Introducing a new style for a new season! Thoughts on nErDcamp Bellingham 2019 and today’s Book Recommendation You Didn’t Ask For: Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack.
Did you know that November was NaPodPoMo?
NaPodPoMo, for the uninitiated, is National Podcast Post Month. The challenge, which is in its 12th year, is for podcasters and would-be-podcasters to post one new podcast episode each day in November. That’s 30 podcast episodes in 30 days.
That’s no mean feat, since in my women’s podcasting facebook group a recent thread discussing time spent podcasting indicates most podcasters are spending 8+ hours per episode producing our podcasts, by the time you add up the recording, the editing, the posting, the promoting, the scheduling and all that jazz. And most of us have jobs and families and lives beyond podcasting as well. So it’s pretty impressive to think of taking a task like that on.
Google “November 30 day challenges” and you’ll find quite the list. It seems like every endeavor under the sun from exercising to meditating to walking to watching horror films has a 30 day challenge for November. The granddaddy of them all is, of course, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which goes back to 1999 (that means it’s in its 20th year, people!) NaNoWriMo invites participants to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. As a past participant, I can tell you it’s quite the ride.
So what’s the draw of a 30 day challenge? Diving in and creating a lot of content in quick succession is a great way to jump start the creative process. If you have to churn out 1600+ words or a new podcast episode every day, you don’t have time to get stuck overthinking and if one day is a rough day you don’t have time to fixate on that because you get to do it again tomorrow. That’s terrifying…but liberating.
In my experience, the hardest part of any endeavor is starting it. Sustaining it is not easy, either, ask my NaNoWriMo draft from last year, but that is a priorities issue. Starting something in the first place is a confidence issue, which is what these challenges are designed to get around. It’s the creative equivalent of throwing you in the deep end and hoping you have a swimming instinct. Except if you fail you still have…something. Which is more that what you had before.
I’m in need of some confidence building at the moment as I look at some big goals for early 2019, including launching a new interview-style podcast (in addition to, not as a replacement of, NEW,) launching a new business and launching a new website. That’s a lot and the biggest thing keeping me from tacking any of it right now is, well, it’s scary. It’s hard to try new things. It’s hard to put yourself out there. There’s a reason it’s called a leap of faith.
So for November, I am attempting NaPodPoMo. An abridged version, as I do have a 12-week-old and I am not an insane person. I can’t physically put out 30 podcast episodes in November. Remember that 8 hour plus per episode thing? I simply do not have the bandwidth. But I can record them, which is what I am doing, and then release them in early 2019 to take a little of the pressure off while I try to do…all the things.
Watch this space. I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going, if I can find the time. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to try something scary this November. The jump is the hard part, the falling is exhilarating.
As I mentioned in the last episode, Episode 100 is going to be a celebration of books and writing and of where we at NEW have been and are going, so for all those reasons I hope you will tune in then. But as I am currently working on and planning Season 2 and am so excited about it, I wanted to come here and chat a little bit about where the podcast is headed in the next few weeks and months. I hope you’ll come along with us for the journey. The best way to do that is to subscribe to the podcast so you are always the first to get new episodes.
First, the basics. Season 2 is coming February 2. We will be closing out the flash fiction season and moving on to the book chat season. More on that in a minute, but some basic things to know:
- You don’t have to subscribe again. The new season will be on the same feed as Season 1, so if you’re subscribed you will see it.
- Nothing is going anywhere. All of Season 1’s episodes will stay right where they are and you can listen to them anytime.
- Season 2’s first episode will show up as Episode 101 or Season 2, Episode 1, depending on your podcast player
- The title for Season 2 is…Right Book, Right Time!
So why a format change? Simply put, it’s time. I don’t think anyone, least of all me, expected me to still be podcasting flash fiction two and a half years after launching in May 2015, but lo and behold here we are. And it has been a joy and delight to bring flash fiction to you. I met many of my goals for having a flash fiction podcast and also did things I had never expected to do. I absolutely loved it. But my life has changed, my interests continue to evolve, and it was time for something new. This is it!
Why this format, then? A lot of reasons. I was already visioning Season 2 when the Writers’ Almanac, one of my favorite podcasts, met its unexpected end in late 2017 (I would love to talk more about that at some point, but this is not the time,) so some of this format came from me asking myself: if I did a Writer’s Almanac type show, what would it look like? But before I tell you what the plan is, let’s go over quickly what it’s not.
- It’s not meant to stress you out. Who doesn’t have a pile or list of books someplace they mean to read? Who needs more of that? We’re going to talk about books…if you’re inspired to read them, go for it, if not I hope you’ll still enjoy the journey.
- It’s not an audio book blog. I’ve been told for years I should start a book blog. Never had the desire. There are some great ones out there and it’s well worth giving them a read especially if you’re looking for reviews on new and interesting stuff. That’s not what this is.
- Related to that, it’s not a review show. If you want to send me your book, go for it, I’ll either read it or share it, but I will make no promises to review it. Nor do I expect you to send me your book. I have loved reading submissions for this show, but that era is coming to a close. That said, if you are reading something cool please tweet me or email me or somehow let me know…I always love to hear! I may share listener feedback on the show, so please send it…but I am not taking suggestions of what books to feature. Don’t worry. I have a list. It’s long. I won’t run out.
So what are we doing? Simply put, this is my journey with books. First and foremost as a reader, and second to that as all the other things I am: a librarian, a writer, a mom, an educator, and so on. Each episode (the plan is to release one per week, I would love to do more, we’ll see how it goes) will revolve around a book. I’ll tell you about it, about its author, interesting tidbits I’ve discovered about the book/author/time period, and its impact on the world and on me. If it’s in the public domain, I may even read a little to you. I’ll bring in culture, history, religion, politics, parenting, life…nothing is off limits. Books cover everything. Whether you read the book or not, the hope is you’ll enjoy the chat. And we are talking about all kinds of books: popular ones, obscure ones, classics, new stuff, kids’ books, adult books, and books with identity crises. Nothing is off the table. This is my love letter to readers, writers, and books. One book at a time.
Will we have guests? Likely. But this isn’t becoming an interview show. For a lot of reasons, a big one being my sanity. For me, scheduling, interviewing, and editing interviews is too time consuming and I’d rather bring you more content.
Will we have special episodes? Segments? Evolve as we go along? This also seems incredibly likely, based on my track record. I guess the only way to find out is…to listen!
I hope to catch up with you on your favorite podcast app February 2, 2018 for Season 2!
Last weekend I picked up a paperback copy of I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson at my local used bookstore.
Like any book nut with limited shelf space, I have to differentiate between books I want to read and books I want to own. What elevated this book to the latter category is a relatively minor character, the protagonist’s best friend. She’s a nine year old girl with two moms. And what’s remarkable about that is how unremarkable it is.
Most books, especially children’s books, with LGBTQIA+ characters are about being LGBTQIA+. But for LGBTQIA+ people and their families, that identity is just part of who they are. Like all of us, they are nuanced and have many stories to tell.
The most clearly defining feature of the moms mentioned in this book is that they were on the older side when they adopted their daughter. So she and her friend, being typical kids, call them the Gray Moms because of their gray hair. If you’ve read this book and remember these moms at all, that’s probably what you remember. And it’s highly likely many people who have read this book don’t remember the moms at all…because it it is no big deal. But for the kid reading the book who has two moms, or whose best friend does, it’s a way of simply seeing themselves represented. And that’s both remarkable and entirely ordinary.
The good news about LGBTQIA+ representation in literature is that it exists and has gotten better. The Lambda Literary awards are now in their 29th year of honoring LGBTQIA+ literature and writers. And this post from Barnes and Noble shows that books with LGBTQIA+ books that don’t make sexuality their main theme are available…and great. Even though there aren’t enough of them.
The bad news is that recommendations, reviews, and book lists can still be hard to find. Googling “LGBTQ reads for kids” gets you this list from the San Fransisco Public Library. It’s not a bad list, but the median copyright date is 1996 and the newest published was in 2008. While there are certainly classics in this area (and if any historical fiction writers are reading this, I think the market for good historical fiction covering LGBTQIA+ history is ripe,) having this be the first thing would-be readers encounter is problematic. Even more updated lists have problems. This list from PFLAG has just seven fiction titles on it: four for teens and three picture books, no middle grade titles at all. Two of the teen books are from the 1990s. As a resource list, it’s very good…but where are the stories?
So the need is there. But how do I as a heterosexual cisgender female writer acknowledge it and work on creating a more inclusive literary community?
The number one thing any of us can do to promote diversity in writing is to support diverse writers. My Google adventure made it clear that while these books exist and are fantastic, they are not getting the attention they deserve. You can help by reading them, promoting them, reviewing them, and talking about them. You don’t have to be an LGBTQIA+ reader to appreciate a good story. I was thumbing through VOYA, a trade publication for librarians, yesterday and found an article that sadly is not currently available online about how authentic representations of minorities in children’s literature is in some ways more important for white kids than minority kids. If children of color can easily relate to classic characters like Harry Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the kids in the museum in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, certainly white, middle class, suburban kids can relate to and learn from Amira in The Red Pencil, Maddy in Bayou Magic, or Naomi in Becoming Naomi Leon providing they have access to these characters. Reading about people different than us is one of the great gifts literature gives us…story is story. Not getting pigeonholed as a reader and reading and sharing stories by a diverse and talented group of authors is something I can easily do.
But can we do more? Can I also include some of these characters in my writing?
This gets to be dicey category pretty quickly. I remember the stir Patrick Jones created when he wrote about being a white writer portraying minority characters for Voya last year. Writers are always told, write what you know, and then one beat later that stepping outside of who you are can be very powerful. But you can step too far too fast and drown out the voices we need to hear. The fabulous website Gay YA keeps a master list of young adult titles that feature LGBTQIA+ protagonists, while at the same time acknowledging that some of those characters and books are problematic. I don’t want to be the well-meaning writer that creates problematic characters. But I also know without the groundwork by writers who created these admittedly problematic characters back in the 1980s and 1990s, there is no Will Grayson, and no Tiny Cooper, not to mention the 100s of other characters celebrated over on Gay YA and that would indeed be tragic.
For Episode 82, I wrote a short story of just 100 words and four of those were the writing prompt. My main character has two moms. You don’t get a lot of backstory in 100 words, but it was an important enough point in this character’s life that I included it. I did it without thinking about it. It wasn’t a defining moment in the story, it wasn’t my intent to make this character a token, she is just someone with two moms, just like the best friend in I, Emma Freke.
The instant that episode went live, I found myself worrying. Did I portray this character in a way that was offensive? She gets angry at her moms in the story for what they are doing to her and remarks that they aren’t even the interesting sort of lesbians (or something to that effect, in 100 words you have to cut a lot.) Would that be seen as inherently homophobic? I worried a lot about that little story. But all the feedback to date has been positive. I’m glad I took the risk. I’m glad that at the time I took it I didn’t even think of it that way, just as me trying to create the best character I know how to.
I 100% understand that diverse voices need to come from diverse communities and that as I speak from privilege there’s only so much I can say on this issue. But I don’t want writers to be afraid to include the people around them in all their complex glory for fear of offending. I will never forget when a friend of mine discovered that Ezra Jack Keats was a white man. As a child, the characters in his books were among the few she could find on library shelves who looked like her and lived in a world like hers. Her whole life she had imagined Ezra Jack Keats as a loving grandmotherly black lady. Finding out that he was a white man who was inspired by the children in his neighborhood surprised her, but did not offend her. It made the characters no less real and it made their inclusion in her childhood no less important.
I don’t have answers, but it’s good to poke at literature a bit and see what the barriers and who the gatekeepers are. It’s Pride weekend here in Seattle and there are lots of things to read that challenge and inspire the way I look at the world. There are still problems to solve, but more stories are being told. One of many reasons to celebrate.
This month I asked our poet guests to share why poetry matters. Before we send Poetry Month 2017 into history, I want to share my own thoughts with you.
Facebook does this sometimes wonderful and sometimes terrible thing where it will show you what was happening in your life on this date in history. Throughout April, in and amongst the talk of baseball and reminders of the toddler when he was a baby, Facebook has been reminding me of past Poetry Month highlights. The 7th grader who wrote an acrostic about a murder investigation spelling out “Who Was It?” The 2nd grader who wrote the 2-line poem called “Failure to Write a Poem.” The kid who wrote hers in yogurt on the playground (she was supposed to be in trouble for leaving trash on the playground and attracting critters. I snapped a picture.)
I have always been an evangelist of poetry, maybe because I don’t trust my own skills at writing it. As a young librarian I would bring poetry into April storytimes, wrapped poetry books up like gifts to make people curious enough to check them out and once bought a bunch of bulk coffee candy and attached it to 3×5 cards with words like “Wonder” “Rage” “Curiosity” and “Bravery” written on them to get people to attend a poetry coffeehouse. (Thirteen people showed up and read some pretty good poems.)
When I became a school librarian, poetry became part of my mission. Every April I would hijack the library curriculum and do poetry with a bunch of K-8 students. We wrote concrete poems. We wrote poems using Google, a Kris invention that I swear I’m going to make a book out of someday. I read the poetry of Gertrude Stein to third graders and discussed Pablo Neruda’s book of questions with fifth graders. I stapled poems all over school and gave awards to students who arrived with poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day. We explored the found poetry of Phil Rizzuto and Donald Rumsfeld.
What I wanted the kids to know is that poetry is alive. It isn’t always funny (our instinct is to share funny kids’ poems with kids, and while the work of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky is great it subtly tells kids that all poetry rhymes and is funny.) It doesn’t even have to make sense, but what it asks you to do is to feel something, to think about something. When a third grader tells me that after awhile he stops being mad that Gertrude Stein’s poems don’t make sense and just listens to how the words sound, he gets it. What he is learning is that words matter, that words can be something, that they have power.
Both of our poets on the show this month have had a message for us: now is the time. If there was ever a time to speak, now is it. If there was ever a time for art, now is the moment. As a teacher I know that you have to convey information in different ways because not everyone will see or understand it in the same form. That isn’t just true in the classroom. Poetry asks us to take things in in a different way, attacks our senses in a different way. Poetry is worth advocating in a world where, in the words of George Carline, “More people write it than read it.” We could all afford to read a little more of it.
So I’m saying goodbye to Poetry Month 2017, but I’m not done pushing for people to write and read and think just a little more. That fight has only just begun.
May a poem impact you today,
A morning newscast last week talked about how female Supreme Court justices are being increasingly interrupted and talked over by attorneys in violation of court rules. I tuned in at the end, so I didn’t hear the whole conversation, but I did hear the listener feedback. Apparently, in the 21st century, even the morning news collects listener texts which are read aloud by the newscasters, breaking what I think should be rule number one of all media: don’t read the comments.
The female newscaster, while pointing out that she doesn’t think it’s necessary to give airtime to misogyny, read a couple of comments about how of course women need to be interrupted because they talk so much and have a tendency to ramble. One comment explicitly stated that women needed to be “taught when to talk.” The newscaster ended her segment by saying that in 2017 it is disconcerting that someone out there thinks that women need to be told when they can speak. She also told the commenter, well, I have a microphone and you don’t, so take from that what you will. As I also have a microphone, I was cheering when I heard that. And then I headed off to podcast editing.
I’ve been podcasting for almost two years, and I still spend a lot of time cringing when I hear myself talk. I was editing a conversation I had with my co-host for my other podcast, and I wanted to crawl under the desk. Every time I spoke too quickly, or said um, or interrupted because I had an idea come to me, I wanted to dive into the computer and lecture myself about good manners or speaking when spoken to or some other thing like that. And then I thought…but I have a microphone.
Last weekend, I heard Ira Glass, one of the most famous radio people in the country, say um, repeat himself, and end with ya know, all in the same ten seconds. He didn’t cut it out. I don’t know if it occurs to men that they shouldn’t interrupt or should be careful about rambling or need to sound like an authority and not like they are wavering, but I hear that all the time from female podcasters.
A couple of weeks ago I was a guest on the New Parent Podcast. And it’s been hard for me to share it, to be honest. Not because it’s personal. I mean, it is personal, but I’m a pretty open person and that didn’t bug me so much. What bugged me is how I sounded. I felt like I talked too much, I felt like I talked over the host, I felt like I wasn’t clear…I was just second-guessing myself all over the place. On a topic that, frankly, I have some expertise on, namely my own life and story.
Why do we do that? Why do we think we don’t have something to say? I’ve done this in the past when I’ve been a guest on other people’s shows and I still don’t understand why, but when people comment on news stories by saying that women need to be taught when and when not to speak I have to wonder if there are cultural forces involved.
I was recently invited to become part of a podcasting advocacy group wherein a group of podcasters work together on improving their shows while at the same time supporting each other and advocating for each other’s shows and audiences. While I’m not sure exactly where this is going to take me yet, I can tell you I am very exited about the possibilities. The power of voice…I don’t think I really understood it until I became a podcaster. And it still scares me just a little bit. But I have a microphone and I am ready to speak up.
May your words carry you far today,
Need inspiration to get your voice out there? The Austin Film Festival is looking for people with great ideas for fiction podcasts. Enter and share yours!
Followers of this website know that I like throwing the occasional blog post into the podcast mix and it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I also have some topics in mind that I want to talk about, but today is not that day. Today is a toddler yelling in the background a pile of audio to edit kind of a day. I am so excited about all the stuff coming up on the show…great contributors, awesome segments, and some cool new stuff. But it doesn’t lend itself to a lot of blogging time.
Instead, I’m here to talk #trypod month. This is an initiative put together by a bunch of the big podcast hosts to reach the 80%. As in the 80% of people who don’t listen to podcasts. The best way to reach them is through the 20%, that is you out there who do listen to podcasts. You are the best ambassadors to tell your friends and your community why they should listen and show them how to do it. You know it’s free an easy…they don’t.
To inspire you, I’m doing my roundup of the 5 podcasts I’m talking about this month. These are the ones I’ll be sharing with my peeps, and in the interest of staying away from self-promotion, they are not my shows. (Although, of course, you’re welcome to share those, too.)
The History Chicks. Days when these ladies release a new episode are my favorite days. The History Chicks is historical girl talk. Every episode they pick a woman in history, everyone from Queen Nzinga to Marie Antoinette to Hattie McDaniel (first African-American to win an Oscar.) The two hosts research the women separately (their research is excellent,) and then come together to tell the story. They’ve been doing it for years and their back catalog is phenomenal.
How to Be a Girl. This is one of my favorite parenting podcasts. It’s on break right now so it’s a great time to get caught up. Independent producer Marlo Mack tells you what it’s like to single parent her transgender daughter. What I love about this is that she’s not perfect, she’s a mom like any of us just trying to figure out how in the world to navigate this. She is on a journey and you get to go with her and you’ll be surprised how ordinary her parenting journey is. How to Be a Girl is part of a podcast collective called The Heard, be sure to also check out First Day Back.
XX Will Travel. In my 20s, I was a traveler. I worked in summer camps across the U.S., spent six months in New Zealand, and spent most of those years having a quasi-nomadic existence where I would work like a grown-up for awhile and take off. When I discovered this show I thought it would be more nostalgia for me than anything else…obviously life is much different now…but these ladies do an awesome job of speaking to a traveler wherever you are on the journey. Whether you are about to take that big round-the-word trip or you just need to plan your next girls’ weekend or road trip, these ladies will help you get there, and I love the women solo traveler angle they bring to it.
Art Curious. I slept through art history in college (the room was warm,) but I do love good storytelling and that’s what Art Curious is. The host tells the stories behind great artists and works of art, and like all good storytelling it’s a little history, a little mystery, and a little ridiculous. You don’t have to be someone who spends every weekend in a museum to appreciate this show.
German Genealogy Girl. I wasn’t going to recommend any brand-new shows…I’ve been burned by that before and she’s literally one episode in. But I am also one-quarter German, love genealogy, and have struggled with the research on this part of my family so I’m super excited that this exists and want to give her a boost.
Five shows that are subscribed to in my phone. And all hosted by women, who get neither the press nor the respect in this space. What are you listening to? What are you sharing? Tell us, and use the hashtag #trypod in social media all month long.
I’m a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month. The origin story of this podcast starts with Nanowrimo, and if I haven’t yet shared that story on this blog I will sometime soon. I’ve participated at least four times and won at least twice, it’s hard to keep track. And I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to this year.
It’s become harder to do the intense writing and long hours Nanowrimo requires since I became a mom. The first time I attempted it post-baby, in 2014, my then 6 month old went on a major sleep regression and basically didn’t sleep the rest of the month. Any time he slept, I slept, period, and my novel, such as it was, fell completely apart.
It’s also hard to do when you have other obligations, like, I don’t know, running a podcast. Add to that the fact that I start a new part-time job in November AND will spend almost a week out of town, and I knew this wasn’t going to be the year for me. That made sense. But it didn’t mean it didn’t suck to think about not participating.
I like the camaraderie of Nanowrimo. I like popping into the forums now and then to see what everyone else is up to and what the chatter is about. I like seeing people’s word counts come up on Facebook and Twitter. I like going to the occasional write-in or virtual write-in. And while I don’t participate every year (after the 2014 fiasco, I didn’t even ATTEMPT it last November,) I was kind of looking forward to it. But it wasn’t meant to be.
And then, on October 5th, I got blindsided by an idea.
This isn’t entirely true. The seed of this idea has been with me for awhile. I had some idea of this character and the story I wanted to build. But on October 5th, from of all things a facebook post, I got the inspiration that tied the whole thing together and I knew the story I had to tell.
So I did something very uncharacteristic of me: I just started writing.
I’m an outliner. In the world of Nanowrimo, this makes me a Plotter (as opposed to a Pantster, as in fly by the seat of your.) The reason for this is simple: without outlines I don’t make it to the end. Believe me. I cleaned my office today. Where half-finished manuscripts go to die. Found four or five more of them. But this time…I don’t know…I just sat down and started writing. No outline, no notes, I just picked up a pencil (yeah, I know, old school) and wrote down some words.
In the ten days since then, I’ve been writing like a maniac. Scared of losing this idea, I just kept going. I couldn’t sleep one morning so was up at 5 a.m. writing. My house is a mess, I write. The toddler sleeps for half an hour, I write. I even turned off the baseball playoffs. It’s inspiring. It’s manic. It’s…Nanowrimoish.
So, apparently this year October is my National Novel Writing Month. I’ll still miss the camaraderie. I won’t be in the forums or at the write-ins and this won’t count for a win or anything. But I just might end October with the draft of a novel. Or something. At ten days, I’m 11,000 words in, so it won’t be nothing. And I’m happy. Because it may not be November, but the spirit of Nanowrimo stays with me and I’m very grateful to them for all the inspiration. I hope if you’ve never sat down to frantically pound out the draft of a novel, you’ll give it a try. Maybe this November. It’s an exhilaration that can’t be explained.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do.