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Posts from the ‘Jenn’ Category

Jenn: Rotten Orange

Apologies for dropping off the face of Earth. My first book, a textbook called “Natural Disasters and Catastrophes” is done (in quotes) and I’m now going through the mind numbing editorial process of getting all the figures, figure legends, tables, appendices, copyright permissions, etc. in order.  Though it is time intensive, it is so boring and dreadful, I haven’t wanted to live through it the first time, let alone relive it on this page and bore Miranda’s readers to tears.

But now I’m in the process of pitching another book, tentatively titled “Rotten Orange” about the Syracuse University Football Program.  I know NOTHING about football and I despise spectator sports, but I tutored the football players at SU for five years and in that time I was intimately acquainted with what the guys went through.  It was not fair that they were asked to do two very difficult full time jobs (athlete, scholar), accept no compensation, and handle fame and stardom like few other schools (Syracuse has no pro teams in the NFL or NBA or whatever, so the entire community was pro college sports like crazy).  I also saw what the coaches and academic support staff went through.

I’m mulling over how this book will go, but my rough idea is it will be marketed as the seedy underbelly of the SU program, but end up being a feel-good story about triumphing in the face of adversity, where the guys are now (many went pro, more did not), and reflecting on what a precious, special time it was for them. I’ll include race relations, politics of NCAA, romance, academics, and will have help with the sports side of things from my dear friend Dave who was an Earth Sciences major and starting defensive tackle.

I also plan to interview many of the guys, who are eager to have their stories told. But I’m going to take a sort of mother hen approach. My friends used to call my apartment “The Jenn Rivers Home for Wayward Football Players” because they would come to my apartment to feel safe and to not be treated based on their performance on the field (I gave then, and still give now, a flying eff about football games), just on the quality of their character and their academic performance.

I know this sounds scatterbrained right now, and it is. But I’m so excited to have another project, and would love to hear any feedback on this blog on what kinds of things you all think people would be interested in as I put the proposal together and start shopping it around. My friend at Wiley also said it would be a good idea to submit a few articles to newspapers and include them in a proposal. And then maybe flesh out the articles into chapters.

I hope you all have been thriving this past year, I’ve lurked and followed your creative efforts often.  I’m most impressed by the collective efforts of Creative Construction’s participants!

Jenn: Running and Writing

Hi all, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Summer was crazy with teaching, then my daughter, parents, and I spent 3 weeks in very remote coastal Maine and New Brunswick.  No phones, no internet, no tv, bliss.  Now I’m back in the swing of things, and the textbook is progressing rapidly.  I have 20 chapters total, and have submitted 10 of them in final draft form to the publisher.  The next 10 are transitioning quickly from rough to final, and I anticipate getting the whole thing in by the end of the year.  Yay!  It’s been so much fun to write this book, and I feel like it’s made me a better teacher as well.

The frustrating thing is that I don’t feel like my publishing company and editors have been giving the book enough time and attention.  The editors keep saying they’re going to be sending along comments soon, but nothing ever comes.  I am trying to be patient, as my rough draft deadline isn’t until July 09.  They may not have budgeted time this soon to spend on my project.  But the other concern I have is that this company doesn’t do the promoting that some of the big companies do.  When I told my representative at a big company I do a lot of business with that I am writing this book, she just about killed me for not asking her company to publish it.  I think it would sell MUCH more with that firm, but I’ve already signed a contract.  Does anyone have any idea how to navigate these waters?  Can one get out of a contract?

Also, I’m still running like crazy, last weekend I ran a 5K on Sat and a 1/2 marathon on Sunday.  I don’t usually do 5K’s, because my rule is to never run a race it takes longer to get to than it does to run.  But this one was sponsored by the University where I’m employed, and it was very close to my house.  I ran it too fast, which made the run the next day quite painful.  But it is the 1/2 marathon I wanted to write about here. It was the Maine Coast 1/2 Marathon, and only women are allowed to enter.  There’s a “significant other 5K” and one man, chosen from a lottery, got to run with us.

It was a spectacular race, highlighted by the fact that Kathrine Switzer was the emcee.  She has the distinction of being the first woman registered for the Boston Marathon, and many people recall the photos of Jock Semple (race director) attempting to physically yank her off the course once he found out a “girl” was running his race.  She’s since ran several marathons, and now organized races and does a lot of event speaking.  She’s written three books, and was signing and selling books at this race.  I purchased “Marathon Woman,”  which was a great book for the first two thirds.  By the end, it started to read like the acknowledgements section… too many names, dates, places, and races that stopped being as riveting as the first half of the book.

But Kathrine Switzer is a great example of a sort-of mom (a stepson entered her life fairly late in his teenage years) who is able to balance work, writing, running, and family magnificently.  She’s 62 years old and looks about 45.  She’s slim, solid, and exudes happiness and grace.  She also wrote “Running and Walking for Women Over 40,” which is a great starting book for those wanting to get into the sport.  I find that my best ideas are hatched while running, and my best actual writing is done immediately after running… all that oxygen in the brain.  If I’m ever stuck on something, even a quick 2-miler is guaranteed to free up any writer’s block.

Jenn: I’ve Fallen… and I can’t get up…

After going gangbusters on this textbook and meeting and exceeding many of my self-imposed schedule deadlines, I’m in limbo. Kind of. The conference call with my editors ended up going really well. They are incredibly happy with the book. Their main stylistic comment was that it sounds a little too conversational for a textbook, and that the students may like this, but it’s the faculty who will ultimately adopt or not adopt the book, so they want me to clean that up. It makes sense, since my process was to have a student sit in and type as I lectured in class, so I ended up with twenty pages or so of transcribed “conversation.”

They also want me to do all those things I dread. Boldface words and create a glossary. Key terms. End of chapter material. I dislike this stuff intensely, but that’s what people put into textbooks, and that’s what I have to do. I find it restrictive and stifling to have this material at the end of the chapter. I teach what I teach, and it’s misleading to kids to be memorizing a whole bunch of terms and main points that I may or may not cover. This stuff is not low skill enough so that I can farm it out to a student, so it’s on me. My editors also made some formatting changes and the plan now is to send me three chapters at a time, I’ll make the required changes, then they send the book out to 100 reviewers, 3 chapters at a time. Eek.

The thing is, it’s summer. Ask anyone when faculty should be taking a long break, and they’ll of course mention this season. Not us! At my school, we have two intense summer semesters, 100 minutes a day, four days a week, and I made the moronic mistake of teaching THREE classes. That’s nearly six hours straight of lecturing non-stop, EVERY day. The money is incredible, but the effort is deadly. My daughter is now in daycare five days a week, which kills me, but ironically she is thriving and seems very very happy. She no longer cries when I drop her off, she gets dressed happily and without complaint in the AM and when it’s time to go, there is no longer a fight, she gladly walks right over. It’s a shame that others can raise my kid better than I can. Read more

Jenn: The Conference Call

I’ve been having my little elves work on my book while I took a break from viturally everything except my daughter these past few weeks. But many of my students are graduating, and now it’s back in my hand. I went to the American Association of Geographers (AAG) national convention last week, and both my assistant and my executive editors were there. It was great and encouraging to see them. They haven’t as it turns out, been making a bonfire with the first 10 chapters I sent them, they’re just very very busy. So I’ve put the thing down for a while until I hear from them. I just got an e-mail this AM from the assist. editor scheduling a conference call for Monday, which is perfect timing, as I’m really getting psyched up about the book again. I have the last 10 chapters and 3 appendicies done, in rough draft (ROUGH ROUGH), so the textbook is in it’s first iteration of being complete. I just have to get in and gloss it all up and add the figures and tables, then start sending another batch. My plan is to do 1 chapter a week over the summer, and aim for a complete book by the end of August. One year ahead of schedule, yay!

The sucky thing is that I just had to increase my daughter’s (HAD?) hours in daycare due to my summer class schedule, and I’m really regretting it. I’m a teacher, I should have the summers OFF to do NOTHING. And going through a divorce soon means I should look as shabby on paper, financially, as I can. But instead, I’ve signed up to teach 5 classes this summer, the money is too incredible to say no to. I’m wistfully thinking about a leisurely summer up in Maine, which I COULD have done. Which I SHOULD have done, living off my savings, and not paying collosal amounts of money to daycare, and since she’s switching to a new daycare in the fall, this is really the only time I could have taken the whole summer off and not have had to spend thousands “saving my space” for the fall. I blew it. I suck.

This month, the Atlantic Monthly’s back page vocabulary/pun feature was about what to call your ex. Very funny. Whatever you call them, mine has been coming around again, and things are going very well, though I will never trust him and never believe him, so I’m not really sure what I’m doing letting him in. I say I do it for my daughter, but I do it because I love him – in the way an addict loves a drug that’s killing her. All of the time I’ve spent with him and with our daughter, I could have had a break, which is what we all desperately need, isn’t it? Laying around doing nothing? Or I could have turned in 3 – 5 more chapters on my book.

Life is not perfect, but it’s pretty darned good right now. I’m so excited to be working on the book again, and teaching Natural Disasters this summer WILL help me to do a better job on the last chapters. It will be sad to see the project end, I’ve really enjoyed working on it. Do any of you have that sad, wistful feeling when your creative project is finished?

Jenn: The Finish Line is in Westfield

Miranda wrote to me the other day and asked where I’ve been. I haven’t posted to this blog in several weeks, though I’ve logged on and lurked. I wrote back to her and said that I only write when I have some news and progress, and that though my students were getting their parts done, I hadn’t actually turned in a chapter since the 11 chapter flurry over spring break. Why would I write a post saying “I failed?” I mean, isn’t it obvious by my absence that I didn’t meet my goals?

The truth is, two things have gone on. One: I’ve temporarily exhausted my desire and probably my ability to write. I wrote like crazy, non-stop for months, and now I need a break. *Could* I keep going? Sure. Would it be forced and lackluster? Yes. And the other thing: It’s Spring.

Spring means road races, people! I used to be a good runner about three years ago. I have a line of trophies and medals in my office to attest to this fact. I once ran 8 marathons and an ultramarathon in 9 consecutive weeks. I ran until I was 9 months pregnant. I ran a 10K when my daughter was a few weeks old, my dad driving nearby with her in the car in case she got fussy. Running, like writing, is what I do. But for the past year or so, I’ve slogged along 5 miles to school and 5 miles home most days. Liking the trip, feeling like I’m somehow cheating the system by running AND commuting to work at the same time. But I haven’t raced in a while. I’m not on the EDGE, I’m traversing a distance in a routine.

So this weekend, I signed up for a 5K in Northampton MA, mostly so my daughter could run the kids fun run beforehand. I didn’t feel like racing when the gun went off, I hadn’t warmed up, and I started off fairly slowly. But then by the time the race was nearly over, I was in oxygen deficit, running all out, and loving/hating the feeling. I ended up winning my age group. Then I went out to lunch, went to a dog show, went to an alpaca show, had dinner with my friends Paul and Jeff, drank WAY too many Guiness’s, stayed out WAY too late, getting not one minute of sleep, then toeing the line at a 1/2 marathon in Westfield the next morning. The sky was gray, I was hungover, exhausted, happy, hungry, and bewildered – wondering what the heck I was doing there.

I don’t usually run to music, but I felt I needed my IPod to get through this race; I hadn’t run 13.1 miles in over a year. The race started off well, I got caught up in a pack of guys who were running the 5K and so I went out WAY too fast. The first 1/2 hour or so were up a mountain, and I listened to Eminem, Shannon, Rick James, Beck, Queen, etc. and cranked out some fast miles. Then it started to hurt. As I went up yet another incline, I thought, “Thank GOD I have my Ipod.” Then the Ipod died, leaving me with the sound of my mysery and lack of training for the next 8 excruciating miles. Oh, and this blog.

On the run, I realized that I was wrong to stay away because I haven’t written and turned in more chapters. Isn’t that a rather narrow mindset? Hasn’t a recurring theme recently been about balance? Why do I feel like a failure because (a) it’s finals time and I’m crazed at work, (b) I’ve taken my daughter to some really fun, cool things that she’s enjoyed immensely, (c) I’ve been reconnecting with old friends and having a blast with them, (d) I’ve taken my classes on four weekend field trips these past two months, (e) I’ve given four talks at meetings and conferences in the past two months, and (f) I’m back full force on the running circuit, and I now have a training plan, some goals for running, and tons or renewed love for the sport? Isn’t that called “balance?” Who wants to hear from a blogger only as she checks off the boxes towards the completion of her book?

That race in Westfield kicked my butt. I finished 5 minutes ahead of my goal time, so I’m happy, but I was also berating myself for getting so fat and out of shape. I watched my thighs flop up and down in places that they’ve never flopped before and said, “this is the price for too much writing.” Just as repetitive strain injuries are the price for too much running. SO the goal is, yes, to finish the book and well before the deadline, but also to write, to run, and to live life. I missed a due date from The Monday Page, but I won a trophy while the deadline slipped past.

But Brittany, with respect to your question, I know enough about my writing to know that nothing is EVER finished. I just get tired and say, “good enough.” There could ALWAYS be one more example, one fewer example, a more clear description of this, a shorter definition of that. At some point, I just let it go. I look at things I’ve published and said, “Oh MAN, that’s SO rough! WHY didn’t I spend some more time on it.” But back to the balance theme, I was just *done* mentally with the work. Because it was time to move on to something else.

Jenn: I wish I could answer that, Christa

I am feeling a similar funk. I’ve submitted 5 chapters to my editor today, and now I’m tired. I don’t think it’s worth it, but what do you do when you’re too far into it to stop, as you and I are? With partially complete or in your case, fully complete pieces of work?

This is my Spring Break. I should be on vacation. I should have taken my daughter to Iceland. To somewhere, ANYWHERE. Instead, she’s in daycare as usual (rationalization: it’s good to keep her on her schedule), and I’ve spent half of my break sitting at my kitchen table, expending about 100 calories per day, no exercise, horrible eating habits, ignoring everything, and writing. Mabe it’s too much of a good thing? This is what I planned to do for Spring Break, so why do I feel like a loser, misfit, failure of a mom?

I think it will help when the editor gives me some feedback, which she hasn’t yet. I keep e-mailing chapters in and waiting. I have four more nearly done, and two more I’d LIKE to get finished by the time Friday rolls around, and one I’d like to look over and research because it’s my lecture for Tuesday, and getting that in great shape beforehand will make my life easier afterwards. But I am PROMISING myself to spend the weekend with my daughter, doing NOTHING and everything, and relaxing for at least two out of ten days.

I suppose I should also realize that this is a finite project. If I reach my goal and turn in 11 chapters, that means only 9 more to go by the time summer rolls around. And SO WHAT if I lag behind. My editor wanted the book written within a year (staring in February), so why do I have myself on this kill-yourself schedule? Probably because I’m deathly afraid I’ll run out of steam and walk away.

Which wouldn’t be a bad idea. How many books on natural disasters does the world need? There are four perfectly good texts out there. Why am I doing this? Are we having fun yet?

Jenn: I second that, Bethany

What a timely post, Bethany. I just logged on after sitting at my kitchen table from 2:30 AM to 10:30 AM writing pretty much straight through. And I’m no closer to a finished product. I am in a similar situation in that I have 19 chapters in my book, but each is essentially a stand-alone piece of work. Instead of methodically going through and finishing one chapter, sending it to the editor, and moving on to the next, I’m finding myself chipping away at different chapters in a whimsical fashion.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain, because I *am* working. I’d just like to see a RESULT. (Here comes the part where I say it’s not my fault) The thing is, I’m waiting for the guest writer to send me SOMETHING, and she has a box in every chapter. I can’t send a chapter along to the editor without her input. And none of my students who are (a) fact checking, (b) adding and updating references, (c) getting figures from websites, and (d) drawing figures for me are getting their stuff to me, either. I’m not complaining, and if they don’t come through, I won’t let any of it hold me up, as I am perfectly capable of doing these tasks myself. But hey, if students want to do them, using their work study, who am I to refuse the help?

Also, I have barbaric dial up at home and no printer, so I can’t print out the figures, print ouf the manuscript, and really have at it. I was GOING to go to school for 12 hours today, as my husband has our daughter, but (BUT!) it’s cold and snowy and I don’t want to go shovel. I’m more of a let-it-melt kind of person.

So I’m WORKING. Yes I am. But it’s not a task oriented work. Is this okay? Should I be drifting like this? The other part of this is that I’m writing as I lecture, and when my student sends me the transcript of what I said in class, I like to get on it while it’s all still fresh in my mind. And while you, Bethany, have a potentially ENDLESS source of book ideas, I have a discrete, 19 chapter book that I eventually have to FINISH. It’s a mixed feeling: I’m happy that I”m working on it so much, but frustrated that I’ve nothing to show for it at this point besides a bunch of files on a flash drive and a bunch of waiting for other people to come through for me.

Right now, for example, I have “Plate Tectonic Theory,” “Plate Tectonic Boundaries,” “Principles of Weather,” and “Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and Thunderstorms” all open and I’m swapping back and forth while drinking too much green tea and listening to Alison Krauss and Robert Plant (remember, I’m the one who can’t work at Starbucks because the background music distracts me).

The fabulous, fabulous thing about this blog is that I really REALLY am enjoying the process. It’s so invigorating and fulfilling. I don’t even care if it ever gets done. I just like writing. I suppose I’d better get to the Monday Page so I can heap on some guilt…

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