28 February 2012

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

The first book I completed for the 100+ Books Reading Challenge 2012 is Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Originally I was going to start my reading challenge with Sula, but a freelance opportunity presented itself that allows me to read fiction, so I jumped on it, and Song of Solomon was my first title.

Toni Morrison's work is not unfamiliar to me. In a college literature course I read/studied The Bluest Eye, so I was excited to have the chance to read Song of Solomon.

The story centers around the Dead family in an unnamed Michigan town. Specifically, the protagonist of the story is Macon Dead III (called Milkman from childhood). It is a coming-of-age story in which Milkman goes in search of a stash of gold that may or may not exist from his father and aunt's youth, and ends up finding out about his family history and his own identity instead.

I had high expectations of the story when I started reading it, and I wasn't disappointed. I did have trouble connecting with the character of Milkman--I found myself connecting more with his mother, Ruth, and his aunt, Pilate. I know part of that is because they are female characters, but I found their life experiences more closely resembling my own, and I found myself rooting for them more than other characters in the book.

Pilate does play a large role in the story, and is also considered a protagonist in some ways. More than that, she is a connective thread among the characters, and provides a link for Milkman to what he is seeking, even when what he is seeking changes. In fact, it is Pilate that helps connect Milkman to his own father.

The story is told chronologically and includes flashbacks to fill in exposition when needed. The use of flashbacks helps reveal the story to the reader in the same way it is being revealed to Milkman. Not only does this help build suspense, but it puts the reader in Milkman's shoes as he is on his journey, tracking down clues and figuring out who he is.

I was not disappointed when I finished Song of Solomon. I enjoyed the story, I enjoyed the characters and their relationships, and when I put the book down, I found myself thinking about it for a few days afterward, still putting pieces together and processing the story. That's usually a good sign, isn't it? Of course, I didn't expect less from a Nobel Prize winner.

Whether you've read Morrison or not, Song of Solomon is worth taking time for. Morrison is an outstanding author, and this story will help you see why. Song of Solomon is my favorite of her works so far.

18 February 2012

Freelance specialization

One of the many pieces of advice that veterans have for new freelance writers is to specialize what they do.

When you first start out, you may find yourself casting a wide net, willing to write just about anything someone will pay you for. That's how I started out. I was writing for pennies on topics ranging from diets and fitness to Halloween costumes to mixed martial arts gear. It's how you build a portfolio and gain experience in freelance writing.

As you write, though, you may find yourself drawn to a particular area of writing. For example, I found myself writing a lot of health/fitness/natural living articles, as well as a lot of education articles. My background working in education gave me a good foundation for education articles, and with my mother working as a nurse, I knew enough about health/fitness to break into the topic, and built on the initial articles to write more.

Though I still write a lot of different things, depending on what clients need, I tend to stick to health/fitness articles (which includes nutrition, the field of health care, exercise, natural living, etc.) and education articles. These are the two areas I have the most experience in, and can write them pretty quickly with minimal research (depending on the specs, of course).

By specializing, I've been able to strengthen my portfolio. I focus on these two areas, so when a client comes up and asks for samples, I have recent pieces ready to send. I won't say I'm an authority in those areas, but I'm confident enough in them that I can tell clients that there's no problem writing about virtually anything that falls under those umbrella topics. (In fact, I have one client that asked me to do a project that consisted of many topics covering nursing education--it was the best of both worlds!)

Specialization does not limit your writing. Sure, you may find yourself passing on projects because they aren't your niche, but it means that as you grow and strengthen your skills, you can command a higher rate for the work you do. Instead of settling for a lower rate of pay and casting a wider net, you can focus in on the "big fish" in your topic areas. In addition, writing what you know or are comfortable with is more cost-effective. If I have to write about a topic I know nothing about, I'm going to spend more time doing research, which means the article takes longer, and I'm getting paid less per hour. If I stick to the areas I'm comfortable with and know well, I can write faster and be earning more for the same amount of time.

If you haven't specialized, you should consider it. Think about what you like to write, what you're good at writing, what you know a lot about. Think about what you did in your life before writing. This can help you narrow down your writing and strengthen your skills.

15 February 2012

It's coming....!

It's mid-February. For many that means starting to think about spring, about St. Patrick's Day, about Ash Wednesday and Lent. However, for others, it means something different. It means thinking about ScriptFrenzy.

I know, I know. It's early. But, really, is it ever too early to start thinking about a writing challenge?

For those new to the idea, ScriptFrenzy is like NaNoWriMo, except that it's for scripts. ScriptFrenzy (referred to from here on as "Screnzy") offers flexibility in what kind of script is written. Screenplay, stage play, radio, television.... it's about writing not about following a long list of rules for how to do it. It's 100 pages in 30 days (which is super easy when you're writing a script, by the way, and especially compared to NaNo!).

I already know what I'm doing. The reason is because I came up with a script idea in 2010 and didn't write it. So I'm using that script idea for this year's challenge. It's called Wait, and is a collection of vignettes about... (you guessed it) waiting. And though I've outlined the script already, I think I'm going to start from scratch with the outline. I'm a very different person than I was two years ago, and I want the play to reflect the person I am today.

Again, I know it's early to be thinking about Screnzy. But the earlier, the better. Start thinking about whether or not you want to commit to writing 100 pages in 30 days. It can be done, and though it sounds nuts, it's a lot of fun to do.

In addition to participating, I will be offering virtual support throughout the experience, beginning with helping you prepare. Throughout the month of March I will post weekly prep posts to get your script ready to write, and throughout April I will post pep talk posts to keep you going. And you can know that I'll be right there along with you, scribbling away.

It's a wild and crazy adventure. And worth every moment of sleep lost to get it done.

14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

In honor of Valentine's Day, here's a picture of the two people I love most in this world.

10 February 2012

In which I wait for more information

I would like to talk for a moment about my daughter, who I call "Bunny" for blog purposes.

This past Tuesday, I took Bunny to Dr. New for her nine-month pediatric check-up. Part of the purpose of the appointment was to discuss her slow growth with Dr. New and figure out what could be done to increase her calories and get her to gain weight.

I like Dr. New. She's friendly and bubbly. She talked to Bunny as much as she talked to me, and our personalities seem to click. I'm thankful that she's my children's pediatrician.

We went through the initial stuff with the nurse (also friendly). Bunny was weighed and measured, her vitals were taken, and I answered the routine new-patient questions. Then we waited until Dr. New came in.

When she did, she told me she was concerned about Bunny's slow growth and development. She was still waiting for Bunny's charts to arrive from Florida, and said she'd know more when she saw where she is in comparison to where she was. Her plan was to get the charts and review them, then have Bunny come back in for a weight-check appointment next Monday. So I made an appointment with the receptionist and headed home.

Wednesday morning, I got a call from Dr. New. Not from the office, not from the nurse, from Dr. New herself. She'd received the records from Florida and said she hadn't realized how dramatic Bunny's slow growth was, and wanted to see her before the weekend. She wanted to order blood work and a urinalysis, and then have me go to her Springfield office to discuss the results that came back right away. So I agreed to go to the hospital to have the labs drawn yesterday (Thursday) early afternoon.

Bean and Bug went to play at Ba's house to play and I took Bunny in. They took the blood in the lab, and then sent us upstairs to the pediatric ward for the urine sample. Bunny was very mad, but was definitely a trooper! The pediatric nurses felt bad that she couldn't have a sucker after they were done, so they gave her a gorgeous handmade baby blanket from a local church group that donates them to the hospital. (It's a pearly pale green and very soft!)

Bunny and I went over to Dr. New's office to go over the labs that came back right away. The plan right now is to wait until the rest of the lab work comes back. There's another appointment scheduled for next Thursday. Bunny's weight will be checked again, and the rest of the blood work can be reviewed to see what's going on. Dr. New said that if any results come back that concern her, she'll call me, and if anything changes with Bunny, I should call her. So we'll have to wait and see.

I have a few ideas of what it could be. I know I don't know all the possibilities, and I know some things are unlikely, but I'm moving forward with some of these things in mind so I'll be prepared to take the best care of Bunny that I can.

I'm resisting the temptation to google the hell out of what I know. Dr. New gave me a lot of information--she told me everything we know right now--and while she was doing her best to be calming and reassuring, I could tell she's worried. I think I've stayed pretty calm so far, especially since I don't really know anything yet. It's all dependent on the test results.

I know I'll start to feel better when I know what's going on. Once we know what's causing these problems, we can deal with them. We can create a treatment plan and move forward with it, and work toward getting Bunny where she should be.

As I have often said to friends and family, my priority is my children. I want nothing else but for Bean and Bunny to be healthy and happy, and I'll do whatever I have to in order for that to happen. But for now, I wait.

*Dr. New is not the pediatrician's real name. It's my code name for her because she's their new pediatrician. Get it? Get it?

06 February 2012

She inches toward her goal, page by page

Despite not having any book reviews to share from January, I have been reading (slowly) for the 100+ Books in a Year Reading Challenge 2012.

January has been a chaotic month for my personal life (and writing life, actually), but the reading is definitely going to be picking up as the year progresses. In fact, I have a new client that is requiring me to read fiction as part of the project. (I know, right?)

I am currently reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I should be finished with it today or tomorrow, and will write a reflection/review of it this week. When it's finished, I'm going to read Sula, also by Toni Morrison. I didn't intend to read two books by the same author back-to-back, but after my sister read Sula for an African-American lit. class, she strongly recommended it. I started it, but had to set it aside in favor of Song of Solomon for my new client. When I'm finished with Sula, I may jump into The Jeeves Omnibus by P. G. Wodehouse. I've had it on my Nook for quite some time, and it's begging to be read.

Though I've had a slow start to this challenge, I'm confident that I can succeed. I love reading, and with all the other changes going on in my life this year, I'm up for the challenge of more than two books a week for the rest of the year. From Morrison to Wodehouse to whoever else graces my nightstand, I will spend as much of the year reading as I possibly can.

What are you reading these days?