Reading Rotation 2017

So Many Books, So Little Time

As those who have been with me long know, I have developed a somewhat quirky system for choosing what book I will read next. The need for such a system is threefold:

  1. I used to like to gorge myself on whatever genre I fancied until I’d read so many, I ruined myself for reading any more books of that genre for a long, long time. (It’s sort of like working in a candy store and being told you can eat as much as you like then finding you have made yourself so sick of candy you do not even want to look at another piece.
  2. I have eclectic reading taste. Therefore gorging myself on one genre neglected all the others I loved, which my inner five-year-old felt was very unfair.
  3. I tend to buy books faster than I can read them, therefore the “to be read” titles in any given genre were stacking up so alarmingly, I needed a system to equalize the build-up on any one bookshelf. (Yes, I have bookshelves in every room and our home library is sorted like genre–as, come to think of it, is my school library.)

The Solution: A Reading Rotation

I’ve brainstorm all the genres I like to read, considered which I like best (fantasy, historical mysteries, and historical fiction) or need to read (fantasy –since I am a fantasy writer and books about writing to help me grow as an author) then compile them in a list with repetitions where needed.

For each book I choose to read, I date that genre on the list and look at what comes next so I can eagerly anticipate what my next read will be. And so I work my way from top to bottom of the list, and then start all over again. Hence, a “Reading Rotation.”

This year I determined I am not reading enough non fiction, so I have established two lists–fiction and non fiction, to be read three fiction books for every non fiction book. I am very excited about this. I love novels, but I’ve missed the types of non fiction I enjoy.

The New, 2017 Reading Rotation:


A Book Nerd

I know. If you hadn’t thought of me as a book nerd before, you will now. I love to read! And I look forward to a year of awesome reading, and hopefully to learning about what you are reading, and thereby discovering more gems as well.

Happy Reading!


Writing Blues: Just Open a Vein…

writing-bluesA year and a half ago, I tripped over the edge of the sidewalk, sailed through the air, and crash landed on my head. No, I did not bleed all over; this is not that kind of post. However, my little experiment in aviation resulted in a concussion. So where does the bleeding come in?

Resilience, or Lack Thereof

Post-concussion recovery is a far more serious thing than I ever dream it would be, even right after the concussion. My doctor told me it would take at least a year to fully recover. I thought she was exaggerating, so I would not get impatient. She wasn’t. I have only begun to feel like myself this last month.

What does this have to do with opening a vein?

This weekend I attended a writing retreat.

When asked how it is possible to be a daily columnist, Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith is credited with saying, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

I need to bleed a little. This is the first writing conference since my fall where I have attended every session, even the evening ones. (See above–I thought I was back to my old self) However, by Saturday, after my one-on-one consultation, I felt weepy; after the Saturday night party, I felt achingly lonely; and by the end of the retreat I found myself wondering why I’ve even tried this ‘writing thing’ (for XX years, might I add, working mostly on novels the whole time). I cried all the home, most of the afternoon, and at church that night.

It is so heartbreaking to work so long toward a dream and not have it come true (“Yet”–thank you, Gretchen).


A good night’s sleep, some time with God, and a quiet house have helped restore some perspective.

Recovering from a concussion takes a long time. Just because I don’t have daily headaches doesn’t mean I am fully recovered. I think the dark stormy weather, sleeping in a strange bed, getting up too early, learning, and being around constant conversation and auditory stimuli was just too much for my post-concussion brain.

And the frustration with lack of publication? I just have to get real with myself.

Reality Number 1: Writing something new is so much more fun than trying to sell what you wrote. I don’t struggle with writer’s block; I struggle with submission block. It doesn’t matter that I have 8 full novels, not to mention at least 6 picture book manuscripts, and scads of poetry lolling around in my file drawers, if I don’t focus more attention on trying to find publishing homes for them, they will never find their way into readers’ hands.

Reality Number 2: I have not been stagnant as a writer. Through reading and professional events, I have never stopped learning and building my skills. That’s not something to be ashamed of.

Reality Number 3: I am a published author. So my novels aren’t there yet. I have had five folktale retellings published in Cricket Magazine, most of them serialized. This is a publication I have greatly respected and admired, long before my stories found a home there.

Reality Number 4: I know God has plans for my life, “plans to prosper” me “and not to harm” me, “plans to give” me “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Should I give up on writing? It is a question I have asked myself, and God, many times over the years, and every time I do, I wake up with fresh, exciting story ideas, and seem to encounter more around every corner.

“Can I give up writing?” should be the real question. I don’t think I can. It is the way my brain processes life. Even as I teen, I recognized that my best thinking was done with pen and paper rather than just letting the thoughts and feelings trundle round and around in my own mind. It’s as true now as it was then–only I often use a keyboard instead.

I have tried not writing. (Actually I was driven to it by professional responsibilities when I was teaching Language Arts full-time.) I was one sad soul, and the ideas never stopped coming. Talk about frustration!


So, vein opened, commitment renewed, what will I do?

I will be more patient with my traumatized brain, I will write, and I will get more serious about submissions. A literate lifestyle is still the life for me.

How About You?

  • Have you encountered roadblocks in building your literate lifestyle?
  • Have you ever had to be more patient with yourself than you are inclined be?
  • How do you pick yourself up and keep on going when life gets you down?

*art background: Depositphotos_13525625_original

No Negative Reviews: Why Readers Will Not Find Negative Reviews Here

no-negative-reviews-This weekend, a dear friend and faithful blog brainstorm/critiquer asked me why I never write a critical review in my “Books of the Month” posts.

My gut reaction and immediate response was, “Because, I do not want to tear people down or hurt their feelings. That is not who I want to be.”

However, since our discussion, the question would not leave me alone. I think she, and you deserve a better thought out answer.

Why No Negative Reviews

When I consider writing critical reviews, my first question is, who am I to set myself up as judge over the quality of an author’s work who has actually made it past all the gatekeepers and critical eyes on the road to publication? Surely, if a book has come far enough to be published by a third-party, there must be someone who will appreciate it. Although I will admit, it might be a limited number of individuals and not necessarily me.

And if a book is self-published, as I novelist, I understand all the love and labor that went into producing it. Who am I that I should tear apart someone’s dream, someone whose hopes are not all that different from my own?

Yes, of course some books are of higher quality than others. Some books can be quite flawed. But I do not want to be the person who points these things out.

The Simpler Reason I Don’t Write Negative Reviews

Then, after all my philosophizing, I had to laugh at myself. There is actually a much simpler reason you will not find negative reviews on Literate Lives. I do not finish reading books that I do not like and therefore cannot count them as books I read in any month.

It took me many years of living with the inner insistence, “You must finish everything you start,” but finally, sensibly, I concluded that life is too short, time is too precious, and there are too many unread books on my shelves for me to finish any book I find to be low in quality or of minimal appeal to me.

Stop Reading Lousy/Unappealing Books

If I am not enjoying a book, fiction or nonfiction, that I am reading, if I do not feel it has anything to offer me, I may give it an additional chapter or two to improve, but if it fails to, I stop reading. You should too.

Value of Book Listings on this Site

So why read the “Books of the Month” posts?

Literate Lives is about creating a community of like-minded readers, writers, and teachers. If you like what you find here, you might like the books I like. (And if you like what you find here, how I’d love to hear about books you have enjoyed!)

The “Books of the Month” posts are more a recommended reading list than a critique or review. They are an invitation to seek out a good read.

The Purpose of “Literate Lives”

In the end, all my initial philosophizing was not a waste. It clarified for me, again, what I want this blog to be. I want to bring light, joy, pleasure, and inspiration to others, and I want to encourage and support readers, writers, parents and teachers in cultivating a reading, writing, thinking, imaginative lives.

Have you read any good books lately? Please use the comment section to respond.

*photo credit: Depositphotos_28904783_original

Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives Blog: What’s My Purpose Here?

Litlives Purpose

Last spring, a dear friend and I talked about Literate Lives and just what I was trying to do with this blog. She helped me come up with a list of improvements and clarifications then asthma and allergies knocked me flat before I could implement them.

This summer, as in previous years, I have been working to rejuvenate Literate Lives, and I hope and pray I have come up with reasonable goals and a doable schedule for the blog that I can sustain for you, my readers, during the coming school year.

But back to the title question: What is my purpose here? Why am I investing time and energy in Literate Lives at all? Why do I feel compelled after each of my “fails” at consistent blogging to try to get Literate Lives up and running once more?

The Purpose of Literate Lives

The purpose of this blog is four-fold. It is about friendship, encouragement, celebration and giving.

Friendship First

I want Literate Lives to be the friend you find in your inbox, the “new post” alert that makes you smile. One of my main purposes in creating Literate Lives is to connect with others, but not just anyone! I love to read and write, and I want to connect with others who likewise value these practicesl and care about the development of these practices in the lives of young people.


One of my favorite things to do, despite my introvert tendencies, is to encourage others. As a wife and mother I love encouraging my spouse, children, extended family, and friends. As a teacher, I love helping students discover that they know more than they think they know and can do more than they think they can do. And as a fiction writing critique partner, I love directing my colleagues attention to what is going well in their work.

Here at Literate Lives, I want to encourage you, my readers, to read and write, to experiment and play with words, and help others expand their reading and writing skills. I want to give you the permission you may find hard to give yourself to invest time and attention in these pursuits and bring you information that supports the value of these practices.


Here at Literate Lives, I want to celebrate the joys and benefits of a reading/writing lifestyle. I want to celebrate authors whose books have enriched my life. I want to celebrate the actions you take to build your own Literate Life, and that of your students or family, and share with you my delights.

Last, I want to Give

So many people have given so graciously to me in my personal, teaching, and writing life, that I burn with a desire to give also.

What do I want to provide for readers of Literate Lives?

  • book recommendations
  • fun and interesting writing exercises
  • home literacy practices
  • ideas for expanding and developing not just the practices of reading and writing, but the roles of thinking and creativity in our lives and those of young people.
  • language arts lessons and tips
  • my experiences pursuing a reading writing lifestyle
  • ways to make reading and writing fun for you and your family
  • writing craft tips

I love reading, writing, and teaching, and I want this to be a place to celebrate these practices and to give something of value back to the reading, writing, teaching world.

What About You?

What do you hope to find here at Literate Lives? How can I be your friend?

*background for image courtesy of Depositphotos_91248272_original_vect

A Very, Very Late March & April Reading List

Ruin and Rising by Leah BardugoLate winter and early spring of 2016 has been one of the most difficult in recent years. Between asthma attacks and catching every little cold I came in contact with, I regret much of what I accomplished in these months relates solely to trying to get healthy, trying to stay healthy, and trying to fulfill my responsibilities at work. I am so grateful to be turning the corner into June!

Therefore, today I present my, again, much belated reading list. During the months of March and April, I read the following books.

Each book was eminently enjoyable in its own way. For any writer I would recommend putting Bell’s book on your reading list.

However, the books that made the greatest impact by far were Leah Bardugo’s Grisha series. These were the most gripping and shattering novels I have read in a long time. Bardugo’s Slavic-themed fantasy world is rich and fascinating. Her main character, Alina, is so vulnerable and alone, and what she must do and endure to save her world is devastating. She more than earns her ending. After putting down the final book, Ruin and Rising, I felt utterly broken and bereft (maybe even a little depressed, although I’m sure the Oregon gloom and my health struggles played the majority role in that). These are powerful books, and definitely turned me into a Bardugo fan.

“List” Journaling Prompts: What Completes You?

Characterization Reading Response Exercise; Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

friends w starSundays: A Quiet Space for Journaling

I have grown rather fond of journaling on Sunday afternoons. It is quiet in my house. It is a day for rest and relationship, and so I have been having fun with some list-journaling prompts I found on Pinterest.

Last week, I made my list and sent it to a friend, and she sent her list back to me. It was such a delight to see what she wrote, both the similarities and the differences from my own list reminded me of how much I love our friendship.

This Week’s List Prompt:

make a list of the things that complete you

Here is my list:

My husband—It is good to have a partner who both shares my interests and encourages my independent interests, who both nurtures and protects me and challenges me, who I  can laugh with, explore with, and relax with, who loves me and those I love.

My daughter—It is good to have a daughter to nurture and admire, to marvel at and to enjoy, to be in active relationship with who has forgiven me for being just an imperfect human being instead of supermom.

My childhood friend—It is good to have an aman chara, a soul friend, a sister to my soul, someone I can be totally me with, who loves and accepts me as I am, who believes in and encourages me, who enjoys just spending time together, and to love and encourage back.

My granddaughters—It is good to have these wonderful little girls in my life, to love, and serve, and enjoy, and seek to bless, each uniquely her own person, each a precious and delightful soul, who stretch me and keep me young, with whom I can share my pleasures and my love, who though partially rooted in my being will live beyond me and bless our world, each in her own way.

God, my heavenly father, Jesus my brother and savior, and the sweet holy spirit that indwells me—I am so grateful my parents sent me to Sunday school, so grateful for all the people and events put in my path to direct me toward a growing understanding of who my Lord is, so grateful to learn and grow, to rest and wait, to live with hope and love because I, and all He created, am so greatly loved.

Writing and Words–The  joy of stringing them together, crafting an image, a wonder-full, hopeful story. Words to read, words to sing, The Bible to teach and guide me, and our beautiful, bounteous English language to express what fills my heart.

Time to be creative—it is good to get to create. God was so gracious to share this aspect of his character with us. Writing, beading, coloring, card making—even organizing is so soul satisfying.

A stable home—it is good to have a shelter to come home to, a place of rest, where I can close the door on the too, too noisy, busy world, a place to collect my thoughts and some things that give me pleasure (although I admit, this particular  “activity” can get out of hand—which is why I am so grateful for Pinterest—my virtual storage space), a place to feel rooted and at peace.

Last, but not least, my Mom and Dad, stepparents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, family—as it is good to know my grandchildren extend into the future, it is good to be connected to a past, to people who love me and believe in me, whom I can love back, people who have nurtured, encouraged, and inspired me, to whom I wish to bring joy.

I did not expect to come away from this exercise with anything more than a list; however sticky-sweet as it may sound, I learned from this list that loving completes me. Loving the people and gifts God has blessed me with makes me who I am.

Your Turn

What complete’s you?

What would be a fun list prompt for journaling?

May your week be peaceful and blessed!

Ode to the English Language: Our Wonderful Treasure Trove of Words

Wonderful Words: Living Well, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

Wndrfl Wrds.Zn DngleWonderful Words on Words

One of the long-neglected tasks I attended to this summer was to continue organizing my huge collection of quotes. (Most just inhabit snippets of paper in a fat paper file.) As I was entering and categorizing them, I came across a series culled from an essay by Pat Conroy, “Interpreting the World Through Story,” featured in the June 2012 Writer Magazine.

This is for all you English Teachers, Writers, and Lovers of Literature

Conroy reflected on the joy of living a life centered on reading, writing, and the English language.

What richer way to meet the sunlight than bathing each day of my life in my island-born language, the one that Shakespeare breathed on, Milton wrestled with, Jane Austen tamed, and Churchill rallied the squadrons of England with? I want to use the whole English language as the centerpiece of a grand alliance or concordance with my work.

A Rich and Abundant Heritage

Our language, our words, are such a commonplace thing to us. I sometimes forget to marvel at the richness and beauty of the language I was born to speak. But as I return to school to teach reading, writing, and vocabulary to students whose exposure to the grandeur of our language has been so much more limited than my own, I am awed and humbled by the great wealth of language it is my privilege to share.

What writers have delighted you?

What words or turns of phrases set your heart afire?

Tra-La, It’s May! Surviving the Season of Crazy

lilyvalley-vintageimage-Graphics-Fairy2Yikes, It’s May Again!

May–there’s Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and of course, Memorial weekend.

If you have kids, there might school activities like open house, the book fair, a school-wide art show, and final choir and orchestra concerts. If you have kids in sports, you probably have games every weekend. And all this multiplies per child!

If you have a soon-to-be high school graduate, May is when all the graduation fun begins–practice, parties, baccalaureate, lock-in, and more, all preparatory to the big event in June. (And don’t forget the actual May graduations from universities and colleges.)

Then, mix in possible birthdays (mine’s this month–and in such close proximity to Mother’s day that my eldest son grumbles every time this season rolls around), baby and bridal showers, and weddings. I’m exhausted. I don’t know if I have the energy to complete this post!

How to Survive

My Saturday morning blog reading was particularly fruitful today. Three posts, in particular, really inspired me.

Embrace the Blessing of Interrupted Plans

Check out: Motherhood, Transformation by Interruption.

Like Sarah Bessey, I am a chronic planner. I have lists of my lists, and even plan what I hope to achieve on a stay at home and rest day! However, the best laid plans often get interrupted. Especially during a crazy-making month like May.

What I learned: When plans get interrupted, go with the flow. Though interruptions may at first feel like adversaries, they very often are the delivery systems of blessing.


Check out: The Best Parenting Advice I Ever Received.

Amy Julia Becker reflects on her experience parenting a very able disabled daughter.

What I learned: Focus on what is good. Focus on what is a source of strength and joy. And appreciate these things.

Sure, May is a crazy month, but it also provides opportunities to invest in our precious children’s and loved one’s lives. Smile. Celebrate. And remember, summer is coming.


Check out: What Slowing Down Teaches You that Rushing Never Will.

Busy, busy, busy. That’s how so many of us view life and purpose. We even wear “Busy” like a badge of honor. However, Elisa Fryling Stanford observes her small daughter’s very different mode of living.

What I learned: Savor the moment. Be where and who you are now. Hold on to your schedules loosely. Consider lowering your expectations of yourself for just a little while. Maybe don’t even plan so much. (Especially this month, when so much is expected of you.)

I have had to learn this the hard way these last few months as I recover from a concussion. So I have decided it’s okay if this month (again) I don’t submit some writing project every week for representation or publication. It’s okay if, having returned to work, I come home for my Wednesday writing afternoons and only write a little. (I got a raging headache a week or so ago when I lost myself in “flow” and looked up to discover I’d been writing for two and a half hours straight. Ouch. Really!)

Right now, I need to embrace going a little slower, spending a little more time looking out the window at what’s coming into bloom outdoors, or just stretching across the foot of my granddaughter’s bed with my head on her pillow while she finishes her homework.

Yes, I have goals, dreams, and responsibilities. But when the calendar goes crazy, maybe its time to cut yourself a little slack and just savor the moment.

Enjoy your crazy, wonderful month of May!

*Lilly of the Valley courtesy of

April is National Poetry Month–A New Haiku

Tree BlossomNational Poetry Month Plans

Pre-concussion, I had hoped to blog new poetry forms each week in April. So much for planning!

However, I cannot let National Poetry Month pass without honoring it in some way, and so, I revisit a form well-known and well-loved (at least by me)–the Haiku.

The Wonders of Haiku

Haiku is a wonderful form for the busy writer. It is short enough that you can compose and revise it in your head while you’re washing the bathtub, exercising at the gym, commuting to work, or–oops!–hit by inspiration in the middle of your work day.

I love it for capturing moments in my life. I sometimes use it as a form of concentrated journaling.

Haiku Form 

As you probably learned by the fourth grade, Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry. It consists of 3 lines containing:

  • 1st line: 5 syllables
  • 2nd line: 7 syllables
  • 3rd line: 5 syllables

and that’s it!

What you may not know about Haiku

However, that is not all of it. Traditionally, haiku is nature themed, but as I already explained above, a writer can use it for whatever theme he or she chooses.

While the 5-7-5 pattern is pounded ruthlessly into our heads as schoolchildren, did you know it is not strictly necessary. You can very slightly from the pattern, as long as your haiku reflects the basic form.

And did you know, the third line is intended to be something special? It is a place to make the connection between ideas or to conclude or sum up your thinking.

My Haiku, April 2015

Our Apple Tree

Billowing blossoms,
Pink, aglow with sunlight,
My healing companion.

The Most Important Thing to Avoid When Cultivating a Literate Lifestyle

Purple WritingThe Most Important Thing to Avoid

What is the most important thing to avoid when cultivating a literate lifestyle? Head injuries.

My Story

Two weeks ago, I tripped and managed to land on my head. Yes, head first–right temple, right side of my chin, right shoulder, right hip, and last of all right knee.

The ensuing, ongoing headache and exhaustion were diagnosed as a concussion.

Concussion Care

Self care after receiving a concussion basically consist of lying around in dimly lit rooms with your eyes closed or sleeping. I could not even read. (Doctor’s orders: no reading or watching television). I did not dare try to write. Even now, two weeks later, I can feel that writing this post is subtly stressing my brain.

The Take Away

Avoid head injuries at all costs. For a reader and a writer, your brain is a wonderful and precious thing. Take care of it. That means wear your bike and motorcycle helmets, quit all sports like football and soccer that require you to use your head like a piece of equipment. Also quit those, like boxing, where you subject your one-of-a-kind, marvel of a brain to injury and damage. Your brain is the seat of all magic.

Love your brain.