Thursday, September 14, 2017

5 Reasons You Need to Read Labyrinth Lost Right Now

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova has become a new favorite book of mine. (Seriously, though? My "favorite books" shelf is getting way too crowded. I need a new shelf!) Anyway, here are five things that I loved about the book, and five reasons that you should pick it up ASAP!

1. Bi Representation

The main character, Alex, is bisexual. There's a bi love triangle. It's awesome. The plot of the book doesn't center around Alex coming to terms with her identity as a bi girl, in the same way that it's not centered around her coming to terms with her identity as a Latina girl. It's about her coming to terms with her power. Those other aspects are a part of her in a way that's not represented, and especially represented well, nearly enough.

2. Family & Meaningful Female Relationships

Of course Alex and her best friend, Rishi, have a strong relationship in the book. But one of the really central parts of what makes Alex who she is is her family--her mother and her sisters. She has a different but equally dynamic and developed relationship with both Lula and Rose. Even characters who are less present in Alex's current life, like her Aunt Ro and Mama Juanita, have very defined and realistic relationships with Alex. Family is the main heart of the novel, with lineage and heritage and power driving it from beginning to end.

3. World Building

The obvious thing to talk about here is Los Lagos, the realm that isn't our own. And, certainly, it's creative and inventive and has a very twisted fairy tale sort of vibe to it. However, the world building doesn't begin and end there. Brooklyn feels so alive in this book, and so real. Coming from Queens myself, it's so rare to see New York done right, or to see New York beyond some cardboard stereotype of Manhattan, and this is so refreshing.

4. Total Surprises

I'm a writer. I can't turn that off when I read or when I watch TV or movies or when I play video games. It's impossible for me to stop myself from trying to predict where the story is going. It's just how my mind works. And you know what? I was completely taken off-guard by developments in the book four or five times. (I'd give vague ideas of where these were, but if you haven't read it yet then I don't want to spoil.) This is honestly a continuation of this book feeling so fresh in general.

5. The Writing

The writing is so, so lovely. Here are just a few of my favorite lines:

  • "I am an element. I am the storm."
  • "Right now, I'm just a girl, and there is also magic in that."
  • "It is my turn to shape the galaxies."
  • "Something about this pleases the creature. Because he's not a man--he's a hideous, greedy creature that belongs in this ashen, cold land. It's a hateful thing, and this is a hateful place."
  • And  then there's the first line: "The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing."

Go. Buy. Read. Hurry. It's been optioned as a movie.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Two Poems

I asked on Twitter what section from my (yet unpublished) poetry collection people wanted to read from. It was close, so I decided to post two! Enjoy, and please go on ahead and share this post around. 💗

From "(Bi)sexuality":

You Remember Your First

girlcrush, which came four years
after your first boycrush

(and they were cousins, so apparently
you had a type
that included big brown eyes
& constant laughter)

it was easy enough
to play off the desire
as mere admiration:

you wondered how her hair
sat so straight and silky
while curling at the ends
just right

& you never asked her

just played the game of comparison,
you with your scrunchie-tied
ponytail, mind-of-their-own
curls poking
out over your ears

& at 11 you weren’t allowed
to date anyway, so what did it matter
except that you might’ve known earlier
the nature of your lingering

might’ve known the line
between wanting to compare notes
& pure wanting

later, you wonder if she avoided
you because your scrunchie was bedazzled
or your overalls so 3rd grade



if she knew that you looked at her
the way boys looked at her
if she sensed something about you
that you wouldn’t

for years and years to come


From "Flesh Betrays Flesh":


dulling of nerves plucked
to frays like copper
wires shorted, sparking

awareness of each vein
fading with the osmosis
the elixir promises

mind’s protests quieted
anxieties smokescreened
by fog enhancing the hush

cognizance sacrificed
for movement, for mobility—
            mind as guesswork’s victim

each solution in turn
            a call for stitching patches
                        over splits left exposed

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Too Queer

"Unfortunately, it isn't the right fit for us at this time."

This is probably the most common phrase in a rejection letter from a lit mag, agent, or publisher. It's pretty standard. However, sometimes you see a different phrase: "This isn't the right fit for this issue" or "This isn't a great fit for my list right now." At the end of the day, it's all polite ways to say "Yeah, thanks, nah."

But, as a marginalized writer, rejection can take on different meaning. I'm a woman, queer (bi, specifically), disabled, and non-Christian. Of my identities, I most often write about queer women. Lately, I've noticed a pattern. I've only started writing queer women in the past few years, and that shift in my subject matter has made me notice something. I've had relative ease publishing stories with straight women (or women whose sexuality isn't addressed), and it's been much more difficult getting my queer lady stories published. Even though my queer lady stories are overall better--I've had years of writing under my belt to help--they don't meet as much success in query piles. Out of about fifteen stories I've published, one has had clearly queer characters at the helm. (While, percentage-wise, I've published many more poems about non-queer subjects, I've still had a few queer poems published, like this, this, and this.)

I've been shopping around some queer stuff recently, and it's often met with a blanket rejection phrase, sometimes even with some praise ahead of that in the rejection letter (ex: "While I enjoyed the writing...). Maybe this is just a politeness, maybe it's not. As a marginalized writer, it's hard not to ask--Is it that I'm queer? Is it that my characters are queer? Would this meet more success if either of those facts were changed or better hidden? Have they already picked up their "gay book" or "gay author" for the season?

In all honesty, I didn't really consider my lit mag rejections for queer stories until my most recent round of agent rejections. In the novel I'm shopping around, a bi main character falls in love with the new girl at school who is disabled with fibromyalgia (like I am). I've gotten a handful of rejections that amounted to "While I'm really into the writing, the setting, and the characters, it's just not compelling enough that I've got to have it." Again, is this just being polite? In my experience, no one has time to offer a ton of personalized feedback about the positives of a manuscript unless they mean it. And sure, it could be that je ne sais quoi factor not hitting home for them. But I've submitted this manuscript to a bunch of different people. I've submitted my stories to lots of different lit mags. Again, I can't help this nagging sense that it is too queer.

It's not like you can email the editor or agent back and say "Is this not a good fit because it's queer?" It's nearly impossible to talk about this without sounding like it's simply sour grapes, and the fact that the rejection doesn't say "TOO QUEER, SORRY NOT SORRY" in the first place indicates that, even if that is the case, it's not a line of inquiry that's really worth pursuing.

It's so, so difficult to discuss this honestly without just coming off as bitter about a story not being published. But beyond my own stories and novels, beyond my own anecdotal observations, I think it's something worth thinking about. Publishing is an old institution. Has it come a long way as far as representation? Hell yes. Could there still be even unconscious biases and places where we should be having conversations? You bet.

And I think I'll conclude by saying that this worry of mine isn't going to deter me from writing awesome queer ladies any time in the near future (especially bi women). I'm still shopping around that novel. I'm still sending out and writing stories with women in relationships with each other. And I'm currently writing a queer af novel about goddesses. Just because it might be more difficult, just because it makes for another thing to question in our rejection letters, is no reason to stop working for representation in writing, and I'll be damned if I'm going to stop any time soon.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reading for Fun

One of the things I most want to instill in my daughter is a love of reading. I don't mind what she loves reading--fantasy or scientific explanations of animal behavior, memoirs or comics, long complicated tomes or breezy beach reads. But I read with her fairly often (and I have since I was pregnant with her) because I want her to get into reading as early as possible.

There are lots of reasons I want to help guide my daughter toward reading--it helps engender empathy, it arms you with knowledge about the world, it sparks your own imagination and creativity. I think something that is severely undervalued these days is reading for pleasure. This has become painfully obvious for me this year. My first love--both in reading and writing--is the novel. I realized about a week or two ago that I was in a real novel reading slump this year. I hadn't read many this year, and the ones I had read weren't as fun for me as I was hoping.

Then I started really thinking about this. The last time that I'd really read for fun consistently was before my PhD program and before my MFA program, in the gap year when I was only working and not attending any sort of English/Creative Writing program. And before that year, I hadn't read purely for fun since high school. And by "purely for fun" I mean not reading with a pencil in hand or for class or with the intention of picking it apart for some specific writing-related purpose. Of course, there are exceptions here and there--for example, Felicia Day's You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) that I read in the summer between my MFA and PhD programs. And this isn't to say that I don't really enjoy novels like Madame Bovary that I've read for class--hell, my favorite book, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, was originally pulled from my MFA thesis reading list.

So, taking all of this into consideration, I thought about that year between my undergraduate Creative Writing program and my MFA program. I had gotten a library card for the Osterhout in Wilkes-Barre and made regular trips there, where I'd pick up an armful of books to read. The pressure was low, both because I didn't have strict "read this in a week" types of time limits and because, if I wanted to for any reason, I could stop reading a book twenty pages in and move on. This let me experiment widely and find books that I personally really connected with (like the Graceling Realm series). And so I decided to do this last week at my new location--going to the Peace Dale Library in my current neck of the woods, getting a library card, and coming out with an armful of books that just looked interesting. (Bonus: I have a license now and don't have to walk to and from the library if I want to go on my own.)

I happened to come across Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, a book I'd heard tons about as a queer writer who writes queer things and tries to keep up on this sort of thing as much as possible. I had fun reading it. I got really into the characters and narrative. I recommended it to a friend. It's been a long while since I've gotten into a book that I just went and picked up myself.

There's that saying--people who say they hate reading just aren't reading the right books. While that may not be 100% true for everyone, I think that if people expanded their idea of reading beyond Shakespeare and Hawthorne (I love Much Ado About Nothing and The Scarlet Letter, don't get me wrong), then they might be more likely to find something they enjoy, whether they're reading sports biographies or some basics of cooking or whatever.

In hopes of giving some ideas of what you might want to try out, I asked some writer friends what they're reading at the moment. So here are ideas, but--of course--please feel encouraged to do your own wandering at the library or bookstore, and find something that you'll enjoy and get wrapped up in! Don't hesitate to let us know in the comments how this goes, or to make your own recommendations.

  • Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli
  • Poetry Magazine, July/August Asian American Poets issue
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Kill Six Billion Demons, Tom Parkinson
  • sea foam mag
  • Morphology of the Folktale, Vladimir Propp
  • Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
  • Armada, Ernest Cline
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • My Bloody Life, Raymundo Sanchez
  • Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  • The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher

Want to keep up with my reading list? Check out my Goodreads page here!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Starting New Projects: The Myth of the Blank Page

One of the most conflicting things that you can do as a writer is start something new.

There seems to be this kind of fable set up of THE BLANK PAGE as the writer's bogeyman of sorts. Now, in general, I tend to put a lot more time into revising endings than beginnings. But sometimes starting is the literal worst.

Take, for instance, the most recent novel that I wrote (the one I'm currently sending around to agents). When I started the project, it was third person from Celeste's point of view, straight-up (haha) YA queer literary. Then I started mostly from scratch when I realized it was falling flat, turning it into YA queer magical realism. Then I had to re-start it again because I realized that the voice was wrong and that it should've been first person from her POV and that it was going to be more heavily fantasy. Then, two-thirds of the way into what would become an actual first draft, I started adding in first person sections from Simone's POV, which then also had to be spliced into the beginning and middle in revisions. It took a lot for Strange High to figure out that it was a dual first person YA queer fairy tale.

More recently, I just started a new writing project. I've been working on a new collection of poems (collection #3, because I've been sending collection #2 out to publishers), and that's been great. But I've had a big, novel-shaped hole in my life. Of course, with a new daughter who wants to be cuddled 24/7 there's hardly a spare moment and, when there is, I do more frivolous things like eat or shower or buy the family groceries. I've been finding spare moments to write poems, but I haven't really touched fiction since I finished revising Strange High. Option #1: Go back to a novel idea that I really believe in and that I actually wrote 15,000 words of before switching to Strange High last year. Option #2: A recent nightmare that felt like an amazing novel idea. My feeling was that I'm young and can do both ideas--but one has to come first. As I'd like to maybe do the started novel for my dissertation in a couple of years, I decided to give this new idea a shot. And, last night, I managed to come up with character names and write the first 450 words (in addition to the plot idea that the nightmare gave me).

Now, maybe I'll leave the idea when I get 1,000 or 10,000 words in because it's not working. Maybe I'll switch to the other novel idea because I find that's what my heart is pulling me toward. This is what I'm talking about when I bring up how conflicting the start of a novel is. Sure, you could do whatever you want. You have that freedom. But you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT. It's the fear that I hear from my students sometimes when they're trying to find a thesis for their paper--How, in the wide world of paper ideas, do I just pick one? Where do I even begin?

So, for me, it's less that I can't figure out a good first line. (I actually think I'm pretty good at those.) It's more the total sense of uncertainty. Unless I do major planning first, I don't know these characters, I don't know where this is going, and it's not going to be done in one go of it. What's more, I don't even know if I'll like it enough to finish, or if I'll be able to sell it once the time comes. Uncertainty is one of the most uncomfortable things in the world for me and I really struggle with it.

Now, if I never wrote without a clear idea of every last detail of the entire project then I'd have to quit this gig and go find something where uncertainty wasn't in the job description. I find a way to do it. That doesn't make it a pleasant part of the process. I kind of just need to put my blinders on and push through the discomfort of uncertainty. It's knowing that, later, I'm going to really start getting into the groove of things and have fun with it that helps keep me going until things click into place. Ultimately, this makes it worth it.

Are you a writer, or a creator of any sort? What part of your creative process is least enjoyable for you? How do you soldier through anyway?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Apparently I'm Popular in Germany (And Other Fun Stats)

Page views by country:
United States: 950
Germany: 51
Russia: 49
United Kingdom: 32
France: 26
Canada: 21
Poland: 9
Ireland: 7
Portugal: 7
Australia: 6

Page views by browser:
Chrome: 741 (59%)
Mobile: 156 (12%)
Firefox: 134 (10%)
Safari: 91 (7%)
OS; FBSV: 18 (1%)
PhantomJS: 13 (1%)
SamsungBrowser: 7 (<1%)
Maxthon: 2 (<1%)
Shiretoko: 1 (<1%)

Page views by operating systems:
Windows: 489 (39%)
Android: 301 (24%)
iPhone: 180 (14%)
Macintosh: 170 (13%)
Linux: 54 (4%)
Unknown: 13 (1%)
Unix: 11 (<1%)
iPad: 11 (<1%)
compatible: 9 (<1%)
iPod touch: 1 (<1%)

So where do you fall in all this? What country are you from? What browser do you use? What operating system? Let us know in the comments, or on your preferred social media platform(s)!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Reading

Hopefully you'll excuse my hiatus. My daughter was unexpectedly born on May 24th, so blog writing time has not really been a thing since we've gotten back from the hospital. I'll post when I can!

I thought it might be fun to put together a bit of a summer reading list. I'm going to count it from when my semester ended, and I'll look to what's highest up on my TBR list as well.

What I've Read So Far This Summer:
Disney Princess Storybook Collection (4th ed.)
The End of Magic, Amber Benson
Truthwitch, Susan Dennard
Corduroy, Don Freeman
The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf

What I'm Currently Reading:

Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, Edited by Micheal Dumanis and Cate Marvin
The Book of Goddesses & Heroines, Patricia Monaghan
Earth Power, Scott Cunningham

What I'd Like to Read:
Earth, Air, Fire, & Water, Scott Cunningham
Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, & Metal Magic
The Aguero Sisters, Cristina Garcia
The Complete Stories, Flannery O'Connor
Unfinished Stories of Girls, Catherine Zobal Dent
The Calliope Reaper-Jones series, Amber Benson
The Spellmason Chronicles, Anton Strout
Labyrinth Lost, Zoraida Córdova

This summer I want to get started on reading for my comp exam lists so that I know what I want to put on them ahead of time, so that's where a lot of my TBR is coming from. I almost certainly won't complete the list (money is a constraint, so I've got to check out what's in the local libraries and all), but this is the selection I'll have to choose from.

What have you guys read/are you guys reading/will you guys read this summer?