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Off Topic Thursday: Tattoos

13 Jun

I’m hoping you all have different opinions on this one because I’m looking for some input. I think I’m ready (at age 29) to get my first tattoo.

I’ve contemplated for a long time what it would take for me to want to get something tattooed on my body forever. It would have to mean something to me, something deep and profound; something that would never change.

I’d contemplated a Deathly Hallows symbol for a while, and that’s still on the table, but I decided against it for now.

As a lot of you know, I’ve been training for an Ironman 70.3 since February. Finishing it has been a dream for a long time and I’ve been working my little tail off for five months to make this a reality. Recently, I’ve had co-workers and friends comment that I look like I’ve lost weight. I think of it has losing my social life and gaining a training regimen. I’ve also seen no change on the scale because I’ve gained it back in muscle. Anyway.

This major accomplishment is something that’s made me think about tattooing again. It’s a major accomplishment that I’ll be proud of for a long time. It’s something that at one point, I thought would be impossible for me. I used to be unable to run more than 3 miles before I was ground to a halt by knee pain. I fought through that and I’m so amazed at where I am now. 70.3 is within reach.

So that’s what I’m thinking of memorializing. I don’t want anything fancy and I don’t want color. I think I just want 70.3, or some combination of those numbers and a small word like ‘believe.’ I want it somewhere I can cover for work and I’m thinking on the side of my foot near the ankle (can’t decide on inside or outside).

Now I’m asking: Do any of you have tattoos? Any that you regret? What do they memorialize for you? Is this too trivial? Will I regret it in two years? Give me your thoughts as I have too many of my own.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Happy Memorial Day!

27 May

Here in the States, today is Memorial Day. It’s a day to celebrate those who sacrificed their lives for our country and our freedom and to thank them and their families for that sacrifice.

It’s also one of six paid holidays I get a year, so I’m going to spend time with my family instead of on my blog. I’ll be back tomorrow, not to worry, and we’ll catch up then.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

16 May

My book club met a few weeks ago to discuss Paulette Jiles’ book News of the World. It was a short book, a nice break after some very long titles over the past few months. For the most part, we enjoyed it.

None of us had read Jiles before but she’s published about fifteen books including poetry, memoir, and children’s. If we hadn’t known the author’s name, many of us would have been surprised it was written by a woman. Captain Kidd was well drawn and the world he lived in felt rather ‘masculine.’ Johanna wasn’t a particularly feminine character either. Though, I do love being pleasantly surprised when an author can write another gender.

I listened to the book but those who read it said there was no quotation marks or other punctuation for dialogue. It took a while for the readers to get used to it. We wondered if she wrote all of her books this way. Maybe it was the influence of writing poetry.

A reader mentioned that the style reminded her of Mark Twain. The main character sounded a bit like Twain as well. He was also a printer in the West at the same time period. It was a flashback to a book we read a few years ago, The Bohemians.

Johanna’s time with the Kiowa made her resilient; she was strong and could endure a lot of hardships. If she’d been the young German girl she was born to be, she may not have been able to survive the trip to her relatives. We laughed when recalling the scene where Johanna wanted to scalp the men who tried to kill them and Captain Kidd deemed that ‘impolite.’

The relationship between the two was cemented late in the novel when Captain Kidd saw how Johanna was being used as slave labor by her aunt and uncle. We felt he may have left her if her relatives had been less cruel to her. We felt she began to trust him early on when they ran into soldiers and he didn’t hand her over to them. She knew he was trying to keep her safe. Though, we thought that Johanna leaving may make the aunt and uncle want their $50 back since they ‘paid’ for her in the first place.

We talked about the title quite a bit and had several interpretations. One was that the book gave us the news of the world of Texas in the 1870s. It told us how the world worked with slavery gone and a post-war economy in fluctuation. It was also how Kidd got news, from the people he ran into and how he saw them interact. He also chose what the news was going to be by selecting different stories for different crowds, deciding what they would know of the world.

The book focused on how different cultures come together to learn and accept each other. Johanna and Kidd were as different as could be as far as age, gender, language, and culture. But they still cared for each other and could be a good team together.

Even though the Civil War is over, it’s not really. There’s only one black character in the book, and he’s restricted his travel because of his race. As free as he is legally, he knows that society doesn’t see it the same way.

This book was great for a discussion. I do enjoy meeting with others to talk about the books I voraciously consume. I’m really looking forward to our next title, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Off Topic Thursday: Adult Friendships

25 Apr

Growing up, I never thought of ‘making friends’ as a skill I was taught in school. It just happened. You made friends with your classmates and maybe with people from outside activities. You were always surrounded by other people your age and there was always something fun and new to try where you could meet people.

College was the same and I left college with beautiful friendships I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. I’m still in contact with most of them and I care for them deeply.

But then I moved back home. I was living in a town different from (but near) where I grew up and I had lost contact with all but a few friends from high school. None of my college friends were in the same state. It was just me and my husband and his friends. And I realized how hard it could be to make friends as an adult.

I’ve always had an aversion to being friends with someone from work. I’ll do an occasional thing outside of the office like a run or a large group family get together, but I’ve never thought of making friends with my coworkers. Even though I shared an office with another woman about my age at my first job, I never considered befriending her. Work is work, and life happens outside of it.

It took me a few months to start finding friends. The first success I had was through the website Meetup.com. I joined a writers’ group and even though it was a bit of a drive, I made three really good friends from that group. It took a few months before I had the confidence to invite them over to dinner and start building friendships, but I’m so glad I did. That gave me the confidence to know I could make friends on my own.

Unfortunately, two of those girls moved away and the other one and I don’t talk anymore. More miraculously, I have another group of three women from that group I’m now friends with. And I’m the youngest by about five years. But the eldest is older than my mother. This was another good lesson for me, learning that my friends weren’t always going to be my age. Some people give me a weird look when I mention my friend’s grandchild but I’ve gotten over it. We’re not bound to our age-peers once we’re out of school.

I’ve since found friends through my church and athletic groups that I’m very close with as well, but that writing group was a great first step for me. And friendships build on friendships. I’m friends with people I met through acquaintances I don’t speak with anymore and those friendships are incredible. I wish someone had told me making friends was a skill when I was in school. Maybe I would have practiced a little more.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writers’ Group: Traditional Publishing

8 Apr

My writers’ group got together recently! Jason spoke about his journey through traditional publishing and gave us some great insight into the process.

The first step in traditional publishing is to get an agent. Writers pitch to agents, agents pitch to publishers. Jason recommended a few places he was able to find agents listed. The first is a directory such as the Writers’ Market which can be found in print or online. He said he had success with the print version, available at our library. Other sources would include the acknowledgments section of a book similar to yours (where the writer thanks their agent) or referrals from other writers. When sending query letters, be sure you follow the submission guidelines to a T! Some agencies say a rejection from one agent is a rejection from the whole agency, others allow for multiple submissions. Most ask for no attachments in query emails so paste everything in the body of the email. If you do get an agent, this person is likely to take 15% of your royalties, so make sure it’s someone you like!

Gary shared some writing infographics and we spoke about topics for future meetings. We talked about dynamic characters and discussed the possibility that the main character doesn’t change. We recognize it’s possible but couldn’t think of a book we’d read where it happened.

It was a bit of a short meeting this month and I had to leave early, but I really appreciate this team and how much they convince me to keep writing as much as I can.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Off Topic Thursday: Training

28 Mar

I’ve talked about my 70.3 Race in July so I thought this would be a good chance to talk about the training I’ve been doing to get ready for it.

Cover image via Goodreads

I borrowed a training book from my tri club with week-by-week training plans. This gives me workouts to do six days a week, usually more than one per day. I’m trying really hard to keep to this and have only missed one workout so far! It’s currently week six and I’m in the ‘build’ phase where I ramp up time and intensity and train my body to push harder for longer.

There are ten levels for each distance. I was going to go for level two, but a teammate talked me into trying level six! He said levels 1-4 were not enough and to go for six because if it was too hard, I could drop to five. So far, I’m sticking with six. It will have more than prepared to complete my goal of finishing the race. At this point, completing the training feels like more of a task than the race itself.

During a non-recovery week, I’m doing about ten workouts a week, ranging from 45 minutes to two and a half hours. Most of this is biking, my weakest discipline and where I need the most work. I replace one swim a week with my team swim practice and I’ll probably start swapping out other workouts for team workouts as the weather warms up and those start. I want to follow the plan, but I also want to be social and see my friends!

For cycling, I use an app called Zwift for indoor riding now since the weather makes it too cold to ride outside. Zwift creates an avatar that you control by riding your bike. It uses a heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensors on my bike to estimate my power output which determines how fast my avatar rides. There are different maps available (London is my favorite) and you can use pre-set workouts or join groups of other uses for workouts, training rides, or races. It’s way better than staring at a wall and more motivating than watching a movie. I listen to audiobooks while I ride and I’m getting through them very fast with all the time I spend in the saddle!

To run, I prefer to go outside, but Michigan weather doesn’t always participate. I’ll also use the treadmill at my gym and I often take an iPad with me and watch Netflix. Comedy specials are a favorite but it can be hard to laugh and sprint! I try to run with my husband or a friend whenever possible. It pushes me harder and it makes it much more enjoyable.

I usually swim at my gym though I’m looking forward to swimming in some lakes once the temperature warms up. I still saw ice this morning so that feels ages away. Maybe by May?

So don’t mind me being absent from my friends and spending every spare second planning out workouts and meal prepping. July seems ages away, but I know it’s right around the corner. My plan is going to be halted a few times by weddings and other obligations so I’ve built some slack time into the calendar to let me enjoy life and to keep me pushing hard.

Until next time, run (bike & swim) on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Hunger by Roxane Gay

21 Mar

My book club met to discuss Roxane Gay’s Hunger last week. It was a very emotional book and it made very a very emotional discussion!

I wasn’t the only person who listened to the audiobook. There were a range of opinions about the narration. Gay spoke slowly and some readers listened at a faster speed. She read it in a very monotone voice and some felt it didn’t give the subject matter the right amount of gravitas that a professional reader may have given it.

Many felt the book itself was a bit long and repetitive. By the end, some described it as whiny. Interestingly, there were not many professional reviews that had anything negative to say about the book. I guess it’s hard to criticize someone’s raw pain. No matter how many times she repeated it, though, someone who’s never been her size will never understand what it’s like for her. I can’t get it, even after reading this book. The subject matter was very personal and it felt like the reader was almost too involved in her life to the point of being obtrusive.

Roxane has the conflicting desires to be larger and unattractive to men but to receive the rewards that she sees as coming with weight loss and being small. She’s scared to be small because she thinks that if she is, she could be raped again. This contradiction carries through the book.

One thing that stood out to us was her not being able to tell her family about the rape until years later. We think they would have been more than understanding and helped her get the justice and guidance she needed. For a family that was so accepting of her bisexuality, surely they could accept something that she suffered so terribly.

Reading this book opened many of our eyes to how someone who is overweight feels about being looked at. Our society is very critical of someone who overindulges in food rather than something less visible such as alcohol, drugs, or sex. It’s because it’s something we can so readily see. Saying someone is obese is an accusation of something that is wrong with a person. It’s something medical personnel want to treat and which they get paid to correct. Gay’s problem was compounded by her gender. We all felt it was easier for a man to be overweight than a woman. They’re less likely to be stared at in the same manner.

We wondered if writing this book helped her cope with anything. We felt she firmly cemented that she is always going to be big and that she’s OK with it. We speculated that if Gay did lose the weight, people would comment on it and those comments would likely upset her because she wouldn’t lose weight to gain anyone’s approval. If she ever did it, it would be for herself.

I’ve only just started our next book, Dodgers by Bill Beverly. I’m hoping that one won’t be so emotional, we need a break!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani (Part 2)

12 Mar

Since Trigiani is visiting our area, both of my book clubs read her book, Kiss Carlo, over the past few months. My second book club met to talk about it and we didn’t have too much to say about it. We spent the majority of the meeting picking books for our next season of reading. So this will be short.

I aired the complaints my other group shared about extraneous plot lines and many agreed. We did have a member who just adored this book and I can see how someone would. This reader is from an Italian family and she adored Trigiani’s depiction of an Italian-American family. I married into one and I could appreciate it as well (and commiserate with the sisters-in-law!). It’s clear Trigiani knows what she’s writing about in that respect. Some of our readers come from a Jewish background and they identified with the strong family ties as well. It was well written and relatable. We talked about how her writing, the words on the page, were enjoyable. However, a lot of people agreed that there were some things that were hard to believe and that the book could have been edited nearly in half.

One reader described the book by saying “It was like eating Cool Whip expecting a turkey dinner.” It was nice, light, and enjoyable, but it didn’t have the meat to it that we’d hoped for and it didn’t leave us satisfied.

Most of us have already read our book for next month, The Gilded Hour by Sarah Donati. We’re making up for a snow day in January where we missed a meeting.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Off Topic Thursday: Volunteering

28 Feb

I heard somewhere that the Millennial generation volunteers more than any generation before us. I’ve also heard this is because we have no money because of student loans, but I’m going to focus on the good side of this. I have two groups that I volunteer my time with that I’d like to share.

The idea for this post came to me while I was on the train to Chicago for a conference. When I was in college, I joined a co-ed business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi. The group provided me with amazing leadership opportunities, scholarship money, and recognition for the work I did. I enjoyed it a lot and upon graduating and moving to Detroit, I got involved with the alumni chapter as well as serving as a mentor for a local university. Each chapter has a designated mentor and I’ve been in the role for four years and have enjoyed my time doing so. It allows me to stay in touch with the collegiate members and help them develop themselves as leaders and professionals the way I was able to do in school. I was heading to Chicago to represent our alumni chapter in a voting session and visit my friends from my collegiate days, including an old roommate. It’s a perk that I get to see great friends while I do this.

The second position is with my local Friends of the Library board. I’ve been a board member for six years and have slowly taken on more responsibilities as time allows and as I move toward holding a position. I’m the unofficial ‘bookie’ right now, securing entertainment for our annual Gala event in the summer and helping to put on our fundraiser event in the winter. Most recently, I booked a barbershop quartette to sing show tunes. I like being able to advocate for the library in my community and help direct funds to new programs to serve the patrons. It really aligns with my passions and it’s been a great position for me.

I’m sure there are a ton of other ways I could volunteer and share my time, but these are my big two now. Who else out there volunteers? Anything you particularly enjoy? Anything that lines up with your passions?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

What’s the Most Disturbing Book You’ve Read?

21 Feb

I found this post on The Guardian about books that have shocked readers and (thankfully?) there were none on the list that I recognized. Well, just one, The Lovely Bones but it’s been so long since I read that I’ve (thankfully) forgotten the really odd twist, though I remember that it had one.

There are times in a book that I’ve been horrified by something. The starvation in Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy comes to mind. But I can’t think of a book that was overall so horrifying or disturbing that I had to put it down and walk away.

I did something no one should ever do and read the comments. One post brought up Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love which was the first book I read for one of my book clubs. It’s a wonder I kept going to that group. I didn’t find the book disturbing, however, just weird and I didn’t like it. I’ve read other books like that (The Children’s House) but I still don’t think I’d describe them as disturbing.

What disturbs one person might not disturb another. A commenter mentioned Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go which is a favorite of mine. Maybe it’s a matter of how you view the book. I saw this one as fantasy so it didn’t bother me. Other commenters mentioned true crime books as disturbing. It’s never done too much for me.

Now I’m trying to find a disturbing book and read it just to see how emotionally dead I am. Does anyone have a particularly disturbing book to wish upon me? Maybe something that would be best in October when it’s time for spooky/creepy reads?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!