Reductress Articles

I’ve written a couple articles for Reductress this past week. If you don’t already know the site, it’s a satire of women’s magazines with the tagline “Women’s News. Feminized.”

I’ve long loved Reductress, so I am thrilled to be able to write for it. Here are the two pieces that came out recently. Trigger warnings: profanity, raunchy subjects, Olive Garden references.

5 Dysfunctional Relationships You’ll Miss in Your 30s

How To Write From Your Heart So Your Professor Will Fuck You

Enjoy!

 

Guest Post: Why I Write Romance for Women Over 40

Author Betsy Talbot

Today I welcome a guest post from romance author Betsy Talbot, author of the new Late Bloomers series. Welcome, Betsy!

I became a romance writer in Morocco at the age of 43.

Before you start imagining vibrant images of this exotic country, the echo of the call to prayer sounding throughout the streets five times a day, or a profound experience with a Berber family in the desert, let me tell you first how I ended up there.

Back in 2010, my husband and I left the US to travel the world. In the two years prior to leaving, we sold everything, including our house and car, and quit our good jobs. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It didn’t feel that way at the time, reeling from the very close health crises in two people we loved…both of them in their mid-30s.

This kind of close call will cause a reasonable woman to reflect on her past choices, and it will prompt a less reasonable woman like me to take charge of her future. Warren and I decided in 2008 that we would travel the world for one year, which is how we ended up on a plane to South America with no earthly possessions but our backpacks in 2010.

Over the following years, we traveled through South America, North America, Antarctica, Europe, and Asia. All the while, we grew a large readership at our website, Married with Luggage. Readers often asked if we’d share our tips on saving money, getting rid of our belongings, having the nerve to follow our dreams, and traveling together. This was the start of our nonfiction business, which published four books on those subjects.

Our lifestyle was romantic – traveling and working together around the world – but the subjects of our books were not. Finance. Decluttering. Logistics. These unsexy topics led to a very sexy life, but it was hard to stay motivated to write about subjects we had long since mastered. I wanted a new challenge.

We wrote a book called Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World. This was part travelogue, part memoir, and it spurred in me the desire to talk more about love and relationships and what can happen after 40. I’ve learned a lot through our lifestyle and through the interesting and exotic people we meet, and I had to find a way to share it. I just didn’t know how.

We arrived in Spain in December 2013. In a tiny whitewashed village in the south, we fell in love with the blue skies, friendly people, and red wine. Was it time to stop traveling, to put down roots? We knew we still had much of the world to see, but having a home base was appealing. The little white house on a winding street in the pueblo was our new oasis, a place to rest between travels and write more books.

But what kind of books would we write?

As our 100-year-old house was being renovated, we took a month-long trip to Morocco with some friends. As magical as it sounds, it was a working vacation since all four of us make our living with writing or online work. Every evening, we gathered in the common area of our rental house and cooked food, mixed drinks, listened to music, and talked about everything under the sun.image

One night, the talk turned to writing and which genres were most popular. Romance came up, and we all wondered if we could do it. The four of us are what you would call slightly quirky, and our ideas matched our personalities. Before the night was over, we challenged each other to write and publish a romance novel by year’s end.

I missed the deadline to publish, but I did finish the book by the end of the year. And what I found as I went was that romance was the genre that fit my creative need. I could write about love, travel, friendship, and following your dreams. The crazy stories I’ve lived or learned could be adapted to become romance novels.

Most of all, I could show that being a woman over 40 was not a death sentence in terms of romance, adventure, and accomplishment.

That night in Morocco, sipping gin and tonics and dining on a fragrant and savory lamb tagine, I became a romance author. I began writing the very next day, mapping out the five-book series titled The Late Bloomers. The first book is Wild Rose, and I’m so proud of her story.

I haven’t left my nonfiction publishing roots behind. I’m still very deadline driven and business focused, knowing in advance the plot, publish date, and cover of each book in the series.

The five women of The Late Bloomers are as vibrant to me as the blue sky of Morocco, their voices as clear as the call to prayer, and their stories just as enthralling as any exotic encounter I’ve had.

Truth be told, I hated being in Morocco. But I love what it gave me.

Get your copy of Wild Rose, the first book in The Late Bloomers Series, by clicking here. To get a FREE Late Bloomers short story, sign up for Betsy’s newsletter, a twice-monthly email filled with exotic tales and unconventional ideas about life and love.

Betsy Talbot is a 40-something traveler and author. When she’s not traveling or penning books about love, adventure, and self-discovery, she is hiking, learning flamenco dancing, and drinking wine in a tiny whitewashed village in Spain. Her latest project is The Late Bloomers Series, a 5-book romance series about women in their 40s. Because women with experience make the best characters…in life and on the page. Get a new Late Bloomers short story for free at BetsyTalbot.com.
 
About Wild Rose:
Successful landscape designer and single mother Rose Quinn races to Italy to save her 19-year-old daughter Rachel from making a huge mistake with an older man – the same mistake Rose did at the age of 20. When secrets are revealed on the shores of Lake Como, Rose faces her own lifelong misconceptions about love and the illusion of control with handsome Mateo, relying on her lifelong best friends the LateBloomers to see her through this transformation.
Check out the book on GoodreadsAmazonKobo, or iTunes.
About The Late Bloomers Series:
After a lifetime of friendship bordering on sisterhood, five 40-something women from Arizona each embark on their own adventures in love, travel, and discovery around the globe. Knowing themselves far better than they did in their 20s and 30s, these seasoned women are ready to take on the world. If 40 is the new 20, these women are just getting started.

Writers Who Read: Gabrielle Selz

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with author and storyteller Gabrielle Selz.image002

Who are you?

Gabrielle Selz, I’m a writer and live storyteller (The Moth). I am published in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, Newsday, and MORE Magazine, among others. I just published a short piece in The New Yorker (my dream to publish there!) titled, “The Art of Mending.”

My debut book, UNSTILL LIFE: A DAUGHTER’S MEMOIR OF ART AND LOVE IN THE AGE OF ABSTRACTION was published by W.W. Norton in May, 2014. Briefly, it’s about growing up in the art world of 1960s and 70s and set against the unrestrained bohemians of New York and Berkeley. Unstill Life is an unforgettable portrait of a turbulent era and a moving story of my search for a steady place in a world where the boundaries between life and art often blurred.

Donna Seaman from Booklist gave it a starred review writing, “Selz’s memoir of aesthetic fervor, discovery, selfishness, sacrifice, sorrow, and abiding love is compelling testimony to art’s uplifting and, at times, diabolical power.” It was also listed as a best book of 2014 in the San Francisco Chronicle.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (It is also the first book that made me cry.)
Silver Pennies, A Collection of Modern Poems for Boys and Girls, Edited by Blanche Jennings Thompson
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe thte local barista) as an adult?

Used to be: Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Now it’s Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This year I loved reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel & All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer.

I don’t have a one 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?

I have a strong weakness for any book where the character, male for female, has a great longing. I also like historical figures in fiction. When everything I think I know about a figure from history is turned on its head.

What is your ideal time and place to read?

Bed. I binge read in bed. Best time is during the evening/night. I think there’s even a short story collection called Women and Their Beds!

Cover Art-2Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?

Depends on the project. For my memoir, I read lots of memoirs, art history books, and books on writing.

I suppose though, if I had to choose overall, it would be Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and John Cheever, The Complete Short Stories, I also go back to Alice Munro a lot to see how she compacts so much emotion and incident in few pages. Miles City, Montana is a story where so much happens in such a little space. It’s perfection!

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?

I read more between writing projects and when I’m starting them. Less, in the middle of a project. I don’t think there is a balance, but this is what works for me.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?

Physical book. I like the object itself. The weight. I read ebooks when I travel. I only do audio if it’s a long trip and I’m driving. I have found with audio books, that stories work better than long form novels.

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?

No, it’s intuitive. Unless of course I’m doing research. Even then, I’ll begin with a reading list, but it’s open to allow me to follow whatever spark appears.

What are you reading now?

How to Be Both by Ali Smith
Loitering: New and Collected Essays by Charles D’Ambrosio

You can find out more about Gabrielle on her website.

Why We Read What We Read

To me, one of the most fascinating questions that has come out of the Writers Who Read interview has been the one that asks imagewriters what kind of books they are drawn to, beyond the usual answers of solid storytelling and writing. I love reading these answers, especially ones that mention very specific story features, like “bodies lost in ponds” or “erstwhile rivals teaming up.” I like this because, in addition to genre, we all have particular character types, settings, or tropes we gravitate toward. I like stories featuring high school reunions, for instance, and I’ll pick up a romance or dark fantasy far more than other genres.

What’s even more interesting is asking readers why they like the books they like. With millions of books, thousands of authors, and maybe even hundreds of possible genres, why do we choose certain types of stories to read?

I believe genre especially ties into the reason we read. We may read for multiple reasons–escape, information, a love of language–but usually one or two impulses are driving us. My dad reads to deepen his understanding of human nature, and so is often drawn to classics or philosophy. I find fantasy wonderful because it shows us a world where miracles and fascinating creatures exist, things we don’t see in our ordinary world (usually). I pick up romance because I love the idea of two unlikely people in a challenging circumstance finding a way to love each over. It’s the same reason I like redemption stories, in and out of the romance genre.

Why do I like high school reunions? It’s fun to me when two (or more) people with a past personal history are reunited and must reconcile their history with the people they have (or haven’t) become.

Which genres do you read? What particular characters, tropes, and plots are you drawn to? And do you know why?

 

 

Writers Who Read: Maiga Milbourne

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Maiga Milbourne. Maiga Milbourne Writing

Who are you?
Maiga Milbourne, hawking an assortment of low-fee services! Among them, I teach yoga, design and lead international retreats, write, run a sustainable landscaping business with my husband, and establish a permaculture-influenced farm in my suburban backyard. I feel like I make art in several mediums: moving flesh in yoga poses, words in my literary pursuits, and painting with a palette of dirt and plant life in the big, wide world. I’m really excited about an upcoming yoga and writing retreat, co-lead with poet, Caits Meissner. Everything you could want to know about it is organized on http://www.mythicbeingsretreat.com.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
I vividly remember reading The Secret Garden while I was in second grade. I sat on my grandmother’s velvet couch in her musty house and felt furtive, ancient, other-worldly. I specifically remember the grade because I was conscious and proud of being precocious (lord). I think that planted the seed to read in an environment evocative of the book’s world. To this day, I find authors who are from or writing about my travel destination.

The place keeps preceding the read: I next remember reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at a middle school sleepover. I was laying on my friend’s twin bed. We kept giggly questioning each other about menstruation.

I also had a deep affinity for Chaim Potok. I always read late into the night. My Dad told me to go to bed, so I switched to reading in the bathroom. I remember him asking me, “If everything was OK?” I’m sure he thought I’d gotten my period. I was just busy reading, The Chosen, and My Name is Asher Lev, and writing un-answered fan mail to the author.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I make specific recommendations. You have to read The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver in Oaxaca, Mexico. Bring Edward Abbey’s books to the Southwest. Pack I, Rigoberta Menchu for travels in Guatemala. If you can’t go to Turkey, at least eat dates while reading Nazim Hikmet’s poems. There is no reason why reading shouldn’t tantalize every sense.

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 fucking love the art of writing. You know? An author that isn’t self-conscious, but just themselves. The writing is informal, familiar, and utterly engaging. Alternately, I keep a thesaurus nearby, but it’s worth it because I’ve never been told about betrayal and the Greek Isles in just.this.way. Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors because she’s elegant and I want to know her perspective on monarch butterflies and liberation struggles in the Congo. I will always and forever love Octavia Butler because she is so carefully spare and plot driven. Neil Gaiman is a god-damn sorcerer and I am always captivated. I am enchanted by his ability to be an atmospheric writer and relentless story-teller.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Always. I like to vacation on a pretty mountain and sit with a book. Alternately, I like to relax at the beach with a book. Daily, I wake early, teach yoga at 6 am (true story) and then go to my favorite coffee shop. I purchase an iced coffee (I don’t care if it’s winter!) and a mercilessly toasted everything bagel with butter. Sweet, savory in the mouth, book in hand. I usually read for at least a half hour every morning, schedule-contingent.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I turn to bell hooks a lot when I need a writer’s voice in my head. She’s certainly a writing mentor– I find her clear, fresh, concise, and imaginative. Nazim Hikmet’s poetry continues to be an influence– the rich images, simplicity, detail. I love Barbara Kingsolver’s characters. The Lacuna haunts me in the best possible way. I’m continually awed by the ambition and realization of that book. I think of the architectural prowess of books like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series as well as the weight of language employed by Richard Wright or James Baldwin.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I try to read for at least a half hour every morning during breakfast. I always have a book with me in case I find myself waiting for an appointment or with unexpected time. I have less of a consistent writing practice. Writing is usually tucked in between assignments on a work day. I’ve found myself hit with a story on a long road trip. I realized that the window opened on the story because of unstructured time– my mind could wander and explore. The last time this happened I ran home and locked myself in a room to write. Trouble is, my energy is best in the morning and we had finished the road trip in the evening. I made notes, but had lost the meat of the work. Having open time in the morning tends to be when I produce my best work.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book. A lot of my travel weight is books. I don’t care! I buy used copies and leave them in hostels when I’m done. When home, I frequent my library.

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’m in a book club so that dictates some but not all reading. I keep a GoodReads log just in case I wind up at the library directionless. For now, I’m working my way through my own bookshelves. Between my husband and my collections, there are plenty of titles I haven’t read. I also research books set in destinations I travel to or written by local authors.

What are you reading now?
Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout. I asked Facebook for suggestions on novels steeped in Maine for a recent camping trip to Acadia. I wound up hiking more and reading less, so a week back home I’m still digging in.

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

Writers Who Read: Pamela DiFrancesco

The Writers Who Read series continues today with Pamela DiFrancesco.

Who are you?
My name is Pamela DiFrancesco. I’m a writer of fiction who has been published in literary magazines such as The New Ohio Review and Monkeybicycle. The Devils That Have Come to Stay is my first novel. I’m also a social justice activist, working mainly these days in the queer community, though in the past I’ve done things like help organize relief efforts after Superstorm Sandy, and volunteer in a radical publisher’s office. And I’m a bookseller at New York City’s legendary Strand Books.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
The Velveteen Rabbit, The Cat Who Went to Heaven, and Bunnicula. As you can see, I loved animal stories.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen. As someone who has studied post-modern literature quite a bit, this very non-traditional book appeals to those sensibilities. But, since it was written by Cohen, you can read just for the pleasure and beauty on every page. For example, the line “ordinary eternal machinery like the grinding of stars” occurs on several pages, and it’s just one of Cohen’s many stunning similes and uses of poetic language.

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 love books that very skillfully disassemble the traditional process. Samuel Beckett is a favorite because he manages to do away with elements like plot and character motivation, and still write brilliant, funny, heartbreaking prose that keeps you engaged for hundreds of pages. Now, if done poorly, this approach can really, really fail. But the masters of it are what gets my literary heart beating the fastest.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
As a 14-year New Yorker, the subway is where I get my best reading done. I know the book I’m reading is a winner when it makes me miss my stop.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I’d say Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell taught me that the genres can be worked in in a masterful manner that transcends them, which is something I’ve been experimenting with in my writing ever since. Lolita taught me that every last letter counts (though Nabokov had synesthesia that made him see every letter as a color, so he really had an unfair advantage in that respect). Everything is Illuminated helped me learn that different points of view can greatly enhance a story.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I don’t think you can have one without the other. Careful reading, in my opinion is a prerequisite for being a good writer. There are writers who say they never read, and this reminds me of the old stories about people who locked children alone in a room hoping that if they weren’t taught any human language, they would learn the language of God. So much of writing comes from what’s come before it, tradition and lineage, and being aware of what’s out there already in the world.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical books are my favorite. The smell, the margins to write in (and, if it’s a used book, reading the previous owner’s marginalia), the feel of the pages between your fingers–these are things e-books will never be able to replicate.

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 was mainly a fiction reader my entire life, so now I try to alternate fiction and non-fiction titles. As a bookseller, I have a huge queue of recommended books and books I’ve bought cheaply waiting for me to get to them. Sometimes something will come along that completely jumps the queue, though. So the extent of my planning is the ever-growing pile of books on my desk.

What are you reading now?
I just finished A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, a wonderful book about a rebellious Mennonite girl who has had half of her family flee the stifling town they live in. I’m in the middle of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.

Check out Pamela’s novel, The Devils That Have Come to Stay. You can also find out more about her on Twitter (@DiFantastico) or her website.

Writing by Rom-Com: Matters of Life and Dating

128px-Romanticfilm_svgAlong with compiling Netflix lists of the best streaming romances with Jenny Vinyl, I’m starting to write longer reviews of movies on this site. With a lot of screenwriting tips and tricks increasingly being used by novelists, watching rom-coms is a great way to learn about telling a romantic story in any form.

But really, who needs an excuse to watch some awkward fumbling, snappy dialogue, and grand gestures? For this I’ll be focusing mostly on films languishing in my Netflix Instant queue, with the occasional newer release.

First up: Matters of Life and Dating, a 2007 Lifetime film starring Ricki Lake as a single woman trying to negotiate being a breast cancer survivor and her love life. The story is based on the life of Linda Dackman, the cancer survivor and author of the memoir Up Front who helped pen the script. Many shows featuring cancer patients and survivors feature older, often married characters or teens with the illness. I was drawn to the unique premise of a thirty-something woman facing cancer and a mastectomy and the effect it had on her dating life: her sexuality, her feelings of attractiveness, her fears of being alone.

What lessons did the film teach me about writing romance? Here are three:

Lesson One: Watch How You Punish Your Heroine
The movie opens with Linda (Lake) breaking up with her kind, stable boyfriend because she wants to be “free”–only to soon learn from a doctor that she has breast cancer and needs surgery. Although I’m wary of films that show women making perfectly valid decisions for themselves, then seeming to have something horrible happen to them, Linda later questions what she did, or didn’t, do to deserve the diagnosis. This showed me not only the guilt that can occur as a survivor, but lessened the feeling that Linda was punished for making the reasonable choice to break up with her boyfriend.

Of course, stories wouldn’t be interesting without the main characters being somewhat flawed and encountering difficulty and challenges. I think it’s about timing, and more importantly, what comes before the difficulty. Is it the heroine getting in trouble as a result of character traits, actions, or beliefs that she’s working on–or just something like showing perfectly-reasonable agency?

Lesson Two: If You Want to Be Stylistically Quirky, Do It From the Start
As Linda faces the news, surgery, and recovery, the script interjects interviews with various characters–her friends, boss, even Linda herself. This usually makes for a more interesting movie, but starting nearly seven minutes into the film, it was jolting. Seven minutes may not seem very long, but in our short-attention-span culture, introducing a new style at that point felt strange. I would’ve liked to see the film start with an interview, or at least introduce one only a couple minutes in.

Lesson Three: You’ve Got to Have Friends (That People Like)
Matters of Life and Dating has warmth and humor, much of it due to the supporting characters, particularly Linda’s best friend, Carla (Rachael Harris), and her “cancer friend” Nicole (Holly Robinson Peete). Ricki Lake, in the lead role, felt wooden at first, her witty comebacks not as tight as Harris’s or emotional as Peete’s. Having a great supporting cast made the movie more enjoyable, especially as I adjusted to Lake’s more no-nonsense delivery (which I did come to appreciate).

So does it work? As a romance, Matters mostly delivers. You’ll spot the hero when he appears, maybe because he’s got the looks and the funny lines and they don’t get along at first. They’ll end up together, of course, but it’s almost like an afterthought because the real meat of the story is in Linda’s fumbling love life post-surgery and pre-HEA. She’s nervous to be naked. She jumps into the arms of an ex only to discover he’s disturbed by her surgery. She gets back with the kind boyfriend at the beginning because she’s afraid of being sick and alone. Most of Linda’s processing of her cancer and the changes in her body are seen within her discussions with friends, and maybe because of those actresses’ strengths, those scenes felt more emotional than the final romance.

Be warned that there’s a lot of alcohol in this film. Somebody’s always drinking something from a large, beautiful glass. I suspect the alcohol-to-scene ratio in this movie is something like 1:2. I got buzzed from watching.

So tune it on for the story, stay for the friendship and feels, and try not to get drunk in the process.

Writers Who Read: Laura Madeline

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Laura Madeline Wiseman.mugshot2014

Who are you?
I’m an avid long-distance cyclist and train for big rides like RAGBRAI year round. I tend a vegetable garden in the summer. I have three cats and a dog.

I am also the author of the collaborative book of short stories The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters: Ten Tales with artist Lauren Rinaldi, just released from Les Femmes Folles Books. I teach English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
The Laura Ingalls Wilder series, The Grimm Fairy Tales, and all the Dr. Seuss books. I also especially loved A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I adore books by Ann Patchett. I recently read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, but my favorites are Truth & Beauty and State of Wonder. Since I’m such a glutton for books and because I read so many, I usually go on recommendations cycles.  I recommend one book to everyone for awhile and then move on to the next. It was Quiet by Susan Cain. Then it was State of Wonder. Right now, it’s Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

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 adore strong female characters.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Over the last few years, I’ve developed a deep love of reading while riding trains or while driving. I read Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park first while driving from Kentucky to Nebraska last summer, returning from a reading I gave at Firefly Farms. I also like to read in bed, print or audio books. I read all of The Hunger Games and the Divergent series at night, the stories of Katniss and Tris underscored by the oceanic purr of cars on the road, the wind in the humid night trees, and lowing of owls. I’ve also read my fare share of books at my desk, for teaching prep, research, and for creative inspiration.

TenTales_coverWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
For The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters, I know that Margaret Atwood was a huge influence, because I’ve been reading her fabulous stories for years, but also because I have several of her short story collections like Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories and Dancing Girls.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I write reviews of books that I adore. That gives me the opportunity to really read a few books really well. I read for inspiration. There’s something about reading poetry that jump-starts my creative muse and enables me to begin writing. Even if I lose a few hours in the wondrous world an author has created and never get that feeling and inspiration to write, I always feel it was time well spent. How else would I have ever have read Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Jeannette Walls, Annie Proulx, Octavia Butler, Mary Karr, and Jesmyn Ward? Sometimes, when a book grabs you, you have to let it grab and hold on until the last page.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I haven’t yet read an ebook, but I do like the Poetry app created by The Poetry Foundation. I prefer physical books for research, work, and teaching and audio books for travel and night reading. The first book that got me hooked on audio books was Jim Dale’s performance of all the characters in the Harry Potter series. I’ve also recently fell in love with Scott Westerfeld’s Uglie series, Julianna Baggott’s Pure, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s books like Wintergirls—all read on audio. There’s something deliciously fun about in sinking into the abyss of YA and kid books.

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 have a shelf and a drawer of books to read, usually books I’ve picked up from recent readings and conferences. When I’m doing research, I do assign myself a reading list and work through that list until I’ve come to find out what I hoped to know. For example, when I began creating and sequencing The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters, I reread every short story collection on my shelf in order to gather a sense of how other authors organized their stories, how tightly bound each story was to the one that proceeded it or followed it, and what made for a provocative collection of fiction. Because The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters is also a collaborative book and illustrated by an artist, I also went through my shelves and made a rereading list of all the books that combined art with words, including children’s books like Where the Wild Things Are, The Lorax, and Anne Sexton’s Grimm Fairy Tale retelling Transformation. I always feel like such created lists and goals offer me the opportunity to study what has been done before, to give me the sense of what might yet be possible.

What are you reading now?
Right now, I’m reading Cat Dixon’s Too Heavy to Carry, two books by Kristina Marie Darling, the yet-to-be release sequel to Kathleen Glassburn’s dime novel A New Plateau, and Alyse Knorr’s chapbook Alternatives.

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her books are American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), and Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012). Her dime novel is The Bottle Opener (Red Dashboard, 2014). With artist Sally Deskins, her collaborative book is Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014). Her most recent book is the collaborative collection of short stories The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters: Ten Tales (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2015) with artist Lauren Rinaldi. She holds a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has received an Academy of American Poets Award, a Mari Sandoz/Prairie Schooner Award, and the Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, and Feminist Studies. Currently, she teaches English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Twitter: @DrMadWiseman
Website: http://www.lauramadelinewiseman.com

 

Writers Who Read: Most Romantic Stories

imageLike on the Halloween post on the scariest stories ever written, I asked the authors participating in the Writers Who Read interview series a question: What’s the most romantic story you’ve read? Here are their answers, from Austen to an experimental science fiction story to Gift of the Magi.

Anna Schumacher, author of End Times
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The Gift of the Magi is so romantic it makes me physically ache. It’s a Christmas story, so apologies for the holiday non-synchronicity, but it’s about being in love, and giving gifts, and making a holiday really romantic and special for your partner, so I think it’s still appropriate for Valentine’s Day.

The story is about a young married couple, Jim and Della, who are basically broke. Between them, they have only two prized possessions: Jim’s gold pocket watch, which has been passed down in his family for generations, and Della’s beautiful long hair, which falls almost to her knees. On Christmas eve, with virtually no money to their names, Jim and Della go on separate hunts for the perfect gifts for one another. I’m honestly not going to re-tell the story, since it’s only six short pages and you can read it in a free PDF with a very pretty font right here, but I can pretty much guarantee that those six pages will make you cry. It’s a simple, gorgeous story about the lengths people will go to for love, and it conveys the often-cloying message that no matter how poor you are, you’re rich if you have love in a way that feels fresh, human, and open-hearted (even if you’re reading it for the 50th time, like I just did).

This story makes me want to find my husband, give him a big kiss and hug, and tell him how much I love him. I hope it has the same effect on you and the people you love!

Pamela DiFrancesco, author of The Devils That Have Come to Stay
“Without Colors” by Italo Calvino
The most romantic story I’ve ever read is “Without Colors” in Italo Calvino’s collection of short stories, Cosmicomics. The collection is very literary and experimental sci-fi, and in the particular story I’m referring to, the protagonist meets and falls in love with a girl in a time before the atmosphere has formed on the earth, and everything is shades of grey. They chase each other through this grey landscape, but as the atmosphere forms, she is frightened and hides away in a crevice, leaving him alone in a world that is vastly more beautiful, without her. It’s heartbreaking, and really contrasts the euphoria and colors of infatuation with those in a vibrant world.

 

Laura with Eleanor & Park author Rainbow Rowell at a signing.

Laura with Eleanor & Park author Rainbow Rowell at a signing.

Laura Madeline Wiseman, author of Drink and other poetry collections
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Last summer, I made a cross-country road trip and a few weeks before I left, I got into the virtual queue for several books I hoped would be ready to download from my local library before my departure date. One of the books was Eleanor & Park, a book that later won the Nebraska Book Award for YA fiction. It was sultry. I started my drives before dawn and ended them well after the glooming, making rest stops at interstate rest areas where I sweated with the engine off and the windows down or sweated as the AC blew hot air, unable to cool in park. But in that swelter, I listened to Rowell’s sweet, poignant love story. Eleanor & Park was this island of cool and delight, the thing that kept me on the road, through the lifting landscape of mountains, the flats of prairie, the slick of moisture and fog on black pavement. I adored it so much that I added it to my book order and taught it last fall in my writing class because it was a story of love, a story set in Omaha, just an hour north of where my students went to school and a place from which many of them hailed, but also because it was written in sparse, evocative prose, a narrative that offered a chance to explore issues of gender, race, and class, against a larger story of love.

Tanya Selvaratnam, author of The Big Lie
The Malady of Death by Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras’s The Malady of Death is one of the most anti-romantic, sexually charged stories I’ve ever read. A man offers to pay a woman to stay with him by the sea so he can experience love. Although she is not a prostitute, she accepts. The story is told in a second-person narrative with the man as “you” and the woman as “she,” and by the end the “she” strips the “you” down in more ways than one.

Jenny Vinyl's Austen flask--a boon to any bookshelf.

Jenny Vinyl’s Austen flask–a boon to any bookshelf.

Jenny Vinyl
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The most romantic story I’ve ever read will probably always be Persuasion.  Jane Austen’s tale has no meet-cutes, awful first impressions, or friends slowly discovering they’re made for each other.  Rather, it is the story of what happens long after the lovers have parted.  The romance has been requited and has ended.  Time has passed.  Anne and Captain Wentworth are older, wiser, settled.  Readers won’t mistake the regrets and quiet longings for the feverishness of new love, but the romance is there, deeper, tested, and true.  Anne still loves Wentworth; there is nothing fleeting about her feelings, which have endured even as she’s held little hope.  When they are suddenly and unexpectedly thrown into each other’s company again after eight years, their interactions are as butterfly-making as first loves — more so, because the stakes are higher.  We know that Anne and Wentworth belong together; they only parted because of the good, but misguided, intentions of Anne’s friend.  As a bonus, Wentworth’s letter to Anne is among the most romantic love letters in all literature: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.”  Swoon!

Rebecca Brooks, author of romance Above All
Tana French’s In the Woods
I know, this is a mystery not a romance, and (spoiler) it doesn’t even have a HEA—all of which should make it a terrible choice. But I love how French messes with genre expectations on every page. The developing relationship between Irish detectives Cassie and Rob is so compelling, heartbreaking, and real, it’s impossible not to be swept away by the intensity of their friendship-turned-more. I don’t think I’ve ever rooted so hard for a couple to get together, or been so pissed off when one of them inevitably screws it up. I was seriously invested in this relationship from beginning to end.

100 Years of SolitudeMaureen O’Leary, author of How to Be Manly
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I was seventeen in my first year of college, arrived at the jungle of UC Santa Cruz via the concrete and green lawns of suburban mid-eighties Northern California. My love education to that point had been informed by John Hughes movies with their one-liners and worship of pink satin, school dances soundtracked by Huey Lewis and the News, and adult warnings to “not get the engine started in the first place.”  In the dorms, people poked at one another in rooms that smelled like dirty socks, using one another politely and bloodlessly, as you would ask someone for a tissue or a piece of gum. In this sterile moment, a professor assigned us to read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I read the whole thing in two days, and in one of the final scenes came to this: “It was a fierce fight, a battle to the death, but it seemed to be without violence because it consisted of distorted attacks and ghostly evasions, slow, cautious, solemn, so that during it all there was time for the petunias to bloom and for Gaston to forget about his aviator’s dream in the next room, as if they were two enemy lovers seeking reconciliation at the bottom of an aquarium.”

This was when I learned that nothing less would be possible.

Amanda Gale, author of the Meredith series 
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
My answer would have to be A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton is so in love with Lucie Manette that he makes the greatest sacrifice of all for her by taking her husband’s place at the guillotine. By doing so without her knowledge, he ensures that she will not bear the burden of making that choice and also that he will not live to receive any recognition or thanks. Most important, though, is the fact that this sacrifice makes him feel that his life was meaningful. He’s spent a lifetime feeling lost and broken; with this act of love, he is redeemed, and he goes to his death confident with the knowledge that he has made Lucie (his “light”) happy.

Amy reading Persuasion.

Amy reading Persuasion.

Amy Kathleen Ryan, author of the Sky Chasers trilogy
Persuasion by Jane Austen
I was in my almost mid-thirties, and I hadn’t met my husband yet. I’d more or less resolved that I was going to have to be happy without romantic love, and without a family of my own. I had just sold my first novel, and was working on the next, so I was able to imagine a pretty cool future for myself as a single woman, working as a writer, and dedicating myself to my career. But if I’m honest, I was still pretty bummed out about being alone. Then I discovered Persuasion, by Jane Austen, about a single woman who is getting a bit long in the tooth. (Twenty-eight and unmarried! Perish the thought!) The heroine, Anne, is a quiet sort of person, and though her family is populated by silly people, she has a good head on her shoulders. Her long lost love, a man she’d refused to marry back when she thought she’d get a lot of offers, comes back into the neighborhood, and his presence is by turns agonizing for her and titillating. She is forced daily to confront her profound regret at being persuaded not to marry him because of his poor station in life. The quiet way their love rekindles is one of the most moving depictions I’ve ever read of romantic love, and it made me feel hopeful about second chances. Not long after I read that book, I met the love of my life and married him, and now I’ve got three beautiful daughters. Just like Anne, I got another chance when it seemed too late.

Writers Who Read: Michalle Gould

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with author Michalle Gould.authorphoto

Who are you?
I have been writing and publishing poetry for a long time and received my MFA in 2001 but am just now publishing my first book of poetry.  The oldest poems in the book date all the way back to 1999!  Many of the poems relate – although in a way that tries to deal with the broader issues relating to religion generally – to my exploration of Orthodox Judaism back in my early to mid twenties, which motivated a move to Manhattan in the summer of 2001 after receiving my MFA.  However, that lifestyle was ultimately unsustainable for me, so many of the other poems relate to my experiences trying to figure out what to do afterward, how to retreat gracefully from a world I still cared about and how to find other sources of meaning for myself personally and in my work.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Madeleine L’Engle), and either Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls) or Jacob Have I Loved (Katherine Paterson).  The last two I love for  such different reasons that I can’t choose between them!  In general, probably like many writers and passionate readers, I was drawn to stories about outsiders.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Immortality, by Milan Kundera, and correspondingly his book of essays on writing “Testaments Betrayed.”  I love his focus on issues of privacy and threats to privacy, which have only grown more and more relevant in our own social media obsessed society.

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 love twins, poetic/lyrical language, and a good (rather than contrived) surprise/twist.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Late afternoon, on my couch, used to be my favorite when I had a more flexible schedule but now that I work 9-5 again it’s in bed before going to sleep.

resurrection_cover43014Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
For poetry, I am more drawn to specific poems/poets than individual books.  I would say Eliot, Lucille Clifton, D.H. Lawrence, Zbigniew Herbert. For fiction: Anything by Kundera, Woolf, or generally the British modernist writers between 1900-1950.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Not well enough!  When I was younger it didn’t really matter but I’ve slowly become a person who finds it hard to read fiction while I am writing it.  I also find it harder to write poetry and fiction at the same time, which never used to trouble me (not literally the same time, but within the same temporal space).

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book by far.  I don’t mind ebooks but I still like the tangible feeling of turning the pages and also being able to take notes by hand when I am researching a piece.

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 because then it feels like an obligation rather than something I do out of an authentic desire to experience the material.  I do record books after I read them though just to have a reference of what I’ve read that year.

You can find out more about Michalle at her website or Twitter. You can also check out Resurrection Party: Poems at Silver Birch Press or Amazon.

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