Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Favorite Reads of 2017

Novel: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova and Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Poetry: Franny Choi's Perihelion: A History of Touch from Poetry Magazine

Children's Book: The Answer by Rebecca Sugar, Tiffany Ford, & Elle Michakla and Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott

Comics: Spell on Wheels by Kate Leth, Megan Levens, & Marissa Louise

Story Collection: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

Reference Book: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Encyclopedia: The Ultimate Guide to the Buffy by Nancy Holder and Lisa Clancy

What were your favorite reads of 2017? (They don't need to have been published in 2017.) Are there any books you're looking forward to in 2018?

Have a great holiday season!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Baby and Teaching and Writing During PhD: Oh My (A Sequel)

If you regularly follow my blog (which, bless you), then you may be familiar with my post from March titled "Pregnant and Teaching and Writing During PhD, Oh My." This post is the sequel to that one. The main difference, of course, is, well...

December is a good time to reflect on the past year, to think about changes in your life and all that jazz. Obviously the biggest change for me was becoming a mother. Everything shifted all at once. I was protective of Anna before she was even born, once I had a feeling that I was pregnant with her. But every maternal instinct, every protective ounce of loyalty, every bit of fire that I have had in me from a very young age has only magnified with her in my life. She has been two months ahead on milestones pretty much from the start, which is super cool given the fact that she was born five weeks early. She's smart and sweet and strong and adorable. Best decision I ever made was her.

Now, let's move beyond the mushy-gushy stuff. How in the bloody hell do I balance it all? I still have PhD classes. I'm still teaching. I'm still writing (sometimes--I'll get to that). And now I have this scarily (and I mean that with love) advanced six-month-old to keep up with. How do I balance it all?

The simple answer: I don't. Not really.

The slightly longer answer: Everything is a sacrifice. Every choice. If I'm playing with Anna and enjoying my time with her, I'm not writing or grading or reading for class. If I'm in class, I'm not spending time with her or writing or grading. If I'm giving my students paper feedback... Well, you get the idea. It's a constant struggle to keep all the balls in the air. Anna will never be this young again, and spending time with her and learning all her likes and dislikes and watching her discover the world are all so vitally important to me. But I feel a lot of pressure, for my own academic career goals and also as Anna's main female role model, to get my PhD and really dedicate myself to learning and growing intellectually. Additionally, I have a responsibility to give my students my skills and guidance and engagement, to help them learn what they might love about literature and to help them express themselves in academically sound ways.

And, of course, my writing. I hate to say it, but I feel that my writing has suffered the most for this year. I try not to be too hard on myself. The Spring 2017 semester was difficult, between taking two classes and teaching two classes and being as pregnant as I was. Then there was the giving birth thing and recovering all summer. (Giving birth is hard. Recovery is ridiculous, or at least it was for me. I didn't even need a C-section and it still took eight weeks for me to even be functional.) And then this semester started and I got swept up in classes and teaching and getting together committees and comp exam reading lists and mom-ing. In thinking back to this year, writing is the one thing that I wish I'd been able to find more time for. It's so unlike me to have not found the time for it the way I usually do. (Admittedly, I wrote an article or two, some poems, a couple of stories, and a few thousand words on a novel. This is very, very light for me. Oh. You know what? I forgot that I finished editing a novel of mine this year, too. That helps me feel better.)

The way I've been handling this emotional baggage is, true to form, by planning. I've started listing and planning out goals for my writing in 2018, with deadlines and timelines and all sorts of goodies. The whole thing is wildly ambitious, but I am nothing if not wildly ambitious. If I fall short, I'll still accomplish a lot. The rhythm of things is getting more regular again. Everything is always in flux, every moment spent doing one thing is in sacrifice of half a dozen others. But now that things have evened out, these goals seem that much more attainable.

And, can I just say, a) I'm so glad I don't have morning sickness this winter, and b) I'm never, ever giving up coffee again.

This isn't a "how-to" blog post. Mostly it's just a "this is where I am" blog post. And, if you can take away from this an excuse to give yourself more credit and absolve yourself of some guilt/regret over what you haven't accomplished this year, then that's pretty freakin' amazing.

2018: I'm coming for you, and I'm bringing my best pens.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Favorite Fictional Witches

So, I'd wanted to post this on Samhain, but I was without power all week (yahoo!). Whatever. It's only been a week, yeah? And, as far as I'm concerned, witches are a year-round obsession. Without further adieu, here are a few of my favorite fictional witches, in no particular order:

Tara MaClay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Tara is just my favorite character of all time. She's sweet and shy and powerful and smart. She helps the Scoobies whenever she can and however she can. In season five, she stands up to Glory to protect Dawn and the people in the park. She helps Buffy work through her stuff in season six when most of the others are piling expectations and responsibilities on her, and she keeps Buffy's secrets, telling her that it's okay to be going through what she is. Even before that, they bond when Joyce dies. And, in a later episode of season six, Tara both teases Spike on Buffy's behalf and stands up to Anya when Willow is trying to make the right decision. Tara goes from the wallflower to an independent badass without totally losing who she is or how compassionate she is. The character development happens too often in the background, and as a result she feels like a totally under-appreciated character.

Freya Mikaelson, The Originals

While Freya makes some questionable choices (see: Davina Claire), she does it all to keep her family safe. This isn't an excuse, of course, but it does make her more relatable. Also, who doesn't like to watch a super-powered witch ruin the bad guy's day? 'Cause I know I do. Also, I ship her and Keelin so hard that it's not even funny. Keelin is great and tough and smart on her own, and she also tells Freya when she's running herself into the ground with her obsessiveness and hurting herself in the process.

Vincent Griffith, The Originals

On the other side of the coin, Vincent knows that the Mikaelsons cause heartache and death wherever they go. He's seen it with loads of people, including but not limited to Davina and Cami (who I'm still heartbroken about). He knows that when they're around, they make his city more dangerous. The dude's not wrong. However, he's not so unreasonable that he won't work with the Mikelsons when the need is there for the greater good. He is an advocate for peace and cooperation with the witches of New Orleans and the other creatures of the town, but he's another witch who can really ruin somebody's day if he so chooses. (Yusef Gatewood also just does an awesome job with the acting here.)

Alex/Alejandra Mortiz, Labyrinth Lost

Alex (who is technically a bruja, not a witch) makes mistakes. She's not a bad person because of it. She's human. She wants a say in how her life turns out. She just doesn't go about it in a way that initially works out. And she's not weak because of it, either. Alex is strong and loyal to her family and caring. She also gets some badass lines, like "I am an element. I am the storm" or "Right now, I'm just a girl, and there is also magic in that." (Further Labyrinth Lost love here.)

Claire, Spell on Wheels

She has cool powers (clairvoyance, for instance) and she's a ginger. This is a character very much up my alley. She's really on the ball about so much, and she got herself out of an unhealthy relationship and moved beyond it to be a really powerful witch. She's also got these really strong friendships with Andy and Jolene, which makes the emotional stakes of the story that much higher. (Full Spell on Wheels review here.)

Minerva McGonagall, Harry Potter

The badass-witch-in-residence. She's wise and kind, even if she's tough on the outside and likes to do things by the book. She stands up to Dolores Umbridge because, while McGonagall abides by rules she is more loyal to her duty to both educate and protect the students at Hogwarts and so, appropriately, she is also a leader in the Battle of Hogwarts.

Hermione Granger, Harry Potter

Smart, brave, and kind. Hermione is the witch I related to most as a kid--the know-it-all who wanted to do well in school and get ahead, sometimes at the expense of social relationships without realizing it. But, in the end, she realizes that "friendship and bravery" trump book smarts (even if the latter are super useful for, say, getting out of Devil's Snare or creating an endless bag).

Molly Weasley, Harry Potter

Motherhood incarnate. She is strong and nurturing and takes crap from no one. And, when it comes right down to it, she will brawl with Bellatrix Lestrange and knock her ass down because no one messes with Mama Bear Molly's daughter and lives to tell the tale.


I'm sure that I'll realize I've forgotten about five characters once I hit "post," but so it goes. Who are your favorite witches from this list? Do you have any favs that I didn't include?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Jane, Unlimited Review

This book, you guys. This book.

I'd been waiting for this book for months. I got it on pre-order. If you're reading this blog, I've likely recommended at least one of the Graceling Realm series books to you, and it was likely more than once.

This book isn't high fantasy like Graceling Realm, and it's a standalone. When I'd read the sample pages on Amazon, it reminded me of Aimee Bender (another of my favorites/writing influences). Jane, who makes umbrellas, gets invited to a mansion on a private island after her Aunt Magnolia dies in Antarctica. There are so many things that I adored about this book--the characters, the bi representation, the structure, how engaged I was. I don't want to spoil too much if you haven't read it. If you like Gothic lit, Lemony Snicket, Downton Abbey, Aimee Bender, Ray Bradbury, Alice in Wonderland, and/or The Wizard of  Oz, then I urge you to stop reading my review right now and go pick up the book, then come back. I literally only knew about the premise I mentioned above and I think that is the absolute best way to read it. After this point, I'm getting into major tons of spoilers.

Oh. And also: If you're a writer, there's lots of innovative genre and structural things going on, too. That's as much as I want to mention pre-spoilers.





Okay. You've read the book already? Good.

WHAT THE DAMN HELL, RIGHT?! And I mean that as the highest possible compliment.

Okay, so, in order to keep myself from going all over the place I'm going to do a list. I like lists.

1. Bi Representation
Jane is at least not monosexual. She shows interest in both Ivy and Ravi. She has a short passage that states her interest in men and women. Even before that, I got the hopeful sense that she might be, and it was nice to see that acknowledged in the narrative. Ravi's sexuality is described by Ivy as "panoptically" attracted to people. He might identify as bisexual, or pansexual. Ivy seems (in my reading) to be a lesbian, or at least this was how I took her complete shut-down of even flirtations from Ravi. The queer rep was awesome, and I loved how natural it felt. Plus, I was so excited that this was the second novel in a row where the main character was a bi girl.

2. Structure
This is possibly the most innovative structure I've seen in a novel. When I got to the beginning of section two, I thought it read a bit like a Choose Your Own Adventure (which is funny, because in the author's note Cashore mentions that it started that way). When I got to the end of section two, and the start of section three, I lost my mind. I was so excited to see multiverse. It felt so fresh.

3. Shades of Characters/Plots
Each section added new knowledge about the characters and what was happening. Though this is a multiverse and it's not all happening in the same universe, you can guess from what's been revealed in earlier sections what's going on in the background (where the sculpture's gotten to, why Mrs. Vanders et. al. are sneaking around, etc.). It's a clever way to reveal more without simply telling the same straightforward story over and over. Which brings me to...

4. Genre
The first section feels like the set-up for a Gothic novel where the house is alive, a character of its own. The second section was a mystery/heist with a Lemony Snicket vibe. The third a spy novel, Mr. & Mrs. Smith meets Downton Abbey. The fourth a dark magical realism (the most disturbing section by far if you ask me) that felt like "Quiet, Please" by Aimee Bender. The fifth section was a space adventure that reminded me of Ray Bradbury's "August 2026," with the addition of space pirates. And, finally, the last was a portal fantasy akin to Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. This variety of genre helps each section to feel distinct.

5. Themes
The genre bending and structure felt natural to the story, and I think a lot of that has to do with what's going on thematically. So many of the characters are at in-between points in their lives--not quite here, not quite there--Jane, Kiran, Ivy, Lucy, Ravi (depending on the universe you're in). The multiverse predicated on every possible choice makes sense here, because choice during these in-between spaces these characters exist in is such a vital and important thing. To boot, these characters are at an age where they're trying to figure out who they are and how they want the rest of their lives to go. There's also loss and grief so deeply embedded in this novel--Jane loses Aunt Magnolia, Ravi loses his favorite art, Octavian loses Charlotte. How the characters deal with that loss shapes the plot and ultimately, it seems, the universe itself.

In general, as a reader the book excited me, especially once I realized, as Kiran was talking at the end of section two, that it was a multiverse. I loved the characters. Ivy was one of my favorites, and most versions of Jane, and Ravi was such fun. (Really, the only one I totally hated was Colin. He's the worst.) Each section complicated my understanding of the characters, and of what was going on. As a writer, the innovative structure and genre-bending really challenged me to consider what a novel can do.

This book was just such a delight. I even loved the cover--the dust jacket is gorgeous, and the actual hard cover of the book had a pretty surprise. I've already added this one to my favorites list. Now to find a way to squeeze it onto my favorite books shelf...

Bonus: Songs I had stuck in my head as I was reading:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bivisibility Day Interview with Megan Manzano

So I made a call on Twitter for bi writers to be interviewed as a part of Bivisbility Month/Day. Megan Manzano was generous enough to respond and provide the interview below. So please go on ahead and read, then follow her everywhere!


On your site, you mention The Perks of Being a Wallflower being made into a movie as an “ah-ha” moment where you discovered that you love writing. How did this affect what you did with your writing?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower made me realize I wanted to write as a career. I was always a fan of writing. I still have the notebooks from childhood with horrible (trust me on this) stories. The point is, the inkling was there. Perks made it something tangible for me, made me go “wow, why aren’t you trying to do this too?” After that, I declared myself as an English major, started writing short stories for magazines, and just finished the first draft of a book.

What themes do you find yourself obsessed with in your writing?
Ha, well, I have some friends who say I’m obsessed with dark themes: death, betrayal, ominous cliffhanger endings. Every time a friend reads a short story of mine, I get a message asking where the happy ending is. It always makes me laugh because I don’t intend for my stories to turn out that way. They just kind of happen, where I have a line in my head and I just see where it takes me.

What are your thoughts about bi representation in media? Are there any tropes or misconceptions that you wish would just vanish in a puff of smoke already?
Bi representation in the media definitely needs work. There are too many narratives that seek to question bisexuality as an identity and others that disregard it completely. Some of the main tropes that need to go away are:
  • Bisexual people can’t hold long term relationships because they’re promiscuous.
  • If a bisexual person is in a seemingly heterosexual relationship, their identity is completely erased.
  • Bisexual people are not really queer.
I could go on about this. Thankfully, I have seen some positive reps of bisexuality in recent media, but there is still a long way to go.

If you could live in any sci-fi/fantasy world, which would you pick and why?
This is so hard. I don’t think I could pick one world as they are either super terrifying or have things that go horribly wrong, but I’d love a world where I could space travel. The universe has always been a fascination of mine.

How do you feel that being bi has affected your writing life, if it has? 
Identifying as bisexual has definitely made me seek out works that claim to have this representation in it. I look to see if they’re breaking through tropes and stereotypes or if they’re reinforcing them. I look to find me in the pages. One book that handles bisexuality so well is How to Make a Wish by Ashley Blake. It is wonderfully written and was probably one of the only books I read that truly understood my sexuality.

As for my writing, I tend to want to include positive queer representation in my stories. There’s too little of it out in the world and it is definitely needed. 

What writing project(s) are you working on at the moment?
I have several I’m trying to work on, though my brain keeps doing the thing where it hops between ideas because why not? I’m reworking an old short story of mine from about 3 or 4 years ago. It’s a dark fantasy piece that explores the relationship between siblings, power, and magic.

I’m also trying to write a second book which too falls under the fantasy genre. However, I’m thinking of shifting the genre from high fantasy to urban fantasy. Fingers crossed that this actually works out well as I love my main character so much.

What do you recommend binge watching on Netflix?
SENSE8. Please watch this now.
But also, The 100, Shameless, Stranger Things, and Jessica Jones. 

[Audrey's note: I second Jessica Jones and Shameless so hard, you guys.]

Do you feel like you’re a part of any writer communities on Twitter, or online in general? What communities are you involved in? How did you find them? What does contributing to that community/those communities look like to you?
I’d definitely say I am. I started twitter about two years ago, but didn’t really engage as well as I should have until this year. This was partly due to me being socially anxious and partly due to getting a feel for the community. I’m a lover of YA literature so that’s where I found most of my writing friends. Whether it was through liking relatable tweets, asking them about their stories, or messaging them to freak out about a really good book, I found my people.

I like to give back to the YA community so I do my best to be as open to writers as possible. I work in publishing and write/edit often. Starting off in publishing can be difficult and overwhelming so I try to give out tips, offer critiques, and keep an eye on the market. Also, especially for the YA community, listening to teens is important as they are the intended audience for those books.

You’re a part of the family friendly Youtube channel Geektastic. What do you feel like you’ve gotten out of that experience? Do the reviews and discussions affect how you approach your own writing at all?
I think the main thing I got from doing the YouTube channel was being able to film with some of my family members who love books and television the same way I do. We’re able to rant and freak out about the media we enjoy. Editing the videos are a bit more complicated as there are usually tons of extra footage from us either laughing, making inside jokes, or going on a complete tangent.
I can’t say it’s affected my writing, but it’s definitely made me more excited to read/watch something and then prepare to share it with them.

Plug time!
I’m the kind of person that does a lot of things at once. I really do enjoy editing, writing, and publishing so here are all the things to know about:
The Inkwell Council: This is my editing service that I co-run with my family. We give free critiques to the first 3 chapters of a novel and short stories. To find out more, click here:
Editing: I freelance edit. Everything you need to know about that can be found here:
Publications: I have gotten a handful of short stories published over the years and they can all be found here:
 A sci-fi short story of mine is coming out later this year that I will be sharing everywhere as it is my first anthology publication.

Twitter: This is the main way to find me as I talk about publishing, books, offer critiques, and giveaways at times. Plus, I love making new writing friends. My handle is: @megan_manzano


Looking for some further reading? Then check out the winners and finalists of the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards!

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?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

How Do You Beat Writer's Block?

This is one of those questions that I get asked pretty frequently, probably because it's one of the most frustrating things for a writer to feel like they've come up against. I've had teachers say that they don't believe in writer's block because it makes it into this invincible entity. However, here is my response to how to beat writer's block (pulled from my author site's FAQ):

I don't like the term "writer's block."  I feel like it gives too much power to the idea.  Fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself, according to some smart witch/wizard or another.  (Harry Potter references ftw.)  

My friend Ian talks about "refilling the well," which I think fits much better.  Think of the well as potential for creativity.  You've got lots of passion for a story, lots of ideas and all that fancy jazz.  The well is full.  Then you're 50,000 words into a novel and running on empty.  Your well needs refilling.  This will happen differently for each writer: some need to read their favorite book for the billionth time; others need to people watch; some need to watch their favorite television show or movie and think about its character arcs or themes; others need to write something shorter--poetry, maybe, or just some freewrite scribbles; others still need to get away from writing for a while, maybe by drawing or knitting or getting lost on Tumblr for a few hours.  Take the time to do this so you don't run yourself into the ground.  When you've refilled your creativity well, you can return to your project or start a new one, as the case may be, with a renewed zest for your craft.

I also took to the Creative Exchange Network on Facebook and to my Twitter to ask other writers for their perspectives. After all, not everyone responds to the same methods or writing processes. (In fact, that's pretty much one of the main tenants of my teaching philosophy. I'm pretty married to that idea.) Here's what other writers had to say:

Erin Sullivan: "by giving up on coherency and just stream of consciousness word vomit, or going through old work and revising that instead, or or thinking critically about what i like/dislike about a work i admire, or just being content to let myself zone out and a stare at the screen for awhile. my personal experience with writer's block is it being less 'i can't think of anything' and more 'i don't feel like thinking of anything'"

Joe Ginman: "go out, get a coffee and people watch. Something usually pops into my head while doing that"

Louie Land: "Personally, I've never been a fan of the whole "if you can't write, you can work" strategy because it seems like trying to just push the big boulder of writer's block out of the way. I'd much rather go around it. So, if the writing isn't inspired, I'll take a walk, or do the dishes, while continuing to be engaged with the work. I'm not abandoning the concept or problem at hand per se. Instead, I'm trying not to beat my head against the wall too many times. I'm getting away from my need to fill the page and weather the boulder away with my nonsense, and getting in touch with the work on a more intuitive level. So while I might be reading someone else's work instead of writing (or whatever it is I'm doing to help me see the forest instead of the trees), I'm doing so with an eye to get around whatever obstacle I'm facing, and when I've figured it out, I go back to the page feeling fresh."

Meg Gaertner: "I exercise my creativity in some other way--painting + dancing, for instance, help me get out of my head and more in touch with inspiration" Thank you to everyone who offered their advice! So how about you? What do you do to beat writer's block? Are there any ideas here that you're going to give a try the next time that it's plaguing you?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

5 Places to Write

Sometimes you can get into a rut with writing. This can be for any number of reasons--stress at work, not feeling your current project, etc.

Or maybe your favorite writing spot is no longer accessible to you, be it because of construction at the coffee shop or your decision to move halfway across the country.

Alternatively, you might be looking for a fresh place to start a new project and really feel like you're marking the occasion by trying out somewhere new.

Whatever the case is, where we write and the conditions we write under can have a profound effect on our writing. We all have our preferences--Do you listen to music, have TV on in the background, or need absolute silence? Do you work better on a laptop or with pen and paper? Do you need the pressure of constrained writing time or like a leisurely pace to create as you will?

One of the major factors that come into play is, whether it's something that you've considered or not, location. Here are some ideas of places to try out if your current location has gone stale for you:

1. Nature

Nature can be accessed in a variety of ways under a variety of conditions. If you want more silence/white noise, you can trek out to the woods or a mountain or a secluded lake. If that's not your thing, or if that's a long journey for you to make, you could try a park, which may have other people's chatter and goings ons as either a drawback or a bonus depending on how you like to work. Types of nature vary as well, of course: Beach, forest, grassy field, lake, mountain, etc. etc., each with its own personality and potential to help you write.

2. Coffee Shop

Need people around to keep on target while writing? There are a number of options available to you: Dunkin' Donuts, a local brunch spot, your campus library, the used bookstore down the street, and so on. Each of those venues is going to have different benefits and obstacles depending on your own personal writing needs. (For example, I love writing at Dunkin' Donuts because of the white noise and the reinvigorating smell of coffee. However, that may be too chaotic for you and you may want the quiet and solitude of a library corner all to yourself instead.) One of the wild cards here, of course, is that you can never know how crowded and busy or empty and subdued a place will be on any given day, which is an x-factor that you'll have to play by ear.

3. Bar

Maybe chaos suits you. You might like the loud buzz of noise and a lot of activity going on around you--think your high school cafeteria. There are lots of options, of course, to achieve this--a bar, a crowded auditorium, the quad or student center of the local campus, a really busy waiting room, a train or bus station, wherever. Try out a few places with lots of traffic and high energy and see what helps your writing get going or continue.

4. Transportation

While I wouldn't recommend writing while driving (unless you use a voice recording system of some kind, I suppose), there are ways to write during travel. You can write as your husband drives you a few hours to a different state to see family. You can get out the old pen and paper on your flight to London. You can take a day trip on a train and bring your laptop with you. Sometimes the (constant) change in scenery can do you--and more specifically your writing--some good.

5. At Home

This may seem like the most obvious choice. There's a lot of benefit here. You can write any time that you want. You can create the conditions that you want--music or not, comfortable couch to sit on or a rigid desk, bright lights or dim lights. But maybe you have a kid (or four) at home who will demand your attention if you're around, or maybe you'll get distracted by household chores, or maybe it'll take longer to get your work done because your mind wanders more easily here. How well writing at home works for you is something that no one else can determine--only you know your circumstances and how you write best. However, if you've been writing at home a lot, it never hurts to switch things up every once in a while and test out some other options just for a change.


So where's your favorite place to write? Any of these from the list that you might try out?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

My Favorite Books

As a writer, one of the most common questions that I get (aside from things like "What inspires you?" or "How do you beat writer's block?" or "But seriously, what's your day job?") is about my favorite books/authors. I think any list like this will, for me, be incomplete on some level. I'm guaranteed to forget some, and to finish reading one in three days that I decide belongs on here. But, keeping all of that in mind, here's a shout-out to some of my favorite books!

Of Bees and Mist, Erick Setiawan

This is my favorite book ever, bar none. I read it over winter break in December of 2015, back when I was visiting Rhode Island/the University of Rhode Island for the first time. It hits so many notes that are right up my alley--fantasy, gender dynamics, compassionate rendering of characters, stunning prose. I could go on and on about this one forever and, if you've ever asked me for a book recommendation, then I probably have. Here's my Goodreads review: "The fantastical elements build an enchanting world and the metaphorical truths make this a very human and resonant story. The language is lyrical and the characters dynamic. Meridia's life is in (quite a few) places heartbreaking, but I never stopped hoping she'd find peace. A beautiful novel."

The Beginner, Lynn Hejinian

This is my favorite book of poetry. The mastery of echoes is something I aspire to in my own work. If you can find a copy, I highly suggest picking it up and not only reading it but going back and rereading it to get the full potential out of it.

Graceling Realm Series, Kristen Cashore

This is another book (okay, series, really) that I've probably recommended you read if you sit still long enough. Each of the protagonists of the three books shows a different set of strengths as a female character. While I love all of these books, my favorite is Fire for a lot of reasons, not the least of which I think is the fact that I found the titular character the most natural to relate to on a personal level. If you love strong female characters (and not only in the ass kicking sense), fantasy, romance, adventure, or any combination of the above, this is a wonderful series to give a go.

Coven of Echo Park Series, Amber Benson

Two out of three of these books have been released, with the final installment coming this May. My review of book #1, Witches of Echo Park: "There is nothing more disappointing than when a book you've waited months for is no good. Luckily, Witches of Echo Park did not disappoint.

This book serves, at its core, as a eulogy for Eleanora. (No spoilers here: The book opens with her dying of cancer, which is why her grandniece, Lyse, returns to Echo Park in the first place.) Flashbacks allow the reader to get a real sense of some of the biggest moments of Eleanora's life, letting a plot that only covers maybe a week of present-day time delve deeper into decades worth of character development. We do not experience Eleanora only through Lyse's perspective, or Eleanora's friends, but through Eleanora herself--a major benefit of switching character points of view. If you love character-driven work, this is the book for you! The bulk of the present day plot seems to take place in the last 50 or so pages of the book. Much of the book is dedicated to character exploration, acquainting you with a whole cast of different kinds of women (anyone ranging from the girl who starts the book with a hangover to the mother of two who reads tarot cards to the pink-haired, leather-gloved woman who is anything but warm and fuzzy, except when it comes to her cats). 

Author Amber Benson shows reverence for the place, lingering on images of houses and landscapes as well as any opportunities to explore the culture of Echo Park. The prose is--simply put--beautiful without being self-involved or indulgent. Benson's lovely descriptions feel fresh and true and relatable. Overall, I highly recommend this book, the first in a trilogy (if I'm remembering that correctly) that you'll want to pre-order book #2 for by the end of this installment."

My review of book #2, The Last Dream Keeper: "One of the real joys of reading this book is the character groundwork laid out in Witches of Echo Park. With basic personalities and relationships established in book one, Last Dream Keeper really gets to deepen our sense of each of these women, as well as project them even more emphatically along their character arcs. The questioning of loyalties takes deeper root as the story unfolds. There's a lot of payoff for the connections and threads that may have seemed, based on a quick or surface-level read of Witches of Echo Park, simply there to flesh out the world or characters, and this payoff is extremely rewarding as a reader.

In addition to the character exploration and development here, everything is more intense: stakes, tension, scale of impact, horror. There were parts of this story that were so horrific and haunting that they created a visceral reaction in me. And, for the last 100 pages or so, I mostly chanted a mantra of "HOLY SHIT. No, that can't-- Holy shit." (Pro Tip: Make sure when you near the page 200 mark, you're prepared to finish the rest of the book in that sitting.) The ending leaves plenty of cliffhangers, and the fate of many in the balance, though book two's story arc hits where it intends to at the conclusion.

The descriptions, as they were in Witches of Echo Park, are very often stunning. When used in regards Echo Park itself these descriptions are consistently reverent and detailed and familiar and, when these descriptions are used to ramp up the terror factor, they get dark and chilling really quickly. The descriptions of the more heightened uses of magic are surreal and cinematic, making very ethereal concepts extremely visual in the mind's eye.

This is a series where the characters make the world more interesting, and the world makes the characters more interesting. The lighter, happier moments are born out of the women connecting in very supportive and meaningful ways. I was especially partial to Lyse and Lizbeth's relationship, but all of their connections, with each other and with other people in their lives, are interesting. The work done to sharpen each of the leading ladies as flesh-and-blood characters on the page, and to enhance our understanding of their relationships with each other and their lens on the world at large, is fascinating and well-crafted. As the best witch stories do, this novel highlights a lot of truths about our own world, including but not limited to the capacity for women to work together toward greater ends and support each other, and the kind of fear-mongering and oppression that should be outdated but can be seen in our society at large.

If you haven't started this series yet, go grab Witches of Echo Park and The Last Dream Keeper, snuggle in with a quilt and your hot beverage of choice, light a candle, and get reading."

You better believe I've already pre-ordered The End of Magic.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Aimee Bender

This is my favorite short story collection. Aimee Bender has been such a tremendous influence on me as a writer, which is interesting because I didn't especially connect with her work the first go-around. Her ability to slip between the strange, even fantastical, and the mundane is something I've incorporated more and more into my own writing. Her voice and style are stunning. And, without overtly drawing attention to it, she has some really interesting display of female narratives throughout a lot of her work. One of the included stories, "The Healer," is my favorite short story of all time.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

It's a classic for a reason. While it's not what I would by any means call a happy read, the writing itself is gorgeous and the themes are both haunting and valuable to engage with.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

This was the first novel that ever taught me your main characters didn't have to be likable. I credit a lot of my love for this book to an amazing high school English teacher who made it utterly engaging. The fact that Cathy and Heathcliff are unabashedly selfish and reckless people blew my mind as a young teen writer and expanded my concepts of writing in a lot of really important ways.

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Felicia Day

And here we have my favorite memoir, a birthday gift from my husband. I absolutely devoured this book. Here's my Goodreads review: "It's funny and geeky and relatable. From finding her home with an Internet community to dealing with anxiety and depression, there's so much in here that I connected with personally. And, having gotten this as a gift on my 26th birthday and read it right before starting my PhD program, I think it was perfect timing. Felicia Day touches on a lot of smart points about perfectionism, driving yourself into the ground, being a creator, and letting yourself take stock of where you are and where you want to be. I especially recommend it to anyone in their 20s and anyone who considers themselves a nerd, but I think that there's a lot of insight and humor here for just about any reader. If you've been on the fence about buying this memoir: Do it."

Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

There are lots of reasons to pick this up. Like Day's memoir, it's definitely funny and relatable. You can pick it up if you already love Amy Poehler and her work--whether that's Parks and Rec or Amy Poehler's Smart Girls. It's especially engaging if you're already a fan of hers, but I think there's a lot to connect to either way.

Garbage, A.R. Ammons

This is a book I had to read my freshman year of college and I found myself marking it up constantly without even thinking. The line work and use of breath is fantastic.

Forty Rules of Love, Elif Shafak

My Goodreads review: "Stunningly written and emotionally provocative." To expand a bit, Shafak's writing is stylistically some of the best that I've read. This novel does quite a bit of jumping around--between characters, from one time and place to another. I was especially invested in the characters of the past because they felt so complex in a deeply human way. There's a lot of different things for people of different tastes to appreciate in this one, I think, and, to me, it's worth it to read for the lovely writing alone.

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Danielle Evans

Evans' command of voice, dialogue, and the form of the short story are all not only enjoyable to read, but also an excellent study of craft if you're a writer yourself. This is another one that very much benefits from subsequent readings that let you deepen your understanding of what Evans is pulling off, as well as notice different aspects of the stories themselves.

Bone, Jeff Smith

This is another one of those "right up my alley" ones. It's a huge volume of graphic novel. Fantasy, strong female characters--seeing a pattern here? Thorn and her grandmother are amazing, but Bone is such a wonderful character as well. (Bartleby may be my favorite though. That might be weird. I probably don't care.) It's a great adventure tale that lets you get really invested in the story over a long plot.

Spell on Wheels, Kate Leth + Megan Levens + Marissa Louise

My blog review of this series is here.


So... that ended up being a really, really long post. Which of these would you like to give a try? What are your favorite books?