Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Save Every Note with Evernote

Every so often I stumble into something amazing and then wonder where it's been all my life.

This summer a friend recommended Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, which has been on Netflix since 2012, and apparently watched by several of my friends. I'm still miffed no one told me about it sooner. But then I would have missed my Month of Miss Fisher, in which I watched every single episode at least twice, and was deliriously happy with it all.

I didn't want any of my friends to suffer the same fate, so I spent a good chunk of this summer making sure everyone knew about Miss Fisher, mentioning her on Facebook, Twitter, and blurbing her to several friends. I mean, she's a flapper detective. Think lots of sex, booze, a certain stony-faced cop, a penchant for the down-trodden in Melbourne, and murder mysteries. How could it not be fabulous? (notice I'm STILL pitching it!).

Where was I? Oh yeah, connecting this to writing. 

Every so often I also stumble across a website, or technique, or tool to make my writing life easier, and I have to shout about that, too. Maybe it's the teacher in me. Or maybe I'm just really enthusiastic. 

Around the same time as I was binge watching Miss Fisher, several sources converged to tell me about Evernote. I was just beginning a massive research project and desperately looking for a way to organize it all. So Evernote slipped into my life at exactly the right time, and was exactly the tool I was looking for. And I thought: "Where has this been all my life? Everyone needs to know about this!"

I pitched the article to SCBWI, and had it accepted. "Save Every Note with Evernote" was published yesterday in SCBWI's online newsletter, INSIGHT. You can read it here. And seriously, Evernote. Check it out! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


(resisting the urge to quote any more David Bowie...)

Fall colors in front of our new home!
One of the funny things about life is that sometimes years will pass in which nothing changes. I work, I write, I struggle for money, a clean house, getting dinner on the table every night, all the while dreaming... and then suddenly, everything changes, dreams really do come true. Sometimes those changes are gradual, a whisper, a promise, lots of bureaucracy and red tape. But sometimes they truly happen over night.

Why yes, this past month has been a bit of a wild ride.

Last spring, Scientist Husband was offered a job as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois. The position seemed a perfect fit, allowing him to research and teach what he loves, and hopefully offering us a permanent home in Urbana, Illinois, a small college town with a giant library, closer to family, and within a few hours drive of our previous home in Chicago.

This has been one of those gradual changes. Scientist Husband wanted to finish up his research in North Carolina, so we're in the process of one of the slowest moves in the history of moving (7+ months!).

Finally this fall everything started happening; we traveled to Urbana / Champaign (the twin cities of southern Illinois) to look at housing. We picked out a house, put in an offer, our offer was accepted. Our first home. But the day before we left on our house hunting trip, life shifted again, this time in the sudden, dramatic variety: an agent loved my latest novel, a middle grade contemporary. She wanted to represent me! And this isn't just any agent, but the rock star agent Kathleen Rushall.

Now it's all coming together. In three weeks, we will be moving. Kathleen will begin sending my novel to prospective publishers. And we will begin a brand new life in Urbana, Illinois.

It seemed fitting to share it all with you, especially on this day before Thanksgiving. Here's wishing you all a happy, warm, and loving day tomorrow, surrounded by friends, family, and good food. And here's to dreams fulfilled, the gradual and the sudden. May we all be so blessed.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Eight best books of 2013

My favorite books of 2013 highlight the diversity of my reading this past year. Not all of them are THE BEST BOOKS I EVER READ OMG! types, but all of them were wonderful, thought-provoking reads that I'd happily recommend. Actually, I already have. My students got a sneak peek at this list before they left for winter break.

In the order I read them, here's the best books of 2013:

1. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (my review here)
2. The Broken Lands by Kate Milford (my review here)
3. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street and The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall (my very brief review here)
4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (my review here)
5. The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow (Unfortunately, my only review comes from Twitter!):
6. Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going (my review here)
7. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler (my review here)
8. Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (my review here)

And because I love stats, that's...

1 Dystopian / Futuristic
3 Contemporary Realistic
1 Non-Fiction / Historical
2 Fantasy
2 Historical Fiction
2 Adult
3 Authors or main characters of color
2 Middle Grade
4 Young Adult

Click here to read the statistics on all of my 2013 reading.

And while there's a lot of diversity in this list, there's one thing most of these books have in common: incredible settings, from London (The Rook), to Brooklyn (The Broken Lands), to Berlin (The Berlin Boxing Club), to a futuristic New Orleans (Orleans).

I feel I should offer a quick note about The Penderwicks... I discovered these books two years ago, after a friend who didn't get on with them handed me the first one, and ever since I've been savoring them one by one. I kept avoiding reviewing them, or talking much about them, because on the surface they seem so simple. They remind me a lot of books I read as a child. But finally, upon reading Point Mouette, I couldn't keep quiet any longer. These books are AMAZING, so sweet, happy, and comforting, perfect for either a sick day or a summer day, or anytime really.

What are your best reads of 2013?

Oh, and I don't know when I'll be back on the blog, so Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and a very happy 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Reading Stats for 2013

Sorry for the lack of posting as of late. I haven't had much free time, and the bit I can garner, I try to use to work on my novel. But I couldn't miss my year end book blogging traditions!

For several years now, I've been keeping track of every book I read. I note the date I finished it, the title, the author, and a few other little details, like the type of book (audiobook, graphic novel, etc), whether I know the author, if the book was a DNF (did not finish) and why, if the author or main character is a person of color (PoC), and if and when I've read the book before. It's a lot of information, and I love being able to look back over a year and see what I read. But it really does only take me a minute to do, and gives me a chance to reflect on a reading experience.

When I started my new middle school Language Arts job, I discovered my students have been required to keep reading logs. I brought in my journal, so they could see that some adults keep track of reading, too. My 9th period asked if I could pass it around, and the kids poured over my books and codes. But I had to explain to them that I'd been reading a lot less since I started working full time. I've also been finishing far fewer books, and becoming even more impatient (who knew that was possible?!) in my limited time. But the good news is, throughout this year, and especially with the new job and numerous kid recommendations, I've been trying lots of different things: more adult fiction, more non-fiction, more bestsellers, more middle grade... one of my favorite books of the year is in a genre I hardly ever read: dystopian (well, sort of, it's got a near-future setting but it isn't a utopia gone bad. But still!).  

Anyway, enough talk! Here's my stats for 2013:

Total Books Attempted: 100 (yay for clean numbers!)
Total Books Read: 54
DNFs (Did Not Finish): 46
Some of my reasons for DNFs: "Bored, not scared, didn't care," "Read 1/2, slow plot, never engaged," "No bite," "Bored, no good characters," "No driving plot," "So cliche!" "Poor writing and long!" "Almost halfway, nice writing, but nothing happening."
Middle Grade: 38 (attempted)
Young Adult: 41 (attempted)
Adult: 18 (attempted)
Person of Color: 24 (attempted)

That's the most PoC books I've EVER read in a year! I'm just shy of 25%! I feel like I discovered a lot of good ones this year, too. See my diversity tag for all the PoC books I blogged about. Being back in the US, where there's more diversity in publishing, helped as well.

I also read a lot more Middle Grade books this year. Probably thanks in part to working on two middle grade novels this year, as well as working in a middle school. I'm also pleased with that number for adult books. Could I finally be growing up? Nah!

You can check out my previous stats here: 2010, 2011, 2012.  And next week I'll be sharing my eight favorite reads of 2013.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Sorry for the long hiatus. The return to teaching full time has been even more challenging than I anticipated. But also really fun (sometimes). Anyway, I wanted to stop by briefly because it's Thanksgiving, and after living abroad five years, and away from home even longer (wherever home even is), Thanksgiving has become kind of a big deal. And a good chance to remember all that I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for company this Thanksgiving, new friends and old.

I'm thankful school is getting easier as I get to know all the kids' names, understand the district's expectations, and figure out I'm working with some really incredible, helpful, and dedicated people.

I'm also thankful for a four day weekend.

I'm thankful for a good book (Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game) to curl up with. I stumbled across it in my classroom library the other day, and remembered adoring it as a child. It's nearly as good on the re-read.

I'm thankful for Jake, the dog Phil and I adopted at the beginning of the month. He's been such a joy to come home to every day. And yes, that's him, strangely photogenic for this family!

I'm thankful for the amazingly astute and supportive writing group I've stumbled into in the Triangle area.

I'm also thankful for squeezing in a few minutes of writing time every week. I'm hoping to find a bit more in the coming weeks because I'm excited about where my currently project (Project Nameless?) is going.

And I'm thankful that Durham is beginning to feel a bit more like home.

What are you thankful for this season?

I hope and pray for all sorts of blessings in your lives, your writing, and your thanksgivings.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Letting go in life and writing

It should come as no surprise that I'm a bit of a control freak. And a little opinionated. Especially when it comes to kids and literature. So this past week, starting a new job as a middle school Language Arts teacher, has been full of ups and downs.

I've never encountered a curriculum, or even an educational philosophy, like the one at my new job. At first, I was purely bewildered. Then, as the week went on, I grew frustrated. I came home each evening railing about literature and kids and what's good for everyone involved. But when I finally hit Friday, I was feeling a bit more subdued. Maybe I don't know everything after all...

And while I haven't done any personal writing recently (don't worry, I'll get back to it! I just needed some time to fully devote to this job), I find myself thinking about how I might do this full-on control freak thing in my writing, too.

Lately, the words haven't been coming. I've worried I've lost interest in my new story, but anytime I re-read my notes, I'm as passionate as ever. I've worried I've plotted myself into a hole, but my brain is still bursting with ideas and work-arounds for every problem I encounter. Maybe I've been pushing myself too hard, worrying too much about conflict, character development, and perfection. What if, like with the job, I instead need to sit back, observe, and let my path become clearer rather than diving head-first into everything?

Easier said than done, of course, especially considering I spent the weekend on the coast, soaking up late-September sunshine and ocean breezes. Somehow I need to find a way to carry that beach mindset with me as the days grow shorter and darker.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Have you ever found letting go helped your writing? Your life?

*The picture is mine, one of my favorite "reflective" pictures from Santorini, Greece.*

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Life changes

Some of you are probably thinking, "Life changes?" But Anne, your life is all about changes! You just moved to North Carolina! And a year ago, from overseas to Massachusetts. True, but throughout all that, daily life has been pretty same-y. I've been writing a ton, as well as taking care of everything on the domestic front, and working or volunteering at schools a few days a week. I've had time to play in an orchestra, join reading groups, meet friends for coffee in the middle of the day, and occasionally travel around the world with my husband.

But last week I accepted a full-time Language Arts teaching position at a local middle school. I'm really looking forward to hanging out with kids full-time again, learning along with them, and passionately discussing books, writing, and words. Along with all the other things 13-year-olds find themselves getting up to. And I do think it was time for a change in my life, new challenges and hopefully successes. But obviously my daily life is about to undergo a giant shift.

I feel like I'm in a boat, watching the horizon change in front of my eyes, and madly trying to batten down the hatches, pull in the sails, and prepare for everything that's to come. But of course that's not possible. Rather, I should be enjoying the sea wind in my hair and settling down for a crazy ride.

I'm hoping to keep up with the blog, as well as the writing. But first I've got some maneuvering to do! Wish me luck!

*Picture belongs to me, taken on the deck of Bristol's S. S. Great Britain.