What Grinds My Gears: Writing Wednesday edition

Hello, hello, hello!

Lately I’ve been making an effort to get back on top of my reading. There are currently 18 books in my To Be Read pile.

giphy

But — butbutbutbutBUT — I’ve started every book in the pile (so I guess it’s really a “to be finished” pile…) and I’ve finished a few other books lately. The most recent one I finished was this year’s winner of the Baileys Prize, Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies (GREAT novel). I’ve decided to revert back to reading one book at a time because I was getting a little overwhelmed by reading, writing, and new-jobbing all together; it’s actually been nice settling into one book without switching to a new one. Especially when it’s a good book.

But I’m here to talk about the things that can make books bad — for me, at least — that I’ve seen in some of the fiction I’ve read so far this year.

giphy-1

Here are a few things that grind my gears.

Overusing a character’s name in dialogue.
“Hey, Phil.”
“What, Ted?”
“I just don’t think going to the flea circus while a tornado’s ripping up the ground is a good idea, Phil. Know what I mean, Phil?”
“Yeah, Ted, I know you’re right but…I just can’t shake the feeling that I’d really regret missing it.”
“Yeah, Phil, I get that, Phil. But, Phil — PHIL — it’s just not worth risking your life over, y’know? Phil? Phil?! YOU HEARING ME PHIL?!?!?!?!”
“Yeah, I got it! Geez! …Ted.”

giphy-2

Once I’ve gotten to know someone, I don’t need to use their name constantly, or at all, while talking to them. Even if we run into each other somewhere. I’ll just say hi, not “Hi [insert name here].” But even if I let the “name as part of a greeting” thing go (because some people do that), the rest is just unnecessary. If the characters have been well-developed, I don’t need to be reminded of who they are in every line of dialogue, or of the fact that they know each others names, or that the dialogue I’m reading will cover a serious topic. Yes, you might have one character say another’s name for emphasis in the midst of making a point — this makes sense (in the right context). But four or five times in one conversation? No. Please stop. This is one reason why one of the books in my TBF pile has been moved down the list. I needed a breather.

Losing the plot.
giphy-4

I hate when I’m giving 110% of my attention to a story — it’s got me hooked, I’m totally on board — only for it to veer in a compleeeeetely different direction. And I don’t mean an unexpected twist. Those are great, and hard to come by now as I think that technique was single-handedly exhausted by M. Night Shyamalan. But what I mean is, when you’re following the thread of one narrative only to find that the actual point of everything was over here in this other narrative that the first one lead you into against your will, and basically everything you learned in the story you thought you were reading is absolutely useless.

giphy-3

It makes me feel like a fool. A fool who didn’t just have the rug yanked out from under me, but was pushed backwards (as the rug was being yanked) by the person who hates me the most, so I could trip over the person who hates me almost as much as the first person as they crouch on all fours behind me, giggling. Then they both cackle as I scream “NOOOOOOOOoooooo!!!” up to the heavens. Yeah. That.

Pointlessly withheld information.
You know those stories that relentlessly hint at something? Something Earth-shattering that the narrator reeeaaally wants to tell you, but it just isn’t the right time yet? But you gotta keep hearing about the thing you’re not allowed to hear about yet because they want you to keep reading. So you turn every page, your butt creeping closer and closer to the edge of your seat. By the time you reach the page with the reveal, you’re practically levitating in front of your chair. And then you read the words, “My grandmother’s middle name…was Mildred!” DundunDUUUU– wait. What? That was it? THAT was your big mysterious news? Really?!
giphy-5

Often, the longer I’m forced to wait for the one juicy tidbit that’ll make everything else in the story crystal clear, the more underwhelming that tidbit is. Waiting pages and pages for something clever/weird/random/amazing, only to have it be something you predicted ages ago, OR something so overused you don’t even care about it, is kinda the worst. Withholding info can be SUPER effective when you’re not reminded too often of the thing you don’t know yet — just often enough for it to gnaw at your brain like a mildly rabid weasel. But if a narrator beats me over the head with “Ah, ah, AHHHH! Not yeeeeet!”, it just feels like they’re taunting me. In fact, I bet they’re in cahoots with those holes who tripped me in that other section. Jerks.

But that’s just me.

What grinds your literary gears?

Happy Wednesday!

Advertisements

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Hey there! It’s another Writing Wednesday.

giphy-2

I’ve been adjusting to a new job and writing through some challenges, which has kept me away from the bloggerwebz. But I have returned this week after finally reading the 2014 winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride.

If you haven’t read this book, just a heads up — it’s not your typical novel. While the story may be somewhat familiar — a girl facing harrowing challenges and familial drama as she comes of age (this is me putting it into the broadest possible terms) — the way it’s written will likely take the reader of traditional fiction a few pages to get used to.

Jesus that. Stink of that. City when I got off the train. Get a lungful of that in you and see how you do, she says cigarette filter fraying brown on her tongue. Thoo pthoo. Looking knackered, alright? Not too bad. Come on with me, Thanks for. It’s a good month is it since I seen you last. Is there loads to tell me? Ah there is oh loads. And aren’t you mighty I say. Coming all this way. In. Not much missus. You are. Well fuck and I am. Now I’d say, a good laugh’s what we need.

This is a story written with poetic sensibility. It focuses on the rhythm of words together, often forgoing full sentences in favor of percussive fragments. As you can see in the excerpt, words are left out, but the words that remain are always enough to allow your brain to fill in the rest, especially after you’ve been reading the book for a while and completely settle into how it’s written. One of the things I like most about this novel is that the sentence fragments are also sensory fragments: snatches of what the protagonist sees/hears/feels/smells/tastes/remembers all strung together. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s exactly how I remember things. Like someone taking a bag full of jigsaw puzzle pieces and dumping them out on a table — some pieces will be upturned (which is what you remember), some won’t. And McBride doesn’t just point out what the protagonist is experiencing, she allows the reader to enjoy the same sensory experiences. One example of this is in the writing out of sounds (“Thoo pthoo.”), which you both hear in your head and feel the shape of in your mouth as you’re reading.

There are full sentences in the dialogue (“Is there loads to tell me?”), but the dialogue isn’t set apart from the rest of the narrative. Dialogue and description are presented equally. No quotation marks, little to no punctuation. Sometimes a “sentence” will be made up of two phrases smushed together with no punctuation (“Ah there is oh loads.”) or odd punctuation. But once you fall into this story, it becomes easy to distinguish between characters and keep up with who’s saying what. You’ll also find one-word sentences/fragments in this story that either follow from the previous phrase or carry you into the next one (“Coming all this way. In.”). Encountering those one-word bits reminded me of moments when my brain thought it had formed a complete thought/sentence and then had to shove another word onto the end to actually complete the thought (which happens fairly often 😀 ).

Not only is the novel technically interesting, the story itself is compelling and emotionally intense. I felt so much anger toward so many characters reading this book, hahaha. The mother is one of the most infuriating characters I have ever come across. Then again, the shittyness of some of the people in this story definitely makes it easier to feel sympathy for the protagonist (though there were plenty of times when I got pissed at her for not slapping the teeth out of someone’s mouth b/c they deserved it). She has tense/precarious relationships with every single person in her life. This is not an exaggeration. BUT! McBride doesn’t try to sell you a “woe is me” narrative or push your buttons in a cheap way. People make terrible choices as a matter of course in this book, but you get to understand them well enough that these choices never feel out of character. Don’t get me wrong — I definitely wished HARD with the turn of every page (especially towards the end) that people would get their friggin’ acts together — mostly for the sake of the protagonist — but at the same time, I was never surprised (for better or worse) by a character’s actions because those actions coincided perfectly with who each character had shown themselves to be.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about the plot. That was on purpose. Read this book — the story is worth discovering on your own. I think, as with any story, if you come to it fresh, it’ll make a greater impact on you.

Long pitch short: give A Girl is a Half-formed Thing a read if/when you’re in the mood to challenge yourself mentally and emotionally (and when you’re in the mood to break shit over how much you hate some of the people in this book. OK maybe that was just me. But probably not.) Thank you for all those feels, Eimear McBride.

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

What up, y’all?

Last night, I attended the readings of the work shortlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction at Cadogan Hall.

BaileysWomensPrize

One of the most prestigious literary awards in the world, the BAILEYS Women’s Prize for Fiction – previously known as the Orange Prize for Fiction – celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.

It was a cool event, with a wine & nibbles bar on one level, a cocktail bar on another level, and a Waterstones book stall where you could buy copies of any of the six shortlisted titles. I, of course, had to buy them all. (Support authors and bookstores!) The ooooonly downside to the event was the fact that I could basically count the number of men present on one hand. Women have always been expected to read male authors, but apparently the reverse is unthinkable for some even today. It’s the same for books written by writers of color. I think many people automatically feel alienated when, on the surface, they don’t have much in common with an author (despite us all being human beings who live human lives and experience human things). It’s like “Ah, that book was written by a woman — must not have anything in it that’ll apply to me or my life as a beardy lumberjack spacecowboy.” But…don’t you, as a man, interact with women on a daily basis? Don’t you have female relatives, friends, co-workers, and/or acquaintances? Isn’t your life influenced by the mere existence of women on Earth, just as our lives are influenced by your existence? Male, female, black, white, Asian, Russian, alien overlord… We can, and should, learn from and be entertained by one another at every opportunity! How else can we squash misunderstandings and move forward?

Anyhoo, I really enjoyed this event. Then again, I always love hearing authors read and talk about their work. Unfortunately two of the shortlistees (Anne Enright & Hanya Yanagihara) couldn’t make it — each had male stand-ins — but Anne’s reader, Robin Robertson (her editor), was my favorite of the night. It was also really nice to hear him talk about how much he admired and believed in Anne’s work. It’s good to have people like that behind you.

By now, you’re probably staring at your screen thinking, “Well…?! What are the shortlisted titles, you f*%#ing tease?!” So here’s the breakdown (and I haven’t read any of these books yet, so I’m going to use their descriptions from the BWP website):

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
RUBYcynthia-378x573

Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East-Texas town. For Ruby Bell, Liberty was a place of devastating violence from which she fled to seedy, glamorous 1950s New York.

Years later, pulled back home, thirty-year-old Ruby is faced with the seething hatred of a town desperate to destroy her. Witnessing her struggle, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

The Green Road by Anne Enright
anne-enright-green-road-378x581

A darkly glinting novel set on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, The Green Road is a story of fracture and family, selfishness and compassion – a book about the gaps in the human heart and how we learn to fill them.

The children of Rosaleen Madigan leave the west of Ireland for lives they never could have imagined in Dublin, New York and various third-world towns. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The-Glorious-Heresies-Lisa-McInerney-21-378x586

One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father Tony, whose obsession with this unhinged next-door neighbour threatens to ruin him and his family.

Georgie is a prostitute whose willingness to feign a religious conversion has dangerous repercussions, while Maureen, the accidental murderer, has returned to Cork after forty years in exile to discover that Jimmy, the son she was forced to give up years before, has grown into the most fearsome gangster in the city.

In seeking atonement for the murder and a multitude of perceived sins, Maureen threatens to destroy everything her son has worked so hard for, while her actions risk bringing the intertwined lives of the Irish underworld into the spotlight…

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
Veblen-trade-PB-378x601

Meet Veblen: a passionate defender of the anti-consumerist views of her name-sake, the iconoclastic economist Thorstein Veblen. She’s an experienced cheerer-upper (mainly of her narcissistic, hypochondriac, controlling mother), an amateur translator of Norwegian, and a firm believer in the distinct possibility that the plucky grey squirrel following her around can understand more than it lets on.

Meet her fiancé, Paul: the son of good hippies who were bad parents, a no-nonsense, high-flying neuroscientist with no time for squirrels. His recent work on a device to minimize battlefield trauma has led him dangerously close to the seductive Cloris Hutmacher, heiress to a pharmaceuticals empire, who is promising him fame and fortune through a shady-sounding deal with the Department of Defence. What could possibly go wrong?

The Improbability of Love by Hanna Rothschild
The-Improbability-of-Love-Hannah-Rothschild-378x586

When lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a dirty painting in a junk shop while looking for a present for an unsuitable man, she has no idea what she has discovered.

Soon she finds herself drawn unwillingly into the tumultuous London art world, populated by exiled Russian oligarchs, avaricious Sheikas, desperate auctioneers and unscrupulous dealers, all scheming to get their hands on her painting – a lost eighteenth-century masterpiece called ‘The Improbability of Love’.

Delving into the painting’s past, Annie will uncover not just an illustrious list of former owners, but some of the darkest secrets of European history – and in doing so she might just learn to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Hanya-Yanagihara-A-Little-Life-378x585

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he fears he will not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.

The winner of the prize will be announced tonight! After getting to know these authors a little, I’m excited to find out who won. (The first audience member to get the mic during the Q&A asked the authors 1) if they’ve read each other’s work and 2) their own book aside, which would each of them want to see win? Too bad the chair of the judging panel vetoed the question before they could answer it.)

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think?

T is for (another) Trip

Yo, yo, yooooo!

I have returned with yet another tale of travel and intrigue. OK, maybe not so much intrigue, but I DID go somewhere last week. I’ve been trying to make more progress on my UK exploration lately. In my letter N post, I told you about my visit to Bristol, a city I’d never been to before. This time, I returned to a place I’d already been, but not for a long time (eight years to be exact): Edinburgh!

Eburgh11Eburgh18Eburgh16Eburgh15

I was in town from Monday to Wednesday, which meant I didn’t have time for much besides scurrying about the city and snapping photos of urrythang. I went the Airbnb route and stayed with a lovely couple who lived about 10 minutes walk from Haymarket train station. The room was clean, and they had lots of advice on places to go and things to do, which I appreciated.

The first day, I walked to Victoria Street and did a bit of shopping. I was actually really good this time — I only bought three souvenirs on this trip (unlike when I was in Bristol and bought everything in sight)! This time around I restricted my purchases to a cool print, a Jessica Fletcher pin/brooch (she’s holding a copy of her book Murder She Wrote XD ), and a small bottle of Apricot flavored brandy (not pictured b/c I drank it).

Eburghswag

I wandered. I photo’d. I ate. My first meal was haggis-stuffed chicken breast wrapped in bacon. It was just as delicious as it sounds. I love haggis, and I was determined to eat it at every opportunity on this trip cuz it’s been so long since I’ve had it. I didn’t take a picture of that first meal. I was ravenous. I ate it. I also drank some whiskey, which was a big mistake. Scotland, I love you — but I don’t love whiskey.

I went for an after-dinner stroll and poked my nose into more of Edinburgh’s nooks and crannies.

Eburgh3Eburgh4Eburgh14Eburgh13Eburgh17

After hours and hours of walking, I went back to my room and chatted with my hosts before knocking out for the night. Next morning, I headed over Stockbridge way to check out the Royal Botanical Gardens, which were lovely.Eburgh5

Eburgh6

The gate at the eastern entrance to the Botanical Gardens.

I saw some really interesting flora there. My favorite? Monkey Puzzle trees.

They’re native to Argentina and Chile, but are in danger of extinction in those places. Luckily, they’re apparently “a familiar sight” in Scotland. Cool huh? Don’t want people sneaking up to your windows at night, plant a bunch of these around your lawn. The leaves look like blades. This means only the most determined creeps will get a peek at you, in which case you should be flattered…I guess?

After the gardens, I was hangry, so before I had the chance to go Hulk on some unsuspecting stranger, I ducked into The Orchard, a nice little pub nearby. I had haggis fritters with apple chutney for my starter — SO tasty — and an epic tower of food made of pork belly, black pudding, and mash surrounded by a moat of gravy, potatoes, and carrots. Did I mention it was topped with bacon? Yeah. That’s what I call a meal, people.

Eburghfood2

I rolled out of there and down the street. Since I had a bit of time, I decided to hop on a bus tour of the city. It was a lot of fun! I learned interesting facts and the whereabouts of other places in Edinburgh that I’d love to visit next time I’m there, like Dynamic Earth (where they have earthquake simulators and you can feel what it’d be like to touch a glacier!), and Surgeon’s Hall (which has fermented body parts in jars and a notebook made from William Burke’s skin. Awesome.). As I rode around on the tour bus, I managed to get a couple shots of some of Edinburgh’s natural gorgeousness.

Eburgh1Eburgh2

After the tour, I met up with Camila, another blogger and super-cool chick who lives in nearby Stirling.

Eburghfriend

We hung out at The Elephant House — where J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time writing Harry Potter — which I chose because I’d never been and b/c we’re both writers and Potterheads. Camila had tea and a slice of red velvet cake, and I went for a boozy coffee and a slice of lemon lavender cake. So good. Great food and even better conversation? I will never say no to that. Thanks for hanging out, Camila!

After rubbing philosopher David Hume’s (statue’s) big toe for luck (and checking my hand for athlete’s foot), Camila dropped me off at St. Giles’ Cathedral where my ghost tour group was meeting up. The tour was…meh. I’d actually been on one (with the same company I think!) eight years prior. I learned a few new things on this tour, but it was mainly meant to scare you…and I wasn’t scared. Maybe because I knew what was coming at the end. At least I got some incense out of it! (From the tour company’s tiny gift shop.) The tour ended at around 9:30pm, by which time I was beat. I had planned to go to Waterstones the next morning, but when I woke up, I felt like I’d been on the bad end of a sumo match, so I slept a bit longer than planned, and went for one last meal in Edinburgh before I had to catch my train. I went to a place I’d passed a few times and been intrigued by: The Jolly Botanist. This time, I went for a burger and fries, but they were tasty! For dessert, I had a white chocolate and raspberry crème brûlée (which came with a cute lil cookie on the side).

Eburghfood1

For the longest time, I thought that when I moved to London that would be it for me. I’d put down roots here and stay for good. After all the moving I’ve done, it would certainly be a relief. But after exploring more of what the UK has to offer, I’m not so sure anymore. Being reminded of the wonderful beauty and rich literary history of Edinburgh has definitely thrown a wrench in my little plan (especially considering how much cheaper it would be to live there). Hmm…

Have you ever been to Edinburgh? What other parts of Scotland would you recommend?

Happy Tuesday!

S is for Shut Up, Stupid.

Hey, you guys.

The last few days have been rough, but the problem’s not new. I bet you deal with it, too. By “it” I mean that shitty voice in  your head that tells you you’re failing. The voice that tells you you’re worthless. That you shouldn’t bother trying because there’s no point. Nobody likes you. You’re too this, too that. Not enough this. Not enough, period.

“Shut up, Stupid.”

That’s me, but in two different ways.

It’s me telling me that every good thing I think about myself is wrong. That every positive thing someone says is something they don’t really mean — it’s just a white lie told to avoid embarrassing the weird but well-meaning girl who doesn’t know what to do with herself.

But…

It’s also me telling that voice to fuck off. It’s me saying, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s me saying, I’m trying, and that’s what’s important. I’m doing my best, and that’s the most anyone can do.

Every time I move someplace new, I manage to underestimate how lonely I’ll inevitably feel some days. I forget that there will be days when I feel like it was all a big mistake, because I don’t belong. Not here. Not anywhere. People either know how to be normal, or they don’t. I don’t. So what am I doing here?

But you’re here — on Earth — for something. I do believe that chaos rules. But I also believe that you can create meaning in your own life. Whenever I talk to the friends of mine who are still searching for that thing they can do like no one else can, I feel lucky to have formed a connection with reading and writing early. When everything else falls apart for me, I have words. And that’s something. Not everybody has a passion because they’re still trying to figure out what it is that lights their fire, which is a wonderful journey to be on. But at the same time, it’s nice to be at the end of that journey (for now, anyway 🙂 ). And even though I have horrible days — some to do with writing, some not — I have something to do with my hands. I have something to do with my mind that will (however briefly) quiet that caustic voice. I have a plan. When nothing else works, I can throw myself into reading a book, or writing something.

This post is as much for me as it is for you. So from me to me, and to you: Don’t worry — there will be bad days, but there’ll be good ones, too. Everything will work out. Keep your goals in sight. And keep trying your best, at everything.

Happy Friday 🙂

Writing Wednesday: (What I’m) Reading

Helloooooo!

I thought I’d give you guys another combo post. This isn’t going to be a book review post; I’m actually in the middle of a few books and am going to tell you what they are. This list does not include books I’ve started but am not particularly keen on/iffy on whether I’ll continue; these are books I plan to finish. Who knows…maybe one will strike you and you’ll wanna get stuck into it yourself.

Let’s get started.

The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland
The-Palace-of-Curiosities
Rosie Garland actually came to speak at my uni on March 1st about her writing life and process. Among other things, she’s a poet, novelist, and member of a post-punk band called The March Violets. As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought of David Bowie. Needless to say, I became a fan more or less immediately. (She’s also a nice person.)

Palace of Curiosities was her first novel — she’s since penned two others: Vixen (2014), and another coming out soon. Set in the 1850’s, Palace of Curiosities follows a young woman with hypertrichosis (she’s been covered in hair from head to toe since birth) named Eve, and a young man with strange abilities and only flashes of memory named Abel. Eve and Abel become attractions in Eve’s husband’s “Palace of Curiosities” — the Lion-Faced Girl and the Flayed Man. The chapters alternate between Eve and Abel’s perspectives. I’m about halfway through this one and mostly feel heartbroken for the both of them. All Abel wants is an answer to the questions “Who, and what, am I?”; all Eve wants is to be loved, genuinely, for who she is. I’m eager to see how things end for both of them.

When We Collided by Emery Lord
9781408870082

I’ve been searching high and low for a book subscription box that won’t cost me 10 jillion dollars in shipping b/c it’s based elsewhere (like all the good ones seem to be). Finally I stumbled upon UK-based Illumicrate, which is a quarterly subscription box that offers all the loveliness of Owl Crate, but only every three months (plus free shipping in the UK!). I got so many cute things: a black travel mug that says “What happens in book club stays in book club,” a gold and black book-shaped pin that says “Readers gonna read,” a cuuute clip/bookmark with a paper cut-out caterpillar reading a book, buttons from Jenny McLachlan, a “To Be Read List” notepad, and a fox stamp. Not to mention a sample of a new YA Fantasy book by Laini Taylor coming out in September called Strange the Dreamer. I took photos of everything, but they turned out horribly, so I think you’d be better off clicking on the link above and checking out the Instagram photos of other people’s opened boxes.

So this one’s a bit of a cheat b/c I’ve only read the first couple of pages, but I’m already on board for the ride promised by the splashy paint colors on the cover. When We Collided is about a teenage boy named Jonah who is forced to become the man of the house after his father dies. Then a free-spirited chick named Vivi rolls into town and he falls for her. The tagline on the front of the book is “Can you fall in love when you’re falling apart?” So I’m guessing the conflict involves Jonah trying to juggle his grief over his father, his newfound responsibilities, and falling in love, which is something I haven’t really seen in the YA I’ve read. While I’ve barely begun the story, I already love the relaxed, natural way it’s written. Some YA books are written in voices that are meant to sound like teenagers, but end up being over-the-top caricatures instead. So I’m digging the normalcy of When We Collided so far. Hope it’s as good as it seems!

The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest
9781408857311
If someone were to ask me what this novel is about, I could sum it up in three words: South East London. Every page, every line of dialogue, every mannerism screams SE. The protagonists are South East Londoners who take that place with them wherever they go. Their pasts, their hopes and dreams, their hatred, everything about them is also about South East London. Kate Tempest is actually a slam poet born and raised in SE London whose work can be quite political. This definitely comes through in the novel, so much so that I wonder from time to time which opinions and dreams are the character’s and which are hers. Her prose is image-heavy and there are often stories within the larger story in the form of character biography. I haven’t spent much time at all in South East London, so this is an interesting read for me. Stories within stories usually take away from my reading experience, but in this case, because the novel is so much about the people in it, including backstories that make up the overall fabric of the novel is fitting. I’m enjoying it so far!

Patience by Daniel Clowes
clowes2-804x1024
Here’s a graphic novel (just to shake things up 😉 )! Yesterday, I went to the Cartoon Museum to check out their graphic novel exhibit. I learned about some artists and writers I hadn’t heard of and was reminded of a graphic novel I’ve been wanting to buy (Arkham Asylum). On my money-spending mission, I saw this bright and colorful cover on the shelf beside other new titles. Clowes’s style reminds me of the comics I read in the newspaper on the weekends when I was a kid, but the dialogue between characters and their thoughts seemed more natural (esp. all the cursing lol). It intrigued me, so I bought it. I read a good chunk of it last night. I really like it!

It’s about a man whose pregnant wife gets killed, so he spends the next twenty years obsessing over her and the life they could’ve had. He meets a prostitute whose client invented a time machine, so he uses it to go back to before he met his wife in order to find out who might have killed her. His ultimate goal is to keep her safe and make sure their child gets born. It’s kinda like Looper, minus the telepathy. So far the main dude has beat the shit out of a group of guys who pulled a dirty prank on Patience (the wife/woman on the cover), and they just recognized him in the street! I’ve actually been gasping and laughing out loud at what I’ve read so far, which means this is pretty good stuff. The subtitle is “A cosmic timewarp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love.” That pretty much sums it up.

What are you reading right now?

Q is for Query

Today’s post is a combination alphabet-writing post. I’m fast approaching the time when I need to start putting together query letters to send out to literary agents and publishing houses.

giphy

I’ve been searching for information on do’s and don’ts (b/c you can never start too early!) and figured I’d share some of what I’ve found so far with you.

Strike a tonal balance
giphy-1
You don’t want to be too stiff and business-like, but you also don’t want to be too familiar either. No “HEEEEEYYYYYY! Wassup! Thought I’d drop you a line since I wasn’t really up to much of anything.” And no “Dear Sir or Madam, It is my distinct pleasure to present to you my manuscript for the literary novel Sunsprites and Jellybeans.” Give them the information they need to know in a way that demonstrates both professionalism and your comfort and familiarity with your work.

Keep it short and sweet
giphy-2
According to AgentQuery.com, your letter should be no longer than three paragraphs. They recommend this formula:
Paragraph One = The Hook
Paragraph Two = Mini-synopsisParagraph Three = Writer’s bio

The “hook” is like that tagline on a movie poster — it’s supposed to entice the person reading your email into wanting to read your manuscript. Here’s one of their examples:

The Kite Runner
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.

The folks at AgentQuery.com are apparently fans of the “When” hook. As in…

House of Sand and Fog
When Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian military, sinks his remaining funds into a house he buys at auction, he unwittingly puts himself and his family on a trajectory to disaster; the house once belonged to Kathy Nicolo, a self-destructive alcoholic, who engages in legal, then personal confrontation to get it back.

or…

The Corrections
When family patriarch, Alfred Lambert, enters his final decline, his wife and three adult children must face the failures, secrets, and long-buried hurts that haunt them as a family if they are to make the corrections that each desperately needs.

(FYI, they give other examples of ways to begin your hook)

The paragraph following your hook is where you build on your hook with the specifics of your story. Like I said last week, condensing an entire novel down to a paragraph or two is no cake walk. It’s a matter of choosing which details someone picking your book up from a shelf has to know to be convinced to read it. Even though it’s a headache, it’s totally doable. Just think about all the book jacket blurbs you’ve read in your life! Someone had to come up with them. Why can’t you?

The last paragraph is your bio, but should only include relevant info like your writing credits and education (if it has to do with writing). Going by the query letters I’ve read so far, this paragraph is where writers tend to include their manuscript’s title and word count.

Let them know how you know them
giphy-3
This is pretty much a general rule of thumb when contacting anyone you want to work with. In the case of a literary agent, mention other clients of theirs whose work is comparable to yours in some way. Even if that’s not quite applicable, the point is to let them know you’ve researched them and that based on that research, they’re the best fit for you and your writing.

Don’t query an agent until you have a finished manuscript!
Almost forgot to add this important piece of advice! You don’t want to contact an agent until you have a completed project to send them. If you query them and they’re interested, they’ll want to read the entire thing before agreeing to represent you (duh).

There’s a looooooooot more info on this subject out there, as well as examples of successful query letters you can use as templates.

Have you sent out a query letter? What tips would you give someone who hasn’t?

Happy Thursday!

P is for Pete Rock & CL Smooth

Do you have a song that never fails to take you back to certain moments in your life and make you feel alllll the feelings again? You probably have a few. I do, too. But there’s one in particular that makes me consider and appreciate my entire life — even the things that haven’t happened yet. It’s called T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You).

CL Smooth raps about his upbringing, and memories of all the people who are important to him and have made him who he is. (If you listen to the song, you’ll learn the significance of the acronym in verse 3.) T.R.O.Y. is one of those classic hip-hop tracks that never fails to get those of us who love the genre hype. It’s representative of everything great about hip-hop: the perfect sample, chosen and looped with care; a hot (and timeless) beat that makes you move; words that truly mean something because they came from the heart. Hip-hop, GOOD hip-hop, always makes me proud to be African American because of the impact it’s made and continues to make around the world, and because we had such an important role in creating the genre (as did the Latinos, Caribbeans, and other people plugged into the scene at the time). But my love for this song goes beyond an appreciation for my culture. This song makes me think about my own life and the relationships — whether holding strong or broken — that have shaped my personality over the years.

Both of my parents LOVE music. My dad actually used to dj in high school and on into the early years of his marriage to my mom. The two of them together had a pretty extensive record collection. It hit every genre of music but country and gospel. And since he dj’ed, my dad had a sweet stereo system with massive speakers that he kept in the den in our basement. The majority of my memories of our townhouse, where I lived until I was ten, are of being in that basement. It’s where the big TV was where I watched all my favorite cartoons and learned to imitate the voices of my favorite characters; it’s where I kept my rabbit, Buttons; it’s where the sliding glass door was (through which I could see the ice penguin I’d made with my dad one winter); and it’s where I listened to music and turned my love of it into a capital letter kind of love. (It’s also where me and my first cousin used to introduce each other to a fake audience after plugging in my dad’s microphone. Cuz we were the absolute coolest.)

One of my favorite things to do was turn the volume all the way up at the end of each song I listened to and see what words I could hear as the track faded out. I also remember how exciting it was to catch my favorite songs on the radio (or my favorite episodes on TV) back before people could just find and download whatever they wanted. My first attempts at harmonizing were in front of my dad’s speakers (and now I can’t help doing it whenever I sing anything). I had a lot of fun in that basement, and now, when I hear T.R.O.Y., my mind inevitably wanders back to that time and place. That basement was the first place I heard that song, and the lyrics about aunts and uncles, moms and dads, grandparents and friends, put me in mind of every important memory I’ve ever made. The good, the bad — I wouldn’t be me without all of it.

What song is your T.R.O.Y.?

P.S.
I was inspired to write this post b/c of the new speaker I just bought. It’s a UE BOOM 2, and it is glorious.

giphy-1

O is for Ouch…

Do any of you go through your day normally, and all of a sudden some mysterious new bruise catches your eye? WTF is that about?!

20160506_153149

The latest.

The bruise shown above is actually far darker and uglier than it looks here. But since one of my light bulbs blew, my bedroom is like a cave so I had to stand right next to the window to get a photo that didn’t make it look like a sewage stain. The only reason I noticed it at all was because I was exercising in front of a mirror and the weird dark blotch I already have on that arm (from a bad burn when I was little) seemed to be in the wrong place. I stopped moving and got a good look. Then I poked at it. Then I scowled because I end up with a new one like every week. Am I sleep walking or something? (For the best real life sleepwalking story I’ve ever heard, please see Kristen’s post about her husband. I laughed so hard, I barked.)

It’d be fine if I were Kim Possible or some equally badass person whose life is so action-packed, I could logically forget having gotten random wounds.

giphy-1

But I’m not. I’m one of those boring people who can’t somersault across a six-lane highway, or scale buildings. I can barely cartwheel. And I’m cool taking the elevator. Is my skin leading a double life with another body? Maybe the O in today’s post should actually stand for “occult.”

giphy-2

Other than keeping an eye on my own carcass, I’m not up to much this weekend. Since I’ve heard so many good things about the new Captain America movie, I’ll probably go see that. And try to get some work done. I’ve hit a tricky bit in the story that’s been effing my brain up, so I need to spend some time working through it. What are you up to this weekend? I hope your skin stays unblemished.

Happy Friday!