad agency. There I plied my artistic skills designing ad campaigns for shabby tourist destinations and Medicare plans, among other things. And while I made a great living, friends would inevitably ask, “Do you go home and draw or paint––just for the fun of it?”
** Sigh **
Sadly, once you pimp your wares at the office, it’s hard to find pleasure at home. Hobby-wise, when it came to art, you could say my Van Gogh got up and went.
So what does one do when their one and only hobby becomes their career?
Oddly enough, I traded in my paintbrush for another canvas. I began writing—for no one else but me. Suddenly I had a creative space I could run to, lock the door, and dance on the page like a drunken uncle at a redneck wedding. And it was cheaper than therapy.
So writing became my new hobby––creatively an extension of the old. Until my debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, sold to Random House. Then once again, my hobby started resembling my vocation. But at least I get to set the hours.
And if it ever gets to be too much, if it feels like I’ve sold out––if I ever feel like my creative integrity has been compromised in some way, shape, or form, well, there’s this guitar I’ve had my eye on for some time…
Visit Jamie’s website and blog at JamieFord.com.
I’ve never been one of those committed hobbyists. What I mean is that, aside from writing (which once was a lifelong hobby and now is a job), I don’t tend to have much stick-to-it-ness when it comes to hobbies. Which may actually be a good thing because looking back at my hobby history, one might notice that my hobbies tend to get out of hand. And so while I may not be a committed hobbyist, you might say that I am a hobbyist who ought to be committed!
Let’s see, there was the time when writing was still a hobby, and I thought it would be fun to get a group of women together and write about . . . well, women stuff. And somehow from there I ended up on stage in front of a packed audience waxing poetic and humorous about (and I do quote here) “my bodacious ta-ta’s.” And that of course led to the rumor going around town that I was going to take my shirt off during the performance – and I could not, in good faith, deny that rumor. (Oh, relax … I was wearing a lovely red camisole underneath!)
And then there was the time I thought it would be fun to brush up on my rusty Spanish. So I tried to sign up for a Spanish class at the local community college. But there weren’t any classes that fit my schedule and well, Stand Up Comedy comes right after Spanish in the course catalog. And next thing you know I’m on a cable TV show, and MC’ing a fundraiser and up on stage at an open mic comedy night. But at least that time, I managed to keep my shirt on!
Then there was the one and only time I set out to sew a potholder … and ended up with a queen size quilt! And though I wish I could repeat that feat (for I do so admire and envy you quilters), I must sorrowfully report that I am no longer physically able to sew. (My sewing machine ran out of thread and I don’t know how to thread the bobbin.)
So hobbies have not always turned out well for me. But never one to give up, I have recently acquired two new hobbies. For the past few years, I’ve been dabbling in the dirt – gardening that is. And I do find that each spring my ambitions – and my garden – expand just a bit. Last summer was the most productive garden yet – which meant my family was eating kale in everything from June through November.
And I’ve been taking pottery classes for just over a year now. I’m proud to report that I have made excellent progress in this arena. I’ve progressed from making little, off-kilter bowly-things to making slightly bigger off-kilter bowly things (along with the occasional accidental olive plate). And you may ask, Eve, are you planning on progressing to making bowly-things that are actually centered and nice and round? Which is a question that my teacher asks. (A teacher who is in no way responsible for my off-centered-ness. She tries, lord knows, she tries.)
But I figure, there are plenty of potters out there making nice, round, centered pots, whereas, it takes a certain creativity to make perfectly off-kilter ones. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. And now I’m thinking, if writing doesn’t pan out for me, maybe I can go into pots! Of course, they’d all be off-kilter, so I’d call them OKPots or maybe, Good Enough Pots. And our tagline would read, “Perfection is So Overrated.”
But anyway, do you see the ugly pattern emerging? For the sake of my family and friends, I can only hope that FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA is so hugely (and quickly) successful that I will no longer have time to pursue my hobbies. Because, if I actually do expand that garden, it’s going over the septic tank and really, who wants poop-tainted peas? And while most of us probably are a bit off-kilter ourselves, do we really need pottery that mimics that? (Although wouldn’t it be nice to give a friend who leans to the left a coffee mug that leans to the left too?)
But please, someone stop me before another perfectly good hobby goes bad!
p.s. My pottery teacher makes exquisite pottery of all kinds and specializes in making totally gorgeous urns for pet (and people) cremains. Check out her website … if you’re into that perfectly centered kind of pottery.
1. Dreaming of all the hobbies I’d take up if I had more time.
2. Amateur Sleuthing. For instance, the grayish pulp mashed on the floor is:
a) dessicated blueberries
b) playdough mixed with an unidentifiable substance
c) probably biological in nature
d) all of the above
3. Planning sensible, healthy, economic meals that eventually will be consumed after a ritualistic series of orange-level threats, negotiations, and bartering.
4. Tracking the mating habits of socks in the wild. Why are there so many single socks? Are socks not, perhaps, meant to coexist in lifelong, monogamous relationships? If so, why do we force this arrangement on them? Discuss.
5. Filling up the car, a task that no one else in the family apparently has the ninja-level skills to accomplish.
6. Atrocious reality TV (see “guilty pleasures” post).
7. Obsessively checking your Amazon ranking, even after you’ve been warned NOT to do this.
8. Exercise! Loading and unloading three kids from the car + eight bags of groceries + dry cleaning + coming inside and fixing dinner, doing a load of laundry, the dishes, and tidying up the family room after what appears to be a nuclear blast = tone and definition!
9. Checking your Amazon ranking again.
Hobbies? Who has time for hobbies when there are all these books to write?
I was asked in an interview several weeks ago how I did it all—parenting, marriage, freelance work, novel writing… The question exhausted me, and I considered lying down and taking a nap. But who has time?
All kidding aside, I make time nearly every day for one of my favorite hobbies—swimming. Not only does this keep me fit, but it’s also necessary for my happiness and well-being. For a half an hour, I am alone in the water. I find the steady breathing in and out to be similar to yoga exercises. After swimming, I feel both relaxed and energized, and ready to tackle all my writing challenges. It also helps get rid of that strange knot I get between my shoulder blades after sitting at a computer for hours at a time.
I used to have more hobbies before acquiring the biggest time suck of all—a kid. BC (before child), I knit hats for everyone in my family one Christmas. I made a small collage every week about current events as an art project for a whole year. I even made a quilt once, and occasionally would sew clothes for myself. But that seems so long ago. Now I feel triumphant when I wash all the dishes.
But really my biggest hobby of all is reading. Reading relaxes me, informs me, and is necessary for me. The biggest panic attacks I have are over having nothing to read, and I always carry a book with me on the subway and to appointments. I’m always shocked when I hear how few people read nowadays. Don’t they know what they’re missing? Reading takes you places you could never go yourself. You walk in someone else’s shoes and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Maybe video games do that, too (I really wouldn’t know), but I don’t think they could possibly have the same eloquence. And a writer who doesn’t read or have time to read seems very sad to me.
We should do what we love, and I am happy to be writing something that I would enjoy reading myself.
What hobbies do you make time for?
Writing used to be my hobby. Then I started doing it for a living — not just with my book, but at my various day jobs over the years. You’d be amazed how spending a whole day finding words for someone else’s vision, while fun and rewarding (er… most of the time), can deprive you of the energy to pursue your own vision, especially in your precious free time.
So what you do then is, you start to make time for it. You do it even at the times when you don’t feel like it. You are determined and steadfast and you hope your hard work pays off.
I don’t know about you, but that’s not exactly how I want to describe my hobbies.
When writing became my job, I had to find other hobbies. I had a brief foray into the world of competitive Irish dancing (and no, I’m not posting pictures). I teamed up with an old friend to learn Esperanto. I crocheted half a scarf. I taught myself Photoshop (which eventually turned into part of my job, so no more hobby there). I began what would be a lifelong obsession with updating my website.
And in 2006, I found the mother of all hobbies.
My mother and stepmother both sewed, but I never took the time to learn how to do it. Only as I got older did I see the appeal in being able to create something unique and customized. Visiting home in March of ’06, I made a dog-sized quilt for Winston.
And that’s how it began. Now I have two sewing machines and a serger as well as an entire room that is technically both my office and my sewing room but, let’s be honest, is really called “The Sewing Room.”
Last spring, after we finally had some order landscaped into our jungle of a back yard, sewing moved briefly to the back burner while I discovered the joys of gardening, growing lettuce from seed and lovingly pruning our tiny peach tree (which produces tiny peaches).
And that’s not all. I’m dying to learn a language, to start playing tennis again, to teach Winston to run an agility course. Not to mention that I have books stored up in my head that need to make it onto the computer, and books stored up on my bookshelves that need to be read.
I try not to go on and on about all of my various interests, mostly because my husband looks at my sewing room and gets this look that’s a combination of highly worried and about-to-be-indignant. After all, our house only has so many extra rooms to accommodate my hobbies.
But secretly inside, I let the little fires burn. I even light a new little fire whenever I see something I want to do or try. There are more ways I’d like to spend my days that we have days to live on the planet. There’s less time to experience all of it than I would need. Some of it is, frankly, impossible. Much of it I’ll never get to.
And that, my friends, is where the writing comes in verrrrrry handy.
~ Deb Katie Alender
PS – I switched blogging platforms over the weekend, so my old KatieAlender.com site feed isn’t working. If you subscribe to my blog via RSS, please click the link above and grab the new feed! And let me know how you like the redesign.
PPS – My other hobby is spending way too much time playing with the image editing features at Photobucket — in case you couldn’t tell.
Lisa McMann is the author of WAKE and the brand new sequel, FADE. The final book in the trilogy, GONE, is scheduled for release in February 2010. The romantic paranormal suspense series for teens (from publisher Simon Pulse) tells the story of Janie, who has the unsettling ability to fall into other people’s dreams. In the New York Times bestselling WAKE, once Janie is pulled into the gruesome nightmare of a classmate, Cabel, nothing is ever the same for her again. FADE continues the story with disturbing things happening at Fieldridge High, and nobody’s talking until Janie gets sucked into a nightmare that breaks the case wide open. Trouble is, Janie is in over her head, and the truth behind her ability is even darker than she’d feared… Join us in welcoming Lisa McMann to the Ball.
Debs: Do you remember your own dreams, and if so, are they particularly vivid or weird?
Lisa: I do have vivid dreams. Some are weird and some are so realistic I have to think about them for a minute when I wake up to determine if they happened in real life. I have a lot of scary dreams about people dying and stuff like that, too. It’s an all-night workout to handle all that dream grief!
Debs: How much did you draw on your own high school experiences for Janie and Cabel?
Lisa: A lot. But not exclusively, because I’m not a current-day teen, though I feel like one sometimes. And not in a good way. Anyway, some stuff just doesn’t translate, like language. I can’t use the words we used in the 80s and 90s. Emotions, on the other hand, do translate. That same sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you do something stupid, that same longing for someone to notice you, that same angst when communication seems so hard and everything is so awkward and you feel so ugly and everybody’s looking at you — that doesn’t change. So yeah, I drew on those feelings quite a lot.
Debs: Janie and Cabel don’t have much grown-up support, which seems to be true of many young-adult protagonists. Do you think your fans are connecting with how these characters have to fight their own battles?
Lisa: I think so. I get letters from teens who totally relate to Janie, and who say, “My mom’s an alcoholic, too.” Who love that Cabe is scarred, physically flawed, and what a challenge that can be. In this day, where parents are working two and three jobs to get by, and they’re never home, and so many families are single-parent, dysfunctional, you’d better believe today’s teens are right there in the trenches with these protags, fighting their own battles and feeling comfort that at least the fictional ones are surviving. I think that can encourage teens to try harder in their own lives.
Debs: Young people have really responded to these characters, propelling your debut onto the NYT bestseller list. What’s it like having young fans?
Lisa: It. Is. Awesome. Here’s what I love about people who read YA (and they’re not all teens): they’ll read a great book, and at the end, the first thing they do is get online, find the author, and write to them to express how they felt about the book. Then they find and befriend the author on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, and every other place imaginable. Electronic communication is so natural to them. They don’t even expect a response, but when they get one, it makes their day. I love that. I love that they are so excited, and I love that there is this wonderful medium for them to express their excitement over books.
I think back to when I was a kid, and I read fourteen books a week. Never once did I write a letter to an author. Authors were inaccessible. I love how it is now.
Debs: There have been some gloom-and-doom reports about kids not reading novels anymore. What do you think of the state of young people and fiction today?
Lisa: I think that’s bullsh*t. I can’t tell you how many times I hear about kids picking up some of today’s hottest YA or middle grade novels and saying, “I don’t really like to read but then I read ________ and now I just want more!” And I recall seeing reports over the holidays that the YA section was holding its own in this terrible economy, where booksales are down almost across the board in every other genre. What does that say?
However, I do think we need to get with the program electronically, and we’re getting there, so we can keep up with technology and with the first generation who doesn’t remember life without a computer.
Debs: Are your kids old enough to read your books, and what do they think? Do they read your manuscripts before they’re published? Do they think it’s cool having a writer for a mom?
Lisa: My son is fifteen and my daughter is twelve. My son has read WAKE and FADE and he’s just starting to read GONE so he can give me some feedback before it goes to my editor for her first look. He loves the stories, and isn’t afraid to tell me when something sucks. He and I are in a phase now where we are reading a lot of the same stuff. I’m currently waiting impatiently for him to finish reading The Hunger Games so I can have at it.
My daughter has not read any of the WAKE series yet, mostly because I am a careful mom and I know what she can handle and what will disturb her. There are some scary parts and some racy parts. We talked about what some of the content was, and she agreed that she didn’t want to read it quite yet. We’ll revisit in about a year. But she has read another manuscript of mine that I hope will someday be published — it’s a fantasy for middle graders. When she had to do a “what’s your favorite book” list for school, she put that one as her number one favorite, which gave me great joy, since her number two fave was ARE YOU THERE
GOD, IT’S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume.
At first they didn’t think it was a big deal that I had a book coming out, but now that their friends have read WAKE and are geeked about the next books, and complete strangers (cute ones) befriended my son on MySpace because he was my #1 friend for a while there, I think they’re realizing it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a mom who writes for teens.
Debs: We have many writers among our Debutante Ball readers. Do you have any particular advice or tips on writing for the young adult market?
Lisa: I think you have to read a ton of current YA titles before you even attempt to write one. YA has evolved. And don’t be asking, “Is it okay if my 16-yr-old protag smokes a doobie?” Because if you have been reading YA, immersing yourself into it, you will know that a) of course it is, if it’s what your character would do, and b) doobie? Really? Go and read. And read and read.
I also think you have to spend time with teens. A lot of time. Listen to them. Watch them. Talk to them, but realize they will talk differently to you than they do to their peers, so observing is better. Read their blogs, find out what music they listen to, what they talk about. Find out how different things are in the teen culture than they used to be, what the cliques are now. And subscribe to UrbanDictionary.com’s word of the day. Learn the slang so you understand the origin and the meaning behind the words, and make up some of your own slang when you’re writing, because by the time your manuscript becomes a book, the slang will have changed completely.
Debs: This week’s Deb theme is Deb Hobbies. What are your hobbies?
Lisa: I love to cook. I am also the reigning Wii Boxing champ in our house.
Debs: Thank you Lisa for taking your turn on the dance floor, and best wishes for continuing success!
p.s. If you’re looking for Deb Kristina’s usual Monday post, it was on Saturday this week.
Deb Kristina was pleased to see this nice mention of Real Life & Liars on a website and blog devoted to Michigan authors: www.Mittenlit.com. “Mittenlit” is a great word! (Michigan’s lower peninsula looks like a mitten on the map, in case that fact doesn’t leap to mind for those readers outside the Great Lakes…)
Deb Meredith is excited about her launch party for Posed for Murder on February 17, 2009 at 7PM at Partners & Crime (44 Greenwich Avenue, corner of Charles in the Village) in New York City. She invites everyone who’s in town to swing by and celebrate with her!
Deb Alumna News
Deb Alumna Jenny Gardiner sold her humorous memoir PARROTHOOD: Twenty Years of Caring for a Vengeful Bird Determined to Kill Me (think David Sedaris meets Marley and Me with a ferocious beak) to Simon Spotlight for hardback publication, spring 2010!
Also Jenny’s novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver is featured all month on Facebook’s Mom Lit page. Please stop by to visit!