I’m on a poetry kick lately. Since getting back to work, my sense of creative feeling has been reignited once more (what I had hoped would happen). After 3 or so weeks within returning I was hit with my next short story idea, and I’ve even begun to inch my way back to the poorly neglected 3rd draft of my novel.
As I stated in this previous blog, I don’t identify as a poet. I appreciate the medium, immensely. I will never fully understand poetry. I will never truly be able to express it properly, but I do enjoy it.
Which got me thinking, when did this appreciation start? In my youth, I recall being the weird one in class, happy to seek out Poe with total enthusiasm (still do, truth be told) and Frost, and Yeats, etc. Although, I don’t mean to misrepresent myself, my knowledge within the realm of poetry is decidedly shallow. If you will, I posses the “greatest hits” of poetry references.
But when? I saw the latest trailer for IT 2, soon to be released (and for which I am very excited) and the memory hit me like lighting. The first poem I ever read and fully understood was found in one of my favorite novels, IT, by Stephen King.
Let me clarify, I was reading full-length adult novels at a young age. Looking back on my childhood, I know see evidence for hyperlexia, an ability to decode symbols (letters and/or numbers) at a young age. It has nothing to do with intelligence (we think, hyperlexia is not a recognized disorder but the evidence is mounting) but it is a handy skill, like having a photographic memory. IT was published September 1986, making me a few months shy of 6 years. I believe I read IT sometime between ages 9 – 10 at my public library. I remember clearly IT, the novel, taking awhile to get through because first, the book is massive, but more to the point, I had to traverse 20 or so minutes of walking to get to my local library every day – as a child I wasn’t allowed to check out those novels, or some such silly rule. But, I could not be stopped from coming in and reading.
What inspired me the most about the haiku, and allowed me to retain it, was the poem’s beautiful simplicity. The haiku is written by Ben Hanscom’s character to his crush, Beverly Marsh, in the novel IT:
Your hair is winter fire,
My heart burns there too.
Goddammit, isn’t that beautiful? And creative? And passionate? And to the point? And perfectly encapsulated in 17 syllables? While other readers may take these 3-lines for granted, I’m over here getting my brain wrecked.
I will never be able to do that, write a poem like that. This poem incorporates the seasons, temperatures, and physical characteristics as it relates to feelings for another human being sincerely, almost effortlessly. This is the kind of creativity people take for granted, that’s how easily understood and relatable this 3-line poem is. Kind of like how people bitch when their latest and greatest, shiny gadget isn’t as fast as they think is should be. We take these gifts of human creativity for granted and it pisses me off.
No one can write their same story twice. If I were to lose my novel is some freak digital accident of irreversible circumstance, I would have the basics of my work, I would have the core of the story, but the retelling could never be the same.
Sigh. This blog is turning into an unintended rant. I just wanted to point out that inspiration often comes in surprising forms. There’s no way I could have expected to be inspired by a poem, found in a classic horror novel (made over in movie form a few times), that would, in fact, influence my own work. Three lines and 17 syllables worth of inspiration. I sometimes ask myself, is my work saying what I need it to say? Am I using the best forms of expression with the least amount of words?
“My heart burns there too.” Damn it. I feel like I’ve been waiting to hear those words all my life, not just read them.
How the hell did King evoke that? Was he trying? Total accident? Only he would know.
There are several examples of writers who dabble in poetry within the context of their fiction. Look at Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Tolkien loaded his work with poetry, he was known for it. Look at George RR Martin and Game of Thrones, poetry and verse are easily found. And those are just the ones that came to mind without trying.
What was an unexpected source of inspiration for you? What surprising element has stayed with you? Spoken to you while working? Share your thoughts.
*This blog contains adult themes.
“I disregard the proportions, the measures, the tempo of the ordinary world. I refuse to live in the ordinary world as ordinary women, To enter ordinary relationships. I want ecstasy. I am a neurotic—in the sense that I live in my world. I will not adjust myself to the world. I am adjusted to myself.”
“Had I not created my whole world. I would certainly have died in other people’s.”
Erotica (noun): literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire.
I decided not to tease out the acclaimed erotica versus the quick-and-dirty popular reads, which was my first inclination. There is an ocean of difference between the literary-based erotica and the stuff that’s just…well…hot. I want to share a healthy mix of both and let you discover which is which. It’s more fun that way, no? Although, the titles being what they are, it’s pretty easy to discern.
I’m going to refrain (or try to refrain) from delivering my two-cents on why a particular read works for me, or doesn’t. Just know, these erotica pieces have left an impression on me and, I believe, are worth sharing. These titles are not ranked, simply listed.
Emmanuelle by Emmanuelle Arsan
A young woman discovers the boundless potential of her sexuality in this “lyrical and graphic” international bestselling classic novel of joyful eroticism (NPR).
It begins with nineteen-year-old Emmanuelle’s flight from London to join her husband in Bangkok. On the airplane, she is seduced by the passenger seated next to her. By the time they land, she has indulged her irrepressible and insatiable sexual appetite, embarking on an odyssey of hedonistic sensual discovery that takes her from the arms of her husband to intimate encounters with the wives of his business associates, to further explorations wherein the philosophical and aesthetic facets of eroticism are expounded—and enacted—to the fullest degree.
Little Birds by Anais Nin
Evocative and superbly erotic, Little Birds is a powerful journey into the mysterious world of sex and sensuality. From the beach towns of Normandy to the streets of New Orleans, these thirteen vignettes introduce us to a covetous French painter, a sleepless wanderer of the night, a guitar-playing gypsy, and a host of others who yearn for and dive into the turbulent depths of romantic experience.
Delta of Venus by Anais Nin
In Delta of Venus, Anais Nin pens a lush, magical world where the characters of her imagination possess the most universal of desires and exceptional of talents. Among these provocative stories, a Hungarian adventurer seduces wealthy women then vanishes with their money; a veiled woman selects strangers from a chic restaurant for private trysts; and a Parisian hatmaker named Mathilde leaves her husband for the opium dens of Peru.
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
An international best-seller with more than one million copies in print and a winner of France’s Prix Goncourt, The Lover has been acclaimed by critics all over the world since its first publication in 1984.
Set in the prewar Indochina of Marguerite Duras’s childhood, this is the haunting tale of a tumultuous affair between an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover. In spare yet luminous prose, Duras evokes life on the margins of Saigon in the waning days of France’s colonial empire, and its representation in the passionate relationship between two unforgettable outcasts.
The Sleeping Beauty series* (a total of four novels) by Anne Rice
It is an ancient story, one that originally emerged from and still deeply disturbs the mind’s unconscious. Now Anne Rice, writing as A.N. Roquelaure, retells the Beauty story and probes the unspoken implications of this lush, suggestive tale by exploring its undeniable connection to sexual desire. Here the Prince awakens Beauty, not with a kiss, but with sexual initiation. His reward for ending the hundred years of enchantment is Beauty’s complete and total enslavement to him . . . as Anne Rice explores the world of erotic yearning and fantasy in a classic that becomes, with her skillful pen, a compelling experience.
*Hot. I tried to refrain, and failed. The Sleeping Beauty series is of the quick-and-dirty variety but well done nevertheless.
Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 5 (an anthology)
These sexy stories offer up wild, hot and steamy tales from today’s top authors. You’ll be swept away by the sexiest business deal ever, break the rules in a future world where skin on skin contact is forbidden, and discover the art of getting off by phone sex.
From threesomes to mermaid sex, fetishes, sex parties and much more, these authors steam up the pages with tales of trysts, love, and lust where nothing is held back. If you’re looking to escape from the everyday and discover what happens when women are ready to get totally outrageous, this book is for you.
Panic Snap (FYI – considered “dark erotica”) by Laura Reese
The accused murderess in a sensational trial, Carly Tyler waits outside a California courtroom as a jury decides her fate: Is she the depraved Madame de Sade of the newspaper headlines or the innocent victim of one wealthy family’s gothic past? Left for dead by the side of a road fifteen years earlier, she emerged from a coma with no memory and a face completely altered by the plastic surgery need to repair her injuries. Who is she and what happened to her? The trail leads her to a magnificent vineyard and its mysterious owner, James McGuane, a man of wealth and immense sexual charisma who holds the key to her past. But to unlock it, she must risk her life on a terrifying erotic journey that tears apart a dynasty and reveals the truth about an appalling murder.
The Story of O* by Pauline Reage
How far will a woman go to express her love? In this exquisite novel of passion and desire, the answer emerges through a daring exploration of the deepest bonds of sensual domination. “O” is a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer, determined to understand and prove her consuming devotion to her lover, René, through complete submission to his every whim, his every desire.
It is a journey of forbidden, dangerous choices that sweeps her through the secret gardens of the sexual underground. From the inner sanctum of a private club where willing women are schooled in the art of subjugation to the excruciating embraces of René’s friend Sir Stephen, O tests the outermost limits of pleasure. For as O discovers, true freedom lies in her pure and complete willingness to do anything for love.
*Not my favorite but is considered a classic. I do enjoy it’s more literary characteristics. I just don’t respond well to typical female-submission stories. The female perspective is so awkwardly stunted and disengaged. The Story of O is cliche but a classic cliche.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover* by D.H. Lawrence
Lawrence’s frank portrayal of an extramarital affair and the explicit sexual explorations of its central characters caused this controversial book, now considered a masterpiece, to be banned as pornography until 1960.
*Bit of a drudge but has its moments.
BONUS! Erotic Movie Recommendations:
Secretary, director Steven Shainberg
I love this movie. I’ve watched it many times and I always seem to find something new in it. I thoroughly understand Lee Halloway’s character (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) and even Edward Grey’s character (James Spader). Lee Halloway’s eye contact at the end, though. Understanding who she is and thriving in that understanding: Hot.
Body Heat, director Lawrence Kasdan
I can’t believe I only saw this movie for the first time this past September. It was definitely a Netflix and chill night. I thought, ‘Kathleen Turner? An 80s classic? How have I not seen this?’ The movie itself is okay but it’s THAT scene (sorry y’all, it’s the best clip I could find) that actually inspired my poem, Pulse. My brain went: WORDS, WRITE WORDS NOW. I’m such a dork, that would be my brain’s response. It’s not a sex scene and it’s not a love scene, it’s erotica, the best of both worlds. I doubt a scene like that will ever be made again.
9 1/2 Weeks, director Adrian Lyne
A sad classic. To pursue, to possess, and still lose in the end. An erotic journey even so.
I’m soon to begin a new reading adventure, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Feel free to share your favorites. Recommendations are always welcome.
In an upcoming vlog, I plan to discuss what the genre means to me and how I hope to express myself in erotica as a writer.
As I enter a new season for publication submissions I am hit with regret.
Some time ago, I made the classic mistake – utterly classic mistake – of choosing the practical over the passion.
My passion was writing, always, and I talked myself out of it. I talked myself out of a life of passion.
Not many people are blessed with an early understanding of what they want to do with their lives. I had that early knowledge and I turned my back on it.
Instead of working towards a degree in writing, I chose psychology and counseling. The subject engaged me but ultimately did not sustain me.
We’re taught not to trust our passion. What ignites us involves flame and flame is dangerous. Fire spreads, burning quickly, and snuffs out. That’s how we’re taught to view passion. Passion burns brightly…until it doesn’t.
But the practical, that’s safe. Right? The practical doesn’t hurt you. The practical, we’re told, is stable, reliable, safe, predictable.
I’ve learned something in that the practical decisions are the biggest tricksters of all. The practical robs you of precious time. Time, once spent, cannot be recovered. When I had to face the reality of my very practical life choice, I realized 10 years of my life had gone. It’s a fact I have to own. 10 years in a career where I was relatively comfortable, skilled, making reliable money, making advances in my professional goals only to feel tired and unhappy by the end of it.
The irony was realizing just how much of my time and resourcefulness went into a career I was more or less only a little happy to pursue. While in college, I worked full-time during the day, going to school at night, partaking in nearly two years of unpaid internships, renting a 425 sq ft studio apartment on the questionable side of town so I could have a shot at making ends meet…I wonder how far I would have made it as a writer had I made the same sacrifices to a field I was genuinely excited about. But no. I, like many before me, were told, “you can’t make a living out of that,” and “it’s not realistic, after you graduate you’ll have more bills to pay, working multiple jobs just so you can write at night?” and my favorite, “you ever heard of the starving artist?” And I let the well-intended and fear-based advice worm its way into my mind.
Should choosing passion burn you, at least it is done so quickly. If a passion is not meant for you, you learn sooner rather than later. Take the risk. At least you won’t wake up one day wondering how this thing you once worked so hard for took 10 years of your life, feeling more on the side of empty rather than full.
When the passion is right, it sustains. Healthy passion is sustaining because it is stabilizing in nature – healthy passion gives back what you put into it. No one told me that in the years I needed to hear it most, I don’t think it’s advice one hears generally. Not enough people are willing to take the chance to find out for themselves. What most people think (I believe) a life of passion looks like is one that is selfish, inevitably burning out at both ends. This is the unhealthy passion most are acquainted with. But I promise you, burning at both ends is as exhausting (mayhap less so) as choosing a decade of practical living, like I did.
But, a healthy passion gives back. That was my hard lesson learned. That’s why passion’s call is so damned potent and people yearn for it. Seems to me the promise of a lifelong, sustaining passion is worth a few burns. When you find a passion that sustains you there’s nothing like it. When I sit down to write, when I truly bury myself in words, I can recall thoughts and feelings I hadn’t experienced in years. I need to express those thoughts and feelings without caution or filters, without fear or influence. Where else but writing could I possibly do that?
I have a visual analogy for passion, Jessica Rabbit:
Jessica Rabbit is an excellent representation of that sort of standard, societal view of passion: too good to be true, the passion burns too bright, don’t trust it, it will hurt you in the end. Jessica Rabbit is surely too hot and talented to be married to that goofball Roger Rabbit. The thought, ‘He’s gonna get burned by that one and Roger Rabbit shoulda known better.’ Meanwhile Roger Rabbit is living life, happily married to that knockout.
Opting for the practical applies to many of life’s situations, of course it does. How else would any of us get anything done otherwise? I guess my point is not to stay stuck in that mode, not to stay stuck in either mode, really, as operating solely in one category is neither smart, safe, nor healthy. Balance is the key. When and how do you choose?
I’ve made the mistake of opting for the practical when my guts (and heart) have all but screamed the contrary. The times I’ve chosen healthy passion I was led to good things, sometimes great. The times I recall choosing unhealthy passion, I did, indeed, get burned.
In truth, I’ve chosen practical relationships and got burned there too. The difference when in comparing the practical and the passionate, at least in my mind, is that of damage: immediate versus long-term.
I suppose with every burn, you learn. You learn what healthy desire and healthy passion is and that this thing, this career, this person that captivates you, you understand now is worth the fight, the struggle, and having to put up with the endless two-cent contributions from the naysayers.
I still hear it from the naysayers, by the way, and will until the day my novel is published, and even then I wonder. Here’s a small sample of what I’ve heard in the past two years:
“Writing? Are you serious? Do you know what the odds of being published are?”
*Starts and maintains a blog, gets noticed by a publisher.*
*Gets two short stories published in three books.*
“Yeah, well, it’s not your book. I mean good job and all that but don’t get your hopes up.”
*Gets hired to write a couple of articles.*
“Great, all I’m saying is don’t get your hopes up. And it’s still not your novel so…”
*Gets more requests for story submissions.*
“Still not your novel…”
Perhaps regret is too strong a word, and yet the definition seems to fit. I do know I have a lot to learn about writing. I catch on fast enough but the experience I need to gain is daunting. I keep thinking about all the experience I could have accumulated as a writer by now had I dedicated myself to the work earlier. I can’t get back the time lost but I’m sure as hell not contributing to the waste of it. Not anymore. The clock’s been reset.
Struggle exists in all things – know what’s worth struggling for.
It’s never too late to restart the clock.
True passion is sustainable, I know that now. I hope you do too.
Go after your Jessica Rabbit.
I feel a mixture of admiration and disdain for writers who say, ‘I write for two hours everyday,’ or something of the like. I believe if you are a writer then you will make time to write, period. Proof is ultimately in the published pudding but for most people, I believe, if you can say you make a dedicated practice of writing, be it once a day or once a week, then you are still making some progress in the craft rather than none at all.
When Stephen King states he writes everyday without fail, I believe it. The man has the impossible, yet somehow possible, publishing rate to back it up. But as someone who identifies as a writer, the thought of sitting down to my desk and forcing myself to write, even when I don’t want to, makes me miserable. I could only imagine churning out garbage and for what? the sake of it? Not worth it, says this humble blogger (and published author of the short-story “Snowbound“). Sorry for that cheeky plug but if not me then who?
When I started working on my novel, Ruth Rises, it was easy to sit down for hours on end and all that lovely, dedicated desk discipline was a no-brainer. The first time I edited my novel, the same; it was equal parts thrilling and embarrassing to reread my raw material. And by the second read through, it became a drudge. I knew editing would be my weakness in terms of keeping my interest fresh (still is in all honesty).
After sending out nearly 40 agent queries (receiving equal parts rejection and no-replies) I decided to back-off the book for awhile. I concluded I needed a new approach to the query process and Ruth needed more editing. On this last point, I received some outside perspective regarding Ruth’s word length; no debut novel should be presented as 120,000 words even if it’s not total crap. Present the gutted version of your novel first and if it needs fattening, let the agent tell you so. Great advice and yet I let the book sit. Stephen King also advised taking six months between your finished novel and its editing. I see now why that breathing room is necessary. You’re close to that recently completed novel and cannot clearly see where it needs gutting. You think all your material is relevant – it’s not.
Having taken a break from Ruth Rises, I see it not only with fresh eyes but with critical eyes too. I’ve cut my novel like it owes me money, plus interest.
Editing is still a drudge although I’ve learned to counter it – edit in public. I discovered this little trick by accident. When I’m alone in my home office, I have all the quiet and self-containment I could possibly want, ideal for writing original content without disruption. But this kind of uninterrupted quiet is counterproductive (at least for me) when I edit. I overthink every sentence, paragraph, and chapter. I will get hung up on the most inconsequential dialogue between characters for hours.
Thinking I needed a change of scenery, I took my work to my local Starbucks (always packed) and bam! the editing monster in me took over. I made decisions in seconds that would have taken hours were I at home. I cut whole paragraphs and even pages. Material I suspected may be useful later, but was not terribly helpful to the current scene, was extracted onto a new document and saved for potential use elsewhere.
I am wonderfully introverted and all that energy-sapping noise and commotion actually moved my thought process along as I was focusing harder on the bigger picture and not the minute details. That was a nice surprise.
Having given myself that much needed space between my last round of queries to my now current efforts has really reinvigorated my writing efforts, and not just in editing. I say, if you’re a writer and if you feel that almost crippling guilt for not writing every moment you’ve scheduled it, forgive yourself. There is something in writing because you WANT TO and not just because you’ve planned it. Sometimes your work just needs to be organic and schedules aren’t exactly conducive to creativity.
If it has been too long since you’ve written, check in with yourself. Ask yourself what’s going on.
As for me, I know I need to plan editing because while it doesn’t require much originality, it is rather tedious. In this regard, I find keeping to a planned schedule helpful.
What are your writing habits? What writing habits have evolved or surprised you over time?
Growing up, imagination was a lot like Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon’s views on magic, ‘There’s no such thing as…’ Use of imagination was either silly or dangerous.
I’m not sure when I started writing, but I was young. Writing helped me resolve issues or explore feelings I wasn’t otherwise able to express. I noted in a previous blog that I grew up eating through my emotions as neither my mother or father were comfortable with anger, sadness, or my ever present anxiety. Writing let me figure out my feelings as I recreated situations I had experienced at school or at home, as I wrote out the dialogue for the characters, it sometimes helped me to work out what happened and why.
Those precious, fledgling paragraphs grew longer as the years passed. The subject matter changed, expressions grew. I always described my efforts in writing as a hobby, nothing more. It wasn’t until 2016 that I determined to get the book inside of my head out and into the world. Two years later, I’m given the opportunity to publish a small piece, an excerpt from my book into an anthology, Texas’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction, and I’m over the moon. It’s not much, a three page contribution on my part and from over 40 other contributing authors, but it’s a stepping stone to something more. This means something to me. To a writer, having even a small piece published is like that artist that makes their first sale with a painting or a photo. It’s confirmation of artistic direction and justification of time and money spent. A small first step but a tangible one nonetheless.
Imagine the past that inspired the work. Imagine the sincerity of effort put in by the artist to bring their work to life. Imagine friends and family (those few not estranged from you) pledge their support to your cause and cheer you on. You finally deliver proof of your efforts and suddenly the support takes a hiatus.
I’ve gotten a lot of “Well, that’s great and all but it’s not really your book, is it? I mean, I’ll buy a copy of your book when it’s published but I’m not spending anything for a few pages you wrote.” Too many people have made this speech, or some variation of it, and I’m shocked to realize that people seem to think:
1) publishing is incredibly easy
2) since she hasn’t been published yet, her book must be really bad
3) the three pages of her story that are being printed must be the parts that don’t suck
4) I’ll compensate not buying the anthology at $11.26 (Amazon) by inviting her to send a copy of it to me for FREE and then I’ll read it
5) because for some reason I believe she gets unlimited copies of the book for free.
I’m not making this up. I’ve had several people tell me they will not buy the book my short story is featured in (in other words, not support me) because it’s not my book but just a few pages. Ohh, but I’ve also been invited to go ahead and send him/her a copy and then they’ll read it for sure. Essentially, it’s on me to buy all these copies and send them out so it will get read. People, I got one free copy of the book and even then it was a PDF.
When you buy a piece of art, a short story perhaps, you buy the history that comes with it; all the struggle and work it took to get into that modest publication, but publication even so. When you purchase the work you tell the artist that they are worthwhile, that your support for them goes well beyond the generic “You can do it!” slogans and says, “I genuinely believe in you and what you’re trying to do, don’t give up. Small steps lead to full strides.”
To date, only one person I know is getting a copy for free. When this person signed up to become a beta reader for my novel, Ruth, where “Snowbound,” my short story, was extracted from, he actually finished it and provided notes. Now that’s support.
If you find yourself in the position of having support that isn’t really, it’s on you to recall that a writer writes – always. A painter paints – always. A singer sings, a musician plays, and so on. I knew going in that I was writing a novel that may never see the light of day, I wrote it for me first and foremost. I had a goal to accomplish with or without support and I knew that – any artist should know that before venturing out. Bear in mind though, for any artist, support, especially any kind of purchasing support, no matter how small, is a monument in contribution.
Texas’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction
Our “Emerging Writers” publications are part of an experimental series designed to match readers looking for new voices with up-and-coming authors looking to widen their reader base. We like to refer to publications in this series as “sampler platters” of writers and genres, such that readers can quickly and efficiently discover talented authors they may otherwise have never heard of as well as compelling genres they may never have given a shot before. In Texas’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction, Texas’s most promising up-and-coming authors have the chance to share their own words. Covering a wide array of genres ranging from literary fiction to satire, mystery, comedy, science fiction, and more, these young talents will amaze you. Containing one story per writer, this anthology is a compelling introduction to the great wordsmiths of tomorrow.
And that’s my TED Talk.
Like last time…
***This blog is NOT meant to be a review of any of the following titles listed.
These are surface opinions or walkaway impressions – AT BEST. If you’re taking the following information as a review – don’t. I warned you, this blog is not a review of the books mentioned. The following descriptions are my upfront thoughts, nothing more. If you’re offended, you’ve read way too much into the blurb.***
YA / C / Fa
Fantasy indeed. Realms of magic, intrigue, murder plots, paranoia, socioeconomic diversification, and all underground, literally the story takes place underground. Lots going on in this young adult / children’s fantasy novel, perhaps too much. As interesting as the novel is, the book is packed with so many different concepts that the pace had to take a hit in order to accommodate it all. Just when you wrap your mind around some new magical thing, something else comes along that is equally grand, odd or downright weird. The author shifts the main character ever onward, and to me, the book as a whole, comes across fast-paced by design. The flow of the book is not organic, more like contrived. It left me with mixed impressions.
F / Th / My
A favorite author of mine for a reason. After completing this novel, I, and others were asking, ‘How did he get into the minds of women like that? In the minds of a pregnant woman and a desperate-to-be pregnant woman?’ No slight meant, it is a rare thing to read a female character and not know immediately that it was written by a man, and vice versa. That’s fine, that’s one of the many benefits of being a writer, you get to explore those characters that in no way resemble your demographic. But every now and then, I’ll read a character written by an opposite sex author and I think, ‘How the heck did he/she do that?’ Jessie Burlingame’s character in Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King. Harry Potter’s character from the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. Clarice Starling’s character from The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris. Michael Robotham takes on the mindset of not one but two female leads, Agatha and Meghan. The Secrets She Keeps is an intense mystery and psychological thriller and Robotham, in my opinion, is one of the best modern authors of the genre. Just read the darn thing.
F / Ro
Okay so, this story had the potential for a serious plot twist but fell flat. I don’t know what happened as the novel read like it was building up to a serious confrontation between the main characters but instead tidies up into a clean well-that-all-worked-out-nicely summary. Disappointed. The most interesting character was Saskia, probably because she posed the most tension. The other two leads, Ellen and Patrick, well, Ellen was lukewarm as a character but at least she had a pulse. Patrick, Ellen’s romantic interest, is a slob as well as a bore. I surprised myself with this purchase as I’m not big on romance novels. If I remember correctly, a blurb I read got my attention as there was an allusion to a potentially deadly plot twist in the novel. Let me save you the time – there wasn’t one.
F / HF / Cu
I love a good piece of historical, immersive fiction. Sometimes I reach for that novel that can take me out of my country, my culture and my time. The author herself bests summarizes The Tea Girl, “The new novel is about an Akha ethnic-minority girl in Yunnan, China, who gives birth to a daughter and abandons herna. The baby is then adopted by an American family in Pasadena. I always have a historical backdrop. This time it’s the birthplace of tea and the Akha ethnic minority. The novel is completely immersive in the way that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was immersive in the Yao culture of Hunan.”
Ho / F / Fa
Not a King favorite. Concept – awesome. Buildup – awesome. Characters – mixed bunch but mostly awesome. Ending – fell flat. The concept of all women being made to fall into an endless slumber, a global phenomenon, is really quite unique. I also enjoyed reading about the imagined fallout of such a reality. But the imaginings were brief. I wish there was more of that, more global scale realities. Unfortunately, the reader is subjected to the perspectives that come from a meth-riddled, small town. The location, and the characters in it, felt like a yoke I couldn’t cast off. I wanted a broader perspective. I see the necessity of a small town, to try and contain the chaos, but truly, I would have liked this same scenario in a city where undoubtedly there would be demonstration of larger-scale consequences. Then the book just sort of wrapped up. Done. Everything back to normal. There was no real understanding that something was learned despite all women being made to sleep and many killed by confused, scared, or generally violent males. Again, lacking a broader perspective despite the world being affected. If this were a trilogy, I think the novel would have more room to breathe, more room to explore itself.
Memoir / Mental Health
Definitely some editing issues on the Kindle version. The ebook needs an update. I decided to take a break from my usual fiction to see if this guy’s life was a crazy and messed up as advertised. Yeah it was. There’s something comforting in knowing you can read about someone’s rather bizarre life while simultaneously feeling better about your own. This is a bare-all memoir, no stone unturned. It must of taken a lot of will power to sit at his computer and bleed his truth out. “On Tuesday, I was a respected civil trial lawyer making six-figures. On Wednesday, I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed … and then it got worse.”
F / Th / Sus / My
The major twist, for me, was obvious. I hate saying that. Maybe I’ve read too many thrillers and suspense novels over the years but my radar pinged immediately. So I kept reading, thinking maybe the twist I was imagining was just a red herring and, oh boy, won’t I be surprised when the twist isn’t what I think it is. Nope. It was exactly what I thought it was. All other little twists and side twists were equally obvious. I’m not trying to be rude, this was my experience. Also, I couldn’t align myself with the lead, Nellie. It didn’t help that I found the nickname to be ridiculous. I don’t think I could ever liken myself to a nervous, twitchy horse. I don’t know, I just couldn’t relate to the main character and if I can’t do that, I’m not likely to enjoy what I’m reading.
F / HF / Cu
Fate sometimes dresses up as coincidence and sometimes coincidence dresses up as fate. In any case, life is not fair but sometimes we’re given chances. That’s Panchinko: hopeful, hopeless, heartbreaking, redeeming, complicated. Panchinko is a beautiful and enraging metaphor: we hold out for luck, but the game is ever so slightly rigged. You never really win, you just get a little better at playing the game. Aside from the greater meaning, the historical dynamic between the Japanese and the Koreans is so richly portrayed I found myself identifying as a Korean immigrant chafing against the injustices of a hostile Japan without even trying.
F / WF
I would like to read women’s fiction that doesn’t just cover the stereotypes of women’s fiction. You know – heartbreak, overworked mother, girlhood rivalry, etc. There is more to a woman’s life than these concepts. This story is a standard perspective of a grown woman who is mentally and emotionally stunted from an imagined deficit in her childhood, i.e. sibling rivalry. A successful professional protagonist laments the fact she was never the “pretty one” and lives her life accordingly to compensate for it. Not my cup of tea.
I have mixed feelings about this book. Beautifully written but unrealistic. Almost all the tension is created simply by no one talking to each other. A lot of unanswered questions for nearly all the characters involved. I don’t need a story to be wrapped up nicely in a bow, in fact, those stories usually irritate me more if it ends conveniently for the author but not for the story. Then there are stories, like this one, that are so open-ended in it’s ending that you ask yourself, ‘Where’s the rest of the book?’ Little Fires brings to mind notes of Pride and Prejudice, assumed notions that we human are found of tossing about. Imagery and situation are on point, but the novel should end with “…”.
F / Contemporary
Sometimes a relationship doesn’t need that fabled straw to break its back. Sometimes a relationship ending is natural, perhaps inevitable despite best efforts. The brilliance of this novel is not how complicated the author could make a marriage, testing it, pulling it’s threads, that would be easy. The brilliance appears in how the reader can see from the beginning how two people should not come together, but then the reader can also understand how and why they do. You can’t condemn or condone the decision, as much as you may want to. I couldn’t connect to Roy or Celestial as much as I wanted to. Their flaws were natural and normal, as were their strengths. The issue was with their path, it was doomed from the beginning and I think that’s what kept me at bay.
F / My / Crime
I usually rave Robotham’s works. Ripping the band-aid off, I was disappointed. I understand this to be the last Joseph O’Loughlin book (#9 in the series) and in all, the novel felt rushed, as if Robotham couldn’t wait to let Joe go. I have no closure on Joe’s kids or Joe’s father and mother. It was just, ‘The End,’ well, not literally but that’s how it came across. As with all Robotham’s books, I was engaged in The Other Wife, I wanted to know more, I wanted to reach that ending, expecting a thorough fair-the-well for Joseph and crew, and no. The book just ended. Seriously bummed out.
F / My / Thriller
I will likely explore this author’s prior works thanks to this book. The Hanging Girl is #6 in the “Department Q” series. The translation is choppy and often took me out of the story but was otherwise an in-depth thriller. I enjoyed the humor of the police detectives and read enough back story of the main character, Carl, to want to know more about him. There does seem to be a lot of unnecessary busy back-and-forth between locations in the story and even dialogue in the characters. Other than that, the story was interesting. Large parts of it reminded of Netflix’s Wild Wild Country documentary.
The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund
F / Ho / My / Crime
This book is difficult. I don’t mean technically difficult (although there are translation hiccups), I mean the story is not for the faint of heart. It’s reviews online are polarizing. The Crow Girl terrifies its readers. Some love that, some hate that. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. I’m attracted to dark fiction, I write quite a bit of it too, but even I had moments of ‘Damn, that’s messed up.’ Be warned, this novel details abuse.
TO-DO READING LIST
The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey
The Woman in the Window: A Novel, by A.J. Finn
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
The Outsider, by Stephen King
Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao
“…only a few words today, and indeed with pencil…” – The Beethoven Letters
Why don’t you blog on the writing process more? I thought you were a writer?
I have not been bombarded with the question (openly) but I feel the lurkings of the unspoken inquiry surrounding nearly every blog I post.
Yes, I am a writer. The difference between a writer and an author is publication. Duration and quality as quantifiers for being labeled a writer are subjective. There are published works in current circulation that cause you to smack your palm to your forehead and wonder, ‘HOW? HOW IS THIS PERSON AN AUTHOR? HOW HAS THIS PERSON BEEN PUBLISHED?’
On the flip side of publication disbelief, there have been and will continue to be those novels that are considered literary masterpieces, turned down by countless agents and publishers decades before. That’s why time and style are subjective qualifiers for being considered a writer. Therefore, one is either a published author or a writer. Because I actively write, and am not yet published, I am a writer.
Yes, the overarching theme to this blog is dedicated to discussing writing, the experiences (professional and unprofessional), the processes and more. I have and I will continue to do so, but…
1. At the end of the day, this blog benefits me so long as I am practicing my writing skills. That being the case, I’ll write whatever I want.
2. This blog is also essentially a tool. As I discussed in, I believe, my second blog ever written, social media is the new platform for writers to get recognition. I cannot tell you how much I deplore that fact as the attention should immediately go to the work I’m submitting and not my online persona, (which could be complete and utter bullshit wherein I say just about anything to get a lit agent’s attention) but whatever. Blogging and the like has become the norm for would-be authors so I play along.
3. Writing only about writing would be boring AF.
4. Those of you who know me personally know I’ve had to put my work on the back-burner. When I was actively working on my novel, my then 3-year old, E, was still taking naps. She doesn’t take naps anymore. I also used to place my toddler in part-time daycare. Between naps and part-time care, I got roughly 8-10 weeks of uninterrupted time to write. Man – those were the days. Beginning in August, my daughter’s preschool will cost us a little over $600 a month. I made the decision to stop using daycare, even part-time, for reasons of obvious financial sanity.
All that said, I have made no current endeavors to give my novel the overhaul it needs. The inquiries too. I need time, I need quiet, and right now, I have neither. With preschool comes delicious, gorgeous freedom. Until then, I consider myself fortunate to knock out a blog or two during the week.
As we speak, E’s toys occasionally streak past me as I’m doing my level best to get this blog out-the-door, and hopefully written in a way that’s considered passable in the English language.
“You can read anywhere, almost, but when it comes to writing…most of us need a place of our own…and it really only needs one thing: a door you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world and yourself that you mean business.” – Stephen King
As I’ve addressed in previous blogs, I was, and am, a voracious reader. There’s very little I won’t consume by way of fiction. It shocks me at times, how I can walk into a bookstore and identify titles I’ve read by shelf, aisle, and section. I’m not saying I’ve read everything, I am saying I’ve read a lot.
When I think about my ultimate vacation, I think about personal enrichment as being more pleasurable than say, a relaxed, do-nothing sort of vacation. I like a fruity concoction on the beach as much as anyone but I’d rather invest in my long-time love of reading by taking an author rich, pilgrim-styled tour than laying about on some beach somewhere. Boring to some perhaps, but for me, paradise.
The UK seems to me the obvious choice for such an author’s pilgrimage and for the following reasons:
Charlotte and Emily Brontë
…just to name a few…
So yeah, the destination seems pretty straightforward in my opinion.
I had meant for this trip years ago, a sort of graduation gift to myself after completing my masters degree. But that was 2008 and the economy had tanked. At the time, being anything but conservative with my funds would have been detrimental. Since then, I’ve relocated cities (Austin to San Antonio), met my future husband and married him (let’s call him “M”), had a kid, relocated cities again (San Antonio back to Austin), had a health scare, bought a house…life gets messy. A good sort of messy but messy even so.
Here we are in 2017 and things seem to have settled, for the moment at any rate. My husband knows how much I’ve “suspended” aspects of my life for the sake of our family, and a year ago M began encouraging me to think about that trip I never took. I’m planning it for the fall of 2018.
It will be a solo trip since this is all about exploring my personal interests. As much as I love the idea *ahem* (polite cough of disbelief) of dragging E, my 4-year old, around the English country side, it would likely be best if she stayed at home.
I started gathering my thoughts around an actual agenda and it looks something like this:
Day 1 & 2 – London. Just two days in London doing all the touristy stuff. Visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral, viewing the Thames, tour the Buckingham Palace, and a visit to the British Museum. The second day would be devoted to the Charles Dickens’ Museum and the British Library.
Day 3 – Oxford University – Tolkien and C.S. Lewis taught their. Some of their works were written while at Oxford. On to Stonehenge in Salisbury, 60 miles from Oxford University.
Day 4 – Bath, home of the Jane Austen Centre. Then on to the villages of the Cotswolds and Shakespeare’s hometown.
Day 5 – Haworth, home to the museum of the Brontë sisters.
Day 6 (a short, 1-hour flight from Haworth) – Back to London, specifically North London, to the Warner Bros studio to take as many Harry Potter tours and add-on’s as I can possibly stand and/or afford. For me, the books will always take precedence over the films but as I very well can’t knock on Rowling’s door for an in-depth chat, surrounding myself with as much material as possible will have to do.
There’s so much more…so, so, so much more I want to do but I must prioritize. I’ve always said: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was one of the greatest stories ever contributed to mankind. Jane Austen portrayed women fairly rather than trapping them in outmoded ideals. The Brontë sisters provided new perspectives in writing. Tolkien gave us worlds within worlds. Rowling gave us modern wings to fly. And Shakespeare, because he’s MF’ing Shakespeare.
I’m doing my best to squeeze Edinburgh in there, somewhere. Maybe a connection from Haworth? I’m not sure.
All this is subject to change anyway. I just like to-do lists, but all my to-do lists have ever been written in pencil. In this case, metaphorically so.
Where would you go and what would you see?
My kid has the stomach flu so enjoy this filler piece.
Interesting words that were lately brought into my vocabulary include:
Occhiolism – Understanding the awareness of the smallness of your perspective.
Liberosis – The desire to care less about things.
Ellipsism – A sadness that you’ll never know how history will turn out.
Schadenfreude – The pleasure derived from another’s misfortune.
Opia – The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye.
Anemoia – Nostalgia for a time you’ve never known.
Kummerspeck – “Grief bacon.” Excess weight put on by emotional overeating, usually within the context of an ended relationship.
Syzygy – A syzygy is the alignment of three celestial bodies in a straight line, commonly the Earth, the Sun and the Moon.
Tmesis – The insertion of one or more words between the words that make up a compound phrase, e.g “what-so-ever.” The insertion occurs in written, common speak phrasing. I do this all the time in my work. I had know idea the practice had a word.
Argute – Shrewd. I was lately described as “argute” and could not tell if I was meant to be offended or not.
RANDOM ODD FACTS
- The word “mortgage” comes from a French expression meaning “death pledge.” I took on that particular death pledge four years ago, and for the most part, I don’t regret it.
- The word “nice,” as we know it today, was originally meant as an insult. During the middle English language era, “nice” meant someone who was foolish, stupid, and senseless. This use of the word was derived from the old French language where the word “nice” (spelled the same) implied carelessness, stupidity, and weakness. The French word was originally derived from Latin’s “nescius,” literally meaning not-knowing or ignorant.
I’ve collected quotes over the years, sayings and thoughts that have meant something to me at different points in my life. Many caught my attention during a critical period of self-care, while understanding how others were proving detrimental to that cause. Other quotes are just bad ass lines found in various works (fiction, poems, songs).
Anonymous / Unknown Collection
“More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them.”
“When people treat you like they don’t care, believe them.”
“Confidence is silent. Insecurities are loud.”
“Be who you needed to be when you were younger.”
“Don’t underestimate me. I know more than I say, think more than I speak, and notice more than you realize.
“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”
J. R. R. Tolkien
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” – Gandalf the Grey, Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
George R. R. Martin
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” – Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire
W. B. Yeats
Has no one said those daring / Kind eyes should be more learn’d? / Or warned you how despairing / The moths are when they are burned, / I could have warned you, but you are young, / So we speak a different tongue. – “To a Child Dancing in the Wind”
J. K. Rowling
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail be default.”
Has anyone ever written anything for you / In all your darkest hours…
Has anyone ever given anything to you / In your darkest hours / Did you ever give it back / Well, I have / I have given that to you – “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You”
“The rise and fall of your God will tell me the story of your city / The rise and fall of your faith will show me the things I’ve been missing / Let the game begin / Let me lose or win / Let this war begin – “The Fall”
“I was quiet, but I was not blind.” Mansfield Park
Edgar Allan Poe
“If it’s meant for you, you won’t have to beg for it. You will never have to sacrifice your dignity for your destiny.”
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
My 2017 list has been mostly filled with “meh” results. That’s unfortunate but they can’t all be grabbers and shakers. However, this blog is NOT meant to be a review of any of the following titles listed.
These are surface opinions or walkaway impressions – AT BEST. If you’re taking the following information as a review – don’t, cause I warned you already this blog is not a review of the books mentioned. These are simply my upfront thoughts. If you’re offended, you’ve read way too much into the blurb.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King
Protagonist = pro
Lead = main character
Antagonist = anta
2017, what I’ve read so far:
Barkskins, by Annie Proulx. This is a whopping piece of historical fiction, landing at 737 pages in its printed edition. I love historical fiction and to say this author is thorough is an understatement. I actually began this epic saga in late 2016 and it carried over into the new year. I tend to read other novels in-between mammoths like this in order to have the occasional breather in story lines, but honestly every line was worth the time.
The Winthrop Woman, by Anya Seton. Another piece of thorough historical fiction. This novel’s focus is of a woman pro who dared to be different in a time when being different could cost you your life. I’ll be looking into more of Seton’s works.
You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott. I find this story to be wonderfully engaging, the author is definitely in the know when it comes to competitive level mindsets for young people and their parents. A great twist when all is revealed. I found the mother a bit tedious with the repetition of her inner thoughts, along the lines of, ‘No one really understands. Only the parents of a naturally gifted athlete could get it.’ Not that this thought or feeling isn’t true. My only gripe is that it’s a thought expressed by the lead often.
What She Knew, by Gillian Macmillian. I actually had to look this one up as I could not remember the plot, the characters – nothing. I see why. I feel I’ve read this psychological thriller before. Many times, in fact. This novel did not leave a memorable impression on me.
The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena. Not an impressive thriller, I felt the obvious strings pluck several times. I recalled it only because every character evoked within me a desire to slap them all. I kept thinking, ‘that’s why you don’t pretend to be friends with people you don’t like you miserable sacks of suds,’ and, ‘what’s the focus here? the missing baby or the lead’s underlying psychological problems?’ The story had me feeling like I was driving behind someone who was constantly braking. Stop, start, stop, start. Again, just my impressions.
End of Watch (book 3 of the Bill Hodges trilogy), by Stephen King. It was nice to get a wrap up on Mr. Mercedes and in truth, I’m glad King gave the story that old supernatural twist, something not present in the first two. It’s like coming home; lifelong King fans know what I’m talking about when I say that.
The Marriage Lie, by Kimberly Belle. This is one of those novels that I, again, had to look up. And then I remembered this is the one I struggled to finish. I believe life is too short to continue reading something that’s not very engaging. It’s, I guess, a “romantic thriller”? The romantic gush is there, the suspense is not. The lead is a psychologist and the author dropped enough surface language to imply as much, but their is absolutely no depth in the pro. Not enough to convince me of the pro’s occupation or that the pro is even taking her situation seriously. Despite the complicated goings-on, the pro’s thoughts remain at surface level and is largely non-reactionary.
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen. I am rereading this. I have heard the argument that rereading a novel, no matter how much enjoyed, is as much a waste of time as continuing a book that’s not very engaging. I understand, but I would also argue that rereading allows a different measure of understanding as time goes by. How I read Sense and… in my college years and how I am experiencing it now are two different things. I liked it well enough then, but I’ve loving it now. How Jane Austen presents youth is much more enlightening to me now that I have exited the trials and stupidity that were my early 20s.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See. See is a favorite author and I am anxious to jump into it.
The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. I understand this is a literary classic. I look forward to diving in.
The Princes of Ireland, by Edward Rutherford. Rutherford has written miles of historical fiction and I’m always on the lookout for a regular author of the genre.
The Secrets She Keeps (July 2017), by Michael Robotham. Robotham rescued the thriller/suspense genre for me. Truly. For a very long time, I kept away from thrillers as most thrillers just tend to read as obvious stories with a light underscore of “who done it?” After reading Shatter, a straight-up, genuine psychological thriller, Robotham brought me back in a big way. Since then, I’ve read all his works and I’m confident I’ll be a lifelong fan.
The above may get me through to August or thereabouts. I’ll update with a new reading blog towards the end of the year.
Any inclusions? What have you liked so far in 2017?
For the most part, I think I’m met with a lot of raised eyebrows when I tell people I’ve written a book.
Them: ‘What do you do?’
Me: ‘I’m a writer, currently unpublished.’
Them: With feigned interest, ‘Oh me too, totally, I mean I have, like, really great ideas and stuff for a book but have never actually, like, written seriously, ya know? It’s, like, so time-consuming. But I write, like, a lot on Twitter ya know? And I’ve been meaning to start a blog cause people all the time tell me they would totally read my stuff if I wrote it down or whatever.’
Me: ‘Uh huh.’
Them: With less interest, ‘So what do you write about?’
Me: ‘I’ve written a book. It’s in the genre of Southen Gothic, roughly 440 pages. I also blog because for some reason that’s important to agents so I try to keep up with what they expect to see. My manuscript is currently being edited and I’ll likely pursue e-publishing, pending the edited results.’
Them: Quietly, ‘Oh.’
I’m floored how often this conversation, or something like it, comes up. It is true what agents and publishers say, everyone wants to write a book, very few actually do. What they really mean to say is everyone has an IDEA for a book but not the discipline to convert an idea into a story.
Writing, in this respect, is absolutely in line with any other major goals in life, like exercising or healthy eating. The discipline, the habit, does not form by itself. It has to be nurtured into existence and then its maintenance becomes easier over time.
Like all new life changes that are important time has to be carved out for them. I made the decision to write down the idea I’ve had floating in my head for years and that meant sacrificing time and money – my family’s time and money. I’ve had the benefit of being a full-time parent who could work from home. This is a luxury I am well aware of, however, that meant spending money to place my then 3-year old into daycare so I could work, or rather I could work MORE and with no guarantee of a payoff. To say writing requires motivation as well as discipline is something of an understatement.
I developed an 8-10 hour a week writing schedule in-between my other obligations, and those hours could never slack. On the days I didn’t feel well, or just “didn’t feel like writing,” I made myself write anyway. It may have been garbage but at least garbage can be fixed, you can’t fix a blank page. Outside of those scheduled hours, I wrote at night when everyone went to bed. I wrote on the weekends and first thing in the morning. My sticking to a plan meant having something to show at the end of my efforts. I mean, dude! I wrote a book! It’s beginning, ending and everything in-between is all down to me.
Like everything in life, the more you practice a thing, the better you get at said thing. Writing is no different. Your story may be brilliant but it will come out as crap at first. So keep fucking writing. The stuff you write becomes less crappy, you find your voice, you find your characters’ voices, the pace picks up and your work becomes less crappy.
That was my experience in a nutshell. Eight months later, I had my first draft hovering at about 520 pages. After my first round of editing, I cut a lot of the crap and ended up at 480 pages. My third draft (yes, I said “third”) got me down to my current 441 pages. I handed the thing over to a professional editor because, at this point, I need another pair of eyes, professional eyes that know what to do next. The point is, I did the heavy lifting. I’ve written a book, only time will tell if I’m published or not but in total honesty, I can say I’m one of those who went beyond, ‘I have an idea for a book.’
I intentionally withheld a book from my last blog, “Books of Influence.”
If you were to ask a reader what their favorite book was, they might well find it a difficult question to answer. There are scores of things to take into consideration in order to pair favorites down to a top 10 list, never mind a singular favorite. I, on the other hand, have no such issue.
I was an insatiable reader since early childhood, always categorized as advanced by my teachers. I suffered anxiety disorder as a child, a solitary life was my norm, books became my friends. I do not know if this was a cause and effect relationship, or if I was truly gifted in reading. But I do know it was this overwhelming need to shove my nose in a book that led me to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) when I was perhaps ten years old.
I recall it was summertime. Two weeks into my school vacation and I had already tackled my summer reading list. I went to my local library to stock up. A summer earlier, I had long since drifted from the children’s and young adult areas to full on fiction. Floating amongst the alphabetized authors, I spotted a familiar title, A Christmas Carol, ‘Oh, like the Mickey movie.’ No, as I would soon discover. A Christmas Carol was not written for children, not in the least. It had an important message, clearly, how else do you explain the many film versions, most child-friendly? But no. The original written version was intended for a very adult audience.
This was the passage my eyes first fell as I flicked through the book:
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
The bell struck twelve.
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
This passage terrified me and for several reasons. First of which, I had never read of children depicted in this way. Starved, sickly, twisted, humiliated creatures. And if the context were to be believed, these children were made so by the neglect of man, or rather man’s indifference to the sufferings of others, even children. Second, the Ghost of Christmas Present named the children, “Ignorance,” and “Want,” the formula for suffering. I was scared at the thought of being either.
After giving A Christmas Carol the full read through, I understand how Christmas Present was mocking Scrooge with Scrooge’s own words, “Are there no prisons?” and “Are there no workhouses?” as a solution for dealing with the destitute.
Sometimes you come across something so powerful it influences you from the first moment of exposure and not casually. Some find inspiration in works of art, others in music, television, film, or in the actions and beliefs of others. I have those moments as well, but fiction will always take lead. The passage I read that day in my local library, and later the full story in my bedroom, impressed upon me a way of being. That passage taught me what I wanted to see in myself and in society. That passage has influenced me from that day to this, everything from my views on religion, to politics, to my own personal behavior when I meet someone of want…and when I meet someone of ignorance.
What works of fiction have influenced you? Was it powerful?
I’m only through my third day of a massive head cold. Of course, this happens as soon as I decide to blog regularly on Tues/Thurs and sometimes the weekend. So I thought, ‘filler piece.’
I want to share those novels that stay with me on a day-to-day basis. Novels that inspire me regularly. Books that I can reread and still find content that makes me think and reflect.
These are not ranked, merely listed.
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan
Shatter, by Michael Robotham
Carrie, by Stephen King
The Shining, by Stephen King
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
The Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
A Game of Thrones (the book series as a whole), by George R.R. Martin
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris
Off topic, the rejection emails from literary agents have been pouring in lately, as I think about my previous blog, “Literary Agents and Queries and F*** You’s”. I also noticed just how many agents are gearing up for writer’s conferences. Coincidence? I hate to think my query got rushed through for the sake of clearing out the old inbox before he or she left the office for a few days, but as someone who used to attend conferences regularly, I know better. Sigh. Time to compose the RESUBMISSION list.
I get knocked down, but I get up again / You are never gonna keep me down…
you know you hear the tune in your head.
For those of you who are concerned, or looking to let off some steam, this blog is not about telling off literary agents. I’ll spare you that anxiety…or disappointment if you were hoping to really sink your teeth into a good bashing. I get it, though, the query process is soul-sucking.
As a would-be author (who is actively seeking agent representation) do you know what I read quite often from lit agents? Profiles, articles, blogs, and more dedicated to what they are looking for in queries, and what they are not looking for. I see lists and lists of advice about how to increase the odds of getting THE call, a request for the full manuscript, and hopefully, THE second follow-up phone call, where at long last, the agent proclaims they want to represent you.
You know what I don’t read anything about? The flipside of that coin. The writer’s experience. The frustration, the dedication to meet the requests of literary agents to exacting detail. I think the idea is everyone (lit agents and writers alike) presume to know this side. However, I have no impression that this is true. Here’s why – the advice given to unrepresented writers does not match the outcome. In other words, there is no proof to be had in that pudding.
It does not seem to matter that I wrote my query to his or her exact specifications or that the preferred content the agent is seeking is a match. I still end up with this response in the rejection email, ‘doesn’t fit my interests,’ or some variation of it. Even though you, the agent, listed that you specifically want to read a story in women’s fiction that features a strong leading female, maybe an underrepresented female set in the modern world, an outsider if you will. GREAT! I can give you just that! That’s my story, exactly. I, the writer, am suddenly terribly excited to submit my work to you, the agent. And yet, a week, two weeks, two months go by and I might get a rejection letter citing the ‘not quite right fit,’ line. Sigh.
I can’t discern from a basic, online profile page if what the agent is asking for is what he or she really wants. I only submit my work if there’s a match. Sometimes agents are very specific about what they are looking for, others are less so. The result is often the same. I follow the advice, I do my research, I tweak my queries, and yet the pudding remains without proof.
I hear tales long since passed of agents who took the time to write back after receiving a query, and although you were likely being rejected, the agent dropped a line or two on how you could improve. I don’t think the current standard for queries was meant to be as it currently is, that is to say, silent, but it is even so. How, then, do you boost your odds of getting an agent’s attention? You research your agents, you compose your query well, you submit the sample pages as requested…what else?
I’ve seen one advice article from a writer, turned author, who stressed numbers. Queries, he said, are a numbers game. Yes, you still craft your query as well as you can, you do your research of agents, you do your best at all times when reaching out to a complete stranger, but you do so repeatedly and often. If you’re submitting once or twice a week, you’re doing it wrong. I hate to think that this process, which feels oddly intimate because you are reaching out to persons unknown and putting your work out there, has been reduced to numbers. But I can’t say I’m surprised. And I’ll tell you why.
For nearly a decade, I advised university students (undergrad and grad) on how to launch into the real world. I have a master’s degree in counseling, and I chose to specialize in career counseling. While I had studied all the major forms of traditional counseling, I couldn’t leave the career element alone. I found career counseling infinitely more fast-paced and engaging. What to study, what to make a career of, and so on. If you’ve ever seen a person’s face in pure relief for having made a major decision about life, I’m telling you, there’s nothing like it.
Where numbers came in was when it was time for a student to apply to jobs. I told every graduating student I ever met, if she was not applying to jobs at least 10 times a week, it was the same as not applying at all. My advice for applications filed was roughly 15-20 a week. It seems like a lot but it’s not. The students who were smart enough to take my advice were the ones who received multiple offers. The students who only wanted to be considered by their top or favorite company and applied once, sometimes twice if they had a second favorite, well, you can imagine how well that strategy worked out. By the time this student realized saturation was the key, the jobs were filling up.
The idea behind application saturation is an old one. You write more, therefore your written language improves, also your speed in the application process improves considerably, which means you can submit even faster. You start landing interviews, and in so doing you become a better interviewer. You figure out how to make yourself look good on paper – that’s check one. Once you figure how to sell yourself in person (that is absolutely what an interview is) – that’s check two. Then it is only a matter of time before you get the offer.
Many of these things I have found apply to queries, and if you’ve submitted more than 10 queries you might know what I’m talking about. After 10 queries, I believe, you start to pick up the pace, not so unlike the application-cover letter-resume package that is part of job hunting. The faster I submitted (not sacrificing quality and always personalizing) the faster I got responses, all rejections at this point, but it was an improvement over the no responses when I was going at a slower pace.
The query is a lot like the application, cover letter, and resume rolled into one. The query should be tweaked per agent you are submitting to. I can’t help but notice how the expectations for queries can vary wildly among lit agents. That’s irritating, but because you’re a would-be author, you write your query as outlined (if at all) according to the agent or the agent’s company’s website. You tweak your query to make it a little extra special per agent, just like a cover letter (and if you aren’t doing this, you should be). You do your damnedest to be thoughtful, concise, and above all sellable, cause let’s face it, those sample pages you are submitting are your interview equivalent. I’ve trained countless student-clients on how to represent themselves on paper first and in-person second. I believe I do a good job of meeting the standards for queries if not exceeding them. Now let me tell you about my numbers:
Queries = 38
Rejections (auto response or personal) = 10
No Response = 7
Floating (too early to call) = 21
Calls = 0
Feedback Of Any Kind = 0
You can only read that quote about ‘giving up is the only way you ever really lose’ before you start thinking, ‘fuck you,’ in a sort of begrudging, mental response. The sentiment of never giving up is true, don’t get me wrong, but you’re still thinking, ‘fuck you.’
What keeps me going is that I actually like my work. I do. As I’m editing my manuscript, rereading passages, extracting samples, I truly, genuinely believe in my work. I am excited by it. My voluntary beta-readers, they believe in my work too and cheer me on. I didn’t slap 450 pages together thinking that now I needed to be compensated because I wrote something. I am very familiar with how life works and how it doesn’t. No, I pursue the course of agent representation, despite the overwhelming silence and rejection, because I know what I’ve produced. I have confidence in my manuscript, and one day an agent will too.
In the meantime, I will continue to submit queries with ever increasing accuracy and speed. I will reread that quote about the only way you ever really lose, while the mental ‘fuck you’s’ are stowed once more.
To learn more about my manuscript, please read the blog, “Ruth.”
It was Howard Pyle’s, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883), that inspired today’s modern version of Robin Hood, a good-hearted, rogue-styled philanthropist.
My family and I recently attended the Sherwood Forest Faire in McDade, Texas, roughly 50 minutes east of Austin. This is not my first rodeo of fantasy inspired gatherings. I love going to these fairs, be it Scarborough Renaissance Festival, which occurs annually outside Dallas, or the mighty Texas Renaissance Festival (Ren-Fest for short), just outside of Houston, I never fail to feel amazement by the sheer volume of dedication to the theme. The workers and attendees alike dress to the nines of their period intended costumes.
Sherwood is by far the simpler or smaller of the fairs, but no less dedicated. A person’s need to express what inspires them is a precious thing, more so when adults engage in make-believe. Such adult play holds out for hope that we might still be inspired to imagine. I have yet to meet one L.A.R.P.er (live action role play/player) that didn’t make me smile, their dedication to the craft infectious.
To date, the greatest example I can think of where adults were more likely to act as children than the actual children present was when we vacationed at Universal Studios, Florida for the sole purpose of spending three days in the Harry Potter themed parks. It was my idea, actually. My last vacation had been five years earlier with my husband – on our honeymoon. We work hard, and time off isn’t always an option.
My idea of a relaxing vacation does not typically include cramming myself into a park of equally enthused Potter-heads (as we call ourselves), and yet I willing flew (I hate flying), spent five days in a family packed hotel (children were seen, smelled, and heard at all times), and jostled ourselves to and fro the hotel and theme park via shuttle bus. It was hot. Sticky. Loud. Scorching. But once you stand amidst the fantasy world that you have come to know and love over the years, none of the aggravating humanness matters. In fact, you welcome the people around you, minds blown by the books-turned-into-life. You’re suddenly glad you packed your wand even though you weren’t sure you should bring it. Cause ya’ know, you know you’re a dork, that doesn’t mean you want to let the world in on it. But no, now you’re glad you did as dorks unite. Spell battles run unchecked with equally excited Potter-heads.
These book inspired activities should not fail to remind us of the power of fiction. Stephen King is quoted as saying, “Book are uniquely portable magic.” Individually, avid fiction readers understand this meaning in its truest form. The fairs and theme parks, the role players inspired by centuries-old tales, it means accessing the same magical portal, at the same time. So pack your wand alongside your fairy wings, and take comfort in knowing that you will find yourself with like-minded spirits.
Hello! This blog is dedicated to the honest experiences of a writer. My aspirations are simple, I hope to upgrade from writer to professional author, that is to say – published.
These blogged thoughts will often be intended, thought out, and yet at times, utterly random. I will relate my experiences as a writer, and literary agent pursuer, with stark honesty; the good, the bad, and the ugly. The triumphs, the screw-ups, and the face-palms.
Somewhere a coffee maker just dinged, indicating a fresh brew. Let’s grab a cup.