Not only is it the last month of the year, but everyone seems to be harping on the fact that it is the last month of the decade. I don’t remember people being this pumped when 2009 was drawing to a close, but truth be told, I don’t remember much about that time in general. I know I was in college, I know I was student teaching, and I know I had a lot of plans. Looking back, I realize I had a pretty fantastic decade.
I graduated college magna cum laude.
I lost nearly sixty pounds … and then gained it back. But then I started losing again, so let’s call this one a draw, shall we?
I bought a convertible, my dream car! And when the water pump somewhere in Pennsylvania and left me stranded on the shoulder of a steaming highway, I bought a Jeep! And when the Jeep was too expensive, I bought a brand new car, the first one I’ve ever owned.
I met Andrew McCarthy and Gary Sinise. And I yelled to James Franco that I liked his collection of short stories, and he mouthed “thank you.” I don’t think he was allowed to talk to anyone outside the theater after the performance of “Of Mice and Men.”
I published a novel (the first of many, let’s hope)!
I traveled to places I’d never been before, specifically Colorado and France.
I attended seven weddings and eight funerals.
Three of my loved ones deployed and returned home safely, but two made the ultimate sacrifice.
The New York Giants won a Super Bowl with Eli Manning as quarterback.
I worked my ass off and earned my dream job.
I finished the manuscript for a second novel and started the manuscript for a third.
I attended three absolutely wonderful writer’s conferences.
I bought a home.
I fell hopelessly, irrevocably, and dangerously in love.
I had my heart absolutely decimated. But hey; that builds character (Jane Austen wrote something like that, I think).
I’ve seen a lot of lists like this while scrolling through social media and “decade challenges” and similar sentiments. Recently, I was on LitHub and read an article titled “26 Books From the Last Decade that More People Should Read” (which can be found here and is definitely worth more than just a scroll-through) and it got me thinking: what would my reading list from the last ten years look like? I went over to my Goodreads page (and you should visit it too so we can be friends!) and scrolled through to revisit some of the titles that came along for my journey into the woman that sits in her kitchen, typing furiously on a cheap laptop that needs to be wiped down.
So here’s my list of ten books (with accompanying reviews I previously posted on Goodreads (except for my comments on The Spinning Heart)) that I read in the last ten years that molded me into the woman, writer, friend, lover, daughter, sister, aunt, teacher, human being I am today:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro “I absolutely adored The Remains of the Day. Thus, I had very high hopes for Never Let Me Go, and I was not disappointed. The story was completely original and the novel’s structure served it well. I appreciated the real human elements of the characters and it was those elements that made the story as engaging as it was. I am a huge fan of human drama, and this book offered me all of that in a new and interesting way. Pondering what to do with one’s short and limited time on earth is not a new concept. However the way the author investigates what that means to the particular set of people with extreme circumstances is breathtaking.”
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
“I loved this novel I am going to begin by imploring anyone reading this review to take my comments with a grain of salt, as I now realize I have a rather bizarre emotional connection to this novel. I believe I read this novel at the exact time I was supposed to; its plot, which focuses on the varying tragedies of the ‘everyman,’ relates to one and all. The prose was engaging and layered, so that every phrase contained a superficial significance and a deeper message that reveals itself in time. I loved this novel and highly recommend it.”
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
“Romance is usually never my genre of choice. It’s my literary snobbery, but I’ve always assumed romances left nothing for the serious reader to sink her teeth into. I’d just always assumed romance novels were nothing more than pages torn from some woman’s diary, some woman desperately trying to recreate a forgotten relationship from her past and doing her utmost to make sure she gets it right this time. All of those assumptions and assertions are insulting and unfair, I know. This novel, ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes, helped me to see the error of my ways.
The characterization is outstanding. No aspect is obviously conveyed or conveniently created for the reader; there’s some work involved, but man oh man, is it worth it. These characters are developed and authentic so there is a genuine emotional investment in how this particular story unfolds. It’s not just the romantic relationship that has longevity with the readers, but all the friendships and familial entanglements. The characters were lovingly crafted and it helps the reader to stomach an unbearable plot.
What I mean by that seemingly harsh phrase is that Moyes is not in the business of granting wishes; she’s being real. This novel is not what you think it is in the best of ways. I was very pleasantly surprised and intend on picking up the sequel soon. Definitely recommended.”
Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
“I purchased this book for three reasons: 1) I love ‘True Detective (particularly the first season which is absolutely flawless),’ which Pizzolatto created and wrote; 2) While binge watching the first season of ‘True Detective’ for the thousandth time, I finally watched an interview with Pizzolatto where he discussed his writing process and talked about illuminating the characters through nuances, and I thought that was just brilliant; 3) I spent a lot of time in a bookstore and would feel like a total asshole if I didn’t buy something.
This crime novel is entertaining. I kept having to turn the pages to see what was going to happen next. The pacing was maddeningly appropriate, but this novel is so much more than a hard boiled crime story. Similar to ‘True Detective,’ Pizzolatto uses a fluid narration to not only blend the present and past to keep readers on their toes, but to develop characters in that subtle, illuminating way. Sure, the troubled hero and grizzled damsel who still needs saving are somewhat stock characters, but Pizzolatto’s talent and attention to detail creates living, breathing identities for those characters. They can’t just be compartmentalized or written off; they’re complex and layered, and engineer a real attachment. I wasn’t reading just to find out what happened to satisfy curiosity; I wanted – needed – to know if they made it, to know how they made out in the end.
Highly recommended if you enjoy crime thrillers and/or good writing.”
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
“Stephen King at his best … Some stories were downright delightful and ultimately satisfying, but most were disturbing and unsettling and masterful. There were rare moments when the voice seemed stale and archaic, but King’s power comes from his knowledge of human nature. He gets it, man; and whatever that is, it’s terrifying and funny and entertaining and beautiful. Some stories in this collection are undoubtedly better than others, but King is a master storyteller, so each and every yarn is undoubtedly worth the read.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Mr. King, and have suffered through some of his recent work (which feels awful and unkind to admit), but this collection felt like a return to what made me fall in love with his prose in the first place.”
I’d Die For You and Other Lost Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Fitzgerald is a brilliant writer; I did not need to read this collection of short stories to learn that fact. The greatest thing about this collection, then, is that it shows Fitzgerald as an artist and a man. He truly believed in artistic integrity, and was brutally honest with himself about many things, including his talent and his drinking and his relationship with Zelda. The stories in the collection are evidence of Fitzgerald growing and evolving with the times, with his own life, and with his own interests. This is a must read for any and every Fitzgerald fan.”
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
“As I start taking my aspirations to be a successful published author more seriously, I find myself attending conferences that assign required readings. Some are pretentious, some are obvious, but few are as practical, helpful, honest, and entertaining as BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott.
I felt validated and challenged and, most importantly, inspired to really write and give it all I have all the time. Lamott’s advice and insight are not meant to placate or manipulate aspiring writers into following her footsteps or buying more of her books or anything so capitalistic or self-serving. She talks about the reality of being a successful published author and how the realization of that dream still leaves something to be desired because it is human nature to never be satisfied. That truth, crushing though it may at first appear to be, makes the whole endeavor more manageable.
I am forever indebted to this book, to this absolutely wonderful author. I also plan on reading more and more of her work.”
The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall
“I can’t remember the last time I read a book in two days.
The honesty of the author’s account of her life with Ted Bundy is remarkable. Kendall freely admits her own shortcomings which may have attracted Ted to her in the first place. She does not deny any facet of her relationship with Ted and while some readers have found her to be irritating in her inconsistencies, I felt it made her human and actually gave her credibility.
Unfortunately, now having read the source material for the wildly popular Netflix film starring Zac Efron, I dislike the film as they weren’t true to the material.”
*A new expanded and updated version of this book will be released in January 2020.*
Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell
“This book was profoundly moving. I will not entertain anyone’s opinion about war or the military unless they’ve read this book.”
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
“This is one of the most gorgeous novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring. Achingly beautiful and haunting, there was not a single wasted sentence. Remarkable. Powerful.”
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. The first time I thought I had any real talent, or any real future with writing, was when I was in the third grade (if you can believe it). We had a homework assignment having to do with vocabulary, and I wrote a poem using the entire list of vocabulary words. My mom liked the poem, but made me complete the assignment the exact way the teacher assigned it so I wouldn’t lose credit or get in trouble (good lookin’ out, Ma!). I brought both versions of the assignment to school, and my teacher FREAKED out. He loved the poem and signed me up for a local young author’s conference.
But third grade was FOREVER ago (or at least very much feels that way) and other moments of validation have been few and far between. I did publish a novel, but it was with an incredibly small press and there was no publicity, so I don’t think anyone read it outside of my social network. And they all seemed to like it, but would any of them really tell me otherwise?
And that brings me to the main topic of today’s post:
Ten Obstacles Every New* Writer Faces (by new, I mean any writer not firmly established)
My biggest obstacle, without question, is self doubt. It plagues me every time I write anything at all, and it is a struggle to persevere against the nagging suspicion that I’m no good and people are just nice. I do my best and remind myself I was published and people did enjoy my book and that people do enjoy this blog. I remind myself as often as I can that I am talented, that my writing is worthy of praise, and that I have something important to say.
I think it’s important to note that even wildly successful, established writers suffer from self doubt. I absolutely adore Nic Pizzolatto’s work. He’s the mastermind behind “True Detective,” the HBO original series. The first season is pretty much universally lauded as a masterpiece, and I agree. I’ve re-watched the first season more times than I care to admit, and I find something else to love about it. It inspired me to read “Galveston” (Pizzolatto’s novel) and “Between Here and the Yellow Sea” (Pizzolatto’s collection of short stories). I highly recommend both, as Pizzolatto tells fresh stories with a love of language. His prose, while dark, is beautiful and cerebral. Hence, I was pumped when the second season of “True Detective” was announced, especially upon learning the cast included Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Vince Vaughn.
But the second season is pretty much universally lauded as garbage (though I think history will be kinder than the current climate of critics). There were so many plot lines and so many characters that nothing ever felt authentically fleshed out, and the ending was deeply unsatisfying. I was shocked; how could something so good turn so bad? I did some research, and came across an article that Pizzolatto was deeply affected by the criticisms of the first season and wrote the second season as a response. Instead of guarding his art, he lost his voice.
I am by no means passing judgement. I doubt I’d operate much differently. So when season three was announced, I was more than skeptical. I had no expectations, really. And boy, was I pleasantly surprised. Season three is a subtle, nuanced narrative that is delicately crafted to expose the many problems that come from the passing of time, failing memories, and the choices people make with no regard for future consequences. I was particularly impressed by Stephen Dorff’s performance and have convinced myself I am in love with him (check out this article). Particularly in the last couple of episodes, Dorff shined and added a human element that was more palpable and tangible than what the main story line had to offer.
Granted, the third season had definite parallels to the first season, and I suppose it could be argued that Pizzolatto simply reverted back to what worked instead of venturing into new literary territory, but I call bullshit. Good storytelling is good storytelling, in my opinion, and Pizzolatto is a master storyteller. But everyone’s a critic, right? Entertainment Weekly gave the finale a C rating and wrote a hit piece, specifically blasting a heartbreaking scene featuring Dorff. I read it angrily, remembering that scene from season one when Woody Harrelson accuses Matthew McConaughey of shitting on any moment of human decency. Instead, I offer Esquire’s excellent write up of Dorff’s performance, which can be found here.
But I digress; back to the list.
When I first seriously started writing, I thought everything would be easy and happen in a predictable pattern. I thought everyone I encountered genuinely believed in me and my talent. However, I have learned the hard way that some people just want to stroke their own egos and make money, and some people have no problem doing that at the expense of a young writer.
It costs money to make money, even as a writer!
The greatest asset as a writer, other than the obvious necessity of talent, is a professional network. It really helps you get your foot in the door if you know someone. I know no one, so to start making connections and contacts, I began attending conferences, which is really the only way to go. Unfortunately, attending legitimate conferences where you can meet agents and editors and other serious writers costs money. I’ve been to two legitimate conferences, and they cost $3,000 each. That cost does not include travel and lodging and other incidentals, and that can be difficult to manage on an average salary, which leads me right to my next point…
It takes time!
It takes patience to finish a novel, send it out to agents and publishers, and wait to hear back. But it also takes time to hone the craft, to read and to write. It takes time to travel to conferences. I had to request time off from work for both of the conferences I attended, and I know I am blessed that doing so wasn’t problematic. I’m sure there are some writers, working full-time as something else, who wouldn’t be afforded the same luxury. I realized that writing takes serious time, and needs to be prioritized. I need to start turning down invitations and stay off Candy Crush and social media to get writing done. I have to choose my writing over other obligations, even those that involve my job, because it is my true passion and what I love to do. That’s a daunting commitment, especially when it’s easier to make excuses and not take the risk of pursuing a passion.
I never thought it would happen to me. I’m bursting with ideas! I’m eager to tell stories! But when I sit down at the computer, sometimes, nothing comes. The cursor just blinks and I just sit there, blinking, and anything I type is deleted because it’s awful. Stress and exhaustion create Writer’s Block, and at times, there is just no avoiding it.
I won’t repeat myself, as I touched upon this idea in #4, but writing must be a priority. I thought I could have my cake and eat it too, that I could write while having a life. But as I grow older, I realize writing must be a part of my life. I have to do it everyday and pursue agents tenaciously. I can’t put it off and use the excuse that I’m living and experiencing things to enrich my narratives – it can’t be one or the other.
I’m a transcendentalist, so I believe people mean well. When I’m given advice about my writing, whether it be the content or the logistics of getting published, I patiently listen and express my gratitude for the concern and input. But I’ve realized it has to go in one ear and out the other. People are people are people; no two human beings are the same, so no two writers are the same and no two writers are going to have the same exact path to publication. And no two writers are going to have the same art. I’m learning to guard my art, to trust that I know the best way to tell my story, so I’m leery when it comes to advice.
Finding a tribe!
It’s easier to make writing a space in my life if I talk to and hang out with fellow writers and artists. I recommend finding a writing group, or a book club, or even just one person who will talk shop with you.
Writers can often be introverts and have trouble selling themselves and their works. Luckily, I’m an extrovert. I’ll talk to anyone about anything. I’m incredibly friendly. But I don’t know the first thing about promoting a novel. I didn’t do any marketing for my novel because I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know who to ask (and this goes back to naivete). A writer friend of mine has a publisher who’s handling all that for him, and I am so excited for him.
Staying relevant (releasing new material)!
It takes time to be published, so in between releases, how does a writer stay relevant? This blog is one way, but I want to be able to keep my writing in the spotlight. I’m considering publishing a chapbook of poetry I created using magnetic poetry (I post them on my Instagram, here). Self-publishing costs money, though it may save time, so I’m considering all my options.
Was the list helpful? Was there something I missed? Did you hate season three of “True Detective”? Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation!
It’s been a year since my last blog post. I want to say I’ve been busy, and I have, but not in the romantic, adventurous ways I’d like. I was struggling with depression and losing the battle for a while. I had no inspiration, no motivation, no real reason to get up in the morning. There were some really awful nights where I sobbed until I couldn’t breathe, where I gorged myself until I couldn’t move, where I didn’t even leave my house to check the mail. I hated my existence and hated who I was – only the worst sort of person could allow herself to be such a fucking loser, I thought.
And the problem with writing, I realized, is that it is solitary and sedentary, making it NOT conducive to the my goals of being social and beautiful, but it remained vital to my survival; I have to write. So instead of blogging, I filled journals with scribbled self-loathing and only a few blips of creative expression.
But therapy helped; it really did. And so did attending The Writer’s Hotel writing conference in New York City in June of last year. I was inspired, invigorated! I met some truly amazing and talented people whom I still talk to. I got some much needed perspective and validation. As a result, I’m healthier than I’ve been in a long time, and I only have one more chapter to revise on my manuscript.
So I’m back, bitches! Here’s a prompt for your enjoyment.
01.2019: Stealing Sentences I opened up to a random page in Nic Pizzolatto’s collection of short stories, “Between Here and the Yellow Sea.” I chose the first sentence I saw, and wrote this little ditty.
She looked briefly at his art. “I don’t get it.”
Jay blinked. “What do you mean?” he asked in an accusatory tone, offended because he believed she was being intentionally obtuse.
Alison cocked her head to the left, trying to study the sculpture from a different angle. She narrowed her eyes and Jay remained breathless. When Alison sighed, Jay did too, disappointed and deflated. “What is it?” Alison asked.
“I can’t believe you can’t tell,” Jay growled. He gathered his sculpture delicately in his arms and headed for the door.
“Oh come on, Jay, it’s not that serious,” Alison pleaded as she followed close behind. As soon as the words escaped her mouth, she knew she had just made everything worse. Jay took his art super seriously and Alison knew that.
“I wasn’t looking for an in-depth critique or anything,” Jay said. He was struggling to open the door with his sculpture simultaneously nestled in his hands. “A little enthusiasm would have been nice, that’s all.”
Jay was avoiding eye contact, so Alison used the opportunity to roll her eyes. “I am always enthusiastic about everything you do. You just caught me on a bad day. I had an awful morning. I tried to make coffee without closing the lid on the coffee maker.”
“Fascinating,” Jay spat. His hand slipped against the doorknob. Alison reached over and opened the door for Jay. Neither moved for half a minute. Then Jay said, “I spent hours making this today. I was so proud of this sculpture and the first person I thought of to share my joy with was you. And you couldn’t even humor me.” With a wounded look that irritated Alison to no end, Jay marched himself out of Alison’s apartment and into the hallway. She slammed the door behind him, pissed at Jay for making her feel guilty. She didn’t really think he wanted to share joy with her. He wanted to praised for his artistic endeavor like some elementary school kid. He was a grown ass man who should be confident in his abilities and shouldn’t need any validation.
All the same, Alison supposed she could have asked questions and feigned interest, even if only for a few minutes, or until his excitement waned. She’d call later and apologize when she had more energy.
It really had been an awful morning.