The Horizon of Possibility

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Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

God, it’s been a long time. I blame work mostly, but before that it was a general lack of inspiration. I was even flirting with the idea of just never updating this blog again, but for some reason, I couldn’t let it go. Now that I have actual thoughts to relay, I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t even know if anyone is still with me, here. Hello? Is thing on?

Anyway. Nanofreakinwrimo brings me out of my self-imposed hermitude. (I’ve dutifully transcribed my experience with this novel writing month here, here, and yes, here) Possibility is in the air. Do you feel it? Do you see how it breathes through the leaves on the shivering trees? Wait. Is it growling? Just me? Okay. So many ideas and current works-in-progress to dedicate myself to, and I just want to–do them ALL. My gothic work in progress, Wrathmoor, that I’ve been writing since 2011; my contemporary work in progress The Rosen Tales; and Other Points of Contention, which just makes me giddy and terrified every time I think about it; the short story I wrote for a contest that didn’t win, but that I love so hard I want it to have a face so I can pinch its cheeks; and the poem that is writing itself in my brain right now, revealing itself to me from the end going backwards, so yeah, that should be interesting.

This month makes me want that exhilaration of a cause and accomplishment and fighting tooth and nail to do the thing I love and what matters to me. I will never have an acceptable answer that “demonstrates critical thinking” or is particularly unique and especially meaningful for why I love writing and why writing these novels matters to me. Why does a child love painting and drawing? Why do we love to go to parties? Or, contrarily, why do we love to stay in and submerge ourselves in fanfiction? Just because I don’t have a textbook or Nobel worthy answer for why I love it, is it any less valuable?

No.

This life is too transient to get caught up in abstract, diaphanous terms like Meaning and Purpose in attempting to justify why we do the things we love. You get all tangled up in Plato’s Perfect Forms, and when you live in an imperfect world, it’s just not an ideal place to be, am I right? So, I say to you, my friends, on this day of new beginnings, of fresh, dewy eyed wonder, go. Find your horizon of possibility. Grasp its coat tails and let it carry you through the night.

Anyone else venturing into the great beyond with National Novel Writing Month? What will you be working on? Something new or something you’ve already started? I’m curious to hear how other people do NaNoWriMo: a little every day until you reach 50,000? Or just push yourself into the project with more gusto during this month of possibility?

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Resolving To Let It Go

Summer is in the air, which means the year is already half over. Summer has always given me a sense of urgency, a deep stirring I can’t quite shake (or maybe Vivaldi did that). This feeling is full of want and drive. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to do with all of that yearning, especially when you’ve conveniently forgotten all your New Year’s resolutions and intentions.

Resolutions? What resolutions?

As the year progresses, I often lose track of my well-meaning intentions, which means productivity turns into a mythical creature and flies away on newly minted wings. But I want to be better about spending less time trying to wind down on Instagram after my kids go to bed and more time producing work. Which brings us to revised goal #1, which may seem a bit counter-intuitive.

Let it go.

Hear me out.

For me, being my best self means being the most perfect mom possible but also someone who cares for herself, which means quiet reading time, keeping my body strong, and writing. This is a feat when I’m just trying to keep my cool with kids at that age where  controlling any aspect of their behavior requires dabblings in the occult–they’re extremely selective eaters, they tantrum daily, and they get into these manic moods where they just dart around like very large, very loud squirrels. I’ve been reading How Toddlers Thrive, which has helped me understand that letting a little of my control go can go a long way toward happy, healthy children. This will make for a happier mom and human being, which will ideally result in divine creative inspiration (right?!).

So the goal is to stop striving toward perfections, and let it go. I’m learning this with writing too.

Submit work

I have achieved a couple things on my list in 2017 in Review; 2018 Goals. I have already beat my number of submissions from last year. After one bout of divine inspiration for a flash fic and some serious work on a couple other projects, I have some stuff I’m pretty confident about. Problem is, all those polished pieces are out right now, and I’m in that purgatory of WAITING. Maybe someday in the near future I’ll have some good news to share on this front.

I also finished draft #3 of The Space Between Me and You, and I am 5 chapters into my current WIP and pretty dang happy with them. Despite these achievements, I wage a constant battle with the negativity that seems woven into the very fiber of my being telling me ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you’re raising your kids wrong’, ‘you can’t even get anything published when writing is what you do‘.

But like with loosening up on my reins in parenting, I’ve realized that every day, you have to make a choice. And sometimes, that choice involves letting go of your best laid plans. You have to embrace things the way they are, and no matter how strong that inclination is to control everything, you may never be happy if you don’t loosen up your expectations just a little.

Deadlines

I work best when I have deadlines–the distant memory of working on research papers down to the wire, procrastinating and then pulling off my best work when the time was nigh. Or the flash fic I wrote this year in response to a contest, which had to be submitted by a deadline. When I plan a critique meet-up with my partner, I make the words happen. And sometimes they are pretty good. However, when there is no goal, I exist in a pudgy, lackadaisical state of ‘maybe I’ll write tonight’, ‘after I finish cleaning the entire house, I’ll write’, or, my personal favorite, ‘maybe I’ll be inspired’. Therefore, I will be better about giving myself a time frame to have a chapter plotted or drafted by and keep track of my progress for motivation. It will also help me structure my free time better, so it isn’t all spent winding down on Instagram. 😮

Get active, stay active

  • I’ve been working out at least 3 days a week for 2 months now, and 5 days a week for 3 weeks!!! I also kept true to my goal to go on more adventures. Today, I encountered this handsome fella (coyote or kit fox? We may never know. Unless you do, then tell me, please), and also a piece of wood shaped like an Edvard Munch depiction of a lizard monster in agony. But you know, I was like whatever.20180625_070911
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  • I will be participating in Pitch Wars this year, so I’m getting my submitting goodies together (query letter, synopsis, and pitch) for The Space Between You and Me. Follow me on Twitter to watch me be awkward–digitally!
  • Plot and write Chapter 6 of my WIP; maybe outline the dang thing? But let’s not put the horse in front of the cart. Wait. That’s exactly what we want to do? Oh…

READ

Keeping myself buried in stories ignites all the hodgepodge stacks of kindling in my brain for my own stories. I am five books over the halfway mark to my goal of 40. It isn’t so much about the number, as it is about the goal to let myself revel in this almost completely indulgent pastime (hey, it’s research like 20% of the time at least) and to read widely.

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Some books I’m excited to read (be reading) this year: Contact by Carl Sagan, rereading the Harry Potter series so I can undertake The Cursed Child, of which I am wary, but I need it because it goes with HP, therefore it goes in my soul (Look, I don’t own a wand or a Dumbledore beard or anything, so I think we can all agree this obsession is safe). Also, mysteries! I have so many mouth-watering mysteries waiting for me to feast my very dry eyes upon.

So that’s my biannual checkpoint on my year’s intentions. My goals for the rest of the year are modest, but even taking the time to document them is an achievement in and of itself for me. 😉

How have you done on your resolutions or intentions for the year? Does summer make you productive or lazy?

 

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E-books vs. Books

Once upon a time, I had terrible reading comprehension but loved reading anyway. This disparity between ability and desire was most apparent when I was entered high school. After miraculously testing out of remedial English and into Honors classes my junior and senior years, I remember being given The Plague, The Stranger, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Fathers and Sons, and Pride and Prejudice. I probably would have loved reading all of these books had I understood them better. The problem wasn’t understanding the themes or plot; discussing these novels in class made me realize I did love them. It was my inability to synthesize what I was reading. I remember straining to finish Pride and Prejudice before it was due and the words looking like hieroglyphics. No matter how many times I read over the same page, I couldn’t see what was happening in the novel in my head. This was a bit distressing after reading countless R. L. Stine and V. C. Andrews books where I had no problem with this. I felt like my brain was broken.

Over the years, I did get better at absorbing what I read. Probably just practice and cramming for exams in college. Sometimes, certain books dredge up my old flaw and the accompanying fear of inadequacy. It happened recently when I checked out Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows about a MAGICAL HEIST from my local library. I checked it out as an e-book. Though I liked the novel, I was still slogging through it three chapters in. Then my best friend and partner in reading shenanigans started it and fell head over heels for it in a way that I hadn’t. This was not a matter of us merely liking different things. I knew I would have liked the book more if I followed it better. Sometimes it takes me time to get into an author’s writing style, and Bardugo certainly has a lot of lush world-building happening right at the beginning of the book. But, but, I had a feeling this book would be better read physically. So I purchased the hardback, and my reading experience between the hardback and the e-book was night and day. (I definitely recommend the hardback, because this book is just effing gorgeous inside and out.)

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Yep, already devouring the second book

The book has these epic maps and character designations in the front. The e-book does too, but the ability to physically return to the maps while marking the page you’re currently on with your finger is a luxury you didn’t know you’d miss until you don’t have it! Also, just being able to flip back through the book to reread something for clarification is another simple pleasure that reading an actual book affords, while an e-book does not; this book kind of lends itself to rereading certain parts because of how deliciously complicated the plot is (seriously, I feel smarter for having read this book). Also, somehow, being able to see how far I was in the book with regards to the unfolding plot helped me situate myself in some abstract spatial way. Reading purists or anti-e-bookers often cite reading as a physical activity. And I totally get it now.

Let it be known, I am in no way declaring myself a reading-monogamist here. This book has shown me that I read more complicated, involved books better when I can hold it. Novels that don’t require so much…involvement are great for downloading as an e-book and popping out while traveling, standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for you doctor who never seems to be on time for your appointment.

Any purists out there? E-book or anti? Do you notice a difference in how you read  certain books physically versus on a reader?

 

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What I Learned From Reading Female Authors Only Last Year

February is Women In Horror Month, so I thought I’d talk a bit about having read 44 books last year all by women authors. These 44 books were not all within the horror genre, but because this is a month celebrating underrepresented authors in an underappreciated genre, I’m squeezing this post in 🙂

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So, 44 books all by women. What trends did I see? What was evident when reading only women authors that might not be evident when reading between genders? What was surprising or disappointing? The answer to all of these questions, folks, is nothing. That’s right.

I had gone into this endeavor thinking that, perhaps–and yes, I know I expose my own bias here–I would read a lot of romance, regardless of genre. This is partly because I lean toward these types of stories, but also, even when I intentionally pick up something that doesn’t feature an epic romance, I kind of expect it. However, I was mistaken in considering, for even a moment, that romance is at the core of most novels by women.

The goal of this post is to reinforce that authors are authors and books are books, and we shouldn’t be dividing them by the “types of books women write” versus “the types of books men write”. If anything, last year, reading all female-penned novels (and a book on craft), showed me that to think in such categories falsely represents any author and artist. This tweet from YA author Maggie Stiefvater demonstrates my point.

Though I’m reluctant to even divide these up by genre, I thought I’d review some of the badass reads that stood out last year. Bear in mind, I only read a select set of genres; by no means, did I do a sample of every fiction genre.

Standout (Badass) Reads of 2017

Jamaica Inn and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

First up is the horror master who resurrected the gothic genre in the 20th century. You may not know this but Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on a story by Du Maurier. Both of these books elicited all over body chills. There were a couple scenes in Jamaica Inn that will forever stay with me in my vault of scariest moments while reading. Rebecca was more of an all over eeriness and discomfort, the horror of the psychological. Both of these are horror classics.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This tome was a literary goliath. It was everything I had hoped it would be–intimate portrayals of each larger-than-life character, epic friendships, scholarly atmosphere, and a timeless, mythic feel to the entirety of the story.

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

This was an enjoyable, eye-opening book on the craft of writing. I appreciated the unique approach to showing a writer’s mindset and decision-making process while working on a short story. The three stories were all strong and varied, making it an invaluable addition to any shelf that already bears On Writing by Stephen King.

The Foxhole Court, The Raven King, All the King’s Men by Nora Sakavic

No softness here. Sports, brutality, fatal competition, and hungry hit-men. I was propelled through the series over two feverish weeks. There were a couple times, the events were so gruesome, I had to put the book down. Funny thing is, I have almost no interest in sports, but Sakavic’s descriptions of her fictional sport Exy were riveting.

Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi

Mafi’s dystopian superhero series is so much more than meets the eye in the first book. The series even transcends its genre. In Juliette, the reader experiences this awe-inspiring transformation of a girl, broken by her parents, her dying world, and her government. This series is an impressive psychological study of the effects of war and the war a person can have within herself.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

You know this book has made an impact on me, as I’ve talked about it before, in a post about unexpected horror and a round up of my favorite 2017 reads. I recently started listening to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and I can see how Novik expertly invokes her predecessor in the fantasy genre in Uprooted. This novel is mythic and dark and utterly moving.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

A scathingly sharp, perilously witty, modern day bildungsroman–about a young woman, imagine that.

Middle Grade Mavens: Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling.

While both The Song of the Lioness series and the Harry Potter series are listed as YA, Alanna: The First Adventure and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are middle grade novels. I adore that both of these series grow up with the readers; but even for starting so young, neither of these first books shy away from life, death, or violence. As a reader who is oftentimes propelled through story by romance, these series don’t have a heck of a lot of it, but they’re succinctly and thoughtfully plotted, populated with amazing characters, funny, and addictive.

The Brontës

Finally, we cannot forget the indomitable Brontë sisters: Charlotte Brontë’s Villette has been attributed to as the first modernist novel before the term was coined. It is overtly feminist, as its main character is seeking economic independence, but it is also devilishly sensual, fierce, and despairing. Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was not only subtly feminist but also presented a dark tale of vice and deception, and an outright battle between innocence and corruption, subjects of which a woman in her day should have no knowledge.


Do you agree that there should be no difference between how we perceive novels by women versus by men? What do you think about this cross-section of epic reads by women? Do you have any of your own to suggest?

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My 6 Best Reads of 2017

2017 was INSANE for reading for me. I have never read so many words in all my life. Not only books you can quantify, but countless fanfictions. But alas, I confess too much.

Rereads

I also did a lot of rereading in 2017, and that included two favorite Brontë classics, Jane Eyre and Villette. Also, before rereading a 2016 favorite The Madwoman Upstairs, which involves a lot of Brontë family history, I wanted to tackle a biography about my favorite author first. I chose Claire Harman’s A Fiery Heart for its look at Charlotte’s relationship and correspondence with Monsieur Constatin Heger, her teacher in Brussells. For anyone who has ever wanted to read a biography on Charlotte Brontë, I highly recommend this one (you know you’ve always wanted to know about her indomitable father who outlived all his children and the fiendish sot Branwell Brontë).

Best Reread of 2017

Aside from the entire Raven Cycle series, which I listened to on audio book less than a month after reading them (and yearn to return to again!!!), I would say Jane Eyre was the best reread, because I already want to re-revisit it and all of its delectable intricacies–remember the horse chestnut tree split by lightning? Jane’s nightmare about a child being torn from her arms the night before her wedding? Or how about when Mr. Rochester dresses in drag as an old gypsy woman to try to get Jane to reveal her feelings for him? Yeah, didn’t think so. Add it to your reread list and thank me later.

Top 6 Reads of 2017

6. Jane Steele

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Admittedly, I was iffy going into this book, being that it is about a serial killer Jane Eyre-esque character; I’m just not that type of girl into the whole Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies-type rewrites. But this was different than what I imagined. Jane Steele is an extremely witty, engaging narrator full of agency.  Her orphan story is a heart-breaking and harrowing one that leads her down a path of shaky self-redemption with one flawed and charming Charles Thornfield along the way. The history in this book is rich and laps at you in heavy, lulling waves. I couldn’t put it down.

 

5. Eligible

A phenomenal modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by the illustrious Curtis Sittenfeld. I have now read a good chunk of her bibliography (also Sisterland and Prep) and this book fits Sittenfeld’s MO to a T. Her deft handling of romance, her trademark humor, and lovable, flawed, witty narrator are expertly utilized in this modernized Austen story. You leave the society of 19th century England behind and bring the Bennett family and their beaus into a world of texting, fad diets, Crossfit, and reality television. A surprising retelling and clever read.

4. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

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Can we just take a second and give that cover some much-deserved love? I usually hate seeing the characters on the front of novels, but this guy IS the Monty in my head, like the cover design artist incepted this dude into my medulla oblangata. The characterization, pacing, and story of this novel were all exquisite. I could hear Monty’s voice talking to me as I read the story. It was a really nice combination of light, fun modern day read but it was also very much a historical romance with thrilling highs and heavy lows. The balance between these two ends of the spectrum was most impressive. Lee has a follow-up novel coming out, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Pirating, and the fact that I definitely want it should say quite a bit about my faith in her as an author.

3. Autoboyography

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This novel seriously broke my heart. Like, I have never been so viscerally affected by a novel, which is weird to realize. I have favorites that have moved me, but I was destroyed, shattered by this book when I was reading, after I finished, and for days after. It was like getting over a breakup to heal from it; and not because it’s all bad/sad (after all, no one dies), although the tension between religion and homosexuality was heavy, and these authors gracefully navigated the powerful realities, revelations, and emotions that came with this unique situation between the main character and his love interest.

 

 

2. Uprooted

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I read Uprooted very early on in the year, so it feels a bit like a distant dream. But a very, very good dream I wouldn’t mind having again. Soon. I loved the setting, the magic, the magic of place, the mythic atmosphere, the painful suspense, the horror, the magic tutelage, and the characters. These characters are so real that the book feels heavier in your hands. You think, while reading, that perhaps at any moment Agniezska will tumble out from between the pages in her stained and tattered home-spun dress or that the Dragon will open up a portal right into your living room. It feels like a classic and definitely earns its place with the monoliths in fantasy.

 

1. The entire Raven Cycle series

I have a separate, more all-encompassing review for here, because there is entirely too much to say about this series. Every plot point, every character, every nuanced detail surprised me in their uniqueness. If I have not convinced you over the course of three blog posts now to check this series out, then I’m just going to have to hunt you down and force you to read it until you fall in love. I fell in love at Chapter 4, about 38 pages into the paperback. That may as well be love at first sight.

Most Unexpected Read of 2017

All For the Game Series by Nora Sakavic

I found this series completely by accident. When looking up copies of The Raven King (by Maggie Stiefvater) to buy, I saw another novel entitled The Raven King by Sakavic. It was the second in her All For the Game trilogy. As I was reading the summary, I was thinking what the heck is “Exy”? And so I went down a hole for about two weeks last summer, sucked into this sport Sakavic made up and her crew of misfits that play it. The odd thing is, I am not exactly what one would call….sporty. Or even all that interested in sports, aside from an analytical standpoint. So I was blown away that her detailed descriptions of these fast-paced violent games engaged me so thoroughly. Also, there’s like a hitman/crime ring sub-plot, and who doesn’t need that in their lives?

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads from last year? 

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