Shelving: 2017 Edition

I decided to take advantage of re-shelving my books to organize them in a more intuitive manner than just alphabetical by author, and non-fiction alphabetical by title. After all, a multi-tiered system well-formed now will save me time in the future, right?


As with any undertaking, I did an internet search to see if someone had ideas or articles on ways to make my job easier. I looked for how to organize a bookshelf, and I saw all kinds of pictures – of sparse bookshelves with maybe a dozen books and as many trinkets around them. The deeper I looked, the less functional the shelves were, and I was getting increasingly frustrated.

I mean, what d’you think we call them bookshelves for?

I searched for how to organize a bookshelf with a lot of books, and I got a few better ideas, although it was still about beauty over functionality, making sure you “balanced” the shape of the shelf, or having all the spines organized for the color of the rainbow. The issue with these kinds of shelving options, as many people attested, was finding the books you wanted/needed later. Especially if you have hundreds of books, like me.

First of all, no matter how you decide to organize your books, you need to know the important way to find where books are and where to put them back later: Keep an inventory in shelving order. Seems obvious now I’ve said it, but NOBODY mentioned that in the articles/blogs/etc. that I read. I opted to use Evernote for this, making a Notebook for my book catalogue and separate notes for fiction and nonfiction, as this is my major distinction.


My first secondary distinction was separating out the series and author collections from the rest of my books. A series is any collection trilogy or larger (if I have three or have any intention of gathering three or more books in the series), and an author collection is three or more books by a single author. Largely, these collections are by the same author, or two authors in the case of the Left Behind books, but there are exceptions. My Dear America and Royal Diaries collections have multiple authors, and I’ve organized these by year of events depicted, and then alphabetically by title if two books happen in the same year. Otherwise, series are organized in series order, and other books are organized alphabetically by title. This took about six shelves – all my traditional shelving. The way I’d shelved previously, this area is most of what my fiction covered, plus half the desk.

Then I separate the books out by genre, where practical. Plays, poems, crime, historical fiction, romance, youth, etc. Anything that’s not a classic that I can slip into a category. These take up around two thirds of the desk, which is a little over a shelf’s worth of space.

After that, I took the classics and divided them by country. If a country had five or more different works, it had its own section, divided alphabetically first by continent, then by country. So, the UK, Russia, and America have their own sections. All Anthologies are included in classics (for the sake of convenience) and are arranged alphabetically, and then within the “other” classics, books are organized by this same alphabetical structure.


By the time I had the classics sorted, I was already out of traditional shelving. I had to use the top of my dresser, and the top of a giant Rubbermaid container in my closet. When I started in on the non-fiction, I was fast running out of non-traditional shelf space already set aside for books.

I started with series-related non-fiction. This included Doctor Who books, books about Tolkien’s creations, and books about J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. Not too many books, but they take up some space. Beside them, I put my history books (may and sundry) organized by time period, and I ran out of space in my closet from there.

I went to the giant Rubbermaid container under my desk, the full extent of my previously-used non-traditional shelf space, and I put the history books organized by place, and my religious texts. I almost fit all of my religious texts until…. I reached the wall and still had nowhere to put my Gnostic Bible.

At this point – obviously – I began to panic slightly. Cleaning my room has never been a pleasant task, and I begin to find myself in a world where it’s possible there’s not enough room for all my books in my personal living space. This is nonsensical to me, and yet it was growing into a reality. My sister offered to keep some of my books in her room, but I just blinked at her, puzzled and confused as to why she thought this was a solution.

And then, my old adage hit me: “I had to choose between clothes and books, and I chose books.”

I thought that was true when I took clothes off the shelf and stacked books in my closet, but never was it truer than when I did this round of cleaning. I took ALL the clothes out of my chest of drawers and have turned them into a creative shelving option.

You may ask where my clothes are going. I don’t know yet. Some will fit on top of or behind books – little things like socks and underwear, and maybe some pajamas. Dresses and skirts should still fit in the closet. Otherwise…. Well, your guess is as good as mine, but I don’t really have that many clothes I wear. This was just a prompt to get rid of a lot of things I’ve been hanging onto by virtue of out of sight, out of mind.

Approve or disapprove of my creative shelving? Any other space-saving book shelving techniques you’ve used to combat a too-small-room problem?




Goals for January: Writing by Checklist

As I’m balancing many projects, I’ve got to do some prioritizing in order to be sure that I’m making inroads on various projects.

I’m working on exploring new story-telling media, and I’ll keep you updated on how that’s going. Thus far, it’s going very, very slowly.

Also, I’m prioritizing two of my novel projects: an alternate history and a crime novel (this because I’ve had an insight into the sequel, so I’d better get on and finish the first one, hadn’t I?).

Other projects will plod along as usual, and whichever project is the closest to my heart in March will likely be my April Camp NaNo. After my sad failure of a showing for the November NaNoWriMo, I’m intent on actually accomplishing my Camp NaNos this year to the fullest.

I’m doing this in small pieces, focusing on a chapter at a time, with the attempt of accomplishing at least three chapters a week, knowing that during NaNo months I’ll be stepping it up to at least a chapter a day.

What are your January writing goals? Have you met any of them yet?



Writing Alternate History

In a new project I’ve taken on, working title The Time Tinker, I’ve been dabbling into some alternate history. This is something I’ve played with in the Fan Fiction realm, but never in real life.


Well, the history I’m most interested in isn’t what one might call ancient history. I’m particularly fascinated with people and events from the 60’s and 70’s, and forward from there. A historical “rule of thumb” that I feel too many people are ignoring these days is that history shouldn’t be written about until 50 years have passed, so you can gain perspective and have the most information compiled before passing any kind of judgment. You want a complete, unbiased picture.

Well, fifty years have passed since the 60’s, but beyond that? And writing alternative history often involves writing about high profile people, and in fiction you’re not really attempting to show them as they really were, necessarily, but a version that fits the story you’re telling. What if you offend their family, their fans, the actual people in question?

Some people? Not a big deal. But I’m going to write about the Beatles, Princess Di, Michael Jackson. Some of my artistic changes will be flattering, others not so much.

I finally decided, when the story wouldn’t stop unfolding in my head, that artists cannot be afraid to write the truth they see, knowing that it’s not going to be historical truth, and knowing that not everyone will be happy with it. The likelihood anyone actually related to these people will read my work is negligible, and if I am so lucky that my work would reach such heights, well, then it’ll probably have a lot of merit to back it up, won’t it? So they could hardly argue with the artistic vision.

And anyway, it’s fiction. Fiction isn’t about historical accuracy, or even accuracy of any kind. It gives us license to decide what details need to be correct and what details need to be how we see them in our heads. Sometimes, we need that house to be the actual house on the actual street in the actual city, right next to the river. Other times, the house is a fabrication of dreams and desires, in a hodge-podge of how the city should have been, with the river running around it in a curly-q.

You write the history you want to believe. Or the alternate history you want to believe. We are not historians.



The Prodigal Camper

Remember ages ago now when I said that I was doing Camp NaNo to finish up a novel?

Well, I didn’t lie. I just…put off adding on to that novel until this morning.

So it’s three weeks in. Meh. I still only have to write about 2k a day to finish on time, and I did about 3k this morning, so that’s totally fine. I’ll be done before the end, for sure.

How did that happen?

Well, writers are people like any other people, and we happen to be people who often have day jobs. While I see my novel as priority number one, my boss might not like me putting off paperwork until Camp Nano is over, right?

Right. Unfortunately.

So here I am, listening to Muse and taking a deep breath before I plunge into a bit more work so I can justify a bit more writing. A balance, I tell myself, everything’s a balance.

I happen to have complete and utter confidence in my ability to finish Camp NaNo successfully and possibly with a banging good story to turn around and edit. Not only do I write disgustingly fast (just ask Natalie, seriously), but I do that with quite a bit of efficacy to my writing, and I’ve got much of my work well-organized in one way or another.

So I’m taking this small break in my life to a) apologize for lack of blogging and b) remind you ALL that the best way to tackle anything in life, especially a novel, especially while doing something like Camp NaNo or NaNoWriMo itself, you have to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a color-coded plan with a binder full of alphabetized character profiles signed in triplicate (although one of my writing projects does have that, minutes the signed in triplicate part), but it DOES have to be a plan. Big, small, long, short – you have to know where you’re going to actually be sure you’re going to get there.

Now, you could just work from scratch and let the spirit MOVE you where you need to be. But for that you’d better be prepared to work for a set amount of time every day, at the same time every day, like a real job. And if your life can afford you doing that, I applaud and envy you.

I certainly can’t, and thus I’ve got my binders and notebooks and many pen colors and pomodoro timers.

Also, get a really good to-do app. I could recommend several, as I actually USE several simultaneously. Maybe that shall be my next post. Thoughts?

How are your Camp NaNo excursions faring?



Writing a Wedding: Research

I firmly believe that every writer has something they avoid. Maybe it’s heavy action scenes, sex scenes, or an on-stage death (as it were). Every kind of event or scene has its own nuances, dictated by the end goal. A great writer can take those nuances and the other elements of a scene (like the characters, places, setting, plot points they’ve created) and meld them together to create and integral, cohesive piece.


I hate writing weddings.

I mean, the list is actually longer. Weddings, funerals, pregnancy (although strangely I kind of enjoy writing childbirth now), dinner parties. There’s a reason my funeral scenes are usually a few lines long, the pregnancies are shown obliquely through a few key points, and dinner parties are either cocktail parties or people meeting for a cup of tea.

Weddings, though, weddings are the worst.

Whatever the reasons for people disliking whatever they dislike in writing, the issue with weddings is a simple one for me. I’ve not been to very many weddings, I wasn’t especially fond of the ones I did go to, I’ve never really imagined myself as a bride, and while I have NO intention of getting married my ideal wedding would be filling out paperwork at a courthouse and a glass of wine with dinner for celebration.

Not exactly the romantic scene that dreams are made of.

How do I cope with my lack of qualification for writing weddings?

In truth, I really don’t. My wedding scenes, like the funerals, are very often a matter of lines, maybe a few hundred words, and always told through the point of view of NOT the bride or groom. Often, someone else in the wedding party. I’ve found the trick for making this tiny bit satisfying is in the buildup.

Proposals, wedding planning, honeymoon planning, and capping a short scene from the wedding with a suitable and proportionate scene from either the honeymoon or the trip to the honeymoon – that’s a recipe for happy readers, oddly enough.

Just like when my characters have children I do research on pregnancy and childbirth and child development (part book, part internet, part asking my parents who are in the medical field and also happened to have five children), the proposals and wedding planning and honeymoon planning takes research, as I have personally done none of these things.

Some of it I can intuit, like thinking about my characters and what kind of proposal makes sense based on whether I want it to be ideal or in some way not ideal. Other things, like ring styles, order of events, and logistical sense for honeymoons – that takes more research. As an example, I’ll lay out my research for my most recent project of focus, working title Hold Me Now.

The first step was picking out the ring. Given my characters, I opted with the Tiffany’s website, but as the groom is UK based and the wedding and proposal were going to take place in the UK, I searched for their UK website (as I did with all further web searches). I tried to find a ring that suited my characters, thinking about size, style, price…. Not just something I would like, but something that made sense for my characters. Other characters may not have ever gone with Tiffany’s, but this suited Ross and Katherine.

The next step was outlining the to-dos for a wedding. Here’s my best friend when it comes to writing marriages. I’ve used it many, many times now, always to great effect, always with the greatest of pleasure and relief at how well-organized and comprehensive it is:

Real Simple’s Wedding Checklist

Real Simple has a lot of really great checklists and tools that I use for many aspects of my life and writing, but this is one of the most helpful, and I’ll probably never use it in real life. Go figure.

Obviously, this checklist can be pared down depending on your characters (or if you’re planning a real wedding, your personal circumstances), but the great thing about this is it’s comprehensive. You’d be hard pressed to find something missing on the list, which makes it an ideal starting place.

From here, I went through the list thinking of everything I would need to describe and began searching for wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, flower arrangements, and the wedding cake. One of the best things about this project was that my characters are disgustingly wealthy and therefore didn’t really require a budget – something that makes the bride a bit uncomfortable. Obviously, in many cases budget is important, or you’ll run the risk of a highly unbelievable wedding plan for your characters.


Why do anywhere but Disney World? I mean, seriously.



Into my Bookshelf: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Perhaps the thing authors thrive on most is possibilities. As much as I hate unfinished work, I’ve been reading a book alight with possibilities, that has captured so many imaginations, and certainly captured mine.

As a lifelong Dickens fan, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It’s his unfinished novel, about half done, that isn’t his best and isn’t his worst, but in so many ways has gone right up to the top three on my list of best things he’s written.

The story begins in an opium den, which really, is the recipe for an awesome story right there. There’s not a lot of mystery as to who actually commits the murder (which takes FOREVER to materialize), as Dickens has never been prided in his subtlety at ALL. On top of that, several people who knew where the story was going and had been given various amounts of privileged information all agree that the title character was murdered by his uncle.

That’s so not even a spoiler. If you couldn’t figure that out within the first couple installments (ten chapters or so), I don’t even know what to make of you.

The village of Cloisterham is a very closed community, with people with their very particular behaviors and habits. Quite naturally, the suspect is suspected easily because he’s got a checkered past and he apparently appears “un-English”. Mr. Sapsea, the person who coins that term in this work, reminds me of one of my favorite characters in all of Dickens – Mr. Podsnap from Our Mutual Friend, my favorite Dickens novel.

Based on clues in the novel, and based on conversations had with people like the illustrator and relatives, we know a bit more than just who the killer is (which is totally not even a secret to the reader by the end of the novel). We have a good inkling where the body is (again, once you know who the killer is, not even a surprise), who’s going to end up with the dear Miss Rosa Bud (slightly less obvious), and there are very few mysteries remaining. Although, may I say, some really fabulous characters are fleshed out or introduced toward the middle of the book – that is to say, the end of the book as we have it.

The one mystery – around which many adaptations can focus in trying to finish the story – that remains is whom Mr. Datchery is, a gentleman who shows up in Cloisterham toward the end of the story with the intention of moving there, possibly to investigated the as-yet unsolved year-old murder/disappearance of Edwin Drood. I mean, there are all kinds of possibilities, like a police officer or actor who has taken interest in the tale. We’ve gotten such suggestions as these. It even popped into my head while reading that it might be Drood himself in disguise – not killed, but somehow altered from the ordeal as to be unrecognizable.

That was a silly idea, naturally, but it occurred nonetheless.

SPOILER ALERT (kind of?)

I mean, since it’s unfinished, I use the term spoiler loosely. HOWEVER, I think that to me the most reasonable explanation for whom Mr. Datchery is (since we have a list of people whom he cannot be), given Drood’s actual death (which is pretty certain), and ruling out the impossible, is that Mr. Datchery is actually one Mr. Bazzard. He works for Mr. Grewgious, the guardian of Rosa, and writes plays. Or rather, has written a play that still hasn’t been picked up. We haven’t actually seen him yet, so we don’t know what he looks like. Many theatre writers have some acting experience, and as he wrote a tragedy, the tale would interest him. He would know it from the papers, and he certainly would have heard something about the death of Rosa’s once-fiance from his employer.

Of course, the biggest problem with this is the idea that he would be able to “live” in Cloisterham for the rest of his life and yet still work and live in London, spending time at work and with his writer set.  That’s a puzzle, to be sure.

Still, the beauty of this being an unfinished story is that we can imagine it to work out however we want. From my teacher/writer eye, I see possibilities not only for writing an ending myself, but for assigning this as a shorter Dickens novel, challenging students to write an ending in the style of Dickens, making it all work out sensibly. Could be fun, and useful.



Into My Playlist: Boys of Summer

Hello, and welcome back to my music!

Today we’re covering another cover of a song: “Boys of Summer,” originally done by Don Henley.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Don Henley version of this song. Someday, I will purchase the Don Henley version of this song. But the version I currently own is The Ataris version of the song.


When I was maybe eleven or so years old (I was pretty young) I bought my first stereo. Nothing fancy or expensive, just speakers, a CD player, and a radio. I bought one CD (Country) to go with it, and then collected CDs from there. I have since bequeathed that stereo, which still works wonderfully, to my little brother, but when I first got it, I was looking for a radio station.

And I first began to listen to rock music.

Songs that are now “old” were brand new then, and even the ones that were covers of much older songs, like this one, were still brand new to me. And I forever recall that young, musically naive moment of my life in conjunction with these covers, notably, this one.

The Ataris version is a fairly faithful cover rendition, which I appreciate. The instrumentation is different, which amps up the sound a bit, but this is more in keeping with the sound at the time when it was made. More of a post-grunge sound.

There is only one significant lyrical difference. Instead of “I saw a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac,” this cover version says, “I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac.”

Not a huge difference, except again, a sort of generational update. When I first heard the song, it was literally brand new, on its first play on the Portland radio station I was experimenting with. I don’t remember what the station was now, but I do remember the radio host pointing out this line when he compared it with the Don Henley version (I had never heard of Don Henley, so that meant nothing to me), and he said that it was the prerogative of The Ataris to update something small like that, make it relevant to their listeners.

This was a strange concept to me, because I had – to that point – always valued the most accurate copy possible in covers, in book-to-film, etc. A few years later, I would grow to understand why a slightly personalized artistic interpretation is good, and how it can still be faithful by becoming something new. At the time, my mental development was simply not ready for this sort of thinking, and this simple statement by the radio host blew my mind.

I think of that every time I hear this song, in either version. Now I know who Don Henley is. I know what Dead Heads are (ah, how young and naive I was), and I’ve heard so many cover versions of so many songs that I actually can appreciate the cover as an art form.

I think I can safely say that this version of this song – while in many ways simply a suitable cover version of a good song – was a seminal moment in my artistic development, and in many ways changed the way I look at art forever.

All thanks to a radio host I don’t even remember the name of on a station that I couldn’t find again if I tried.