Tag Archives: reading

Local Eugene author interview with James Aaron

Before I became a writer, I was a reader. I learned to read when I was 4 or 5 years old, in my first year of school. I remember sitting on the floor of my English classroom, deep into a book about a magician and a dragon, completely oblivious to what was going on around me.

I don’t remember the name of the book or the author, or even specifically what the story was about. But I remember the feeling of being transported into another world. No matter what was going on in my young life (and there was a lot that was hard), I could pick up a book and be somewhere else. That may sound like escapism, but books, along with music, kept me alive and kicking through some difficult and trying years.

I still go to books when life feels overwhelming (and even when it doesn’t). Nothing helps me cope like a good story.

And in an effort to support other writers (and justify my love of reading), here’s the first in hopefully many blog posts about fellow Eugene authors.

James Aaron

Eugene author James AaronLast March, I was in what seemed like a minor car accident — just a rear-end collision at fairly low speed. But it gave me a concussion and a whole lot of nerve pain in my left shoulder and arm (which is still healing). The concussion bowled me over, as far as its impact on my life. For more than a week, I sat on my couch in a daze, unable to drive or work or do much of anything.

I wrote about the experience a few days later in this blog post. That short post took me a couple of days to write and edit and post, because I could stand to look at a screen only for a few minutes before my brain was exhausted and I needed to rest.

Fortunately, I discovered that I was able to still read. So I sat on my red couch and read a whole lot of books, took some naps and let my brain rest enough to get better.

Emerald EmergentOne of the books I read during that time was Emerald Emergent by local Eugene author James Aaron, whose book I had recently stumbled upon in a lovely series of small events.

I met James at last Spring’s Wordcrafters writing conference the weekend before the accident. He sat next to me, tapping away on a clackity smart typewriter thing with a tiny screen. He introduced me to the tall guy (Justin Tindel) in the EWA (Eugene Writers Anonymous) shirt and got me hooked up to their Facebook group.

Which is where James posted a link to Emerald Emergent, on sale that week on Amazon.com. I bought it, downloaded it, and got on with life, until I got whacked over the head by the universe.

So, there I was, sitting on the couch, wondering how to occupy myself, and opened my Kindle and found James’ book. Away I went, on an adventure outside of the confines of my healing body and brain.

I loved the book. I won’t attempt to summarize the plot, so I’ll just say that it’s a fast-paced young adult sci-fi adventure with characters I connected to and a world that I totally got into. My only complaint was that it wasn’t longer. And that there are terrifying dog-sized spiders (not really a complaint, but they were terrifying).

The Voices in the WoodsHere’s the thing that I also loved. I found a couple of typos in the book and contacted James about them through Facebook. (“Hi, I just read your book and it was great, but here are some typos I found…hope you don’t mind.”) He was gracious and grateful to know about them, and sent me an advance copy of the next book in the Emerald of Elegaia series, The Voices in the Woods, which I happily proofread for him.

Sadly for me, James has been taking a break from the Emerald of Elegaia series to work on some other books — he published two more novels last year (making a total of four in 2016): Ground Private Parvel and The Dead Miner’s Mother. And I’m sure he has more in the works.

An interview with James Aaron

Fortunately for all of us, James was happy for me to pepper him with questions about his books and how he goes about writing and publishing them. As an independent author, he gets to do the whole thing himself, figuring it all out along the way.

How long have you been writing books?

I tried to write my first novel in high school and got my first taste of professional rejection when Del Rey sent me a very nice form letter. I wrote another novel in my twenties.

It’s only in the last two years that I’ve been focused on writing in a dedicated way: writing every day, taking part in writing groups, and submitting to magazines. I guess I’ve been thinking about writing all my life, but the conditions to actually be able to write have only presented themselves recently. There were other times when I thought I wanted to take a class or join a group, went once, and just never went back. I don’t know why the thought of it made me so anxious back then, but something clicked two years ago and it’s been a lot of fun since then.

Why did you start writing?

I started reading seriously when I was thirteen or fourteen, and something about the experience of reading made me want to try it myself. I wrote mostly imitation back then. I guess if fanfiction had existed, that’s what I was writing. But it was fun and it gave me something to do after school. I had a computer and I wasn’t allowed to play games on it, so the only thing I could really do with it was write.

Where did the idea for Emerald Emergent come from?

I’m fascinated by the idea of the eternal return, that civilizations have risen and fallen across the millennia and their bones are always waiting to be discovered. I wanted to create a world where people live with the effects of those previous worlds, where your backyard might turn out be filled with ancient tech that might hurt or help you. . . so that was the seed of what became Emerald’s story. Now I’m on the process of building out some of the events that come long before her time.

What was the reception to it?

Readers have really enjoyed it, but there haven’t been as many readers as I would have liked. In publishing Emerald and Voices, I learned a lot about how Amazon works, what the readers there are looking for, and it lead me to change directions with the latest novels. I’ll still go back to the other stories to finish them. I wrote more to reader expectations with Ground Private Parvel, and it’s already beat the sales of the other two books in just two weeks.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I wanted to learn about publishing as it currently stands. I was part of a small press from 2000 – 2009, and spent a lot of time editing books, designing them, getting them printed and then selling through bookstores and online. We quit just before the ebook revolution really took off, so we missed that boat. I went to a few talks with authors whose books were so professionally produced that I didn’t realize they were self-published. That was a huge wake-up call for me that the market had changed, and it was possible to produce a book yourself that could compete and succeed in the market.

I also like the level of control self-publishing allows, and that I can quickly experiment and then shift to something new if what I tried doesn’t work, without spending a huge amount of money. I like that I can see nearly instantaneous sales data. I’ve also found a really supportive community of authors who share information from an abundance mentality, making it possible to be more successful with what I try.

What have you learned from the process so far?

Community is one of the most important parts of writing these days. Find yourself a writing group. Whether you’re focused on the traditional publishing route, self-publishing or something in-between, there are other people in your area or online doing the same thing. It’s so much more fun when you can share your wins and commiserate over your losses, and hopefully help someone else avoid the same mistakes. Writing is work, but it’s so much more fun when you like your co-workers. The idea of the author struggling alone is a myth that no longer holds true.

I never got to meet Jay Lake, but I remind myself of his advice almost every day as I think about my writing journey:

  • Write a story every week (for me this is write every day)
  • Finish everything you start
  • Don’t self-critique while writing
  • Work on one thing at a time (I am mostly good at doing this)

I remind myself that writing is a journey, and I won’t get anywhere if I don’t get the words out, share them, and keep moving forward. We live in a time where feedback is everywhere, in reviews and writing groups and places you least expect. . . don’t let negative feedback stop you from telling your story. Think about the feedback from all directions but don’t let it stop you from creating. The worst thing you could do in response to negative feedback is to stop creating.

I still work full-time and don’t plan on leaving my day job anytime soon, so my writing process is based on getting up everyday at 5am and doing the work. Some days I’m better at this than others, but I’m doing my best. I finish everything I start, and I write at least a thousand words a day. They might not always be the best words, but I feel better once I’m done.

Anything else you want to share?

I love to hear from readers. You can email me at james@jamesaaron.net or join my newsletter list at jamesaaron.net/list.

Being part of a community of writers and readers is the best part of all of this for me. I love to read/hear a great story, and if I’m able to share my own and have it connect with someone, that’s the best feeling.

Quiet camp

So Camp Mummy hasn’t exactly been full of providing children exciting and educational summer activities lately.

Book reading enthusiasm has waned. Emma still hasn’t finished The Ruins of Gorlan (how can she live not knowing how it ends?) and I just can’t seem to get into the Warriors book about bands of fighting cats.

Plus, I don’t have Emma and Sam all that much during the week, and not for any full days, reducing our chances of getting up to much fun. But we’re not completely and totally lame as long as you count the weekends.

So here’s what we have done:

Japanese Obon Festival

Japanese Obon Festival
The Pokemon Dance.

We stopped at the supermarket for sushi to go and then onto Alton Baker Park, where we fortuitously found Yayoe, Adam’s ex-step-mom who we still call Grandma Yayoe.

We enjoyed watching traditional Japanese dances — including the awesome Pokemon Dance — while being relentlessly pursued by a wasp. I think it liked my gluten-free soy sauce.

I failed in my half-hearted attempts to get anyone go join the circle and dance with me (nor did I go on my own), although Yayoe and I shuffled in place. My arm flapping did double duty, serving to also shoo away the wasp (as well as provide entertainment for anyone watching — group dances are not my forte).

Sam thankfully trapped the wasp at ground level and stomped it into oblivion. Much indebted, I enjoyed a couple more dances and then we headed home.

Hiking to the Raptor Center

Walking in the woods
Did you hear that noise? What was that?

In preparation for Adam and kids’ upcoming camping trip, we went for a hike up Ridgeline Trail. Starting out near Duncan and Berry’s school, we wandered the woods, taking the trails I remembered from Berry’s class field trip to the Raptor Center.

Taking photos of people hiking is a bit tricky, as you have to get ahead of the group and then they each walk behind the person in front. Adam and the kids stopped, however, to listen to the sound of two trees rubbing together in the wind. I told them it was a cougar (we’d seen signs about cougar and bear sightings), loving mother than I am.

I was the only person to think to bring water and was resultingly quite popular. We eventually reached Fox Hollow road, which gave Emma a burst of energy — or at least enough to climb the hill to the Raptor Center, where we donated a whole lot for our entry free. Fortunately they had plentiful fresh, cold water, which everyone enjoyed.

Owl at the Raptor Center in EugeneAfter sharing my granola bar (also the only snack that made the journey with us), I offered to bravely face the trail back to the minivan alone while the rest of the gang enjoyed the educational owl-eating-meaty-bits show and wandered around to look at all the birds, including Raavi, a bird of some kind that Emma adopted a couple of years ago. They’re cool and all, those birds, and the Raptor Center does good work, but apparently birds aren’t really my thing. So I strode off downhill, taking my chances with cougars, bears and my knees.

I returned with the minivan 30 minutes later.

Camping and Exchange Students

Joanna, JD and Regina – Rochester NY meets the West Coast.

The following weekend, Adam took Sam and Emma backpack camping on the coast while I attended a psychic fair in Yachats with my friend, JD, a spirit artist from Ohio. If you want to read about that, read Adam’s post Camping. I don’t know where the tales of my adventure go, but probably not here. Suffice to say it was an interesting and slightly profitable experience and it was great to see JD and Regina, both old friends from Rochester, NY (Regina now lives in Ashland and drove up for a couple of days while JD was still here).

The Miller family guest cottage.

During the week, I helped our local academic coordinator for an exchange student program find families to host French students over the rest of the summer. And decided it would be super awesome if we hosted an exchange student from Japan for the school year. Fortunately, Adam and then Emma and Sam also thought it would be a great idea, so we moved forward with the process. Honoka will arrive in late August and stay in our little guest cottage in the back garden.

Adam is very excited to have someone use the incredibly fancy shed he built and finished (with insulation, electricity, drywall and hardwood floors).

And that’s the news from Camp Mummy for the last couple of weeks. Hopefully we’ll manage something interesting, educational and/or active this weekend.


Broken finger, birthdays, art and travel

Here’s a summary of the past week:

  • Emma broke her little finger
  • Grandma Yayoe came over for a fun art afternoon
  • Duncan and Berry finished up summer camp
  • We celebrated birthdays
  • I got Duncan and Berry packed and ready for their trip to New York

You can’t say we haven’t been busy.

Afternoon art with Grandma Yayoe.

The broken pinky and afternoon art

Sweet Emma broke the pinky finger on her right hand (she’s right-handed) on Thursday morning at her mom’s house. At first, we thought it was just sprained, so when she came over in the afternoon, I manufactured a homemade splint and she got down to some serious artwork with Grandma Yayoe.

The boys couldn’t be persuaded to leave their computers, even though they are talented artists as well.

Yayoe brought over a mysterious substance from days long ago called carbon paper. I have vague recollections of the secretary at my dad’s office using carbon paper in the typewriter and of messing around with it myself. But I haven’t seen any in years. Neither had Yayoe — she found it at Goodwill.

End of summer camp

The end of summer camp week inevitably came, much to Berry’s sorrow. The kids went on a field trip to the Enchanted Forest in their tie-dye camp t-shirts and cemented their bonds with their camp counselors.

Meanwhile, I took Emma to the doctor to have her finger looked at. The swelling and pattern of bruising around her knuckle worried me. Something just didn’t feel right.

We got an appointment that morning, so I took kids to school, then Emma to the doctor. She got xrays. The pediatrician thought it was just a sprain so she got an impressive-looking professional splint (none of my Popsicle stick and gauze nonsense).

A radiologist read the xrays and called Adam later in the day. The verdict: a fracture near her knuckle in the growth plate. After a visit to an orthopedist a few days later, she ended up with a fiberglass cast for 3 weeks.

Birthday celebrations

Family dinner on the patio.

We celebrated a cluster of birthdays over the weekend – Adam’s on Saturday, Duncan’s on Sunday, Grandma Susie’s on Wednesday.

Saturday evening we hosted family dinner, enjoying BBQ chicken and various salads on the patio in the 92-degree evening. I didn’t get any good present opening pictures and the cake, while delicious, wasn’t truly impressive looking (Chocolate Mocha Torte aka Chocolate Potato Cake).

But presents were opened to the gift-receivers’ delight and Adam got the socks and underwear he’s always wanted.

Child-eating donut
A giant donut with teeth has eaten Duncan.

Sunday morning, I surprised Duncan with a trip to Voodoo Donuts for some healthy birthday breakfast. He got to choose two for him and one each for everyone else. Alas, no gluten-free donuts were to be found, but sugar makes me grumpy anyway.

Duncan opened his gifts, quite happy with his loot, almost all Minecraft- or Pokemon-related. He also asked for a Sorry! boardgame, so we had a round of that at some point, after putting together all the Minecraft papercraft boxes he also received.

Getting ready to leave

And then it was time to get the little kids ready to go to Rochester to see their for 5 weeks.

I got a bit maudlin and wrote about it on my other blog, Irrepressible Spirit.

Duncan crammed in as much time with his friends as possible — one sleepover, a birthday afternoon Minecraft spree, a trampolining play date, and a morning at another friend’s house. Berry and I hung out together, squeezing in one birthday party where she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. We were going to get in one more bike ride, but it strangely rained (unusual for summer in Eugene). And we’re not that hardcore.

I washed all the kids’ dirty clothes in order to pack them — plus a couple of stuffed animals that had become a bit stinky. And I took lots of pictures of them while they were asleep. So cute that way.

On Wednesday, we succeeded in using the kids’ coupons for a free crepe at 16 Tons, surprising Grandma Susie fortuitously with birthday cards and a present. Emma and Sam were at her house being put to work, so everyone came along.

Somehow, Duncan and Berry had never tasted Nutella before. Clearly I have failed as a mother. I made up for it with a hot chocolate to go with it. I ate salad and drank jasmine tea. Then we zipped over to the airport to surprise their Dad as he arrived.

We made final trip preparations, getting their case packed to its full 50lb weight limit with Pokemon cards and stuffed animals. And then it was time for dinner, bath and bed, our normal routine. We finished Duncan’s last Looniverse book, and crept through a little more Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sadly leaving Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing unfinished. I popped it into his carry-on bag. We’ll see if he manages to read it by the time he returns.

early morning wakeup3:30 a.m. Thursday morning arrived and I woke up the kids, sleepily getting them dressed and fed and packed into their Dad’s car at 4 a.m. Off they went, as I waved through the living room window, the car’s taillights disappearing into the morning’s dark.


What will the remainder of the summer bring for Camp Mummy?

Well, with a cast on her right hand, bike riding and swimming are out for Emma. So I’ll have to come up with something more creative for the days she’s home with me. Hiking? Reading? Board games? Stay tuned.

The R’s of summer

Two weeks of summer are under our belt (well, they were when I started this post on Tuesday). How are we stacking up against my original plans? Eh, generally OK. But I’m not sure how we could possibly fit more into our days.

Learning to ride bikes

We’re working hard on on this one, with two bike riding sessions so far. I was hoping for another yesterday (but we ran out of time) or today (but Duncan isn’t feeling well).

This happened on the way back to the minivan. For a long time.

We went down the paved trail by Amazon Park the first time (this also counted as visiting a playground) with one kid on the bike with the training wheels and one on the smaller bike I turned into a balance bike by taking off the pedals. I hear this is all the rage for helping kids to learn balance. Apparently not for my kids.

There was a lot of whining about who had to ride the balance bike, ending with a brilliant episode of stubbornness. Getting back to the minivan felt like it took hours.

Our second biking excursion generally went better, with one bike with training wheels and one without. I tried convincing the kids that the person on the bike without the training wheels got more attention the the kid on the bike with training wheels, but they didn’t really buy it. We switched up the bikes every 5 minutes or so, which meant adjusting both seats, but it was OK.

After a while, my poor back had enough of running behind a bike while keeping it upright and my ability to consistently spew encouraging words also wore out, so we headed to the playground across the street (see below).

Visiting every playground in Eugene

The kids insisted I give them commands to do things. This one was: Berry, lie down on the bench and sleep until Duncan wakes you up. Duncan, go down the slide 2 times, then go over to Berry and give her a kiss to wake her up.

We haven’t been anywhere new, but have been to our favorites. I mean, we have to visit them first, anyway, right? And, I think until I start hearing complaints that the old favorites have become boring, we’ll stick with them. It was more an idea to keep us interested in going outside and staying active.

Because that’s what a lot of these goals are really about — keeping minds and bodies active and not lounging around in our underwear watching Pokemon all day (confession: that is exactly what’s happening now, at 1:15 p.m.).

Reading our way through the OBOB book list

Duncan and Berry both finished Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman and I think I’ve resparked Emma’s interest in her book. She was on Chapter 17 on Monday. I have to catch up with her again.

Duncan and Berry are now onto The Trouble With Chickens which I they should probably be reading right now instead of watching TV. Did I mention Duncan is feeling under the weather today?

I’ve certainly been reading a lot, finishing the latest Outlander book, then My Mistake by Daniel Menaker. Now I’m onto The Goldfinch, which is due at the library in three days. My kindle and I are inseparable.

So, even if we haven’t been doing a fantastic job of some of the other stated Camp Mummy goals: trying a new recipe every week, doing science experiments, crafting cool things, etc., we have been having a bang up time with those three Rs of summer: reading, riding bikes and roaming about.

Summer reading list

One of my presumably brilliant ideas for the summer is to get the kids reading some of the OBOB books for the next school year. I have no idea how many we’ll get through in one summer, but it’s worth a go.

Berry, who’ll be in 2nd grade, sadly won’t be able to do OBOB. But Duncan will be in 4th and his team came in 2nd in the school this last year so I hope he’ll want to do it again next year. Emma did OBOB a couple of years ago, but not in 5th grade, so my secret (no longer) hope is that if she reads a few OBOB titles over the summer she’ll be more inclined to form a team with her friends as she’ll already have some of them under her belt.

Somewhat surprisingly, the kids thought this was a great idea when I proposed it to them. So I diligently looked up the OBOB book list for 2014-15 next year for the grades 3-5 and 6-8 categories.

Last Saturday at the library, I picked up three copies of Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman and two copies of The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan with the idea that I’d read along with the kids. Then we’d have lovely discussions about the books and compare our thoughts and impressions.

Today I realized something amiss in my plan — although it didn’t happen until Emma got to Chapter 7 in her book. If the kids get into reading, I have to read a ton to keep up with them! And I just started the long awaited Written In My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon.

But, devoted reader mother that I am, I tore myself away after reading only a few chapters (today) and dug into the kids’ books. Which are actually really good. I’m on Chapter 10 of The Ruins of Gorlan and haven’t quite caught up with Emma, who enjoyed teasing me at the dinner table that someone dies. I think someone dies in the other book, too. Good times!

The kids have blogged about what else happened today: Duncan Looses a Tooth!!! and Berry Sewing a Cute Cuddly Thing, so I won’t elaborate further on those, except to say that, in between all that reading, I did manage to help Berry make some fuzzy Star Wars creature with four eyes without burning anyone with the hot glue gun, supervise lunch making, clean up lunch, haul everyone to the park for a while and cook dinner while showing kids how to blog. (Dinner was chicken curry/tofu curry with broccoli, rice and naan bread. I didn’t make the naan bread.)

And in case you’re interested — and so that I can refer to it easily when I want to check out more OBOB books, here’s the 3-5 and 6-8 grade books for next year:

Grades 3-5 Division

  • The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor
  • Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes
  • Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jeri Watts
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  • A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole
  • Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • Sasquatch by Roland Smith
  • Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin
  • Swindle by Gordon Korman
  • Tales from the Odyssey, Part One by Mary Pope Osborne
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
  • The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin
  • The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney
  • The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

Grades 6-8 Division

  • Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
  • Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
  • Endangered by Eliot Schrefer
  • The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
  • Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
  • Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
  • The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
  • One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • Poison by Bridget Zinn
  • The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
  • Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai
  • True Legend by Mike Lupica
  • Ungifted by Gordon Korman
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio