I don’t have a book review for you this weekend, but it’s for the best possible reason.
I just can’t bring myself to rush this book.
Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Ted Chiang’s short story collection “Story of Your Life and Others”. This man has a peculiar genius for micro fiction. But no, I’ll go no further. I have to keep reading.
I submitted to the Angry Robot open submission call today, which makes for nearly 60 submissions of my novel since I completed it last Fall. I’m still suffering a sore temptation to rewrite the whole novel from its very beginning, but for now, I am recommitting to the goal of publishing with journals and magazines as I endure the long wait for feedback on my book.
Whatever it takes to keep writing, writing, writing.
Back to it!
Full disclosure, I’ve skipped a day in this adventure of 642 Tiny Things to Write About. Describing my first, my last, and my next kiss just felt a little too personal for these pages. And so we move on to the next:
Write instructions for how to do something you haven’t learned to do since you were very young (blow a bubblegum bubble, or swim, or tie your shoes, or make a paper airplane, or build a snowman, for instance).
“Now, don’t pull from the end like that. No wonder you’re frustrated. Hook the back edge with your thumb, like this, and tug down toward your heel, then pull it out and over your toes. One more. You try it. Not from the toes, remember? Start behind your ankle, pull down, around, and… Off! Ha! I see those little toes!”
January is nearly over and I still haven’t heard from either the publisher or the literary agency who requested full copies of my manuscript. I knew this process would be slow and I know that no answer is better than a solid “no” at this point, but I’m starting to answer calls from unrecognized numbers, hoping that it’s good news, and if you know me well, you know I’M ON PINS AND NEEDLES HERE AND BEGGING FOR A LITTLE MERCY.
I’ve already begun planning my next big rewrite, assuming that this first round of querying is a bust.
But there’s hope, yet.
So, back to reading short stories by Ted Chiang, who’s rocking my face right off.
What a great title. What a great cover. What a great premise!
What. a pointless. book.
In her latest book, The Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, Anne Charnock attempts to explore the hearts and minds of three women. Antonia, Toni, and Toniah, women of the 15th, 21st, and 22nd centuries, wander through parallel lives, each burdened by a tragic past. Each woman (aged 11, 15, and 30ish) strives to find her place in a world which is largely indifferent to her hopes, to her needs, to her hidden heartbreaks.
That’s it. No need to warn of spoilers, because nothing of substance happens to any one of these characters. From the beginning of this book to the end, these women do not learn or grow or change. There were so many opportunities to demonstrate and to speculate on the varying paths of women in three very different centuries. But no.
I struggled from the beginning (only very rarely can I stomach stories told in the present tense) and by the abrupt and hopelessly existential conclusion I was exhausted. The pacing could not have been slower. The end results for each character could not have been less climactic.
Charnock did take an admirable amount of time researching for the glaringly obvious theme of this book: 15th century Italian Renaissance Art. But instead of enriching the story, all the data and pedantic lessons on color and perspective and art history only weighed down an already cumbersome plot. Normally, I love stories set in a richly detailed history. But, I learned a valuable lesson from this experienced author: don’t study something that’s new to you in order to write a story about it. Write what you know. Write what’s natural to you and second nature, so that you can be the insider who invites intrepid explorers into a world of intimately familiar detail. Otherwise, you’ll write like a museum guide and put your readers to sleep.
And we’re back with another Thursday’s Tiny Things to Write About!
And now for a little creative nonfiction.
Where would you choose to be exiled?
Assuming I’d be exiled in my current state of affairs, able to take only what I have and on limited funds, I think I’d head to SE Asia. Very likely, I’d end up in sunny Thailand. My little money would go farther there, the challenges of everyday living would distract from my homesickness, the distance would seal the separation and afford me some closure. And, perhaps most importantly, I’d know I could find a job teaching English.
What three essential items would you take with you?
Passport, credit card, Kindle
If I’ve got these three things with me, I can figure out the rest along the way.
Marie Kondo, a Japanese career “tidier”, has released upon the world her personal expertise in keeping your home “tidy”, once and for all. The KonMari method is based on Kondo’s experiences both personal (apparently, she’s been tidying since she was first laid in her crib) and professional (as an organizing consultant, she has a waitlist of 3 months). From how to fold your t-shirts and roll your socks (for GOD’S sake, don’t ball them up like miserable little poppies!), to how to part with those keepsakes your ancestors are demanding that you keep forever, Kondo leaves no throw pillow unturned. She doesn’t just organize your stuff, she thins it out to include only those things which give you joy.
Despite the alien-feeling Asian philosophy and the narrow view of the world presented in this book, I absolutely love the result it has had in my own home. I’m a serial purger (thanks in large part to my darling dad, who’d show up with a trash bag and tell us we could keep three stuffed animals. Three). I figured I had this whole clean out, organize, tidy up business pretty much handled. But Kondo taught me a lot. I not only learned some nifty organizing principles that had simply never occurred to me before, I also learned the freedom and exhilaration of letting go of anything and everything that does not bring me joy. I enjoy the things I’ve chosen to keep more. I see them more because they aren’t hidden behind the clutter. I use them more because my home is organized so that I don’t forget what I own. I know where every single thing is in my house. Literally. Not least of our life changes, we’ve thrown out and donated upwards of thirty bags of stuff!
I strongly recommend this book to tenacious tidiers and hopeless hoarders alike. It’s a gem.
Here’s the next installment of Tiny Things to Write About!
You accidentally hit Reply All – and everyone received an uncensored rant about your boss. Write the follow-up Reply All.
April fools!!!!! Ok, so it’s not actually April (hahahahahaha), but the boss-man’s birthday is coming up in just a few months and I thought I’d kick off a good-natured roast in his honor as a surprise kind of thank you for being so awesome (cause it wouldn’t be a surprise if we did it ON his birthday, would it?? Hahahahaha) and I thought maybe everybody could reply all with their own rubbing jokes?
Fat Charlie lives a life of perpetual embarrassment, and it’s all his dead dad’s fault. Finding out the old man was, in fact, one of the gods of the old world, none other than the story telling, web spinning Anansi himself, only deepens poor Charlie’s mortification. Add to that a demi-god brother he never knew, one who does life better in every possible way, and Fat Charlie begins to wonder what else he has to lose. Ah yes. The fiancée. Now on the arm of the demi-god brother Charlie never knew he didn’t want.
Although this was a slower burn than most of the inestimable Neil Gaiman’s novels, I still loved it. Like all great stories, it laid out a web of threads that pulled me through to the final pages, where it all took shape in way that both surprised me and made perfect sense. Writing a self-deprecating, powerless character takes great finesse if you don’t want your audience to despise them, and Mr. Gaiman made Fat Charlie equal parts despicable and loveable.
Like most of Gaiman’s stories, reader be warned. But go ye forth, if ye dare, and be edified.
Nothing drives a man to reevaluate his life like the death of someone he loves. In Enigma, young Josh runs back over the major events of his life in order to make sense of a tragedy. It’s a deeply introspective, brutally honest look at the series of choices and relationships that made him who he is today, and leads to a transcendent experience which blurs the lines between life, death, and the afterlife.
The disjointed pacing and pedantic tone of this book made it an extremely difficult read for me. It was frustrating, how powerless I felt to relate and follow along on this character’s journey, since the actual stories he told would normally have been riveting for me. This book is another prime example of tripping into the deadly pitfall of “Telling” and not “Showing”. If you “tell” a story without ever “showing” your readers that story (through the setting, body language of characters, believable dialogue, etc.) then the book has no life. It’s just a sequence of words on the page.
Couldn’t have been more disappointed.
It is so easy to stay busy with networking, platform building, social medializing (Yep, it’s a word. It communicates.), that we forget to write.
The writing part: Bringing together words and pages, characters and crises, reality and the Fae, that’s what I do.
And in that spirit, here’s one of the pet projects I hope never to let die. I’ll pull it out again one day, hopefully to find that burying it deep and mourning its loss will have imbued it with some dark and powerful magic.
“Open a window and a spider may come to call. He will settle in the eaves, waiting for a flash of movement or a breath of wind. Then he’ll unfold his spindled limbs and lash out, grasping, sometimes hissing. He’ll come right for you.
The thing that came after Vespera’s disappearance, the darkling they sent in her place, it was like the spider. Inserting itself into the corners of Vespera’s old life, dimming the light which our little darling had been in this rotten household. It coated every bright and shining remembrance of her with a thick layer of cobwebs, of decay, of something other. And it waited for I knew not what.
It was a stranger clothed in Vespera’s face. It wiggled her baby fingers and it cued up her sweet baby’s laugh like a soundtrack. It reached out its arms for me to carry it and its every breath was a horror to me.”
Back to short storying.