What I’m Reading and Where to Find Them

The mysterious thesis (which I will not divulge too much about yet as it is still in its infancy) is taking over my mind! I can tell you that it is a historical/psychological novel which takes place in post-war Japan. More to come!

To keep on schedule between now until next May when the thesis is due, I’ve drafted up a timeline for myself because visuals help me keep myself accountable for my work. For the last few months of this semester, my goal is to just read everything. Everything I can get my hands on! Novels on similar topics, historical and nonfiction first-hand narratives from survivors of the atom bomb, non-subject related books whose structure I want to study, etc. For our thesis, we technically only need to turn in the first 100 pages of a “novel in progress.” But if you know me well, I always have to finish what I start. I have to see the project through and I always LOVE to make things more difficult for myself! Ha! So I’m planning on having a first draft of a full-length novel by the time I leave VCFA. It’s all very exciting and … well mostly exciting.

Speaking of process, I’m very music-oriented when I write. So I’ve crafted a sort of “novel soundtrack” for this book. Every time I sit down to write a part of it or think through the book, I get into the mind of the book by playing the same songs from the playlist on a continuous loop. Songs include: “For Rose” by Parov Stelar, “Exurgency” by Zoe Keating, “Rubric” by Philip Glass, “Meditation on Mount Fuji” from the Deep Sleep Relaxation cd, “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Recomposed: Winter 1” by Max Richter, and of course, The Beatles.

I’m interested to hear what other writers’ processes are when they are at the beginning of a project.

Even though I am in full reading mode, I’m lucky in that reading often puts me in a writing mode. So there is much writing occurring, too!

This is my current reading pile. All are in various stages of partial progress or haven’t even started yet. Mostly Japanese authors and tales because of my thesis, with Melissa Febos tucked in there for fun and because she is visiting our class next week! This is just the tip of the iceberg of the books that I am reading for my thesis research. Stay tuned for more!

  • Number9Dream by David Mitchell. I am such a fan of Mitchell’s stories, having previously read Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, and Slade House. This particular novel, based in Japan, is action-filled with a cat-and-mouse chase, all the while balancing the surreal dreamworld with the historical pang of the war; a mixture I hope to successfully create in my own book. I haven’t started Mitchell’s novel yet, but am very much looking forward to it.
  • Children of Hiroshima compiled by Dr. Arata Osada. Is that Cammie weeping in her room again? If so, it’s because she is reading this book, which consists of 105 first-hand accounts about the events of August 6, 1945, written by children who experienced and survived the bombing of Hiroshima. It is horrific, brain-staining, and should be a mandatory read for people of all ages.
  • Abandon Me: Memoirs by Melissa Febos. I’m about halfway through Febos’ collection of personal essays and can go, oh maybe one page, before I’m scribbling down another quote in my notebook. Her writing is bold and passionate, her words ripping straight through the paper, right through my skin. The themes she explores in this book are surprisingly helpful to understanding one of my thesis’ characters particularly. She put into words—beautiful and frightening truths—that “the nature of want…is to crush.” She goes on to describe her desire for her beloved’s body as “wanting to unzip my body and pull her into it, or crawl into hers.” Along similar lines, Febos describes how she “could hurt the person [she] least wanted to.” If you haven’t picked this book up yet, do so immediately. It is something to savor, like dark chocolate dipped into hot coffee.
  • Norwegian Wood by Haruki MurakamiEveryone is recommending me read this, and honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet at this point in my life! One thing I know is that I will probably blast The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” on high while reading.
  • A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve read this one before and am already a quarter into my second read. I’m definitely picking up on things I hadn’t noticed before. The dialogue is the most interesting element in that the characters seem to be saying nothing of significance at all to each other, and in that, they are really saying so much. Other times, two people are in a conversation but are not responding to each other. Instead, they carry on with their own monologues, which is still a type of communication—usually one displaying dysfunction or anger. I’m also excited to read An Artist of the Floating World, too.

The ampersand is technically a bookend, but I like to place its infinite curves on top of my book pile every once in a while to remind myself that there is always more. More to read, more to write. The book pile is endless. There will always be an AND, never an END.

I am spending my days drinking tea and writing a few vignettes because the novel seems to want to follow that very short chapter format. I’m editing two short stories from workshop, and am gearing up for April Poetry Month. For the past 3 years, I have written 30 poems in 30 days each time April rolls around. Each collection of 30 poems becomes a time capsule of that month of my life. I can remember exactly what occurred on each day to influence my daily poems. This year will be no different.

(If you are interested in participating in April’s National Poetry Month, but don’t want to write poems, consider signing up for Poem-a-Day, which is a daily digital poetry series which distributes a poem each day into your inbox!)

Spring Equinox

It’s currently 3 degrees in Montpelier, but I am trying to keep springy by collecting pictures of flowers and colors of beach.

I have a bag of glorious Cadbury Mini-Eggs because according to the grocery store, it’s spring. I haven’t opened them yet (such restraint), but I’m not sure what I’m waiting for.

And I am in full throttle of madly plotting out my thesis for next year with reading lists and storyboards and timelines and arrows pointing to other arrows. (More on the thesis later).

I often keep myself so busy, thinking about how I can serve other people or working on assignments that others are holding me accountable for. I wonder if that’s me trying to avoid stopping and having a breath to myself. In those paused moments, I have to be raw with everything within me: the good, the bad, the fear, the proud, the confident, the doubt. And that can be a scary place to steep, but those peaceful moments of solitude are so essential to a fulfilling and productive life. Perhaps that is what this blog’s purpose is for me. A sort of vitality.

Vitality, that’s a good word, isn’t it?

So here’s to spring, to renewal, to sun, to flowers, to slowing down sometimes, to balancing poses, to chocolate, to silence, to energy, to life. Here’s to you!


Why I Write (Today’s Version)

Why I write has been a difficult question for me to parse out properly. Maybe it never changes. Maybe it always is and will be “because I must.” But I don’t think that’s true, and that description doesn’t satisfy me anyway. If I’ve learned anything over the past months at VCFA, it’s that self-reflection is an important part of realizing one’s goals, and for me, writing those reflections down makes me accountable for my goals and intentions. Writing these thoughts down means that I can’t hide from my emotional truths. The page is safe, like the air. Non-judgmental. A clean slate. A silently listening ear.  And yet, these writings also serve as documents of past versions of myself, this ever-changing self, so I can look back tomorrow, in a month, a year, a decade, and understand the time and space I was operating in. Who I wanted to be, what I was concerned about, why I did what I did, why I continue to do what I am impassioned to do, all of it is there on the page. We are changing always, shifting and rearranging the furniture of our bodies to accommodate to the personal and global situations around us. And so, I don’t think it is silly to ask why I write. On any given day, the intricacies and the molecules that make up that question will inevitably be unique.

So, on this day of March 15, 2018, this is why I write.

At this point in my life, I write because if I didn’t, my head would explode. It is how I empty out my thoughts, like the garbage disposal in a sink. It is how I connect wholly with someone outside of myself, as well as with other parts within me. In the real world, we never truly can understand another human. Never fully know what they are feeling or hiding or thinking on the inside. But when a character is inside me, sleeping in my little brain cave each night, I am always practicing empathy. I think writing makes me a better person in the world. It keeps my brain healthy, even when I’m producing and processing dark topics, because it is healthy to acknowledge the dark and light, and writing is the only way I know how to filter through all that grayness. I also write to play with language. I write to form words on paper and in the air, the ear, the tongue. I want to stretch words like taffy, turn them technicolor, blast sunlight through their thinnest middles, hear them crackle, and stick to tacky teeth.

Someone asked me recently how I write characters who seemingly are so different than myself. The writer whom I am today has to first find the emotional core of the story I want to write. I have to locate that emotion within myself, within my heart, and only then can I pluck out my heart and hold it in the palm of my hand, and begin the search. The search for a vessel to stick my heart inside. It doesn’t matter if the heartless character is male or female; a mother or child; a shade darker or lighter than me; a botanist or a locksmith or a sonic statue sculptor; blind or deaf. All I need to know is that when I stick my heart inside their chest, I will be able to navigate their lives through my own intuition, through my own personal experience with that emotion.

A few months ago, I might have thought that the lucky people were the ones whose answer to “why they write” never changed, whose answers always stayed the same. They knew themselves. They knew their path. They knew why they got up in the morning and what they were going to accomplish. But now, I’m not sure that is true. Perhaps the truly lucky ones are the ones who continue to be curious, to reflect but not dwell. The ones who are willing to adapt their passions to fit new lifestyles. The ones who aren’t satisfied with one answer. The ones who thrive to know more, to understand more, to ask…what else could be true?

Perhaps my answer won’t change tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. But this is definitely a question I will return to again and again. One thing I do know…I will always write my answers down.

On Tampa and AWP

Last Wednesday, I boarded a plane headed for Tampa, Florida. It was snowy Burlington—the smack-dab middle of a Nor’easter—and the plane just barely got out. All others were cancelled for the next two days! Somehow, I got lucky. Two plane rides, a long layover in D.C. and a total of 8 hours later, I was welcomed by a downright tropical Floridian night.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the AWP conference for awhile now, since I registered in November. Not only was this going to be my first appearance at THE literary event of the year, it was also going to be the first time I viewed my managing editorial baby: the newest issue of Hunger Mountain (it’s beautiful, by the way!!!) We opened the boxes which had been sent directly to the hotel and prayed that the book hadn’t been printed upside down or backwards.

And can I just say…

I loved AWP. Really. Really really loved it. It’s hard to fully imagine the conference without experiencing it. But let me try my best. It’s 15,000 writers and teachers and students and editors and publishers and logophiles and bibliophiles, all geeking out over writing and reading. It’s getting the nerve to go up to the Paris Review or Guernica or [insert prestigious journal here], shake hands with the editor, and have confidence in your own work. It’s about dancing like no one is going to write about it later. It’s about attending readings and inviting lyrical rhythms and delicious words to whirl around in your ears for hours. It’s about breathing in the same room with the poets and writers you read online or follow on Twitter or whose likeness you’ve taped to the walls of your bedroom. It’s about making a new writerly friend or contact, or discovering that your work fits in perfectly with the aesthetic of a journal you had never known to exist before. It’s about being inspired and soaking up everything you can and reflecting on why you are here (which you do belong here!) and why you love to write and why it is so important to share your voice.  It’s about finding a community of people who understand why you do what you do. It’s about supporting yourself and others and literature itself.

Yes, the conference was chaotic and a total sensory overload and exhausting and the food wasn’t great and was very overpriced,  but it was worth it to work at the book fair all day long…

…so I could introduce myself to other writers, so I could talk about how much I love Hunger Mountain, so I could meet some of the contributors and editors of our new issue in person (gosh, I am such a fan of them! They are all incredible people)…

Melissa Febos and Donika Kelly (our guest editors) IN REAL LIFE!

…so I could attend panels and craft lectures on the things that are important to me: “The Next Step: Teaching & Writing at a Literary Center“, “Work Work Balance: When a Day Job Pays More Than the Bills,” “Writing Bad Ass and Nasty Women,”  and “The Real Mother of All Bombs: Reconsidering John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

…so I could see dear writing mentors of mine again (Robert James Russell, Allegra Hyde, Alex McElroy, Amelia Martens, Britton Shurley, to name a few)

…so I could leave my footprints on the dry Tampa sidewalks.

The only unfortunate event of the four day trip was when my friend’s phone slipped out of her pocket and disappeared forever below a sidewalk and into a storm drain. After phone call after phone call with the police and the sewage department, the phone was deemed a lost cause because apparently, sidewalk manholes are cemented in the ground and unable to be lifted. The ice cream we had treated ourselves to that night quickly began to unsettle inside our bellies.

Despite that quite disheartening hiccup, have I mentioned that I loved AWP? I did. I managed to even be pretty restrained in the bookfair—given that by the last day most of the booths pass their goodies out for free—and did not bring back too many books! Here’s my loot pile plus a whole lot of contact cards (not pictured):

Goodies courtesy C&R Press, Wolverine Press, Lee L. Krecklow, and Traveling Stanzas

I’ve decided that I will attend AWP every year from this day forward until I can no longer travel or walk.

After I arrived back in Montpelier this past Sunday, I slept a good 12 hours. It definitely is good to be home again. Back to class, back to snow, with books to read (Vermilion Sands by J.G. Ballard, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Sourdough by Robin Sloan, Indictus by Natalie Eilbert, and The Expanse Between by Lee L. Krecklow), work to do, contest entries to read, a thesis to plan, and coffee. Always coffee.

AWP Anticipation … & Waiting for the Snow to Melt

Snow 2.0. Yes, there is still snow, and my feet are slightly bored of the constant snugness of boots. The trees are laced in snow doilies, which is beautiful, but I would very much like some greenery and sun. At least some dogwoods and tulips and fluttering fauna would be nurturing for the soul.

The good news is that we are off on spring break for a whole week, which is a much-earned and much-welcomed break. On Wednesday, I leave for AWP (Association of Writers and Publishers) – the biggest writerly conference in America – where I will be representing Hunger Mountain and working the booth at the book fair. This event has been a bucket list item of mine for many years, and now it’s actually happening! This year, the conference is in sunny Tampa, and I’m not sure I even remember how to dress for warm weather. There are about 200 panels which will be coinciding with the book fair, and I am a little daunted by the schedule! So far, I’ve only looked at Thursday’s schedule and already have added 20 panels to my “Favorites” list! Eek!

Until Wednesday, I am editing a draft of a new short story, applying for a few summer residencies and conferences, and want to start a new art project with my little doodle buddy, but I’m not sure what form the project will take. Tarot cards? A series of graphic quotes? A flip book? Suggestions are welcome.

If you are not familiar with my little buddy, allow me to introduce him!

A few years ago, I found myself doodling in a notebook one day and the result of the doodling was this guy: a dapper sort, always dressed in a cardigan and neatly knotted scarf, with a spinning top for a head.  He’s followed me throughout the years, trotting through notebook page margins, decorating my walls, organizing his scarf drawer within his bedroom of my brain. My buddy exists in variations: sometimes the wind is especially strong and whips his head around and around, tugging on his scarf. Sometimes, he taps into his natural roots and sprouts antler-like branches from his head. Sometimes, he hangs upside down, preferring to see the world from a new perspective. He is a comfort to me, I guess you could say. That he doesn’t have a face doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it is soothing that he doesn’t have to worry about expressions and vanity and judgments and outward-appearing emotions.

He is strange and wonderful and slightly evasive, and a creature I really want to bring more fully into this world. So again, suggestions for a new art project are welcomed!

Also in new developments, I will be posting frequently on Twitter a new photo series, which will document the books I am reading outside of class. Here is the first of the Reading Bench Series:

Because everyone should have a familiar reading bench (when they are not hula hooping and reading, of course!) Stay tuned for more in the series soon!

So, lots of art and editing in a bomb cyclone wonderland, and impatiently anticipating AWP and spring!