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Jacqueline West, Writer

Bestselling author of The Books of Elsewhere and Dreamers Often Lie

Snow Day

November 27, 2017    Tags: , , , , , ,   

So, I wrote a play.

I didn’t exactly plan to do this. I’m a theatre nerd, and I’ve done lots of acting, and I’ve written lots of fiction about characters who are fellow theatre nerds (see DREAMERS OFTEN LIE, “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” in STARRY-EYED…), and a few years ago I wrote a play for kids called “Under the Bed” that was premiered by a local middle school. But I’d never really thought about writing a play for adults.

And then, a few years ago, during the polar vortex, this idea hit me. And I knew this wasn’t a book or a story idea. This idea was play-shaped. It was about a bunch of small town Minnesotans, trapped indoors by a climate change-driven Ice Age, trying to deal with their new reality without completely losing their minds. I wrote several pages, and then I got busy with a bunch of other things–having a baby, releasing a book, writing a couple more books, blah blah blah.

And then the presidential election happened. I finished the play within a few weeks.

That climate change–that even basic scientific fact–has become politicized seems crazy to me. But here we are. And when we can’t agree on facts, even the most basic ones, what kind of discussions can we have? How will we all deal with what’s happening to our environment when we can’t ignore it anymore? With science? Religion? Anger? Denial? Knitting and crafting? Lots of beer?

I guess that’s what I wanted to explore onstage with SNOW DAY.

The play opens here in Red Wing, MN next week — and I couldn’t be more excited. Soapbox Players is putting it on at Hobgoblin Music Loft at Stoney End. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. on December 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9; tickets sold at the door.

It’s a funny play (at least it’s supposed to be). The cast is hilarious. There’s lots of broad, goofy stuff in it: A would-be caveman grad student. A woolly mammoth. Baby Jesus in a Tupperware tub. But I’m sure my fear for the future, and my grief over what we’re doing to the planet, and my hope that somehow collective action and love for each other will save us are woven into it too. If I’ve done my job right, people will see the show, have a good laugh, and then go home and get into big, passionate, political fights with each other. Or they’ll just have a good laugh. That would be great too. 🙂

All profits from the show will go to the Red Wing chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group dedicated to influencing national policies that address climate change. https://citizensclimatelobby.org/

Here’s a write-up that just appeared in our local paper:

http://www.republican-eagle.com/entertainment/theater/4363946-wests-bleak-winter-comedy-reflects-life-red-wing

(My fellow townspeople: I didn’t say life in Red Wing is bleak. Don’t hate me.)

 

 

Spectacles

Advice to Young Writers, from an Increasingly Old One

February 15, 2017    Tags: , ,   

Do you think it’s a bad sign that you update your blog so infrequently, you essentially forget how to do it and have to relearn all the simple steps every time? I think it might be a bad sign.

Well, it’s been another shamefully long gap between posts, and I have some giant news that I’m STILL waiting to share (it won’t be much longer, I promise!), but I recently got some reader mail that was so inspiring it forced me back into blogging action.

I get lots of notes from young readers and writers. Every single one of them makes me feel lucky, and many of them come with fantastic questions. Last week, a young writer named Alana got in touch to ask for my help with her school’s Passion Project, and I said I’d do my best to answer her questions — and then she sent me an interview that was so insightful and challenging, it took two days’ worth of brain power to complete it. (When your almost-two-year-old has the stomach flu and you’re up half the night changing bedding and deliriously reading Berenstain Bears books, you have a bit less brain power than usual. That’s my excuse.)

I asked her permission to share the result…and here it is. *Note: I don’t consider myself much of an expert on anything, even the things I do obsessively/professionally. But this is my honest advice. These are some of my best tips and tricks. Use or ignore as you will.

Thanks again, Alana.

 

  1. How do you choose or make up names for characters(first and last names), setting, objects, etc.?

For me, it tends to work in one of two ways: Either the perfect name pops into my head right away, almost like the character (or place) already knows her/his/its own name, and is introducing herself to me…or I spend a long time daydreaming, making lists, and trying out different options before I find the name that feels just right.

Obviously, the first way is a lot easier! Olive from The Books of Elsewhere turned up in my head with her name already in place, and the cats had their names from the very beginning too (because their names were stolen straight from three real cats named Horatio, Leopold, and Harvey, who belonged to friends of mine).

The second way, unfortunately, is a lot more common. Often, I’ll know a few important things about a character (or place or object)—things about their appearances or ages or personalities or interests—and then I search for a name that matches those things. With Rutherford, for example, I knew I wanted him to have an unusual, old-fashioned, scientific or historical name. Then I did a bunch of research and list-making, and when I found out that a scientist named Ernest Rutherford is considered the father or nuclear physics, I knew I had found the right fit.

 

  1. How do you hook the readers in right away with your first sentence, paragraph, or chapter?

Ooh, that first sentence is SO important. It needs to be something that will make your readers want to keep reading. As long as it does that, it can be about practically anything.

I often try to create a first sentence that will plant an important question in a reader’s mind, or that will immediately start building a vivid picture—or both. The very first line in The Books of Elsewhere is “Ms. McMartin was definitely dead.” I hoped that this line would immediately make readers wonder who Ms. McMartin was, how she died, why it’s important that she’s definitely dead—and that it would start the book out on the right creepy/odd/mysterious note. The first line in my latest novel, Dreamers Often Lie, is “There was blood on the snow.” I thought this line would create a striking image, and that it would make readers wonder whose blood it was, what happened, etc.

A good first line needs to pull the reader in. Beyond that, anything goes.

 

  1. How do you create characters that seem real and are relatable?

Years and years of practice! 🙂

All your characters need to have their own distinct perspectives and hobbies and habits, their own vocabularies and speech patterns, their own fears and wishes and secrets—just like real people (but even more interesting!). It often takes me months or years of daydreaming before I feel like I know my characters completely. Sometimes I have to write about them to get to know them; I have to put them in a situation where they’re scared, or where they’re having an argument, and I figure out how they would behave. Eventually, with time and writing, I know them so well that I can plop them into any situation and know exactly what they’ll say or do. I know what’s inside of their dresser drawers, what they dream about, what they eat for breakfast. I know exactly what’s going on in their minds.

Once you know your characters that distinctly, you can thread the important details about them into the story. Hopefully, your readers will end up feeling like they actually know your characters too.

 

  1. What do you do when you have writer’s block?

Something else.

I take a break from writing and do something completely different: go for a walk, play fetch with my dog, bake cookies, read someone else’s book. Usually, while I’m trying not to think about my own writing and all the problems in it, a solution to those problems will pop into my mind.

Also, I always work on more than one project at once, so if I run out of steam on one thing, I can switch to the other without losing any time.

 

  1. I would like to create characters that contrast but go well together. However, I do not want them to be disliked by readers. How do you think I could accomplish this?

As long as a reader understands and believes in your characters, those characters can be flawed in all kinds of ways. They can even be horrible, monstrous villains, and your readers will still want to hear about them.

It’s natural for your characters to have conflicts with each other. In fact, it would be pretty unrealistic and dull if they never did. As long as your reader understands why those characters want different things, the reader can understand or sympathize with all of them at once.

 

  1. What are some ways to make your plot more interesting for the reader to keep reading?

When we’re trying to come up with a plot, writers often think “and then…and then…and then…” This can kind of make your plot feel like a list of things that happen, without any strong connections between them. Try thinking “but…” instead. It can give your writing a greater sense of forward momentum.

For example, a plot construction could start like this: Mia goes to school. Then she finds a mysterious key on the playground. Then she discovers that the key opens doors to some other, dangerous realm.

It’s okay, but it feels a little flat and dull, right?

If I used the “but” idea instead, it can give the plot construction a lot more momentum and tension:

It’s Mia’s first day at a new school, but she’s shy and she doesn’t know any of the other kids, so when she arrives, she keeps to herself. She’s alone at the edge of the playground, waiting for the school day to start, but then she spots something in the grass. It’s a key—but it doesn’t look like any other key she’s ever used. It’s heavy and thin and silvery and odd. The first bell rings, but Mia is so intrigued by the key that she doesn’t notice. When she finally looks around, the playground is empty, and all the other kids are already inside. She bolts to the school door, but it’s locked. Even though she’s sure this won’t work, Mia tries putting the weird silver key in the lock…and the door opens. But what’s on the other side of the door isn’t a school at all.

See what I mean?

Of course, you don’t always have to think “but” instead of “and then”—it won’t always make sense in your stories—but it can help to give a story lots of twists and reactions, which keeps up the tension.

 

  1. How do you include details in your writing, while trying not to bore the readers with too much of it?

Great question!

It’s important for you, as a writer, to know all the tiny, insignificant details about your characters and settings, but you have to constantly ask yourself which details are worth being included. You want to use enough that your readers will be able to create clear pictures in their minds, but not so much that it feels boring or slows down the story.

When you’re introducing a character or place or important item for the very first time, you have a lot more freedom to linger on the details, helping your reader to create an image that he or she will use again and again while reading—but you don’t want to do this every time. Basically, you want to condense. Make things as vivid as they can be, but as well-paced as they have to be.

If I were introducing a new character, I could tell the reader: “The woman was probably between twenty and thirty years old. She had long black hair down to her elbows. Her skin was light brown. Her nose and chin and other features were small and symmetrical, except for her mouth, which was a little wider and redder than it needed to be. She wore a flowing blue cloak that might have been made out of silk or satin or another expensive material. Her eyes were dark brown, but with flickers of green light in their depths.”

It’s just too much stuff.

So, if I were to condense this and pick out the most important things, I might write, “The woman had long black hair, a flowing blue cloak, and light brown skin. Her features were small and symmetrical, except for her mouth, which was a little wider and redder than it needed to be. Her eyes were the color of a lake hidden in the shadows of a forest.”

 

  1. How do you create an antagonist that the readers will hate as much as the protagonist would?

If you make us care about the things that the protagonist cares deeply about—maybe her pet, or her home, or a friend or family member—and then have the antagonist hurt any of those things, that can work really well! Think of Harry Potter: It’s crummy when bad stuff happens to Harry, sure. But when Dobby the house elf, or Dumbledore, or another really lovable character gets hurt, that’s HORRIBLE, right? Then we feel not only fear/grief for that character, but we feel Harry’s fear, grief, and rage as well.

 

  1. How do you express emotions of you characters in your writing so the reader would feel it too?

I’m always trying to put myself—and my reader—directly inside of my characters. When I’m describing thoughts or emotions, I try to think about how they would impact a character not just mentally/emotionally but physically. This can really help to put us inside a character’s skin. If my main character is deeply sad, I wouldn’t just name that emotion—that would feel kind of shallow and bland. Instead, I’d try to describe how that emotion made her body feel. Maybe she would feel like her skeleton is made out of lead, and she can barely drag her heavy feet across the floor. Or maybe she would feel like she’s made out of blown glass, and any tiny injury would make her shatter. Then I might show the way she moves or speaks, paying attention to pace and verbs and vocabulary, trying to reveal her specific kind of sadness in each choice I make.

 

  1. What are some ways to help your brain when you run out of ideas?

Try taking a break! That’s what I do.  Either switch to another activity, or to another writing project, and see if that helps get things flowing again.

Also, every writer needs time to recharge her/his imagination. For many of us, that involves reading, watching, or listening to other writers’ wonderful stories. Art, theater, movies, music, and books can all be the fuel that gets you going again.

 

  1. When I am writing dialogue, I try to avoid using the word said too much, but the words that I substitute in for it sounds weird. What do I do then?

Actually, the super-famous bestselling author Stephen King, whose book, On Writing, is one of my favorite how-to writing books in the world, argues that the BEST form of dialogue attribution (“dialogue attribution” means words like “replied,” “asked,” “gasped,” “whispered,” “croaked,” etc.) is “said.”

Of course, you can—and should!—use other forms of dialogue attribution if it makes sense, or if it shows us something important about your characters or what they’re doing. “I don’t love you anymore,” she whispered paints a pretty different picture from “I don’t love you anymore,” she shouted at the top of her lungs, right? And other terms, if they’re used sparingly, can have a really great effect.

But in general, when you’re writing dialogue, the attribution should almost disappear in the reader’s mind. What’s important is the words that the characters are actually saying. If you try to use a word other than “said,” and then, when you reread the line, that word sounds weird and distracting to you, it’s taking away from the power of the actual dialogue. Unless you feel like a line needs something more specific, try sticking with “said.”

 

  1. What do you do when your writing sounds choppy and doesn’t sound good as you want it to be?

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

My first drafts never sound as good as I want them to be.

And neither do my second drafts. Or fourth drafts. Or eighth drafts.

But that’s normal. Writing is a process. It’s not supposed to be perfect right from the start.

There are lots of things I do that help me revise: I often take a break—sometimes for weeks or months—from a book so that I can go back to it with fresh eyes. I have a group of fellow writers who I meet with once a week; we share our works-in-progress and give each other honest feedback. Sometimes I have someone read my work aloud to me. Mostly, I just reread and rewrite over and over again, until the sentences sound as smooth and complete as I can make them.

It takes forever. But that’s normal too.

 

  1. Whenever I come up with a new idea to add to my story, it seems like it’s from another book and I am just copying that idea. What do I do then?

Yeah, I’ve been there.

The truth is, pretty much every idea you can come up with has been used before. (Well, maybe not if you’re Roald Dahl, but that’s the way it is for most of us.) Suzanne Collins was accused of stealing the idea for The Hunger Games. J.K. Rowling was accused of stealing the idea for Harry Potter—and then the writer she was accused of stealing it from said that he’d actually stolen the idea from someone else. And of course there are a zillion novels that intentionally steal and retell fairy tales, folktales, and myths. Unless an author takes another author’s material and uses it word for word, none of this really matters very much.

What makes a story unique is how it’s told.

            If a thousand writers sat down to write stories about creepy old houses, talking cats, and magical paintings—the big elements in The Books of Elsewhere—no two of those stories would be exactly the same. The plots, characters, and themes, the dialogue, the use of descriptive and figurative language, the tone and pace: they would all be completely different.

As long as a story sounds like you, not any other writer, that’s what matters.

Writers and the books they’ve read are a lot like cooks and their pantries. The more different kinds of books you’ve read, the more ingredients you’ve stored up in your kitchen cabinets. If you only ever read Marissa Meyer’s books, or Leigh Bardugo’s books, or Raina Telgemeier’s books, your own writing would probably sound a lot like theirs. It would be like only having sugar (or noodles, or cinnamon) in your pantry. But if you read a lot of different kinds of things—fantasy and realistic fiction, comics, scary stories, old books, new books, poetry, memoirs—then you’ll have lots more ingredients in your cabinets. And the things you finally sit down and create won’t sound exactly like anyone else. They’ll be your own unique concoctions.

 

  1. What are some things that you should not do when writing or developing ideas for your book?

Don’t tell yourself “no” too much.

Don’t try to make it perfect, right from the beginning. That’s what revising is for.

Don’t think about what’s going to happen when you’re done, or worry about if anyone is going to like it, or daydream about all the money you’re going to make when somebody publishes it and turns it into a blockbuster movie. Just focus on the work you can do today.

Don’t give up.

 

  1. Is there any advice that you have for writing and developing ideas for your story?

Personally, I always write my first drafts longhand, with pen and paper. This way, I can make things as scribbly and sloppy as they need to be. I can write myself notes, or cross things out, or doodle in the margins. When I write by hand, I have to slow down and think about and feel every single word, in a way that I don’t when I’m blazing along on my keyboard. Most of all, I know that I’m not trying to make things perfect. I’m not stopping to rethink or revise; I’m just getting the ideas out on paper before I forget them or give up on them.

As for developing ideas: Let yourself daydream. Take your time. I often have one piece of a story waiting in my brain for years before another piece comes along and connects with it. Start thinking of yourself as a collage artist. The world is full of little things you can pick up and use and combine with other things. Notice those things. Make notes. Look out the windows. You never know where your next idea will come from.

 

(My own slightly blurry House Elf.)

Spectacles

2016. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

December 12, 2016    Tags: , ,   

This year, you guys. This year.

Ugh.

I’m trying to hang on. I’m trying to take whatever small actions I can. I’m trying to move forward, and to look for all the cracks where the light gets in (RIP, Leonard Cohen), and to keep putting words on paper, instead of slipping down the whirlpool of terrifying news and social media and exhaustion.

I’m trying to hold on to hope.

Because we have to keep fighting.

—————–

Well, it has been so long since I’ve posted here that I’d actually forgotten how to log in on WordPress. Probably not a great sign. But it’s been my tradition to post a year-end list of everything I’ve written, published, and read, and I think my tired, angry brain can manage this much.

Here goes:

Novels published: DREAMERS OFTEN LIE  (Dial/Penguin, April 2016)
Short stories published: “The Troll Truth” (and accompanying essay, “The Edible Lie Detector Test”) in the anthology BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, VOL. 2: SCHOOL DAZED (Grosset & Dunlap, August 2016)
Poems published: 0 (It’s been a very bad year for poetry. *&#$ing 2016!!!)

Novels written: 2 (One MG, one YA)
Short stories written: 4
Poems written: 1 (like I said, BAD YEAR)
Plays written: 1 (almost)

 

Reading list (rereads are marked with asterisks, and read-alouds are in bold):

PRAGUE – Arthur Phillips
THE LAST MADAM: A LIFE IN THE NEW ORLEANS UNDERWORLD – Christine Wiltz
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, VOL 1: WRITING STORIES FROM REAL LIFE – Mike Winchell, Ed.
DO UNTO ANIMALS – Tracey Stewart
EL DEAFO – Cece Bell
THE ARGONAUTS – Maggie Nelson
NO LOGO – Naomi Klein
WINK POPPY MIDNIGHT – April Genevieve Tucholke
REBEL BELLE – Rachel Hawkins
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES – Sabaa Tahir
DOVE ARISING – Karen Bao
THE DARK DAYS CLUB – Alison Goodman
BONE GAP – Laura Ruby
REBEL OF THE SANDS – Alwyn Hamilton
GIRL LAST SEEN – Anne Greenwood Brown and Heather Anastasiu
JUST KIDS – Patti Smith
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA – April Genevieve Tucholke
WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR – Paul Kalanithi
THE SCORPIO RACES – Maggie Stiefvater
IN WINTER’S KITCHEN – Beth Dooley
WHEN YOU LUNCH WITH THE EMPEROR: THE ADVENTURES OF LUDWIG BEMELMANS – Ludwig Bemelmans
NINTH WARD – Jewell Parker Rhodes
THE WALLS AROUND US – Nova Ren Suma
EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR – E.K. Johnston
*DAVID COPPERFIELD – Charles Dickens
FATES AND FURIES – Lauren Groff
GREEN BABY – Susannah Marriott
THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS – Neil Gaiman
WEREWORLD – Curtis Jobling
* TELEGRAPH AVENUE – Michael Chabon
A MAN CALLED OVE – Fredrik Backman
WILD – Cheryl Strayed
RADICAL – E.M. Kokie
LIFE AFTER DEATH – Damien Echols
DEAF CHILD CROSSING – Marlee Matlin
THE CONSUMER HANDBOOK ON HEARING LOSS AND HEARING AIDS – Richard Carmen, Au D., ed.
CORPSES, COFFINS, AND CRYPTS: A HISTORY OF BURIAL – Penny Colman
HUSH, HUSH – Becca Fitzpatrick
WYTCHES, VOL 1 – Scott Snyder, etc.
THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH, FAMILY HAPPINESS, THE KREUZER SONATA, MASTER AND MAN – Leo Tolstoy
*SWEETBLOOD – Pete Hautman
BLOOD AND SALT – Kim Liggett
SEE NO COLOR – Shannon Gibney
COMET IN MOOMINLAND – Tove Jansson
BELZHAR – Meg Wolitzer
RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE – Kate DiCamillo
PETER NIMBLE AND HIS FANTASTIC EYES – Johnathan Auxier
A TANGLE OF KNOTS – Lisa Graff
NINE LIVES: FROM STRIPPER TO SCHOOLTEACHER – MY YEARLONG ODYSSEY IN THE WORKFORCE – Lynn Snowden
WRITING THE OTHER: A PRACTICAL APPROACH – Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward
STEERING THE CRAFT – Ursula K. LeGuin
THE JOKE – Milan Kundera

Standouts include the utterly gorgeous BONE GAP, which deserves every bit of praise it’s gotten, WILD, which was just as good as everybody says and which was the fuel for about a zillion conversations afterward, WYTCHES, which is the most viscerally terrifying comic I’ve ever read (knocking FROM HELL off of that particular pedestal), and the wondrous, world-affirming RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE and NINTH WARD. These are the books that make me want to keep going, keep trying, keep writing. And I have to give a special mention to FATES AND FURIES. I generally forget a character’s name and specific qualities soon after I finish a book–they just dissolve back into the slosh of fictional stuff bubbling in my brain–but Lotto and Mathilde stand out in my mind, as clear and solid and complicated as two real live people. Groff’s character construction is masterful.  Ooh–and THE ARGONAUTS. And JUST KIDS. And THE SCORPIO RACES.

Okay: it may have been a dark year, but there were a lot of beautiful books in it.

(Also, I have the little smiling creature on the sled in my life. That makes everything brighter.)

b-and-r-sledding

Spectacles

The Not-So-Big Bookish Wrap-Up of 2015

December 24, 2015    Tags: , , , ,   

So, it’s been a crazy year. I’ve read fewer books, written fewer stories and poems, traveled less. But I also moved to a new home, finally finished a book that was eight years in the distilling, and kept a tiny new human being alive. And I became something new too–it’s been like opening a door expecting to find another room, and instead finding another world. It’s been the biggest, quietest, longest, fastest, rawest year of my life.

2015. You’ve been a good one.

As has become my tradition, here’s a list of what I read this year (a zillion board books not included). It’s scantier than usual — for obvious reasons. Rereads are marked with asterisks, and read-alouds are in bold:

THE ART OF ASKING – Amanda Palmer
THE BOOK OF THREE (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #1)* – Lloyd Alexander
THE LAST REPORT OF THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE – Louise Erdrich
REBEL BOOKSELLER – Andrew Laties
THE BLACK CAULDRON (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #2)* – Lloyd Alexander
LAUGH LINES: SHORT COMIC PLAYS – Eric Lane and Nina Shengold, ed.
REVOLUTION – Russell Brand
YES PLEASE – Amy Poehler
STUFF AND NONSENSE – A.B. Frost
WISH YOU WERE HERE: THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY OF DOUGLAS ADAMS – Nick Webb
THE CASTLE OF LLYR (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #3)* – Lloyd Alexander
KURT VONNEGUT: THE LAST INTERVIEW (AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS) – Tom McCartan, ed.
THE APE’S WIFE AND OTHER STORIES – Caitlin R. Kiernan
THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY – Gabrielle Zevin
SOUL ON FIRE: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF PETER STEELE – Jeff Wagner
HOW TO BE PARISIAN WHEREVER YOU ARE – Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, Sophie Mas
HALF MAGIC – Edward Eager
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS: ADVICE ON LOVE AND LIFE FROM DEAR SUGAR – Cheryl Strayed
THE INNER VOICE: THE MAKING OF A SINGER – Renee Fleming
UNFATHOMABLE CITY: A NEW ORLEANS ATLAS – Rebecca Snedeker and Rebecca Solnit
TRIGGER WARNING: SHORT FICTIONS AND DISTURBANCES – Neil Gaiman
THE HALLOWEEN TREE – Ray Bradbury
MOONWALKING WITH EINSTEIN: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF REMEMBERING EVERYTHING – Joshua Foer
TARAN WANDERER (THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN #4) – Lloyd Alexander
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN – Jandy Nelson
TRAVELING MERCIES * – Anne Lamott
THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN – Jill Lepore
THE REAL BOY – Anne Ursu
DEAD WAKE: THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE LUSITANIA – Erik Larson
TEA WITH MR. ROCHESTER – Frances Towers
THE ART OF NEIL GAIMAN – Hayley Campbell
THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
COLLECTED POEMS: 1934 – 1952 – Dylan Thomas
THE POISON EATERS AND OTHER STORIES – Holly Black
PROXY – Alex London
PERSONAL EFFECTS – E.M. Kokie
GET IN TROUBLE – Kelly Link
THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE: ESSAYS – Ann Patchett
FAMILY MAN – Calvin Trillin
I AM MALALA – Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb
VOYAGERS: PROJECT ALPHA – D.J. MacHale
THE SIGN OF THE CAT – Lynne Jonell
TELEGRAPH AVENUE – Michael Chabon
THE MAP TO EVERYWHERE – Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
WHAT TO EXPECT: THE FIRST YEAR – Heidi Murkoff
PERFECT DRAGONFLY: 15 YEARS OF RED DRAGONFLY PRESS  – Scott King, ed.
ZERO TO FIVE: 70 ESSENTIAL PARENTING TIPS BASED ON SCIENCE – Tracy Cutchlow

Anne Lamott, Lloyd Alexander, and Michael Chabon were as wonderful as ever, but for me the standouts of the year were Kelly Link’s short story collection GET IN TROUBLE, which was gorgeous and strange and brilliantly crafted, like everything she does (I’m still thinking about “The New Boyfriend”), Ann Patchett’s THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE, which had passages that made me smile, get teary, and actually say “AMEN!” out loud, and THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN, which was so blow-you-out-of-the-water fascinating and encouraging that I wish I could scatter copies from a hot air balloon, watching them fall into the hands of present and future feminists and comic book fans alike.

As for Beren, current favorites are THE MITTEN, THE SNOWY DAY, and anything with ducks in it.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and peace, wonder, and joy to everyone. See you in 2016.

Beren and Cmas Tree

 

 

Spectacles

The Big Fat Book Wrap-Up of the Year

December 30, 2013    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   

2013 has skidded to an end so fast that I know I’ll be writing the wrong year on checks (yes, I still use checks) for weeks — or, if I’m honest, months — to come.

It’s been a year of massive revisions and small beginnings.  I started a new play (yeah, I’m surprised too), wrote the first several chapters of a new MG trilogy, revised THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME FIVE: STILL LIFE, edited some short stories, dug back into an old MG stand-alone, and rewrote the lumbering YA project for the eighth time, longhand, and am just now typing it in its nearly (I think…) finished form.

I appear to have written just four poems this year, which makes it the least poetic year of my life since 6th grade.  I wrote zero new short stories, which saddens and surprises me, but I should be back in the short story saddle soon.  I saw one novel published — THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE, VOLUME FOUR: THE STRANGERS — in July, and an anthology — STARRY-EYED: 16 STORIES THAT STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT — released in October, and I completed a novel — and series — with VOLUME FIVE: STILL LIFE.  I’m looking forward to some new adventures and some fresh starts in 2014. Lots more news on those fronts soon.

Between revisions, travel, and school visits, I plowed through about a third of the books that had been waiting in increasingly dusty piles all around my house.  Here’s 2013’s reading list.  As before, titles in bold are rereads, and asterisks denote books that Ryan and I read aloud together.

THE MARRIAGE OF STICKS – Jonathan Carroll
ARCADIA – Lauren Groff
*CINDER – Marissa Meyer
THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET – Brian Selznick
THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD – Charles Dickens
ROMMEL DRIVES ON DEEP INTO EGYPT – Richard Brautigan
STUPID FAST – Geoff Herbach
HOW TO BE A WOMAN – Caitlin Moran
AMERICAN ISIS: THE LIFE AND ART OF SYLVIA PLATH – Carl Rollyson
UNDERWORLD – Don DeLillo
TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN – Phillipa Pearce
A GATE AT THE STAIRS – Lorrie Moore
LAURA LAMONT’S LIFE IN PICTURES – Emma Straub
ODD GIRL OUT: THE HIDDEN CULTURE OF AGGRESSION IN GIRLS – Rachel Simmons
ALABASTER: WOLVES – Caitlin R. Kiernan
OUT OF THE EASY – Ruta Sepetys
TOUCHING FROM A DISTANCE: IAN CURTIS AND JOY DIVISION – Deborah Curtis
HOCUS POCUS – Kurt Vonnegut
THE BLOODY CHAMBER AND OTHER TALES – Angela Carter
NEW ORLEANS STORIES: GREAT WRITERS ON THE CITY – Andrei Codrescu, ed.
THIRTEEN REASONS WHY – Jay Asher
PRODIGAL SUMMER – Barbara Kingsolver
THE FLORABAMA LADIES’ AUXILIARY AND SEWING CIRCLE – Lois Battle
MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY – Winnifred Watson
A PROUD TASTE FOR SCARLET AND MINIVER – E.L. Konigsberg
STORYVILLE, NEW ORLEANS – Al Rose
NUTCRACKER OF NUREMBERG  – Donald E. Cooke
A GOOD HARD LOOK – Ann Napolitano
STIFF – Mary Roach
WHITE TEETH – Zadie Smith
THE PENDERWICKS – Jeanne Birdsall
A WRITER’S GUIDE TO EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES – Sherrilyn Kenyon
*THE HOBBIT – J.R.R. Tolkien
AN EXALTATION OF LARKS – James Lipton
SHIPBREAKER – Paolo Bacigalupi
THE CLOISTER WALK – Kathleen Norris
THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN – Simon Winchester
TRUMAN CAPOTE – George Plimpton
SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM – Joan Didion
*LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS – David Sedaris
THE SHADOW OF THE WIND – Carlos Ruis Zafon
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY – Ruta Sepetys
MIDNIGHT MAGIC – Avi
DE PROFUNDIS AND OTHER WRITINGS – Oscar Wilde
FOUNDING MOTHERS: WOMEN OF AMERICA IN THE REVOLUTIONARY ERA – Linda Grant DePauw
STAG’S LEAP – Sharon Olds
SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT – Beth Hoffman
JOHNNY AND THE DEAD – Terry Pratchett
THE JEDERA ADVENTURE – Lloyd Alexander
BELLS IN WINTER – Czeslaw Milosz
THE RESURRECTIONIST – Jack O’Connell
ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE – William Goldman
*THE WITCHING HOUR – Anne Rice
THREATS – Amelia Gray
GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD, AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF – Lawrence Wright
DAUGHTER OF HOUNDS – Caitlin R. Kiernan
ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING – Ray Bradbury
THE FANTASY WORLDS OF PETER S. BEAGLE (LILA THE WEREWOLF, THE LAST UNICORN, COME LADY DEATH, A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE) – Peter S. Beagle
*A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES – John Kennedy Toole
NO CONTEST: THE CASE AGAINST COMPETITION – Alfie Kohn
*BLINK – Malcolm Gladwell
GUSTAV GLOOM AND THE PEOPLE TAKER  – Adam-Troy Castro
GUSTAV GLOOM AND THE NIGHTMARE VAULT – Adam-Troy Castro
GUSTAV GLOOM AND THE FOUR TERRORS – Adam-Troy Castro
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES – Ray Bradbury
*OUT OF THE EASY – Ruta Sepetys
*PRIME – Poppy Z. Brite
*THE DARK THIRTY: SOUTHERN TALES OF THE SUPERNATURAL – Patricia C. McKissack
THE BOOKLOVERS GUIDE TO NEW ORLEANS – Susan Larson
ETIQUETTE (1960 edition, orig. 1922) – Emily Post
THE 13 TREASURES – Michelle Harrison
TALES FROM THE HOUSE OF BUNNICULA: INVASION OF THE MIND SWAPPERS FROM ASTEROID 6 – James Howe
THREE TIMES LUCKY – Sheila Turnage
STARRY-EYED: 16 STORIES THAT STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT – Ted Michael/Josh Pultz, ed.
THE BRONTES: CHARLOTTE BRONTE AND HER FAMILY – Rebecca Fraser
ELEANOR & PARK – Rainbow Rowell
SMASHED: STORY OF A DRUNKEN GIRLHOOD – Koren Zailckas
MARCH – Geraldine Brooks
THE ILLUSTRATED MAN – Ray Bradbury
WRONG THINGS – Poppy Z. Brite and Caitlin R. Kiernan
*THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS: ADRIFT IN THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC – J. Maarten Troost

 

Not counting much-loved rereads (looking at you, Bradbury and Tolkien), the books that really stuck with me this year are the fascinating GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD, AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF, by Lawrence Wright, the un-put-down-able ELEANOR & PARK, by Rainbow Rowell, Peter S. Beagle’s heartbreaking A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE, Geraldine Brooks’s luminous MARCH, and Lauren Groff’s gorgeous ARCADIA, which is the sort of flawlessly constructed, richly layered, utterly and frighteningly believable book that pulls you into itself and sends you back out into the real world tinted and changed.

Wishing you a 2014 rich with stories, satisfying work, and good surprises.

snowy night in red wing

A snowy night in Red Wing.

 

 

Spectacles

So long, 2012

January 2, 2013    Tags: , , , ,   

Well, another year is over.  I’m a bit more well-read, a bit more well-traveled, and a bit better at using my cell phone (now I can take photos AND email them to myself!).  Most of my 2012 writing energy was expended on drafting and revising and re-revising Volume Four: The Strangers, re-re-revising the Shakespearean YA project, and embarking on Volume Five.

According to my files, I wrote eight poems this year, but I don’t remember doing it.  (Hmm.)  I also saw my kids’ play, “Under the Bed,” performed.  I wrote/rewrote a couple of short stories and had a few accepted or published by various exciting places (BTW: My odd little story, “Paper Dolls,” is available in the new issue of American Athenaeum: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1480290270/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_9S2Zqb1SWDRRQ).   I also traveled around several parts of the US and got very good at packing a week’s worth of clothes in a weekend-sized suitcase.

And still–for some reason–I feel as though I didn’t get enough done.  But I did manage to read a few books.

Here’s what I accomplished, reading-wise, in 2012:
(Titles in bold are rereads; asterisks mark books that Ryan and I read aloud together)

THE RED AND THE BLACK – Stendhal
* MOCKINGJAY – Suzanne Collins
THE SCRAPBOOK OF FRANKIE PRATT – Caroline Preston
AMERICAN GODS – Neil Gaiman
BREADCRUMBS – Anne Ursu
CHIME – Franny Billingsley
THE NIGHT CIRCUS – Erin Morgenstern
ANGRY HOUSEWIVES EATING BONBONS – Lorna Landvik
* FOOD RULES – Michael Pollan
THE NEW YORK TRILOGY – Paul Auster
THE JOY OF HOBBY FARMING – Michael and Audrey Levatino
THE BIG CRUNCH –  Pete Hautman
OKAY FOR NOW – Gary D. Schmidt
THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE -Aimee Bender
SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME: A YEAR OF PASSIONATE READING – Sara Nelson
THE NAME OF THIS BOOK IS SECRET – Pseudonymous Bosch
THE RED TREE – Caitlin R. Kiernan
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD – Richard Yates
NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND – Bill Bryson
THE PARIS WIFE – Paula McLain
LIFE AND DEATH – Andrea Dworkin
WITH OR WITHOUT YOU – Brian Farrey
THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY – Henry James
AMERICAN PIE – Pascale la Draoulec
UNWIND – Neal Shusterman
THRESHOLD – Caitlin R. Kiernan
THE DROWNING GIRL – Caitlin R. Kiernan
GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES – Ruth Reichl
IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER – Italo Calvino
A TALE DARK AND GRIMM – Adam Gidwitz
ZIP – Ellie Rollins
ALL THE PRETTY HORSES – Cormac McCarthy
SATURDAY NIGHT: A BACKSTAGE HISTORY OF SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE – Doug Hill and Jiff Weingrad
SURVIVOR – Chuck Palaniuk
* MURDER OF ANGELS – Caitlin R. Kiernan
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED – Anne Lamott
SOMETHING RISING (LIGHT AND SWIFT)  – Haven Kimmel
THE GLASS CASTLE – Jeannette Walls
LOW RED MOON – Caitlin R. Kiernan
JAZZ – Toni Morrison
LIES (AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM) – Al Franken
AN ACCIDENTAL ADVENTURE #1: WE ARE NOT EATEN BY YAKS – C. Alexander London
MAMA MAKES UP HER MIND (AND OTHER DANGERS OF SOUTHERN LIVING) – Bailey White
THE GRAPES OF WRATH –  John Steinbeck
SLEEPING AT THE STARLITE MOTEL – Bailey White
A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES – Howard Zinn
* RAMBLES AROUND NEW ORLEANSRoy Blount Jr.
* GONE GIRL – Gillian Flynn
LOOKING FOR ALASKA – John Green
SPARROW ROAD –  Sheila O’Connor
DEAR GENIUS: THE LETTERS OF URSULA NORDSTROM
DANDELION WINE – Ray Bradbury
* DOWN RIVER – John Hart
STANDING IN THE RAINBOW – Fannie Flagg
GEORGIA BOTTOMS – Mark Childress
* MY NEW ORLEANS – Rosemary James
CLOUD ATLAS – David Mitchell
ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD – Kendare Blake
THE SOLACE OF LEAVING EARLY – Haven Kimmel
THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES – Ray Bradbury
CHASING VERMEER – Blue Balliet
LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS – Laura Ingalls Wilder
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE – Laura Ingalls Wilder
THE MAGUS – John Fowler
BETSY-TACY – Maud Hart Lovelace
BETSY-TACY AND TIB – Maud Hart Lovelace
MONEY – Martin Amis
SAVING GRACE – Lee Smith
THE SINGER – Cathi Unsworth
WONDER – R. J. Palacio
BLUEFISH – Pat Schmatz
WINESBURG, OHIO – Sherwood Anderson
I, CLAUDIUS – Robert Graves
RED CARPETS AND OTHER BANANA SKINS – Rupert Everett
* INSIDE OF A DOG – Alexandra Horowitz
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS – John Green
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN – Katherine Applegate
BETSY AND TACY GO OVER THE BIG HILL – Maud Hart Lovelace
BETSY AND TACY GO DOWNTOWN – Maud Hart Lovelace
TITHE – Holly Black
ANYA’S GHOST – Vera Brosgol
HEAVEN TO BETSY – Maud Hart Lovelace
MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN – Ransom Riggs
BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF – Maud Hart Lovelace
BRINGING UP BÉBÉ – Pamela Druckerman
THE TIGER’S WIFE – Teá Obreht
BETSY WAS A JUNIOR – Maud Hart Lovelace
THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE – Joan Aiken
KRAMPUS: THE YULE LORD – Brom (not the dog)
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN – Lionel Shriver
* VISITING TOM – Michael Perry

Several of the books I read this year were the ones people raved about–the ones on every bestseller list, the ones mentioned for every award and honor, the ones being made into movies as we speak–and with just a few exceptions, I found myself either disagreeing strongly with the raving people or scratching my head in bafflement.  Among the few I didn’t disagree about are John Green’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, which was just as beautiful and as near-perfect as everyone says and CLOUD ATLAS, which not only drew me (slowly but entirely) into its story but dazzled and awed me with its craft.  There are many other special, wonderful books on this year’s list (WITH OR WITHOUT YOU, THE TIGER’S WIFE, THE GLASS CASTLE, OKAY FOR NOW, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN…), but the ones that really shook me up were THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES — a reread, but one I fell in love with even more deeply this time around — and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, which I started before the shooting at Sandy Hook and finished afterward.  Its characterization is brilliant, the questions it raises are  terrifying and fascinating, and the added resonance of current events actually made my hands shake while I turned the pages.

Also, every writer and editor in the world should read the letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

Happy 2013, everybody.  I hope you spend it with good books, good health, and good people.

Spectacles

Some writerly advice should be ignored (she muttered obstinately)

August 24, 2012    Tags: , ,   

Just finished a round of line edits on my second/third/eleventy-hundredth  draft of Volume Four.  Generally, when I revise, I try to look at my work as a reader rather than as a writer–I pare down sentences, I pay attention to sound and rhythm, I look for logic holes, I think about pacing–but this time, perhaps because of some recent blog-surfing, a few particular writing “guidelines” kept looming up in my mind.

People are always asking writers for writing advice, and writers are always giving writing advice.  Often this advice is contradictory, but a few conclusions seem to be ubiquitous these days.  Conclusions like these:

Adverbs are bad.

– The word ‘suddenly’ is especially bad.

– Using synonyms for ‘said’ is bad.

– Using lots of adjectives is bad.

Boo, I say to all of this.  (And I say it like the old woman shouting at Buttercup in The Princess Bride.  Bow down to her!  The queen of filth!  The queen of putrescence!) Boo.

There’s a core of truth to all of these suggestions, of course.  But the problem with so many rules like these is that they deal with stylistic choices.  And style is individual, it’s subjective…and stylistic rules are often arbitrary.  Saying that adverbs are evil is like declaring that painters shouldn’t use pale yellow–or, if they do use it, it should be used sparingly (adverb!).  I say, if that pale yellow speaks to you, or speaks for you, you should probably use it.  Maybe you should even use it lavishly, wildly, and unrepentantly (adverb, adverb, adverb!).

I just read a blog in which a writer/teacher complained that writers tend to describe the actions of their characters’ eyes too much–that they are always looking, staring, watching, blinking, gazing. Well, yes.  They are.  Unless they are blind, your characters will always be doing something with their eyes.  Do you have to describe what they are doing at every second?  Heck, no.  If it makes sense for your story, or your style, or if it conveys a character’s thoughts/feelings/attitude, should you use it?  Yes.  (I had to tell myself this, because simply reading that blog made every bit of eye-related action leap distractingly off of the page at me as I went through my latest draft.)

If you subscribe to any single source of advice, you will start to write to please that source.  We’ve all done this: You have a teacher who says you can’t start a sentence with a preposition; you stop starting sentences with prepositions.  You have a teacher who circles every form of the verb ‘to be’ in your writing, and suddenly your work is crammed with interesting action words.   A professor who sneers at similes?–Similes gone.  The style of your writing changes.  And maybe the style it changes to isn’t really yours anymore.

Here’s a piece of writing advice that I wholeheartedly believe, and it comes from Neil Gaiman: Remember, when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right.  When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

So, sweeping, prohibitive writing advice?  Use it cautiously (adverb).

This is one more New Orleans photo–one of my favorite tomb angels in Metairie Cemetery.  I love it because the book in her lap looks much more like a novel than a bible, and the expression on her face isn’t mournful or transcendent, it’s just vaguely bored.

 

 

Spectacles

Only 43 days left? It’s almost anoetic!

May 23, 2012    Tags: ,   

In general, I try not to rely on a thesaurus while I’m writing.  I’ve found that, unless you already have a very clear idea of the type of word you need, staring at a list of not-always-exact synonyms with all their sneaky connotations and roots and sounds will only lead you astray.  However, I do love the thesaurus for those moments when you know there’s a word that starts with “m” and it means something like fake or cheap, but your brain is refusing to give up the goods.

So, the other day, I fell down a thesaurus hole (and I would guess that thesauri would dig rather large holes) while I was on just such a quest, and I found a list of synonyms for “surprised” that were so strange I was sure that some of them must be fake.  Someone must have hacked into the online thesaurus and added these words, I thought to myself, like I saw my high school students do with Wikipedia. (The town where I taught was famous for being the home of several of my 11th graders.)  But it turns out that these wonderful words were real.  The first–anoetic–which actually means ‘unthinkable’ (and which isn’t recognized by WordPress’s spell check, apparently), sounded familiar.  The next, blutterbunged, had that too-perfect-to-be-true sound to it, and it’s an antiquated adjective that means exactly what it should mean.  A ferly is a Scottish adjective or noun meaning something strange and amazing and unexpected.  Best of all was gloppened–which is a form of the verb gloppen, meaning to surprise or frighten someone.  You can be a gloppener.  You can do something gloppeningly.  You can have said something gloppenedly.

For some reason, this makes me ridiculously happy.

And just for fun, here’s Brom on the porch, disemboweling a new toy.

 

Spectacles

The countdown continues: 51 days

May 15, 2012    Tags: ,   

I am a failure at this daily blogging thing.  However, my failure is making this countdown to THE SECOND SPY go a lot faster.  (Only 51 days left? It seems like just one entry ago there were 55…)

Today’s F.A.Q.: How old were you when you started writing?

This is my very first rejection letter.  It came from Highlights Magazine, and I just rediscovered it last fall, glued into my oldest scrapbook amid a lot of My Little Pony and Care Bears birthday cards.  Of course, Highlights handles submissions from kids very kindly, so it wasn’t so much a rejection as a “Don’t call us; we’ll call you” sort of letter, but the outcome was the same.  I’d sent them some little four-line rhyming poem–I think there were cows in it–and I was trying to write something that the magazine would like, not that I liked. 

You can see the date, typewritten at the top: December 30, 1987.   The day after my eighth birthday.

The poem I sent to Highlights is the first poem that I can recall putting on paper outside of school, on my own, just because I wanted to.  I started writing my first “book” not too long afterward: It was a lavish mess about a rebellious princess who ran away from her kingdom and ended up in a valley full of unicorns (as one does, if one is a rebellious princess).  I didn’t show that story to anyone.  And I didn’t show anyone my next story (which was probably also about unicorns), or my next poem, or the story after that, or the poem after that.  And I didn’t submit my writing to any kind of publication for another eight years.

By then I had written dozens of poems and stories.  And I had gotten a little bit better at it.

 

Spectacles

56 days

May 10, 2012    Tags: ,   

Today’s accomplishments: Typing and cleaning up more than 4,000 words of the current version of Volume Four, and smacking a wasp that had gotten into the house before Brom could eat it.

Today’s frequently-asked question: How many books have you written?

If the questioner means, ‘How many books have you written that have been published, the answer is: 2, with #3 coming soon (or #4, if you count my chapbook of poetry.)

If the questioner means, ‘How many books have you written, published or not, the answer is: I couldn’t possibly count them.  I’m currently revising two books, and I have two more waiting in the wings with their early chapters and notes.  And, back in my practicing days, I wrote an adult novel, a series of graphic novels, and dozens–perhaps hundreds–of novels that end at Chapter 3, where the writing started to get hard, and I gave up.

Here’s a picture that I sometimes show at schools:

All of those binders and notebooks are full of my writing: hundreds of poems, dozens of short stories, and many novels — some finished, and some that never will be finished. There is another row of binders that can’t be seen on the shelf up above, and another stack of currently-in-use books and folders sits on my desk.  I’ve never counted to see when and where I reached a million words (Ray Bradbury once said, “If you want to be a writer, write a million words,” which I think is pretty good advice) but I’m sure that most of those first million are here, in these folders.  And I’m grateful that no one will ever get to read most of them.

 

Spectacles

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