Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interview with Jenn Marshall about This Is My Brave (and tickets to the NY show)

Among the many gifts I came away with from the Hippocamp15 Conference was new writer friends who, in addition to writing their own stories, are acting as creative conduits through which others can tell theirs. This included publishers, storytelling organizers, reading series curators, podcast hosts. That includes Jenn Marshall.

A Virginia resident, Jenn is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization This Is My Brave, which presents artists performing original essays, poetry, and songs about living with, or loving something with, a mental illness. TIMB has put on shows in Washington DC (twice), Boston, and Iowa City. This past June they opened for the Mental Health Americas annual convention and presented at the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) annual conference in Chicago last week. On October 4, TIMB will present its first performance in New York City (ticket giveaway info below).

Q.  How do you describe the TIMB project to those who aren't familiar with it?

This Is My Brave is a monologue-based storytelling production created to end the stigma of people whose lives have been affected by mental illness.

Some background: I had been writing anonymously about my experience living with bipolar disorder for about a year and a half. I finally reached a moment where I was sick of hiding my illness. I felt like I was contributing to the stigma instead of helping to end it, as I had aspired to do when I first launched my blog, BipolarMomLife.com.

A. piece I wroteabout being a mom living with bipolar disorder was published by a fairly well-known website, and my illness was no longer invisible. I had made it known. When I opened up about my true identity online, the exact opposite of what people had warned me might happen, happened. Friends and family called, emailed, texted. People I only knew in passing in my community stopped me to thank me for sharing my story. More people than I could count said, Me too. And I knew I was on to something.

Q. Then what?

A: Several months later, my creative partner Anne Marie Ames and I, launched our Kickstarter. Our vision to produce a theater show made up of regular people from the community who were ready to share their story of living with mental illness through poetry, music and essay, to end stigma. The support poured in. Our goal was to raise $6500 to cover the costs of producing the show in the DC-area, and within 31 days we had reached over $10,000 and were funded!

Our dream was taking off. We then put the call out for auditions and were blown away by the level of talent. The show was cast with 13 individuals and the debut show was a huge success. We sold out the nearly 400-seat theater and received rave reviews.

Many people asked us when wed do it again so that theyd have a chance to share their story.

We became a non-profit and held a show at our local high school that fall. In spring of 2015, This Is My Brave shows were created in Iowa City, Harrisburg, Boston, and we had a brand-new show in the DC-area. The more shows we put on, the more requests we get to come to new cities. Were thrilled at the response and know that others believe in the power of putting their story out there, too.

Q. Where does the name "This is My Brave" come from? What inspired it?

Around the time we were naming our show, the Sara Bareilles song "Brave" was hugely popular. Anne Marie and I were so touched by the lyrics, which talk about standing up for what you believe in, being brave because being silent wont change anything. This spoke to us on so many levels. Also, we were constantly told that we were brave for sharing our stories. The name This Is My Brave just fit.

Q.  I noticed this quote on your Mission page: One day we will live in a world where we wont have to call it brave when talking about mental illness. Well just call it talking. Can you elaborate?

Our Vision as an organization is to someday reach a point where people everywhere can feel safe and supported enough to talk about mental illness openly in everyday life. Weve reached that point with cancer, with autism, and with diabetes. With each story shared, stigma is dismantled even more. One day, the collective voices of stories brought to the light will have shattered stigma completely. Its what were working towards.

Q.  You're planning your first-ever show in New York City (ticket giveaway info below). Did you find that those who auditioned differed from those in other parts of the country?

A. No, not really. Every time we pop up in a new city, its interesting to see the types of presenters who step forward. Sure, New York City is home to an incredible pool of talented artists and musicians, but weve seen unbelievable talent emerge in every place weve put on shows. Reminds me of the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams: If you build it, he will come.  Every time weve decided to put on a show in a new place, the talent we were searching for magically showed up.

Q. In the introduction video from your May 2015 event in Washington, DC, you call TIMB performance a "story sharing event". Can you talk a bit about how, as a writer, you came to understand the power of story and how story helps break down barriers and misconceptions?

A: When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was so ashamed and embarrassed that my brain didnt function normally, that I had to take medication to treat my condition, and that I had been hospitalized for a mental illness. It took me years to open up about my journey, and when I did, I experienced first-hand the power of story sharing.

Through my blog writing, I shared my pain and struggle, how I learned to overcome my mental health challenges. Over time I began receiving emails from people who had found my words and felt a connection because they too struggled with a mental illness and reading my story helped them find hope.
Read #BeBrave stories at TiMB blog

Those emails taught me that whenever were brave enough to bear our heartache, and were open and honest about our lives instead of constantly updating our highlight reel of perfect photos online, we can help change other peoples lives.

At our debut show in 2014, a young woman approached me with her husband after the show to tell me that she found my writing at her darkest moments and that reading my story saved her life.

I knew then and there that we had hit on something major. When we put our stories out there, and show our imperfections and talk about our struggles (we all have them!), it breaks down the misconceptions that, Oh, she must have it all together, her life seems perfect.

Story sharing is so powerful - lifesaving, even - because someone who is struggling, who may be on the verge of giving up on life, may find your story at exactly the right moment. And you might be the reason that person decides to keep going.

Q. Any plans to publish a book, record a CD, or make the stories available in another venue?

A. We hope to publish an anthology of the This Is My Brave show stories one day in the future, or maybe podcasts. For now, we are focused on producing new shows each year and expanding our reach with our live performances. Its truly touching when you can hear the stories from the audience and then connect with the cast in the lobby after the show. All of our shows are professionally videotaped so that we can share the individual performances on our YouTube channel.

Q.  What can show-goers expect to see and hear at the New York City show?
The New York City cast

A. So many incredible stories and such talent! Two vocal students from Hunter College will sing the Sara Bareilles song "Brave" to kick us off. Then to open, we have Comedian Christian Finnegan who has appeared on the Conan's, Craig Ferguson's, and Chappelle's TV shows. The cast is full of writers, both professional and amateur, who poured their hearts out in the essays, poetry and music they penned specifically for this show. It truly is a journey - you will laugh and you will cry. And we hope youll leave with a greater understanding of mental illness and how to support a loved one in their fight to overcome it.

Q.  Are there similarities/differences with other spoken word performances like The Moth, Story Slams, etc.?

A.  I guess the only major difference is that our show features a greater number of stories in one show since each presenter has a time limit of about 5 minutes. That allows us to feature about 12-14 stories, and enables us to showcase a variety of different mental health disorders.

Q.  Given the topic, are all the songs, essays, and poetry serious? Or is there humor involved too?

A. People might assume that stories of mental illness might all be serious, dark and sad. But these stories do have elements of humor! You know what they say, Laughter is the best medicine. I do think there is a lot of truth to that old quote. Were fortunate enough to have comedian Christian Finnegan opening our show with a short set to kick us off. And our cast has an awesome sense of humor as well, which will be evident through the stories they share.

Note from Lisa: The October 4 This is My Brave Manhattan event takes place in the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Ticket purchase details are available here. Jenn would like to give one of this blog's readers two complimentary tickets to the show. To be included in the random drawing, do one (or more) of the following by Friday, Oct. 2 at 5:00 p.m.  11:45 p.m. EASTERN time: leave a comment here; Tweet a link to this post and tag me @LisaRomeo; mention TIMB and link to this post from your own blog and tweet that link, tagging me on Twitter; share this post on your Facebook wall or in a FB group and either tag me, or email me a screen shot. (Winner's tickets will be held at the will call window.)

You can keep up with TIMB on social media at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; and watch dozens of live performances on their YouTube channel. Plus, check out some very cool products that support the TIMB mission.
Colorful bracelets available at Bravegear

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- September 18, 2015 Edition

> Like all authors with a new book publishing soon, Michael Laser is on the platform building bandwagon. Or, not, according to his Medium essay. (If you're in Manhattan, you can ignore him at his upcoming KGB Bar book event.)

> At Vela, Lauren Apfel ponders, what's an essayist to do about the comments a piece attracts? Her advice will come in handy for writers in what Slate is calling "The First Person Industrial Complex." 

> I was stunned (in a good way) when I heard D. Watkins speak this summer and knew, instantly, his star would soon explode with two upcoming bold new nonfiction books. This interview reveals some of the reasons why.

> Authors who want to forge productive relationships with strong independent bookstores can learn a lot from this interview at The Writers Circle blog with Margot Sage-El of Watchung Booksellers.

> If you submit to contests, you're probably aware that (big name) judges usually only read the top dozen or so entries passed along by preliminary readers. At Tupelo Press, Robert Pinsky has committed to reading the 100 top picks for the Dorset Prize (full length poetry books).

> Tahoma Literary Review reports on their on-going experiment offering a (free) feedback option for submitting writers.

> Like the author interviews here? Check out Book Q&As With Deborah Kalb.

> Finally, why Los Angeles hates freelance writers. And, for fun: no matter how bookish you are, I bet you've never built literary sand castles like these.

Have a great weekend!

Reminder: There are two book giveaways going on here. For a signed copy of the memoir Rare Bird, leave a comment at Anna Whiston-Donaldson's post by the end of day today, Friday, 9/18. For a copy of Linda Sienkiewicz's novel In the Context of Love, leave a comment at her post until Sunday, 9/27.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons-Tara Hunt miss_rogue

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Author Interview: Linda Sienkiewicz on her Debut Novel and the Twisty Road That Got Her There

At one of the on-site residencies during my MFA program, a visiting writer told us students that the people in that room were going to be the foundation of our future writing community, regardless of geographic location, writing style or genre, age, or any other factor that might, on the surface, seem to separate us. Lucky for me, she was right.

Linda Sienkiewicz was one of the people in the room at that time, and eight years later, she's a valued part of my personal writing community. Linda has contributed posts here in the past (not once, but twice), and I've been a guest at her blog too. I'm extremely pleased now to offer this interview with her, as she steps out with her debut novel, In the Context of Love (Buddhapuss Ink), released just last week.

Please welcome Linda Sienkiewicz.

Q: Linda, I understand it was a twisty road from initial draft to publication by Buddhapuss Ink LLC this month. How long did it take from that first manuscript to that publishing contract? Did it surprise you that it didn't happen sooner?

A. I finished the manuscript shortly after graduation from the MFA program in 2009. It was incredibly frustrating to have long spells where seemingly nothing happened. In retrospect, if not for that time, the manuscript would never have reached its potential. That surprised me. I had an agent in 2010, but I’m glad she didn’t sell it. In the Context of Love is a much different novel than it was back then.

Q. Can you tell us about some stops and starts along the way? I believe you rewrote the entire novel in a different POV? What other major changes did you tackle in revision and why?

A. The manuscript was originally in first person—second person address, where the narrator is telling her story to a lost love, addressing him as “you.” Early in my agent search, I worried that might be a problem (I was so unsure of myself) so I rewrote it as a traditional first-person “I” narrative. I queried 83 agents before I got two offers of representation.

Then, when my agent sent the novel out to publishers, initial feedback showed editors thought it was YA because it began with the narrator as a teen. My agent had me rewrite the story so it starts when she’s an adult and then looks back to when she first falls in love and learns the family secret that alters her life.

The manuscript didn’t sell. Editors praised it, but apparently it wasn’t what they wanted. Incredibly frustrating, but my agent was encouraging. She suggested I work on something new, but writing became a struggle. I have to admit I was crushed.

Q. In addition to writing/revision challenges and publishing industry vagaries, you had a daunting trauma in your personal life. Would you mind discussing how the family tragedy affected you as a writer?

A. Shortly after that blow of rejection, my eldest child at age 32 took his own life. Let me tell you, there’s nothing that prepares you for such a tragedy. My goals and dreams of publication fell to the wayside. Nothing mattered. I couldnt write. I didn’t feel like a writer anymore; I felt like an utter failure. It took two years before I gave myself permission to have goals again. Two years before I even turned on my computer. It was daunting, but I had to know if I would ever write again. I wasn’t ready for a new project yet; I couldn’t give up on In the Context of Love.

Q. At one point I think you hired an editor. What role do you think that played in moving the manuscript toward publication?

A. First I decided to change the story back to the way I had originally conceived it, using the second person address. Then I sought the advice of an author/editor. She absolutely loved the story, but she saw a few issues, too. She suggested I start the book at a low point in the narrator’s life — when she takes her two young children to visit their father in jail for the first time. That made a huge difference. She also advised me to speed up the narrative in some scenes, and pump up others. Her ideas, with the point of view change, were instrumental. The manuscript was a whole new animal! I was so excited!

I contacted my agent only to learn she had left the business. Not a happy moment. But in reality, she’d shopped it all around the larger publishers, so there wasn’t much more she could have done. I researched small presses and queried them myself.

Q. When you began submitting to small presses, what did you have in mind as the ideal offer and publisher?

A. I knew small presses don't have money to pay advances, but they see potential in stories that big houses ignore. I didn’t want to pay for publishing, I wanted standard royalties from book sales, and maybe some extra attention that a large publishing house doesn’t have time for.
Q. How close did you get to that?

A.    I got what I was looking for and more in the sense that my publisher is truly invested in my novel.

Q. If you don't mind saying, how many submissions did you make, and what kinds of responses did you get?

A. I queried six small presses. I got the standard “not right for us,” and “I'm sure you understand that small presses are creatures of their editors' individual tastes, an idiosyncratic but unavoidable standard.” Ha. The response that really had me scratching my head was “It has potential, with interesting situations and characters, but the prose style is slack and the narrative structure awkward.” I thought that was funny. By then, I had already signed a contract with Buddhapuss.

Q. Were there any surprises – pleasant or otherwise—in working with a boutique independent (though traditional) publisher? We know you're not jetting off on a nationwide book tour on their dime, but that's also true of most authors published these days by the biggest houses.

A. I had to laugh when someone asked me if I was going on tour. Does anyone do that anymore? But, it’s been great. I certainly didn’t expect to consider my publisher a friend. It’s a business relationship, true, but it’s really nice. I also appreciated having input on the cover and the inside layout. That was important to me, having an art background. I had input on just about everything every step of the way.

Q. We hear about how much work even a traditionally-published author has to do to help with (in some cases, to spur any) marketing and publicity efforts. I know you produced your own lovely book trailer over the summer. What else are you doing, what is your publisher doing, and are you exhausted?

A. Buddhapuss put together an amazing media kit for new releases and bloggers. They sent advance copies to long lead reviewers and entered the book in contests. They did a pre-release giveaway on Goodreads. They've sent me business cards, postcards, book markers, author cards and posters. They are a cheering squad.

Six months before the book launch, I revamped my website I’ve worked on creating a buzz using graphics and excerpts for Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Twitter is great for networking, Facebook is pretty good, Pinterest not so much. I’m entering the book in other contests and trying to schedule appearances now, but I feel tapped out. I’m glad I hired an outside publicist to handle blogs, press releases and news articles (I hear even authors from large houses have resorted to hiring publicists).

Q. Before you wrote the novel, you published a good deal of poetry, earning a Chapbook Award and Pushcart Prize nomination. Had you always been writing fiction?

A. A few years before Stonecoast, I had success with publishing short stories, and even had an early novel and agent, which was kind of a fluke, really. Let’s not go there. But I wanted to write a good, solid novel. I entered the MFA program in fiction with a rough draft of In the Context of Love, eager to learn all I could. I was a sponge.

Q. Besides all the time and energy going into the book launch, are you finding any time to work on new writing?

A. Um… I have an outline and a few chapters. I’m anxious to get back to serious writing.

Q. What's your favorite piece of advice for writers who are now seeking publication for a book-length work?

A. Think of your chapters as publishable excerpts and submit them to literary journals and contests. It’s a good way to gauge how marketable your work is, and it helps establish credibility. Write a synopsis. No one likes writing them, but you’ll be surprised at how it helps you see the big picture. You’ll need one to query agents or publishers, anyway. And don’t ever give up. It’s hard work, and it gets discouraging, but don’t quit.

Note from Lisa: Linda would like to send one of this blog's readers a signed copy of her novel. Simply leave a comment here by the end of the day, Sunday, September 27, or tweet a link to this post, making sure to tag @LisaRomeo, to be entered. Must have a US postal address.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Why I Liked Jill Talbot's Memoir and You Might Too

When a book is forthcoming from an essayist whose work I've admired, I'm all in. I'll probably buy it and read it within the first few weeks it's available. That doesn't always mean I'll love it or even like it (even books that contain essays I've already read and liked don't always make the finest books), but in this case, I did. I do.

If you nose around the world of creative nonfiction, and especially if your favorite sandbox is the personal or narrative essay, you've either read or at least know of Jill Talbot's work. If not, you probably should (though I really hate using "should" when it comes to reading, so let's say I highly recommend her!).

Talbot's book, The Way We Weren't: A Memoir (published this summer), is now the handiest way to find so much of her fine writing all together. Here are a few things I found inside those covers that kept me interested. First, to my mind, it's a coherent collection of strongly linked, narrative essays that work both independently and as a whole, and together create an arc. And yet, there's an elliptical feel to it as well. A few chapters are in the third person—hard to pull off well in memoir, but effective here. All are positives in my list of reading and likes.

Next, several chapters are in borrowed forms— loneliness and longing expressed as a literature course syllabus; redacted legal letters concerning child support; courtroom transcript; addiction progression as wine list. Other chapters are segmented; I love the white space, the separations that strongly invite connection, the sense of seeing and understanding difficult parts of life in smaller increments, which to me is closer to how memory, reflection, and long-lens perspective actually work.

Finally, what grabbed me most was the voice and sensibility of the narrator; her willingness to be the multiply flawed human she is (we all are) on the page is both gripping and at the same time, smartly circumspect. Unlike some memoirists whose dysfunctional pasts seem to beg for (all the book's) attention on no other merits than that they happened, Talbot is able to weave a narrative that includes her mistakes as part of the wider story of a fuller life.

Did I also mention the writing is just terrific? Did I mention it was a book I read in two days, and not because I had the time? I only "know" Jill Talbot a tiny bit via friendly social media exchanges, and I know very well that reading someone's memoir doesn't mean you know that person. But the person who rises from these pages? She's someone I'd invite in for coffee. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Guest Blogger Anna Whiston-Donaldson on a Paperback Release after the Hardcover

Lucky for me, I met Anna Whiston-Donaldson at the Hippocampus conference for creative nonfiction writers last month. While I very much enjoyed her company over a shared meal, as is so often the case after making new acquaintances at literary gatherings, it wasn't until I came home and began learning more about the people I'd met (hello, Google!), that my interest in her work and appreciation of her accomplishments soared.

Anna was already a popular blogger who wrote about family foibles, furniture restoration, and fun thrift finds at An Inch of Gray, when tragedy befell her family. What she did with her grief, on the pages of a memoir, and in many other essays and articles, is a gift to others struggling with loss. 

Please welcome Anna Whiston-Donaldson.

Yesterday, September 8, was the paperback release of my memoir, Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love. It was also the fourth anniversary of the day I lost my young son in a freak flash flood. I had no choice about the odd date coincidence, but I decided to roll with it. Having something else to take up some of my mental space on that horrible “crapiversary” turned out to be a gift.

When I think about it, the theme of “rolling with it” seemed to surround the entire paperback release.

This was a stark contrast to the focused preparations that led to the initial hardcover release one year earlier, when my publicist landed a full page article about my family’s story in the Washington Post, and we tried to harness that interest in a variety of ways.

I treated the hardcover release like a full-time job, mailing Advanced Reader Copies to fellow bloggers, experts in the grief world, and other memoirists. A friend helped me rally 50 bloggers for a blog tour of reviews. A twitter novice with few followers, I set up a Thunderclap campaign where hundreds of people signed up to send out a pre-written tweet about Rare Bird on release day, reaching many more people than I could have on my own. I had articles ready to drop on other sites such as The Daily Beast, Time, and in Woman’s Day Magazine. My publisher offered free books to bloggers in exchange for honest reviews. We also had a video book trailer to share on social media.

All of that preparation, on my side and that of the publisher, meant a strong launch for Rare Bird. The book was on the New York Times Bestseller list for two weeks and was selected one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014.

This time, however, my head was in a different space. The languid days of summer seemed to last forever, and my teenage daughter didn’t go back to school until the paperback release day, which kept me distracted and distanced from what I needed to do until it was upon me.

Have you ever seen an actor giving a press interview about a movie that was made years before, and he or she is clearly over it? I wasn’t OVER my memoir during the paperback release, but I was ready to think about what might be next for me as far as writing and speaking goes, and was able to let go of making sure each aspect of the release was exactly as I would have chosen it to be.

My baby was already out in the world, so a lot of the anxiety and anticipation about what that would mean had passed.  And while the year before I’d worked like crazy to ensure it had the best possible introduction, now the baby felt like a toddler, and if that toddler wore purple and orange striped socks and wanted to strike out on its own a bit? So be it.
Paperback/Audio cover
Original Hardcover
For example, my agent loved the audiobook cover (done by a different company) so much she proposed using it for the paperback. I could not have loved my original cover more, but I felt like…rolling with it.

If a new cover had more mass market paperback appeal, then I was fine with it. It looks gorgeous, and I am grateful to even have a paperback release and the opportunity to get my story into more people’s hands in this way, as I know that is not a given. 

I also didn’t hear much from the publishers or my agent during this time. Due to an office restructuring and move from Colorado to New York, my publicity and marketing team was completely new and didn’t know as much about me as the original team did. We had one conference call, a few emails, and that was it, so while they were working behind the scenes trying to set up interviews, etc, I wasn’t in on the details.

So what did I do for the paperback release? I reminded friends and followers on social media that the paperback was coming. I shared the new cover and a new video on one of the topics from the book. I ate ice cream. I waited.

I don’t know how the numbers will shake out, but I do know that something a fellow writer told me is true: no one cares more about your book than you do. The good news is there are many strategies for getting the word out about your writing. I am happy to have learned a great deal about these during the hardcover release, and I hope that my more passive approach to the paperback release does not mean that my book won’t get into the hands of those who could benefit from it.

Having a sustained focus on getting my book out there meant a great deal of time spent away from the practice of writing. Before long, I began to doubt I had one more thing to say, or that I could ever put another good sentence together. They say that writers write. My own life hadn’t reflected that in over a year, and by the time the paperback release came about, I was ready to let go a little, slow down, and try writing again.

Note from Lisa:  Anna would like to talk to you, if you have any questions about her writing, publishing, or grief process. Just leave them in the comments HERE, and she'll *stop by* the blog over the next week and respond.  She'd also like to send one of my readers a signed paperback copy of Rare Bird. To enter, just leave any comment here at the blog; or tweet this post, tagging @LisaRomeo, by midnight on Friday, September 18, 2015. A random winner will then be chosen. Must have a U.S. Postal address. Be sure to also visit Anna's website, and  follow her on Twitter or at Facebook.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Stuff My Students Say, Part 18. Or, the Perks of Pulling a Book from the To-Be-Read List (and finally reading it)

"I can't believe you haven't read ______"  

Sometimes I say this to (or more often, think it about) a student. But just as frequently, a student says this to me. Sometimes one of my sons says it to me. When both of the latter happen, I read the book, almost any book they've mentioned. Especially if, a student (especially a twenty-something or younger student) writes something into a piece of creative work that I will never understand in a nuanced way unless I have read the book.

Which brings me to why I recently read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

What happened was a college-bound teenager wrote a sentence, in a personal essay about how friendships were ending as the narrator moved on to a new phase in life, and that sentence included the phrase, "…about the time we felt infinite…" When I first read it, I thought it was simply an innovative, original way to use the adjective infinite, and said so in class, and was met by incredulous, dumb-founded looks.

"It's from the movie," one of the students (not the writer) piped up. "You know, from Perks of Being a Wallflower."

I didn’t know, and said so.

"It's in the book too," another offered. "It's one of the most famous lines."

Now I was cornered, and my interest was piqued, and I immediately put the book on my mental to-be-read-sooner-rather-than-later list.

I thought about the fact that staying current with books and their influence on younger writers is a losing proposition—the to-be-read pile grows dangerously high and at a rapid rate, and probably everyone's inclination (okay, my inclination), is to first read what speaks most to my own position in the world.  On the drive home that day—and trust me, 45 minutes is quite long enough to be thinking about this stuff--I realized that regardless of one's reading load, or how curious one manages to stay about books that might fall just outside one's selfishly self-interest zone, one can never really catch up. Or at least, I can't. But I can try.

By the time I got home, I was rather rabidly curious about what it means to feel "infinite." And something else. Something niggling at the back of my brain about this book (not about the movie, though of course I had been aware when it was first released, of its popularity); but I was remembering something about the novel in connection with my younger son, who is now 17.

As soon as I walked through the door of my home office, I realized the book was already (buried) in my to-be-read pile. Because my son had recommended it, oh about two years ago.

So I read it. And I was charmed—maybe infinitely so, by the tone, voice, structure, characters, story. (I also automatically like all paper books that are small enough to slip into a not-so-big purse, but that's another story.)

I finally get the infinite quote. I began thinking about when in my own younger life, I'd once felt something like infinite with a particular group of very important friends. There were so many passages and sentences I loved and remember (many of which are included on this list, or this one if you're on Goodreads), and include: “I am both happy and sad at the same time, and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be,” and the one that for me, sums up the core, the heart of the book and its wise young narrator: “Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense.” 

Then of course, there's also this: "It's strange because sometimes, I read a book, and I think I am the people in the book." 

Of course he does. Of course I do, sometimes. Especially if the book is both happy and sad. Which brings me to my next to-be-read book…

You can read the others 17 installments of Stuff My (Writing) Students Say here.

Images:  Book cover - Wikipedia; Opened book - Flickr/Creative Commons/duh.denise; other - mine.