Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Every year at the end of November I make a photo book.

The tradition started two years ago. My Christmas plans that year were shaky, and my Christmas the year before had been…not super Christmas-y. So I sat down and thought about what I could do that would make the day special. And the idea I came up with was the yearly photo book.

Here’s what I do:  I put together all my photos (and friends’ photos) from the previous year, and I combine them into a beautiful, customized hardcover book. When the book is shipped to me, I am not allowed to open it and look at it. Instead, I wrap it up right away and am not allowed to open it until Christmas.

It turns out this idea was completely inspired. There is no way I’d rather spend part of my Christmas Day than by looking at photos of the people I love and the special times I’ve had over the course of the last year. It is hard for me to feel lonely while doing such a thing, and it is very, very easy to feel grateful.

Now I think about this tradition all year long. I do a better job remembering to take photos throughout the year, and sometimes I tell people, “I want this photo for my photo book,” and it makes them a part of the tradition. I put it out on the coffee table for my friends to enjoy as they wish. And I think I will really enjoy having a visual record of many of the important people and events in my life in the future as well. Of course, I always have the digital files of the photos, but looking through the books is more a curated and intimate experience.

Here are a few examples:

I used two years worth of photos for my first book.

I used two years worth of photos for my first book.


Last year's book

Last year’s book


And here, have a Nala spread!

And here, have a Nala spread!

If you would like to make your own photo book, here are some tips I have learned over the last few years:

  • I use shutterfly.com to make my books. Their layout interface is a little glitchy, but it could be worse, and I like how many options they offer. That being said, these photo books are expensive, and I suspect there are cheaper options out there.
  • If you do use shutterfly, never pay full price. Instead, wait until they have a promotion, which they seem to have constantly. You can build your book and save it and wait until the best (cheapest) time to buy. You should be able to get 50% off your book and free shipping. This year I got 50% and a free photo calendar.
  • It takes many hours to make a comprehensive book covering a year. It takes less time if you are making a book that covers a single event or trip, but the year-long books are a big project. My books usually include over 100 pages of photos, and that much layout takes time. (Shutterfly does offer to automatically lay it out for you if you prefer.)
  • One of the most time-consuming tasks is culling your photos and getting them all onto shutterfly. I try to do a little of this work ahead of time by downloading likely photos from Facebook as they are posted and putting them in a special folder. The more you can organize your photos ahead of time, the easier it will be to put together your book.
  • Keep in mind that resolution will matter, and it will matter more the bigger you want the photo to be in your book. (You can get away with lower resolutions at smaller sizes.) This is mostly an issue with photos downloaded from Facebook. If you can get people to send you the full image file instead, that is better. (This encourages me to take as many pictures on my own devices as possible. Especially because when the photos are on other people’s cameras, you sometimes just never get them at any resolution.)
  • I like to have a balance between some large photos that take up most of the page, and some collage pages that contain multiple photos (occasionally I do up to 16 on a page). That way I can highlight particularly special moments or great shots while also not having to cull so aggressively, which comes in handy when I’m faced with the several hundred cute photos of Nala that I inevitably have by the end of the year.
  • I do multi-page spreads for important events like trips and my birthday party, but I also like to include spreads that highlight my more everyday life. This year I included lists of the concerts, plays, and movies I’ve seen, and I have spreads for blues dancing, playing board games, yummy foods, and cute Nala photos.

I’m really looking forward to getting to see my 2015 photo book. Only a few weeks left to wait!

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My short story “The Box in my Pocket” has recently come out in the anthology Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, which is available as a paperback and an e-book. Here it is directly at Amazon (paperback and Kindle e-book) and B&N (for the Nook).

I wrote this story in January of 2011.  I remember thinking of the story seed, writing the first line, and then the story had its hooks in me. I put aside the novel project I was supposed to be working on in order to write this story instead. (And given that I usually become quite single-minded during my novel writing time, this is saying something.)

Yes, that is my name on the cover. 🙂

This story is one of the most personal I have written to date.  The point of view character is a teenage girl who is losing her mother to cancer. This character is not me, but the situation is one with which I am intimately familiar. Well, except for the fantastical element, of course. That part didn’t happen to me. Really.

Normally I shy away from writing anything too autobiographical. Bits of me will inevitably worm their way into the words I write and the telling details I choose; I am never completely separate from my work. But early in my writing days, I found myself defending characters’ behavior in a story I had written, saying, “But this actually happened exactly like this.” It didn’t matter, of course. It didn’t work in the story. Real life doesn’t always translate well into fiction. People don’t always behave in “believable” ways. So now I don’t tend to write with real circumstances in mind.

I do not, however, avoid writing about the emotional truths I have experienced. “The Box in my Pocket” is one emotional truth of what it feels like to lose a mother at a relatively young age. It deals with the dual themes of death and memory, both of which I find myself addressing in my fiction repeatedly; my fascination with them never seems to fade. It asks the questions, how do we deal with loss, and how do we finally let go (or do we hold on forever, and at what price)?

As for the anthology itself, Warren Lapine is its editor, and it includes stories by Mike Resnick, Harlan Ellison, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Kelly McCullough, Barry Longyear, and many other writers, so I am in extremely good company.


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Today I am away from home, attending the Rainforest Writer’s Retreat in Washington. Ah, the bliss of days on end in which I have no obligations except those of basic upkeep and writing, writing, writing! After which I get to converse with other writers to my heart’s content.

In other news, my husband and I are currently reading my old favorite The Phantom Tolbooth, by Norton Juster, at bedtime. This book is full of gems of word play and absurdity, as well as surprisingly profound insights on the nature of the world. Here is one of my favorite passages:

“…from here that looks like a bucket of water,” he said, pointing to a bucket of water; “but from an ant’s point of view it’s a vast ocean, from an elephant’s just a cool drink, and to a fish, of course, it’s home. So, you see, the way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from.

This passage struck me strongly when I read it as a child, and every time I re-read it, I am reminded again of what an important insight it really is. So much of the world depends on your point of view, doesn’t it? Not only does this help me keep perspective on my own life and problems, but it’s also helpful when trying to understand other people. We all see things in our own special way, and it continues to amaze me how very different those ways can be.

When one stops to consider how mutable memory is, this train of thought gets even more interesting. Let’s say I attend a small event with three other people. Each of us will perceive the event from our own perspective to begin with. So maybe Person A is really happy because she got good news earlier today and has been really looking forward to this event. Person B is trying to be chipper but is experiencing some RSI pain in his arms and shoulders. Person C is deeply annoyed because he wanted to go to Japanese food but the group consensus was for Italian and now he’s worrying about eating too many carbs. And Person D worked really hard today and is having trouble transitioning from work mode to social mode.

Already we can expect that each person will experience the evening differently. But then ask them all about it three months later, and the stories will be even more different. Each person will have personal details they remember and others they forget. Some of them will misremember. And if they’re remembering together, one them may say, erroneously as it happens, “Didn’t Person B order gnocchi?” and then another will say, “Oh, that’s right” and in such a way the erroneous memory will spread. Each person’s perspective will shift depending on what they remember.

Norton Juster got it right. It all depends on your point of view, and many more things are subjective than we might at first realize. I often think about that bucket of water and remember that today, I might be the elephant and you might be the fish.

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