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)!