Friday Reads, or “Project Read My Own Damn Books”—Ella Minnow Pea

So far this year I’ve finished reading five books. I’m pretty pleased with that. I also know I can’t possibly keep up that pace. I’m teaching a class starting next Tuesday, I want to finish my work-in-progress by April 1, and I will need to try to pick up more freelance work in the next couple months if I’m not going to completely deplete my savings. (And I haven’t done my taxes yet. Oy.)

But! Moving on. I’m currently reading three books:

  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • You Should Pity Us Instead by Amy Gustine
  • THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT by Alexander Chee

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Just show up

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”
–Douglas Adams

Sorry, Douglas. You may be one of my favorite writers, but I’m going to have to disagree with you here. Sort of.

I love deadlines, too. I love hitting them, that is. Deadlines keep me honest. They force me to produce even when I’d much rather do something else. Basically, they force me to show up.

I set myself a number of deadlines because I know otherwise I wouldn’t accomplish as much as I want to. Because they’re self-imposed, I’m not really accountable to anyone other than myself. If I don’t send an e-mail or I don’t post to my blog on a regular basis, sure some readers may notice, but it’s doubtful. So maybe I skip a day or a week, and the world doesn’t end.

I’m not writing my next novel to a contract or a deadline either, so if I don’t hit my goal of having a first draft completed by April 1, no one’s going to be tapping their foot wondering where it is or why it’s not done. I could finish the novel in April or May or June and no one would be any the wiser that I’d let that deadline go whooshing by.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

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Friday Reads, or Project “Read My Own Damn Books”

Like I mentioned earlier, my goal this year is to read some of the books I already own. I have a bad book-buying habit that is not matched by my book-reading habit—I always manage to find a book at the library that must be read right now or an e-book on sale that I can’t pass up. Not this year. I’ve got books already, and I’m going to read them.

Right now, I’m reading Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai, but first here’s what I’ve finished this year so far:

  1. The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  2. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
  3. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man: A Memoir by Bill Clegg

I’ve already started and set aside one book that I just wasn’t feeling, but let’s not dwell on that. Here’s the thing: I’m not a professional reviewer. I only finish the books I enjoy, and if I don’t enjoy one, I’m not going to waste the oxygen talking about it. Critical reviews have their place; this isn’t one of them.

Even if it were, I couldn’t say a negative thing about Parable of the Sower, which I started in December over the holidays and finished this month. If you haven’t read anything by the late Octavia Butler and you enjoy science fiction, dystopia, and/or YA, pick up this book:

When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death Lauren Olamina, a minister’s young daughter, loses her family and home and ventures out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny… and the birth of a new faith.

I’ll confess, I’m going to make an exception to my “read my own damn books” rule when the sequel, Parable of the Talents, is available at the library. I only wish Ms. Butler were still with us to write more fantastic stories like this.

A queen, an abyss, and planet 9 from outer space

The Queen of the NightThose are just three of the things that have been keeping me from playing in traffic this week.

1. If you’re awaiting Alexander Chee’s new novel, The Queen of the Night, as eagerly as I am, drop everything and go over here right now to read the first chapter. It’s been a heck of a long time since Edinburgh came out, and I’m pretty confident this book will have been worth the wait.

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What I’ve been reading: talented friends, memoir, and social media

I’m a runner. I started running when I was fifteen and except for a recurring back injury, I haven’t stopped since. So my friend Jane Campbell’s essay at Hazlitt on running, pain, and persevering when you just want to end it (spoilers: it’s about more than just running) was a breathtakingly awesome read.

Meanwhile, over at The Awl, my friend Nicole Boyce writes about the commodification of nostalgia, an event called 90sFest, and delivers this awesome line: “(W)e were being marketed to, but not necessarily duped. And for the first time, I felt real nostalgia: not for Rugrats or Steve Madden shoes, but for a time when I was less skeptical about buying the experiences I love.”

And while we’re on the topic of personal essays, this article on memoir, taboos, and trust was gripping and useful reading for me. I tread this line whether I’m working on fiction or nonfiction, and even if I’m making something up, it seems a given that someone will think it actually happened.

I teach a workshop at St. Louis Community College on social media for writers (there is an irony in there, but I’m not sure if it’s real irony or the Alanis Morrissette version). A couple of articles I’m going to recommend this year are this one: “Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work” and this one: “Wait, Keep Talking: Author Self-Promo That Actually Works”. It basically boils down to be yourself but don’t be me me me all the time, lift other people up, and don’t do it if you don’t want to. But still, go read them because there’s more to it than that.

Whenever I have periods where I can’t keep up my momentum, I seem to come across things that help stoke the furnace. This comic, for one. This article, as well. Rejection comes with the territory, and it’s (usually) never personal, even if it feels personal to us. Reconnect with what you love about what you do: crafting the sentence with exactly the right number of words, getting the color of the sky just right, landing the punchline. Whatever it is, don’t let go of that.

Where do the stories go?

I think the question I get asked most often as a writer is “where do you get your ideas?” And my answer to that is always “Costco. They sell them in bulk.”

Here’s the question I ask other writers most often, especially after I read one of their recently published stories: how did you hear about that magazine?

Writing the story and revising it—and then revising it again, and one more time, then shoving it in a drawer and saying “you’re dead to me” before pulling it out a month later and saying “I promise to treat you better,” then revising it again, and thinking maybe, maybe it’s done—

Wait, where was I? Oh, right. Writing and revising are perhaps the hardest parts, but then figuring out what to do with the thing once it’s finished is a different kind of quandary. Where do you send it?

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Hump day happy, Midweek Refuel Edition

Lately I’ve felt like my tank is running kind of low, you know? Like everything I do is tired or worn out or not so fresh. So I’ve been refueling with stories, and not just the ones that I read on the page or on the screen. For the last couple years I’ve really not been watching much TV at all, but recently I binge-watched Don’t Trust the B— in Apt. 23 and am kind of hooked on Krysten Ritter, so when Netflix basically preloaded the first episode of Jessica Jones, I said why not? Yep, hooked again. It doesn’t hurt that David Tennant is also on it, even if he’s completely evil.

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