I’m getting ready for a short trip up to New York City tomorrow. Packing clothes, setting extra food and water for the cat, and making sure my aging laptop (which these days serves primarily as a homework tool and Minecraft portal for the boys) is loaded with all my current writing projects.
I decided to take the train up. The bus would be cheaper, sure, but after dealing with that particular bus line for about seven years, the additional comfort (and perhaps a lingering romance of the rails) is worth the money. I could drive instead, but then I wouldn’t get any writing done during the eight hours total of travel time. Also, I’m going to be making this same trip at the end of the month with the boys, and for that one, I will definitely need to drive.
The reason I’m going this time is to participate in the New York City Teen Author Festival, a week of panels and events held throughout the city centered around Young Adult literature. I think this will be my fourth time participating. It’s organized by my friend, David Levithan, and the sheer scope of it, stretching across seven days and five boroughs (plus New Jersey), leaves me in awe.
My particular event will be tomorrow night at WORD Bookstore in Jersey City. If you’re in the area, come say hi. David will be moderating, and I’ll be reading along with:
After I finished a revision of Bane and Shadow, the second book in the Empire of Storms trilogy, I wanted to let it sit for a week or two, then come back to it with fresh eyes before turning it in to my editor. I usually press my agent for suggestions on which of the many other projects we’ve discussed she thinks I should work on during that week slot.
But this time, when we spoke on the phone about it, she said, “You know, Jon, maybe you should just take a break.”
“Yeah. Fill the well. Give yourself some time to recharge.”
“The whole week?”
“Sure. I see this a lot with writers who’ve recently gone full time. They think they always need to be writing. But giving yourself some space to think is just as important.”
It’s not that I’d never gone a week without writing. But always it was on a trip or vacation of some kind. Simply being home, with no large event to take my focus, and “not writing”? It seemed…bizarre. And possibly scary.
But my agent’s advice has never led be astray before, so I decided to take her up on this challenge, strange though it seemed. And I am happy to report that I successfully didn’t write for an entire week.
The first day was a bit wobbly, I’ll admit. At one point, I frantically texted my friend Stephanie and asked what one actually did when they were “not writing”. She had a lot of helpful suggestions, like going for a walk with no particular destination, reading books not meant for research, or even watching television.
Once I got the hang of it, I have to admit I found it rather nice to spend hours on end doing things simply because they seemed enjoyable. The weather was unseasonably warm and sunny, so I did take walks, in addition to my morning runs. I also went to the archery range a few times. I caught up on housework and superhero tv shows. And I spent hour upon hour curled up on the couch, reading, drinking tea, and listening to records. It reminded me a lot of high school, actually. Except in high school, I would have done the books/tea/music thing out on the back deck, so I could also smoke cigarettes, which was my favorite hobby back then (Don’t worry, I quit smoking years ago).
Ultimately, I’m really glad I spent a week not writing. Proud of myself, even. But by the seventh day, I found that my emotional equilibrium was starting to deteriorate. Restlessness, sleeplessness, paranoia, depression, and even surliness began to creep in. Also, I’ve got a deadline coming up. So it’s back to writing for me!
But I think I might try this again the next time I have a week open. Because I do feel renewed, and my well seems a bit more full.
I finally finished The Sea Rover’s Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730 by Benerson Little. It was every bit as arduous a read as I feared, but well worth the effort for the information it provided. Frankly, unless The Age of Sail is a passion for you, I wouldn’t recommend reading it. I think the tidbits that show up in Bane and Shadow will probably be satisfying enough for most people. As a fiction writing, I sometimes feel that’s part of the service I render. I read the boring books, so you don’t have to.
I’ve now started a less boring though probably just as challenging book called Legends of the Samurai by Hiroaki Sato. I’ve only just begun, but I can already tell that this is not some breezy, light-hearted book recounting samurai adventures, but instead a rich, nuanced, multifaceted look at feudal Japan. I’m looking forward to diving deep on this one.
But it was my week of “not writing”, and I did talk about pleasure reading. So I should mention that I’m also currently tearing through Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden. Golden was one of the screenwriters on the Star Wars: Clones Wars television show, which I absolutely loved. Season 6 was cut short, probably due to the franchise being sold to Disney, and they never produced the episodes that tied up the plot for one of my all time favorite Star Wars characters, Asajj Ventress. Fortunately, Golden was given the opportunity to write the conclusion as a book for Del Rey. Her prose style is a little…enthusiastic for my tastes, but it’s one last Ventress story, and that’s really all I was looking for.
It’s always hard to pick just one song for this section. There’s so much good stuff out there. But I think this time I’ll go with a sentimental choice. Last Thursday evening, I ran our bimonthly writing discussion panel, Shut Up & Write. Logan had a concert, but my younger son, Zane, accompanied me on the long drive down to Arlington and back. On the return trip, it was dark and we were tired and ready to be home and in bed. I put this song on the stereo and cranked the volume. The two of us sang along at the tops of our lungs as we cruised down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway with the windows open and the cool night breeze whipping through our hair.
That’s all for this week. I’ll try to remember to actually take a picture for the NYC Teen Author Festival to include next week.
I wrote the above this morning, and when I reviewed it just now, I was tempted to leave it as is, cheerful, and upbeat. Nobody want's to be a downer. But I feel that would be remiss, and perhaps even dishonest to some degree.
I just learned that last night, my friend, Eve Reinhardt Caripedes, passed away after battling cancer for several years. It’s still too new and raw for me to really write thoughtfully about it, so my apologies if this comes out a little raw. Eve was an awe-inspiring human being. The harder things got, the stronger she got. Her kindness and caring for others was boundless, even when she was in immense amounts of pain herself.
I’m not actually sad for Eve. Wherever she is, I am confident that at least she’s no longer suffering. But I am heartbroken for her husband, Charlie, who is now a widower after spending almost his entire marriage supporting the woman he loved as she battled cancer and ultimately lost. If memory serves, her diagnosis came less than a year after they were married.
Only a few months ago, Eve and I were making plans for the boys and I too drive up to their house in upstate New York for some skiing. She joked that Charlie, Logan, and I could do the actual skiing, while she and Zane just did the drinking of the hot chocolate. In retrospect, I’m not sure how realistic those plans were, but we talked about them like they were totally going to happen. A few weeks later, though, things started to get bad again. I tentatively suggested that perhaps we should wait until next year. She said that was a good idea. She was sure she’d be feeling much stronger next year.
And that was perhaps the most remarkable thing about Eve. You could call it optimism. But sometimes that word has a false ring to it. I prefer to call it her gloriously defiant hope. If we are measured by what we leave behind, that lesson I have learned from her is beyond price.