SOMEWHERE WARM Available for Preorder!

I’m excited to announce that my story SOMEWHERE WARM is now available for preorder at all major booksellers.Somewhere Warm FINAL JPG

SOMEWHERE WARM is the first in my STUCK WITH YOU series, a group of standalone novellas where two people come face-to-face with extreme weather that forces them together…and creates just the right atmosphere to fall in love.

The story will release August 1st, to be followed by the next in the series this fall.

What’s it about? Read on, or click here to read an exclusive excerpt.

~ ~ ~

What if you fell for your best friend’s ex—the one that had made her life a living hell?

All Zoe had to do was pick up a box of her best friend Haley’s things from her awful ex-husband, Evan.

She didn’t expect her car to get hit by a snowplow. She didn’t expect for the Maine snowstorm to start early. She didn’t expect to be stuck inside Evan’s cabin—alone with him—on New Year’s Eve.

And, most of all, she didn’t expect to come undone by the heat in Evan’s eyes.

Out August 1st! Preorder now for $0.99:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Kobo

 

Writers Who Read Anniversary!

Reading Writing BackdropNext week marks the one-year anniversary of the Writers Who Read interview series!

Since I’m taking a break from the series for July, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all the writers who’ve participated in the series thus far, as well as others who’ve read and supported it. The series has been very rewarding for me. I’ve had the chance to connect with other authors, support them, and peek in their bookshelves–even though I’m now in serious danger of being crushed by my ever-larger To Be Read pile.

I’ve had 43 writers complete the interview: a dozen, if not more, nonfiction writers, literary fiction authors, and poets, and a handful of YA, mystery and suspense, and science fiction and fantasy authors. Plus many, many writers wearing multiple hats. There were only a few screenwriters and comedians, and despite my being a romance writer, very few fellow romance authors! However, the lineup in the fall and winter leans more heavily toward genre fiction, particularly romance and fantasy, so these numbers will likely even out, which warms my genre-loving heart.

The writers who’ve interviewed have listed a plethora of authors as favorites or influential, but a handful have shown up multiple times: Agatha Christie, Barbara Kingsolver, C.S. Lewis, Hilary Mantel, Jane Austen, Rainbow Rowell, Stephen King, and Toni Morrison. A Wrinkle in Time and Charlotte’s Web were two books that have been listed as beloved multiple times.

Watch this space once August rolls around, because I’ve got writers lined up until early 2016, a slightly-tweaked new interview, and fun ways to share the series. In the meantime, happy reading!

Writers Who Read: Anna Schumacher

This will be the last Writers Who Read interview until August! Here to send us off into the temporary sunset is YA author Anna Schumacher.author_photo

Who are you?
Hi! I’m Anna Schumacher. I write a YA series called END TIMES: it’s a doomsday thriller set in an oil boomtown in Wyoming. The first book came out last year and its sequel, CHILDREN OF THE EARTH, is out in June.

When I’m not writing YA I make a living as an advertising copywriter, throw a dance party called Vitamin B, play with fire and hula hoops, poke around Brooklyn with my husband and our motley group of friends – and, of course, read!

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
The first chapter book I ever read was called Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfield. It’s about three orphans in the UK who become ballet dancers. I was deep into ballet at the time and looooved this book. The author wrote a whole series of books with the word “shoes” in the title – Circus Shoes, Theater Shoes, etc. – but Ballet Shoes was by far my favorite.

I also very much loved a middle-grade novel called The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson, about a snarky, fiery foster child, and both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Writing it out now, I’m realizing that all of these books are about orphans or foster children (sorry Mom!), although I was very fortunate in that I had two parents who loved me very much and raised me without television, so I always had a book in my hand.

What is one book you are always recommending?
As a first-time author, I tend to recommend my own book frequently and loudly. But aside from that, I like to tailor book recommendations based on what people are looking for, kind of like a literary sommelier.

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?
Three elements that always grab me:

Cults
Counter-cultures
End-of-the-world scenarios

I also can’t resist flowery, descriptive writing. Bring on the metaphors!

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Ideal? Late afternoon on a sunny day, in a hammock, after going for a swim. In reality, I do most of my reading on an iPhone, pressed between strangers’ sweaty armpits on the F train.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Anything by Stephen King, particularly The Stand  – I love the way he writes in multiple points of view and each voice is so unique. I tried to emulate this in End Times and its sequel, Children of the Earth, but he’s really the master.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Easy: I never have enough time for either!

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I love my e-reader. Being able to bring my entire library with me everywhere I go is the best thing that ever happened to me – and not having to worry about where in my NYC-sized apartment all my new books will go frees me up to buy as many as I want. I’ll go on e-book-shopping binges and pick up 6 or 7 at a time…something I absolutely couldn’t do when I was confined to physical objects.

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?
Absolutely not. I like complete freedom when it comes to what I read: to be able to read multiple books at once, to put down one book and pick up another, to not read for a week, to do nothing BUT read for a week. I plan most aspects of my life pretty meticulously, but reading definitely isn’t one of them!

What are you reading now?
I’m in the middle of The Diviners, by Libba Bray. It’s incredibly good!

COVERS

Anna Schumacher received an MFA in fiction writing from the New School. Born and raised in the tiny town of Guilford, VT (no traffic lights, no post office, one store), she now lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and two cats. She is also the author of END TIMES. Follow her on Twitter @SchumacherYA or at http://schumacherya.tumblr.com/.

Writers Who Read: Adrienne Celt

a celt small headshotThe Writers Who Read series continues this week with Adrienne Celt.

Who are you?
Adrienne Celt, author of the novel The Daughters, which will be published by W.W. Norton/Liveright on August 3rd. (Elevator pitch: An opera singer, a family curse, motherhood & daughterhood, a deal with the devil, Polish misandrist fairytales.) I also draw a webcomic called Love Among the Lampreys.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Half Magic, by Edward Eager
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Submergence by J.M. Ledgard

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?
Oh, this is a great and tricky question. (Tricky, because I think these elements change for me sometimes.) I’m going to say clever wordplay, a character I can empathize with (of course, but it’s important), something on the border of reality and magic (this can tip over into actual magic, but it doesn’t have to), scientific guiding metaphors, ghosts, and a character who I start off despising and come to see as highly moral and loving under a gruff exterior. (A recent example of this: Mireille’s mother-in-law Lorraine in Roxane Gay’s novel An Untamed State.) I also like anything that’s just plain scary – but it has to be a bit “uncanny scary,” not just “despicable humanity” scary.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
On the couch with a window open, late morning/early afternoon in spring, a little physically tired from some previous exertion, cup of tea.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
This is really hard for me to say, because I don’t read any one book or type of book and try to imitate it – in fact, I try to do the opposite. But I think work that I really love influences me through inspiration, as does any work I have given a lot of thought to. So here’s a completely non-comprehensive list of stuff that comes to mind as nebulously “influential”: Pale Fire and Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov, Bough Down by Karen Green, Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson, everything Marilynne Robinson has ever written, Haruki Murakami’s collection of short stories The Elephant Vanishes, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, Wild Dogs by Helen Humphreys, The Seas by Samantha Hunt, Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender, just about anything by Andrea Barrett or Peter Carey.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
This feels like it happens pretty naturally to me. I read hungrily, all the time; I write, hungrily, whenever I can. Sometimes I guess I get some creeping guilt that I should be writing when I’m reading instead, but rarely – and that’s more an issue of having a day job than anything. I want to spend the time I have on “real work,” but of course reading is as essential to a writer as writing is, so I try not to beat myself up about that.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book, for sure. eBooks have their place in my life though (especially on short trips, with limited bag space), and audiobooks are essential for long road trips, or walking the dog (though I also listen to a lot of podcasts).

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 usually, because now that I’m done with my MFA program I try to read whatever I feel like – I think my intuition is generally a good guide for what I need. When I was younger, my mom would get me these huge stacks of books from the library and I’d inhale them, and that’s still my basic strategy: get a big stack of books, start at the top, move to the bottom. That said, now that I occasionally review books and want to keep informed about what’s coming out (and what my friends are writing), I do sometimes plan a bit more (like, ok I know I need to read X Book soon & that’s similar to Y Book I already read, so I’ll read Z book in between them as a palate cleanser). Also, I am a bit of a slave to my library books. Gotta get through those before they’re due!

What are you reading now?
I am in the middle of Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, and (despite loving it) am cheating on it with Kathryn Davis’s The Thin Place (partially because the Atkinson is often very brutal in its wartime scenes; partially because the Davis is a library book. And also very good!).

You can find out more about Adrienne on her website or Twitter.

Reading as Medicine

I’ve always enjoyed reading, but lately I’ve realized how crucial it is to my physical health.

A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with severe hyperthyroidism due to Graves’ disease, which was good only in that it explained a list of odd symptoms I’d tallied for months: unexplained weight loss, tremors in my hands, a fast heart rate, and occasional insomnia.

Along with the diagnosis came new medications, those to get my heart rate down and others to stop the raging party my thyroid has been holding for the past few months. I take them twice a day, and they’re starting to make me feel better. The mornings, however, are when I still feel the worst. Waking up, I often feel shaky, my heart pounding a little too hard, often the wisps of a nightmare still clinging to my mind.

It’s times like these that books are my other medicine. I’ll eat some food so I can take my drugs, and then I’ll curl up in bed and read while the medication takes effect. There’s nothing like reading to calm my mind, to allow me to relax while focusing on something other than the hammerings of my heart or the worries of the day. Meditation has never done it for me. Sometimes even sleep doesn’t get me there.

Books are now part of my treatment plan. And maybe I’m not alone. I read this recent article in The New Yorker about bibliotherapy, specifically about two women who prescribe particular books to help people cope with grief, breakups–even the overwhelm from having too many books to read. (Sound familiar?) With my recent nervousness about my health, I did my own bibliotherapy by snatching up a lovely used copy of Charlotte’s Web, seeking its themes of mortality and acceptance to help me process my own emotions.

Have any of you readers out there had experience using reading as therapy?

 

Writers Who Read: Karen Skolfield

The Writers Who Read seriesSkolfield_048_lo-res continues this week with poet Karen Skolfield.

Who are you?
I’m Karen Skolfield, poet. My book Frost in the Low Areas won the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry.

I’m also Karen Skolfield, mom, wife, teacher, veteran, hockey coach. Of those, it’s the “mom” label that’s been most surprising. I thought parenting was something you did, not something you enjoyed, so how nice to be a parent and find myself enjoying it. Even the parts that are less enjoyable (stomach bugs, child antsyness at poetry award ceremonies) often make funny stories later. Like my son stage-whispering “Blah blah blah” while I was being introduced for the New England Public Radio award… wait… that’s actually not funny for me yet. Give me a year.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web immediately come to mind, but I could easily list others. At that age I read constantly. I think I could never again be the reader I was then – delighted by so much, often surprised, bereft at the ends of some books. I was in love with words and stories in a very raw way.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Oh, this changes month to month. Recently I’ve been head-over-heels for Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers (nonfiction), Jericho Brown’s The New Testament (poetry), Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (poetry), NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (post-apocalyptic fiction). Did you say one book? I can really get on a roll with book recommendations. I’m certainly not the pre-teen reader anymore in sheer volume, but if I love a book, I’m still swept away by it, still in mourning when it’s over. And then I want others to mourn with me.

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, in poetry, writers who are willing to give themselves, to not be coy with me. Sometimes this means it’s very autobiographical; sometimes the poets are willing to be honest about feelings or vulnerabilities or reactions. I have been gut-thumped, heart-bruised by so many incredible poems. I think that without these poems, my heart would have slowed to almost undetectable levels many years ago.

In prose, I read widely, from sci-fi to nonfiction to historically set novels to books my mother-in-law saves for me to books that win Pulitzers to books from the dump. My town has a reading shed at the dump and people drop off their books – don’t knock it. My town’s dump is awesome. I have a particular weakness for books from the dump. I’m not often into bestsellers, and I am discouraged on every level when the “must-read” author lists of The New York Times and NPR are blindingly white. As readers, as makers of these lists, who are we if we can’t diversify our reading? I don’t want to read only books by people who occupy the very tiny niche I live in. Books by people who are not my exact demographic continue to make me a better person, a more compassionate and thoughtful person; they challenge me in great ways. Also, they’re really excellent books! I’m happy that Book Riot proposed another summer reading list, with books by Xiao Bai, Anna Freeman, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, and more. So that’s my book kryptonite: diversity.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I will admit that I sometimes feel guilty reading. A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of the day, I sat down to read a little bit, China Miéville’s Embassytown. And I was like, my god, I should be writing, not reading, especially not reading prose, especially especially not science fiction.

I do read every night, after the kids are in bed, for at least a half hour. I’m not sure if that’s an ideal time, but what, in life, gets to be ideal?

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?Frost in the Low Areas 9-5
This is going to sound flippant, but I honestly don’t know, especially if we’re including prose here. I think it’s hard for writers to see their influences – it’s like asking how I’m like my parents. I can parrot some answers others have said to me (I know I have my mom’s eyes, I owe a debt to poetic parents such as James Tate and Elizabeth Bishop, I drive by Emily Dickinson’s house every day so I’ve probably soaked up some ED vibes), but beyond that it’s me guessing. So here I am guessing:

I cannot think of authors such as Chinua Achebe, Isabel Allende, J.M. Coatzee, Cornelius Eady, Terrance Hayes, Bob Hicok, Jane Hirschfield, Yusef Komunyakaa, Li-Young Lee, Philip Levine, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carson McCullers, Pablo Neruda, Flannery O’Connor, Sharon Olds, Lucia Perillo, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, or George Saunders without getting very, very weak in the knees (and I realize this list is ridiculously incomplete and leaves out so much of the great writing happening now). And that’s not even delving very far into what was considered the canon when I was in school. Because Walt Whitman still deserves giant praise, and where would I be without James Baldwin and William Faulkner and Li Po and Langston Hughes, and of course I have a crush on Gertrude Stein – doesn’t everyone? And oh god SYLVIA PLATH. I have to go read some Anne Sexton now.

And I will never forget reading Brigit Pegeen Kelley’s poem “Song” for the first time and bursting into tears. It’s still hard for me to think of it without getting teary.

This may also be a good time to mention some writers with first books that have really caught my attention in the past few years and have me very excited for the future of poetry: Franny Choi’s Floating, Brilliant, Gone; Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec; Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam; T.J. Jarrett’s Ain’t No Grave; Patricia Lockwood’s Balloon Pop Outlaw Black; Jamaal May’s Hum; Matt Rasmussen’s Black Aperture; and so many more. But that’s a decent start.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Balance? I’m pretty sure I don’t. Or maybe this is how it works for everyone: I will always read way more than I write, ten times more. I read good poetry and think, oh yeah, and I’m sometimes inspired to create. I read good prose and I’m just grateful. I love how, when I write, I sometimes find a similar state of joy and gratitude – but more often it’s hard work and very often far more frustrating.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Confession: I have never, not once, listened to an audio book or read an ebook. I like that others do it. I applaud getting more books into more hands (or ears). Sometimes I talk about getting an e-reader, or picking up an audio book from the library for a long drive, and it never seems to happen.

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?
Eh. I tried Goodreads – it’s such a cool idea, and I didn’t keep up with it.

I tried a book club once. The readers very earnestly discussed and lauded The Red Tent, which I hated with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns. That was my last book club. But I will say, I like the idea of book clubs very much. I think I’d like one that only did poetry. Unfortunately, I’d probably have to start a club like that, and my volunteer time is pretty tapped out between coaching hockey, visits to local elementary schools to teach poetry, and my work as an editor with the most fabulous Sundress Press.

I have 429 TBR lists floating around my house and/or on my computer. Good luck with that. Sometimes I remember to specifically request a book from my library, and I do buy serious book tonnage every year. I wonder how many books I’ve bought this year – have I hit 100? I bet I’m in that range. Book & writing festivals are a particular downfall.

I sponsor a book swap every year – it’s a book swap & Super Bowl party combination. Everyone exchanges books, we eat a lot of food, we laugh and talk, and in the background on TV, we occasionally glimpse men sustaining repeated low-impact head injuries which will likely adversely affect their lives at some point. Hey, when put that way, don’t you think the NFL should do something about that?

What are you reading now?
In fiction, I just finished Andy Weir’s The Martian – fantastic! In poetry, I’m very happily reading Michael Bazzett’s You Must Remember This, Yona Harvey’s Hemming the Water, and David Roderick’s The Americans. Next-up poetry books include Doug Anderson’s Horse Medicine, Saeed Jones’s Prelude to a Bruise, and January Gill O’Neill’s Misery Islands, among many others. My next book of prose, once I work my way through Book Riot’s summer reading list – well, I need to make another trash run Saturday. Let’s see what the book shed at the dump has to offer.

Karen Skolfield’s book Frost in the Low Areas won the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry and the First Book Award from Zone 3 Press. She has received fellowships and awards in 2014/2015 from the Poetry Society of America, New England Public Radio, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Ucross Foundation, Split This Rock, Hedgebrook, Vermont Studio Center, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. New poems appear in Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, Pleiades, and others; she teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts. You can find out more about her on her website.

My Wild Wish List

I want things I can probably never have. I’m not talking about having more money or halting the aging process. I’m talking about strange and delightful things that aren’t exactly realistic or even possible, but I’d love to see happen anyway. Like:

1. A greater social acceptance of cosplay so I could dress up as a character, say, every Wednesday, because that’s just what everybody does.

2. No scenes with crying children in Tv or film. Or maybe crying children, period.

3. More episodes of the short-lived but wonderful GARFUNKEL & OATES.

4. More drive-thru windows. Like for everything. But especially: tea, chocolate, produce, compliments.

5. A SEX IN THE CITY-type show set entirely in the underworld.

6. British synth pop playing wherever I go. Except when Joan Jett is playing. Or show tunes. (This pretty much covers my emotional range.)

7. Evil characters on screen who are only as evil as Dr. Doofenshmirtz on PHINEAS & FERB (which is to say, not really evil and mostly cute).

8. A collection of tea flavors as unusual and wide-ranging as Bertie Bott’s Jelly Beans.

9. Bea Arthur returning to life, maybe as a sarcastic, sharp-witted zombie.

10. The temperature to only range from 50-75 degrees, with an occasional rainstorm that never floods my basement and always makes a rainbow.

What’s on your wish list?

Writers Who Read: Shelley Ettinger

Author photo for AmazonThe Writers Who Read series continues this week with writer and activist Shelley Ettinger.

Who are you?
I’m Shelley Ettinger. I’m a longtime activist in the LGBTQ movement and in anti-racist, anti-war and union struggles. I began writing creatively about 15 years ago; since then my poetry and short fiction have been published in dozens of literary journals. My first novel, Vera’s Will, was just published by Hamilton Stone Editions. It’s the story of a woman who loses custody of her children in the 1920s because she’s a lesbian, of the repercussions for her family down the generations, and of her granddaughter who comes out of the closet and becomes an activist 50 years later without ever knowing about her grandmother. I’m thrilled to report that Library Journal gave Vera’s Will a starred review, and called it “a breathtaking achievement.”

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Well I’m so damned old at this point — yep, I’m a 60-year-old first novelist — that it’s hard to remember. My best guesses: Hawaii by Leon Uris, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I kind of hate to admit to each of these because politically and artistically these books and/or authors are nothing I’d recommend now. But at 12 my reading horizons had yet to expand.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
The two greatest English-language books are, in my opinion, Beloved by Toni Morrison and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf; if someone asks me for that recommendation, best book period, I’ll usually go with one of these. For those who might not be up to the work reading either of these books entails, I might recommend Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan or Affinity by Sarah Waters.

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 I’m always looking for is left-wing political fiction. A book that combines mastery of language with a story that illustrates something about the working-class struggle, about racism or women’s or LGBTQ oppression. Contrary to the literary establishment’s rules in this country–and only in this country–that there can be no such thing as good political fiction, I say there can be and there is, and it’s what I want to read.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Morning, in the sun room of my apartment, with coffee. Also: anytime and everywhere. I do a great deal of reading on the subway riding to and from work every day. I always have a book with me, and am always reading if I’m not forced to be doing something else.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?VW COVER jpeg
It’s hard to figure out as I’ve read so much that I think it’s cumulative, a confluence. For rigor, depth and complexity, though, it has to be Toni Morrison’s books. Also those of Joyce Carol Oates. There’s a flip side, too: I think I’ve been made a better writer by learning what not to do from many books I’ve read, or started to read and gave up on. Flat, trite language and shallow insipid content are the worst horrors.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I haven’t been writing in recent months, since the publication of my novel Vera’s Will and the resultant promotional work that’s been pretty consuming. I hope to get back to work on my second novel soon. Once I do, I’ll encounter my biggest challenge: how to discipline myself away from wanting to sit in a chair and read all the time and toward sitting at a desk to write. I’ll probably set up some sort of write-to-read ratio and try to stick to it, like for every two hours I write I’m allowed to read for one.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I read, both physical books and ebooks. I started reading ebooks because my back was rebelling against carrying around fat heavy books all the time, but I do still prefer a physical book if its heft isn’t too great.

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 long and constantly expanding To Read list. Three lists, actually: fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

What are you reading now?
I just finished Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo, and am about to start Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht.

You can learn more about Shelley on the Vera’s Will Facebook page or her website.

Writers Who Read: Lynn Kanter

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Lynn Kanter.Lynn horiz arms crossed

Who are you?
I’m the author of Her Own Vietnam, a novel about a woman who served as a U.S. Army nurse in Vietnam, and 30 years later must grapple with her history on the eve of the war in Iraq. The book was published in November 2014 by a new feminist press called Shade Mountain Press. I’ve also written two previous novels, The Mayor of Heaven and On Lill Street. I’m a lifelong activist, and I work for a national social justice organization. Oh, and I’m a newlywed – if you don’t count the 21 years my wife and I were together before we got married.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Mary Poppins by P. L Travers – which is much darker than the Disney movie.

Mary Changes Her Clothes, a book written and illustrated by a family friend, Ellie Simmons. I was six years old when I met the author. She signed her book for me and added personal illustrations, such as a dog that says, “Hello, Lynn!” It made a big impression on me. I still have the book.

Miss Bobbie by Ethel Turner. I believe the book was published in 1908. This novel was my grandmother’s favorite book when she was a child, and I loved it too. The book was about a little girl who’s being raised by her father after her mother died. He must travel abroad, and leaves her for some weeks with another family that has five boys. Miss Bobbie learns to live like a boy – climbing trees, playing fiercely, making her own decisions. Then her father returns with a new wife, and Bobbie realizes her days of freedom are over. It was the first feminist novel I ever read.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
It varies day by day. Right now it’s the novel Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. I write a blog and a newsletter that are (mostly) about books by women, so I have many ways to share my bookish enthusiasms in addition to cornering people at parties.

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 tell a great story and have women protagonists who live in a wider world than just their own relationships and problems. If a book can take me behind the scenes of an event or a life – historical or fictional – or reveal it to me from a new perspective, even better.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Weekend afternoons. In warm weather, on the back porch. In cold weather, in front of the fireplace. Also, in bed at the end of a long day.

HOV CoverWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I’m not sure there are specific books, but there are some writers whose work has influenced me, such as Barbara Kingsolver and Carol Anshaw. Both of them write good, sturdy prose about characters who face challenges in their own lives and are also aware and connected to the broader world and the issues of the day.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Reading is an everyday activity, while writing for me is cyclical. There are periods when I’m writing intensely and have only a few minutes a day to read, and other periods when I’m not writing much at all.

Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I read all three. Physical books are my favorite; like many readers, I love the feel of a book, its heft, the promising whisper of the turned page. I also listen to a lot of audiobooks, because they turn non-reading time (commuting, housework) into reading time. Ebooks are great for traveling. I always have a pathological fear of running out of reading material while away from home.

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 love this question. I’ve been in a book group for about 20 years. We read books by or about women – mostly novels, but some nonfiction as well. Our current book is Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee. We have a somewhat chaotic system for choosing our future books, but usually manage to plan out several months in advance. I also keep a haphazard TBR list, but it’s just to remind myself of books that sound good. I would need to quit my job and give up on sleeping in order to read them all.

What are you reading now?
I’ve got three books going: Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett M. Davis, To the River by Olivia Laing, and The Rainy Season: Three Lives in the New South Africa by Maggie Messitt.

You can find out more about Lynn on her blog or Twitter, as well as sign up for her free literary newsletter here.

How To Choose What to Write Next

I wouldn’t have guessed it five years ago, but there is such a thing as having too many ideas. IMG_2308Writing ideas, at least. It seems to happen to me on a weekly basis now: a fabulous idea for a new novel, begging to be written. This year I’ve felt like I’ve had twenty-two story ideas, seven half-started drafts, and…very little to show in the way of completed books.

Because I’ve discovered I can’t write all of these stories–not all at once, at least. I’ve got to choose which one to focus on at any given time. Maybe you’re the same. Maybe while you’re penning your historical seamonster trilogy, the idea for an erotic Frankenstein fanfic calls your name. And then a horror short story, and a long blog post on chastity belts.

Which project do you work on first?

I’ve created a solution that helps me prioritize projects this year: organizing my many ideas by scoring them on three dimensions: joy/excitement, growth potential, and estimated market value.

How do you try this? First, write down all your current project ideas. You can do this on a simple sheet of paper, or, better yet, index cards for each project. I use the Index Card app  on my iPad Mini, which is fabulous because I can move project cards around and color-code them (the best solutions always involve color coding). Whatever format you choose, just don’t add up the scores on these projects until you’ve rated every idea on these three dimensions.

The first dimension: joy. Look at each project and decide, on a scale of one to ten, how excited you are to write it. Zero means you have absolutely no interest, five means you’d be okay writing it; and ten means you wouldn’t want to do anything else (including swimming in a non-calorie chocolate sea with hot naked lifeguards on watch). Be honest, and right now don’t consider how marketable the idea is, how much your sister loves it, or the amount of work it might take. Think simply about how much joy it would bring you. Gauge your feelings right at this monent– you can change them down the line.

IMG_2309Next, think about how much that project could lead you to grow as a writer. Will this novel expand your skills and experience in ways other stories haven’t? I give higher scores to projects in different genres or different formats. If you’ve only written standalone books, starting a series will grow you as a writer. So will writing a 7,000-word short story if you’ve only written novels. I usually give at least a seven to novels, since I always find them challenging, but your mileage may vary. It’s less important what your rating criteria is than being consistent throughout your scoring. And, yes, half-points are okay.

After this comes the trickiest question: how marketable is this project? Read widely in your genre, talk to other authors, and observe the marketplace to the best of your ability. Are you writing a unique type of story that you’re guessing readers will crave? Or is it another addition to an oversaturated subgenre? Possibly you’re writing in a popular genre, but those books are still selling like hot cakes. Use your best judgment here.

Finally, add up the three numbers under each project to give them an overall score. Then, arrange or color-code your projects with a highlighter to see which ideas have the highest scores. The ideas that come out on top are projects that are your best bets to work on next: overall, they provide the best combination of joy, growth, and marketability of your current ideas. You’re going to get the best juice for your squeeze here.

The results of this scoring may surprise you, as it often does me. Sometimes a project doesn’t seem very marketable to me, but it has so much joy and growth potential, I know it’s something I’d be wise to work on soon. Other times a project has great growth and marketability, and, combined with a decent excitement level, presents as a solid project.

As I alluded to above, these scores change over time. It’s worth revisiting your projects list every few months to consider if the excitement or market worth of a project has shifted, for better or worse.

Which criteria do you use to prioritize writing projects?

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