A Long Time Coming

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Here I am with some of my classmates after the hooding ceremony at Creighton University.

How’s it going, friends? How’s your writing and reading life? Feel free to post in the comments section about your own journeys.

In the meantime, I’ll give you an update on where I am with my journey. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on my blog, so I feel as if there is a great deal to catch up on. That being said, I’ll give you the condensed version—we all have a lot of reading and writing to do, right?

Graduation

As of mid-May, I’m officially an alumna of the Creighton University MFA program. It was an honor and a privilege to study under Dr. Brent Spencer, Professor Mary Helen StefaniakProfessor David Mullins, and Professor Susan Aizenberg. Each of them taught me important things about the craft in their own ways.

I was exceedingly grateful to put together a collection of short fiction for my thesis with Mary Helen’s guidance. I’m hoping to have a few more of the individual short pieces published—but my thesis project overall may be a collection I eventually submit to publishers for consideration. More revision would be involved before any such decision could be made with certainty.

My longer works, however, continue to be problematic. Two of my novels died in the MFA program—or rather, I filed them away for now to work on my current novel. That being said, I learned a great deal about my particular weaknesses and hope to overcome them with my new project.

I’ve finished with my Blue River responsibilities. It was an interesting start to a journal that I hope will continue to be published by the Creighton MFA program. The latest issue recently came out, so don’t forget to snag a copy.

Post-graduation life is, simply put, calmer and more manageable.

The Day Job

After an intense summer internship last year, I started working as a contract employee for Tethered by Letters. It’s been a learning experience—I’ve never worked as anything other than a regular employee before—but the challenges have helped me grow as a writer, editor, and publisher. I’m currently the publishing assistant for TBL and I work as the editorial assistant for F(r)iction—TBL’s triannual literary and art journal. Broadly, my responsibilities concern everything from intermediate updates to the website, to social media marketing, to F(r)iction assginments and editing, to pretty much everything F(r)Online.

F(r)iction recently was picked up by Barnes & Noble and other select chain, independent, and college bookstores—so we’re in the brick and mortars nationwide (and Canada too)! Pick up a copy of the journal at a bookstore near you and check out the amazing art and literature that we publish.

Recent Published Work

My most recent publication, “One Woman’s Junk,” is a flash fiction story that was featured in Newfound‘s web issue: Vo. 8, Other Worlds. I’ve read and admired the flash fiction Newfound has published for some time now—so to have my work published by them is quite an honor. The editors are also incredibly kind. Be sure to check out and support this wonderful nonprofit publisher.

In January, my flash fiction story, “Force Play,” was published in issue #1 of Obra. This excellent digital magazine, produced by the MFA of the Americas, makes for a great read. I was thankful to work with the considerate editors on staff. Go check out what great literature and art they have to offer.

The online and print versions of Vestal Review #49/#47—in which my flash fiction story “Trace” was published—are also now available to read. Vestal Review has been publishing flash fiction since 2000 and are “the world’s oldest magazine dedicated exclusively to flash fiction.” They also recently published their fiftieth issue, which you can read here.

Up Next

This summer is shaping up to be a busy one. I’ve been submitting many of my short stories and flash fiction creations to journals and magazines. I’ll be participating in workshops in Omaha and online—because quality critiques often lead to better work. I’m working on that novel—consistently, desperately. And when things get overwhelming, I’ll be playing in my garden dirt.

Thanks for stopping in again, friends. And as always, thanks for reading.

Of Lovely Minds and Bodies: Jennifer Niven’s Holding Up the Universe

Let me explain a bit about Jennifer Niven before I begin this book review—for the sake of those unfamiliar with the author.

Jennifer is the daughter of Penelope Niven, who was also an accomplished writer. In the early stages of Jennifer’s career, she wrote nonfiction, which was her mother’s genre. When she published Velva Jean Learns to Drive, she was venturing into the world of fiction, and I became one of her biggest fans. Velva Jean was a heroine that I rooted for, that I loved, that I wanted to be like. Jennifer had me hooked.

In 2015, Jennifer decided to switch age groups—from adults to teens—and, as a result, became a New York Times bestselling author with her book, All the Bright Places. The novel sold in many different countries. Jennifer gained international acclaim. More importantly, she became more than “just an author” to so many young people—she became an advocate for those with mental illness.

Holding Up the Universe is Jennifer’s newest young adult novel, scheduled to release on October 4, 2016.

Here is the synopsis:

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game — which lands them in group counseling and community service — Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

Jennifer Niven delivers another poignant, exhilarating love story about finding that person who sees you for who you are — and seeing them right back.

As a contributor to Germ Magazine (for the sake of transparency: it is an online publication created by Jennifer), I had the privilege of receiving an ARC of Holding Up the Universe in exchange for a review.

REVIEW (SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW):

Holding Up the UniverseRomance, for any age group, is not my genre of choice—but I have to admire Jennifer’s ability to make love stories feel true to real life. The romance between Libby and Jack starts slow and with lots of initial loathing. From there, it’s not an easy transition to love and acceptance.

Loosely based on Jennifer’s own experiences, she doesn’t sugar coat the hard issues, and I think that is what makes her writing so strong. The characters in this story are struggling to find the confidence to move forward with their lives. Libby is bullied for her weight. Jack is terrified he will lose everyone he loves if he tells them about his cognitive disorder. Jack’s brother carries a purse despite his schoolmates’ opinions of him. The list goes on.

A cowardly act inspires the bravery hidden in both Libby and Jack. They start to change the people around them, including each other, as they learn how to accept themselves and pursue their dreams. And interwoven with these trials is an underlying truth—that Libby and Jack are wanted simply as they are.

At times it is a heartbreaking journey, but I’m glad I tagged along to see all of the triumphs for our main characters. It’s like Niven’s writing invites you in and makes you want to stay for dinner. There is cordiality in her paragraphs, friendship in her sentences. Then she shakes it up with a dash of humor. There is a deliberate connection, like she’s reaching for the reader’s hand. Her writing does not suffer due to her intentions. On the contrary, her kindness magnifies the power of the story.

There were only a few things that bothered me, overall, about the book.

There were many minor characters and I eventually started to mix some of them up because of the sheer number of them. Oftentimes it was because a group of minor characters played a minute role in a single part of the novel, with only a brief mention of them later. The ones that were more concrete, like Caroline and Mr. Levine, I didn’t have too much trouble with. It was people like Kendra Wu, Jesselle Villegas, Jayvee De Castro, and Rachel that made me scratch my scalp. There were several times I had to stop reading to go back in the novel and figure out who these minor characters were.

And since we are on the topic of characters, I have to admit that many of them bordered on stereotypes. Jennifer’s writing was much stronger when she focused on holistic qualities of the characters, because it made them feel more like real human beings.

That being said, I think Holding Up the Universe deserves to be read. In these tumultuous times, we all need a little more empathy. Jennifer’s novel examines just how lovely and wanted all of us are—a message the world desperately needs.

Upcoming Events and Another Writing Update

Writing Before Work

Finding the time is hard, so I often have to make time. Today, I’m working on revisions before heading off to work.

Can you tell this graduate student is a busy person? I apologize for not updating more often. But don’t worry, this blog isn’t going away. I’m merely working hard on my short stories and novel (and working hard every moment in between). I hope that I’ll have some great stuff to present to you within the next few years.

I wanted to let you know of some exciting upcoming events, but first let me start with some general writing updates.

I have two new projects rolling with Germ Magazine and Change Seven Magazine. One of them is available right now for readers, the other is forthcoming.

For Germ Magazine, I wrote a brief essay on the magical elements present in two books: The Cure for Dreaming and Belzhar. My main goal with this article was to talk about the importance of magical realism and to generate interest among young adults for the genre. Also, I wanted to give a rather brief history of the genre’s origins.

The article for Change Seven Magazine is a forthcoming interview with Ann Pancake. If you’re not familiar with Strange As This Weather Has Been, Ann’s novel, you should put it on your to-read-immediately list. It’s a beautiful work of art. It’s also a successful political novel. If you want to find out more, watch the Change Seven Magazine site for the interview. I’ll also post a link on my Twitter feed when it is available to readers.

As far as my fictional writing goes, I’ve got two short stories I’m revising and I’m working hard on my novel. Workshops for the piece have been intense, but I’m closer to a finished project.

How about you, writing friends? How are your projects going?

Upcoming events:

AWP Conference
The annual conference for the AWP organization will be held in Los Angeles this year. A few of my brave classmates and I will be heading to the sunny city to represent the Creighton University MFA program and Blue River. We hope to see you there!

F(r)iction, Tethered by Letters, AWP, offsite event, 2016, These Days GalleryLiterary Friction
This is an offsite AWP event. I will be reading part of my story that was featured in F(r)iction #2Talented artists like Paisley Rekdal, Campbell McGrath, Lynn Emanuel, Geffrey Davis, Simone Muench, F Douglas Brown, Anders Carlson-Wee, Kai Carlson-Wee, Nicky Beer, and Scott O’Connor will be performing as well.

Pageturners Literary Pub Quiz (Vol 2, Ed 4)
Interested in book trivia? Writer Theodore Wheeler is having another literary pub quiz at Pageturners Lounge and this time the quizmasters are Blue River‘s managing editors.

Novelizing my Notes in November: NaNoWriMo Round 2

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I have a story I want to tell you.

First, however, I need to write it.

Are you ready for National Novel Writing Month? I sure hope I am, because I’m participating again this November.

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National Library Week: What Library Book Are You Reading?

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I hope everyone celebrated National Library Week and showed your appreciation for your local library. But don’t forget about them after this week! If you’re like me, that’s not exactly possible, as book lovers naturally gravitate toward free reads.

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