September Mini-Reviews

Autumn has appeared suddenly here in Nebraska and the cooler weather is a perfect excuse to sit inside and read. We’re also less than a month away from NaNoWriMo, which is a good reminder of just how hard it is to write a book, let alone a good book. I always try to keep this in mind when I review things: authors are working hard, usually for years, to get their books out there and in front of readers. It’s a tough business and a bad review can be rather detrimental.

At a Vase of Wildflowers, I always try to be honest about my feelings concerning the books I read, while still focusing on its positive aspects. That’s not every reviewer’s goal and I respect and understand that. But when you visit my blog, I hope that you will always consider giving the books I review a chance, no matter how I feel about them. It would be boring if we all loved the same things. And isn’t that what literature is really all about: freedom and the right to choose and think for oneself?

So with that in mind, the following reviews will cover what worked well in the books I read. 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. (Mild spoilers may follow.)


The Art of PerspectiveI decided to continue reading Graywolf Press’s “The Art of” series with Christopher Castellani’s The Art of Perspective. It was another smash hit for me, even if I didn’t agree with everything Castellani said. I’m happy to have read it. All the thanks to my local librarian for making me aware of this series about the craft of writing. I hope to be able to continue it. I’m seriously considering reading them all. Let’s hope they stock the rest at the Bellevue Public Library in the near future.

Synopsis from the Graywolf Press website:

A writer may have a story to tell, a sense of plot, and strong characters, but for all of these to come together some key questions must be answered. What form should the narrator take? An omniscient, invisible force, or one—or more—of the characters? But in what voice, and from what vantage point? How to decide? Avoiding prescriptive instructions or arbitrary rules, Christopher Castellani brilliantly examines the various ways writers have solved the crucial point-of-view problem. By unpacking the narrative strategies at play in the work of writers as different as E. M. Forster, Grace Paley, and Tayeb Salih, among many others, he illustrates how the author’s careful manipulation of distance between narrator and character drives the story. An insightful work by an award-winning novelist and the artistic director of GrubStreet, The Art of Perspective is a fascinating discussion on a subject of perpetual interest to any writer.

What worked well:

  • Even when I disagreed with Castellani on a particular idea, he was such an eloquent writer that anything he wrote nearly swayed me to his viewpoint. It’s always nice to know that the one instructing you about writing is a good writer. Castellani proves it in this book, penning elegantly wrought and veracious chapters, which are as much moving as they are instructive.
  • I had a professor in my graduate program that tried to argue that all points of view worked in the exact same way and that it didn’t matter which one was chosen for a story. I’ve never agreed with that idea and I think this book works to show why the point of view we choose for a story does matter. This is a very valuable tool for writers: the ability to understand the nuances of the different perspectives.

Who should read The Art of Perspective:

  • Writers, especially fiction writers
  • Professors and teachers who want to educate their students about perspective
  • Those who enjoy books about the craft of writing
  • Readers who like to study particular literary movements and their impact on literature

Building FictionAnother craft book I finished this past month was Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval. I read parts of this book in graduate school for a class. After I graduated, I decided I wanted to read the entire thing. I read the book from start to finish, including the chapters I’d already studied. It was worth revisiting, and I’ll probably reference it again at different points in my career, but it did take a while to get through it because of the textbook-like feel of the prose.

Synopsis from the University of Wisconsin Press website:

No one looks at structure like Jesse Lee Kercheval. She builds a work of fiction just as an architect would design a house—with an eye for details and how all parts of a story or novel interconnect. Even with the most dynamic language, images, and characters, no piece of fiction will work without a strong infrastructure. Kercheval shows how to build that structure using such tools as point of view, characterization, pacing, and flashbacks. Building Fiction will help you envision the landscape of your fiction and build great stories there.

What worked well:

  • This is an excellent guide for beginning fiction writers, with many things that are valuable for the intermediate writer. Honestly, even for the most experienced, it’s nice to reexamine these basic elements. Kercheval is thorough and gives ample examples, including ones from her own books. She even has a very valuable chapter on experimental writing—a topic often ignored by other craft books I’ve read.
  • What I appreciate about Kercheval’s writing is the candidness of it. She doesn’t pretend her advice is the only advice out there, nor does she suggest that it’s the only correct way of doing things. This is important because she encourages writers to find their own voices and to write what works for them.

Who should read Building Fiction:

  • Fiction writers
  • Professors and teachers who want to teach their students how to write fiction (especially novels and short stories)
  • Those who enjoy books about the craft of writing
  • Writers who enjoy extensive, time-consuming exercises

Milkyway HitchhikingI realized, with horror, that I hadn’t read any comics or graphic novels lately. I decided to obtain a library card from La Vista’s public library (I can as an employee of the college I work for) and check out what they had to offer. The first book I choose to read was a manga titled Milkyway Hitchhiking, Vol. 1 by Sirial. While its slice-of-life storytelling left much to be desired, there were still some lovely things happening in this volume.

Synopsis from the Yen Press website:

There are as many people on Earth as there are stars in the sky. Milkyway–a peculiar cat with a pattern of the Milky Way splashed across her back–travels across time and space; sometimes to observe, other times to interact with an unfolding story. From Sirial, the creator of One Fine Day, comes the full-color tale of Milkyway hitchhiking across the bright stars of people’s lives, loves, tears, and laughter.

What worked well:

  • The art in this is gorgeous. What’s even cooler than that is that the art style changes somewhat with the different stories. I’m no expert, but it felt like only a truly skilled artist could pull off so many styles so flawlessly.
  • The fantasy and sci-fi aspects presented in this book are fascinating. They include everything from shape-shifting to robots. And everything is super cat focused, which I can’t help but love.

Who should read Milkyway Hitchhiking, Vol. 1:

  • Fans of manga with beautiful artwork
  • Readers who like quick stories connected by a single character
  • Those who enjoy fantasy and science-fiction
  • Readers who enjoy intermixed light and dark stories

The BunkerThe other comic book I picked up was The Bunker Vol. 1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer) and Joe Infurnari (artist). I love apocalyptic stories but I felt more confused by this one, due to both the storytelling and art style, than satisfied.

Synopsis from Oni Press website:

On their way to bury a time capsule, five friends – Grady, Heidi, Natasha, Daniel, and Billy – uncover a metal bunker buried deep in the woods. Inside, they find letters addressed to each of them… from their future selves. Told they will destroy the world in the very near future, the friends find, over the next few days, growing further and further apart. Though they’ve been warned against making the wrong choices, how do they know what the right ones are? Can the future really be changed, or will an even darker fate engulf the world? Collects the first four issues of the ongoing series.

What worked well:

  • There’s definitely a lot here to keep readers interested: letters from the future, time travel, and crops that kill, to name a few.
  • The art style compliments the horror aspects, especially that of the impending apocalypse.

Who should read The Bunker Vol. 1:

  • Fans of apocalyptic stories
  • Comic book readers who can appreciate the art style
  • Readers who like science-fiction
  • Those who are patient enough to figure out where the story will lead

BONUS TITLES!

I read #41 and #42 in the Ghost City Press micro-chapbook series. You can find all of them here.

Blood & WhiskeyAnd remember that book I was a beta reader for? Guess what, you can pre-order it now! It’s called Blood & Whiskey and it was written by my friend Meredith Allison.

Blood & Whiskey thrilled me. Meredith Allison uses famous criminals like Al Capone, Dean O’Banion, and Tom Dennison and expertly plays them against dynamic fictional characters of her own creation. It’s a daring and exciting book, filled with all of the adventure and peril of the Roaring Twenties.

 

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Cover Art by Jennifer Potter

Hey, friends! My micro-chapbook, Space, Collisions, is available now! I’m thrilled to have my first ever micro-chapbook released into the world. I hope you’ll check it out. If you’re on Goodreads, remember you can add it to your shelves here. I’m working on a print version too, which will be available soon. For those of you who check it out, thanks for reading!

And don’t forget that the cover art was made by the wonderful Jennifer M. Potter. You can find more of her work here. I hope you’ll choose to support this fantastic artist!

I’m so grateful for the support I received from the good people at Ghost City Press. Being a small part of the 2018 summer micro-chapbook series is a huge blessing. A massive thank you to everyone who helped me with the stories and their publication. This profession is tough, but your kindnesses have made the burden much lighter.

The 2018 Summer Micro-Chapbook Series Begins!

The annual Ghost City Press Summer Micro-Chapbook Series kicked off today with Sara Adams’s Casserole. There will be new works of poetry, prose, and art released each day from May 28 to September 7. My collection of stories, Space, Collisions, will release July 19. I hope you’ll check it out!

And because I’m writing about my micro-chapbook, it should be noted that the collection now has a cover! The artist is Jennifer Potter, a talented illustrator and the creator of Echo’s Rift. She really went above and beyond to make the cover fit with the writing. To fully appreciate the intricate details added to the cover art, you can watch Potter’s speedpaint video on YouTube.

Book Cover-hi-res

Cover Art by Jennifer Potter

I’m hoping for some reviews for Space, Collisions, and have submitted an advance reading copy (ARC) of the micro-chapbook to a couple of places for consideration. My hometown newspaper was kind enough to publish an announcement on their website. One of the current editors of Blue River also expressed interest in reviewing the collection for the Blue River blog.

If you know of any places that accept review requests for micro-chapbooks—or if you’re an independent reviewer interested in receiving an ARC—please reach out to me at leeann [dot] n [dot] holmes [at] gmail [dot] com. You can also review Space, Collisions on Goodreads after its release.

It’s going to be an exciting summer. I hope you all will check out the micro-chapbook series. And as always, if you do, thanks for reading.

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.

Update: New Writings and Current Projects

F(r)iction #5, Tethered by Letters, literary journal


typewriter-1031024_1920Whoever said the summer months were for vacation probably wasn’t a writer (or an editor). My graduate school classes don’t start up again until late August, but I’m as busy as I’ve ever been. Don’t misunderstand—I’m not complaining. This past month especially has been wonderful! What’s more, I have some new published stories up and some fantastic opportunities to share.

New Flash Fiction Stories:

As some of you already know, I have two new published stories that are now available to read online.

  • “Trace” can be found at Vestal Review online (issue 49) and it is forthcoming in print (issue 47). This story deviates greatly from my normal style. I wrote this to see if I could stretch myself as a writer. Though it may not be what you expect, I hope you enjoy it.
  • “Spacefall” is the fourth installment of a Dually Noted group writing project. The writers used the phrase “Hold this—it’s supposed to relieve stress” as a prompt. It was really fun to write and I hope you enjoy it. It’s a personal favorite of mine.

Other Available Writings:

  • “Articulating Agony: The Writer as Antihero” is up on the Blue River blog. While my attempts at being funny may be somewhat laughable… I hope you enjoy it anyway. I would encourage everyone to read the writings of my fellow staff members as well.
  • Helly Luv: The Pop Star Fighting ISIS has surfaced on GERM Magazine. I found this spectacular woman via social media and decided to do a brief feature. She’s a pretty cool artist.
    • As a note: My women’s college and women writers series will be continuing according to one of the editors. You can find a complete list of my GERM Magazine contributions here.

Forthcoming Writings:

  • Interviews:
    • Roger May at Change Seven
    • Molly Rose Quinn at Tethered by Letters
    • Tyler Barton at Tethered by Letters
  • War Song” in The Stark via Wisehouse/Editorial l’Aleph
  • Book Reviews:
    • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders at Tethered by Letters
    • UHaul by Emily Ramser on my blog

Opportunities for Readers and Writers:

I’ve had some exciting adventures with Tethered by Letters lately. As a summer intern for this amazing nonprofit, I have seen first hand how wonderful Dani, Leah, and the staff are to their writers, readers, and business partners. If you’re curious check out what they offer:

  • Readers, participate in the #LitStory Series giveaway for a chance to win a copy of F(r)iction #2, #3, or #4! Here are the details.
  • Free Editing Program: The FEP is a great opportunity for writers. Feedback from an editor is often hard to come by and it can help a writer transform a piece from a fifth draft to a polished work. This program is indeed free once you join the Tethered by Letters community (also free). Here are the details.
  • F(r)iction #5: The anticipated release of this beloved journal of fine art and literature is about to happen—and let me tell you, it is gorgeous. Tell your friends. Tell your friends’ friends. Tell the dude crossing paths with you on the sidewalk—you get the idea. The Kickstarter is up!
  • Dually Noted: Do you want to be part of a group writing project? Submit your story by Friday for your chance to be part of the current TBL story cycle. Submissions are voted upon by a select group of editors and then the chosen story is posted on the website for readers. Try your luck, writers! Submit your awesome 500 word addition—details here—and tell them I sent you.

As fiction editor for Blue River, I’ve been reading some exciting work from graduate students that have submitted to our journal. The great news is that there is still time to submit for the chance to win the Blue River Editors’ Award of $500 (USD). The editors will be giving feedback for each submission. We’re looking for great stories from graduate writers for the first issue and—if you’re a writer in a graduate writing program—we hope to see your work!


Thanks for tuning in and, as always, thanks for reading!

Writers and Editors and Publishers! Oh my!: My First AWP Experience

Literary Friction, F(r)iction, F(r)iction #2, "When Continents Collide", L. N. Holmes, speculative fiction, magical realism, short story, AWP off-site event

As many of you know, I attended the Association of Writers and Writers Programs (AWP) conference in Los Angeles, California this year—an experience that was partly funded by the generous Creighton University. It was my first time attending an AWP conference and it was amazing.

My fellow writers Nate Sindelar, Maranda Loughlin, Arnie Hermes, and I embarked upon a cross-country adventure to the land of sunshine and starlight. Despite the madness of driving twenty-two hours and thirty-six minutes straight (roughly thirty hours after some stopping and set-backs), we decided to be brave and to make it a priority to see some of the scenery of the western United States. As expected, it was an exciting and perilous adventure.

Nebraska, birds, travel, AWP conference, LeeAnn Adams, L. N. HolmesWe began the first part of our journey through Nebraska in the early morning, the Monday before the conference. It seemed even the birds had gotten the message that now was the time to travel. As I had the privilege to sit in the back of the car for a while, I used that time to catch up on some shut-eye, to read a bit more of Ready Player One, and to—of course—write a bit. It seemed like very little time before we were entering Colorado, one of my favorite states in the U. S.

Colorado, Rocky Mountains, AWP, LeeAnn Adams, L. N. HolmesAs we climbed in elevation, I looked forward to seeing the Rocky Mountains again. The first time I saw the Rocky Mountains was at the Rocky Mountain National Park during a first year anniversary retreat with my husband. They were awe-inspiring then and they were still awe-inspiring the second time around. The mountains first appeared on the horizon like low-hanging clouds. As we drove closer, the sheer cliffs and evergreen trees, the snow caps and valleys, all came into clearer view.

We stopped in Denver, Colorado to peek our head into a bookstore (true to our nature) and for some food. However, only one could order the fish and chips. Nate and Arnie decided to participate in the 76th Hunger Games.

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Back on the road, we eventually drove far enough to reach Utah. In terms of fun, Utah was the opposite of Colorado. At night, heading down a mountain, it began to snow. Fortunately, we were using Maranda’s four-wheel-drive Jeep. Unfortunately, I was the one who had to drive through it. The roads and visibility became bad enough that I had to pull over. Nate informed us that the snowfall might not end for a couple of days. Nate decided to take over the driving. The rest of us watched for cars and other potential hazards. Traumatized, sleep-deprived, and terrified, we drove onward.

When the snow finally let up, Nate pulled over and allowed me to drive again. I made it only so far before we hit another pocket of the snowstorm and we were back to the dangerous conditions of before. This time there was a snow plow ahead of us. I decided I needed to go slow anyway and followed the plow for a while. I relied on Flogging Molly, Queens Of The Stone Age, Metallica, and Rush to keep me awake and alert—although, in retrospect, this might have been a bad choice because it made me want to drive faster than I was going and also seemed to heighten the drama of the event. Alas, I regret nothing (mainly because I didn’t kill us or wreck the car).

When I feared I would fall asleep if I went on any longer, I finally gave up the wheel to Maranda, who eventually became too tired as well. We parked the car briefly and got a few hours of much needed rest (I may or may not have had my mouth attractively hanging open in my sleep). Then we were off again.

Las Vegas, Nevada, desert, city, LeeAnn Adams, AWP conference, L. N. HolmesIMG_3233We were about to enter Las Vegas as the sun was peeking over the horizon. I didn’t have my contacts in at this point (I was not driving) and so everything was a bit hazy for me. What I remember is the desert in its darkness and then all of a sudden there was what looked like a massive grid of lights sprawling before us. We were tired, and not so interested in Vegas’s flashy advertisements at the moment, so we drove straight through. I did manage to snap a blurry picture or two.

From there we drove through the desert to California. I remember thinking as we were winding through the mountains that everything was so beautiful. The rock faces, the wildflowers, the array of colors, the sunshine—I felt as if, maybe not so surprisingly, I’d stepped into a movie. I wondered when the Indominus Rex would come storming down one of the mountainsides or when Bumblebee and Megatron would make a crash-landing into the middle of the freeway.

IMG_3267 (1)When we finally got to LA, I met our host and Nate’s friend Nathan (yes, I know many people with Nate/Nathan names). He was a stellar guy, let me tell you, and even more so for letting us crash for free in his living room for nearly a week. We found out his roommate, Tevin, who happened to be an accomplished slam poet and in the know about the local writing scene, was also wicked cool.

Nathan took us to some great places in downtown LA. We got some amazing coffee, excellent food, and—of course—visited a bookstore. The Last Bookstore was probably one of the coolest places I’ve ever had the privilege to visit. Set up like a sort of maze (the upstairs is called the labyrinth), there were all kinds of books in nearly every genre. The horror vault and the bench made out of an old, Chevy pickup truck tailgate sealed my love for this place—but there were all kinds of cool displays that made the store feel downright magical. There were even readings going on when we visited, which were entertaining and often comical. I think I would be happy living my last days at The Last Bookstore during the end of the world.

The next day we went to Donut Friend in Highland Park and then onward to Venice Beach and Hollywood. It was an amazing day, filled with great food and wonderful company.

We also set up the booth for the AWP book fair. We were representing the Creighton University MFA program, Blue River, and Brighthorse Books. We even had the chance to pass out information about Theodore Wheeler, an accomplished Creighton MFA alumnus.

AWP conference, LA, California, LeeAnn Adams, L. N. Holmes

Arnie, me, Nate, Maranda

Thursday was when the real madness began and it continued through Friday and Saturday. AWP is a huge conference with more than 12,000 attendees and it only gets bigger as the years go on. The Los Angeles Convention center was huge, but they also had panels in the Marriott across the street. You almost had to take a whole day to check out all of the book fair booths. It was pure bliss to see so many people that cared about the written word and the power of poetry and prose. I met some really fantastic people, from the very accomplished to the new professional. There were so many on-site and off-site events that one could only attend a small fraction of them.

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From left: the moderator (I apologize for forgetting her name), Emily St. John Mandel, Kelly Link, and Ruth Ozeki

I really enjoyed the speculative, young adult, and publishing industry panels I attended. There was a great deal to learn about the politics of writing and publishing. I’ll never forget seeing three of my favorite authors—Kelly Link, Emily St. John Mandel, and Ruth Ozeki—on stage during the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau panel.

 

Literary Friction, F(r)iction, F(r)iction #2, "When Continents Collide", L. N. Holmes, speculative fiction, magical realism, short story, AWP off-site event

Nate, Maranda, Arnie, and my professor Mary Helen Stefaniak came to support me. Nate took this photo. 

I also had the privilege Thursday night, thanks to the amazing editors of F(r)iction, to be part of an AWP off-site event called Literary FrictionAndrew McFadyen-Ketchum was our host and a representative of all three organizations that put on the event—F(r)ictionFloodgate Poetry Series, and poemoftheweek.org. I was in the company of some serious talent—Anders Carlson-Wee and Kai Carlson-Wee, F. Douglas Brown, Geffrey DavisNicky Beer, Scott O’ConnorPaisley RekdalCampbell McGrath, Simone Muench, and Lynn Emanuel. Their work was at times breathtaking, at times heart-wrenching, and at times rather hilarious. It was so wonderful I had to keep telling myself it wasn’t a dream and that I was really at These Days Gallery, reading an excerpt of “When Continents Collide” alongside these amazing writers.

Friday evening, I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of the professors who taught many of my creative writing courses at Salem College, Aimee Mepham (read “The Blacklisting of Sweet Kiss” and “Raving Ones“). Catching up with her over dinner was such a blessing. Her endless hard work and dedication to her craft really inspire me.

When Sunday rolled around, it was time to head back to Nebraska. We bid farewell to Nathan and Tevin and began the journey home. We decided to take a southern route to avoid any more snowy mountain passes. On the way, we couldn’t resist making a stop on the edge of the Mojave National Preserve.

Then we traveled through Arizona—stopping for dinner in Flagstaff to check out the scene and another bookstore—, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas. I felt very blessed to see parts of this beautiful country that I had never seen before.

My first experience with the AWP conference was wonderful. I understand there are those who do not enjoy it and I empathize. But I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions of my life to go to this conference. I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people and I hope by now they know I’m grateful. I will take the things I’ve learned and use them to help others and myself as we all continue our literary journeys.