A Story a Day for Short Story Month

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I’m in need of some untainted* inspiration… maybe you are, too?

(*Untainted by industry noise and book worries and life stresses. Just something simple, and sweet, and able to get the blood pumping and the fingers moving on the keys.)

One thing that does this for me is reading a good short story. I love short stories, as I’ve confessed before here.

So I was delighted to discover that apparently May is National Short Story Month, and one of my favorite authors, Sara Zarr, is taking on a beautiful project: reading a short story a day for a month, and tweeting about it. If I can get it together, I am going to join her, starting tomorrow. You can, too—just comment on her post, or let her know on Twitter at @sarazarr. There’s also a project in which you can write a short story every day, but that, my friends, is way too ambitious for me, when I’m working on a reinvention of a novel.

My intention is this: To read a short story every day* for the month of May (*Um, every day I am able to. I’m bad at every-day promises, so I can promise there will be at least a few days when I break it.) And I’ll talk about the stories on Twitter, to share what I’ve read.

I’ve decided to use the month to reread some of my most favorite short stories—many of which I have collected in a series of binders I call my “anthologies.” I used to photocopy stories I loved and admired from collections, magazines, literary journals, and anywhere I could find them and collect them in these personal anthologies. I stopped doing this years ago, but I still have about eight or nine volumes of my anthologies that I can dip into this month, not to mention some new books I have on my shelves and links I’ve collected online and a Best American or two I haven’t finished reading yet. So there will be some brand-new-to-me short stories to read, too.

If you have a favorite short story you’d like to suggest, please leave it in the comments below or tell me on Twitter at @novaren.

Tomorrow is May 1, the start of this fun project. I already know what tomorrow’s story will be… but I’ll wait to tell you until the morning. It’s a long-time favorite, and one I haven’t read in more than ten years. I can’t wait to rediscover it.


Keeping track of the stories I read here:

May 1, Story 1: “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. Favorite moment: a mother’s intuition. Also this moment: “I caught sight of myself in the mirror. And I saw myself, suddenly, as he saw me, my pale face, the way the muscles in my neck stuck out like thin wire. I saw how much that cruel necklace became me. And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.”

May 2, Story 2: “Lucho” by Patricia Engel. Favorite moment: the idea of love. “…I didn’t even know I loved Lucho till that second. But I did. Because so what if he was a little smelly and weird. He came looking for me back when I was invisible. And when he was with me, he acted like I was the only thing he could see.”

May 3, Story 3: “The Pelican Bar” by Karen Joy Fowler. Favorite moment: the idea of humanity, and, well, basically everything. This story is new to me, and I loved it. “There were tourists everywhere on the beach, swimming, lying in the sun with daiquiris and ice-cream sandwiches and salted oranges. She wanted to tell them that, not four miles away, children were being starved and terrified. She couldn’t remember enough about people to know if they’d care.”

May 4, Story 4: “Fear Itself” by Katie Coyle. Favorite moment: all the waxy weirdness. And the truth in this statement: “‘…He needs to know what he’s dealing with—otherwise he’ll do whatever he wants to her. That’s how older guys are,’ Ruthie explains with a sigh. ‘They underestimate you. They assume you’ve got no one looking out for you. They assume you’re nothing.'”

May 5, Story 5: “Miss Lora” by Junot Díaz. Favorite moment: voice and all voice. “Sometimes after you leave her apartment you walk out to the landfill where you and your brother played as children and sit on the swings. This is also the spot where Mr. del Orbe threatened to shoot your brother in the nuts. Go ahead, Rafa said, and then my brother here will shoot you in the pussy. Behind you in the distance hums New York City. The world, you tell yourself, will never end.”

May 6—I messed up and didn’t read a story today. Does it help to tell you I had a book event that day and was distracted? 

May 7, Story 7: “The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong. Favorite moment: a whole new view of mermaids. “Mermaids, like my father’s favorite storytale version of my mother, are fish. They aren’t people. They are stupid like fish, they eat your garbage like fish, they sell on the open market like fish. Keep your kids out of the water, keep your trash locked up, and if they come close to land, scream a lot and bang pots together until they startle away. They’re pretty basic.”

May 8, Story 8: “The Saint of the Sidewalks” by Kat Howard. Favorite moment: the concept and every word. “That was how saints were made. Some piece of strangeness happened, and it hooked itself in the heart of someone who saw it, and called it a miracle. Once they decided that’s what it was, people tried to reenact the miracle’s circumstances. They ritualized its pieces. They named the person at the center of it, gave them an epithet, something memorable.”

May 9, Story 9: “Kindness” by Yiyun Li. Favorite moment: The loneliness and isolation of this narrator. The strength of memory… This story is just extraordinary. You can find it in the O.Henry anthology from 2012. “I never showed up in her dreams, I am certain, as people we keep in our memories rarely have a place for us in theirs. You may say that we too evict people from our hearts while we continue living in theirs, and that may very well be true for some people, but I wonder if I am an anomaly in that respect. I have never forgotten a person who has come into my life, and perhaps it is for that reason I cannot have much of a life myself.”

May 10, Story 10: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell. Favorite moment: the mood, so melancholy and peculiar in all the best ways. “Most people mistake me for a small, kindly Italian grandfather, a nonno. I have an old nonno‘s coloring, the dark walnut stain peculiar to southern Italians, a tan that won’t fade until I die (which I never will). I wear a neat periwinkle shirt, a canvas sunhat, black suspenders that sag at my chest. My loafers are battered but always polished. The few visitors to the lemon grove who notice me smile blankly into my raisin face and catch the whiff of some sort of tragedy; they whisper that I am a widower, or an old man who has survived his children. They never guess that I am a vampire.”

Bonus weekend story, which catches me up to Day 6: “The Map” by William Ritter, a Jackaby (Doctor Who meets Sherlock in YA form) short story that is coming out online this summer, before book #2. I don’t think I should quote from it since it’s not available yet, but expect all the sense of classic mystery and excitement you’ll remember from the first book in this little teasing taste… (Full disclosure: We share a publisher, Algonquin Young Readers!)

May 11, Story 11: “White Angel” by Michael Cunningham. Favorite moment: This story was a time machine—I remember reading it many years ago, and a distinct and emotional memory of reading it followed me over the years. Returning to it made me cry, at its end, again. Helps that I actually did live during my formative years in Woodstock, New York—it’s not what they hoped it was. “‘You and I are going to fly, man,’ Carlton whispers, close to my ear. He opens the window. Snow blows in, sparking on the carpet. ‘Fly,’ he says, and we do. For a moment we strain up and out, the black night wind blowing in our faces—we raise ourselves up off the cocoa-colored deep-pile wool-and-polyester carpet by a sliver of an inch. Sweet glory. The secret of flight is this—you have to do it immediately, before your body realizes it is defying the laws. I swear it to this day.”

May 12, Story 12: “The Girl on the Plane” by Mary Gaitskill. Favorite moment: This story is profoundly disturbing. Upsetting. Gutting. Complicated. It was very difficult to read the first time, years ago. I think I  had to close the book before finishing and come back to it later. This time, I knew what was coming. It hurt to read. I needed to read it. I think everyone should read this story. “A stewardess with a small pink face asked if they’d like anything to drink, and he ordered two little bottles of Jack Daniel’s. Patty’s shadow had a compressed can of orange juice and an unsavory packet of nuts; their silent companion by the window had vodka straight. He thought of asking her if she was married, but he bet the answer was no, and he didn’t want to make her admit her loneliness. Of course, not every single person was lonely, but he guessed that she was. She seemed in need of comfort and care, like a stray animal that gets fed by various kindly people but never held.”

May 13, Story 13: “It’s Just a Jump to the Left” by Libba Bray. Favorite moment: Memories of Rocky Horror, but beyond that the sex and longing and rebellion and confusion, the heart. “She couldn’t say why it felt so very necessary to be angry with her mother all the time, but it did. She would walk into a room where her mother sat reading or grading papers and be consumed with a sudden need to wound that would be followed moments later by a terrible guilt and an equally ferocious longing to be forgiven and comforted.”

May 14, Story 14: “Ramadan” by Mona Simpson. I am not actually sure if this is a short story (it later became a part of a novel?) or an essay (it seemed at first to be published in Granta and then Salon.com as an essay?) or that amalgam of both that turns into semi-autobiographical fiction (?), which I find so fascinating, the way fact and imagination combine to form a whole new truth that distorts the memory forever after. Favorite moments: Truth is, this story upset me far more on second read than it did years ago. I am thinking about why that could be. “His skin stretched and spread taut wings from his neck to his top chest bones. I remembered that he was young, probably younger than twenty. I wanted to hear his name. I didn’t want it to be Atassi. He could have been. My father might have come back. Then I remembered my father telling me around the old kitchen table, ‘If I went back, I’d be running the country. I was the John F. Kennedy of Egypt.’ Well, he wasn’t running the country. I read the newspapers. I knew those people’s names. He said so little to us that I saved every sentence. I could lift one up like a bracelet or strand of pearls from a box.”

May 15, Story 15: “Call My Name” by Aimee Bender. Favorite moment: the sadness and entitlement to happiness that never comes. I don’t have to “like” this character to feel and appreciate her sadness. “The men are pleased when I come on the subway because I am the type who usually drives her own car. I am not your average subway girl, wearing black pants and reading a novel the whole time so you can’t even get eye contact. Me, I look at them and smile at them and they love it. I bet they talk about me at the dinner table—I give boring people something to discuss over corn.”

May 16, Story 16: “So You’re Just What, Gone?” by Justin Taylor. Favorite moment: when I realized this was going where I thought it was… the perv was a perv. “The Mark thing will make so much less sense out loud than it did when she did it, or even than it does now as she goes over it in her head. That’s the most unfair part. Everyone will have their own version of ‘What were you thinking?’ and ‘Why did you do that?’ Like her life is some book she needs to write a report about, identifying key themes and meaning, when, really, texting Mark was like peeking in the doorway of a bar or the teachers’ lounge—someplace you could get in trouble for going into but were curious to glimpse the inside of, just to be able to say that you knew what was in there. And maybe someone had dared you to do it and maybe you had had to dare yourself.”

…a gap of space and lost days in which I get very busy, do a little traveling, have a book event and a school visit, get home, meet two deadlines, and feel guilty about all the stories I missed, so I start again…

May 22, Story 17: “Apollo” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Favorite moment: a memory that transports us back in time. This story was filled with regret. Moving, perfect. This connection over Bruce Lee movies: “I stared at Raphael with the pure thrill of unexpected pleasure. ‘I watched the film in the other house where I worked,’ he said. ‘Look at this.’ He pivoted slightly, leaped up, and kicked, his leg straight and high, his body all taut grace. I was twelve years old and had, until then, never felt that I recognized myself in another person.”

May 22, Story 18: “The Snow Queen” by Karen Brennan. Favorite moment: the sadness and the disconnect. “In those days I would have done anything to protect my son. If I were to encounter him now—in an alley, say, covered with snow—I would not be able to melt his heart.”

May 23, Story 19: “Distant View of a Minaret” by Alifa Rifaat. Favorite moment: The calm at the end and everything that says and contains. (Reading the Wikipedia page about how this author’s husband would “allow” her to write and publish, and then take that away, gives me a complicated feelings; I need to read more from this Egyptian writer.) “As often happened at this moment she heard the call to afternoon prayers filtering through the shutters of the closed window and bringing her back to reality. With a groan he let go of her thigh and immediately withdrew. He took a small towel from under the pillow, wrapped it round himself, turned his back to her and went to sleep.”

May 24, Story 20: “Use Me” by Elissa Schappell. Favorite moment: going back in time—this was a story from a book I loved as a young writer in grad school, and I haven’t read it since. I’m such a fan of this writer, even still, years and years after. This paragraph shows some of her power… “I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t fantasized about appearing in one of his books. I imagined how he would see me. I would be young, my blonde bob would be long and red with a shine like patent leather. He’d mention my breasts, which were really nothing special, comparing them to dollops of fresh white cream. My legs, elongated, would cut through space like scissors. I would be smart, but not too smart. I would be naive. Maybe he’d widen the gap in my front teeth. He would rewrite all his parts so he was obviously the one with the upper hand, and invent poetic dialogue fraught with tense and subtle metaphor. In that way I was sure he wasn’t honest. But I would be different. Like a man. I’d have him, and I would leave him. He would put me on the page, but I’d live outside it. I’d live longer than he.”

May 25, Story 21: “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado. Favorite moment: This story was incredible. Just incredible. Read it right now and you’ll see what I mean. “I once heard a story about a girl who requested something so vile from her paramour that he told her family and they had her hauled her off to a sanitarium. I don’t know what deviant pleasure she asked for, though I desperately wish I did. What magical thing could you want so badly that they take you away from the known world for wanting it?”

May 26, Story 22: “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying” by Alice Sola Kim. Hot damn! THIS STORY. The past two days of stories rocked my world. Favorite moment: Just look at how this story begins with this gem of a first sentence… “At midnight we parked by a Staples and tried some seriously dark fucking magic.” p.s. You can find this story in the anthology Monstrous Affections.

May 27, Story 23: “What the Dead Know” by Manuel Martinez. Favorite moment: Whenever the dead come back to life, you know I am there. “But they didn’t die. They walked out of the hospitals with their families and went to dinner. They went home and coaxed their spouses and lovers to bed. They told everyone that they had died and come back, that they had been given a second chance. They tried to explain that this was different from the type of near-death experience we hear so much about, when the heart stops beating and valiant surgeons are able to start it up again. They told us that this was true resurrection, but we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand.”

May 28, Story 24: “Nobody’s Business” by Jhumpa Lahiri. Favorite moment: Returning to this story after many years (this is another one from my anthology). “Sang had been laughing at him, but now she stopped, her expression pensive. She looked up at the house, a balled-up comforter in her arms. ‘I don’t know, Charles. I don’t know how long I’ll be here.'”

…a lost weekend…

May 31, Story 25: “Light” by Lesley Nneka Arimah. Favorite moment: I was taken in by the first lines, straight off… “When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters. He did not know how quickly it would wick the dew off her, how she would be returned to him hollowed out, relieved of her better parts.”


There. I write this on June 1. The month has reached its end, and I somehow forgot to read some Alice Munro, which I shall rectify very soon. There were 31 days in May, and I only reached 25 stories, but just imagine a month full of 25 stories… it was 25 times richer than it would have been without.

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AWP: The Writer (Not Author) Conference

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I remember my first AWP conference. It was in the winter of 2008, before I had my first book out, and around the time I had racked up dozens upon dozens of rejections from literary agents for my second adult novel and was feeling pretty low about my publishing prospects.

I still wanted to write literary fiction for adults, and I had not yet embraced writing YA. The AWP conference was in New York City that year, within walking distance of my office, but I took two personal days to attend. I went to as many panels as I could take and carried home as many literary journals as I could handle on the subway… There was one panel I remember distinctly, because it ended up sitting with me for months afterward. It was a panel about YA fiction, and the wonderful Margo Rabb was on it. I had written down an anecdote she’d said, which was when she told her writer friends that her novel—written from a teenage perspective and originally intended for adults—would be published as a YA novel they said, “What a shame.” She spoke about lifting those judgments and the readers she’s found in YA fiction in a way that made me think about doing this, and I do think she’s one of the reasons I’m here today. That was a transformative time for me, when my mind was open… a perfect moment to attend AWP.

Now, years later, I just attended my fourth AWP conference—this time in Minneapolis. My first time going, I was a quiet note-taker in the audience, but this year, I was on two panels of my own, speaking before crowded rooms full of people. (And then, after, quietly taking notes in the audience at everyone else’s panels. Some things never change.)

Photo: Claire Kirch, courtesy of Publishers Weekly. From left: me, Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Photo: Claire Kirch, courtesy of Publishers Weekly. From left: me, Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.

I was thankful to be sent to the conference by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University, where I am an instructor and a YA mentor in their Your Novel Year certificate program. Our panel was in the first slot on the first morning of the conference, on Plot IS Character, Character IS Plot, with the glorious Jewell Parker Rhodes, the director of the Piper Center and an incredible writer and woman, along with some of the Your Novel Year instructors, including Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and me. We talked about plot and character and how the two intersect and inform each other… and our panel was even written up in Publishers Weekly!

The next day, I took part in a panel on Growing Up in a Magical Space: Magical Realism in Contemporary YA and Children’s Literature, moderated by the immensely talented Laura Ruby, one of my favorite authors!, and with wonderful fellow writers Janet Fox, Nikki Loftin, and Samantha Mabry. We had a great discussion about the blurry definition of magical realism in YA, and I confessed that, to me, The Walls Around Us is a ghost story, though I’ve seen it called magical realism all over the place and had to question my own understanding of the genre and my intentions.

So that was the official stuff. It was an honor to panel with these wonderful fellow authors, and I was thrilled at how packed each of the rooms were and by the great audience questions and the discussions we had.

However, for me, the AWP conference is about far more than talking on a panel, even beside some phenomenal fellow YA authors. AWP is the one conference where I can be a writer and not an author. This is so refreshing to me, it’s like tugging off an uncomfortable set of professional clothes and slipping on a soft pair of pajamas.

What happens when you get to an AWP panel late... You sit on the floor and listen. Here's my view of the Young Adult Literature and the Female Body panel.
What happens when you get to an AWP panel late… You sit on the floor and listen. Here’s my view of the Young Adult Literature and the Female Body panel.

AWP is my favorite conference out of all conferences because of the main focus on writing craft. I like the sense of skill-sharing—that so many writers (was it almost 13,000 this year in Minneapolis?) come together to talk writing, and also do readings and see old friends and have parties and whatever else happens when so many thousands of writers get together in a borrowed city for three/four/five days. I like that I go to think only about writing, to talk only about writing, to gather inspiration and knowledge to make more writing and to teach writing and work with other writers. I’m not being my author-self, I’m being my true-self, which is a writer.

For someone who struggles with the public face of being an author—the online persona, the in-person persona, the competition, the comparison, the cliques, every last stitch of it—I found AWP reinvigorating and, well, refreshing. Probably because YA is still such a small pocket of the conference and so many other kinds of writers are there, too, and I know I’m not in their cliques, perhaps? Maybe the pressure is off because most of the literary magazines and small presses filling the book fair wouldn’t publish me anyway, so I don’t care as much? Maybe that’s it? The sense of freedom?

(Though I did gravitate to the One Story table… buying some issues to support them and sending a little silent wish into the ether that I would one day be published by One Teen Story, my current dream journal. Hey, I haven’t changed that much.)

The mayor (!) of Minneapolis introduced the keynote speaker, Karen Russell. p.s. The mayor of Minneapolis has an unpublished YA novel in her drawer... YA editors, get on that?
The mayor (!) of Minneapolis introduced the keynote speaker, Karen Russell. p.s. The mayor of Minneapolis has an unpublished YA novel in her drawer… YA editors, get on that?

All I know is AWP is entirely what you make of it. What I like to do is attend select craft panels and readings and wander the book fair and support literary journals and small presses I admire. No pressure. No stress about networking, though it tends to happen naturally. I keep my schedule overbooked and always open, in case I change my mind, which I do, constantly. I let myself follow my whims.

And I take advantage of how gigantic the crowd is… and disappear to have introvert time in my hotel room whenever I feel like it.

At this year’s AWP, I came away with so much thinking and inspiration and challenges to myself, some I am still mulling over now, a full week later.

Some of my favorite panels included Young Adult Literature and the Female Body with Megan Atwood, Brandy Colbert, Christine Heppermann, Alexandra Duncan, and Steve Brezenoff… Women Writing Darkness: Villains, Violence, and Unhappy Endings with Michelle Hoover, Allison Amend, Sabina Murray, Sheri Joseph, and Kate Racculia… Young Adults, New Adults, & the Women Who Write Them: Navigating the Politics of Gender & Genre in Young Adult Literature with Cecil Castellucci, Laurel Snyder, Lynn Melnick, Marian Crotty, and Stephanie Kuehn… Politics of Empathy: Writing Through Borrowed Eyes with Lorraine Berry, Matthew Salesses, Prageeta Sharma, Tess Taylor, and Aimee Phan… Striving for Balance between Language and Prejudice in Teaching Writing with Alexander Chee, Danielle Evans, Christine Lee, Jennine Capó Crucet, and Mat Johnson… and Teen Sex in Fiction for Adults with Pamela Erens, Gina Frangello, Anna March, Elissa Schappell, and Julia Fierro.

Yep. I went to a good bunch of panels that resonated—and there were so many more I missed, which makes me hungry already for next year’s conference, if I can afford to go, fingers crossed. There is so much going on at once, so much happening at the conference and at off-site places surrounding the conference, that you will never ever feel like you’ve done enough or seen enough people… which I guess makes you all the more inclined to come back next year.

There were only a few panels on YA or children’s books when I attended AWP in 2008. Now, not so many years later, we’re very much a part of things at this yearly conference that you just can’t deny us. Here’s a small sampling of photos from YA and children’s panels this year that was featured in Publishers Weekly.

Some other cool moments: I won a week-long writing retreat in Los Angeles in a raffle! I ran into my oldest writing friend on the plane and ended up hanging out with her for much of the conference (hi, Erin)! I ran into my very first writing workshop teacher, from my first year in college, and she recognized me right away! I introduced myself to a literary fiction author whose books I love and she actually knew who I was! I saw so many colony friends and MFA classmates and summer workshop friends and authors I admire and lovely Binders and I read an intense and gorgeous book on the plane ride home that I’d picked up at the book fair: The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson.

I hope to be able to attend AWP in Los Angeles in 2016. And if I do, let’s try to run into each other there, okay?

 

 

What THE WALLS AROUND US Means to Me

The Walls Around UsMy new book, The Walls Around Us, was published today! I would be so thrilled and honored if you considered buying it this week from your favorite independent bookstore or ordering it through your local library—first-week sales do help authors so much, that’s the truth. But most of all, however you may get your hands on it, from a good friend, from an enemy, from an amazon, or from a Dumpster, I do hope it speaks to you somehow. I hope you like it.

This is a book that I wrote for myself, wholly and completely. I wrote it for the girl I was, back some time ago, and the person I am today. I wrote it because I needed to.

I wrote it because I reached an ugly place inside myself full of itching doubts that made me question every single idea I was having and every single line I was writing, and I wanted to free myself somehow. How ironic, then, to write a book that takes place mostly inside a prison to make yourself feel free. But it did. It shook something loose in me.

Last night, if you happened to be at my launch event at my favorite local bookstore McNally Jackson, where I was being interviewed by one of my favorite authors and people, Libba Bray—damn, am I lucky, damn—you may have heard Libba call this my “middle fingers book.” She says this because she witnessed me at the café table talking about writing whatever the hell I wanted without boundaries or censors and raising my middle fingers high to the ceiling while saying so, a funny image, yes. But also, it’s true. That’s what this book is for me.

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(Libba Bray and me at the launch of THE WALLS AROUND US on March 23 at McNally Jackson)

Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself in the face of all that doubt and so-called expectation and write the book you most want to write. Even if—especially if—you’re scared to do it.

The book you’d go out with in a flash of fire and smoke if you could.

The book that has no regrets.

The book that is as weird and wild and yourself as can be.

That’s The Walls Around Us for me.

I risked a lot—and now here I am, with it out in the world and no take-backs, and I feel good, I feel proud, I feel pretty OK.

One of the strangest things to realize is: When I gave myself permission to write simply for myself… When I told myself to go wild, go crazy, go all-out and see what happens, THIS is the book that seems to get more attention than my previous books. It was named the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Pick by the American Booksellers Association for Spring 2015! An Amazon Best YA Book of the Month for March! It has gotten five starred reviews!

???

Isn’t that some kind of life lesson, you think? That we should be honest and brave and so completely ourselves with the novels we’re putting out in the world. That we shouldn’t try to write what we think other people want us to write, what the industry is looking for, what readers supposedly want from us, what the world at large says. We should tell our own stories, with conviction. We should be fearless and risky and wild and true.

Even when we’re scared.

I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened with The Walls Around Us so far. (And stunned. And flummoxed. And thrilled. And… and… and I could go on!)

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(My publisher shared this wall of WALLS today!)

 

For more about the book

Thank you so much to all the wonderful, wonderful people who have been so very supportive of me and this book. I will not forget. I am so thankful.

In another post, once I have more photos, I will share with you how my first-ever-ever launch event with special guest Libba Bray went! (SPOILER: IT WAS AMAZING.) But for now, I will breathe. And be grateful for every last moment.

And try to be brave again with my next book.

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(At my launch event with one of the cookies my publisher surprised me with, and a pillow my mom made for me!)

 

The Obligatory Old Year / New Year Post

I came home from my writing retreat right before the New Year. I can’t spend that night apart from E.

Yaddo is a secretive place. I cannot post photos or give many details, but I can say I shared some inspiring conversations, laughed and learned many things, and slept with the light on because I saw a ghost (maybe) in my bedroom my second or third night. I wrote and wrote, too, which was the whole point of going. My writing studio saw me through the writing of almost 30,000 words. That was my goal for my stay, and though I was 1,448 words shy of making it, I am close enough that it feels successful. I left feeling good.

I found illuminations. I sizzled with inspiration. I felt on fire. I found myself at low points and then I found ways to raise myself up. I looked out the crisscrossed-diamond windows at the tall pine trees over the rooftop and thought of who had done the same, in this very studio, years and decades before. I went to town and visited a wonderful bookshop that didn’t carry my books, but I forgive them. I covered my entire desk in colorful sticky notes of ideas, plans, to-dos, and daily word counts. I ate dessert quite a few of the nights (so hard to resist) and carrot sticks at lunch every day.

There is magic there. You don’t have to believe in it for it to find you. The echo of everyone who came before you surrounds you in each room, through each hallway, heading up and down each set of stairs.

There is a quiet that contains the quick-quick panic of an anxious, deadlining heart.

And when real life intrudes, as it did on my last few days in the form of a blistering on/off headache and the stress of some worries waiting for me at home, there was still the quiet to escape to, the gift you were given to be here.

You are welcomed. You are not the only one awake in the night.

If you go down to the living room, Katrina will be there watching you. If she’s proud, her eyes will show it in the painting. If she wants more from you, her eyes will be honest and stare hard at you, telling you to go back upstairs and sit your butt in that chair. (She would probably say that more elegantly.)

On my last night, Katrina’s eyes were smiling.

It was a wonderful end point to my five-year chapter, as I wrote about in this blog before I left. It capped off my 2014.

I came home on the Amtrak, and E met me in Penn Station. We had talked on the phone every morning and every night, but I missed him, terribly. Seeing him there in the crowd made my heart leap. We spent a calm and quiet New Year’s Eve together as I’d hoped and I wrote down all my goals and dreams for 2015. Now it’s the morning of January 1, and I’m in my favorite morning place—my writing café, at a table near the outlet, my back against the wall—and it’s almost like my time upstate didn’t even happen. I’d been in a bubble, and the bubble has burst. Everything’s fading, which I guess is why I wanted to spend some time this morning writing that down.

This may be a stressful year, but I am also determined for it to be an amazing one.

So much is happening:

I am teaching a new online class that starts next week and beginning one-on-one mentoring with some talented writers who’ve already signed up to work with me. I am going to my first publisher-sponsored conference ever in my life in February. The book I put my all into is coming out in March.

I’m scared of what’s coming, I’ll admit it. I’m definitely on the edge of a new chapter in life and I have a big birthday coming up this winter.

But I’m also really proud of how far I’ve come.

My publisher posted this wonderful photo and I want to share it. 2015 is here!

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The Book of Your Heart Series: Ryan Graudin

thebookofyourheart-FEATUREDWhen an author says a book she’s written is the Book of Her Heart, what does that mean? In this completely irregular ongoing blog series, I’ve invited guest authors to reveal what they consider the Book of Their Heart—and share why this book holds a distinct and special place apart from all others they’ve written.

Here, to celebrate her book birthday tomorrow, I have Ryan Graudin sharing why The Walled City is the Book of Her Heart…


Guest post by Ryan Graudin

Headshot-1Whenever I try to describe what writing is like to my non-writer friends, I usually resort to Harry Potter references. “My books,” I tell them, “are like Horcruxes. All of them have little pieces of me inside.”

But some books/Horcruxes have a little more of me inside than other books/Horcruxes. Something about The Walled City was different from every other project I’d ever written. It felt… truer, deeper, rawer than anything I’d ever put to paper before. It was a book I wrote solely for me. I honestly thought, during those early months, that no one would want to read, much less buy a YA novel where the plot revolved largely around Asian street children and human trafficking. I’d never read anything quite like what I was creating, and the usual fears of No one will buy this. This is all for nothing. set in.

I wrote anyway. Because I had to.

People always ask me where my inspiration comes from. I tell them travel, which is almost always true. The heart of The Walled City was inspired by two very distinct trips I took in my college years.

walledcity_final coverWhen I was twenty-years old I went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for a summer. The purpose of the trip was to experience (and therefore understand) third-world poverty. I lived with a family in the slums, eating only what they ate, sleeping on the floor. I met children who lived in tarps. Children who had nothing to eat but what they could scrounge from trash heaps. Children who seemed to have no guardians to speak of. Children who deserved so much more.

When I was twenty-one years old I traveled to Bolivia, where my future sister-in-law worked (and still does) educating sex workers, providing them with health awareness, child care and (if they desire it) the means to learn the life-skills needed to support themselves if they wanted to leave the industry. Meeting these women, listening to their stories, eating a meal with them, was such a humbling experience. One that forced me to strip away all of my judgments and look at them in a new light.

Through both of these trips I came to realize that people are so much more than their circumstances. So much more than the passing labels or judgments I was so quick to give them. I wanted to help, and not just to help, but to understand. I wrestled and mulled and held these experiences inside. I tried to answer so many questions that seemed unanswerable.

People have many, many different ways of processing. The largest and most obvious of mine is writing.

So I wrote.

I wrote about street kids and trafficked girls. I wrote to try and understand their view, their world. I wrote to try—in some small way—to make sense of the pain and poverty I’d seen. I wrote to try and make sense of my own personal demons. I took all of the questions of my heart and crammed them into the form of a story.

Perhaps one of the reasons this novel has earned its place as my “heart book” is because it’s the most honest I’ve been with myself on the page. The Walled City is a book about trust, and how difficult it is to open yourself up to people after you’ve been hurt. It is a book about pain and isolation. But more than anything I think, it is a book about hope.

There are no simple answers when it comes to issues like poverty and trafficking. But it is my hope that by writing this book and inviting readers into my own search for answers, that I can help others see a world that is usually far in the shadows. A world my twenty-one-ish self only just brushed upon. A world that wrenches your heart, but deserves to be known about.


Ryan Graudin was born in Charleston, SC, with a severe case of wanderlust. When she’s not traveling, she’s busy photographing weddings, writing, and spending time with her husband and wolf-dog. She is also the author of All That GlowsThe Walled City is her second novel. You can visit her online at ryangraudin.com.

Order a copy of The Walled City!


Thank you, Ryan, for sharing your Heart Book with my readers. Happy Book Birthday!

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:

The Book of Your Heart Series: Amy Reed

thebookofyourheart-FEATUREDWhen an author says a book she’s written is the Book of Her Heart, what does that mean? In this completely irregular ongoing blog series, I’ve invited guest authors to reveal what they consider the Book of Their Heart—and share why this book holds a distinct and special place apart from all others they’ve written.

Here, to help celebrate her book birthday for her new edgy, contemporary YA novel Damaged, I have Amy Reed opening up for the first time about the book of her heart…


Guest post by Amy Reed

A Reed author photoAll of my five books have a piece of my heart in them. My new book, DAMAGED, will always be special to me because I was in my first trimester of pregnancy when my husband and I embarked on the cross-country road trip that would serve as the basis of the story. I battled a combination of morning sickness, carsickness, and weird food aversions (including water), all for the sake of art. My daughter was with me, the size of a blueberry, as the story of DAMAGED was born.

But I think the true books of my heart will always be my most autobiographical. BEAUTIFUL is by far the most autobiographical of my books, based on my experience moving from a rural island to a suburb of Seattle in seventh grade, experiences I’ve been very open about in the past. I’ve been less open about CLEAN. It is also very much autobiographical, but I’ve remained vague in interviews about how close I was to the story. After publishing five books, maybe it’s time to open up about why CLEAN is the book of my heart.

clean-coverCLEAN is based on my own experience in rehab when I was sixteen. I wrote it during my first year of sobriety after my second rehab, at age twenty-nine. I am now over five years sober and the happiest I’ve ever been, and I think my recovery plays a huge part in all of my novels since. I started drinking and using in much the same way as Cassie in BEAUTIFUL—I was thirteen, lonely, terrified, and I wanted to be cool. I fell in with a group of “friends” who were unlike anyone I had ever met, and I did whatever I thought I had to do in order to fit in. I had no foundation of self-esteem to help me say no, or to even ask myself what I actually wanted. I was addicted from the very beginning. I didn’t get high for fun like everyone else. I did it because I had to. It was the only way to keep myself from feeling all the horrible feelings that kept piling on the more I went in the wrong direction and the more I kept hurting myself.

By the time I was sixteen, I was exhausted and battling depression in addition to my drug abuse. I finally asked my mom for help, and after an evaluation, it was decided that month-long in-patient treatment would be the help I needed. I remember being scared, but more than anything, I remember feeling relieved. It felt good to let go of that secret, to ask for help, to stop trying to do everything on my own.

I learned a lot in rehab and I was clean for over a year afterwards, but I didn’t stay sober. To me, sobriety means much more than just being free from drugs and alcohol; it requires a whole shift in thinking, it requires growth and change and constant active effort to repair broken behavior and thought patterns. I did none of this. I was doing everything the same as before, just without drugs and alcohol. All the feelings I had been pushing away came back with a vengeance, and I was without the only tools I ever had to deal with them, and I wasn’t learning any new tools. I was miserable.

I relapsed shortly after high school graduation, and the next decade of my life was spent riding the downward spiral of addiction and alcoholism. I had gotten into the college of my dreams, but I dropped out just weeks before the end of sophomore year because of depression and an out of control cocaine problem that stole my soul. When I moved to San Francisco at age twenty, that’s when my drinking really took off, and I spent the next several years just barely getting by. Fortunately, I think some part of rehab stuck with me through these dark times, and I’d manage to pull myself out of serious trouble before it got too bad. But I’d always inevitably fall back into it again.

By the time I was in my late-twenties, I was exhausted. I decided to get help. Again, the feeling of relief that I didn’t have to do it alone. This time, I was serious about getting sober. I had too much to lose—a husband, a career, a home. This time, I knew I was going to have to change everything if I wanted to keep anything.

And so, CLEAN was born. I was able to access the raw vulnerability of the characters because I was going through the same things they were. I think of the main female characters—Eva, Kelly, and Olivia—as three parts of myself as a teenager, and it was healing to get in touch with them. I was Eva, the depressed poet misfit. I was Kelly, the pretty girl who didn’t know how to say no. I was Olivia, the perfectionist. In writing their stories, I got to let them go.

Style: "Porcelain vivid"So now, five years and four novels later, I have a life beyond my wildest dreams. I am wife to an amazing partner who inspired me with his love to become a better person. I am mother to the most astonishing 18-month old girl who teaches me new ways to love and laugh every day. She has never seen me drunk or high, and hopefully she never will. I am blessed to be able to do what I love for my profession, to write books and reach teens who are a lot like I was, lost and scared but full of heart. I get the most amazing letters and emails from readers who are going through similar things as my characters, and I feel so incredibly honored to help them feel less alone, to inspire them to get help. Everything I have in my life now is a result of my getting sober and changing my life. It is an honor and privilege to share it with you all, and I am forever grateful.


Amy Reed is the author of the edgy, contemporary YA novels BEAUTIFUL, CLEAN, CRAZY, and OVER YOU. Her new book DAMAGED released yesterday, October 14, 2014.

Find out more at www.amyreedfiction.com.

Buy DAMAGED at your local indie, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon

Buy CLEAN at your local indie, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon 


Thank you, Amy, for sharing the Book of Your Heart with my readers. Happy Book Birthday to Damaged, which is now on sale as of yesterday… everyone, go grab it!

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:

The Book of Your Heart Series: Andrea Hannah

thebookofyourheart-FEATUREDWhen an author says a book she’s written is the Book of Her Heart, what does that mean? In this completely irregular ongoing blog series, I’ve invited guest authors to reveal what they consider the Book of Their Heart—and share why this book holds a distinct and special place apart from all others they’ve written.

Here, to help celebrate her book birthday this week for Of Scars and Stardust, I have Andrea Hannah sharing the deep heartache that inspired her book…


Guest post by Andrea Hannah

AndreaHannahTomorrow, the book of my heart releases into the world. I’m thrilled and emotional and blissful and a whole bunch of other things that I expected to be when I’ve imagined seeing Of Scars and Stardust on the shelves. What I didn’t expect is the sheer terror.

Writing this book saved me from self-destruction in the same way Goosebumps saved me in fifth grade, and Speak saved me my senior year of high school. The only difference is I wrote this one. And now everyone can see it. Everyone can see me.

Growing up, my childhood was the definition of chaotic. My parents split when I was four, and my mom and I moved around a lot. As an adult, I can see my mom’s dependence on me was pretty unhealthy, but at the time I thought that this intense pressure to be what she needed—what everyone needed—was normal. Past Andrea didn’t yet realize that she spent hours and hours every single day devouring stories that were so unlike her own life so that she could escape the pressure of the one she already had. So in flooded the talking Chucky dolls and aliens and a team of rag-tag teen entrepreneurs documenting their adventures in babysitting.

In high school, my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. A different kind of pressure, this time to figure out how to navigate the world without my primary parent. More books, only these ones laced with themes of loss and guilt and grief and confusion and all those you’re supposed to feel when someone you love is about to die.

The thing is, I didn’t feel anything. Not yet. So while books gave me permission to feel terrified and heartbroken, I just…couldn’t. There’s a paragraph in Of Scars and Stardust that actually talks about this delayed reaction, right after Claire finds out her sister is missing. She says, “I waited. And I felt nothing.” That was true for me, too.

All of those things came years later, as a newly-married adult, and the guardian of my little brother. Only they didn’t show up right after I signed those custody papers when my mom got too sick to care for my brother and quietly passed away; they came about a year after that. Everything had been settled; my brother was stable, and everyone else in my family had done their grieving while I held space for them. That’s when I let myself lose it.

Of Scars and StardustOnly I didn’t have the emotional tools or supports to deal with the unexpected grief. I imploded, which translated into exploding all over everything I’d built up around me. I was angry, and I made sure everyone knew it. After a particularly horrible day, I sat down at my computer and began angry-typing out a story. No one was home for me to be furious with, so my only relief were the keys.

I wrote about two sisters, one who loved the other so fiercely that she would follow her into the mouths of wolves and past the depths of her own understanding and sanity. Claire wanted her sister back so badly that she would put herself and everyone else she loved in danger to do it. Her desperation was palpable in those first few pages, her sadness cutting. I cried for the first time in years. Then I kept going.

I fought through every ounce of grief to figure out how to live without my mom while I was writing this book. And at the end, I was less angry. Somehow more stitched together than I was before. It’s weird that a book about sisters was actually about processing my relationship with my mom, but Claire’s feelings of grief and undying hope all mixed together are what I imagine are part of the human experience when they lose someone they love, whether it’s through death or mythical wolves with snapping, yellow teeth.

This book will always own my heart because it’s the story that put it back together, that helped me figure out who I actually was when I wasn’t my mother’s daughter anymore, at least not in the physical sense. I don’t know if I’ll ever write anything that I cherish as much as this story (I haven’t yet), but I’m extremely thrilled this is the first one on the shelves. And even though I feel incredibly transparent and naked and terrified about letting the mass public in on Claire’s progression through her grief, I’m grateful that this story is out there for anyone who needs it, whenever they’re ready for it.


Andrea Hannah lives in the Midwest, where there are plenty of dark nights and creepy cornfields as fodder for her next thriller. She graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in special education. When she’s not teaching or writing, she spends her time chasing her sweet children and ornery pug, running, and dreaming up her next adventure.

You can find her at www.andreahannah.com and on Twitter @andeehannah.


Thank you, Andrea, for sharing the touching, emotional story of the Book of Your Heart with my readers. Happy Book Birthday to Of Scars and Stardust!

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series: