Monday, September 25, 2006

When in Doubt, Go for the Gusto

St Johns Reading
Originally uploaded by cmflet.
One thing I learned from teaching: never let a little personal dignity get in the way of enthusiasm. I have no idea what I'm talking about here, but I'm pretty sure the audience is laughing. (I could they not be?)

Get Me to the Bookstore On Time

My friend Laura called me a few hours before my first bookstore reading. “You’re strangely calm,” she said. I was, too. I’d planned my entire day, and so far it'd gone off without a hitch: early morning workout, a few errands, then work on the new novel. Then rehearsing, both to get my timing down and get myself used to the sound of my own voice (I know from teaching that if I don’t do this, I sound weird and stupid to myself as soon as I open my mouth in front of a group). Precisely at 5:30 PM, I began making brownies. If organizational skills were an Olympic event, that day I’d have scored a perfect 10.

The whole point, of course, being to get me to the bookstore--prepared and relaxed, with my copy of Tallulah Falls and a tray of warm brownies in hand--no later than 6:40 PM, twenty minutes before the reading was due to start. So explain to me—how did it suddenly become 6:35 with me still in sweatpants, my hair in a ponytail, nothing loaded in the car and a houseful of animals who needed to be fed?

Call it a wardrobe malfunction. No, not the Janet Jackson kind. The kind that makes every item of clothing in my closet seem like it was beamed straight from Planet U-R-Freakazoid. My bedroom looked as though someone had tossed my closet into a giant blender and turned it on without the lid. It was the real-life version of that nightmare, you know, the one where you have to be somewhere in one minute and the gorgeous dress you just put on suddenly morphs into orange overalls with fringe.* If Laura had called me at 6:35 PM, she’d have gotten a whole different take on my emotional state.

Thank God for the simple black blazer, that’s all I can say.

After the ordeal of getting myself dressed, the reading itself went down smooth as pumpkin pie. The bookstore, St. Johns Booksellers, was cozy and bright; so many people showed up that Nena and Liz, the store owners, had to put out all their chairs; and this lovely, lovely audience laughed in all the right places and afterward bought copies of the book. They’re going straight to heaven, every single one of them.

Even the brownies were a hit.**

Not all readings will be so charmed, I know. But this one was. Thanks to everyone who came, thanks to all who couldn’t come but sent their best wishes, and thanks especially to Liz and Nena of St. Johns Booksellers—you gals rock!

*I'm not the only one who has that nightmare, am I?

**Full disclosure: They were made from a box. But hey, I had to set the oven. And I stir batter really, really well.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What's Even Better Than a New Hairstyle? Why, A New MySpace!

I can draw, but I've always done my best work in black and white. When it comes to color, I quickly become bemused and befuddled. (Just ask my friend Laura, whom I had to bring in for emergency consultation when picking a color for our house. This was after I'd run through 11--count them, 11--paint samples, without coming close to the green I had in mind. My sweetie is partially color-blind, yet even he has a better sense of color coordination than I do. Believe me, I'm not proud).

So, when I signed up for MySpace, a few months ago, my original page was the default: white background, black text. Other MySpacians (MySpacites?) have fantastical layouts with graphics and sound and sparkly things and animation and anything else they can import code for. Most of these pages are lovely. Some--let us be frank--are disasters. I wasn't about to try my own hand at it. I could just feel disaster lurking. This is the girl, after all, who dresses in grays and blacks and denim and olive greens. Safe. Uncomplicated. When I feel like pushing my own personal fashion right to the edge, I'll toss on a dark red hoodie. Whoa, stand back!

Enter my wonderful, wonderful website designer. Begone, dull white...hello, COLOR! Drop on by the new digs, and check out the drapes!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tallulah's a 10!

TeenBookReviewer has posted a marvelous review of Tallulah Falls-- click here to read!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Goodbye, Students

It’s Labor Day—the last summer hurrah before school starts. And, for the first time in 10 years, I’m not getting ready to teach.

Up until this summer, I taught in a veterinary technology* program at a local community college. Teaching wasn’t a planned career move; I sort of fell into it. After seven years of full-time veterinary practice, I’d begun work on the novel that was to become Tallulah Falls. It quickly became clear, though, that there wasn’t enough time or energy in my days for both a full-time job and writing.

And oh, I wanted to finish that novel.

Changing the focus of my career involved a fair bit of scrambling, a good dose of serendipity, and what felt—at the time—like a jump off a precipice. The serendipity came in the fact that, while there is only one veterinary technology program in my state, it happens to be in the city where I live. And the program happened to need a part-time instructor, at the exact time I began looking around for other, more writer-friendly ways to use my veterinary degree.

Long story short—I loved teaching. I loved that look of sudden comprehension—the “aha!” moment, when a student got it. I loved the story-telling, those “from the trenches” anecdotes that grab the class’s attention and clothe abstract concepts in fur and blood and bone. Best of all, though, I loved how much I learned from my students.

They say if you really want to learn something, teach it. There’s nothing like sparring (nicely) with a skeptical student to make you strive to be certain of your facts and your logic. Our students come to us with all kinds of experiences and backgrounds, and not a term went by that I didn’t pick up a new fact, idea, or perspective to add to my own store of knowledge. For that, and for the privilege of standing up in front of a classroom and sharing what I know, I am deeply and forever grateful.

Publishing has changed my life, not least in this way: I had too many irons in the fire, and one had to come out. I have a deadline to meet for my 2nd novel, and I can’t—I won’t—leave veterinary practice entirely. And so the teaching I fell into, ten years ago, is now fallen away.

I will miss it. I miss my students: energetic, enthusiastic, questioning, stressed-out, sharp, compassionate veterinary technician students. You guys made teaching a blast—thank you. Good luck, and I’ll see you out in the crucible of practice—where I’ll get to see how much you really know (and, no doubt, learn a few things myself).

*Veterinary technicians are the nurses of the veterinary profession. To become a licensed veterinary technician, students must complete an accredited 2-year college program and pass national and state licensing exams. Veterinary technicians provide nursing care, take radiographs, administer anesthesia, perform laboratory testing, and counsel clients, along with a thousand and one other duties. Veterinary technicians are smart and capable people, who would be successful in any number of careers with fewer hours, much less stress (not to mention poop), and way more pay. They do this work because they love it. I work with some of the best, most dedicated technicians in the field. I can’t do what I do without them. The fact that I've had the honor of teaching some of them makes me just ridiculously proud.