Archives

reading

Goodbye To All That

 

It has been a difficult year for most people.

Things have been hard for my family and me, too.

I deleted some social media accounts. Not because they are 100% bad or lacking utility, but I have a lot of personal gardens to tend, and these platforms were leaving me otherwise spent in ways that I can ill afford.

Mainly, I have to be more available to my family, and less with the world at large. Having people chiming in on my life choices has never been something I’m short of, and I am not built to manage the constant influx of forceful opinion that Twitter and Facebook serve up. Maybe I’ve never been shy about sharing my thoughts and feelings with people, but that doesn’t mean I like being engaged with them at all times.

If you’re wondering where I remain online, well, look at the rest of this website. There are links to other platforms that I find more amusing/less invasive.

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be at home, loving on Matilda and Adrian, working with my annoying biting puppy, setting things up in our house now that it’s basically remodeled and liveable, talking to Christa Desir about our podcast and all our other quotidian strife, and writing my 5th book, which is due out sometime in 2018.

(By the way: my fourth book, Just A Girl, is coming out in March; here’s a review.  You can pre-order it if you want. Or request that your local library purchase it.  Or buy it when it comes out March 28th. Or not. I’ll never know, right?)

But just go read something, okay? We need more readers in this world. Read a book to a kid, give books as gifts, visit or volunteer at your local library, advocate for reading as a lifelong activity, start a book club or just talk about books you read wherever you interact with others. Make reading visible and important, even if it’s something we tend to do alone, in silence, and in private. I think more than ever, we need thoughtfulness, we need reflection, we need imagination and empathy, and certainly, when things get overwhelming, we need hedonistic pleasure and escape. Please note that you don’t have to spend money on books! I use my library constantly, because I could never afford to buy all the books I want to read.

Do something revolutionary: be a reader.

(If you read this, and are down for more like it, please note that this was also sent out to my TinyLetter subscribers. TinyLetters = newsletters you receive as email. If you’d like to subscribe, go here. If not, it’s cool. You always know where to find me.)

 

What I Read in 2014: Non-Adjectivally Qualified Fiction

Figure 1. Oh, HONEY

Figure 1. Oh, HONEY

 

I decided to read more non-YA, non-romance, non-mystery, non-whatever-other-adjectival-qualifier fiction this. You know: the stuff makes people haul out the L-Word.

It started as a kind of “eat-your-vegetables” thing, where I resolved to broaden my horizons. But it turned out to be pretty delightful. Thanks to everyone who gave me these recommendations.

Dare Me by Megan AbbottThis book explores the world of high school girls, in a way that’s real and beautiful and honest. No pearl-clutching over sex or drugs or jealousy or nastiness. Narrated by Addy, the story follows the year when the girls on the cheerleading squad get a new coach. Brutal and funny and fucked up in so many subtle ways, Addy and her friends leap off the page. Can’t wait to plunge through the rest of Abbott’s novels.

Love Me Back by Merritt TierceA barn-burner of a debut. Here, Marie Young is a failed parent and wife whose unapologetic journey through sex and drugs and self-destruction is a view of female characters we don’t get to see.

Man V. Nature: Stories by Diane CookI love short stories but seem to forget this when I’m looking for something to read. These are some juicy crazy weird-ass stories. I don’t know what to say beyond that except I read the whole collection in like 3 days. Super fun.

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik ClarkBrilliant book for anyone whose read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or other books about local eating and industrial food production. Following flavor chemist David Levereaux, we see how generations of food science and trends affect one family. Funny in a dark and distinct way, you’ll be at minimum cocking a wary eyebrow at everything you see in the supermarket.

Portrait of a Young Man Drowning by Charles Perry. So I read this book because it was the source material of a movie Norman Reedus was in, which I haven’t seen. Dunno if I want to see it, actually. But the book was fucking fabulous. It’s about this white boy who grows up in New York and gets caught up in street gangs and his creepy relationship with his awful overbearing mother. The voice sucked me in; I absolutely loved it.

Arcadia by Lauren GroffIf your book has intentional communities or utopian hippie communes, chances are good that I’ll want to read it. That shit fascinates me. This one is told from the eyes of a little boy who grows up in one and it’s delicious and juicy and freaky and gross.

The Goldfinch by Donna TarttWell, everyone read this, so that doesn’t make me super original, but I will always read anything Donna Tartt puts out. This one took a bit to get going – a lot of L-word fiction has this issue, of course – but once I settled into all the extended description and what not, I was pretty happy. Boris, of course, was the character I fascinated on; Theo was very much a form of The Secret History’s Richard Pappen, which isn’t bad, of course, but they made a nice pair.

Candy by Luke Davies. Like intentional communities, if your book is about heroin or addiction, then I’m probably going to check it out. Candy is the source material for one of the last movies made by Heath Ledger. This is a fucking awful, relentless story that I couldn’t put down. The thing that is astonishing about addiction is how goddamn difficult it is. It’s not an easy life, pursuing the big high. It’s more work than any other job I can imagine and the horror involved is tenfold. Couldn’t look away, couldn’t put it down.

Redeployment by Phil KlayA 2014 National Book Award Winner. Goddamn, this was a great bunch of stories. Tore through it in about a day, and even that was me holding back, trying to savor and not devour through it. Each story its own universe of the war experience or the veteran experience. I also love war stories and books about military life and this one is one of the best I’ve ever read.

 

 

 

 

What I Read in 2014: Nonfiction

Figure 1. Pablo prefers an audio book over the e-Reader.

Figure 1. Pablo prefers an audio book over the e-Reader.

 

I actually read a lot of nonfiction books that were published this year. Amazing, huh?

Here’s a list of ones that I particularly enjoyed:

Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Charles M. Blow. Being interested in male bisexuality, learning that Charles Blow deals with this issue in his memoir drew me to it (book #3 deals with male sexual fluidity). But the book is so much more than that. It’s about growing up in the South and growing up Black in the South and learning about what it means to be a man, navigating definitions of masculinity. A beautiful story.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast. A 2014 National Book Award Winner. Totally sucked into Ms. Chast’s comics about her aging parents in issues of the New Yorker, I was thrilled to get my mitts on the book itself. My sister and I both read it in like two days. Chast doesn’t hold back on what it’s like to have aging parents; as an only child, she must contend with these decisions on her own, which was something that wasn’t easy for me to read, being the mother of just one child myself. In spite of this heaviness – which is good, important heaviness we all must face – the book was super funny. I related to a ton of it, especially having Old Country Anxious Parents who are Set In Their Ways.

When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ronald C. Rosbottom. I’m kind of shakey on history when it comes to WWI and WWII and had only heard about the Vichy regime in passing. So when I saw a review of this, I snatched it up. It kind of makes me want to saunter around Paris again, looking at it in this sinister perspective, when every building concierge could be a savior or a traitor, and the notion of “collaboration” still reverberates today. And I don’t particularly like France. So, there.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I bite my nails in a fairly disgusting, inconvenient way. I’ve done so since I was a little kid. I heard about this book on the Book Riot podcast and decided to see if I could connect the dots about my various bad habits. Pretty illuminating, in how it unpacks how habits accrete and the reason why they endure.  Though I’m still wreaking havoc on my sad nubby fingernails.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I’ve never read any of his fiction, but I’ve wanted to read this book for a while now; running and being a writer seem to be common habits, as it were, and I’ve found running to help me be a better writer, so I figured this book would give me insight. It did…and it didn’t, either. But that was okay; there’s a mystery there, in why we write, why we run and I ended the book feeling kind of coy and sly and comfortable with that puzzle.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I’ve meant to read this for years; it’s a title bandied about in lots of academic circles. Though I suppose it’s chiefly about art, the book connects art history with philosophy and gender and psychology and class and a whole slough of other things. I picked it up because book #3 had some themes concerned with how things are “seen” (isn’t that vague) and then I wrote this, which kind of gobsmacked me and has kept me in that gobsmacked place for a while now.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Here’s a book nonreligious people like me might enjoy. Here are the religious people that I can listen to and relate to, even if we don’t agree when it comes to teleological arguments.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. This might come in handy for book #4. I don’t stay in many hotels because I loathe traveling in general. But when I do stay in hotels, it’s kind of delicious, so it was nice to pull back the curtain and see how the hospitality stage-hands manage the experience for guests. Not pretty. But also, quite amusing.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. Just finished today and what a find. Ward is the 2011 National Book Award Winner for her novel Salvage The Bones, which I can’t wait to crack into next. What a beautiful, sorrowful, insightful book to read in this year where we’ve got to remind everyone that Black Lives Matter. Ward has written a memoir about the deaths of five men in her life, including her brother, and how our culture works to tear down Black lives, especially Black male lives. While it’s heart-breaking, it’s also a story of a family that looks a lot like mine, but a lot different too. Ward examines all the angles – economics, psychology, sociology, the very geography of life on the Gulf coast – and how the people in Ward’s life in DeLisle, Mississippi are connected, what connects them, what breaks them apart. What endures. Beautifully written.

 

 

 

Master Mondays, Week Twelve: The YA Novel Class Recap

Figure 1. Sometimes you just have to stand around being casually Irish and shirtless, I guess. This has nothing to do with anything.

Figure 1. Sometimes you just have to stand around being casually Irish and shirtless, I guess. This has nothing to do with anything.

 

TL;DR Version

Tacos, advice, manuscript review, Andrew Karre.

Unabridged Version

If you’ve ever wondered about taking a Loft class and weren’t sure about whether it would be a good time, let me just give you reason #476 to take the plunge and register for something in the 2015 catalog:

STUDENT.ORGANIZED.TACO.BAR.

For our final class, Piyali suggested we have tacos and then the whole group set about bringing various ingredients to share, including Coronas with lime and Jarritos Mexican sodas, and DESSERT (yesss) and it was beautiful and fun and wonderful, because who doesn’t want to discuss writing while eating tacos? Nobody, that’s who.


Advice

I started out with a little advice. I HATE ADVICE. But I had to get over it because one must provide closure on the final session of class.

1. Post-Manuscript Review Grief Period. I suggested that it is natural to hear feedback about your writing and then want to shove it in a drawer and leave it there while you curl up like a pillbug and not do anything about it because it all seems insurmountable. I think this is normal. Let the feedback sink in until it starts to make sense to you; lots of changes all at once take a bit to absorb. But give yourself a limit to this period and make a goal after that about when and how to finish your first draft.

2. Writing groups and conferences. First, critique groups are great, but you can also form accountability/goals groups that don’t do manuscript review or beta reading and just focus on keeping members on task for their efforts. This might be helpful for you if you’re in the query stage, which can be very demoralizing and easy to avoid and procrastinate about. I also mentioned looking into memberships at SCBWI, the Loft’s Children’s and YA Lit Festival (May 1-3, 2015) and then Piyali reminded me about the Hubbs Children’s Literature Conference  on February 21st as well.

3. Fanmail. I suggest that sending fanmail to authors who write books you love is a good way to become a part of the literary community, as well as establish good will among humanity. I don’t know that fanmail has obvious results involved, but that it’s just a good thing to do, especially if a book has influenced and inspired how you’ll proceed with your own writing.


Manuscript Review

Beth and Brandon had their manuscripts reviewed! Woo!


 

 

Figure 2. Yes, even my swaggy Highlander is all set: I AM READY FOR EDITOR Q&A

Figure 2. Yes, even my swaggy Highlander in his flowy man-blouse agrees: I AM READY FOR EDITOR Q&A

 

Editor Q&A with Andrew Karre

Andrew is editorial director at Carolrhoda LAB, Carolrhoda Books, Darby Creek & Graphic Universe, and as of January 12, executive editor at Dutton Children’s Books. He joined us for butterbeer and a Q&A. 

I should also give his style notes, because such things are important to me:

– navy wool sweater (shawl collar, right?)
– khakis that I think are best described by the adjective “butternut”
– Red Wing boots (were they Heritage? I am not sure. You really cannot go wrong with Red Wing footwear, afaik)
– navy peacoat (in actual NAVY BLUE; we’ve had arguments about whether pea coats can be black, so trust me on this)

Mr. Karre has a very nice high-and-tight haircut and zero facial hair. This is because he follows my rules, I can only assume. Yes? Yes.

Here are some non-verbatim highlights:

Re: Jellicoe Road & Jonah Griggs. Karre reports not being swoony over Griggs but being amazed at Marchetta’s ability to create a character like Griggs and make him so well-rounded and heroic, even when he does horrible things.

Re: “fearless revision” – I asked, “what in the hell do you even mean by that?”

Karre: being willing to “break your book” by going under the hood and rummaging around; being willing to deviate from or discard entirely the scenes and bits you’ve come to love blindly.

Re: unlikeable characters

Karre: tends to dismiss most reviews that cite “unlikeability” as a problem with the book; in YA, you will find more readers who are upset about “unlikeable characters” or characters who do anything “unpleasant” because of notions that we must serve up warm soporific pabulum to teenagers to ease the peevish hormonal tumult that rules their psyches.

Re: where is YA going to go in the future?

Karre: there’s been a full-cycle from all the YA subgenres, back to now, with a recurrence of contemporary realism; basically, we’ve tried all of it, and all of it works, and fails, to a certain degree. YA is a genre in ascendancy now, whereas, in the long arc of publishing, anything for children or teenagers was relegated to editorial backwaters (read: female editors) while keeping the “real” stuff for men. The divisions of publishing that produced books for kids and teenagers used to be labeled “juvenile” and were written off until they started making real money.

To answer the question even less directly: where YA is going is in itself a question that will become less and less important to people as time goes on.

Re: what are you looking for in a manuscript?

Karre: is looking to be surprised: “I like first chapters that are sparse in information and dense in intrigue.”

Also: skills. Authors who can write body language – be “adverbial without using adverbs.” Adolescents are always body conscious, whether they like their bodies or not; characters should not feel like “talking heads with no bodies.”

Also: “A mess that has something in it.” [<—-WHATEVER THAT MEANS! – Carrie]

Re: what’s the best book you’ve read lately?

– non-YA: the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn (nothing like YA, in their style)
Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman
– currently reading Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer and enjoying it a lot

Re: what do you think about writing adult characters in YA stories?

Karre: writing compelling adults in YA is a sign of real talent; so often parents function as “convenient levers” to move the teenaged character one way or another

A couple of examples of well-done adult characters:

Loa’s father in Blythe Woolston’s The Freak Observer
James’ grandmother and mother in Peter Cameron’s Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful To You


 

Figure 3. Saddle up & get cracking, yall.

Figure 3. You’ve got great stories in you. So, saddle up & get cracking, yall.

 

Conclusion (Warning: Sappy)

A 12-week class is no small thing. Especially for adults with busy lives and lots of obligations. The fact that these people dedicated their time (3 hours every week!) to writing and reading and discussing fiction, in this world that likes to piss on dreams and crowd out inner aspirations is a marvel. I’m glad they gave me this experience. Even more glad they gave themselves the gift of time when it comes to their own writing. My hope is that they’ll continue to do so.

 

 

 

Master Mondays, Week Eleven: The YA Novel Class Recap

michonne-3

Figure 1. “Do you like The Walking Dead?” Piyali asked. “I know two of the women on the show…”

 

TL;DR Version

Writing exercise, snacks, manuscript review, snacks.

Unabridged Version

Opening Course

I posted a list of the 2015 Morris Award Finalists because this year’s crop looks fabulous and it’s always an interesting award to look at, given the librarians on the committees are extremely well-read.

We did a 10 minute freewrite, with this as the opener/chorus line: “This time of year, I remember…” The subject was to be the students’ own memories from adolescence. Gotta mine that new material, yall.

We discussed Beth’s flap copy which looks quite juicy (an island, reality TV, mystery!) I really like the flap copy exercise, you guys. It’s very clarifying, for the writer. It’s also very exciting to read the cool story concepts that students have. Plus it gives you a draft of your eventual gross-ass query letter, which we all must suffer through, despite its awfulness…

Manuscript Reviews

Our manuscript reviews this time around were particularly full of laughter. This is a function of our time together almost being over. Every Loft class gets really delicious and fun right around the time it’s about to end. It’s bittersweet. This group of people, though: they are so much fun and they are all writing very different books, with unique voices and concepts. I’m very happy to have had a chance to read some of these stories and hope that all of these writers push push push to finish and continue on, because they’ve got great material.

SNACKS

We always eat in my classes because that is who I am: a lady who is a big fan of FOOD. In the summer week-long classes, Fridays are the day kids bring in stuff to eat. It’s very enjoyable.

 

Figure 2. Because life is short.

Figure 2. Because life is short.

 

Anyway, this being an adult class, students often get a drink and dinner from the cafe on the main floor of the Loft and eat/drink their way through class. Last night, I invited people to bring snacks and whoooooa, did they deliver!

 

Chocolate fondue, courtesy of Keith…

 

Figure 3. An "A" for effort here

Figure 3. An “A” for effort here

 

plus two kinds of hummos, a variety of brownies, chocolate pretzels, nuts, carrots, kettlecorn, refried bean dip…

 

Figure 4. My students don't play, see

Figure 4. My students don’t play, see

 

Next week I’m bringing butterbeer and Andrew Karre. What pairs well with that combination, I wonder…

Books Referenced: 

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Rooms by Lauren Oliver
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
September Girls by Bennett Madison
Carrie by Stephen King