August 30, 2012


This Saturday, September 1st, marks a very special occasion.

It's my first blogiversary!

Twelve months of blogging, oh my. It gives me cause to look back and trace the journey.

Image courtesy of and Anusorn P. Nachol
Twelve months ago, I was fresh out of college, sitting down at my computer to start a career as a freelance writer/editor. I was finishing up the messy first draft of a 100,000-word children's novel. Since then, I've picked up work as a tutor in addition to accepting freelance projects. The novel is now in its 3rd draft and is 25,000 words shorter. I've made new friends in the blogosphere and learned to use Twitter and Goodreads. In the last 12 eventful, rocky, sometimes nail-biting months, I've also learned a few things.

I remember rewriting my first blog post probably ten times. I was too nervous to share an imperfect work with the world. Now, whether I like it or not, I don't have time to make each post perfect. Aunt Josephine tries to make sure my content is grammatically error-free, but sometimes my ideas come out half-baked. I guess that's part of growth--admitting that not everything you do is perfect.

My first batch of blog posts were mostly academic. I stuck to writing about books, teaching, and the employment crisis of twenty-somethings. I thought I could only contribute what I knew. In December, though, I took a leap of faith and wrote about grieving during the holidays. Since then, a friend pointed out, I've invested more of myself into my posts. Books, Reading, and Writing are still some of my biggest labels, but if you read the sidebar, you'll now notice topics like Caregiving, Conflict, and Singleness joining the repertoire. These posts, while sometimes raw, challenge me to honesty in my writing.

It's also nice to get read. While it's not something I have total control over, it's nice to know that this blog isn't a total waste of space on the Internet. Thanks to you, Best Beloved Readers, this blog has gone from 250 readers a month last September, to nearly 1000 this month. Over 8000 people have visited this blog in the last year! That's exciting to me, and I'm grateful to you for continuing to read faithfully. A writer without readers may become, in Shakespeare's words, "a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing." (Macbeth V.5)

Thankfully, that doesn't appear to be the case. I've recently been honored to receive 2 blogging awards: One Lovely Blog and Very Inspiring Blogger. Many thanks to my friend Ellen V. Gregory, an Aussie writer who muses about books, writing, and occasionally cats, for passing them on.

I was supposed to share 7 things about myself in order to receive this award, but I think reviewing 12 months of blogging kind of covers my bases :)

And now I must nominate 15 other lovely bloggers for these awards. I'm going to break the rules again. I'll give a shout-out to a few blogs I've especially enjoyed reading lately, but if you want to play, leave me a comment! I think you deserve the chance.

A few good blogs for your perusal:

Bekah Graham (Word-of-the-Day Toilet Paper), Rabia Gale (Writer at Play), Tami Clayton (Taking Tea in the Kasbah), Angela Wallace (Elemental Magic), and The High Calling (Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God).

Here's to another twelve months of blogging!

What have the last 12 months held for you? 

August 23, 2012


I spent last weekend forgetting what decade I live in.

My paternal grandparents are very interested in family ancestry, and my grandmother is writing a book on it. Naturally, being the English major of the family, I am the editor (read: Aunt Josephine).

Family history is an interesting thing. On my mother's side, I know my heritage is Eastern European, but a few generations back, it becomes impossible to trace the exact lineage. Both of my maternal grandparents had Jewish roots in Hungary, and during World War II, not only were many printed records destroyed, but many living records as well. Several of my Jewish great-uncles disappeared during the war, and it is only too easy to imagine what happened to them. When I walked through the sobering Jewish Museum in Berlin two summers ago, it was like staring into a chilling mirror of an alternate reality. A few decades later, a few different decisions, and it was easy to imagine my own picture on those elegiac walls.

The Jewish Memorial in Berlin
Since much of my maternal ancestry is shrouded in history's fog, my paternal grandmother's research becomes even more interesting to me. Far from being a dusty chronicle of births, deaths, names, and dates, my grandmother's book tells the stories of the people who are partly responsible for my existence, as far back as the research goes. I heard stories about my father's childhood wish for a pet snake, my grandmother's employment under a chauvinistic Kansas newspaper editor, my great-grandfather's shocking decision to send his daughters to college, and generations of farmers, pioneers, and immigrants before that.

My paternal grandmother's family in 1945. She is standing on the left.

Being a young person in an individualistic culture can feel like being adrift, an unmoored raft on a lonely sea. Finding out where you come from--who went before you and how they confronted life's challenges--brings a certain sense of security, of knowing your place in a larger web of people. It's like belonging to a clan in Scotland's clan system, or giving directions to a new place based on other familiar landmarks. Learning the stories of family members, even those long gone, helps me to better understand my own story by placing it as a succeeding chapter to theirs.

Besides, they are irresistibly interesting.

This is my grandmother's grandmother, Cora (1856-1952). She grew up as a pioneer girl who lived with a fear of marauding Indians to the very end of her life. In her old age, she loved candy and spoiling her granddaughter, making handmade doll clothes and putting away pretty items for her hope chest. For a section of my childhood, I was convinced that I was Laura Ingalls and went nowhere without my checkered red dress and sunbonnet. I still treasure the doll clothes that my own grandmother made by hand. I wonder if echoes of personality can reverberate across generations. 

Great-grandmother Ada (1872-1962) was an educated working woman before the turn of the century. A seamstress by trade, she probably made this dress/hat she is wearing in her wedding photo. Married "late" (age 24!), she was a good listener and loved to read. As a gift, she gave my grandmother a diary which she kept daily through high school. I now have a copy. Perhaps there's a bit of physical resemblance between us, too?

It is good to have history. It is good to be a part of something greater than yourself. I am blessed not to be a chapter without a prologue.

What is your family story? Do you know anything of your roots? 

August 17, 2012


My business card says Alina Sayre, Freelance Writer/Editor. 

It doesn't say that those two halves of my brain have separate personalities. 

But before you ship me off to the asylum with multiple personality disorder, I'd like you to meet them. 

The writer in me is named Cordelia, after Anne from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (played by Megan Follows in the 1985 film). At her first meeting with her new guardian, Marilla, eleven-year-old Anne introduces herself this way:

"Will you please call me Cordelia?" she said eagerly.
"Call you Cordelia! Is that your name?"
"No-o-o, it's not exactly my name, but I would love to be called Cordelia. It's such a perfectly elegant name."

Cordelia is a dreamy, imaginative person with plenty of capacity for feeling and believing. She watches the habits of people and observes the world with eyes hungry for detail. No nook or cranny is too obscure to find wonder there. Sometimes she gets carried away with wild schemes, like dyeing her hair green, or flies into unexpected rampages, but overall she is a poetic and reflective person. She lets beauty "soak into her soul" and makes up stories about herself, her family, the neighbors, and any interestingly unsuspecting person. Consider yourself warned.

The other half, Madame Editor, is a middle-aged Victorian woman named Aunt Josephine (played by Meryl Streep in the film version of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events). Her watchword is:

"Grammar is the greatest joy in life, don't you find?"

Aunt Josephine's idea of a good time is an afternoon spent adjusting commas in accordance with The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed., of course). She flinches at the improper use of their/there/they're and goes into raptures over a sentence that diagrams correctly. Her ideal man is one who says, "Why...grammar is the number one, most important thing in this here world to me" (even if he turns out to be a sham fisherman). 

How these two people co-exist inside my head is a mystery to me. They certainly don't get along very well. Both are high-strung and occasionally fly into a temper when their opinion is contradicted. I've learned that the key to a happy mental life and successful writing sessions is to keep them apart. Do not cross this line. Do NOT cross this line. 

When I'm writing, usually Cordelia gets to come out first, because Aunt Josephine isn't actually very good at coming up with original sentences. Cordelia, by contrast, could gush out words until the moon turns blue. With over 500,000 English words to choose from and an innumerable number of life observations and human subjects to choose from, she can imagine herself into any world she chooses at any time of day. But eventually it's time for her to come away from the keyboard and give someone else a chance.

Then Aunt Josephine comes out to play. While she may look like an ogre as she ruthlessly slashes away, cutting out whole words, sentences, and paragraphs, she actually has a huge respect for writing and language. She simply believes that language forfeits its full power if it is overused or improperly used. Brevity is the soul of wit, and good grammar doesn't hurt either. Sometimes she bosses Cordelia into submission, but when the dust settles, they usually agree that the end manuscript is better for their joint efforts. 

I saw a cartoon where a pencil point and its eraser were having dinner together. On the phone, the pencil point says, "Can I call you back? I'm having dinner with my editor." Life in my brain is like that. As long as the two halves of the pencil work separately and respect each other's abilities, they continue to co-exist safely and (sometimes) happily.

Does your brain have multiple sides to it? How does it help or hinder your creative process?

August 6, 2012


My novel's characters are getting braver. 

In college, I had a writing professor who continuously told me that my stories needed more conflict, that nothing happened in them. 

I didn't tell him that that was because I'm terrified of conflict. 

Free image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Actually, I've spent most of my life tiptoeing around other people's disappointment. Conceding. Scrambling to deliver. Shying away from honesty about my needs, feelings, and limitations. 

As I revise my novel, I'm seeing that fear in my characters. In my last draft, they'd get frustrated, feel beaten down, get worked up almost to the point of an argument--and then dodge, preferring to dwell inside the safety of their own heads. 

Not in this draft. Not as much, anyway.

In the last month of my life, it seems as if opportunities for conflict have abounded. Mounting stress and limited energy have sometimes left me in a corner, with no choice but to say "no" or crumble. 

Turns out, though, that "no" can feel pretty good. (This video about "no" makes me laugh.)

"NO" is one of the hardest words for a people-pleaser to pronounce. WHAT?? I'm NOT Superwoman??!! 

Guess not.

People aren't always going to be happy with me. It's not always good for me to say yes. It's not always possible. And that's OK. Even if it makes people mad on occasion. The people who really matter will stick around, love me even when I'm not perfect.

And guess what? It's even OK for me to ask other people for help sometimes, too! Wonders abound. 

While I was at camp this past week, volunteering as a counselor, I had the chance to walk a prayer labyrinth: an interactive tool for meditation that involves prayer in motion. As my feet walked, one in front of the other, in between the double line of stones, I got such a picture of what it means to set limits. All I can do is walk between my rocks. They're my boundaries. I can't control what goes on beyond them. I just need to keep walking in a lane just wide enough for my feet. Those are my limits. And it's OK to let other people know I have them.

Touchstone Maze
 © Copyright Carol Walker and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License 

Sometimes that means conflict.

And conflict...I guess...can actually be a good thing. Admitting that has given me such a boost of confidence.

I'm still not great at this whole say-no thing. I end up folding a lot more than I'd like to admit. But at least I don’t get nauseous anymore when I'm trying to write an argument scene. Not usually. 

My characters are learning right along with me to step up and slap conflict in the face rather than tiptoe around it. 

And here's a sneak peek at the results. 

“Can I help too?” Vivian asked eagerly.
“You?” Captain Daevin laughed. “Help with carpentry? It’s awfully dusty work, and you’re in this charming dress. Leave the men’s work to the men. Don’t fret your pretty head about it; you probably couldn’t follow the calculations anyway.”
She whirled on him.
“I beg your pardon? At the Library I was raised to Scholar Sixth Level in half the usual time. I can read in eighteen languages, and I most certainly will not leave this work to the men! What do you think I am; a painting on the wall, existing only to be admired? Thank you, sir, but I have no fear of a little dust, dress or no dress. Here.”
She thrust her straw hat into his hands and turned her back on him, her face flushed, eyes blazing. 
“Now, what can I do to help?”
Slack-jawed, Jude handed her a hammer and a bundle of nails. Captain Daevin, still blinking in surprise, backed out of the room, her hat still in his hands.