Tag Archive | volunteer year

On Being a Novelist in Grad School

This post was inspired by Kat Zhang’s post “Writing as a Student” over at Pub(lishing) Crawl. Perhaps someone out there is wondering what it’s like to be a children’s book author and a Ph.D. student at the same time. I’m not sure I have a lot to offer in the way of advice, but I can share my experiences. (In hopes of being helpful, I’m going to go into a fair amount of detail. You are hereby warned that the minutiae may get boring!)

1. Student Writers on the Rise?

Though I don’t have any data, my impression is that the number of authors who are currently in school is on the rise. It’s not that unusual these days to see a deal announcement in which the author is eighteen, nineteen, or in her very early twenties. I was 20 when I signed with an agent, 22 when I got a book deal, and 23 when Sparkers was published, and in this decade, that doesn’t make me that remarkable. There are so many authors who began their careers at a similarly young age: Kat Zhang, Stephanie Diaz, Tahereh Mafi, Karen Bao, Hannah Moskowitz… Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. And if there are so many authors of this age out there, chances are a lot of them are balancing their writing careers with college or graduate/professional school.1

2. Writing as a Student: Middle School Through College

Except for the year when I worked at a non-profit, there has never been a time when I was a writer and not also a student. I finished my first book when I was in 8th grade.2 I finished my second book, which would become Sparkers, in 10th grade. I finished my third book at the end of 12th grade.3 At this point, I figured I could write a book every two years, but my next book actually took three years because college.

It was in college that I started seriously pursuing publication. The spring of my sophomore year, I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. My semester was punctuated by the anticipation and excitement of finding out the results of each round. I didn’t win, but that summer, while I was working as a research assistant at the University of Minnesota, I gave myself a crash course in traditional publishing, starting with the entire archive of Miss Snark. Then I began querying agents.

By late summer, I had a revise & resubmit. I decided to revise my manuscript based on the agent’s comments. It took me until early January of the following year to resubmit. In mid-March, while I was studying abroad in Grenoble, I got another revise & resubmit from the same agent. I decided to revise again. It took me until the end of August to resubmit. In September, now a senior in college, I signed with the agent. Then we embarked on more revisions. I got notes at the end of October and turned in my next draft at the beginning of the following February. More revisions followed through the rest of my senior year, the summer after I graduated, and my volunteer year before I went on submission to publishers. But you get the picture.

What I want to highlight in the above timeline is when I was turning in revised drafts. Early January, i.e. during winter break. Late August, i.e. at the end of summer vacation. Early February, i.e. after a month or so of winter break. In college, breaks were essential for my writing. They were the times when I was most productive, whether I was writing a book for fun or doing a serious revision for someone in the industry. I wrote while classes were in session too, but schoolwork took priority. I worked every summer, but I had more time to write working a 9-to-5 than I did as a full-time college student. It wasn’t so much that I figured out how to fit writing into my life as a college student as that I took full advantage of my long breaks to work as hard as I could on my books.

So if I managed to keep writing seriously in college in large part because of the long vacations, how do I now manage an actual career as an author while in the kind of school that arguably has no breaks?

3. Getting to the Point: Writing Novels in Grad School

In college, I did an icebreaker in which we were asked, roughly, “If you could be any professor, who would you be and why?” I knew my answer: I wanted to be Donna Jo Napoli. Donna Jo Napoli is a linguistics professor and a children’s book author. I can’t remember if I actually told everyone I wanted to be her, because at the time I was extremely cagey about my writing, but now that I’m in a linguistics Ph.D. program with the goal of continuing in academia, I really am on the road to becoming Donna Jo Napoli.

When I started grad school, Sparkers had already sold. I moved into graduate housing on September 1st, although the school year didn’t start until the end of September. Instead of exploring my new city, I holed up in my apartment and worked hard to finish a revision for my editor before classes began. After that, we were on to line editing and copy editing, which didn’t interfere too much with my heavy first-year course load. However, I was contracted to write a second book.

I began writing that next book during–wait for it–spring break of my first year of grad school. For various reasons, I took a very light course load in the spring quarter that followed this break, so I continued drafting through the term and on into the summer. The summer did afford me more time to write, but I was also undertaking a substantial research project. When classes began again in the fall, I wasn’t ready to send my editor the first draft of Book 2, and it was clear I was going to miss my original deadline. My publisher has always been very flexible and generous about giving me more time when I need it, but I wanted to turn in my draft just as much as they wanted me to. The later I was, the longer it would be before I published my next book.

The fall of my second year of grad school, I was taking two classes, beginning my master’s thesis, and TAing for the first time. At this point, I wasn’t drafting Book 2 anymore; I was whittling it down from a monstrously long manuscript to a book I could present to my editor. Revising can be easier than drafting because you already have something to work with, but it was still time-consuming. I began squeezing in editing time in ways I never had before. I edited over breakfast. I edited during lecture for the class I was TAing. Towards the end, I even started editing on my laptop on my bus commute. I finally sent my editor the first draft of Book 2 at the beginning of December.

To be clear, I enjoyed working on Book 2 alongside my schoolwork and my TAing duties. There’s a heady feeling that comes with being consumed by a revision. But that fall quarter showed me there was only so much I could do at once. Between doing the work for my classes, teaching sections and otherwise taking care of my undergrad students, and revising Book 2, there was little time left for research. I made very little progress on my master’s thesis that fall. Luckily, I had gotten a head start over the summer, so I was able to neglect my project for one quarter, take it up again in earnest in the winter, and finish my thesis by the end of spring.

To this too, there is another side. My editor sent me notes at the end of January, but I didn’t turn in my next draft until six months later, at the end of July. If I prioritized writing over my master’s thesis in the fall, during the winter and spring I prioritized my master’s thesis over writing because I had to finish the thesis by the end of my second year. There was no way I could work on both with any degree of depth while also taking classes, TAing, and presenting at conferences.

At last, summer came, and my master’s thesis was done! Unlike the summer after my first year of grad school, this past summer I had no particular research project to complete, no fellowship that required me to produce a paper. Instead, I had a research/career-related to-do list, much of which I totally neglected in favor of revising Book 2 not once but twice. The first revision I turned in at the end of July, as mentioned above, and the second I turned in two and a half weeks ago, just before the fall quarter began.

What did I neglect while I was revising Book 2 again and again? I had intended to spend some of the summer expanding my master’s thesis, carrying out new analyses, figuring out what theoretical contribution my research could make, deciding which journals it was best suited to, and turning my thesis into a publishable paper. I did none of these things. If I had not revised my manuscript twice this summer, I would probably have made more progress toward my first journal publication. Now that I’m a third-year, it’s time for me to be making myself into a candidate who will be competitive on the job market in a few years. I don’t regret spending more time on writing this summer because it was very satisfying, but I recognize that it was at the expense of my nascent career as a linguist.

The thing about grad school that feels different from college is that expectations are such that I could be devoting all my time to it: days, evenings, weekends, summers, vacations. There are no breaks anymore, not really. I may not have classes or teaching in the summer, but that just gives me more time to get ahead in my research and write papers. I’m not just a student with a school year schedule anymore; I’m also a professional trying to build an academic career. There is always another paper to read, another skill to learn, another line of research to pursue, another conference to submit to, another fellowship or grant to apply for. In college, I felt that, outside the strictly circumscribed hours when I was working, summers were mine to devote to writing. In grad school, I don’t feel that way.

This sort of dilemma isn’t limited to authors in grad school, of course. Many academics have families or hobbies that they make time for. There are plenty of jobs outside academia where one could always be doing more. As a novelist in grad school, though, I am pursuing two careers simultaneously, and it’s easy to wonder whether by doing so I’m not pursuing either one as well as I could be.

There’s also the question of making a living. Writing children’s books is usually not a way to earn one’s livelihood. That’s why I’m in grad school. But earning a Ph.D. in a field like linguistics is also not a guaranteed ticket to a stable, well-paying job. Depending on their field, many young authors in grad school may be pursuing two relatively uncertain career paths and wondering if either will pan out in the way they hope.

At the same time, we sometimes have the best of both worlds. I’m happy where I am. I’m writing books, and I’m participating in a field that fascinates me with colleagues I love. Ideally, when I don’t feel like linguisticking, I can turn to my writing, and when I can’t bear to face my manuscript, I can read a phonology paper or analyze some data. In practice, I sometimes don’t feel like doing either and end up browsing book reviews or recipes on the Internet.

I might be a more productive linguist or author if I was only one of these things, but maybe not by much. Tasks tend to take up the time we have for them, no matter how long that is. In other words, if I had more time to do linguistics or to write books, I might not do more. I might just take longer to do the same amount. Being a grad student puts pressure on my writing time. Being an author puts pressure on my research and schoolwork time. Between these twin pressures, stuff gets done.

I’m lucky to have an editor who understands when I put a revision on hold to write a thesis and professors and fellow grad students who are incredibly supportive of my writing career (some of them are probably reading this right now, if they’ve made it this far). If this wasn’t the case, I’m sure this whole two careers thing would be harder. For now, I’m just feeling my way forward one term and one draft at a time. And hopefully one day I’ll have become the next Donna Jo Napoli.

1. Then there are the Jake Marcionettes and Maya Van Wagenens of the world. I have no idea what it’s like to be a published author in middle school or high school.

2. It was your typical Tolkienesque fantasy, even though to this day I haven’t managed to finish The Lord of the Rings.

3. It was about a wizard school! Except it was heavily inspired by my experience going to middle school in Paris, so the school was located in Brittany and there was French swearing.

Sparkers Launch Party at Red Balloon

Today is the official publication day of Sparkers! It’s out in the world. It’s hard to believe this day has finally arrived, and yet today also feels like any other day. I’m grateful to everyone who has taught me, advised me, cheered me on, and kept me company along the way.

Last Friday, I had my launch party at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. As I’ve mentioned before, this is the children’s bookstore where I met Eoin Colfer when I was in middle school. During my volunteer year, I lived in the neighborhood and loved being able to walk to Red Balloon whenever I wanted. It was a dream come true to have the Sparkers release party there.

A lovely crowd came out to celebrate with me, including much of my extended family, several of my high school friends, parents and siblings of high school friends who have left the Twin Cities, some of my parents’ friends, my 7th and 12th grade English teachers, my 5th, 9th, and 11th grade French teacher (and her friends from France!), a bunch of church members, two of my Beth Shalom housemates, my former boss at the interfaith advocacy organization, a bunch of my former colleagues from the non-profit/advocacy world, and my cello teacher. I was touched by everyone’s support and enthusiasm.

And now, a few photos from the party…




Me with books!


Red Balloon ordered this gorgeous cake, complete with edible glitter and a frosting violin


Me talking (and note Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen’s The Dark!)

friends in the audience

Friends, teachers, coworkers!


Hoping I’ve developed a consistent signature…


I’ve perfected the “little grandmother” look. (Photo by Laura C.)

Thank you to the Red Balloon staff for hosting such a wonderful party for me and thank you to everyone who came!

Northern Spark 2014

I am on vacation in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and I arrived just in time for Northern Spark 2014. This is an all-night arts festival I’ve attended with friends for the past two years (I mentioned the 2013 festival briefly in my 2013 recap post). The first year I went, it was in Minneapolis, and we spent most of our time around the Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi. Last year, it was in St. Paul, in and around the Union Depot railroad station. This year, it was back in Minneapolis, and it coincided with the opening of the Green Line, the new light rail train that connects the Twin Cities’ downtowns. The light rail line was in the midst of construction the whole time I lived in Beth Shalom last year, and whenever I walked down University Avenue to go to the library or to grab a meatball bánh mì, I would see the as yet unused rails and the empty stations and regret the fact that I would be leaving before the trains started running. In celebration of the opening of the Green Line, all Twin Cities buses and trains were free this past weekend–a public transportation fan’s dream! 

Saturday was rainy and blustery, so I did not ride the Green Line to St. Paul as I’d hoped. Besides, we were hosting a garden party at home, which ended up being indoors due to the weather.


Some of my mother’s peonies

In the evening, as a thunderstorm rolled through, I took a (free!) bus to downtown Minneapolis and met some friends at the Convention Center for the opening ceremony of Northern Spark. After some taiko drumming and a welcome from Mayor Betsy Hodges, we headed to Orchestra Hall to hear the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Courtney Lewis, perform Kevin Puts’s Symphony No. 4. It was my first time in Orchestra Hall since it was renovated, and for the most part it didn’t look that different. It was also my first time hearing the Minnesota Orchestra since the lockout ended. The last time I heard these musicians perform live, they were playing independently as the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. And the last time I heard them at all was in October, in LA, when I listened to Minnesota Public Radio’s live stream of Osmo Vänskä‘s last concert as conductor of the orchestra. Now the lockout is over, and Osmo is back! So it was really meaningful to be back in that familiar hall hearing this orchestra again. The symphony was accompanied by a light show against the cubes embedded in the wall behind the stage. Some of it was rather pretty, but it felt a bit superfluous to me.

After the Minnesota Orchestra’s performance, we prowled around Orchestra Hall and the Convention Center seeing what else there was to see. There was a trebuchet out in the street hurling water balloons containing LED lights in soaring arcs over the pavement. There were some musicians playing unusual instruments (bowed banjo?) in the Convention Center arcade. We dashed through the rain to this seesaw that was supposed to do something light/sound-related, but it was hard to tell what it was doing, exactly, and we were getting wet.

Eventually, we rode the new Green Line a short ways to the East Bank of the University of Minnesota and ducked into the Weisman Art Museum. This is where I knew the local Sacred Harp singers were holding an all-night Northern Spark singing. The people I was with were very good sports about singing with me for most of the hour between midnight and 1 a.m., and it was rather fun to make my reappearance among the Twin Cities singers in the middle of a stormy night. We sang some tunes befitting the circumstances, like The Midnight Cry and Showers of Blessings.

From the Weisman, we hopped from one U building to the next. The Gossip Orchestra was pretty cool, and in Northrop Auditorium we experienced the Fruit Orchestra, in which you hold an alligator clip in one hand and hit pieces of fruit (a banana, a lemon, a lime) with the other to make music. The tomatoes and cherry were in somewhat bad shape by the time we got to the Fruit Orchestra. (It strikes me that there are a lot of orchestras in this post.) Also in Northrop was a slideshow, projected on the wall, of the outlines of all the lakes in Minnesota.

As it approached 2 a.m., we decided we’d had enough of running around in the rain and exploring Northern Spark in wet clothes. For our final adventure of the night, we crossed the Mississippi using this former railroad bridge that I hadn’t known existed (according to Wikipedia, it is Northern Pacific Bridge Number 9) as the wind blew rain in our faces and thunder rumbled overhead.

One last thing! For helping to fund Northern Spark this year, I received this bit of plastic, which, believe it or not, is called a sparker (as are people who attend Northern Spark, apparently–that makes me a Sparker!).


My sparker

Why is it called a sparker? Because it does this:


The Books I Read in 2013

I’ve never taken stock of the books I’ve read in a calendar year before, but I was inspired to do so recently by other people posting about their 2013 in reading. While I don’t keep a list of the books I read, I almost always mention what book I’m currently reading in my journal, so I was able to figure out what books I read last year by skimming my 2013 journals. It’s possible (but, I think, unlikely) that I read a book without recording its title in my journal, and it’s also possible I skimmed the journals too fast and missed a book, but I think this list is pretty accurate.

Apparently I read 119 books in 2013. My guess is that this is an unusually high annual total for me in recent years. I suspect 2012 was also unusually high. This is because one has more time to read for pleasure as a volunteer than as a student (especially when one is a volunteer with an almost two-hour round trip bus commute every day). The vast majority of the books I read were borrowed from the library, so I hereby express my appreciation for the Rondo Community Outreach Library, the Edina and Southdale Libraries, and the Westwood Branch Library.

Without further ado, here are the books I read in 2013, in chronological order (titles in bold indicate books I was rereading):

I Am The Messenger Markus Zusak
Climbing the Stairs Padma Venkatraman
Traversée de la mangrove Maryse Condé
Come August, Come Freedom Gigi Amateau
Why We Broke Up Daniel Handler
Winter Wood Steve Augarde
Istanbul: Memories and the City Orhan Pamuk
Adaptation Malinda Lo
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Robin Sloan
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Alexander McCall Smith
Contes du vent et de la nuit Anatole Le Braz
Eona Alison Goodman
Victoire, les saveurs et les mots Maryse Condé
The Singer of All Songs Kate Constable
The Waterless Sea Kate Constable
The Tenth Power Kate Constable
The FitzOsbornes in Exile Michelle Cooper
A Ring of Endless Light Madeleine L’Engle
Troubling a Star Madeleine L’Engle
Boy21 Matthew Quick
The Water Mirror Kai Meyer
A Good Fall Ha Jin
Mona in the Promised Land Gish Jen
Unspoken Sarah Rees Brennan
The FitzOsbornes at War Michelle Cooper
Grave Mercy Robin LaFevers
The Madness Underneath Maureen Johnson
Anahita’s Woven Riddle Meghan Nuttall Sayres
Night Letter Meghan Nuttall Sayres
Mind Games Kiersten White
Sorcery and Cecelia Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
The Grand Tour Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
The Mislaid Magician Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
The Stone Light Kai Meyer
The Glass Word Kai Meyer
Silhouette of a Sparrow Beth Griffin
Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise Dai Sijie
Jellicoe Road Melina Marchetta
Railsea China Miéville
Trapped Michael Northrop
One Came Home Amy Timberlake
L’enfant qui tuait le temps Pierre Magnan
Vessel Sarah Beth Durst
Tiger Lily Jodi Lynn Anderson
Code Name Verity Elizabeth Wein
The Feverbird’s Claw Jane Kurtz
M is for Magic Neil Gaiman
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis José Saramago
Cain José Saramago
Midwinterblood Marcus Sedgwick
The Last Speakers K. David Harrison
Grimm Tales Philip Pullman
Yellowcake Margo Lanagan
Everything Asian Sung J. Woo
Finnikin of the Rock Melina Marchetta
Froi of the Exiles Melina Marchetta
Quintana of Charyn Melina Marchetta
Suite française Irène Némirovsky
The Woman Warrior Maxine Hong Kingston
I Am J Cris Beam
Pagan’s Crusade Catherine Jinks
Pagan in Exile Catherine Jinks
Pagan’s Vows Catherine Jinks
Pagan’s Scribe Catherine Jinks
Embassytown China Miéville
Perdido Street Station China Miéville
Prodigy Marie Lu
Prophecy Ellen Oh
The Difference Between You and Me Madeleine George
Incident at Badamya Dorothy Gilman
A Northern Light Jennifer Donnelly
47 Walter Mosley
My Name Is Not Easy Debby Dahl Edwardson
The Book of Heroes Miyuki Miyabe
Where Things Come Back John Corey Whaley
When You Reach Me Rebecca Stead
Blood Red Road Moira Young
The Snowstorm Beryl Netherclift
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling Maryrose Wood
If I Ever Get Out of Here Eric Gansworth
Anna Dressed in Blood Kendare Blake
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery Maryrose Wood
A Monster Calls Patrick Ness
Liar & Spy Rebecca Stead
Shadow and Bone Leigh Bardugo
Siege and Storm Leigh Bardugo
Seraphina Rachel Hartman
Lettres de mon moulin Alphonse Daudet
The Raven Boys Maggie Stiefvater
The Dream Thieves Maggie Stiefvater
This Song Will Save Your Life Leila Sales
A Great and Terrible Beauty Libba Bray
Rebel Angels Libba Bray
The Sweet Far Thing Libba Bray
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unseen Guest Maryrose Wood
Sugar Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase Joan Aiken
The Curse of the Wendigo Rick Yancey
The Isle of Blood Rick Yancey
Mansfield Park Jane Austen
Podium Finish Beth Pond
Under Wildwood Colin Meloy
The Thief  Megan Whalen Turner
The Queen of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner
The King of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner
A Conspiracy of Kings Megan Whalen Turner
Freakboy Kristin Elizabeth Clark
White Crow Marcus Sedgwick
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Benjamin Alire Sáenz
The Twistrose Key Tone Almhjell
If You Could Be Mine Sara Farizan
Tending the Garden Van Anderson
Cinder Marissa Meyer
Violins of Autumn Amy McAuley
Shadows on the Moon Zoë Marriott
The Thing About Luck Cynthia Kadohata
Boxers & Saints Gene Luen Yang
If You Find Me Emily Murdoch
Champion Marie Lu

You might notice I read (and, in particular, reread) quite a few series in 2013. Mostly this happened because I would notice all the books in a given series were available to be checked out at once at the library, so I would get them all in order to read them all in a row. And in the case of series I already loved and felt tempted to reread, I would think to myself, If not now, when?

Here are a few extra numbers, for fun:

  • Total books read: 119
  • Books in French: 7 (6%)
  • Books that were not novels: 10 (8%) (Non-fiction: 1; Short story collection: 6; Poetry: 1; Memoir: 2; also, Boxers & Saints, which I’m counting as one “book,” are graphic novels)
  • Books read in translation: 7 (6%) (Turkish: 1; German: 3; Portuguese: 2; Japanese: 1)
  • Books read for the first time: 95 (80%)
  • Books read not for the first time: 24 (20%)
  • Books by female authors: 82 (69%)
  • Books by male authors: 37 (31%)

My Top 13 New Books/Series of 2013* (roughly in chronological order):

  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
  • The Montmaray Journals (Michelle Cooper)
  • Jellicoe Road
  • Railsea
  • Code Name Verity
  • The Difference Between You and Me
  • Where Things Come Back
  • When You Reach Me
  • Blood Red Road
  • The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place
  • The Dream Thieves
  • Under Wildwood
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

*I limited myself to books I read for the first time in 2013 because it is generally, though not universally, true that the books I reread are already among my favorites (that’s why I reread them). However, if this list were open to books/series I had read before, it would have to include The Pagan Quartet (Catherine Jinks), A Northern Light, Seraphina, The Raven Boys, and The Queen’s Thief (Megan Whalen Turner).

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for a fantastic and fulfilling 2014!

Here is a highly selective overview of what I did in 2013 (pie is heavily featured):

In January, I baked a galette des rois for Epiphany, visited UC Santa Barbara, and went to the St. Paul Winter Carnival, where my hopes of seeing an ice palace were dashed.

No ice palace, alas, so this ice sculpture of the St. Paul Cathedral had to do.

No ice palace, alas, so this ice sculpture of the St. Paul Cathedral had to do.

In February, I spent a week in Istanbul with my family. Later in the month, my organization held its annual Day on the Hill at the Minnesota State Capitol, from whence I went straight to the airport to catch a flight to Tucson and the University of Arizona. Also: crêpes for Mardi Gras.

The Yeni Cami (New Mosque) at sunset

The Yeni Cami (New Mosque) at sunset

In March, I returned from a visit to UC San Diego just in time to attend my first Playford Ball.  I also went to open houses at Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, and UCLA. So much flying. Oh, and I baked a pie for Pi Day.


In April, I went to a singing workshop given by the Georgian ensemble Zedashe and attended a Tim Eriksen concert. I decided on UCLA for grad school and traveled up to the Iron Range for the first time on a work-related trip. It snowed endlessly in Minnesota. Sparkers went on submission on April 30th.

On my way to the bus stop, one fine April morning

On my way to the bus stop, one fine April morning

I spent most of May on submission. I celebrated May Day in Powderhorn Park. On May 14th, I watched Gov. Dayton sign Minnesota’s marriage equality bill into law on the Capitol steps and then went out for ice cream with my housemates at Izzy’s, where we encountered Morris dancers! And then Sparkers sold at the end of the month! May was pretty great.

Minnesota State Capitol, May 14th, 2013

Minnesota State Capitol, May 14th, 2013

In June, I went to the all-night arts festival Northern Spark at the St. Paul Union Depot, where I watched a replica house burn down at 2 a.m.

Gives a new meaning to my title...

Gives a new meaning to my title…

In July, my volunteer year came to an end. I also recorded a short cello part for a friend, who hopes to produce pop-rock songs for a Mainland Chinese audience. Who knows, maybe he’ll become famous in China, and then I’ll be able to say I played the 18-bar cello line in that one song…

I made this rhubarb pie in July

I made this rhubarb pie in July

In August, I brushed up on my phonology and syntax and road tripped to California with my family, stopping at Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon on the way.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

In September, I moved into my new apartment in Los Angeles and promptly became a hermit while I worked on Sparkers line edits. I finished just in time to start grad school at UCLA.

Hello Kitty

I do not actually own this creature…

In October, I made a pumpkin pie for the Linguistics Department’s Halloween party. And I listened to the livestream of Osmo Vänskä’s last concert as the conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra


In November, I started this blog and had a joint birthday party with two other first-years in my program. The day after Thanksgiving, I attended my first high school reunion in Minneapolis.

Joint birthday cake

Joint birthday cake

In December, I finished knitting my second pair of socks ever and baked a chocolate tart for Christmas Eve dinner. And I read a lot of books! What could be better?


I have high hopes for 2014. Sparkers will come out in the fall. I can’t even really imagine what that’s going to be like, so I’m not going to try. Happy New Year!