Mental Health, Hogwarts Houses, The Correct Pronunciation of Gif, and Other Strong Opinions

Obviously I’m a big fan of podcasting, so when the lovely people at Candlewick Press reached out to me about their podcast, Candlewick Press Presents, I was beyond excited. I had a fantastic conversation with the Candlewick team about writing, my time as a Candlewick intern, why I love social media, why I’m jealous of how good Walt is at titles, and more. (This didn’t even include the pre-recording conversation about which Candlewick team members would be in which Hogwarts houses, a topic we all take very seriously.)

You can hear my interview on iTunes and Stitcher, and make sure to check out the previous episodes, as well. They include interviews of amazing writers and illustrators like Aaron Becker, creator of gorgeous wordless picture books like Journey, and Lesléa Newman, author of the classic Heather Has Two Mommies. Can you hear my fangirling?

Thanks to the Candlewick team for including me in such a great project. Can’t wait to hear the rest of Candlewick Press Presents, season 1!

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! Although to be honest, Friday both snuck up on me and didn’t get here soon enough, so I don’t really know how to feel about it. At least I’m hoping to catch up on life stuff and work and sleep this weekend so maybe by Monday I’ll be back to normal. In the meantime, here’s a look at what I’ve been reading in fifteen words or fewer:

As I Descended by Robin Talley
YA lesbian Macbeth is all I needed to hear. Talley’s writing’s awesome; story’s legit creepy.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
A fun take on contemporary vampires–more Buffy than Twilight here, with some great moments.

PS–I’ve also been wanting to change up the Friday Fifteen format a little (again). While I love the book reviews, I think it would be nice to add some other stuff to this. I’ve done writing updates, but sometimes that doesn’t lend itself to fifteen words or fewer (or even fifteen words at all). Maybe you guys have thoughts?

And if you have specific ideas about what you’d want to see, share them in the comments!

An Ode to Audiobooks

Image by Innovate Impact Media

Until recently, I thought I wasn’t an audiobook person. My mind tends to wander and I worried that I’d lose the plot and not be able to follow the book I was supposedly listening to. Then Walt and I went on a fourteen-hour drive and Amy Poehler kept us company with Yes Please, and I’ve been binging on audiobooks ever since.

In case you’re still afraid of diving into the world of audiobooks, are are my top ten reasons why audiobooks are awesome. In no particular order:

  1. You can read while doing other things
    With physical books or ebooks, I mostly read while waiting in offices, getting coffee, or in bed. With audiobooks, I can read while driving to work, working out, doing laundry, or baking up something tasty. When I was training for the Boston Marathon, I really looked forward to my long runs because they meant I could listen to the Tiffany Aching books for a few hours. Audiobooks have also been a fantastic way to get reading in while I’m walking Bodo, because I’m often out with him for at least forty-five minutes, which means so much reading time! Which means…
  2. You can read so many more books
    I’m getting so much more reading done this year because of audiobooks. Right now I’m on like 25% hard copy, 10% ebook, 65% audiobooks.
  3. Having a story read aloud to you is cozy and fun
    Remember when you were in elementary school and your teacher would do read alouds? Why don’t we get to do this as adults. Spoiler alert: audiobooks do that for you.
  4. Audiobooks are read by professionals
    Even better than your second grade teacher? Professional actors who know how to do the voices right and say all the words clearly. Also, sometimes audiobooks are read by the authors themselves, which I find really cool. (I just finished The Ocean at the End of the Lane written and read by Neil Gaiman, who’s got the best voice a writer could ask for.)
  5. You don’t have to carry anything extra
    Okay, so my purse is usually big enough to fit a book. But you can download audiobooks right to your phone/mp3 device, which you probably already carry with you.
  6. You can get them for free from the library
    Caveat: audiobooks can be pretty expensive to buy. They require all the normal work a book requires, plus paying a reader plus studio time plus sound editing/mixing. But you can borrow audiobooks from your local library, via programs like Overdrive or Hoopla.
  7. You might pay more attention to content
    I’m a fast reader, but sometimes that means that, when I’m really into a book, I end up reading too fast because I’m so excited and miss little bits of info or description. With an audiobook, I find myself actually paying more attention to particular phrases or pieces of dialogue.
  8. You can speed up or slow down as necessary
    Audiobook apps I’ve used let you adjust the reading pace to be slightly faster (if the reader is slower than you’d like) or slower (if you want to really appreciate every word) or slowest (to make the reader sound like they’re drunk, which can be hilarious).
  9. Audiobooks do count as ‘real reading’
    Don’t worry, you’re not missing out on ‘real reading.’ Whatever that is.
  10. It’s easier to get through those big books you’ve been meaning to read
    Earlier this year, I listened to The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which was fascinating, but also almost 600 pages long. It took a while to listen to, but it was so much easier to listen while doing other things and carry around my iPod as usual, vs. having to lug around a huge book or set aside time at the end of the day to read about how the tobacco industry lobbied against cancer research and blamed victims. (I know.) Having a copy on audio meant I could read more frequently and not feel like I had to set aside specific time for a serious book.

Bonus reason: I’ve been reading more nonfiction because of audiobooks. Maybe it’s because of the easier to carry around/easier to listen to longer stuff thing? No clue, but it’s working for me.

And in case you’re still not convinced, here are a few of my recent favorite audiobook reads:

Audiobooks you’d recommend? Favorite things about listening to stories? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! I’m looking forward to a long weekend of reading by a large body of water (my favorite activity), spending time with friends, consuming lots of tasty food/drink, and seeing if Bodo prefers swimming to dozing in the sun. Let’s get the weekend started with some book reviews in fifteen words or fewer:

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard
Started slow, but I didn’t want to leave Pen and friends behind. So many feels!

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Thoughtful and nuanced look at the complexities of elder and end-of-life care.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
A thrilling adventure through four different (mostly) magical Londons. I’d also like Kell’s coat.

Links Galore

Lots of links I’ve been saving:

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! I’m looking forward to a cozy/productive weekend with Bodo, and maybe binging on some more library audiobooks. (Seriously, guys, check out your library’s digital resources.) In the meantime, let’s check out some book reviews in fifteen words or fewer.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
Finally read this one; it was adorable and fun and I want a Masterpiece adaptation.

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
Sensitive and thoughtful. My new go-to recommendation for teens dealing with mental health issues.

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Not my favorite of Allen’s–too many POV characters, ending felt rushed. Still fun though.

Writing While Anxious

In my session on writing about mental health at NESCBWI 17, I talked about some tropes/stereotypes I particularly disliked. One of them: that medication makes you an emotional zombie. This, and the idea that creative people with mental illness will lose their creativity through therapy/medication, get me super rage-y. If you have a mental health issue, medication can be a huge help, and the right medication/dosage won’t rob you of your creativity.

Which is why I was so happy to see this article about creativity, mental health, and medication in the New York Times.

Julia Fierro describes her experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression, and eventually finding medication and resources that work for her. But all of this care came after years of stress, and of going on and off medication, and how this has been a long journey to caring for herself as a person and as an artist.

One part in particular that stands out for me:

“Many of my favorite authors had suffered from anxiety or depression — Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, Plath, Woolf and Emily Dickinson…Surely, I told myself, their anguish was linked to their greatness. Instead of fleeing anxiety and depression (although many did douse their emotional instability with alcohol), they dived in and used their misery as inspiration for their creative work. I was convinced that killing the mad part of me with medication would also kill that which made me unique. I memorized a line by Proust: “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.””

I feel like this is a pretty common assessment people make when it comes to creativity and mental health. For some reason we assume that if you want your brain to be firing on all creative cylinders, you need to embrace the parts of your brain that are bringing you down with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. That creative people have to be mentally ill in order to be creative.

Which is total crap.

Like Fierro, I can’t write if I’m not taking care of my mental health. If I’m experiencing a bad bout of anxiety, I can’t focus on anything, much less muster the kind of focus that a draft requires. I can’t let myself spend time with my characters and their worlds, because I’m too busy worrying about what the publishing market is like, or if I should give up writing entirely because I’m the worst. When I’m anxious, I’m both way too hyped up and way too exhausted to be a creative person.

Thanks to therapy and medication, I can mostly write when I need and want to. (Getting myself off Twitter is another issue.) For me, creativity happens when my brain doesn’t have to deal with its own bad stuff. Maybe some artists don’t work well with medication, but that’s super not me, and that’s not what I know from most artistic friends who have mental health issues.

Fierro begins and ends her article by talking about how she shared the truth about her mental health struggles and successes with an audience at a reading. Fierro connected with her audience members by being honest, because some of them have been dealing with the same kinds of issues. At NESCBWI, I was so grateful that people in my session also opened up and talked about their own struggles and concerns. Because the more we talk about mental health and art, the more real we can be–and the more we know we’re not alone.