Category: Reading List

In which I play a bit of catch-up and resist making puns about catsup (barely)

Been a while! I know! I know. I can’t even say I’ve been busy, exactly. There have been things going on, but mostly I am lazy and also avoiding myself. I feel like there are too many screens in my life. I don’t want to blog, I want to look at someone’s face. I want human contact. Or animal contact, though Josie doesn’t care what I have to say and Seb gives me these looks like, lady you are beyond helping. Also how about we go outside and poop now?

(I’ve been trying to teach Seb some bad habits, because he’s old and he should have a little fun. I keep trying to get him to snuggle up next to me on the big Sac, but he won’t. The closest he’ll get is leaning really hard in my direction and breathing his hot dog breath on me. One time I lifted up his enormous paw and put it on the Sac, hoping his body would follow, but then Joe told me to knock it off. It’s a work in progress. I’ll teach this old dog some new goddamn tricks if it kills me.)

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Moving in chronological order, we go back to 2011. I am the laziest blogger ever. 

In October I started keeping track of the books I was reading so I could, like, look back once and month and reflect on what I’d read. Or something. Obviously that didn’t happen, but I have a couple months’ worth of records to review.

From October 8, 2011 to December 22, 2011 I read 21 books. Well, 1 of those was a lit journal (Beecher’s) and two were One Story issues, but the rest were books. A bunch were romances and a bunch were for my sci-fi book club, but some were self-selected. Hands down the best one I read was Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, although I also read We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver) and that was pretty intense and sad and wonderful. But Lemon Cake…oh man. This book! I literally wept when I finished it. I need to read it again, over and over, forever. 

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I submitted one short piece of fiction at the end of 2011 and haven’t heard back about it yet. It’s one of those stories that skews dangerously close to being nonfiction so I feel even more anxious about it than usual.

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Just before Christmas I found out I’d been awarded the Jan-Ai Scholarship to attend the Poetry & Prose Winter Getaway near Atlantic City. It was exciting not only because I got to go to a writers’ retreat for FREE but also because I used some of Clementine as my writing sample. I hear good things about this project from my workshop group, but this was the first time someone who doesn’t know me or the project or my intentions thought it was good (worth awarding me a scholarship!). Validation is awesome, I don’t mind saying it.

The retreat was pretty great. It’s been too long since I spent that much time in the company of writers. I was in a workshop group with some very interesting people, led by Richard Weems. We did a lot of laughing and I also got some really good feedback on my stuff. I bought Richard’s collection Anything He Wants and even though I don’t “know” him, not really, I kept reading it and thinking, “this is so Richard.” 

I got to hear Stephen Dunn read and he signed a book for me. He signed everyone else’s “Best, Stephen Dunn,” or something like that, but mine says, “All my best wishes, Stephen Dunn.” I keep the book next to my bed and sometimes I read a few poems before I go to sleep. Is that too corny to admit? 

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A couple of weeks after the retreat, I had my first public reading in foreverrrrrrrrrr with The New Yinzer and it was pretty great. I read a Clementine arc to a fantastic reception (validation yay!) with two other very talented writers, though all three of us had totally different vibes going on. I felt like an asshole because I was so nervous and my stupid voice was shaking (PULL IT TOGETHER, SELF), but I guess that will only get better with practice. Practice and sustained drinking.

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I GOT COPIES OF MY BOOK AND SHE IS BEAUTIFUL AND AMAZING AND THE STORIES ARE SO GOOD AND, HOT DAMN, STAMPED BOOKS IS AMAZING AND EVERYTHING THEY DO IS FANTASTIC AND EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK IS PERFECT AND WONDERFUL AND I WANT TO HOARD ALL MY COPIES INSTEAD OF SELLING ANY.

I sold 3 at the reading and traded another! So my girl is out there, in the world. She’s going to be at AWP! I am not, but she is. Big Women, Big Girls. Stamped Books. Check it out.

(I love it when people ask me what my book is about and I say, “fat people,” and then they change the subject. But “fat people” isn’t quite right. The experience of a fat body, maybe. Fatness. The stories are about what every story is about – longing, self discovery, identity, relationships, the choices people make when navigating a life – they just happen to be centered mostly around people who are fat. They are not about dieting. Fuck that noise.)

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So far in 2012, I have finished 13 books. One of those books was A Game of Thrones, which I read in 5 days. I’m not usually a fan of fantasy-type books, but I’ve become a bit obsessed. Book 2 is waiting for me at the library. 

I also read Dave Cullen’s Columbine (fucking incredible) and a novel called Ice Fields by Thomas Wharton that I picked up at the book swap at the retreat. I really, really enjoyed it but was dismayed to find out that Thomas Wharton hasn’t written much else. One YA novel, according to the Carnegie Library catalog. Thomas Wharton! Please write more! 

I also read Jason Jordan’s novella The Dying Horse. No big deal, but Jason and I were in the MFA together and I workshopped a bit of this novella in class once. So. You’re welcome, literary community. Jason is one of those writers who I feel like has his Shit Together and is constantly blogging and writing and publishing and being cool and making me feel bad about myself. When I grow up, I want to be Jason Jordan, luxurious beard and all.

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I guess that’s it? 

Clementine is coming along. I am chugging my way through her arcs, bit by bit. For better or for worse, I’ve become very attached to her. I already changed one ending so that she comes out on top. I need to watch out – the Clementine story is inherently sad. She can’t win every time. But I love her. I want her to be happy. I know, I know, “kill your darlings.” I will. I do. But sometimes… Sometimes I just want to be her champion and protect her from harm. 

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Some links:

Mystery Lovers bookstore is closing

Mark Twain declares interview “pure twaddle.” 
(I had this attraction to old, curmudgeonly men. Not a sexual thing, but a very special fondness. Jim Harrison makes my heart race. Mark Twain hits all my buttons. I work for a guy who gives them both a run for their money and I adore him unceasingly.)

Dear Sugar unveiled!!! (also the first Dear Sugar was revealed to have been Steve Almond. I have both met Steve Almond in meatspace and written to Dear Sugar Steve Almond. He gave me great advice. I waffled a while and then I took his advice and it was the right thing to do. Thanks, Steve Almond.) 

Library in Utah lends “human books” (this is too awesome, stop it)

If famous writers had written Twilight… 

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In which I brag and complain, muse and rant.

Back when I was a happy-go-lucky MFA student with no cares in the world and no idea how horrible it would be to graduate and leave the MFA community – however infuriating it was at times – behind, a member of my thesis board suggested that I take up blogging. Of course I was already blogging, lonesome egomaniac that I am, but he really encouraged me to keep it up. Good for discipline! Keep yourself sharp!

I don’t remember how much I followed his advice (sharp!) and I’m too lazy to go check (discipline!), but I’m sure it wasn’t a lot back then and it’s not much now. In my defense, I have been writing a fair bit elsewhere. Also in my defense, so what?

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I came across this blog post recently (ish) and it struck a chord with me:

I have a very controversial opinion that has made me somewhat unpopular among my writer friends and it is this: if you don’t subscribe to at least five lit journals while you’re trying to get published in lit journals, then you’re a literary parasite.

— Wendy Wimmer, Why writers are parasites… (emphasis original)

So, on the one hand, I take real exception to her flippancy regarding reasons why writers don’t, in her opinion, support the journals they submit to. Some of us are not typing away on Mac Books. Some of us do not have a $4 hipster latte budget. Some of us receive food stamps. You know? Maybe Wendy is doing awesome and her life is great – good for her! – but her asshole attitude really bugs me. Maybe it’s not her opinion that makes her unpopular, maybe it’s the jerky way she makes people who are poor feel like shit for being poor. (And aren’t writers supposed to be ridiculously, stupidly poor? Isn’t this the lifestyle?)

On the other hand – oh my god, am I a parasite? I mean, I read things online, but is that enough? Am I one of the spoiled, unsupportive, entitled writers she’s talking about? I don’t want to be a parasite! Wendy, forgive me!

Now I’m being flip, but it did spur me to look at all of the calls for submissions I’d tagged as possibilities and look into what subscriptions cost. It’s possible this grew into an Excel spreadsheet. That’s how I roll! There are, of course, more journals I want to subscribe to than I can afford, but Christmas is coming…

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I got my first rejection of 2011! Actually my only rejection of 2011. For the only story I submitted in 2011. Writing a lot, editing a bit, submitting almost not at all. Anyway, Fairy Tale Review will not be taking my story, but I did get a very, very nice rejection out of it. This is the second time I’ve gotten a warm rejection of this story – “The Wild Boy,” one of my heavily reworked Thesis stories – from a journal I like, so hopefully that’s a good sign. It’s a completely different beast from the one that appeared in my collection. A better beast.

We’ll see where he ends up. Maybe 2012 is my year?

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The last great book I read was Serena, by Ron Rash. I’d read another of his novels, Saints at the River, and liked it but didn’t love it. Serena I loved. I loved the way Rash evokes place, and the way Serena goes from a little odd to discomfiting to whole-heartedly evil. I loved the language of the book. It was a great read.

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My book should be coming out soon! Soon! Eventually! When it does I will throw a huge party celebrating myself and the whole world is invited. My mom bought, like, 10 copies and I assume she’s going to pass them out to the relatives and, oh boy, won’t they all be surprised to find that one story is non-stop sex, dirty graphic sex, start to finish? My dad, I think, will not be able to read this book. I think it will be like that summer when I wore a bathing suit top that was perhaps a bit low-cut and he refused to look in my direction. Sorry, Dad. Maybe let’s skip this one? Maybe let’s have a vanilla ice cream cone? Maybe let’s say I’m still a virgin, I have never so much as thought about kissing a boy?

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I’m working on a new piece! A long piece. My ultimate goal is chapbook. FICTION CHAPBOOK. Why are there so few little presses who will take on fiction manuscripts? Where’s the love? How come poets get to have all the fun? I am determined to conquer this market and show everyone the error of their ways. Fiction chapbook revolution!

Anyway, this new piece. I’m pretty excited about it. Preliminary readings by other people have been really positive. Somehow I tripped into this workshop group that is intensely uplifting and supportive and insightful. It’s split between poems and prose in our little group, and I have to say getting feedback from poets is really awesome. We’re maybe not so different, all of us writers.

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In December, I’ll have been out of the MFA program for two years. Two years! You know I could have taken up to six years to finish and I did it in 2.5? Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I wish I could go back in time and smack myself. Ooh, I would give myself such a talking-to!

“Young lady, go to your room! And don’t come out except to write or go to class or get a book from the library or meet interesting people! I mean it!”

Hindsight, 20/20, etc.

What’s new?

I hate it when people ask me, “what’s new?” It’s lazy questioning, like, “tell me about yourself.” What do you say to that? Even when I do have news I always say, “oh, nothing,” because it’s easier than saying, “well, you know, I’m working on a lot of different projects at work – jeez oh man, that other girl messed up the bills GOOD and I had to unravel all of her work, which took me forever, and also there’s this new restaurant that I want to check out and my cat has been barfing a lot, which doesn’t seem normal, but everything else about her is business as usual so I don’t know how worried I should be, and I’m working on a story that has a lot of sex scenes and I’m debating whether I can say penis and still have it be sexy, or if I should say cock or dick, or if that would take it too smutty, and also I’m eating a lot of canned vegetables because the fresh ones are so expensive and we have no money – oh, but the other day I cashed in all my change at CoinStar and got $18! I bought gas! How cool is that!”

Which is just a long, boring way of saying, “oh, nothing.” And who cares. Really – who cares?

The good news is that this is my space and I can be as boring as I want to be and no one has to care except me a year later when I check back on old entries and think, “oh so that’s what I was up to.” The better news is – I do actually have things going on right now, writing-wise.

First of all, I’ve been writing a lot, mostly little snatched moments here and there but actual full-length stories are coming out of it. I worked on a piece last week that was supposed to be about my neighborhood, a love story between me and the city of Pittsburgh, but it turned into something completely different. It turned into a story about a young woman who feels trapped and overwhelmed and questions her choices and wants to escape her life. I stopped short of naming her Cate, at least. And she has a shitty boyfriend – Joe, of course, is not a shitty boyfriend, in case anyone wants to accuse me of writing non-fiction.

I’m also working on a chapbook MS – well, two, but one is being published for sure, which I’m pretty geeked about. Obviously you’ll have to buy the book and support the press if you want to know more. The stories are not about young women who feel trapped and overwhelmed and question their choices and want to escape their lives. I mean, not all of them.

I finally joined a workshop group! It’s not completely in-line with my needs, but it’s awesome and it feels good to read and think about what other people are writing.

I’m reading like a fiend. I discovered Anita Shreve and I am devouring book after book after book.

I haven’t been doing much (ok, fine, any) submitting. In my defense, 2011 has barely gotten started. Also in my defense, I’m entering a piece in a contest, so that’s something. I have lots of rough stories that need some editing and revising and polish and then I’ll have a whole fleet to unleash on the world. Just wait!

I turned 26. I got a job with benefits. I have, if not a plan, at least an idea. I don’t yet feel like a full adult, but damn if I don’t feel like a writer.

And that’s what’s new.