Moved to SubStack

Just a quick note to say that all my updates have moved to a substack mailing list, if you’d like to subscribe! I’ll only send out my newsletter about once per quarter, and plan to have updates with my own writing, but also with what I’m reading and cooking and laughing about.

Here’s a link to subscribe: https://rachelmansmckenny.substack.com/

In other news, my book published!! More info about it here: The Butterfly Effect and Media Kit. I hope you’ll consider buying it or asking your local library to purchase a copy.

Thanks much, and happy 2021

November Wrap-Up

Reading Life

  • Total books read: 10
  • Books read for 2017 so far:  144
  • Couldn’t stop listening to the audiobookRighteous by Joe Ide and a re-listen of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (and I haven’t reread a book in years– so glad I did.)
  • Nonfiction topics explored: insect sex in Sex on Six Legs by Marlene Zuk and US history and genocide in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  • ARCs read: One, but it was a great one. Check out Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak. My review is here.
  • Books Purchased because of good deals: (number redacted for marital harmony purposes)
  • Best of the Monthi be, but i ain’t by Aziza Barnes (a powerful poetry collection) and Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler. If you haven’t checked out Butler’s Lilith’s Brood series, you’re missing out. Some extremely interesting sci-fi that delves into gender, family, and power.

Writing Life

won nano

I won NaNo.  (deep sigh of relief). This is a really big personal achievement for me and there is something euphoric about writing without filtering yourself at all out of necessity. Even after finishing three novels, I’ve never been able to commit to and win NaNo before (and I’ve tried at least seven times). If you didn’t win this year, try again because you never know!

Even better than finishing 50k in a month is falling knee-deep in a project that I can’t stop mentally plotting.

Next goals: finish draft one by the end of the year, which I can do if I write about 1k a day. Now that I’m in a daily writing habit again, anything feels possible.

Life, Etc

  • Research papers graded this month: 72
  • Number of kids in my house singing Jingle Bells non-stop since November 15: 2
  • Turkeys roasted, with all of the fixings: 1
  • Days of Turkey leftovers: Let’s not talk about it, okay? I’m not gobbling any more, but last week…

Real talk about turkey leftovers: these turkey enchiladas are my favorite thing to make… besides turkey sandwiches with leftover cranberry dressing.

 

One more month to go this year. Finish strong, my friends.

NaNoWriMo Check-In: Part II

Alright, friends. I’m back from my break with the internet and staying accountable with the goals I set, which were:

  1. Stay off of social media until Saturday this week: check
  2. Write 15,000 words of NaNo project from 11/16-11/24: almost, but not quite. broke the 12k mark and over 40k total on the novel!
  3. Grade 30 research papers: check!
  4. Finish reading An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States before Litsy Feminist Bookclub’s discussion on 11/25: So close, but yet so far. About 80 pages left and the discussion starts today. I’m ready for today’s question and should be finished before tomorrow’s. Phew.
  5. Eat, drink, and be merry with family: check, check, and check. Made my famous cranberry relish to accompany the traditional turkey and tried out a new dressing this year (I discovered too much sausage is a thing, apparently.) Good pie, great company, and lots of playtime with the kids

nano as of 11-25
progress as of 11/24 (haven’t written today yet)

I can feel the NaNo goal in sight and it feels very attainable. My goal after that is to push through December and finish the full first draft (really, it’s a draft zero for how messy it is) before the end of the year. Hints on the theme: on the side I’m reading books on Renaissance astrology and tarot cards, as well as boning up on my Shakespeare.  I’m having fun– I think I get why people do this. 🙂

Those NaNoing, whether you’re close to your goal or not, best of luck in this last week!

August Wrap-Up

Reading Life

Total Books Read: 15

ARCs: 4

Audiobooks: 6

Books I read this Month that I can’t stop recommending: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Best of the Month, which I also highly recommendThe Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin-(I can’t believe this trilogy is over!) and And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

If you loved Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, Books That Shook Us is collecting minireviews until October 1, so submit! It’s going to be a fun set of posts about an amazing series.

Writing Life

Articles finished: 3

scriveProgress made on shiny new thing: 7,000 words

I’ve been trying out Scrivener this month, and so far I’m enjoying it. I like the outline features and the note card organization. It’s nice to have separate places to do some thoughts about character development and store notes for research. Anyone else use Scrivener? Things you like/don’t like about it? Post in the comments. I’m still deciding whether or not to pull the trigger on buying after the trial is over.

Life, Etc

Batches of sugar cookies rolled out with the kiddos on a rainy Sunday: one (and let me just say that toddlers/preschoolers may not be quite old enough for the rolling out portion. We’re sticking to the decoration side from now on…)

Pinball Machines played: 5 (Arcade dates > any other date. I’m pretty amazing at Medieval Madness, by the way, if you need any small plastic trolls defeated with small silver balls).

Back to work this month, and my biggest is starting school for the first time. We’re all still working out the kinks in schedules here, but it’s nice to get back to a routine.

Hope you’ve had an excellent month!

 

 

 

Shiny New Things and Slumps

I got a project successfully off to prom and immediately spent the next week stewing and miserable. I stomped around the house and sighed a lot and refreshed my email like I was giving it rescue breaths. Yesterday, I started outlining something and felt that pressure ease almost immediately.

But I feel that slump sneaking up on me, and I still feel it at my shoulder, ready to strike if I let it. To combat this, I’ve set some daily word goals and will be doing Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Also, I just decided to let this project be a little zany. The real world provides enough stress without writing something too serious right now.

Hope all of your projects are going well!

Reading and Writing Wrap-Up for February

The Month in Numbers:

Books read: 11

Audiobooks: 3

Nonfiction: 3

Birthdays this month: 1

Girls Nights Out: 3

Hours spend editing new project: 43

Papers graded: 85

Most steps in one day: 14,534

Details

Best Books of the Month: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (how had I never read Waters before?) , Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (I could have read entire novels in each perspective), and The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (read more than half of this in the airport. I had a 7 hour flight delay in the airport on my way out to AWP…)

Funny story: I have a toddler who is just learning to talk. She was obsessed with the cover of Homegoing and kept bringing the book to me during play time. I taught her to say “Yaa” when she did that. I think she might be Gyasi’s youngest cheerleader.

I’m obsessed with #audiobaking… baking while listening to audiobooks. I made thin mint brownies and snickerdoodles this month while listening to VE Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light.

endfeb2017-027feb2017-098

Loved running into friends at AWP in February! (waves) I’m already mourning the fact that I probably can’t go next year, but hopefully I’ll be there in 2019 (geez does that sound like a long time away).

I finished the first draft of a new novel (hooray!). It’s now with my trusty and very honest beta-readers.  I can’t read anything in my genre while I write and polish, so I’ve been reading a LOT of excellent sci-fi and fantasy lately. I’d love some more recommendations. I’m going to read the Jemison’s Obelisk Gate and Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, but I’d love more recommendations for what to read after those!

Speaking of the writing and reading life, I’m proud to announce that my partners at the Litsy Feminist Book Club and I have started a review site over at Books That Shook Us. We’re looking for submissions of book reviews, so see that site for more details.

Happy March, everybody!

Forging a Successful Beta-Reader Relationship

So, you’ve written something and stared at it for hours. You’ve done whatever spit polishing you can with it, but it needs a fresh eye. You need a beta-reader, or a beta. You can even just call them B.A.s if you want to, because they are bad-asses, at least the best ones are.

How do you know you need a beta?

  • You’re stuck in a rough spot with a project
  • You’re done with a project
  • You’ve been submitting your project that you thought was done and getting feedback like, “Needs depth/polish”

Betas aren’t proofreaders (though sometimes they will for you, if you offer cookies). Betas, likewise, aren’t infallible. You might disagree with some of their comments. What betas are, though, is a valuable resource and someone who can give clear feedback on big picture and small picture concerns in your book.

So, how do you find a beta?

I have a few betas and I found them in a few different ways. My most regular beta is someone I met at a local writing group. I also have a friend from college who I will trade work with, and a friend I met on the internet. Betas don’t have to be writers; they just have to be energetic readers!

You’ll often see the term “critique partner” in writing circles. Whereas betas often read finished products, CPs sometimes exchange chapters or short stories in earlier stages of progress. Cathy Yardley has a great post about 40 Places to Find a Critique Partner and Megan Lally will sometimes host an event on Twitter called #CPMatch that makes it easy to find a critique partner! Check her site for specifics.

Regardless of how you find your beta or CP, you’ll want to consider a few specific things when deciding to partner up.

Before you say, I do (want to read your whole novel)

Make sure you’re compatible for genre. Even if you read widely outside of your genre, your partner may not be comfortable critiquing outside of theirs.

Exchange a few messages/conversations about what you expect from a beta-relationship. If you’re CPs, will you exchange chapters weekly? The whole manuscript at once? How long will each person have to give feedback?

Discuss what kinds of notes you find most helpful. Big picture, looking for plot holes, character development issues, etc.

Be honest about how much criticism you can handle. Writing can feel personal, especially a first draft. While I love to have the bandaid ripped off, I critique for someone who prefers a complement sandwich. It’s all about understanding what works.

If you’re entering a CP or beta relationship, exchange a sample chapter. More than once I’ve been glad I took this step before committing to a full read. Sometimes voice or topic doesn’t click; some things in the manuscript might be triggers, or too close to what you’re writing about to feel comfortable beta-ing. Whatever the reason, be honest in your feedback for that initial chapter before shipping your whole book to Ohio.

Be kind to your beta and reciprocate. Like any relationship, the point of a CP/Beta is that it goes BOTH ways. Read and give comments, and follow-up if you’re going to be delayed. Also, again, cookies are always appreciated.

 

Happy, successful beta-reading!

Daily Prompt: Successful

Writing: Accepting an Invitation No One Sent

It’s so easy not to do something. Don’t want me to play with fire? Ta-da. I just didn’t play with fire right then, so you’re welcome.

It’s also easy not to work out, as proven by my low step-count totals for the past few days.

Even more than avoiding something stupid or skipping the gym, it is easy not to write. There are hours every day where I do (or don’t do) just that. Honestly, the time I spend writing I COULD be doing something “useful” (cut to the mess in the fridge staring me down. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but it’s some kind of vegetable that time forgot, or at least I did.)

But I write anyway, because even though no one sent the invitation, I’m going to that party. I’m crashing it.

Before I wrote every day, I thought of writing in terms of mainly inspiration. I pictured a woman reclined on a Victorian fainting couch, the muses whispering in her ears.

evalegallienne
I don’t smoke, but if I did, it would be on a fainting couch while staring absently upward (image via DailyKos)

The muses, silly buggers, don’t speak loud enough for me to hear half of the time. Speak up, muses. Get some elocution lessons and then let’s meet back for my afternoon writing session. Say, 3 PM? The fainting couch?

It’s easy to make excuses not to write.  The easiest excuse, the one that creeps into my mind, is that what I’m writing doesn’t matter. The door slams closed on the party, because why would anyone throw a party for that anyway?

How do you know?

Another excuse is that I’m busy. Day job, family, all of the other stuff that comes along with being alive takes up a lot of time. So, the party can be late at night. It can be part of the 5AM Writer’s club. Even 500 words a day makes progress, something you didn’t have before.

It’s even easier not to make excuses not to write and to just let the time slide away into fridge cleaning, Netflix binging, daily life, and fainting-couch appreciation (I seriously looked at three dozen pictures of fainting couches before picking one to post). Very few people have someone waiting for them to turn in work. If you’re not on a deadline, make a deadline for yourself. I use Pacemaker to set writing goals for myself and achieve them.

Okay, I’ll climb down from my pedestal to level with you. I don’t write every day, but I write more often than I don’t write, and I have to feel okay with that. When I get a streak going, I let myself feel good about it. I’m working on a new first draft of a novel right now, and when I am away from my characters for too long, I have to read pages and pages to pick up their voices and the niceties (or not-so-niceties, as we’re nearing the climax) of what’s going on. When I write for several days straight, I sit down looking forward to picking up where I left off.

Just to save you the time of Googling away your precious writing minutes, here are some more fainting couches, this time with animals.

 

 

Now, get back to writing. That’s your invitation.

via Daily Prompt: Invitation

Querying Trenches and Community

It’s dirty down here, here in the trenches. Mostly, it’s dirty with coffee grounds and crumbs from that roll of Caramel Delights you ate while rewriting your query letter for the thirtieth time. I’ve been doing something lately that makes me feel the smallest ounce better, and maybe it will for you, too.

I’ve been reading a lot this summer. I’ve taken to heart the old Stephen King quote that “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write.” Some has been pure pleasure reading of the binge-y kind that I used to as a kid (The Martian in less than 24 hours, A Darker Shade of Magic ) while others have been to study the craft or my genre more thoughtfully (Infinite Jest, The Girls, Sweetbitter). Regardless, I’ve been reading all the way to the end of the book, and by that, I mean reading the acknowledgements page.

Reading the Acknowledgements page of a first time (or even often published) writer often feels like picking up someone else’s thank you card off of the street. The intended audience isn’t really Joe Reader anymore. Most of the names you don’t recognize, most of the inside jokes glide over you like you’re made of saran wrap, and most of the initials are impenetrable. Sure, you can sometimes pick out the name of an agent or editor you recognize (or even one from your query list), but more often than not, it’s a list of relationships and memories that are intangible to you.

But those people helped make that book and that author. Whenever I read a particularly good book with a long acknowledgments page, I remember that once (even if very long ago), that author was querying. That author complained to their partner and their parents and their writing group. That author studied with a professor that gave them a C that meant they had to improve and they did improve. Each initial and inside joke is a jenga block that helped build that book into something that’s in my hands.

Querying can feel lonely. Querying can feel like gym class kickball drafting. Querying can feel like the best blind date you’ve ever had, or the worst. But in the query trenches I have to remind myself that while I’m the one responsible for revising and being the best representative of my manuscript, it’s a very good thing to find others going through the same thing and especially, others who can force you to talk about something else at the end of the day.

What’s made you feel better in the trenches?