Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I've Moved!

It's been ages, hasn't it, Blogger. We had some good times.

But I've moved! Come visit me at hannachoward.com! You can check out this blog post to see a happy turn to the story I left off in 2012.

Love to you all!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Johnny, Can You Hear Me?

Hello, my dear neglected blog! How are you? And how have you been?

I'm writing today to help spread the word about a really awesome, really worthy campaign that is making its way around the virtual writing world. If you have a long memory, you might remember that I wrote about my friends at YARN several thousand years ago, when they won the Innovations in Reading Prize. Partly because they are, plain and simple, really wonderful people, and partly because they once published a story I wrote, the folks at YARN are dear to my heart, and I would love it if you'd support them by promoting what they're up to now.

Here's the long and short of it: They want John Green, award winning YA author of (among others) Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, to share a story with them. To get his attention, they have begun a campaign called Johnny, Can You Hear Me?, spread around the world wide web through as many mediums as possible, hoping to build enough momentum to catch his eye. So how, you might ask, can you help?

Several ways!

1. On Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, use these hashtags: #JCYHM, #JohnGreen, #YA, #Nerdfighters

2. On your blog, write a post about it and spread the word.

3. Retweet @YAReviewNet's tweets about the campaign.

And if you feel you don't know YARN well enough to support them, now would be an excellent time to head over to their About Page and learn about how incredible they are. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summertime Guest Bloggin'

Giles Hash of High Aspirations is out of town this month, and he asked me to write a guest post for his blog to keep his readers entertained while he is away. You can check it out HERE.

And while you're over there, you should mosey through the rest of Giles' blog! It's full of good, writerly advice and camaraderie.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Subjective is Not a Dirty Word

What do you suppose you'd call it when you say something for your own benefit as much as for whomever you're talking to? Not 'preaching to the choir,' surely. Preaching to the pastor? Or maybe just 'talking to yourself"...

Right. Anyway. Today I'm talking to my choir-pastor self, as well as to you, so I hope one of us gets something out of it.

I'm a big fan of quotes. I love the sources quotes come from, too, but there's something about isolating a little snippet of wisdom or humor or profoundness from the midst of a work I love that really gives me a thrill. (I know... I'm pretty easy to thrill. Skydiving would probably kill me.) This is undoubtedly the reason I bumbled my way into a side-business based exclusively on the painting of quotes upon ceramic coffee mugs. (Incidentally, you could win one of my mugs if you enter the contest Freelance Writing Jobs is holding for the next two days. Just go to this link, and read and follow the instructions posted.)

An unexpected but surprisingly rewarding source for new quotes has, for me, been Pinterest. Today I discovered this one:


Edmund Wilson was a literary critic and writer in the 1920's, and influenced a lot of important writing minds. And I think his statement really drives home the reality of, not just the subjective nature of the publishing industry, but that of reading itself. Everyone who has ever submitted anything to anyone has probably read the words, "Given how subjective this business is," which can very quickly turn into one of the nastiest sentences in the English language. But it really shouldn't be. Because what it means is, "Just because I didn't love it does not mean that someone else won't." Or, "Keep sending this out, because someone out there will be a perfect fit for it."

I have, on several occasions, recommended a book to a friend or family member with the highest praise imaginable, only to have said friend or family member read--and positively hate--the book I loved. I invariably become hurt and defensive when I hear their reactions, because, to me, the book is like a child who can do no wrong. If I loved it, why on earth didn't you?

Well. Because we're different people. Because reading is subjective. And because "no two persons ever read the same book."

And what a relief that is! As much as we may be inclined to gnash our teeth at the words "subjective business," I think we really ought to be rejoicing. Because that means there is still hope. Even though it would be wonderful to write things that everyone in the world would adore, the fact is that people are too different for that kind of a miracle to be possible.

As Dumbledore tells Hagrid in Goblet of Fire, "Really Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I'm afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time."

Mind-boggling as it is, there are even people on this earth who don't like Harry Potter. And if that doesn't drive home Wilson's point, I don't know what will.

Thoughts? This didn't turn out quite as flippant and lighthearted as I meant it to, but what can you do? Maybe I'll devote my next post to a series of haikus enumerating the glories of David Tennant's freckles.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Avoider

I'm an avoider. And really, I'm a pro at it.

Anyone who has known me longer than five minutes can tell you that I'm a hermit, but my closest friends will testify that my antisocial habits extend much further than that. While many people thrive on butterfly conversation--that is, the kind of talking that skims the surface and flits easily from one topic to another--and enjoy the act of "catching up," I would more willingly submit to unanesthetized dental surgery. My mother belongs to the social butterfly category, and cringes to see me duck my head and dash off to the restroom every time I catch sight of someone I wish to avoid. But I can't help it. Awkwardness is a form of unpleasantness my genetic chemistry has engineered me to dodge at all costs. My fight-or-flight impulse, while generally trained on Fight in the case of conflict or danger, switches instantly to Flight every time I find myself in a position that makes me uncomfortable.

But social discomfort is only one of the items included in the inventory of things I am inclined to avoid. Imagine my horror when I discovered that my own writing could make its way onto the list.

About two months ago I received a rejection from an agent I had pinned some serious hopes on. And before you go judging me for having unfounded and premature expectations, allow me to say that this agent had been extremely excited when she read my first twenty pages. So excited that she called me just to say that she was excited.

I need hardly say that I was excited, too, but I did my best to rain on my own parade. I'd had far too much experience with agents to delude myself into wild, soaring hopes now. And yet, for all of that, the eventual rejection crushed me. Not because it was unkind--far from it--but because my capacity for dealing with the word "No" had finally reached some kind of breaking point. What should have been a little speedbump in my path became a roadblock that loomed before me like Mount Doom.

And suddenly I didn't want to have anything to do with the book that had just been rejected. The discomfort I associated with my failure began to leech into everything related to writing, and before long I was avoiding even the act of writing itself.

My morning writing time became morning Pinterest time. I directed my creative energies into loads of mug painting and Etsy posting. I satisfied my craving for stories with other peoples' books. I watched a lot of Doctor Who. And all the while I felt lopsided, aimless, anxious, and empty.

I'm writing in the past tense, but I haven't made it out of the dark yet. Like the wee nasty beasties Anxiety and Panic (which many writers fight regularly), creative self-doubt is a clever and cunning enemy. It can't be reasoned with, and it isn't easily pushed aside, and even now, it climbs up on my shoulder whenever I start to consider what I might attempt to work on next. You can't, it whispers nastily. You'll just make a mess of things again, and end up with more rejections for your collection. Wake up and smell the failure, why don't you? You can't write books.

And yet it occurs to me that the only way to shake free of it is to do the thing I have, in two short months, convinced myself I cannot do, and write. I have tentatively started on several projects, but I'm posting this here in order to confess my cowardice and say that I am determined to carry on. I will not be defeated, and for once in my life, I will face head-on the thing I want most to avoid.

I hate ending blog posts without some kind of conclusive, tangible encouragement, but I suppose every once and a while you have to ask other people to encourage you. So if you have battled against self-doubt, weariness, and failure, and come out into hope and optimism once again, do share how you managed it! I'd love to hear all about it.

(And for Heaven's sake, stay tuned. I solemnly swear that my next post will be as lighthearted as they come.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Story of a Dog

I have, of course, explained Ophelia before. (The word explained is appropriate here, as you know if you've ever met my dog.) But as it is the beginning of April, and I celebrate Ophelia's birthday on April Fool's Day, I thought it might be a good time to dedicate a post to my canine best friend.

Also because she is FIVE now, and I can't quite wrap my mind around that.

I found Ophie during the summer of 2007, which was my last year to work at New Life Ranch, a summer camp in Colcord, Oklahoma. This was the summer before my senior year in college, and my friends and I had already signed a lease to rent a house with a back yard. I was hoping to adopt a dog anyway, though I had rather a different idea of what I wanted.

My doggy daydreams looked something like this:

Elegant. Fierce. Intelligent. Beautiful. I wanted a dog who would be the perfect wolfish companion I had visualized through my entire childhood reading dog-centric books.

This dream dog would be stunning. A dog I could go anywhere with, who would obey a mere look from my eyes and who would shadow me with the perfect balance of grace and personality.

I did not expect this:

Of course, this is an adult Ophie, an Ophie that commonly bears a striking resemblance to Hyperbole and a Half's Simple Dog. (If you've never read the Simple Dog post, do it now. And I mean NOW.)

She didn't come to me looking like this. She came to me sodden and flea-bitten, wormy and filthy and utterly pitiful.

I was the Canteen Manager that summer (distributing sugary snacks to already overly-hyperactive children) and was spending my morning doing some menial paperwork in the office when one of the counselors burst inside, agitated and quite beside herself.

"There's a dog following my cabin around!" she said. "Can you come help?"

Why, of course I could! I followed after her, trying to master my excitement. It was a German Shepherd puppy, I just knew it. The Heavens had intervened, and were about to provide me with my canine soulmate--a gorgeous creature, better than any dog I had ever imagined.

I was only half right. She wasn't remotely gorgeous. She was about the size of a Jack Russel Terrier, and she looked as though she'd been swimming in the creek--which I quickly learned was exactly what she had been doing. She had floundered her way across the wide, murky creek from lands unknown; probably the farmland across from the ranch's property, from which dumped, mistreated and abandon dogs frequently wandered into camp. But this soggy little pup was desperate for some attention, and when I picked her up to stop her following after the bemused cabin of girls, something unexpected happened.

She picked me.

I however, did not yet pick her.

A kindly member of the equine staff, noting that the puppy was rather taken with me, removed her from camp to have her de-wormed and given her shots. She then delivered the animal back to me, inquiring whether I planned to keep her. I still didn't know. This creature was nothing like my dream dog; I didn't even know what she was. But I also didn't know how I could turn her away.

The rest is, of course, history. I did not turn her away. I christened her Ophelia Jane Shirley, and hid her from the camp's executive director for the remainder of the summer, sneaking around with my secret and feeling wonderfully like the protagonist in Shiloh. At the end of camp I brought her with me to Shawnee, and she's been my constant companion ever since.

The answer to what kind of dog she is remains, "Hell if I know," though we have often suspected she has possum and coyote in her blood, as well as the vet's guess, Catahoula Leopard dog. I am personally inclined to think she's from outer space, especially now that I'm addicted to Doctor Who. And though Ophelia is nothing like the dog I thought I wanted--she is rarely elegant, fierce only when it's inappropriate to be so, possibly belongs in special ed, and too cross-eyed to ever be considered beautiful--she is perfect for me. She is absolutely the dog I needed, even if she's not the one I thought I wanted. And I hope that these ludicrous, hilarious, exasperating, wonderful five years are followed by many more, during which my eternal toddler continues to follow Peter Pan's example... and never grows up.

Small Ophie, laying with my brother in a hammock. She would destroy it in a panicked frenzy if we tried this now.

Giving a shifty look.

The "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good" face.

Eating a Christmas bone.

Happy and cross-eyed.

What about you? Have you ever fallen unexpectedly in love with an animal you didn't think you wanted?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Things we do to pay our bills and feed our dogs...

Don't worry, I'm not talking about prostitution.

Although I think someone once argued that writing was a lot like prostitution. (First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, then for money.) But before this post spirals rapidly downhill into firmly disreputable territory, I'm going to redirect us toward the subject I intended to talk about when I wrote that title:



Now, I'm not one of those lazy types who likes to slug around in my pajamas and eat Doritos while playing video games from dawn until dusk, but I can't deny that I shiver a little at the idea of being confined to an air-conditioned space from 9-5 every day. And this Normal Job Phobia has caused me no little inconvenience through my last five years as a college grad, as most of the jobs that have interested me have put rather a strain on both my pocketbook and my intellectual growth. Not that I didn't learn loads at both Barnes & Noble and the dear, lovely greenhouse that employed me, but neither was I able to stretch and grow into my full potential as a person while working at those places.

I wish I could say that I've finally found the perfect job to complement writing life. (Who knows if that miracle will ever surface.) But I can at least say that I've found something a bit closer to the perfect job. For the last month, in addition to tutoring English at the community college, I have been working as a merchandiser for Scholastic book fairs. And let me just say that this job is nothing like sitting in a cubicle.

There's a lot of lifting boxes. (Full of books!) And a lot of rolling massive cases. (Full of books!) And a lot of building eye-catching displays. (Of books!) And generally a lot of being around librarians, PTA volunteers, and yes, books.

Frankly, it is intoxicating to be around books so much again, and even better to see such a wide range of new, award-winning, and bestselling YA titles come out of the boxes every time I set up a display. But if you write, you probably know what I am going to say next: It is also a little like having a burr in my saddle, because it makes me all itchy to have my book on a shelf for some eager middle-schooler to pick up and read.

I was talking recently with my sister-in-law about how difficult it is to wholeheartedly pursue your passion as your career. And it seemed to us that a major part of that difficulty is in the financial frustration it produces. Inevitably, you end up sacrificing much more than just time and energy to pursue the thing that beats in the center of your heart like a bird waiting to be set loose, and when you're living month to month on paychecks that never seem as large as you expect them to be, it is easy to lose momentum. I have often caught myself thinking, while in the throes of bill-paying anguish, that I should give up my stupid, pointless dream of being a writer, and just get a job that would pay the effing rent.

But that's arrant nonsense. Because do you know what would happen if I stopped writing in order to pursue a "real" career? I would become desperately miserable, my soul would wither up like an old prune, and the fierce, wild bird in my heart would starve from neglect. Financial stability is simply not worth that, and neither are creature comforts. Maybe my dog can't wear Burberry collars and eat Rachel Ray dog food; and maybe I sometimes feel like throttling my car for its junker deficiencies; and maybe I'll be working piddly, unsatisfying jobs for many years to come, but I will at least know I'm doing it for the sake of something I love with all my heart.

And that's something.

What about you? What sacrifices do you make to pursue the thing you want most?