Writing Update: Where I am Now

Happy New Year! I realized, in the midst of the mad rush of my life, that I’ve failed to provide a general update on my writing journey for a while now. As a thank you for continuing to follow my blog, I wanted to provide a general overview of the progress I’ve made this past year. I also wanted to briefly discuss the projects that are in the works right now.

Progress

The highlight of my year was the release of Space, Collisions. It’s really exciting that the print version is out too and is available for purchase at The BookwormIndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other fine retailers. Many of you know that I’ve already received reviews from Meredith Allison (my friend) and Renwick Berchild (a book reviewer) about the micro-chapbook. I also did an interview with Sarah Foil. If you’d like to receive a copy of Space, Collisions for review, I’d encourage you to check out the publicity page at Heavy Feather Review, the review queue at decomP, or reach out to PRISM International.

To all who have read and reviewed my micro-chapbook, whether on Goodreads or elsewhere, I thank you. I work to publish my writing because I want to connect with readers. I’m grateful for the encouraging reviews and personal notes I’ve received so far. I appreciate all of the readers who decided to give my work a chance.

My individual stories have also taken off in 2018. It’s been a blessing to work with so many different editors. Thanks to them, my flash fiction was published this year in Varnish Journal (sadly, now defunct), Laurel Magazine, The Bookends Review, Apparition Literary Magazine, The Fancy Arm Hole Series Number 1 (Likely Red Press), Crack the Spine, NewfoundFathom, Nice CageBarren Magazine, and Rythm & Bones. I have more flash fiction that will appear in Laurel Magazine and Rythm & Bones in 2019. Notably, the editors of Nice Cage were kind enough to reach out to me for work. This is something that’s never happened to me before, except for with vanity publishers (of which I almost always turn down). So, in short, it’s been a fantastic year for publishing short fiction. I hope that you will support all of these hard-working editors and check out all of the writing featured in these lovely literary magazines and journals.

And since we’re discussing editing, it’s probably a good time to mention that I’ve been working as a fiction editor at Green Briar Review. I was recently appointed to the position and it’s been wonderful so far reading the fiction that comes in. I’ll also be contributing to the blog in the future, so watch for reviews on fiction chapbooks. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. To all who have submitted or will submit: thank you for trusting us with your work.

Another exciting project that I volunteered for was the Forward anthology. I worked as a reader, which proved to be an awesome experience. The anthology will feature flash fiction by writers of color. I can’t wait until its March release! You can pre-order the book here. I hope you all will support this wonderful project, as well as the forces behind this movement for change.

In-Progress

The largest project I’m working on right now is a novel (or novella). You may have seen that I took a hiatus from Twitter—at times, unsuccessfully—to focus on the book. I have had trouble with my longer projects and buried many of my failed novels in the filing cabinet. Though I have many short stories in-progress, I’m going to shift focus this year away from shorter works and focus mostly on this long project. I hope this novella (or novel) will be my first true success with a book-length manuscript.

Goals for this Year

This year will be a challenging one. My husband, pets, and I are all moving to Louisiana in April. The first half of 2019 will be chaotic, but we’ll manage. We always do. But because I know it’s going to be a challenging year, I’m giving myself a bit of a break. I’ll only have three major goals next year:

  • Finish my novel (or novella) and thoroughly revise at least once
  • Complete my classics reading challenge for 2019
  • Find a way to plug into the literary community in Louisiana

I’m probably going to be conservative about reviews this year, sharing my thoughts mostly on Goodreads. I’ll also do away with the “Quick Reads” section of my blog to save time. Most of my energy will be devoted to the novella (or novel). But I’ll still share updates about my progress on my blog, so I hope you’ll continue to check in this year.

What are your goals for 2019? Feel free to share in the comments. However you decide to challenge yourself, I wish you a year of peace and joyful reading!

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June Mini-Reviews

June turned out to be a busy month for me. July is shaping up to be busy too. I’m having trouble reading books and writing my novel while taking care of so many other things, but I managed to read two books this month anyhow.

The following reviews will cover what worked well in the books. If you wish to discuss what didn’t work in the books or what you enjoyed about the books, then I’d encourage you to comment on this post.

Without further ado, here are the mini-reviews for this month. (Mild spoilers may follow.) 


Best Christian Short StoriesMy professors in my undergraduate and graduate courses taught solely secular fiction. What was lacking for me—in a major way—was fiction that aligned with my faith tradition. I couldn’t find any character that accurately represented my faith in secular fiction. In the present, I’m seeking out Christian fiction like water in a desert. As a reader, I’m looking for characters like me—for accurate representation. As a writer, I’m seeking the elements that mix to create a good Christian short story.

Bret Lott takes some liberties with The Best Christian Short Stories collection. He added in some secular fiction that seemed to exemplify Christian values and ideas. Still, the anthology intrigued me. Here was something I was missing. Here was something I desperately needed to read for the sake of my own identity. “Best” stories or not, it was important to me. While I enjoyed the anthology, I’m still struggling to find that accurate representation, even within the pages of this book. Still, it was worth reading.

Synopsis from the Thomas Nelson website:

The first volume in a collection of contemporary fiction that combines the artistry of critically accaimed writers with a clear Christian worldview.

From Homer Hickam, the best-selling author of Rocket Boys–which later became the movie October Sky to editor and contributing best-selling author Bret Lott, this collection spans a talented community writing an eclectic blend of fiction. Each piece stands alone as stellar fiction. And each piece confronts us with who we are and forces us to look deeply at the human condition. From the dirt lanes of North Africa to the suburbs of California, exuding lightheartedness and profundity, hilarity and tragedy, these stories will take you on a fresh and entertaining journey.

What worked well:

  • With all stories labeled “Christian fiction,” I’m skeptical about what elements of the story align with my faith. Even though some of these stories were meant to be secular, I would agree with Lott that many of them do align with Christian values and ideas. I think there are exceptions within this anthology. For example, there is a story where a character is being racist. Now, why the author chose to make this character a racist is unclear to me. It adds nothing to the story. Sure, the character is deeply flawed, but there are no repercussions for the character due to his racist actions and thoughts. So that particular character does not align with the Biblical, Christ-like attitude toward humanity, of which Christians are supposed to adhere to. It soured the story for me. However, what is good and what did work were many of the other stories and their characters. There were many Christian and non-Christian characters that did exhibit Christ-like attitudes, values, thoughts, and actions and their flaws made sense within the context of the story. This is what really made this anthology work for me.
  • Another thing that worked well was the multifariousness within this anthology. The stories were told from various perspectives of Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) and also from a few secular perspectives. It was a nice mix of different points of view, of different styles, and of different ways to understand Christianity and what it can mean to the people who practice it.

Who should read The Best Christian Short Stories:

  • Fans of Christian fiction
  • Fans of literary fiction
  • Those who love reading short stories
  • Readers who’ve enjoyed Bret Lott’s work as a writer and editor 

NeversI’m always seeking out flash fiction collections to read. My local librarian, also a flash fiction writer, suggested Nevers by Megan Martin. She was even kind enough to let me borrow her copy of the book. My librarian friend has a fetish for whimsy and snark and Nevers definitely exemplifies such things. I find a great deal of snarky writing to be trite and this book was no exception. Still, I’m glad I tried it and there were things about Martin’s work that I definitely enjoyed.

In lieu of a synopsis, here are some quotes of praise about Nevers from Caketrain’s website:

‘Megan Martin’s Nevers is my favorite kind of book. Its stories are familiar and distant, one never existing without the other. It’s that feeling you get when you are suddenly inside yourself, looking around, going, Hey, that’s my coffee mug. That’s my pen. I am me. It’s like standing in your childhood home as the walls are replaced with snapshots of the same walls. This is a book, only it has a mouth.’ —Lindsay Hunter, author of Don’t Kiss Me

‘In Megan Martin’s fantastic Nevers, we encounter the situation of a book that is conscious of itself. This seems right, because the life in its pages is conscious of itself, too—all at once, from a dozen slip-sliding angles, the whole a shimmering phantasm held aloft by an act of voice so clean and real it can squash your heart. Here’s me as I was reading: big stupid openmouthed grin and the thought, You’re reading this awesomeness right now, before others get to.’ —Scott Garson, author of Is That You, John Wayne?

What worked well:

  • Martin’s fictional narrator tends to have beef with poets. There are quite a few funny sections in these fictions where the narrator pokes fun of the poet characters in her life. Sometimes the poke is a fairly gentle jab: “An old professor and his new mistress sit in a circle of even older white guy poets talking about how amazing it is that because of the internet there are no ideas anymore, and what a relief it is that they’ll never have to come up with an idea again” (69). Other times the poke is more like a stab: “But what would make anyone want to see a poet’s body? Or the sort of swimsuit a poet would wear?” (89). The humor is off-color and no-holds-barred but usually works in the way a comedian delivers self-deprecating punchlines.
  • If you’re teaching a class on outrageous hyperbole, this is your book. The flash story “Cinders” takes the cake (pun intended) for me,  but “Forever Bloodcloud” and “Warning Label” are also good examples. Most of the hyperbole is so outrageous that you can’t help but laugh.

Who should read Nevers:

  • Fans of snarky and off-color humor
  • Readers who enjoy irreverent narrators
  • Those who appreciate an abundance of hyperbole
  • Readers of flash fiction 

BONUS TITLES!

I read micro-chapbooks #5 through #21 in the Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series. You can find all of the available ones here. There will be more as the summer continues, including my own micro-chapbook, Space, Collisions (available July 19)!

May Mini-Reviews

 May was a really good month for reading. At least for me. I read twelve books and micro-chapbooks. The summer micro-chapbook series is really boosting my numbers! What did you pick up in May, blog readers?

The following reviews will cover what worked well in the books. If you wish to discuss what didn’t work in the books or what you enjoyed about the books, then I’d encourage you to comment on this post.

Without further ado, here are the mini-reviews for this month. (Mild spoilers may follow.)


Brass

Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Brass by Xhenet Aliu is another novel I picked up from the Bellevue Public Library. I found the cover art curious and so I picked up the book and read the synopsis. I put it down at first because I was unsure if I really wanted to try it out. But then I circled back and took it to the checkout counter. I’m glad I took the time to read this one in the end.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

A waitress at the Betsy Ross Diner, Elsie hopes her nickel-and-dime tips will add up to a new life. Then she meets Bashkim, who is at once both worldly and naïve, a married man who left Albania to chase his dreams—and wound up working as a line cook in Waterbury, Connecticut. Back when the brass mills were still open, this bustling factory town drew one wave of immigrants after another. Now it’s the place they can’t seem to leave. Elsie, herself the granddaughter of Lithuanian immigrants, falls in love quickly, but when she learns that she’s pregnant, Elsie can’t help wondering where Bashkim’s heart really lies, and what he’ll do about the wife he left behind.

Seventeen years later, headstrong and independent Luljeta receives a rejection letter from NYU and her first-ever suspension from school on the same day. Instead of striking out on her own in Manhattan, she’s stuck in Connecticut with her mother, Elsie—a fate she refuses to accept. Wondering if the key to her future is unlocking the secrets of the past, Lulu decides to find out what exactly her mother has been hiding about the father she never knew. As she soon discovers, the truth is closer than she ever imagined.

Told in equally gripping parallel narratives with biting wit and grace, Brass announces a fearless new voice with a timely, tender, and quintessentially American story.

Another audiobook I finished in May is Parasite by Mira Grant (a. k. a. Seanan McGuire). I had a hard time feeling engaged by McGuire’s writing style in Every Heart a Doorway, so I wanted to try a different book by her. While I liked Parasite better, I think I’m too disenchanted at this point to continue the series.

Synopsis from the Hachette Book Group website:

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite — a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system — even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.

What worked well:

  • Grant’s idea of sentient parasites that can heal people by living in their body is bizarre, wild, and extremely imaginative. It’s also a genius twist on a familiar genre, which becomes more apparent as the reader delves farther into the book.
  • Grant also approaches animal rights in a way that many other writers do not. Many writers consider animal rights at a distance, their characters narrating what is happening instead of actively engaging with the animals. Grant’s protagonist engages with animals and their rights directly, a truly refreshing approach.

Who should read Parasite:

  • Readers who enjoy new approaches to familiar science fiction genres
  • Those who enjoy books about human and animal rights
  • Fans of Seanan McGuire’s books
  • Readers who enjoy books about weird science

A Wrinkled in Time

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

I wanted to support the film version of A Wrinkle in Time but felt guilty about not reading the book before the movie released. I watched A Wrinkle in Time in theaters anyway and decided to read the book later on. I ended up downloading the audiobook from my local library. Madeleine L’Engle is an inspiring writer and I’m glad I had the chance to listen to some of her work.

Synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:

Madeleine L’Engle’s ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy classic, soon to be a major motion picture. This movie tie-in audiobook includes an introduction read by director Ava DuVernay, a foreword read by the author, and an afterword read by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis.

Meg Murray, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?

In 1962, Madeleine L’Engle debuted her novel A Wrinkle in Time, which would go on to win the 1963 Newbery Medal. Bridging science and fantasy, darkness and light, fear and friendship, the story became a classic of children’s literature and is beloved around the world. Now Disney is taking it to the silver screen! Directed by Ava DuVernay and with an all-star cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and newcomer Storm Reid, the major motion picture brings the world of Wrinkle to life for a new generation of fans.

What worked well:

  • A Wrinkle in Time does a nice job of depicting a female protagonist who needs to embrace her truest self—flaws and all—to overcome obstacles in her path. It’s a positive message but, let’s be real, it’s also kind of radical. She’s a young girl who’s not your stereotypical beauty and whose flaws are things like anger and impatience. L’Engle opened a door with this novel for many young girls who badly needed representation in literature.
  • L’Engle’s imagination was also a joy to discover. From the “tesseract” device to the villainous “IT” to the vastly different locations, L’Engle creates a complex universe full of life, weird science, and beautiful fantasy.

Who should read A Wrinkle in Time:

  • Those who enjoy middle-grade books
  • Fans of the science fantasy genre
  • Readers who like complex female protagonists
  • Those who enjoy books about family and bonds of friendship

The Underneath

The Underneath by Melanie Finn

When I read that Melanie Finn had a new book coming out, I knew I had to buy it. In the past, when I worked at Tethered by Letters, I read The Gloaming for a review. Back then, I wasn’t familiar with her work. Now I know how much of a genius she is. It was inevitable that I would preorder The Underneath from Two Dollar Radio.

Synopsis from the Two Dollar Radio website:

With the assurance and grace of her acclaimed novel The Gloaming—which earned her comparisons to Patricia Highsmith—Melanie Finn returns with a precisely layered and tense new literary thriller.

The Underneath follows Kay Ward, a former journalist struggling with the constraints of motherhood. Along with her husband and two children, she rents a quaint Vermont farmhouse for the summer. The idea is to disconnect from their work-based lifestyle—that had her doggedly pursuing a genocidal leader of child soldiers known as General Christmas, even through Kay’s pregnancy and the birth of their second child—in an effort to repair their shaky marriage.

It isn’t long before Kay’s husband is called away and she discovers a mysterious crawlspace in the rental with unsettling writing etched into the wall. Alongside some of the house’s other curiosities and local sleuthing, Kay is led to believe that something terrible may have happened to the home’s owners.

Kay’s investigation leads her to a local logger, Ben Comeau, a man beset with his own complicated and violent past. A product of the foster system and life-long resident of the Northeast Kingdom, Ben struggles to overcome his situation, and to help an abused child whose addict mother is too incapacitated to care about the boy’s plight.

The Underneath is an intelligent and considerate exploration of violence—both personal and social—and whether violence may ever be justified.

What worked well:

  • There is so much good to say, but let’s start with the obvious one: Finn’s use of violence. Violence may not seem like a good thing—and indeed, it is not—but in the hands of a master prose stylist, there is somewhat of an important subversion that takes place. The Underneath unflinchingly delves headlong into some heartbreaking topics through the characters and their experiences: child soldiers, warmongers, mutilation, drug abuse, self-harm, suicide, sexual abuse, neglect, pedophilia, physical abuse, verbal abuse, animal abuse, destruction of the earth, etc. It’s true that you likely need a strong stomach to read this book. But the things that Finn brings up are important for us to discuss and not to ignore. Finn also shows us how any person—”good” or not—can end up perpetuating violence.
  • Like with The Gloaming, Finn’s prose in this book is stellar. From the very first beautiful and compelling line, I was hooked. Finn phrases things in ways that few other writers can or have. To understand what I mean, you should read an excerpt of the novel or just take a leap of faith and buy the book.

Who should read The Underneath:

  • Readers who enjoy literary thrillers
  • Those who are prepared to read about intense violence
  • Fans of The Gloaming
  • Readers who enjoy exquisite prose

*BONUS TITLES!

From Likely Red Press:

 

From the Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series:

casserolethere are over 100 billion stars in our galaxyWolf InventoryBrett+Stuckel+-+Outerbridge+Shelter  

*I have strong affiliations to these particular titles and their publishers.

Likely Red Press, L. N. Holmes, "The Squatter's Inn," flash fiction, anthology, series, small press, poetry, art, story

Hello cherished readers, beloved blog followers, and inquisitive newcomers. I’m excited to announce that Likely Red Press released the first installment in The Fancy Arm Hole Series today. You can find my story, “The Squatter’s Inn,” in anthology number one. I hope you’ll check out my work and the other lovely creations in this series. And if you do, as always, thanks for reading.

January Mini-Reviews

For 2018, I hope to read at least 52 books by the end of the year. This may seem like a low goal, so it may also come as a surprise to you that I’m a slow reader, considering how much I read. However, my undergraduate and graduate courses have helped me nail the novel-per-week schedule in the past, so I think 52 books is doable for me.

At the end of the month, as a response to each book, I plan to write mini-reviews. The reviews will consist of mainly what worked and links to the book. If you wish to discuss what didn’t work in the novel—or better yet, your own reading goals for the year—I’d encourage you to comment on this post.

Without further ado, here are the mini-reviews for this month. (Mild spoilers may follow.)


novel, literary fiction, science fiction

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

How could a dystopian junkie pass up The Salt Line? I couldn’t of course. Holly Goddard Jones had me at deadly ticks and outdoor excursions.

Summary from the Penguin Random House website: