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.

Book Review: Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick

video-game-storytelling“I found it to be both interesting and entertaining, using real-life examples taken from very popular movies and games that most people will be readily familiar with. I feel that Evan Skolnick has a lot to share and I really wish I had the opportunity to attend one of his talks. I would recommend Video Game Storytelling to anyone involved in the game development process—or anyone hoping to get into game development.” —Game Vortex

I started with Game Vortex’s quote because I believe I need to shed some positive light on this book. I could see how this book could be extremely helpful to people in the video game industry.

Here is the summary from the Penguin Random House site:

With increasingly sophisticated video games being consumed by an enthusiastic and expanding audience, the pressure is on game developers like never before to deliver exciting stories and engaging characters. With Video Game Storytelling, game writer and producer Evan Skolnick provides a comprehensive yet easy-to-follow guide to storytelling basics and how they can be applied at every stage of the development process—by all members of the team. This clear, concise reference pairs relevant examples from top games and other media with a breakdown of the key roles in game development, showing how a team’s shared understanding and application of core storytelling principles can deepen the player experience. Understanding story and why it matters is no longer just for writers or narrative designers. From team leadership to game design and beyond, Skolnick reveals how each member of the development team can do his or her part to help produce gripping, truly memorable narratives that will enhance gameplay and bring today’s savvy gamers back time and time again.

Many game developers care just as much about the story in their games as they do about game mechanics, which I think is smart. However, game developers may not have studied creative writing in school. So creating stories that resonate with their gamer audiences may be difficult to create.

For someone who has studied narrative structure and character building the majority of their life, I found this book to offer nothing new. To be fair, I am not a game developer and I read this book because I was interested in the idea of the subject matter. However, it’s truly a book for beginners as far as the storytelling aspect goes. This doesn’t make it a terrible read. While I didn’t enjoy it, I’m sure others will and have.

Evan Skolnick has worked at companies such as Activision, Lucasfilm, and Marvel. He’s worked on projects such as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2Spider-Man 3Star Wars 1313, and many others. He’s conducted workshops and spoke to many different video game industry professionals about storytelling techniques.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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!

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.

Where You Should Be and When: Urgent Literary Events

Blue River, book drive, donations, literary journal, literary magazine, booksHi friends! There is an explosion of awesome literary events happening in my neck of the woods (and a few other places) that you need to know about. Here’s a quick run down, starting with the most urgent.

At the University of Nebraska Omaha (Omaha, NE):

Tonight 7 pm, Twyla M. Hansen and Tim Hunt will give a reading at the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center. Learn more here.

At Salem College (Winston-Salem, NC):

Tonight at 7 pm, Incunabula is releasing their newest installment of the magazine. Go support some emerging writers if you’re in the area. Learn more here.

At the Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, NE):

The last Fair Use Reading of the year will be at the Joslyn Art Museum tomorrow night. Get there at 6:30 pm for seats. Make sure to bring books for Blue River‘s book drive! Meredith Spears, Nathan Sindelar, and Shelby Snedeker will be reading.

Enter to win an autographed copy of Pas de Deux: Part One (online):

You’ve got about a day before this opportunity is lost. Put your name in that hat. Also, check out Wynter S.K. and Pas de Deux.

At Salem College (Winston-Salem, NC):

A collegiate publications and journalists conference? Who dare take on such a momentous task? None other than Emily Wonder Woman Ramser of course. Check out this great opportunity coming up April 30. You can learn more here and—never fear—still register by emailing Emily at emily.ramser@salem.edu.

At Pageturners Lounge (Omaha, NE):

Another installment of the literary pub quiz is happening May 4 at 8 pm. Don’t forget to bring your books to donate to Blue River‘s book drive! Learn more about genius and event organizer Theodore Wheeler and about the event.

A Flash Fiction Class for $0.99 (online)?

Yes, the rumors are true, so hurry and sign up. Ilana Masad is teaching this course. Learn more about it here.

Blue River Book Drive (Omaha, NE):

Blue River is seeking book donations for an upcoming fundraiser. Please help us out if you can. Drop them off at Creighton University or at the Fair Use Reading or during the Literary Pub Quiz. Thanks for supporting literature!

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.