Monday, July 29, 2013

Introversion In Ireland

One of the things I like best about being in my 30s is that I am really and truly understanding myself in ways I never have before. It's only recently that I've realized I'm actually an introvert. (I'm an INFP) I thought my social butterfly ways and my love of performing meant I was an extrovert for sure, and I never really understood my intense desire to be alone sometimes, or why I would have such ridiculous anxiety over making a simple phone call. Realizing that being a highly social introvert was an actual thing did wonders for me, and I can usually manage my introversion really well. But recently, understanding it didn't keep it from making me really, really sad.

I had a fantastic time in Ireland for my MFA residency. My husband and I spent a few days in London and then a few days in Dublin before he left and my school stuff started, but I loved Dublin so much I was really excited to spend so more time there. I was right in the heart of Dublin for school, and I looked forward to nights spent exploring the streets and sharing meals and drinks with my fellow MFAers.

We stayed on the campus of Trinity College, which was gorgeous and amazing and legendary, but also caused this introvert some anxiety. See, our group was spread out over three different dorm buildings, with no common space to hang out and find people who needed a dinner buddy or a walking buddy or a pub buddy. And the rooms had no wifi. And there were no phones in the rooms. So, basically, it was almost impossible to find someone to hang out with if you didn't make arrangements during lecture.

Oh, and see this map of the university?

Most of the people in my program were staying near that green square on the top of the map. Our classroom space was by that small-ish green area at the bottom left. Want to take a guess as to where my room was? See the building on the very, very right top side that looks like it's not even connected to the campus? Yeah. 

So, I knew I was going to have to really put myself outside of my comfort zone when it came to socializing on this trip. Because, yes, it's about school, but it's also about making connections, both with the city and with the people going through this program with me. And I go to school with some RAD people, you guys. They are talented and funny and smart and genuinely nice people. I like them all. 

But, you know when you're thrown into a new group of people you don't really know, like at a conference or a seminar, when you have a moment of free time you always try to find "your person?" The person you pair off with who seems most like you, who becomes your event best friend? Well, I just really struggled finding "my person," both last year and this year, and while I hung out on the outskirts of a few different groups, there wasn't a person or group of people I paired off with right away, and it left me flailing. 

To be totally honest, when it comes to pairing up, I would normally find the biggest partiers, the "young and fun" group, and join in with them. The people who close down the bar, singing along loudly with the house band, are generally my people. But being on deadline during residency threw me off. I couldn't spend my free time pub crawling because I had writing to do, and, sadly, I'm at the point in my life when even one beer makes me so sleepy I might as well take a Benadryl. No writing gets done after even a short visit to the pub, and I had to write. So I missed my window of hanging out with that group.

But I'm not in the go to sleep early group. I'm not in the parents group. I'm not in the "we've been to a zillion residencies together and we are totally best friends" group. I just...I had a hard time finding my person niche.

And so, that was a lot of my problem. I was no one's best friend. No one was thinking, "hey, we should see if Jessica can come along." I wasn't the first person anyone thought about when it came to finding dinner plans or saving a seat for or anything like that. And that's fine, because I did make friends and I do like everyone and I invited myself along to a lot of places. But I also spent a LOT of time by myself. I like spending time alone, but on my own terms, and this wasn't always on my own terms. So I also spent a lot of time video chatting with my husband (in public, because I had no private wifi), almost in tears because I was so frustrated and lonely and I didn't know what to do about it.

I mean, it's not like I didn't try. It's very hard for me to put myself out there, but I tried you guys. The logistics were bad, though, like I said, and I couldn't always find people. And then when I did, I was my usual disastrous self, and, jeez, sometimes I can't blame anyone for not wanting me to be their person.

Like, one night I invited myself along to dinner with some great people who were really fun. But I had these guys, I was SO allergic to London and Ireland. I couldn't stop sneezing some days and my eyes were swollen and runny and my skin was itchy and it was absolutely terrible. So I'm at dinner with these really nice, fun people and I can't stop sneezing, so I can hardly participate in the conversation. Then it is ridiculously hot in this pub (the weather in Ireland was so bizarre when we were there--sunny and in the 80s almost every day, and no AC in the entire country), and I am hot and sneezing and tired from sneezing and just uncomfortable and frustrated and annoyed at myself for letting this dinner with these cool people go so horribly wrong by being the worst dinner companion in the history of group dining. And then there's some issue with the tip and someone's bill and I can't math because I feel like I'm going to pass out and I think I did some money thing wrong and now I'm all convinced everyone hates me because I'm a terrible dinner companion who stiffs on the bill. So I went home thinking, this is why you're lonely, Jess. This is why no one wants you.

And then we take this bus around. And I look down the center aisle of the bus. I could plop down next to someone and chat, or there is that glorious row in the very back with allllll the leg room. And I am six feet tall with these legs that I have to shove in the small space of a normal seat, so I end up resting my chin on my knees the entire ride. And on the uncomfortable flight over, I must have pinched something because my left leg from my knee to my ankle was numb the entire trip. (It still is, actually.) So, when it came down to it, I would skip sitting next to someone so I could stretch out my legs in the back, alone. Maybe it was the wrong choice. Maybe I should have just sucked up the discomfort and folded myself in next to someone. But, ugh. I wanted to stretch my legs.

It was all just so hard for me, guys. And exhausting. And frustrating.

We eventually left the housing nightmare in Dublin and crossed the country to Galway, where we all stayed in this hunting lodge-turned-hotel that had a restaurant and a bar and all this central meeting space. (And we won't talk about how, out of 70+ people, everyone else got in their rooms and I was the ONE damn person whose room wasn't ready and I couldn't shower or nap and I cried alone in the hotel lobby. OMG I'm making this trip sound terrible, and it REALLY wasn't, but, yeah, there were some low points.) And I thought, finally! I won't have to scramble for people to hang out with! We have a central meeting spot and we can't really leave this hotel very easily. This is the change I've been waiting for! My trip will turn around now!

But then everyone has dinner in the hotel restaurant and I walk in and I'm still on the early side, so there are a few tables of people, but they are all full. I know more people will be coming, so I just plop down at an empty table and wait for someone to join me. But then people come in and other tables fill up and no one sits with me and no one sits with me and and no one sits with me and then finally someone from another full table takes pity on me and switches to my table (I LOVE YOU FOREVER FOR THIS, KIEKO!). But we were at this four-top, and the rest of the restaurant fills up and no one sits with us, even though I am watching people squeeze into full tables by dragging chairs across the restaurant while we had two extras. And I wonder, if she didn't move over here with me, would I literally have eaten this meal alone in this full restaurant?

And four different times, yes, FOUR TIMES, I sucked it up and said, "Hey, guys, can I sit here with you?" and plopped down at a table where people were eating or drinking or working, only to have the people there leave within five minutes or so of me sitting down. All four times, the people had legit reasons for getting up--it was never just because of me. But still, four times and your start to wonder, you know? Especially because it got harder for me to do each time, and then it would happen again.

I just kept coming back to...what is WRONG with me? Because these are cool people. Smart and funny and people I have a lot in common with. They are all writers, many of them are teachers, we all like to travel. Why can't I seem to find common ground with anyone here? Why doesn't anyone want to sit by me? And my introvert instinct was to just stay in my room where I can't get rejected and only come out for lecture and workshop. But I couldn't do that. I had to keep trying.

I will say, by the time the last two nights of residency came around, I finally started to feel comfortable in my own skin. There was a big group hanging out and working, so I joined them. Then there was a big group hanging out talking and singing and playing guitar and I joined them. I went to an awesome lunch and didn't feel like I was a huge disaster. I felt welcomed. People talked to me. I laughed with people and had fun and felt like I belonged. Finally.

But, by the time I finally felt comfortable, like people were seeing the real me and I was having fun, it was time to go home. Of course.

I've always known I'm slow to warm, but does it always take me 10 days? Are all my residencies going to be like this, because it takes me exactly the length of our trip to feel comfortable and warm up and become the type of person people want to have dinner with?

I don't know why I'm sharing all of this. My insecurities...let me show you them.

I'm not trying to whine. Not at all. I truly do love my MFA program, and I think it is full of amazing and talented people. I feel unbelievably lucky to be able to work alongside them, and I am very glad to know them. But why is the social stuff so hard for me? Why do I feel like such an outcast sometimes?

I know it's all ME and not them, which I wouldn't really get if I didn't understand my own introversion. I'm fiercely introverted, and I know that, so I know WHY I feel the way I do. But knowing this didn't make it easier to deal with. It didn't heal the social side of me who was sad to be walking the streets of Dublin alone. It didn't ease the embarrassment after the fourth group of people got up and walked away after I sat down with them. It kept me from being upset at everyone else, but it didn't keep me from being upset at myself.

Knowing yourself is half the battle, I guess, and I'm glad I have myself somewhat figured out. But the other half is dealing with yourself, and that part doesn't seem to be getting any easier.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Rafiq is only nine when Kashmiri Freedom Fighters raid his village in search of new recruits. Tall for his age, he is the first boy to cross the chalk line into a life of brutality and violence.

Jameela cannot forget her brother. While Rafiq is trained to kill in the rebel camp high in the mountains, she keeps his memory alive.

This is another book that I would have NEVER read on my own. It was assigned to me as part of my MFA residency because author Jane Mitchell is Irish. 

My little MFA group was super lucky, because Jane Mitchell is friends with our mentor, Edie Hemingway. So Jane actually came to our discussion of Chalkline at Trinity College and talked to us about the journey she took to write this book. Her story was fascinating, and I'm so glad I the opportunity to hear her talk about it!

This book is unlike anything I've ever read, and unlike anything I usually pick up. It's about a young boy who is kidnapped and basically brainwashed into becoming a child soldier for the Kashmiri Freedom Fighters. There is violence in this book. A lot of it. And it really confronts some heavy issues. What I liked the most about it was how much it made me think about myself - I found myself judging Rafiq for some of the things he did, but what would I do in his situation? I'm in no place to judge, really. So it prompted a lot of introspection. (Jane Mitchell said 9/11 was one of the things that prompted her to write this book, which was fitting for me because I thought about 9/11 a lot while reading it. I think about this a lot, actually - who would I be while trying to escape the burning twin towers? The person who helped people? The person who pushed people out of the way? The person who cowered in the corner? We all like to think we would be the person who helps people, but you don't know until you are there. The same thoughts were prompted by this book. I mean, honestly, what would you do in Rafiq's position?)

I can't wait to add this one to my classroom library. I think my students are really going to get a lot out of it. 

Check out what the other Bookanistas are up to today:

Nikki Katz is delighted by CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn
Stasia Ward Kehoe meanders into adult fiction to ponder LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel
Gretchen McNeil  sings out for SECOND VERSE by Jennifer Walkup
Shari Arnold adores ALSO KNOWN AS (AKA) by Robin Benway
Tracy Banghart delves into TOUCHING THE SURFACE by Kimberly Sabatini
Christine Fonseca is held captive by ABANDON by Elana Johnson

Katy Upperman shines a light on THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE by Jennifer E. Smith

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's Up Wednesday

(For details on What’s Up Wednesday and to join in, click here.)

What I'm Reading
There's a new Jennifer Echols book out, so you KNOW I'm reading it! I just love everything she writes!

This one is all about music, so you know I'm in love. 

What I'm Writing

Last time I did one of these, I hinted at the secret project I was working on. Now it's not a secret anymore! I'm revising PUSH GIRL with every free second I have. I have my mind wandering to a few different projects when I'm not working on it -- I still need to revise the beginning of IN REAL LIFE, and I pulled out my NaNo '09 project for my MFA residency workshop, and I got some really good feedback on it, so I'd love to figure out how to make that work. 

For once in my life I have more ideas/possible projects than I have time for, and that's pretty damn exciting!

What Else I've Been Up To

I've been home from my trip to Ireland for about a week now (update to come! Or at least some pictures!), and I'm just starting to feel like life is getting back to normal. Of course, in my life that means something else is happening soon, because I never like to feel normal for long. Yup, I'm off to Vegas with my girls for our annual girlie weekend, and then the weekend after that is SCBWL LA! Meep. My summer has been so nuts, you guys. I'm exhausted. And we won't even talk about how there's less than a month to go before school starts again. Nope, we won't talk about that at all. 

What Inspires Me Right Now

I've been watching all of the episodes of Push Girls on Sundance*, and that show is pretty great. I highly recommend it, if you get Sundance and you get a chance to watch it. 

Also, I've been loving this new blog: Disability in Kidlit
The contributors all give excellent insight into writing characters with disabilities, and the things they've shared have been so useful in my writing of a character with a spinal cord injury who uses a wheelchair. Add this blog to your daily read, even if you aren't writing a character with a disability. I promise you will get a lot out of it!

*So I google the show to find this picture, and there is actually an ad there to pre-order the book. What is my life right now? Whee!

What have you been up to lately?

Monday, July 22, 2013

More Book News!

Thank you guys so much for all the love and enthusiasm about my book! I'm seriously so excited about it, and it makes me so happy that you guys are excited, too.

So, after keeping quiet about this book for over three months, things are now moving at lightning speed. The official deal announcement went up, which was pretty exciting:

And then I found out that the book is now up on all the major book outlets! If you are so inclined, you can now add my book on Goodreads!

It's also on these book sites, where you can pre-order!

Plus, you can tune into the season finale of Push Girls tonight on Sundance to see one of my awesome editors, Kat Brzozowski, talk to Chelsie about the book!

Also, did you catch that release date? March 11, 2014. In publishing terms, that's like TOMORROW. Meep!

So, I went ahead and pre-ordered my own book this weekend, which was a pretty surreal experience. in fact, this has all been a pretty surreal experience, to tell you the truth.

Thank you guys for putting up with my attention whoring this past week. I'm getting back to my regularly scheduled nonsense soon, I promise.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Which I Shock You All With Surprise Book Deal News

So, I'd been planning on sitting down this afternoon, my first afternoon at home in three weeks, and typing up an update on my trip to Ireland, maybe posting a few pictures, that sort of thing.

But then, as I was walking out the door for lunch, this popped up on my Twitter feed:
And I thought, Well, hell, it looks like we're announcing this now! Woop!

So, the topic of my post for today has changed. Yes, I'm back from my trip. And, yes, Ireland was absolutely amazing and I loved it so much and I can't wait to tell you about it. But, more importantly, YES, I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT WITH ST. MARTIN'S.

The things I can tell you right now:

I'm co-writing a book with Chelsie Hill, one of the featured cast members on the Sundance Channel's reality series PUSH GIRLS. 

If you want to know more about the show (which is REALLY good), click here
If you want to know more about Chelsie (who is amazing), click here. (Or check out her Twitter or her Instagram)

It's a YA novel based on Chelsie's life. So, yes, the main character is in a wheelchair. But, it's not exactly Chelsie's life. It's not a memoir, the main character isn't Chelsie, the story is fiction, etc. It's just based a lot on what she has gone through in her own life.

I am CRAZY excited to be a part of this. Working with St. Martin's and Chelsie and Sundance, being involved with this great show and these great people, it's all just too much for me to handle right now. I'm beyond thrilled to be in on this project. I can't even tell you. I'm having a blast with this book, and I can't wait to share more info with you guys! So, release date, cover, plot summary, etc will all be shouted from the rooftops as soon as I can!

And, just because some of you may appreciate this, this all happened about three hours after I put this post on my blog. Not even kidding, it was the same day, and I was sitting at my computer re-reading the post and feeling sorry for myself when I got the email from my agent. I was really at the lowest point I'd been in a long time when fantastic news came my way. So, hang in there, people who are struggling. Good things are brewing.

It's been hard keeping a secret for almost four months. I'm terrible with secrets, so I'm glad it's all out in the open now! Yay! Now, let's celebrate! Who's sharing this bubbly with me?!