Writers Who Read: Heidi Hutner

Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with writer Heidi Hutner. 

Who are you?
I am Heidi Hutner, a professor of literature and sustainability, a director of the sustainability studies program at Stony Brook University. I am a single mom, a writer, and an environmentalist. I’m working on two big writing projects: a book about environmental education, and a memoir about my relationship with my mother, who was an anti-nuclear activist in the 1950s and early 60s. In a previous incarnation, I was a scholar of the 18th century and I wrote literary criticism about writing in that time period. My focus was on women writers and race.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
The Narnia books. They are the reason I became a reader. The other reason I became a reader (I discovered the Narnia books during this time), was that we left the U.S. to live in France for two years (and then Israel for a year) when I was ten. There was no TV (or very, very little), and so I turned to reading. When we lived in the U.S., I barely read at all. I fell in love with literature when we moved to France and never turned back.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I have a very strong interest in environmental issues, and I care deeply about pollution and connections to cancer and other disease, so I always recommend Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber. Sandra is a friend and an ally in the environmental movement. Her writing is really beautiful, she’s a biologist, and an activist–she combines personal writing with great research. I love all of her work. She also contributes to Orion magazine regular and she’s an amazing speaker. I love the way she combines gorgeous language with science and environmental advocacy.

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? 
What is your ideal time and place to read? I don’t have an ideal time and place; rather, I would say that an ideal life leaves much time for reading.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Sigh. I have been very influenced by modernist writers like Joyce and Woolf, I love 19th century British novels (I’ve read most of them), and I’m a scholar of 18th Century British Literature (that’s what I wrote about and taught at the university level for twenty years; however, I feel most at home in the land of contemporary women writers, such as Sandra Steingraber, Susanne Antonetta and Terry Tempest Williams, Rebecca Solnit, and Susan Griffin.  Women who tackle complex issues, who write beautifully and in complicated ways about the body, about disease, about the earth.  I feel very connected to Alice Walker’s and Edwidge Danticat’s work as well.  Racial issues have always been very important to me.  I see many significant connections between feminism, racism, and the environment. This three points are crucial to my own current writing, research and teaching.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
As a literature professor and professional writer, reading and writing are a central part of my work life, but increasingly I find myself distracted by social media and environmental activism and advocacy, so it’s challenging sometimes to find the quiet space I need to read and write as much as I’d like. I know that when I do find this space, I feel most happy and at peace with myself. It’s a balancing act.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical 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?
No… I tend to focus on things I need to read for my classes, or if I have a writing project that needs research (often the case) that’s what I read. I find it harder and harder to fall in love with a book, though, and that’s disturbing. I have decided to go back and read a bunch of American literature that I never got to as I spent most of my life reading and studying British literature.

What are you reading now?
I just finished Diary of a Hedgehog. I really loved that. I am teaching and reading a book called Plutopia. It’s really interesting, but I like it for the information rather than for the writing. The topic is key as we’re studying the history of nuclear weapons and power. This book is about Russia and the U.S. during the cold war and it looks at two similar towns in each country. It’s nonfiction. I plan to read Moby Dick next.

You can find out more about Heidi on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Writers Who Read: Tellulah Darling

Our Writers Who Read series continues this week with young adult romantic comedy author Tellulah Darling. I highly recommend her book Sam Cruz’s Infallible Guide to Getting Girls. It’s hilarious and fun, and I love the voice of the male character.TD author photo

Who are you?
Tellulah Darling
noun

1. YA romantic comedy author because her first kiss sucked and she’s compensating.
2. Alter ego of former screenwriter.
3. Sassy minx.

Writes about: where love meets comedy. Awkwardness ensues.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
A LIttle Princess, Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
There are so many! Lately though, I am constantly pimping out Melina Marchetta’s phenomenal Lumatere Chronicles: Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn.

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 witty steamy romance. Full stop.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Not sure I understand the question. Is there ever a time and a place NOT to read?

600px_wide_nos_rgbMLFHWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I don’t know if I could list off specifics. I think every book I’ve read – whether I liked it or not – influenced me. Either because I was so blown away by a playfulness with language or incredible wit or heartwrenching drama or a fantastic vividness of worldbuilding, or because any of those elements among others were so awful in what I read I knew that I didn’t want to do that.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I’m always reading. But what I do find interesting is that if I’m really stuck on a story problem, I don’t want to read heavy literary fiction or a genre book that is going to require a lot of heavy lifting mentally or emotionally. I want something that is pure escapist pleasure so my brain can work in the background on whatever I need to address.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I can’t believe I’m saying this because I was such a print book snob but ebook. I love my kindle. Love how light it is. Love I can read all my wonderful genre books without the annoying judgy looks I get in public from both strangers and co-workers. That said, the Amazon one-click button is really dangerous because my mind treats it like a library check out which at the end of the month, when I get my credit card bill, I remember it is not. :)

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 have a TBR list but I don’t read those books in any kind of order. It’s more a reminder for myself that I wanted to check out a certain title at some point. This is the first year I’ve participated in a book challenge. My friends at Fiction Fare are running a real book challenge to see how many print books we still read. I was curious about that, given how much I read digitally so I’m doing that this year.

What are you reading now?
Good question! I read a ton of fabulous books in May and more recently a ton of meh ones. So I’m actually stumped for my next read. Anyone got any good suggestions?

You can find out more about Tellulah at her website, Facebook page, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Daniel Hales: Top Ten Prose Poetry Books

photo (15)This week I’m welcoming a guest post by Daniel Hales, whose new book of poetry, Tempo Maps (ixnay press, Philadelphia), will be released this Saturday when he reads at the Philly Art Alliance as part of the Philalalia Small Press Festival. Here Daniel shares his ten favorite books of prose poetry from roughly the last fifty years, in chronological order.

1. Selected Poems (1935 – 1974 / 1998, Faber and Faber) Francis Ponge
As the title of his first book announced (Le Parti des choses, translated as either Siding With Things or The Voice of Things), Ponge sides with/gives voice to some of the most mundane, homely things there are: crates, suitcases, stoves, even a pile of dung (“One has come to consider you as something precious”). A pebble is a “stone at the exact age when personality, individuality, in other words, language, emerges.” He also offers fascinating insights on a wide range of living things, including mollusks, snails, lizards, frogs, seashores, moss (“the advance guard of vegetation”). And in case you didn’t already know, a swallow is a “steel pen, dipped in blue-black ink” that writes itself so fast it “leave(s) no mark… “

2. The Tunnel: Selected Poems (1961 – 1985 / 1994, Field) Russell Edson
Russell Edson was the most influential American prose poet of the second half of the twentieth century (he certainly was for me), and yet news of his passing on April 29th of this year did not show up in the “Currently Trending” bar in your Facebook feed. For lovers of the prose poem, though, it felt like the end of an era. The Tunnel contains Edson’s own favorites from his first seven books (which are his best): bizarro fables that tell hilarious and often hideous truths about how human beings (and other primates), especially husbands and wives, parents and children, treat each other. I dare you to read “Ape and Coffee” or “The Neighborhood Dog” out loud and not laugh. I double dare you. If you’re reading this list and happen to be new to prose poetry, I don’t think there’s a better route into it than The Tunnel.

3. Cronopios and Famas (1962 / 1969, Pantheon) Julio Cortazar
“THIS BOOK CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ASSORTMENT: The Instruction Manual; Unusual Occupations; Unstable Stuff; Cronopios and Famas.” In other words, I was already completely intrigued by the time I reached the table of contents. The Instruction Manual will finally teach you the correct way to sing, cry, be afraid, understand famous paintings, comb the hair, climb a staircase, wind a watch, kill ants in Rome, and dissect a ground owl. Read Unusual Occupations and you’ll never have another dull moment for the rest of your life. In the first poem, a family builds a gallows in the front yard and becomes the envy of the whole neighborhood. In Unstable Stuff, the poem “Headlessness” begins thus: “They cut off this gentleman’s head, but as a strike broke out among the gravediggers and they couldn’t bury him, the gentleman had to go on living headless and manage as well as he could.” And what exactly are Cronopios and Famas? I’m sorry, but I feel like I’ve already given too many spoilers. You’ll have to get the book if you want to find that out.

4. Invisible Cities (1972, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) Italo Calvino
Invisible Cities is one of the books on this list that most bends the form (are they prose poems, mini fictions, excerpts from a journal-travelogue-novel?). But why write prose poems in the first place if you don’t take pleasure in bending forms? A series of reports from Marco Polo to Kublai Khan about the fantastic cities he’s visited in his travels around the Khan’s expanding empire, this is one of my favorite books of all time. In one afternoon of reading you can visit many of the most evocative places in the empire of the imagination. Stop by Isidora, a city of “spiral staircases encrusted with spiral seashells, where perfect telescopes and violins are made, where a foreigner hesitating between two women always encounters a third.” In Zirma you are guaranteed to see “a lunatic teetering on a skyscraper’s cornice, a girl walking a puma on a leash.” Then there are cities like Fedora where you can admire a succession of crystal globes; in each you see the model of a different Fedora… the forms the city could have taken if, for some reason or another, it had not become what we see today.” Here we catch a glimpse of the true magnificence of Calvino’s project: each city in this book (and in our world) is an infinity of possible cities. Each place is its past, present, future, multiplied by the subjective perceptions of each resident, each traveler, from moment to moment.

5. An Almost Human Gesture (1987, Eighties Press) Louis Jenkins
For over thirty years Louis Jenkins has been crafting fine prose poems, but this, his first full-length book, remains my favorite. It’s a mix of short observations, character sketches, and what, at first glance, appear to be small every-day occurrences, which Jenkins exposes for the mysteries they are. His writing is refreshingly conversational, direct and un-fussy. Jenkins’ poems also have a strong sense of place, which is somewhat unique. Modern/Postmodern prose poems can tend to gravitate toward the abstract, the universal. Jenkins’ small poems stand on their own, but they also seem to build on each other to lend this slim book more cumulative heft. When his poems motion with an “almost human gesture” for you get out of your car and follow them off into the woods of northern Minnesota, you will regret it if you don’t.

6. The World Doesn’t End (1989, Harvest) Charles Simic
Charles Simic’s prose poems read a bit like comic book updates of the 19th/early 20th century French prose poets (The beloved Clown-Saint of the prose poem, Max Jacob, especially comes to mind). If you think that statement is a dis, you don’t like comic books as much as I do. Simic touches on many of the themes and tropes his French heroes did, but with more spare, austere language. Simic’s poems are also more playful and accessible–but that doesn’t mean he won’t occasionally lure you down a blind alley that turns out to be the entrance to a labyrinth. Also highly recommended: Simic’s Dime Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell. Cornell’s magical collage boxes seem like a perfect visual analogy for the prose poem. Simic pays homage to Cornell with a miscellany comprised of prose poems, reflections, diary entries, notes, and micro-essays on/about/around Cornell and his art.

7. Centuries (2003, Four Way) Joel Brouwer
As far as I know, Joel Brouwer invented the “century:” a prose poem consisting of exactly 100 words (don’t you wish you’d thought of that?). I often see those blurbs on books along the lines of “the poet surprises us at every turn” (and usually want to roll my eyes), but Brouwer really does succeed in surprising–at times even startling–me from line to line, twist to twist, century to century. A casual reader might decide Brouwer’s absurdist scenarios were written simply to make us laugh, but as fun and funny as these poems are, there’s real darkness, despair, and danger in them. All the paintings in the museum turn into mirrors. The master sends his best pupils to the cellar to live on crickets. In “Clearing” you’re relieved to arrive at a beautiful clearing in the woods—where you will be an accomplice in a murder. In “Diagnosis” the doctor tells you “your insides are like a jungle at night” where two endangered animals are fighting to the death, and it’s still too early to tell which one will win.

8. The Memory Palace Burned (2004, Turtle Point Press) Damon Krukowski
If you can write prose poems this good, and you were/are also a member of the bands Galaxy 500 and Damon & Naomi, it’s possible you’re one of the coolest people alive. If you don’t believe me, just read “Ghosts,” in which a six ghosts smoke cigarettes, tell jokes, show off their tattoos, and then play the loudest music you ever heard (except for that one ghost playing the silent tambourine). Krukowski’s prose poems are fractured fables, parables, fragments of grand narratives rescued from the embers and ashes of the Memory Palace.

9. Fjords, Vol. 1 (2012, Black Ocean) Zachary Schomburg
Many of the poems in Fjords could qualify as half-centuries (see #7). They go to the kind of dark, scary, hilarious places that Brouwer’s poems frequent, but they often get there a lot faster (even, somehow, when they’re actually longer than a “century”). In fact most Fjords begin in-media-res: you’re already at the scariest part of the nightmare, and then, through a series of lightning-fast associative leaps, it gets even scarier. Or funnier. Or sadder. Or more beautiful. Or more often than not: all of the above. And if you’re also a huge fan of music based on strange little books of poems, make sure you track down the companion cd by Kyle Vegter and the Chicago Q Ensemble: music for luxury liners to play as they prepare to crash into fjords while a family of swans looks on impassively.

10. Models of the Universe: An Anthology of the Prose Poem (1842 – 1995 / 1995, Field) edited by Stuart Friebert
An indispensable catch-all for the vast array of great writers I missed, especially the French giants that first championed the form during the first 100 years or so of the prose poem’s life (Baudelaire, Mallarme, Rimbaud, Fargue, Jacob–and later–Reverdy, Michaux, Follain, Char). Here we see how deeply rooted the prose poem is in surrealism, cubism, and various other realms of weirdness that lie beyond –isms. This anthology also cherry picks excellent prose poems from scores of 20th century writers from around the world that I didn’t include here either because they didn’t publish any volumes of just prose poems, or simply because it’s impossible to cover everything you should with these blasted top ten lists. Considering this anthology is 20 years old (3 books on my list were published since it came out), I’d say it’s high time for a new, expanded edition…

Tempo Maps picDaniel Hales is the author of Tempo Maps. Tempo Maps, comprised mostly of prose poems, is a tough book to pin down, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun trying. Longer than a chapbook, but not quite long enough to be a full-length volume, attempts to map its tempos are further complicated by its 2 covers, 2 possible points of entry, 2 alternate beginnings and ends, 2 equally correct orientations. Tempo Maps also comes with a companion CD comprised of 46 tracks: Hales reading the poems, instrumental interludes, and a long piece called the Miner Street Symphony. You can order it by emailing Daniel at: selahsongs@hotmail.com.

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.

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