Lloyd Albert passed away yesterday. I knew him as my cheeky Grandpa who knew a little bit about everything. But despite almost 93 years of life, I feel I didn’t know him enough. My relationship with Grandpa was in vignettes—summer vacations and reflections from my mother. I grew up in Colorado and he lived in Tacoma, although I had the fortune of seeing him more often these last few years in Portland. In grief, I’m compelled to write about his life. But I’m going to tell a few stories instead. Who he was in-between the major beats in the life:
The Prankster: “Kelly, do you want ice cream?” Grandpa asked on a visit to Colorado. I was maybe four. He handed me a big bowl with a half-teaspoon of mint-chocolate chip. I burst into tears (not the intent). He pulled the same stunt years later on a camping trip, serving me a penny-sized pancake and drop of syrup. By ten years old, my sense of humor has sufficiently ripened and I laughed. I still grin when I see a small fleck of pancake in the corner of a frying pan: a breakfast of champions.
The Feminist: “We need to do something about guns, the climate, and healthcare.” Grandpa became more vocal on politics as we broiled through 2016 and beyond. I don’t know many nonagenarians, but those few aren’t exactly progressive thinkers. Grandpa was pulling for Elizabeth Warren in 2020 just to spite the ex-president. “If she won, I think he’d drop dead of shock.” He voted for women down the ballot in the most-recent local election and made political discourse with an older relative far more comfortable than in most families. We were pleased as punch.
The Film Buff: Grandpa and his late-girlfriend Tony would keep a journal of every film they watched together. As a young man in the Marine Corp, he got a photo with John Wayne, who was shooting a movie on the military base where Grandpa was stationed. Then there was the Bob Hope story, which he always told so gleefully I didn’t mind hearing it over and over. “Your Grandma and I pulled over for gas late one night and she stayed in the car when I went in. There was a guy at the counter paying for gas, very familiar. I tapped him on the shoulder. ‘Hey,’ I said. ‘Aren’t you Bob Hope?’ The old man shook his head. ‘No, but I get that all the time.” Then Grandpa would lean in and whisper. “It was Bob Hope.”
The Informed: Grandpa could tackle just about any personal, political, or pop-culture topic and give an opinion. He kept newspaper clippings of daily trivia and would quiz us kids on ‘this day in history’ over breakfast. From the Hiroshima to Paris Hilton (yes, he once made a Paris Hilton joke), Grandpa had at least cursory knowledge of all things. He was nearly deaf, but as long as we armed ourselves with a pen and paper or a voice-to-text app, the man could carry a conversation better than anyone else in the room. He didn’t pass this trait on to me, but I like to think I inherited his curiosity.
We (my mother and I) made it to his bedside last weekend, after he made the decision to discontinue dialysis. He was “tickled pink” to go into hospice and enjoy his final days in comfort. That Friday would be the last good day. For over 3 hours he chatted non-stop about his mother during the War, old fishing trips (he knew the name of every lake and river in Washington State), and inconsequential family stories that suddenly carried all the weight of the world. He bragged to doctors about his 15 great grandchildren. “Everyone turned out great,” he told us. As my cousin said, “no one was prouder of the family than Grandpa.” On Saturday he woke up disoriented and sleepy. Sleepier on Sunday, sleepier on Monday. He knew this would happen but, just as he wished, he had comfort.
One of the last things I heard him say was, “Look at that horizon.” Now, I love a forced metaphor on the beauty of life. The truth is he was looking at tourism commercial on the hospital TV before falling asleep again. He mustered the energy to say it, maybe because old habits die hard and he was looking for a news headline and saw a picture instead. But I think, at least in part, he noticed a horizon because he loved the great outdoors. Grandpa hadn’t been to his property on the Tilton River for a least a decade, but on that property he was at his happiest. It’s where he taught me how to fish, make a fire, and roast a hot dog. In recent years, his great grandchildren took to the river, bringing home fresh-caught rainbow trout and tales from his little slice of home away from home. That property is our most precious family heirloom. I’ve been visiting again since I moved to Portland and look forward to going back in summers to come.
Early in my career, I went out on a fishing boat at midnight. My brain slipped and sputtered in my skull for a hellish 24 hours. I wished for a moment of stillness, just five minutes to have my feet on the ground without capitulating sideways. But the shore was miles away. There was no reprieve, no stillness, no matter how badly I wanted it. Grief’s like that too. As my mother and I sat at Grandpa’s beside, I wanted stillness more than anything. For myself, but more-so for her. She held his hand, telling him he was the best dad in the world and that she loved him. Softly, he whispered back, “I love you too.” Leaving the hospital that last time was agony. And though with left him in the care and love of local family (we’re forever indebted to my uncle for taking care of Grandpa all these years), pieces of ourselves stayed with him. Why else would we feel so empty?
I knew we’d get here. We’d arrive in a world without the only Grandpa I’d ever known. Was it too soon? Is it selfish to even think so? Ninety-two isn’t too soon by any human metric. But for us—the Bakers, the Alberts, and all who loved him—it’s too soon. I miss him. We miss him. Tacoma, with its dozens of buildings built with Grandpa’s hands, is missing something. In grief, I hope to better appreciate the memories. The pieces he literally made—my family. The piece of property off the Tilton River. Pancakes in the woods. Photos. Newspaper clippings. Life isn’t a puzzle, and I’m belaboring metaphors again. But from one red-head to another, I am a piece of him. He was the best Grandpa in the world, he was loved, and our memories of him are loved.
I love you, Grandpa. Thank you for everything.
Rosewater (The Wormwood Trilogy, #1)
Death of a Showman (Jane Prescott #4)
In the Garden of Spite
The Rosewater Insurrection (The Wormwood Trilogy, #2)
Rock Paper Scissors
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)
Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #9)
A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3)
The Princess Diarist
The Rosewater Redemption (The Wormwood Trilogy, #3)
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law
Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas
Natasha Dow SchÃ¼ll
Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence
Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation
Anne Helen Petersen
I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story
Truth of the Divine (Noumena, #2)
Playing with Myself
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou's Autobiography, #1)
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games, #0)
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Ibram X. Kendi
The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were There
Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey
Hollow Kingdom (Hollow Kingdom, #1)
Kira Jane Buxton
Shout Your Abortion
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror
Robert Louis Stevenson
Feral Creatures (Hollow Kingdom, #2)
Kira Jane Buxton
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle
Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey
Watership Down (Watership Down, #1)
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
Once There Were Wolves
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot
I'm Glad My Mom Died
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1)
Xiran Jay Zhao
Project Hail Mary
Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Taylor Jenkins Reid
How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question
Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World
Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice
My Heart Is a Chainsaw (The Lake Witch Trilogy, #1)
Stephen Graham Jones
Diary of a Misfit: A Memoir and a Mystery
All Things Aside: Absolutely Correct Opinions
Asterisks denote rereads
Favorites: *His Dark Materials, The Chaperone, The House of Spirits, Where the Crawdads Sing, Story of Your Life and Others, Becoming, *The Goldfinch, Educated, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Amity and Prosperity
Some Selected Reviews:
1) Beautiful Country Burn Again—Ben Fountain
I didn’t love it. Not because it was bad, but because I was there. This is a rehash of the dumpster fire. If you want to go forward in time, ten years from now (if humanity makes it), this book can serve as a reminder on what went down. But if you are looking to learn something new, I’d say skip it.
2) Furiously Happy—Jenny Lawson
With maybe the exception of Catcher in the Rye, I don’t like the stream-of-consciousness writing style. This is a preference thing. I can see where Lawson would be hilarious to other people. Her observations and interpretations of mental illness are funny. I just never laughed. But I would love recommendations for more humor authors.
3) We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled—Wendy Pearlman
Overwhelming. It’s a series of short personal stories from Syria prior to and during the rebellion. It’s excellent in that it takes you out of the statistics and the news surrounding Syria and puts you on the ground with its people.
4) The Very Worst Missionary—Jamie Wright
This is about a cynical Christian woman serving as Missionary in Costa Rica. I don’t read a lot of literature about religion, especially from the perspective of a devoutly religious person, so this was a fresh perspective. Furthermore it surprised me because, in spite of her faith, she calls out the crap in being Missionary. As non-religious person, I felt I wasn’t quite the target audience. She has long passages about her love for God that I just can’t identify with. But that’s personal bias and does not reflect the quality of the book. It was an interesting journey and I enjoyed it.
5) Simon vs the Homo Sapian Agenda—Becky Albertalli
There is a place for high-school based dramas. I’m glad they exist, especially if they address an issue. This one is about a closeted teen grappling with everything that comes with being a closeted teen. It’s clever. It’s fun. It has heart. But YA just isn’t my genre…. except for some fantasy YA here and there.
6) Milk and Honey—Rupi Kaur
My goodness. This was the first poetry collection I’d read since high school and I don’t think I could have picked up anything heavier. I recommend it as an awareness piece, but with great digression. It has graphic descriptions about assault, so if that’s a trigger for you, please skip it. I can’t say poetry is my genre, but I’m glad I read it.
7) Fear: Trump in the White House
Keeping up with politics is becoming and act masochism. Like many of you I teeter between being shocked by the bullshit….and not being surprised at all. If you crave more examples of how corrupt, heartless, and downright stupid the president is….and I guess part of me does?.....this is your book. But holy crap it’s exhausting.
8) Where’d You Go, Bernadette—Maria Semple
This book should be read because of its narrative structure alone. Much of it is told through emails, written records, etc. It’s done well and it’s a good story.
9) On the Come Up—Angie Thomas
It’s hard to read this book without comparing it to The Hate U Give. It’s by the same author and addresses similar social issues. Both are great, but I liked On the Come Up just a teensy bit more. The Hate You Give uses tragedy to explore the Black Lives matter movement. On the Come Up uses an incident that was less violent but salient in explaining the everyday fears of impoverished black communities. Plus I like the lead protagonist. She makes mistakes, she’s impulsive. She’s rocketed into a problem she isn’t emotionally ready to tackle and is resistant to the advice of her elders. You know, a kid.
10) The Bookshop of Yesterdays—Amy Meyerson
Do you like the “we have to save the small business just in time” trope? Do you like predictable love triangles? Do like brooding and mysterious sexy guys? I don’t. It has a decent twist and a scavenger hunt. I like scavenger hunts. But next.
11) Crazy Rich Asians—Kevin Kwan.
A little formulaic. I walked into this knowing it was a romantic comedy, I just thought it would be a little more avant-garde. But it’s enjoyable. I plan to read the sequel.
12) The House of Spirits
This is Ken Follett meets…… well, I’m not sure who it meets. It’s like Ken Follett but with a quirky twist. It has a smaller scope of characters with a spiritual bent. And the alternations between third person and first person with the villain is unlike anything I’ve read before. 5 stars. Read it.
13) Calypso—David Sedaris can’t write a bad book. He can’t do it. As always with Sedaris, if you can get it on audio, do. His delivery makes the stories better, 10-fold.
14) Where the Crawdads Sing—Delia Owens
This book is getting a lot attention….. and………yeah! It’s a solid story, and about an amateur ecologist. *wave hands*
15) If Beale Street Could Talk—James Baldwin
I’m not sure about this one. The author wasn’t clear about his attitude on abusive relationships. And this one had an intimate scene that got rapey. But it wasn’t framed as assault throughout the rest of the book. It was a little cringy.
16) The Tattooist of Auschwitz—Heather Morris
World War II dramas, especially true personal account like this this one, are always worthy of our attention.
18) There, There—Tommy Orange
It’s not a bad book but it has a thing in it (“thing” because I don’t want to get spoilery) that’s just hard to read. It succeeds in addressing multiple social issues, it’s just really brutal.
17) Circe--Madeline Miller
I’m not a Greek mythology buff. My knowledge ends at Homer’s the Odyssey which I read in school like everybody else. I can’t comment on the book’s faithfulness to source material, but it was alright.
18) Educated—Tara Westover
Excellent. This book will make you frustrated, almost unbearably, but without giving too much away, you will be satisfied by the end. Personally I just love accounts of people, especially impressionable young people, getting out of bad situations.
We have a nice list. We have a naughty list. As for everything in between, I still give them a hardy nod.
Asterisks denote rereads
Best of the Best of the Best:
I enjoyed this one on audio and it’s especially good. I’d put it up there with My Antonia narrated by Patrick Lawlor for favorite listening. It’s a wonderful story spanning three generations culminating in one young man who was born female. I look forward to listening again one day.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle—Shirley Jackson
I love it. I love it. I love. If Tim Burton tried to write a Lemony Snicket book, this would be the result.
The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke—Suze Orman
Almost everyone I know in my generation is struggling with student loans, car payments, saving for retirement, and kissing goodbye any hope of ever being a home-owner (myself included). This is not a book of miracles, but gives advice in plain language on how to overcome debt and make investments. I highly recommend it to anyone who falls into one or several of the above categories.
How Democracies Die
Overwhelming. Everyone should read this book, but I fear its readership will play choir to the authors' preacher. We have so much work to do as a nation, and yet the examples of our peers are so very bleak.
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex—Mary Roach
This book is for everyone. Who doesn’t want to read about historical and modern experiments in sexual behavior? It borders on cringy too bizarre, all of it engrossing.
Archy’s Life of Mehitabel
I doubt you’ve heard of this one, but for being about a cricket and a cat, it’s oddly profound (and hilarious).
The Catcher in the Rye
I’m not sure why I enjoyed this one so much. Stream-of-consciousness stories usually don’t appeal to me. Maybe I just love a good anti-hero.
Other mentions include the Mistborn Trilogy, Silent Spring, Maus, The Disaster Artist, The Color Purple, and everything by David Sedaris.
Maybe it’s petty jealousy, but I have yet to fall in love with a dragon book. The late McCaffrey has oodles of fans. She doesn’t need me. But domestic abuse and bland protagonists aside, I thought it was boring. I’m sorry.
Wind in the Willows—Kenneth Graham
Again, maybe it’s petty jealousy at far more lucrative animal-authors. But it went on. And on. And on. And on…. in under 300 pages. If you want personified English wildlife, read Redwall.
The Circle-- Dave Eggers
Science fiction demands some degree of suspension of disbelief. But this takes place in the real world in the not-too-distant future, and yet our dumbass protagonist doesn’t question the total relinquishing of privacy. She just dances through the book happy to have a 24 hour twitter feed. The message is a good one, but the execution didn’t hit the mark.
A Tale of Two Cities—Charles Dickens
I don’t like Charlies Dickens. There. I said it.
Ready Player One
Putting this on the skip list might be a little harsh. It’s not the worst thing ever. Some of it’s clever. But it gives into bad-teen-romance bull-crap you can smell from a mile away. 1) Girl says she is hideous and you can never look at her---you know it’s going to end up being some barely visible birthmark. Spoiler: it is. 2) Girl tells guy to leave her alone. A life-threatening situation compels him to send her another message. Unnecessarily tacks on “P.S. I saw a picture of you in RL and you’re super hot.” Bite me.
What did you read? What did you love! Let me know!!
Happy New Year,
“Where is the audiobook?” is the second-most asked question I get from readers, right after, “who the heck are you?” I love audiobooks. They make up about thirty percent of my yearly reading list (I count them as reading… fight me). Thus, it made good sense for me to pitch Nyra snout-first into the MP3 world. A friend loaned me a Blue Yeti Microphone, I learned the basics of Audacity, and got to work.
You’ve never heard so much swearing.
Nyra doesn’t lend itself to out-loud reading, at least not for me and my self-ascribed dyslexia. They are my words, and yet I couldn’t read them. Every other sentence was a stumble. A single chapter took days to record, edit, and refine, and even so, the final product was subpar. I needed a professional, one who could machete through the mayhem. My fellow indies recommended the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) where I could find a reader for a split royalty. Harkening back to my first FAQ, my expectations were low. The Roy Dotrices (A Song of Ice and Fire) and Patrick Lawlors (My Antonia) of the universe had contracts with far more prestigious authors. At best, this would be a passion project between two amateurs doing their best with what they had.
In a few days of auditioning, I found my Patrick Lawlor, or rather, he found me. Andrew Pond (yes, his name looks very good on a water-themed cover) crafted a soundbite that felt like a piece of theater. He did the accents, he did the voices, he had urgency, and he had patience. Whether his storytelling abilities came from his career as an actor/playwrite or an innate ear for narration, Mr. Pond did, what I'd deemed, the impossible.
Collaborating with him was joyous and at a breakneck pace. He turned out top-notch chapters one after another, finishing MONTHS before the deadline. He incorporated my edits but brought his own flavor to the production, and by flavor, I mean entire recipes. There are over twenty speaking parts in Volume I. Mr. Pond came up with voices for ALL of them. Let me repeat that: ALL OF THEM, even characters with a couple of lines. Much like the D'ysquiths in ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’, he bounced seamlessly between many people (er, dragons). It’s transfixing to the point it makes me a little jealous. As I said, theater. If I’m ever in Chicago, I’ll be bee-lining to his theater company to catch a show.
I won't go so far as to say my book is great, but I can assure you the audiobook is. Very great. D’ysquith great. All of that credit goes to Mr. Pond’s passion and perseverance.
The release is tentative, but I expect it will be available in the next few weeks. You’ll find it on iTunes, Amazon, and Audible (for which your first download is free... and we still get paid). I can’t wait to share it with you.
Please visit Andrew Pond at his website and twitter.
Maple trees and lots of sap,
Asterisks denote rereads
To Say Nothing of the Dog was my absolute favorite. It’s a witty time travel story where a single cat disrupts the space-time continuum. Suspense and hilarity ensue. Other favorites included:
--The Last Policeman (an officer trying to do his job six months before an asteroid will destroy humanity)
--Station Eleven (Alternating flashes before and after a pandemic)
--The Hate U Give (Addressing the Black Lives Matter movement through a young woman)
--A Man Called Ove (The first five minutes of Up, but funny too!)
--Fun Home (Graphic novel chronicling the life and suicide of the author’s father)
--The Handmaid’s Tale (American women lose all reproductive rights)
--Turtles All the Way Down (A teenager’s struggle with OCD)
--Big Little Lies (Kindergarten-mom wars turn into murder)
--Little Fires Everyway (A struggling artist reveals a hidden past)
--Mistborn (Basically metal-bending from Avatar The Last Airbender with a LOT more detail)
--You Don’t Have to Say You Lovely (The absolutely true story of a Spokane Native American)
The following may have value to you. They didn’t do it for me:
--The Silver Eyes (Poorly written cash-in on the Five Nights at Freddy’s game series)
--The Bridges of Madison County (I couldn’t care less about the breeding pair in this story)
--Fahrenheit 451 (Why do they so vehemently destroy books just because they’re obsolete? It’s like having a special CIA just to find and burn VCRs)
--Dead Until Dark (Are there any vampire books out there that DON’T glorify sexual/domestic abuse? I’m swiftly losing faith in the whole mythology)
--Wuthering Heights (Some extremely unpleasant people fall in love. The End)
Recommendations for 2018 welcome!!!
Let me be clear: the title of this blog implies I am a good storyteller. This isn’t necessarily true (I have a chronic fear of overstating my abilities). The following story is not about how I became a great novelist but how I became a better novelist, the word 'better' being contingent on how much you may or may not like old-school animal fiction and long-winded nostalgia.
During an ill-timed bout of colitis (note: they’re all ill-timed), I punched out the final sentence of The Waters of Nyra on September 5th, 2011. This was it: the magnum opus. The next Redwall, the next Watership Down—you know, the best seller debut authors think they've write on the first try. I sought out test audiences online—my last chance to bask in anonymity before I skyrocketed into a gig with Penguin.
This needs to be halved, said the first reviewer. As the first comment, I attributed it to be poor taste. Then came the second. Tell less. Show more. Okay, another person who doesn't appreciate talking animals. Then came a third reviewer, another, and another, each saying a version of the same thing, each a little punch to my formerly-recalcitrant ego. This isn't to say they clobbered Nyra. For each smart tap against the verbose prose, I got a compliment on the story or character development. Maybe my peers were being polite, but it was a saving grace. I was down, but they didn't kick. On the proverbial pavement, I took notes but remained in denial. I wouldn't swallow the bitter pills. Instead they lathered in my mouth, making me begrudge the taste rather than reap much benefit. Thus my rewrites were few. I believed the audience for Nyra was out there and I'd find it in due course. I searched. A lot. In my first attempts to find representation I was rejected in the ballpark of 200 emails. Still, I kept trying, waiting for the market to change, waiting for a publishing house or agency to realize my genius. It didn't come.
Grad school did.
Autumn of 2012 buried me in a new and far more promising career goal (although we can quibble about job security as a wildlife biologist in another blog). I had papers, projects, and a master's thesis to scribble out before I fell off my parents' health insurance. However, I didn't stop writing recreationally. Exhausted by my previous life of minimum wage and the ever-present dragon that went with it, I turned to a new idea: paranormal young adult fiction. It defied my self-ascribed dignity. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a fine genre. Reading is reading. Stories are stories. But at the time, my only exposure to paranormal YA was the glorified domestic abuse of Twilight. It left me disgruntled, yet I read it over and over. My interest in Stephenie Meyers’ sparkly vampires lingered entirely for the sake of satire. So, as a literary experiment, I would copy it with its most hackneyed tropes, including an underdeveloped romance, obvious villains, and magical abilities existing purely to move an already-feeble plot. Furthermore, I would defy Nyra and write as simplistically as possible. No flowery language. No lush descriptions. Dumb it down. Appeal to the popular market and clipped attention spans. That was surely the key to cracking through the wall of success.
I tapped the manuscript out at 55,000 words, writing in the evenings and weekends when I had a low homework load. The finished product was rife with clichés, told through a protagonist as bland as Bella Swan: Grade-A satire. But after the first (and only) read through, I slammed on the breaks. It was a parody, but unfunny. It was simply a bad rip-off. It had no snark, no Douglass Adams or Terry Pratchett-style wit. I halfheartedly wrote a few representatives but quickly gave up. I didn’t’ care if this was marketable (and it likely wasn't). I didn’t want my name on it. I threw myself back into school, a bit older but far, far wiser.
I might have puttered along forever had it not been for Nikki. Nikki was an old friend from high school. We hadn’t been in touch, existing to one another as occasional posts on news-feeds. But sometime in 2013, Nikki caught my eye again: she’d self-published a book. I’d never known an author before, not with which I’d had sleepovers and discussed guppy breeding techniques. Nikki had written an adult scifi novel and, unlike me, had successfully captured the wit and wonder of Monsieurs Adams and Pratchett. It might have been my first instinct to revisit the paranormal novel and “funny it up.” But for whatever reason, I didn’t. Instead, I went back to the dragon, dusted her off, and read her with clearer eyes.
At long, long last, I saw her properly: a decent story told with several thousand words too many. I chopped. I cut. I pasted. I pared. Volume I (the first half) lost about 10,000 in mostly adjectives. Friends jumped in with their own scissors. In 2014 I went live, and though Nyra still has shortcomings, my few readers were kind and anxious for the sequel.
So what changed between the pre and post Nikki eras? Several things, I suppose. For nearly eight years I’d been writing one novel or another (sans my penultimate semester of graduate school, which I dedicated to my research). The paranormal crap-manuscript made up one of those years, at the critical juncture between Nyra’s completion and her intensive editing process. Much as I despise the crap novel, dismissing it entirely was based on hot-tempered prejudice for its antecedents. Yet in creating it, I'd tightened my prose in a way I'd once thought excessive. In retrospect, though, I was slimming down to a new writing style, one much more amenable. Yes, it’s still a bad story. No, you can’t see it. But perhaps the very bland Josephine Jakes (the protagonist) gave voice to a dragon struggling to speak.
Author Maurine Johnson once said you have to suck a LOT before you make anything worthwhile. New York Times bestselling authors are no exception. I am not a New York Times best selling author. I don’t expect to be one anymore. Even after editing, The Waters of Nyra is unrepresented, which is either my fault or that of the outside force known as ‘the market.’ Likely both. I haven’t bridged past the “suck point” yet (nearly 400 rejections for Nyra are telling). I may have given up on her. I have given up on full-time authoring. I have not given up on writing.
I was once in a writer’s group where a veteran member pushed new members down, kicked them, kicked them again, then spat their ‘better’ writing down in their faces. Do not be this person. Pushing is okay. Pushes helped me. They still do. I was lucky to avoid kicks (well, most of them). Everyone is learning. Those who claim otherwise are missing the point of the art. But spare them your kicks too. We want them to keep writing. We want them to learn how to learn. They may just need more pushes.
Image credit: “Dragon Writer” by 25kartinok
Excerpt from Satan’s Secretary (aka The Crap Manuscript):
I became employed at the Sector, some hundred miles into the Earth’s mantle. Or so I assumed. No one ever told me, but I pictured the Sector deep beneath the mortal surface; a grotto for the grimly employed. After all, Grim itself hired me, to read, to analyze, but mostly to click. Click for Heaven, click for Hell, and give not input otherwise.
Asterisks denote rereads
O Pioneers, My Antonia, Harry Potter, and Where the Red Fern Grows remain favorites. Among books you won’t find in stores (yet) I recommend The Kill Seekers by Marc Hobbs (science fiction) and Angela’s Wife by Jonni Petit (the true story of a transgender woman and her family). Go Set a Watchman had extremely mixed reviews, but I thought it beautiful portrayed the fragility of our expectations. Lastly, everyone should read The Picture of Dorian Grey, which is both imaginative and frightening, as well as 1984 by George Orwell. While you’re at it, reread Animal Farm, which is still relevant decades later.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris had me in absolute tears from laughing (When You Are Engulfed in Flames was great too). I reread the Snicket books in preparation for the Netflix adaption. Although the author leaves some major questions unanswered, I’ll always love the dark humor. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is enjoyable, as was Storm of Swords and The Grapes of Wrath. Finally, The Fault in Our Stars remains John Green’s best with its atypical approach to teen romance.
I don’t have any specific reading goals for 2017 other than my minimum thirty and adding more classics to my repertoire. Also, I hope 2017 will be the year I FINALLY start and finish Lord of the Rings. But, given the nature of the world today, I’m hoping to fall in love with some dystopia: new if it’s good, but preferably books that were before their time (i.e. I’ve had several recommendations for The Handmaid’s Tale). If you have something in mind, in this genre or anything else, I’m interested. Please let me know in the comments!