Writers Who Read: Ann Gelder

Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with writer Ann Gelder.ann_g_wall2_BW

Who are you?
A novelist, nonfiction writer, and recovering academic. My first novel, Bigfoot and the Baby, published by Bona Fide Books this past June, tells the story of a frustrated homemaker who searches for God and finds Bigfoot instead. (You can learn more at Bona Fide Books.)

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Harriet the Spy (sat at the window of my parents’ bedroom and took notes on passing neighbors). The Wizard of Oz (fell in love with the Tin Woodman). Bread and Jam for Francis (ate lots of bread and jam, before anyone knew how bad carbs are for you).

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Ever since I read it in college, I’ve been obsessed with Soviet-era novella called Envy by Yuri Olesha. First off, how could a writer not love a book called Envy? And in fact it is about an envious writer. But it also contains some really beautiful, bizarre yet accurate imagery such as I’ve encountered nowhere else. Olesha also plays with point of view, switching from first to third person when the main character steps in front of a mirror in the street. Plus it’s funny, in a pretty dark and horrifying way.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? 
I would say some fabulist element mixed in with a largely realistic story (I’m not a fan of pure fantasy). If a story is described as “a gritty portrait of real life,” I tend to shy away. I like a sea monster or UFO to pop up at some point. For example, those sorts of things happen in otherwise realistic if over-the-top Iris Murdoch novels (I’m thinking of The Sea, The Sea and The Philosopher’s Pupil)–and that’s enough for me. Just a glimpse of some other reality makes me very happy.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I often read in the early evening, as a kind of reward for the workday. It makes a nice buffer zone between work (even or especially my own work) and down-time.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?3782123-24152018-thumbnail
Envy, which I’ve mentioned above. The Brothers Karamazov, which I actually allude to several times in Bigfoot and the Baby … although I suspect not everyone will pick up on that. Several Margaret Atwood books, notably The Blind Assassin. And White Noise by Don DeLillo.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
It’s not always easy. Sometimes I think I use reading as an excuse for not writing. I tell myself I’m “doing research” or “seeking inspiration,” when I’m really just avoiding. On the other hand, I think reading constantly is critical for writers, and my best ideas or solutions often come to me while I’m reading–because it takes my focus off my own work and allows me to view it askance.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I’m liking physical books more and more every day. Ebooks are nice for plane rides particularly, but I stare at a screen all day, and really don’t want to do that any more than I have to. I do like audio books, but tend not to retain anything that I hear. I like to be able to flip back and forth between pages.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
Not really. I’ll happen upon a book in a store or via recommendations, and immediately want to read that particular book. If I made a list I wouldn’t stick to it.

What are you reading now?
I love popular science, and right now I’m reading Richard Fortey’s Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind. I find the precision and focus of science very refreshing, and I try to carry those qualities over into my fiction.

You can find out more about Ann at her website or on Twitter: @AnnBGelder.

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

This month I’ve been tagged by a fellow author in a blog hop where I answer questions about my writing process and then tag three more writers.

I was tagged by the lovely romance writer Rebecca Brooks, who wrote about her writing process here. Here’s a bit more about Rebecca:

RebeccaBrooksRebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind to try something new—and find the passion, excitement and purpose they didn’t know they’d been missing.

And here are my answers to the questions on my writing process:

What am I working on/writing?
After breaking my brain doing a lot of intense revising this summer, I’ve changed pace and am working on drafts of a couple new writing projects.

The first, collaborating with my husband, is a superhero romantic comedy set in a world where superheroes outnumber the non-supers, called “delicates.” A superhero woman gets suddenly trapped in a bank with some bad superheroes—along with a non-super guy she finds incredibly obnoxious. My husband and I alternate writing chapters from the woman’s or man’s point of view, with him writing the female chapters, and me the guy’s.

I’m also trying to write a short horror story—though, since I’m probably more a romance girl at heart, my scary story includes some stolen kisses. Although said stolen kisses may be precursors to a monster jumping out or someone getting their arm ripped off.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
I write mostly romance, usually romantic comedy, but my stories differ from other romances in that they are often strange and sometimes wacky. I write about finding love in unusual and fun settings, like haunted houses, or with unconventional characters like graffiti artists. I favor strong and irreverent humor, crazy sex scenes, and unique twists.

I’m also a big believer in character development that goes beyond the romance in the story. Though I define romance as a story where the romantic relationship is the vehicle for a character’s change, I like the character’s arc to have ramifications for other aspects of his/her life. I don’t want to just write a story where two people fall in love; I want to write a story where two people fall in love and the changes they evoke in each other cause them to make peace with their past or decide to join a travelling circus.

Why do I write what I do?
Even though I didn’t always realize I wanted to be a writer, I’ve always been a romantic. I’ve created stories in my head since I was a little girl, and these stories were almost always romantic. Today, the Tv shows that compel me the most feature an intense relationship, and I’m drawn to books with the same.

I’m interested in how people and characters reveal themselves in relationships, and romantic relationships are often the most tantalizing–passionate, sometimes resisted, occasionally forbidden, and of course full of surprise kisses. I love writing witty dialogue, sexual tension, sex scenes, and bawdy language–all of which often fall under the umbrella of romance and romantic comedy.

How does my writing process work?
Haphazardly, if I’m honest. Like other areas of my life, I have the best of intentions and the not-best of follow through. Ideally I try to write first thing in the mornings, and read in the evenings. But often I’ll oversleep and/or have to squeeze in writing at other times, like when my younger son is napping and the older is at school, or in the evenings. I’m still creating and finishing stories, though, which is the important thing. I generally prefer to do a rough draft and immediately put it aside for a couple months at least. Then I’ll return to it, make a couple passes of revisions and editing, send it to beta readers for feedback, and then do a few more passes.

And now I’m tagging three other writers to answer these questions! Here goes:

meglasses-e1398373353935Jonathan Andrew has been writing stories for as long as he can remember. His stories focus on witty dialogue, unexpected plot twists, and unlikely heroes. He writes in all kinds of genres for all kinds of folks — Science Fiction and Fantasy, Comedy, Historical Fiction, Suspense — but always with a bit of the surreal thrown in for good measure. He also blogs about comic books and writing at jonathanandrew.org. He is currently working on two series of novels with the writer Danielle Neruda. He and his wife, the novelist G.G. Andrew, are the parents of two young boys, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewnovelist.

JennyVinyl1Jenny Vinyl: I write for fun on evenings and weekends and am thankful for a 9 to 5 job that gives me the time and energy to pursue other (mostly nerdy) hobbies like reading (of course!), crafting, movie-watching, and walking around the city. Will likely never refuse an invitation involving the eating of ice cream, frozen yogurt, custard, or related products. You can find out more at my website.

1Elizabeth Cole is a romance author with a penchant for history, which is why she lives in an old house in an old city. She is the author of the sexy Secrets of the Zodiac and the sweet Regency Rhapsody series. She can be found hanging around libraries and archives, or curled in a corner reading, cat on lap. She believes in love at first sight. Then again, she also believes that mac ‘n’ cheese is a healthy breakfast, so don’t trust her judgment on everything. Find out more at elizabethcole.co.

Writers Who Read: Maureen O’Leary Wanket

Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with young adult author Maureen O’Leary Wanket.

Who are you?How-to-be-Manly-Cover-682x1024
My name is Maureen O’Leary Wanket and my young adult novel How to Be Manly is coming out September 16th with Giant Squid Books.

How to be Manly is about how in the course of one summer, Fatty Matty Sullivan follows the advice of a self-help book written by late football great Tad Manly and joins the football team in order to get the girl he has a crush on to notice him. When the grandparents he lives with face a crisis and his deadbeat dad comes back to town to threaten their home, Matty has to grow up fast to protect the ones he loves.

I’m a writer, English teacher and education consultant in Sacramento where I live with my husband and two daughters. I was a product of a pretty rough public education until entering a private Catholic high school. I majored in English at UC Santa Cruz, got a couple of teaching credentials, and in the past twenty-one years have taught several grade levels and subjects in schools all over California.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton was an important book and I’m not kidding. Mike’s steam shovel was named Mary Anne and she was hardcore. I loved that book. Judy Blume’s entire oeuvre was huge to me. Couldn’t pick just one. I guess I loved real stories the best.

Even my favorite fairy tales were the original Grimm’s that had people facing the consequences of their actions in immediate and graphic ways. No Disney for me. I loved the real Little Mermaid, full of sacrifice, sister love and pain. I also loved the story where the rich woman refuses to give her poor sister bread to feed her family. When the rich woman goes that night to cut a loaf of bread for dinner, it bleeds and she finds out that her poor sister and her children died of hunger. Social commentary mixed with horror. That was the story for me.

I was an intense child.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I rarely suggest specific titles, not even to my students. Reading tastes can be as personal as choice of perfume. Yet The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is one that has been so universally appealing while addressing an important social concern that I do recommend it to people. It is about a young woman aging out of the foster care system who has had such a brutal early childhood that she cannot sustain relationships. The novel is riveting, sensual, and so relevant. I read an early draft when the author and I shared a writing group. From the start, each page was heartbreakingly beautiful.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
As a reader, I’m one to develop crushes on certain authors and anything they write will then be my kryptonite forever. Francesca Lia Block is one of those “crushes.” Janet Fitch is another. Raymond Carver, of course. Annie Proulx. Toni Morrison. Margaret Atwood. Oh, I could go on and on.

Reflecting on these names, I realize that my favorite drug is dialogue that is true to the ear. I’m a sucker for spare dialogue that reveals character. I love true voices. Short story writer Jodi Angel is an example of a contemporary author who nails the young male voice like few others. It takes a certain powerful listener to be able to do that right. I spend my entire days with young people and I know how they talk. When an author gets the talk right, I’m done for.

wanketWhat is your ideal time and place to read?
I go to bed an hour or two before I’m sleepy to read in bed. It’s the ultimate luxury. I also love to read with my students. Community silent reading is lovely.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Living a Literary Life by Carolyn See has been important since I first read it fifteen years ago. It gave me permission to have a blast with giving writing a real go. It’s full of practical advice and pieces of memoir and whimsy. So great.

I consider Raymond Carver my literary godfather. There was a moment in my early twenties when I was a young bride, reading Carver for the first time, stretched out on the dirty carpet of our converted garage studio apartment in Arcata. I rolled onto my back after reading “Cathedral”, just astonished and changed and totally infatuated. I’d never be that good, but I wanted more than anything to play too. I still feel that way.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
It’s more shocking to me that I balance life in my reading and writing. How does my house get clean? My papers graded? My students taught? My family fed? My grad schoolwork completed?

I think it must be the work of magic.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
My mom gave me a Kindle one Christmas, and I like it for books I otherwise wouldn’t be able to access easily. There are independent publishers coming out with interesting and well-written work and my Kindle lets me get at those without any fuss.

Yet, I’d prefer they were available at my local indie bookstores because there is nothing like the feel and smell of a real book. Sacramento has an embarrassment of riches in independent bookstores. We have Beers Books, Underground Books, The Avid Reader, and Time Tested Books. Wonderful, thoughtful bookstores are such a rare treasure now.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
Right now I am determined to read through my own bookshelf—real and virtual. I have stacks of titles on my shelves and Kindle that I haven’t read yet that are winking at me right now as I sit here. Read me, they say. Do you hear them? They are very insistent.

What are you reading now?
We by Michael Landweber. It’s published by Coffeetown Press, an independent imprint I admire. I’m excited by the integrity of a lot of the work coming out from independent publishers right now. It’s an interesting time to be a reader and writer.

I’m also reading When My Heart Was Wicked by my writing group colleague Tricia Stirling. I was privy to some early pages of this novel, and I’m so happy to see it coming out with Scholastic next year. Again, authentic voice is my thing.

For nonfiction, I have Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg going. It’s eye-opening and I’m enjoying it. I’m rereading passages of Paint it Black by Janet Fitch, The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks for the kind of perverse comfort harsh stories give me. In my reading, I always have loved the terrible, beautiful real.

You can find out more about Maureen on her website or Twitter. You can find out more about How to Be Manly at Giant Squid Books.

Are You Surprised by the Books that Stay with You?

I recently did that Facebook book nerd meme that is making the rounds, the one where you’re supposed to list ten books that have stayed with you. The question, as I copied it, instructed me to not think too hard about this question, so of course I then proceeded to think twice as long as most other people would have done thinking long and hard on the matter.

Because the thing about that question is, my answers surprised me. I thought, I made notes, I consulted my Goodreads ratings. And the weird thing that I discovered was that some of the books I remember loving I’ve largely forgot, and other books that left me unsatisfied with their endings or maybe some teensy weensy detail that felt off for me…Well, some of those books have stayed with me much more strongly. Their worlds or characters or lingering questions still jangle in my head while other much-loved books have been cast aside, mentally as well as physically. How on earth could I have given Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer only four stars? That book burns bright in my mind as warmly as the sensual summertime it describes.

Does this happen to you? Do you find yourself looking at your Goodreads ratings, or maybe at your bookshelf, and thinking that the novel you found excellent was maybe just pretty good, but that once-okay book is now rather excellent from this distance?

Maybe we should have two sets of book ratings: one right after we’ve read a book, and another two years later—or maybe down the road when we’ve experienced that loss the book describes, or we can appreciate its obscene weirdness.

Isn’t this the wonder of reading? It always surprises me the varied and personal reactions people have to stories, both my own and others’. So much work goes into the creation of a story, and I’m not talking about the writing. It’s impossible for a book to capture every last detail, so the reader must add in visual flourishes, motivations, the unexplained tone of character voices. I suspect this is why some people claim to be too tired to read at times. You add so much of yourself to what you read, and it can wear you out; but it’s really quite wonderful, to build a home out of and within a book like that. For better or worse, each time you read a story it’s personal: you come to it with particular moods, expectations, experiences.

And as we all know, these things change over time—by the hour or week, even.

This is all to say that maybe a book’s influence doesn’t just vary between two people, but also between the same person at two different times in her life.

Writers Who Read: Kelly Ann Jacobson

Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with Kelly Ann Jacobson.

1469948_10152525757833383_3501563226682596871_nWho are you?
My name is Kelly Ann Jacobson, and I am the author of the literary novel Cairo in White and the young adult series The Zaniyah Trilogy. Cairo in White is about a closeted Egyptian teen, Zahra, who finds herself in an arranged marriage to her girlfriend’s brother. The Zaniyah Trilogy tells the story of Zoey, a sixteen-year-old farm girl with magical powers, who does not know the extent of her abilities or how she got them, when her best friend is kidnapped by a wizard named Danger, and she runs away from home and begins a quest to find him.

I live in Falls Church, Virginia with my boyfriend and crested gecko, Stevie. I recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Fiction program, and this summer, I quit my job and made the switch to full time writer! I write mostly novels and short stories, though I do write a lot of poetry and some nonfiction.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Ella Enchanted, A Wrinkle in Time, Dealing with Dragons

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I absolutely love Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. I buy copies of the first book, The Gunslinger, and give them to my friends so that they’ll read it. King is my literary crush (well, along with Ondaatje, for entirely different reasons), I just really admire the way he blends genres and uses his imagination to build believable worlds.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
I’m a sucker for dragons, especially dragons with interesting personalities, as you can see by the character Red in The Zaniyah Trilogy. I think there’s not enough magic in adult books, and that we need to do a fantasy/fairy tale/magical realism comeback for adults. I’m actually collecting stories for a new anthology, Get Magical, which will contain such stories (mostly just so I can read them all).

I also love extremely artistic, descriptive, poetic fiction, even if it takes three paragraphs to say something and there’s basically no plot.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I enjoy reading on the metro, though there will be less of that now that I’m a full time writer instead of an Events Coordinator, and I’m not in school. I am a very energetic person, so I concentrate better when I know I’m both reading and going somewhere at the same time. I also love to read outside in the afternoon on a park bench or my deck.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing? Cairo in White
Everything I read influences my writing, even stuff I hate. But in particular, The English Patient is my literary role model, and exactly the kind of writing I strive for in my own novels. The First Rule of Swimming was very influential on the novel I just finished this spring, mostly the blending of different times, places, and points of view successfully (I always switch around, but not quite so successfully). Margaret Atwood’s first person points of view are great examples when I need help writing from that perspective, which I’m trying again in my current novel despite my epic failure at trying to write Cairo in White in the first person six years ago.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I didn’t until this summer. Since I worked full time, went to school, edited for Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, and wrote my own novels, reading often got pushed to the side. I plan on correcting that, and will read my way through the local library all summer.

I do find it hard to read and write at the same time, since things I read influence my work, especially its tone. I try to read things along the same lines as what I’m writing (so reading literary fiction while I’m writing literary fiction, and reading fantasy while I’m writing fantasy), but that can be hard when you don’t know that much about the book beforehand.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Definitely physical books. Though I publish ebooks, I have a lot of trouble reading anything on the computer—I get migraines, and need special (aka huge and ridiculous) computer glasses so I don’t stress my eyes. My kindle, the original, flat kindle without the bright light and fancy gadgets, is better than the computer, but I still prefer actual books. I don’t drive, so audio books are not as convenient, plus I’m a very quick reader.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
The only planning I do is that I buy way too many novels that I think I’ll have time to read, and then they end up in giant piles in my library. When I need a book, I go to the pile and select one. I don’t really like reviewing books—I read for the pure enjoyment of reading and learning to write. I don’t need any extra motivation to read fiction, because if I have the time to read, I will. I get so caught up in reading that I miss my metro stops and try to read while walking (not very successfully, I might add).

Now, books of nonfiction (even “craft books” on writing) and poetry, depending on the poet, do require a little more motivation. I usually buy the books I “should” read, make separate piles of them, read the first few pages or my favorite poems, and never finish. What can I say…I’m a fiction girl at heart. I also think poetry is harder to read because I already read so much of it for Outside In.

I am in a book club, purely for the social aspect, and enjoy our book discussions over a lot of delicious wine. Those ladies have been like a second family to me over the past few years, and they even read one of my novellas, Three on the Bank (published by Storylandia! this summer) and critiqued it as readers, not writers, which was a very interesting and helpful process.

What are you reading now?
I am about halfway done A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra. After that I need to read A Fault in Our Stars.

You can find out more about Kelly on her website, Facebook, or Twitter

Writers Who Read: Marly Youmans

Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with Marly Youmans.

Who are you? Marly15
Marly Youmans. Some people know me as the author of 13 books, counting this year’s Glimmerglass and next year’s Maze of Blood. I write poetry (mostly formal, including long narratives), short stories, novels, and the occasional essay. Other people know me by my married name, and as the mother of three children. A few village spies have figured out that I am both of those people.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
As a child, I was a maniacal reader who read during school, in the bathtub, and at night under the covers with a flashlight. I don’t think that I’ve ever met anyone quite so obsessed as the child I was. She astonishes me. Far and away, my two favorite books were the Alice books. I owned them (back then children didn’t own as many books as many do now) and I read them whenever I ran out of library books. I’m not sure what the third should be, but probably the illustrated Louis Untermeyer anthology of poetry that I wore to pieces.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
In the case of a book for older children or for people who love Dickens, I often find myself recommending Leon Garfield’s book Smith. In poetry, I’ve often recommended Charles Causley and Kathleen Raine in the past few years; people in the U. S. don’t seem to know their work. I’m not sure, but I believe Tom Jones was the last novel that I recommended.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? 
The thing I care most about in a book is the sense of energy, the semblance of a living thing.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I have no prejudices, though I like reading outside in the sunshine—not something that happens all that often to this Southerner living in upstate New York.

SmallerGLIMMfrontWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
That’s huge, so I’ll stick to writers with books in the English language, and who had an influence on some story or poem I’ve written. That means I’ll leave out a lot that I love.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Medieval lyrics. George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, Edward Taylor, John Donne, Thomas Traherne. Shakespeare. Milton. Fielding’s Tom Jones. Keats. Coleridge. Wordsworth. Jane Austen. Emily Dickinson. Whitman. Carroll. Christina Rossetti. Charlotte Bronte. Dickens and his pal Wilkie Collins. Hawthorne. Melville. Yeats. Frost. More Yeats. Smattering of Pound. Ted Hughes. Perhaps that’s enough. I could natter on all night.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I’m not as good at it as I once was. Being the mother of three children meant that a lot of my time was given over to them, and living in a small village means being asked to volunteer a lot. I’m currently trying to read more. As a writer, I often go in maniacal bursts and then will be dormant for a while, aside from stray poem or short prose piece. Occasionally I fall under the most marvelous spell of poems. I love those flood times.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I prefer print books, though I often listened to audio books when driving my children to visit family in North Carolina. I also listen to books when I am folding laundry or cleaning house. But I find it harder to retain what I hear. I like to take notes and mark my way through a book.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I do not. Perhaps I am too whimsical. Perhaps it smacks too much of school. I would dislike being so organized about my reading, though being organized is, I admit, a good thing.

What are you reading now?
Luisa Igloria’s Night Willow (prose poems) should arrive from Phoenicia Publishing tomorrow or the next day, so that’s sure to happen next. I was just reading Jeffery Beam’s The Broken Flower (poems); Jeffery gave me a wonderful blurb for Glimmerglass, so he was on my mind. In nonfiction, I recently finished Peter Leithart’s Deep Exegesis for a study group of priests and pastors that will meet soon. I’m not a priest or pastor but received an invitation because I am a poet, and Leithart talks a good deal about poetry in the book. And I just listened to the fables of Phaedrus and Aristotle’s Poetics while doing a mountain of laundry. As is usual with me and the recorded word, the syllables marched firmly into one ear and then rambled around in my head before easing out of the opposite ear. Alas.

Marly Youmans is on the usual social media, but is especially active on Facebook  and twitter. Her blog is at http://www.thepalaceat2.blogspot.com; near the top of the site are tabs that will take you to pages for each of her books. Her newest book is Glimmerglass, a story that begins with a failed painter who thinks she has glimpsed the muse in the woods near her house. Available on September 1st. Recent in-print books are A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Thaliad, The Foliate Head, and The Throne of Psyche. Forthcoming is Maze of Blood.

Writers Who Read: Joyce Thierry Llewellyn

Sitting on the beginning of languageOur Writers Who Read series continues this week with writer Joyce Thierry Llewellyn.

Who are you?
I was a field biology technician in Northern Ontario then went back to university to focus on creative writing and became a magazine and newspaper journalist before moving into film and television screenwriting and story editing, which I’ve now been doing for almost 20 years. I also write travel and creative non-fiction articles (see examples at my website). I have taught television screenwriting at the Vancouver Film School for 15 years.

Two years ago I began exploring the world of Young Adult novels and have written two YA books that I’m very proud of. One is a science fiction novel and the other a travel adventure story, both with female protagonists. I can’t believe how much fun it is to get lost in novel writing. This new area of writing has led me to (re)read my way through a diverse range of YA books. YA literature is one of most exciting genres around at the moment—amazing writing!

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
That’s a hard question to answer. Since I have to limit my list to three books, then The Island of the Blue Dolphin, The Incredible Journey, and all of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories (I know, that’s cheating) would be my picks. I have always been an avid reader, a must if you want to be a writer. I spent my childhood summers until I was 17 living in our family run, isolated, fly-in only tourist camp in Northern Quebec. We didn’t have electricity—no TV or flush toilets or ice cream but lots of mosquitoes, forests, and freedom. My mother arranged for a box of books to be sent in from the Montreal Library on the biweekly bush plane. That box was a lifeline for me. A short non-fiction piece I wrote about this experience, “When Lions Came in Brown Boxes,” was picked to represent Canada in the 2011 Commonwealth Short Story Competition.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Miles Franklin’s 1901 novel, My Brilliant Career. That book gave me the courage to believe I too could become a writer. “Hope, sweet, cruel, delusive Hope, whispered in my ear that life was long with much by and by, and in that by and by my dream-life would be real. So on I went with that gleaming lake in the distance beckoning me to come and sail on its silver waters, and Inexperience, conceited, blind Inexperience, failing to show the impassable pit between it and me.” It was made into an equally wonderful Australian film starring Judy Davis.

Since this is a blog and I don’t think word count matters in the same way it would for a magazine or newspaper, I also want to flag writer Joseph Boyden’s multi-award winning Three Day Road, a novel that moves from an Oji-Cree reserve in Northern Ontario to the WWI battlefields of France and Belgium, and back again. It is a hauntingly beautiful book.

What is your book kryptonite—those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? 
A street performer friend of mine, Peter, used to dump a large bag of Smarties onto a brightly-coloured tray and ask people to put the candies into a shape representing the important things in their life. The first time I did this I made a five-legged starfish. One “leg” represented my daughter (I was a single parent in those days) while the others were my writing, singing, love of travel, and the fifth was for future surprises. “You have trouble focusing,” was Peter’s response. That starfish image flashed to mind when I read this question. My kryptonite is genre in nature. I am constantly reading travel-inspired narrative non-fiction stories like Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki Across the Pacific in a Raft, Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior, anything by Paul Theroux and Tony Horwitz, and more recently, Jay Ruzesky’s In Antarctica: An Amundsen Pilgrimage. Other genres I’m passionate about are science fiction, British mysteries, Young Adult fiction, and pilgrimage or sacred journey stories. The stories can take place in an African desert or on a planet with three moons as long as I care about the characters and want to keep turning the pages.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
At night in bed, the house quiet, with my husband reading beside me.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Franklin’s My Brilliant Career, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (an amazing book that taught me as much about good story telling and writing as any “how to” writing book I’ve ever read), Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on the Writing Life, and two books whose titles I won’t mention but their combination of trite storytelling AND grammar and punctuation errors left me thinking, “If this kind of shit can get published…”

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
My goal is always to read more because my “to read” list of classics and newly published work grows faster than I can cross them off. I write every day but have never set specific goals. I understand Stephen King writes ten pages a day every day of the year and Hemingway wrote 500 words per day. I’m interested in hearing what goals other writers reading this interview set for themselves. Do you go by page count? Word count? Work for a certain number of hours?

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
There is nothing like holding a real book in your hands. I spend so much time during the day sitting at my computer writing, marking student scripts, researching, or answering emails that the last thing I want to do when I’m relaxing is spend even more time in front of a screen, even if it’s small and held in my hands. I am, though, a huge fan of podcasts. They aren’t quite audio books, but some of the best documentary writing is being done in podcasts. I have Podbay loaded on every device I own and regularly access one of thousands of podcasts on everything from art and history to screenwriting, comedy shows, finances, paranormal events, music, and the latest food fads when I’m waiting in an office or even lying in bed at night. And let’s not forget about TED Talks.

Do you consciously plan your future reading—i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I am a binge reader whose reading is usually influenced by what I am researching and writing in the moment. I can be on a Young Adult novel kick or immersed in one British mystery series after another, or moving from continent to continent through non-fiction travel adventure books. I find immersing myself in the world I am writing about helps me stay in that world, whether I’m working on a film or TV script, a travel blog, or a creative non-fiction article. I do want to say that my writing time is precious in my busy life and I guard it selfishly, something I’ve only learned to do after years of trying to fit everything else in too. I am really picky about what groups I join, especially if they are related to my day job or involve writing in some way. And where I once volunteered weekly for several different organizations, I now limit the time I take away from my writing.

What are you reading now?
I’m going to challenge myself next by writing a mystery so I’m rereading my favourite Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and Arthur Conan Doyle books. I’ve recently discovered a terrific Canadian mystery writer, Louise Penny. My writing also influences my television viewing, which means my homework these days includes watching such terrific TV series as Sherlock, Elementary, The Bletchley Circle, and the very dark True Detective and Top of the Lake. I love being a writer!

You can find out more about Joyce on her website or LinkedIn.

10 Weird Things on Screwing Mr. Melty

SCREWING MR. MELTY was my first book, and it’s been quite a ride, between writing the initial draft for National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) in 2010 to giving myself ice cream headaches for research. Here are ten weird things about the creation of the book:

7_Final_Set1.) The first draft of the book didn’t include Mr. Melty—or (gasp!) even any ice cream. The character Max, who owns Mr. Melty Ice Cream in the books, was a small baseball team owner or something. I believe when I revised, my thought process was as such: No ice cream? NEEDS ICE CREAM. This would probably work for revising a lot of stories, I’m thinking.

2.) There are nine f-bombs in the first chapter of the book.

3.) After writing a draft of the book for the 2010 NaNo, then revising it the following spring (MORE ICE CREAM), I kept the draft in my drawer for two years. I dusted it off and started revising it again when I saw a notice for a love story contest from a small publisher. I didn’t win that contest, but throwing myself into writing fiction—which I’d never really done, minus the NaNo adventure—made me realize how much I loved it. Which made me learn more about how to tell better stories, craft sentences, publish. Writing fiction is now a giant passion of mine, one of the focuses of my world and pillars of my sanity.

4.) I wouldn’t be able to eat Mr. Melty Minty Mango, a flavor in the book, because I’m severely allergic to mangos.

5.) The draft of the book changed drastically between revisions. The second draft was probably 95% changed from the first, the third draft 50% changed from the second, and so on. But throughout the revision process, Max’s flashback scene in the middle of the book has been there relatively unchanged since I wrote that crazy crummy first draft. It’s also one of my favorite scenes.

6.) The book’s original title was Flavors of Lust. I wasn’t entirely happy with it, so when my husband and I were spit-balling possible titles on a drive one afternoon and he jokingly suggested “Screwing Mr. Melty,” I glommed onto it. Much to his chagrin.

7.) Jason’s name was originally Baxter, but I changed it in later revisions after realizing some beta readers were confusing Baxter with Max because the names are similar.

8.) I called a genetics hotline as part of my research for the book. It was kind of embarrassing, but the nice woman on the line assured me that they “get calls like this all the time.”

Frozen Fruity Flaxseed

Frozen Fruity Flaxseed

9.) I’ve tried to make a couple Mr. Melty Ice Cream flavors mentioned in the book, to mixed results. But this summer I’ve mostly been too lazy and have been eating store-bought mint chocolate chip, one of my faves.

10.) A few readers have mentioned the Stapler Scene in the book as being their favorite…which says something about my readers, I’m thinking. Like maybe they used to work at office supply stores where they had a lot of downtime.

If you enjoyed SCREWING MR. MELTY and want to recommend it to a friend, it’s going to be free on Amazon this Tuesday, August 19th, through midnight on Wednesday, August 20th!

Writers Who Read: Désireé Zamorano

Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with writer Désirée Zamorano.

DZamorano - smallerWho are you?
Author of The Amado Women, multi-generational family drama, out this summer from Cinco Puntos Press. A Mexican-American who grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, from Maya Angelou to Bible stories to the encyclopedia set Man, Myth and Magic in the Compton Library. A native Californian, I didn’t discover noir mysteries until I read Raymond Chandler while sitting on the left bank of the Seine—and fell in love with noir so much I created my PI Inez Leon for Human Cargo and then Jackie Paz for Modern Cons, both ebooks published by Lucky Bat.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
I did love Jack London’s Call of the Wild, and Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. When I discovered A Wrinkle in Time I wanted to be a character in that book.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
It kind of depends on who I’m talking to, sometimes it’s Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me, other times it’s David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

What is your book kryptonite—those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
I am absolutely gobsmacked by authors who weave multiple story lines and bring them all together in a dazzling finish. For me that would include practically everything by Kate Atkinson and Martin Cruz Smith.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
By the light of a late afternoon in a silent back yard with a cool breeze to keep me company.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?Amado Orig
Carolyn See’s generous and insightful Making a Literary Life truly sustained me when my writing ambition was like a heavy stone on my chest. She compares writing to a quick and easy 30 minutes or a long and slow 18-hour chili recipe. I think now I can confidently say I’ve made the 18-hour recipe. Dagoberto Gilb’s Gritos, a collection of essays, reminded me of the challenges Mexican American authors face.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I excuse my reading addiction as telling myself that all reading deepens my writing. The problem arises when I use reading or research in place of writing.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Each one has a time and a place for me! I love ebooks on a plane, audio when I exercise, and a physical book in a physical place, like bed.

Do you consciously plan your future reading—i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
There are many writers I admire, like Roxane Gay, Kathryn Schulz, Sarah Weinman, Maud Newton. When they recommend something I keep a list—buy the books or request them from the library. Unfortunately at times my TBR list turns into a NEVER TBR pile.

What are you reading now?
Just finished Wendy C Ortiz’s Excavation—A Memoir. Truly stunning, like Marguerite Duras’s The Lover.

You can learn more about Désirée on her website or on Twitter. The Amado Women is available through most independent bookstores, and, of course, online; here’s a recent review of the book.

 

Writers Who Read: Kristin Fields

Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with writer Kristin Fields.

Who are you?Kristen Elise Fields
I’m a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY. I studied Creative Writing and Geology at Hofstra University, where I was mentored by novelists Martha McPhee and Julia Fierro. In 2007, I was awarded the Eugene Schneider Award for Short Fiction for my story, In a Teacup. I spent the next five years not writing and found myself running the education department at a historical farm museum, professionally belly dancing, teaching high school English, and teaching teenagers how to write and dance at the Great Neck Library. I read once that Monarch butterflies continue the journey their ancestors began long before, and enjoy exploring that theme with the characters in my debut novel, Secrets Kept on Firefly Wings (forthcoming).

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
There are so many, but the three that come to mind are Madame Bovary (yes, I know that’s a strange one for someone under twelve), Tuck Everlasting, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Looking back, the three are strangely connected. When I read Tuck Everlasting, I was thrilled to find a strong female character who didn’t sacrifice her life for love and found happiness in the life she was given.

Madame Bovary was my first experience with a desperate character who would never be happy. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe showed me characters who found their sense of self in an unexpected place. I sometimes think that if Emma Bovary had had a wardrobe to escape through and a new place to grow, things might have been very different for her.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I absolutely adore the Outlander series. If I find a way to jump through standing stones, I’ll definitely let you know. I did find a very unique rock pile in Prospect Park, but it didn’t hum and buzz like they did for Claire. The search continues.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
My all-time weakness is when writers transform ordinary places into extraordinary settings and even the most mundane things suddenly have deep-rooted significance. A perfect example is Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth. The story is set in a sleepy, ordinary town, but the turbulent, ill-fated love story between two of the characters transforms even the simplest things (a house, a street) into something meaningful.

Here’s a perfect example:
“The sky is already purple; the first few stars have appeared, suddenly, as if someone had thrown a handful of silver across the edge of the world.” ― Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth

In so many words, Alice Hoffman transformed an ordinary place into one the reader feels privileged to enter and offered us a glimpse of real, living life. It’s my kryptonite because it makes me want to find all the extraordinary things around me.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I love reading while traveling. It fills the in-between time of getting from place to place with another world.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
When I first “came of age” as a reader and graduated from young adult to adult fiction, I was drawn to Alice Hoffman and Elinor Lipman. Both authors are exceptional storytellers and weave unique stories through ordinary landscapes. With Alice Hoffman, her whimsical writing and use of magical realism was a wonderful transition into the adult reading section, but what I was most drawn to with both writers is how ordinary the events/characters of their stories are. People fall in love. People die. Both writers capture relatable moments in the lives of women, and as their characters grow and change, the stories become extraordinary.

Alice Hoffman also loves to play with the past. I read once that Monarch butterflies continue the migration journey their ancestors began years before, and it’s a theme I enjoy exploring in my writing. Like Alice and Elinor, I like to capture small moments in the lives of my characters, the ones we’re likely to overlook in our busy lives. Sometimes those are the moments when our past and present merge and become very clear to us. I like to think of them as transformative moments.

Both writers convinced me that women’s fiction holds a vital and essential place in the literary world, and that there’s plenty of room for new women’s voices in both characters and authors.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I’m still learning to do this, but I think the key is to give in to what feels natural. There are weeks when reading feels more fulfilling than writing and vice versa. I try to remember that spending more time with one doesn’t mean I’m neglecting the other; if anything, it’s a symbiotic relationship and one benefits the other.

Someone once told me that great writers were often great readers first, and I believe it’s true. If a writer truly wants to perfect his/her craft, it needs to be studied.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
When I tried to carry the third Outlander book to jury duty (which is roughly the size of a small dictionary), I had an epiphany: if I had an e-reader, I could carry all my books with me in one tiny device. I happily made the switch to ebooks, although I do enjoy borrowing a good physical every once in a while.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
Thanks to Goodreads.com, I have a very healthy list of TBR books and some very excellent book clubs to participate in. I love exploring books through book clubs because it introduces me to titles I might not have heard of otherwise, and hearing so many different takes on the same passages inspires me as a reader, writer, and a life student. It also helps with creating a reading schedule, which isn’t something I’m particularly inclined to do otherwise.

What are you reading now?
Too many! Right now I’m reading The Same Sky, a travel memoir written by my friend Debbie Yee Lan Wong, and I’ve got the first Game of Thrones book on audio. I’m also working my way through Kimberly Brock’s The River Witch and Julia Fierro’s Cutting Teeth. My book club is reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and I’m finishing up Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things. It’s been a busy summer for reading.

You can find out more about Kristin on her website, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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