Remembering Toni Morrison and Other Bookish News

Missed this series? Don’t worry, I’ve got lots of bookish news to share this week!

-Writers and thinkers pay tribute to Toni Morrison.

-Read Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech here.

-The 2019 First Novel Prize Longlist was announced. See the nominees here.

Afrofuturism is taking over sci-fi and I. Am. Here. For. It.

-The 2019 Booker Longlist was also announced – see the list here.

-All the new books coming out in the second half of 2019.

-YA Novel Aurora Rising to become a TV show.

Writing Updates: Congratulations and Write On

Two rejections.

That’s how my July went.

I could stop here.

But this blog post is, after all, called “Congratulations and Write On.”

Clearly, there’s more.

The first rejection I received was for a short story I submitted to a themed anthology. On the whole, I thought the story was pretty good and one of the better things I’ve written recently. I did get a little feedback about it and I know it had been in the “maybe” pile after all the submissions were initially reviewed.

Still, at the time, this didn’t make me feel any better. I was actually pretty down about this one. I tend to think I’ve desensitized myself to rejection. Small, low-stakes rejections that feel impersonal – like writing rejections. Yes this one made me mopey for three days.

A few weeks after that, I remembered that I’d submitted a flash fiction I’d written last fall to a contest and needed to check and see if there were any updates.

There were.

I didn’t win.

Nor was I a finalist.

This rejection didn’t both me as much. A flash fiction is kind of a weird entity. I’d written the piece originally for a prompt I did with my writing group and after it was surprisingly well-received, I started shopping it around, not really sure if I’d find a home for it.

Still, two rejections in one month is not the best for a person’s confidence in their art.

One night I was sitting at my computer working on something when I saw I had a new email from the contest I’d been rejected from.

The subject line?

“Congratulations and Write On!”

I clicked it open, figuring it was just marketing ploy to get me to open an email about submitting again. That’s the problem with working in marketing. You see all the puppet strings.

But rather than a sales email (okay they did encourage me to submit again, too) I received the following message:

“Congratulations to you on being selected as an Honorable Mention for ‘Uncanny’ in the ___ Writing Awards. We’re so pleased at the chance to read and commend this fine work!

The quality was high, and you should be proud of your accomplishment. Although your piece won’t be published, I hope you’ll be gratified to know that as an Honorable Mention, you placed in approximately the top 8% of our entries (or, as I prefer to look at it, your piece beat out 92% of the competition).”

You can bet I was happy to get that email!

After I got up and told the boyfriend about my bit of exciting news, I started thinking: this one little email had turned my night around. And my month, too, as far as my writing was concerned. But what if I never received it?

.

.

.

I’d still be beating myself about being rejected twice in the same month. I would still be thinking that I’d failed. That my writing showed no promise whatsoever.

I’d still be missing the big picture.

One contest took the time to send me and however many others (or maybe this IS all part of a fantastic marketing ploy, in which case hat’s off to you) this email about being in the top 8% of the entries. Top 8% is not failing friends. That’s coming pretty damn close. That’s the luck of the draw. That’s subjectiveness.

Which made me think back on the other rejection. I knew that in the final anthology selection, only one story out of all the maybes had made the final cut. Mine wasn’t the one. But it didn’t mean my story was terrible. It just wasn’t as strong as some of the other submissions in the eyes of the reviewer.

That’s not failing. That’s coming pretty damn close. That’s the luck of the draw. That’s subjectiveness.

What an incredible, incredible gift perspective can be.

So yes, I got two rejections in July.

I didn’t fail.

I just didn’t win.

But I came pretty damn close.

Congratulations and write on!

10 Things Most People Don’t Know About Me

While this blog has been often neglected in the course of starting my business, I was thinking recently that I’ll be celebrating eight years (!!) of book blogging this December. While my blog has changed a lot over the years, I’ve never fully put it aside and I’ve built a pretty good little following over the years. Besides Facebook, Isle of Books is my longest-running internet home!

As this blog has evolved slightly towards sharing more of my personal life, I thought I’d do a fun little blog post and share ten things most people don’t about me!

 

1) I Decided I Wanted to Write Books About the Same Time I Learned How to Read

My mom read to me a ton as a kid and supplied me with books so even before I knew how to read or knew that creating books was something a normal person could do, I was already deeply in love with stories. But it was mid-way through Kindergarten before I realized I wanted writing and stories to always be part of my life. It was around Christmas and we’d spent the first few months of school learning how to write and read. We were given some assignment, the details of which escape me today, which I dutifully completed. Then, the teacher pulled me aside. I instantly thought I’d done something wrong. But it turns out she just had a note for me to give to my parents about my assignment and how much she liked it/the writing. Something to that effect. But in any case, it was the first time a teacher ever made me feel special and also the first time someone ever complimented me on my writing. It wasn’t too long after that that I learned books were actually written by normal people and well, a destiny was born.

2) I’ve Been Riding Horses for Twenty Years

Not a secret in my regular life, but maybe a secret here on the blog. I’ve been riding horses for a long time – twenty years in fact as I realized recently. And in the last twenty years, I’ve been fortunate enough to keep riding continuously. The longest break I’ve had from horses was only about a month long. Even carpal release surgery, even spraining my hip (or maybe hairline fracturing my pelvis, who knows) wasn’t enough to keep me down for long. After the carpal tunnel release surgery, I actually rode one-handed for a few months. So obsessed with horses might be an understatement. And people are constantly surprised to learn that even with as busy has life has been with launching a business, I still consistently ride at least three days a week. I think it anchors me and keeps me sane and I hope I can keep riding forever as I don’t know who I’d be without horses in my life!

3) There Are Only Two Genres of Books I Generally Won’t Read

I’ll read pretty much anything, especially if I’m in a pinch. I’d rather read a book than sit somewhere, bored. But there are two genres I generally won’t read unless a trusted friend really, really pushes me to read the book and submits to extensive questioning about it beforehand. Those genres are horror and romance. I don’t mind elements of these things, but I typically don’t read books that sit squarely in those genres.

4) When I Write a Book, I Create a Playlist for It

This is actually my favorite part of starting a new project – creating a playlist for it! I usually start with just a few songs that fit the mood or tone of the book I’m working on and add onto it over time. I listen to the playlist on repeat while writing. I think it helps me get back to the space where I want to be for the particular book and helps me focus better. I’ll usually do a mix of songs with and without vocals.

Side note: would anyone be interested in seeing my playlists if I put them up on Spotify? If so, drop me a comment below.

5) I’ve Read Over One Hundred Books in a Year

I think I’ve actually done this twice in my life and let me tell you…one hundred books in a year is A LOT. For me anyway. Some people, maybe one hundred books is easy. But not for me. I really feel like I’m reading SO much when the numbers get that high. I think my sweet spot is about a book a week so fifty or so books a year. Sixty-five is probably a comfortable max. This year though has been abysmal (nobody go look at my Goodreads right now). But one thing I’ve learned through tracking my reading is that I tend to slow down when I’m going through a major life change. So hopefully in a year or so when I’ve fully adjusted to my new life, I’ll get back to reading more. Until then, thank you to all who continue to hang around and be a subscriber to this blog!

6) I Was Nine Years Old the First Time I Was Published

I actually found this publication recently. I had an acrostic poem about whales in a book called, Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. The 1999 edition kids. But while it was cool that I got published in an actual physical book (that we still have!) I remember not being stoked on this poem. I think I did it as a school assignment during the year my school had a Gifted and Talented program and I think they either submitted it for me or showed me/my family how to do it. I just remember not really liking the poem then and now…well…let’s just say it  has NOT aged like a fine wine.

7) I Studied French for Nine Years

When I started taking French in middle school, I didn’t even remotely imagine it would lead me to taking college classes in the language! I actually picked French just because most people were signing up for Spanish and well, sometimes when people zig, I like to zag. (That’s also how I ended up in my school orchestra, not the band, playing the viola, NOT the violin) Anyway it turned out I liked French and I figured it would look good on those college applications so I kept with it through high school, even taking the AP Test my senior year. The AP Test though, and more correctly studying for the AP Test, kind of burned me out on the language. By the time the test was done, I was also done with the language. Or so I thought. Fast-forward about a year later to the spring of my first year at UCSD when I realized if I wanted to be a writing major (which I did) I needed to achieve secondary language proficiency to graduate. Basically what that amounts to is that a literature department at a school that’s known for science and engineering needs to get butts in seats. So they came up with a plan that if you majored in any of the literature department’s majors, you had to fulfill the secondary language requirement which involved taking a certain amount of upper division language classes. I had taken a year of Spanish in high school for fun and thought briefly of doing Spanish in college, but realized it would mean a lot of extra classes and time since I was much further along with French. So back to French I went. And it was great mainly because I met one of my dearest friends in French class the next fall and she is still one of my best friends today – love you K!

8) I Have Unusual Teeth

I have extra cusps on my top back molars. I think it’s called the cusp of carabelli, though no one has ever used the term with me. I recently went to see my dentist for my cleaning and the first thing he told me when he sat down is that he finally treated another patient who has teeth like me. Lol. Always fun to be one of your doctor’s anomalies…at least he remembers me! And this is very morbid, but I always think if my family ever had to identify my body at least I wouldn’t be lost because I’ve got some great dental records to go off of!

9) I Have Encyclopedic Knowledge of Dog Breeds

Growing up I really, really, REALLY wanted a dog. I watched endless hours of Breed All About It and The Eukanuba Tournament of Champions on Animal Planet,  and spent time scouring the internet to learn even more about the dog breeds I thought would be the perfect fit for our family. I never got my dog (not as a kid anyway), but in the process I gained an encyclopedic knowledge of man’s best friend.

I finally have a dog now. Can you guess what breed of dog I ended up going with after hours and hours of research?

A MUTT!

10) I’ve Never Taken a Formal Grammar Class

This one is maybe the most surprising on the entire list…am I right? Let me know in the comments below!

Everything I know about writing and sentence structure I largely learned from reading and doing. I never took one of those classes where they sat you down and said, “this is a preposition” and “here’s how you create a compound modifier”.

Another bonus fact a lot of people don’t know about me is that for a long time, I must have been an awful test taker because I constantly tested into the wrong classes. If any test was given in order to split a class into smaller groups based on skill level, I invariably found myself assigned to the lowest group only to be moved a few weeks (or months) later when my teachers realized a mistake had been made. On the upside, my self-esteem got a nice boost whenever that happened. On the downside, it created gaps in my education because usually the group I got moved into had already covered the stuff I actually didn’t know.

But I’ve learned a lot about grammar over the years through osmosis, observation, and being corrected by others. And now that I work on a computer all day, it’s easy for me to look up anything I’m not sure about. Still can’t tell you what a conjunction is without looking it up. But hey, there’s something to be said for being industrious!

 

Now it’s your turn…what’s something most people don’t know about you? Leave me a comment below!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine. 

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

I’d heard a lot about this book before my book club decided to read it, not the least of which is that they’re making a movie out of it. So with all the buzz, I went into this book with pretty high expectations.

It did take me a few chapters at the beginning to get used to Eleanor. I didn’t immediately fall in love with her as other readers did…but I did eventually. And the book had just enough well-placed sentences hinting at a a mystery in Eleanor’s past to keep me turning the pages until I got over my initial hesitation with the character.

This book, like others in a similar vein before it, thrives from its ability to put the main character in situations where they are bewildered by the actions of others…yet are painted so clearly we as the reader know exactly why the other characters reacted as they did. A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project come to mind.

What I liked about this story in particular though is that it isn’t afraid to take us to dark places both in the main character’s history and in their psyche. No spoilers, but Eleanor’s history is painful and her low moment in the story is about as low as you can go. And then we get to watch her to try to claw her way back from that.

If you’re looking for a page-turning read to tote along on your next vacation, give this one a try. For fans of The Rosie Project, A Man Called Ove, Where’d You Go Bernadette, Something Missing, and The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime.

2019 Locus Award Winners and Other Bookish News

Missed this series? Don’t worry, I’ve got lots of bookish news to share this week!

-The 2019 Locus Award Winners have been announced! Click here to see the list.

9 New Books coming out in July.

Elizabeth Acevedo wins the Carnegie Medal, becomes the first writer of color to win the award. Acevedo is Dominican-American and won for her children’s book, The Poet X.

-Fresh off the rave reviews for Good Omens, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories are also set to become a TV series. Here are all the details.

Joy Harjo named Poet Laureate, becomes first Native American to hold the title.

-Something to look forward to in 2020: we’re getting a Hunger Games prequel novel. Check out the details here.

-And just for fun: what your favorite beach read says about you.

The Shell Collector

The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr

The exquisitely crafted stories in Anthony Doerr’s acclaimed debut collection take readers from the African coast to the pine forests of Montana to the damp moors of Lapland, charting a vast physical and emotional landscape. Doerr explores the human condition in all its varieties-metamorphosis, grief, fractured relationships, and slowly mending hearts-and conjures nature in both its beautiful abundance and crushing power. Some of his characters contend with tremendous hardship; some discover unique gifts; all are united by their ultimate deference to the mysteries of the universe outside themselves.

When I read All the Light We Cannot See, the writing quickly captivated me, wound its way into my heart, and didn’t let me go. Though I have yet to reread it, it remains one of my favorite novels and one I recommend over and over. You can read my original review here.

I was at the bookstore when my eyes fell on this beautiful cover. Only after I picked it up did I realize it was a book by Anthony Doerr.

I’ve been reading very slowly lately, hardly finishing anything. Just a season of life I guess.

So a collection of short stories seemed like a good idea. Like I might actually be able to finish one of them.

And finish one of them I did. I finished all the stories in The Shell Collector. And they each were as exquisitely lovely as All the Light We Cannot See. Each one a masterpiece of words and images and feeling. Each one a tantalizing mix of raw human stories and the incalculable beauty of the natural world. Breathtaking.

Though each story is unique in its own way, my very favorite story was the last one, “Mkondo”. Just a beautiful, moving story and the perfect choice to close such a fantastic short story collection. Other stories that stood out to me were “The Shell Collector” and “The Hunter’s Wife”.

If you’re looking for a new collection of short stories to enjoy, this is it!

Writing Updates: Shadow of the Magician and More

That’s a pretty cool sight, right?

As a writer, having all those words you’ve written in book format is really just an indescribable feeling. I can’t even accurately tell you what that feels like except damn good.

In May I finished the most recent draft of Shadow of the Magician. I’m really excited about where it’s finally gotten to and feel this is about the absolute best I can do with it, so it’s time to stop picking at it and start moving it forward.

It’s been heavily workshopped over the last year and change by my writing group and now I’m moving to the beta reader stage. As most of the readers in my beta group are 40+, I decided they probably didn’t want to read almost a 100,000 word book in PDF format. Plus one of my writing friends turned me on to the fact that yes, you CAN print on demand small runs of books for not very much money. I ordered from Lulu’s and ended up getting the books for about $10 a piece. I think the quality of the books turned out great, considering I’m entirely an amateur in terms of formatting books and making a cover. That wasn’t really my goal though, to create a copy that would be for sale. I just wanted something that would make it so much easier for my beta readers to read and (hopefully) enjoy.

There are now ten of these review copies in the world. Maybe they’ll be worth something someday. At the very least, it’s worth something to me. To other writers, I highly recommend doing this to your work…I think going forward I’ll create at least a few copies of every book I finish. If your goal is to publish traditional and you don’t sell it, man the satisfaction of having that thing for yourself is so, so good. Like I could get addicted to it.

My goal with this book is to hopefully publish it traditionally. So the next step after the beta read is to review their feedback, fix it, and then begin the process of submitting to agents.

If it doesn’t get picked up though, I do strongly feel I will publish it myself at a later date. A lot of time and energy have been poured into this project and I am both proud of it and excited for future explorations in the same world. Too excited for those future explorations at the moment to let this just fade away in a drawer.

I’m crossing my fingers that I can finish the next round of edits in a timely fashion, get my materials together, and start submitting to agents this fall before they shut down over the holidays. We’ll see if my work schedule actually allows for that. But I am trying to restructure and reorganize to inject better balance in my life because what I’ve been doing, it ain’t workin’ for me and it needs to change in a big way.

Along with finishing this draft of Shadow, I also wrote and submitted a short story to an anthology. Really crossing my fingers it makes it in. That short story takes place slightly after the events of Shadow (though it features different characters) and will serve as a bridge into a future book in the same world (or maybe two). I haven’t started trying to plot any future stories yet. I have two ideas and I feel I could do them both or just do one if I don’t feel I have enough meat for the both of them. But I need to do a lot more reading and research to start developing those ideas to see if they amount to anything.

If you’ve seen me any time in the last two months, you’re probably floored that I actually managed to do this much on the writing front. But wait! There’s more…

I wrote a flash fiction story in the fall, something completely different, and had a grand idea to maybe start serially publishing more stories in that world on this blog. For all that this has been my personal book and writing corner for the last eight years (!!!), there’s a distinct lack of my own writing on here for general consumption which I think is kind of a problem. So I started outlining a longer short story or maybe a novella I could serially publish on here….but then it quickly started to feel like that story was going to be another book. Or maybe more than one book. In any case, I ended up finishing an outline for whatever that work ultimately decides to be when I dig into it. So I got that done too!

I also have a draft of another book I had written a few years ago, before I decided I wanted to dig in and finish Shadow. I still really, really like that story and that world and I want to go back to it. It’ll probably need a total rewrite because it’s been three years (or maybe four?) and the opinion of pretty much everyone who saw my writing in 2018 and 2019, is that along with everything else going on in my life, I made really big strides forward in my writing abilities. Yay for that, but it means any of these other projects I have from the past that I might want to pick up again need to be revamped. Le sigh.

My group has really encouraged me to start something new though and not get stuck trying to improve something old. I think they’re right because it was really, really hard and discouraging at times for me to work through everything I needed to do with Shadow. Sometimes I felt like giving up on writing entirely. But as I said, I still really like the draft story I have even though I wonder that with our current climate of political correctness and sensitivity readers, whether I should even be trying to tell that story.

What I do know is that I’m not going to start another book right away. I want to write a few short stories set before the beginning of Shadow and I should work on the query letter and crafting some synopses of different lengths for Shadow while I wait on the feedback from beta readers. I also have a few more small fact-checking related items to look into which will require some emails to different people.