Tag Archives: authors

Meet the Writer: Janice Lee #writerslife #authorinterview @diddioz

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Meet the Writer: Janice Lee #writerslife #authorinterview @diddioz

I want to thank author, blogger, editor, and do-it-all Janice Lee for answering my questions. Check out her books and follow her on Twitter! I have a review of her 2013 novel, Damnation, in queue to be published Friday!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I went through different phases: teacher, archaeologist (a la Indiana Jones), zoologist, doctor, spy, writer.

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?

PE in high school. It was so hierarchical and was just asking to create tiers of “winners” and “losers.” Mostly I just chilled with my friends and we pretended we were too cool to care.

What was the first blog post you ever wrote about?

I’ve never had a proper blog. Just my website and various articles around the web. Probably the earliest “blog” I kept up most regularly (though only for a short while) was for my web design company, and the post had to do with what went into building a good website.

Do you think blogging is meant for the blogger, the readers, or both? Why?

Definitely both. It’s cathartic, in a way, for the writer. The Poetics of Spaces series I’m working on right now at Entropy, for example, is really memoir and confession disguised as personal essay. And I’ve had several readers email or message me thanking me for various articles in the series, which is always really gratifying to be able to connect with people in that way.

Are you reading anything right now?

Many things simultaneously but also in between things. I just finished The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu. About to begin Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action by Ira Jaffe.

Do you habitually follow any blogs?

I’m one of those people who feel the need to say informed and connected, so I actually follow almost 100 different blogs that I get in a feed, in all topics: literature, art, culture, film, science, technology, web design, etc. I mostly just skim the headlines each morning and focus more on a few. My favorite site right now is Entropy, not only because I’m an editor there, but because there’s really some rad stuff happening there.

Meet the Writer: Bonnie ZoBell #writerslife #interview

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Meet the Writer: Bonnie ZoBell #writerslife #interview

I want to thank Bonnie for answering my questions! Read more about Bonnie here and check out her virtual book tour that we put together here!

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The beautiful banner my husband created for Zobell’s book blog tour tour last year

What was the first story you ever wrote about?

It was a story called “The Bridle Path,” published in some obscure magazine. At least this is the first one I can remember. It was a story about kids and class and racial distinctions, but apparently the magazine that published it was made uncomfortable by some of it. They renamed one of the main characters intentionally nicknamed “Whitey” to “Whitney” without talking to me about it and other changes along those lines.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

How long do you have? I had more majors in college than almost anybody I know. The fact is that I’m slow and methodical, which works well with writing and teaching, but not so good for waitressing, which I got fired from when several customers wrote letters of complaints about me at the Bon Marché lunch counter in Spokane, Washington.

Do you think writing is taught, that we know how to do it instinctively, or both? Why?

I think it’s some of both, to be wishy-washy about it. I think some of it is instinctive, but even much of that is shaped by our backgrounds, what we grow up to value, our experiences, and so on. I think you can learn to be a much better writer, not so much from books on craft, I’m sorry to say, but by reading as much as you possibly can.

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?

Statistics. There was the WHY? factor. Why did I need to know this? (because for about a week in college I’d decided to go into fashion merchandising and it was required). But probably the biggest reason is that my brain works in a completely opposite way. I didn’t get it.

Are you reading anything right now?

I’m finishing Richard Peabody’s awesome Blue Suburban Skies, full of all kinds of strange and wonderful characters and stories.  And I’m starting Roxane Gay’s painful and beautifully-written An Untamed State.

Are you writing anything right now?

Since my new book, What Happened Here, was just released by Press 53, I’m mainly writing interviews like this one and trying to get more people to read it. Soon, I will go back to a novel I started a long time ago. I’m looking forward to that!

The Diverse Books Tag #diversebookbloggers

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The Diverse Books Tag #diversebookbloggers

Naz over at Read Diverse Books has challenged everyone to read more diversely. If you have read a book that fits into the category, share it! If you haven’t, go find a book that fits into the category with the goal of reading it. Here we go:

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Find a Book Starring a Lesbian Character:

I’ve got this one in spades. Books with lesbians come to me easily — or perhaps I seek them out? — but mostly, I look for excellent stories, and I never shy away from those stories if the protagonist is a lesbian. In fact, in some instances, the leading lady being a lesbian is what drew me in!

Checking out the following:

Find a Book with a Muslim Protagonist:

Okay, my reading is not as great in this area. There is one book that I have read probably half a dozen times and taught each semester for several years now: The Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. This book surprises my students because Malcolm is a Muslim minister for the Nation of Islam, which is a different branch of Islam than what you would encounter in the Middle East. After Malcolm did his pilgrimage to Mecca, he disavowed the N.O.I. and went Orthodox.

Looking at Goodreads, I would like to check out Ms. Marvel, a new comic book series. I also want to read Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, which I saw in Barnes & Noble.

Find a Book Set in Latin America:

This is another category with which I have more experience. I’ve also seen Junot Diaz twice; the dude has stood two feet away from me (he likes to wander auditoriums when he talks). And my god, does he swear a lot (I love it). The last time I saw him, he asked where the Latino/as in the audience were. Then he asked where his Africans were. Very few people raised their hands, and he said that wasn’t his fault, but the college’s (we were at the University of Notre Dame). Here is my list:

  • Ayiti by Roxane Gay (Haiti)
  • Unaccompanied Minors by Alden Jones (Costa Rica)
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic)
  • Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War by Deb Olin Unferth (Nicaragua)
  • Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (Mexico)
  • Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti)

I have a number of books I’ve read by Latino/a authors who live in the U.S., such as Lolita Hernandez, Salvador Plascencia, and Desiree Zamorano. I’d like to read The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara (Mexico).

Find a Book About a Person with a Disability:

This is a tough one because I feel awkward reading a book about a person with a disability written by someone without a disability. I’ve noticed that most of the books with people who have disabilities I encounter are on the mental health spectrum as opposed to a physical disability, so I’ll keep my eyes open for more books with people who have disabilities.

  • Half Life by Shelly Jackson (conjoined twins)
  • American Genius by Lynn Tillman (mental illness)
  • Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon (self-harm, anxiety)
  • Sweethearts by Melanie Rae Thon (deaf)
  • Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulemia by Marya Hornbacher (mental illness)
  • Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher (mental illness)
  • Annie’s Ghost by Steven Luxenberg (disabled legs and mental illness)
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (mentally disabled)
  • Lily of the Valley: Chateau of Flowers by Margaret Rome (blind)

Find a Science Fiction or Fantasy Book with a POC Protagonist:

I don’t read a ton of sci-fi or fantasy, but when I do, it tends to have POC in it. Perhaps because I find that when an author who is a POC writes sci-fi or fantasy, he or she includes deeper messages of race and gender than a white writer may.

  • Soul Resin by Charles W. Cannon
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Bald New World by Peter Tieryas
  • The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

I have Kindred by Octavia Butler on my list. She wrote so many sci-fi/fantasy novels with POC; she is ultra prolific.

Find a Book Set In or About An African Country:

Find a Book Written by an Indigenous/Native Author:

  • Ledfeather by Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
  • Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones
  • It Came From Del Rio by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
  • After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (grew up on Spokane reservation, but has heritage with several tribes)

Okay, so I’ve read a lot of Stephen Graham Jones. Technically, he would fit really well into sci-fi and fantasy starring a POC because he writes lots of mind-bending horror with time warps and craziness. I’ve read essays by Leslie Marmon Silko and Joy Harjo, and I would like to read Louise Erdrich soon. I’d also like to read Ojibwe authors, as I grew up on the Saginaw Chippewa reservation.

Find a Book Set in South Asia:

  • Palestine by Joe Sacco (Israel-ish, depending on your viewpoint regarding what to call this territory)
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran)
  • Love in a Dead Language by Lee A. Siegel (India)
  • The Question of Bruno by Aleksander Hemon (Sarajevo)
  • Currency by Zoe Zolbrod (Thailand)
  • The Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret (Isreal)
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (India) I incorrectly remembered which book this was! It is mostly set in the United States and focuses on Indian-American families. My mistake 🙂
  • Of Marriageable Age by Sharon Maas (India, British Guyana)
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (India)
  • Dragonfish by Vu Tran (Vietnam) This book is half set in Vietnam and half in Las Vegas.

Find a Book with a Biracial Protagonist:

  • Sweethearts by Melanie Rae Thon (Crow/white)
  • The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss (almost every person in the book is biracial)
  • Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evens (black/white)
  • Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen (black/white)

Find a Book About a Transgender Character or that is about Transgender Issues:

  • Cloud 9 by Carol Churchill
  • Woman’s World by Graham Rawle
  • Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

I also have Janet Mock’s memoir on my to-read list, of course!

The-DiverseBooks-Tag

This is what revising LOOKS like! #amwriting #romancenovels #writerslife

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This is what revising LOOKS like! #amwriting #romancenovels #writerslife

I want to thank romance author Rebecca Brooks for taking the time to answer my questions. Last year, I reviewed her romance novel Above All and noted that it steered clear from the cheesy tear-jerker stuff and was both funny and super hot. This post was born out of my curiosity at a Tweet she shared. It looked like a giant roll of paper and was an example of how Brooks edits. I wanted to see how a writer revises! Here is what Brooks is working on — in the final stages of her forthcoming novel, Make Me Stay.

Grab the Lapels: What is your newest manuscript about? Do you have a title yet?

Rebecca Brooks: The manuscript I’m currently working on is called Make Me Stay, and it not only has a title, but a (tentative) release date! It’s coming out in Fall 2016 from Entangled Brazen, and it’s the first in my new Men of Gold Mountain Series, set in the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. I’m working on the edits now—you can see the massive outline I worked out to help me think through my revisions (more on that below).

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Dining room table taken over by 22-chapter outline

Make Me Stay is an enemies-to-lovers story with a hidden identity twist. It’s about a prestigious Seattle executive, Samantha Kane, who’s poised to develop sleepy Gold Mountain, Washington, into the most profitable ski resort in the country…until she falls for Austin Reede, a rugged Olympian and racing coach who’s determined to stop the deal from going through.

Both Sam and Austin have secrets about who they are and why they’re in Gold Mountain—secrets that unravel as their one-night stand turns into something more. In this story I’m interested in how trust works in a relationship, how two people come to open up to each other and share their full selves, and how much falling in love changes our best-laid plans.

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This is where the series is set *dreamy sigh*

GTL: What has your writing process been like so far?

RB: I wrote this novel in the spring of 2015. I’d been planning it for a while and had a detailed outline, so the first draft didn’t take long. I remember thinking that, since this was my third romance, I must really be getting the hang of things now. From here on out, this whole writing thing was going to be easy! Cue major eye roll from present self to former me.   

I wrote Make Me Stay as a single title romance (my first two novels, Above All and How to Fall, are both single title). With thumbs up from my agent and me, my editor wound up placing the novel, and the Men of Gold Mountain series, in a category imprint. It’s a great fit for the book and I was excited, but I knew this would require some pretty big structural changes. Even though I was prepared for it, I was still pretty overwhelmed when I got my edit letter. Whether or not you agree with your editor’s suggestions or want to make the changes asked for—and how to process an edit letter in the first place—are blog posts for another day.

(Un)fortunately, as a writer I know all about getting stuck, so I have some methods for unsticking myself. After a day to let my thoughts percolate, I got out the GIANT roll of butcher paper I use to map out storylines when I can’t figure out my next steps.  

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Dining room table taken over by 22-chapter outline

I don’t know why, but it’s helpful for me to write everything out so I can see it at once, which is why I use this huge roll of paper. Doing this by hand and not on a computer is key. I feel like a 108-year-old Luddite when everyone else is using Scrivener, but I’ve found something that works for me, so I’m sticking with it.

I started my outline with two columns. On the left I put the bare bones of the original plot. On the right was what I’d have to change. I included all the possible changes I was considering, so I could see each step mapped out from chapter to chapter and know I wasn’t missing anything.

The outline focuses on the issues I needed to fix in my edits: strengthening and clarifying the conflict from the very beginning, trimming the B-plot and making it directly tie into the main romantic conflict, and making the hero’s major flaw more legible early on. The outline is color coded according to each of these issues. If my edits had focused on a different problem, I would have centered the outline on that. (I’ve done outlines where each character gets his or her own color, for instance, to help me see where each person is in the narrative at any one time.)

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I wrote out the two columns then used colored markers to box the text.

For the record, this took me two days, six hours per day, and was tiring but very, very satisfying.

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It’s growing.

Then I went through my Outline of Awesomeness and did the edits chapter by chapter. I also kept a legal pad next to me as I was writing so I could jot down notes that came up. If I get stuck, wondering what a character is supposed to say or do, I like to turn to the legal pad and write out what I’m trying to accomplish in this scene. This usually helps me figure out the problem I’m having and keeps me on track.

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Sometimes there is wine.

This was a LOT more work on edits than I thought I was going to have to do. Previously, I’ve tinkered with character arcs and rewritten a scene or two, but I’d never done so much throughout the entire manuscript. But the actual rewriting went pretty quickly because I had such a clear sense of what needed to happen. I wasn’t floundering trying to figure out what came next or how that small change to one line in chapter three was going to impact the black moment two hundred pages later. I wish I’d been able to do this earlier in the writing process—like, why couldn’t I have written this draft the first time around?? But I know that’s not how writing works.

I’m writing this interview the day after I sent the edits back—YAY! I can’t wait to hear what my editor thinks and move on to the next steps—line edits, proofreading, seeing the sexy cover revealed…and finishing the next book in the series! 

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Happy to have my table back!

GTL: How has your writing process evolved from your previous experiences writing novels?

RB: I have a much better sense of who I am and the kinds of stories I want to tell (well-rounded characters, gorgeous settings, rugged guys, lots of heat…). That’s helping me be more focused as I think about what’s next, and I feel more confident that I can make the worlds I imagine come through on the page. I’ve also gotten more ruthless about edits. It can be the perfect scene, but if it’s not the perfect scene for the book it’s in, it has to go.  

But as much as experience helps, there are always new challenges. Whereas the first draft for Make Me Stay went pretty easily for me, the next book in the series, Make Me Beg, was much harder. It was my first time writing with a deadline and out of a sense of obligation—I already have the contract, so I’m writing with a new kind of pressure now. It’s also my first time working on a series. This is a good kind of stress to have! But the truth is that the difficulties don’t go away, they just shift.

The process is the same, though: start with a kernel of an idea, work it into an outline, put butt in chair, get typing.

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These are some of the rolls of paper I’ve used for other novels.

GTL: Have you learned anything from writing this book?

RB: After these edits, I have a stronger handle on how category romance works. I’ve read plenty of examples, and single-title romance follows a lot of the same beats and tropes, so in a way it’s not that different from what I was writing before. But I learned a lot from dissecting how these novels are structured and making my manuscript stronger, clearer, and more streamlined as a result.

I love thinking about genre, how books work, and how books work upon the reader, so I’m really into taking apart a text in this way. This isn’t so much about the book itself, but it gives me a lot more tools in my toolbox that I can use going forward, no matter what I write. I love that being a writer means I’m always learning.

GTL: What, so far, has been the hardest part of writing your book?

RB: Getting started! I’d had the idea for the book in mind for years, but then I was busy with the release of my second book, I had other things going on, and the notes for Make Me Stay were hanging out in a drawer somewhere, not getting written. It took me a while to sit down and say, “It’s time to do this.”

Then, starting the edits presented another challenge. I read and reread the edit letter, tossed around some ideas with my editor, and I knew vaguely how I wanted the final product to look…but it was hard to know where to begin. That’s where the outline came in. I felt like maybe I was wasting time and should just dive into the manuscript itself, but I was so daunted, I didn’t know where to start. At least once I’d done the outline, I had no more excuses.

It can be hard to stare down a first draft, and a revision, and know there’s so much work ahead. Once I’m in it, I’m thinking about the characters all the time and I love being immersed in their world. But for me, the hardest part is taking that first step and committing to such a large and long-term project. I have a feeling that nervousness might never go away.

GTL: Does your newest novel include any research?

RB: I always do research for my books, including a mix of experiential research, online research prior to starting, and more as things crop up during writing. I use the information I gather to inform my choices as a writer. I’m sure I’ve taken some liberties, but I want the story to have the details and specificity that make characters and their lives feel real.

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Researching the new series. Life is tough.

The hero to Make Me Stay is a professional skier, and he and the heroine meet on the slopes. A lot of the novel is based on first-hand experience skiing, plus a very short-lived racing career in high school (um, those race courses are TERRIFYING). Before writing I also visited the Cascade Mountains, where the series is set. I really wanted to get the feel of the place, which I could only do by traveling there. I think those details really come through and make the setting come alive.

I also did a fair amount of poking around online. I knew nothing about real estate development and had to figure out how Sam’s land deal was going to play out. Sam also gets pushback from her board as she delays the sale with Austin, so I needed to look into how and why she could be kicked out her position, and what her recourse might be.

Same thing with Austin—I researched the process to get to the Olympics, as well as life as a ski coach and a Ski Patrol member, to make his story as realistic as possible. Some of this I looked up in advance, so I’d have a better handle on his character. Other things, like what exercises he should tell his team to do for practice, I Googled on the spot and then incorporated.

I think research is a broad term that can mean everything from poring over primary sources in an archive to quickly verifying something online. I do a lot of the latter to make sure I’m including details that are evocative and help advance the story in key ways.


Rebecca Brooks headshot copyRebecca Brooks is the author of Above All, How to Fall (a 2016 HOLT Medallion finalist), and the forthcoming Make Me Stay, book one in the Men of Gold Mountain series. Rebecca lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She earned 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 in order to try something new—and find the passion, excitement, and purpose they didn’t even know they’d been missing. You can Tweet at or Facebook her!

Explosion

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Explosion

Explosion by Zarina Zabrisky

published by Epic Rites Press, October 2015

“Russians do not surrender…we suffer and survive.”

I can’t even remember how I was introduced to Zarina Zabrisky’s work, but we’ve been in contact for so long now that I consider her a friend whom I would love to meet some day. Zabrisky is a Russian-American woman living in California. Her work is art meets the political, a mashup of filth and beauty. I commented on the horror in her short collection, Iron. American decadence contrasts the difficulties of navigating government institutions in Russia in the novella, A Cute Tombstone. Later, Zabrisky asked me to put together a virtual book tour for A Cute Tombstone, and I learned more about funeral portraits in Russia and the band Pussy Riot. Zabrisky later asked me to put together another virtual book tour for her first novel, We, Monsters. The banner my husband created for the tour, made from two images, is so beautiful:

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Back when I had a Weebly address!

Explosion is more like Zabrisky’s earlier short collection. There are 14 short stories (some several pages, others very short) in Explosion, and all are from the point of view of a Russian. Sometimes the setting is California, but it’s almost always Russia.zabrisky explosion

Right away I notice all the drug use; there is so much heroin. “Why?” I ask. Truthfully, my knowledge of Russia is as deep as a puddle, so I made use of my college’s database and started hunting around for articles. Hours and hours later, I felt mad but a bit enlightened. John M. Kramer, author of the article “Drug Abuse in Russia,” notes that a study from 2010 found”Russia has almost as many heroin users (1.5 million) as all other European countries combined (1.6 million)” (31).

While most of Zabrisky’s stories have characters addicted to heroin, the story with the clever name “Heroines” stands out. The narrator speaks to the reader, explaining that she wants to tell us about her friends. She says, “I have a lot of friends. I’m Russian and my girlfriends are Russian.” Next is a list of tragic stories: Alina, dead from a heroin overdose; Marina with Hep C (“We all got Hep C together”); Anna, whose husband abandoned her and their daughter, forcing her to marry again (“In Russia, if you don’t have a man, you’re a waste”); Lana the mail order bride. In many of the 14 stories, women must attach themselves to men to survive. While most of the stories aren’t about drugs, it’s always there, always present, and Zabrisky captures the essence of the setting because so many Russians are actually addicted. 

Disease, like Marina’s Hep-C, is a massive problem. According to Gregory Gilderman, author of the article “Death by Indifference,” a study conducted in 2009 found that somewhere “between 840,000 and 1.2 million are HIV-positive” in Russia, which has a population of around 143,000,000 (44). A lot of the spread of HIV has to do with dirty needles. While some countries like the U.S. have needle exchange programs to slow the spread of people contracting HIV or hepatitis, “nongovernmental organizations [in Russia] that advocate harm reduction strategies—needle exchanges, providing condoms to sex workers—face police harassment and criminal penalties” (Gilderman 45, emphasis mine). Zabrisky’s collection of stories points out the dark times of the Soviet Union resulting from the leadership, without being an in-your-face condemnation that comes off as “preachy.” Truthfully, based on the articles I read, Russia today and the Soviet Union aren’t really that different.

If you’re using or dealing drugs, mum’s the word. But in Explosion, if you’re thinking anything you shouldn’t, you must be silent, too. A girl in 1986 writes in her diary, “Be silent, hide and keep secret your feelings and thoughts. … The thought spoken is a lie.” When the girl starts asking her father, a scientist, questions, he praises her, but the mother scolds them both for saying things that are not acceptable in the Soviet Union, including questions about God. The mother also warns, “And you better only discuss such things like [God] at home, not at school.” More research reminded me that the Soviet Union declared the nation atheist, so God talk was forbidden.

Silence, silence everywhere. In another story, a woman won’t phone the police at the request of a foreign man because she believes the police and the bad guys are the same thing. He asks, “Are you refusing to call?” and she thinks, “I’m refusing to die.” Zabrisky, ever the supporter of Pussy Riot, also fits the story of the band recording their punk prayer into one of her stories. “For the government, men with voice are more dangerous than drug pushers,” she writes, “And women with voice — even more so.” Sometimes, Zabrisky’s voice is more forceful, such as the reference to Pussy Riot, which stands out as being obvious protest in literature, but the subtle undercurrent of silencing remind me again of 1984 and the Thought Police. Such moments are as quite as the citizens, creating a parallel in content and the message.

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Explosion creates an array of women surviving the Russia that Pussy Riot protests. “You have big boobs and speak English,” one woman is told. She could work as a prostitute and get intel from foreigners. “The just under one million sex workers in Russia, for instance, live at the whim equally of pimps and the police, and have no practical recourse if they are raped or assaulted,” Gilderman writes (48). The other option is to marry foreigners. “What’s love?” one woman asks her sister, “I’ll find you a husband. I’ll get you out of here.” Women have no autonomy in Zabrisky’s collection, not even when they move away. “Unfortunately, for many adolescent boys and even adult men, the shaping of their male identity involves the debasement and suppression of girls,” (61) adds T.A. Gurko, author of “Underage Females’ Experiences Of Sexual Relations, Motherhood, And Married Life.”

Women are often seduced by the promise of marriage because they are “whores” and “sluts” and compromise Russia’s traditional values when they are single. One character is in love with a drug dealer, who promises to marry her. She feels no concern when she discovers she’s pregnant, but T.A. Gurko notes, “As the men [in the survey] put it, ‘promising her you will marry her does not mean you will.’ At best he may offer to get her an abortion; at worst he will do everything he can to cut off the relationship” (67). I don’t mean to imply that I’m fact-checking Zabrisky’s work; men abandon women in all countries. But the situations present in her collection, because they reoccur so much, made me want to learn more. Very few books encourage me to be more knowledgeable. In this case, gaining information made me sympathetic for the plight of women in Russia — they didn’t even have tampons, one character points out.

Poverty is a big factor in survival, especially for women and their children, who are almost always abandoned in these stories. Poverty can be conveyed in simple descriptions, and Zabrisky always picks just the right images: “watery mud covered everything in view: a playground with iron bars and broken swings, homeless dogs, and a skinny cow by the broken fence, chewing on a plastic bag.” That bag may not mean much to you (except concern for what it will do to the cow’s intestines), but check this out:

If Russia represents poverty, America is wealth. A young girl covets a plastic bag a schoolmate has — I know, right? — and finally trades a great deal for it. She is so happy:

I took the bag and sniffed it. It definitely didn’t smell of all-purpose Russian soap … the smell of grease, dirt, and poverty. … This bag smelled like chewing gum, like a dream: foreign, delicious, the aroma of unknown tropical countries, coconuts and pineapples I have never tried, of exotic sea ports. … Weakly, vaguely, the bright plastic smelled of America.

Zabrisky mentions good teeth and iPhones as symbols of doing well in America, choosing examples that are subtle, but easy for this American reader to compare.

Again, the theme is subtly in each story, but over 14 stories it adds up to a strong, unmistakable picture of an oppressive, anti-female Russia. There isn’t a single quote that can capture the feel of the whole collection, but when it adds up, you start to get a gross feeling in your stomach — a totally appropriate response to the massive injustices, poverty, starvation, dismissed lives, and deaths that could have been prevented. Though it is an unpleasant feeling, imagine the people who are living it and remember that literature is meant to teach us about those unlike ourselves, to open our worldview and do something about it.

I want to thank Zarina Zabrisky for a copy of Explosion in exchange for an honest review. Click HERE to read an interview I conducted with Zabrisky about her newest collection!

SOURCES:

Gilderman, Gregory. “Death By Indifference.” World Affairs 175.5 (2013): 44-50. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 11 May 2016.

Gurko, T.A. “Underage Females’ Experiences Of Sexual Relations, Motherhood, And Married Life.” Russian Social Science Review 45.3 (2004): 58-77. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 11 May 2016.

Kramer, John M. “Drug Abuse In Russia.” Problems Of Post-Communism 58.1 (2011): 31. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 13 May 2016.

 

The History of Great Things

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The History of Great Things

The History of Great Things by Elizabeth Crane

published by Harper Perennial, April 2016

I want to thank my cousin Wendi for going with me on April 21st to the Elizabeth Crane reading in Kalamazoo, MI, at the Book Bug independent bookstore, where we bought our copies of this book.

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The History of Great Things is the first Crane novel I’ve read. I am familiar with her short story collection You Must Be This Happy to Enter, which I also taught to freshman at an all-women’s college. The students deemed the stories “just silly,” but the silliness is what appealed to me. So many novels are about destruction, sadness, addiction. During her reading, Elizabeth Crane explained that she wondered if it was possible for a writer to create when he/she is not unhappy. Does art, she wondered, require misery? I guess my students would be on the side of “yes.”

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The short story collection I taught at the women’s college. Crane said she never got her Precious Moments figurine back. I think she’s lucky!

I was curious to see how this playful author would turn her special flavor into something novel-length, and when I learned she would be reading in Kalamazoo, only an hour from me and where my favorite cousin Wendi lives, I made the drive. Prince had died that day. That shouldn’t matter, except the employee of the store kept making subtle Prince references instead of properly introducing Elizabeth Crane. She even started her speech with, “We are gathered here today….” Why was she mixing business with her sadness over a pop icon? She also kept saying “Betsy.” I had no idea who Betsy was, but after a few minutes I learned that the store employee was talking about Elizabeth Crane. It turns out that the author’s husband is from Kalamazoo, so she knew several people in the audience, including the woman introducing her, and they’d been hanging out and having fun all day — and drinking based on the wondering non-nonsensical introduction. It made for a lousy reading, but seeing Wendi was worth it, and the brief passages Elizabeth Crane read made me want to buy the book.

The History of Great Things has a confusing premise, but when you start reading it makes total sense. In real life, Elizabeth Crane is fondly known as Betsy. Her mother was Lois, who was an opera singer who died of cancer.

In the book, Lois tells her daughter’s life as she understands it. Betsy tells about Lois’s life as she understands it. It’s an interesting premise that asks, “What do daughters and mothers actually know about each other?”

Since the author’s mother is deceased, she is the puppet master in all of this. She is writing the book, pretending to think like her mother, who is pretending to understand her daughter. Whoa. Explaining it feels like the Matrix, or that scene in Chicago during which Richard Gere uses Renee Zellweger as a puppet to confuse the media. During the reading, Crane was insistent that this is not a memoir. These are characters, not “real” people (even though they are/were real people). Crane wasn’t there for a lot of it, she said (I’m paraphrasing as closely as possible), and at some points in the book she time travels, so yeah, it’s fiction. Crane also points out that while both of her parents are dead and left behind a lot of stuff, she didn’t go through those things, including letters, to write this book because she “didn’t want this book to depict events with any accuracy.”

To give you an idea of how this book starts, here is a sample from Lois’s perspective. Remember, she’s writing what she thinks Betsy’s life is like in 1961:

So you’re a giant bowling ball coming out of me. If bowling balls were square. It hurts like a bitch. Honestly. No one mentioned this detail to me in advance. I may as well be pushing out a full-grown adult. Wearing a tweed pantsuit. Think about that. That’s what they should tell kids in sex ed. Not that sex ed exists now, because it doesn’t. Sex exists. Not ed.

In the next chapter, Betsy writes what she thinks her mother’s life was like in 1936:

Okay. Muscatine, Iowa. June of 1936. You’re born in Muscatine. Edna, your mother, has been a homemaker since your older sister, Marjorie, was born a couple years earlier. Before that she worked at the Heinz factory for a while. Walter, your father, is the editor of the Muscatine Journal. Member of the lodge.

And that’s how the book reads: each woman tells the story of the other…or how she thinks it was, including the other person’s feelings and motives. Here, I can see a clear distinction in the voices. Betsy and Lois are definitely different speakers.

My favorite parts of the book are when Lois and Betsy interrupt each other mid-story. Here is a continuation of the previous quote:

–Which lodge?

–I don’t know, some lodge. A lodge is a lodge.

–Don’t tell him that.

–Mom, Grandpa’s long gone.

–Well, so am I, Betsy, but you’re talking to me.

–Okay, whatever! Let’s say it’s a Moose lodge.

–Let’s say? You don’t think we should try to be accurate?

–Well, it’s not a memoir. It’s just a story.

–But it’s a true story.

–It’s not a true story, though. That’s not what we’re doing. Do you think you know my story?

–Yes. I don’t know. Maybe. More than you think.

–Lemme just keep going.

These little squabbles are both funny and significant. Imagine if you could sit down with your parent and tell them what you think their life was like. Now, imagine that parent is dead, so you have to uphold both ends of the conversation. I’m positive therapists use this tool with patients. Also, Betsy points out to her mother that she wants to skip sex scenes because, ew, why would she want to imagine that? Her mother retorts that she’s already written three sex scenes for Betsy, but the Betsy points out that really she’s just imagining her mothering imagining herself, so all in all, it’s not hard for her to imagine herself having sex. These are very playful moments in the book!

At one point, Betsy tells the story of Lois as a little girl playing with another little girl, Ginny, whose great-grandmother was black. As a result, Lois’s racist father makes Ginny leave. The way Betsy tells the story sounds accurate, but she adds on that Lois is determined to be friends with Ginny when they grow up. Lois interjects:

–Okay, you’re pretty good at this.

–Thanks, Mom.

–I mean, that might be made up, but it could have happened. Maybe it did happen.

–Well, but it’s important that everyone understands this isn’t what actually happened, only what could have happened.

Elizabeth Crane makes sure her characters remind the reader that they’re reading a fake conversation, that it isn’t real and only what might have happened is allowed in the book. I feel this is important because we’ve got some sneaky metafiction here. The book is aware that it’s a book, and I haven’t read any good metafiction lately, not since Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions in which he inserts himself in the final scene.

As the novel progresses, you start to notice similarities between mother and daughter. Lois is a professional opera singer stuck in a time when women are supposed to be wives and mothers. When she finds herself married at 19, and then pregnant, she simultaneously chases the dream of singing in New York City because she’s been accepted by a highly-coveted voice coach. Betsy imagines her mother thinking, “You do want this baby, you’re sure of it, pretty sure, granted the timing is suddenly not great, but it’s too late now.” Betsy flounders when it comes to fitting in as she should, too. Into her 30s she still is not gainfully employed and frequently moves back home. Lois images Betsy thinking, “Does everyone have to want the same thing? Does everyone have to know exactly what they want? Is there a cutoff date for knowing what you want? And if you go beyond it, what then?”

Around the middle of the book, Lois dies (just as she died of cancer in real life). This part is playful because Lois definitely wasn’t there, so there can be no accuracy in what she thinks. She has sections on how she thinks Betsy dealt with her death, everything from buying a house boat and having twins after going through in vitro fertilization, to trying for a career as a preschool teaching and dating but failing to find the right one so Betsy becomes celibate, to getting married and having twins and riding away on a whale. They’re all rather silly. Eventually, Betsy interrupts and says that she’s actually married to a man named Ben (no children). Her mother says, “–You’re with someone? Oh, sweetheart!” Now, isn’t that just cute? You could just imagine anyone’s mother saying that, but this mother is saying it from beyond the grave, as if Elizabeth Crane wanted or needed to hear it.

As the book goes on, Lois expresses that she feels miserable from the stories Betsy’s reminding her of — sad or painful parts of her past — and so things get a bit crazy. Together, they decide to re-do some of life. And here is where we get to the part that made me decide to buy the book: Betsy imagines that she and her mother are sisters on the day that the little African American girl, Ginny, was thrown out of Lois’s house. I’m just going to quote because this scene is fantastic:

…I run back downstairs to find Daddy smoking out in the backyard, and I say Daddy, Ginny is a person just like you, and he says You are asking for big trouble, young lady, and I say I don’t care! I am here from the future! We have an African American president! and he says What the hell is “African American”? And I say It means black, negro, colored! We have a colored president! There are two little colored girls in the White House! I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap for just for thinking such a thing! And I say I don’t care! The future is here! …Ginny really does want to go home now, and you [Lois] are rather unsure about this whole scene, and I yell loud enough for the neighbors three houses down to hear A racist lives here! A racist lives here! ….Daddy tells us we’re both grounded until we graduate from high school; that’s when I say Fuck you, I’m going back to the twenty-first century.

Oh, wow, can you imagine going back in time and righting the wrongs? I loved this moment where Betsy really gives it to her racist old grandpa! And, it pulls the story out of the sticky sadness that real life can be. Fiction is a place where people can do whatever they want, so why not?

Yet, there are some problems with the book. First, the author doesn’t keep her characters consistently named. When Betsy’s telling Lois’s story, instead of referring to herself in first person, she calls herself Betsy, which is confusing. Imagine Betsy writes something like “you’re holding Betsy after she is born” instead of “you’re holding me after I am born”). Instead of calling her parents mom and dad, they are Fred and Lois. Since the book made it so very clear that Betsy is telling the story, using Fred is strange. And sometimes he’s dad, which isn’t consistent. She also calls her grandparents what Lois calls them (Mother and Daddy) instead of grandma and grandpa. Whomever is writing should use the terms they would use to keep everything sorted.

Also, there are some language problems. Lois writes using phrases like “stupid-ass hat” and “cost about infinity more money than you have,” which sounds odd coming from a woman born in the 30s. Yes, she’s telling Betsy’s story, but it’s Lois’s voice. Could the author’s mother spoke that way? Sure, but if she’s going to insist this book isn’t a memoir, then Crane needs to adjust the voices so they are believable within the novel.

When I got to the end of the book, I wasn’t sure why we were stopping. What exactly was the arc of this book? In the very end, after the acknowledgements, the author explains why she wrote this book, but doesn’t give any new reasons beyond what’s already stated in the novel. She also includes a bunch of pictures and newspaper clippings from her and her parents’ lives, though they are small, grainy layered black-and-white images without labels, so I wasn’t sure what to take from them. And why add them to a book that purports to NOT be fiction?

Finally, the quality of the book itself could be better. I’m used to reading small press books, which are often designed with integrity, but this Harper Perennial book was cheaply made. I felt like I was trying to read print cooked lasagna noodles, and the pages hadn’t been completely been cut in the process, so I was constantly picking bits of paper fuzz from the bottom edge.

Despite my criticisms, I would recommend everyone read this book because it is uniquely told. If you are a writer, The History of Great Things could give you some ideas on how to play with style and point of view. The novel is a speedy read. You might find yourself thinking “just one more” like I did many times because of the digestible length of chapters.

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Elizabeth Crane

Meet the Writer: Meg Tuite

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Meet the Writer: Meg Tuite

I want to thank Meg for responding to my questions. Read more about her here! I’ve also reviewed a couple of Meg’s works, Disparate Pathos and Bound By Blue.

What was the first story you remember writing about?

I wrote poems when I was a kid. They were rhyming deals about people killing and telephone billing or looking up into the sky as people laughed their bellies off or ate peanut butter and bologna sandwiches. I must have been spinning myself into ecstasy. It was the only altered state I had found at age six. I got this exquisite old desk from my mom at a rummage sale and there was rich beauty in opening the top and putting paper and pencils in there, writing on top of etched initials and feeling dried up gum underneath. Mom asked if I was writing fiction. I was writing a novel about a girl who runs away. I believe it was CNF (creative non-fiction), even though I only got a few blocks from the house before sister dragged me back for dinner, not because she was worried about me, but because the discord might have created a scene without dessert.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

My thoughts on that subject were probably lame. Now, my brother told his kindergarten teacher that he wanted to be an herpetologist. She had to look it up and then called my parents. I LOVE that! My family is amazing.

Do you think writing is an intuitive or taught skill, or both? Why?

I was never excited about school. I have to say that I learned much more sitting in the back of a library reading whatever the hell I wanted to read than following anyone’s curriculum. Some people are really drawn to reading and I believe that is what it’s all about. So the more you read, the more it penetrates the pores and quite possibly the brain and then maybe you decide to write because it is interesting to write what goes on inside a person’s head and the incredible chit-chat that spews out of the mouths.

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?

I do remember at one point I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist, until I took a class from this jackass who made it so incredibly boring and tedious that I never signed up for another class. Actually, he was probably brilliant and knew that we were all thinking Raiders of the Lost Ark and to dissuade us from our ridiculous fantasies, spent the entire class measuring out squares of ground footage and how to set up sticks and mark off  terrain before digging.

Are you reading anything right now?

Oh, yes! Just started reading Will You Be My Mother by Jennifer Haupt, cutting teeth by Julia Fierro, Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, and a forthcoming novel by Timothy Gager. I just finished some beauties: Could You Be With Her Now by Jen Michalski, Out of Dublin, by Ethel Rohan, Don’t Tease the Elephants by Jen Knox, Message From a Blue Jay by Faye Rapoport DesPres, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and Inside Madeline by Paula Bomer. All exceptional and yes, yes, read them!

Are you writing anything right now?

I have pulled out a novel that sat in a box for a few years even after one of my cats pissed on it. That should have been an indicator to burn it, but no, I am attempting at a snail’s pace to rework it. I’m also writing some poetry and flash because because because….it’s a love thing.

Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology

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Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology

Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology

edited by Donna Jarrell and Ira Sukrungruang

320 pages

published by Mariner Books, Jan 2005

Donna Jarrell’s and Ira Sukrungruang’s anthologies (they also have a fat fiction anthology — see below) have become important to me. Fall of 2013 I taught from the fiction anthology as part of a Contemporary Fiction class. None of my students were even chubby, let alone fat, so the anthology meant little to them–at first. I found that some of them were so thin because they had obsessive parents. One young man’s father was obese and constantly trying to work it off. Another your woman’s mother was a personal trainer who warned over and over the dangers of eating the “wrong foods” and becoming fat.

However, when I read this nonfiction anthology, I felt a deeper connection because these were real people explaining in words that I often couldn’t put together the way they felt about fat. The authors are not all fat or obese; some are quite thin, but write to explain how they feel about seeing or being with fat people.

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Donna Jarrell

In “Letting Myself Go,” Sallie Tisdale weights about 165 lbs, a weight many fat people would kill to be. She is a frequent dieter. She notes, “The pettiness is never far away; concern with my weight evokes the smallest, meanest parts of me. I look at another woman passing on the street and think, At least I’m not that fat.” I myself have had such thoughts, and so Tisdale made me consider how I internalize the bodies of others.

Natalie Kusz writes in “On Being Invisible” that she takes up more space, but is less seen. She points out, “The fact is, the old racist attitude that ‘all black (or Asian or Latin) people look alike’ also applies to fat people, with the same main corollary: We look alike to other beings because they cannot see us at all.” I was surprised by this comparison and began to reassess the way I look at people I see who take up more room. Do I look away? Do I see these people as all the same because they have one shared quality?

“Tight Fits” by Ira Sukrungruang is more like a guide with examples. How does an obese person get around the challenges of getting into small places, like airplane seats or sacred temples in Thailand. The goal seems to be to avoid embarrassment, and I felt embarrassed that I’ve considered such tactics myself (only in different scenarios). The accommodations for others can feel endless when you are abandoned for being “too big.”

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Ira Sukrungruang (pretty much the only man allowed on Grab the Lapels so far)

Atul Gawande describes “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating” from a doctor’s point of view. Gawande is always concerned that his patient will regain all of the weight lost after gastric bypass surgery. It turns out that he learns the patient is also concerned. Is this problem bigger than his desires? I really liked seeing the exchanges between the doctor and patient outside of the hospital because the doctor could give facts from a medical standpoint while still engaging with the human patient who fears for his life and wonders how quality it can be if he remains morbidly obese.

I thought it was a fantastic choice on the part of the editors to put Sondra Solovay’s piece “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” right after Gawande’s essay. While Gawande describes the high success rates of G.B. surgery and how it is the best option medical science has, Solovay points out immediately that she had a friend who was 310 lbs looking happy in on the steps of a pyramid in El Salvador. And how that friend had G.B. surgery and died. What this achieves is showing readers that no matter which option is the best in terms of losing weight, they can all be dangerous. Should the 310 lb friend have continued her life at 310 lbs? A friend of mine who had G.B. surgery and became pregnant and then regained most of the weight pointed out to me that she cut up her insides to get society to look at her. She has a lot of health problems now, and I’m not sure how long she’ll be a mother to her toddler.

Steven A. Shaw celebrates being a chubby man in “Fat Guys Kick Ass.” This is mostly a list of ways that fat guys are better lovers and boyfriends who are stronger but more peaceful. This is a very fun-loving piece that makes me rethink what others feel internally. Not all fat people feel bad inside, I must remember.

Many other readers have commented on the remaining essays (written by giants like David Sedaris and Anne Lamott or that describe a thin person’s hate for fat individuals, like Irvin Yalom or the “hoggers”), but one that struck me was “Fat Like Him” by Lori Gottlieb. She was so happy when she didn’t know that Tim, who was on the other end of her email, was fat. When they are together, she is embarrassed that people will think she’s with him and she calls him a friend. At home, though, they have fantastic sex and she is very happy with him. However, I read that Gottlieb’s essay is mostly untrue. This could be the result of her stretching the truth, or it could be that her ex is humiliated, and why wouldn’t he be? This is the sort of thing that really requires prior approval since the situation is so specific (no one will not know who this guy is in real life whether we call him “Tim” or not).

Overall, this book made me assess myself and the way others perceive me and the way I perceive them, regardless of size, but with fat in mind.

My quick thoughts on the What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology

The stories in this collection were really great. When I read the title of the anthology, my first thought was the Raymond Carver story “Fat,” and it was in there. BUT! I kept wondering…is this all there is out there in terms of “fat-fiction”? No one else writes any? Makes me want to write more of it…also makes me wonder if people don’t really want to read it and that is why I can’t get any published. Also, I’m really surprised that most of the reviews of this book comment that the reader expected this to be an uplifting anthology. It can be really difficult to turn a physical/psychological problem into something feel-good. I wasn’t expecting that at all.

Meet the Writer: Julie Schwietert Collazo

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Meet the Writer: Julie Schwietert Collazo

I want to thank Julie for answering my questions. You can learn more about her at her website, and you can read more about her notes and advice for writers and editors here! She is on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Google+ (the links are easy to access via her website).

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Writing was always important to me, as was reading, and I thought I would probably teach literature at the college/university level. But I ended up taking a different path, thanks to my senior thesis in Women’s Studies at Emory University. I was studying the use of art therapy in support groups for women with cancer, and I was amazed by the clinical effects of the groups. I immediately thought, “I want to do this with writing!” I wasn’t sure such a profession existed, but once I found out that it did, I got my MSW and became a creative arts therapist specializing in the use of writing in therapy sessions. Basically, I was helping people tell their stories, but in written form. After five years in that field, I became burned out by the bureaucracy of social service agencies, and I became a full-time freelance writer, work that isn’t so different; I still help people tell stories.

Do you think writing is taught, that we know how to do it instinctively, or both? Why?

I think some people have a gift for writing, certainly, but even the most gifted writers benefit from instruction, whether formal or informal. Writing is a craft and there are so many forms, techniques, and skills to learn, and how to use them well.

What was your least favorite class at any point in your education? Why?

Pre-calculus. My high school pre-calc teacher knew I was a good student and thought I’d perform as well in his class as I had in every other class. When I didn’t, he wrote in my high school yearbook, “You are my biggest failure.”

Are you reading anything right now?

I’ve always had the habit of checking out an impossible stack of books, which feels even more impossible now that I have kids. And I always pack too many books when I travel (I’m no technophobe, but I have no interest in a Kindle or Nook). Right now, I’m reading Midnight in Mexico by journalist Alfredo Corchado and Finders, Keepers by Craig Childs; the latter is about what is done—and should be done—with ancient artifacts.

Are you writing anything right now?

My writing habits are a lot like my reading habit; I’m always working on multiple assignments. I’m a regular contributor to The Latin Kitchen, where I write about culture and food. I’m working on an article for National Geographic Traveler, several pieces for a new project being launched by USA Today, and a number of other assignments. I’m also about to start promoting Moon New York State, a guidebook I authored that’s being released next week.

Update: Julie’s book has been released and is available for purchase!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie lecture

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie lecture

This post is to update you on whether or not I was brave enough to ask for an autograph at the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie lecture I attended last night at Saint Mary’s College. During the summer, between semesters, I work at the front desk in dorms at this women’s college; therefore, I know the place pretty well. I arrived a bit after 7:00 to find the entire lobby of the building packed. I moved to the front and got my will call ticket, which put me right by the doors that would soon open so we could all enter the auditorium. Like I said, I’m familiar with the buildings on the Saint Mary’s campus, so I was able to walk right to the front and get the closest possible seat. The seating was not assigned, which I always think is a mistake for a popular event.

Somehow, two undergrads from the University of Notre Dame reserved their seats. The young man, a junior, was hard core fan-girling. He said, “Oh, my god” about a dozen times in a row (literally). I told him I was auto-correcting him in my head. He then apologized, thinking I was upset that he was using the lord’s name in vain in a Catholic college setting. It wasn’t that, I said, but the fact that he was stuck on repeat.

Two young students, women of color, asked me if the seats on the other side of me were taken, and I said no. They were so surprised because the whole place was packed. They wouldn’t stop saying “Shut. Up.” “Shut. Up. Oh, my God, shut. Up.” I remember doing what people now call “fan-girling” myself upon seeing the faces of Salmon Rushdie, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Jeanette Winterson, and Lidia Yuknavitch. But I felt different, more grown up. Like I’ve reached the age that even though I know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a big deal, I also know she’s a person. And I’ve been to so many lectures and readings that they’re starting to sounds the same, no matter where the person is from.

First, Adichie delivered a 30 minute lecture. Then, she took questions for an hour. I discovered there were a number of Nigerian students in the audience who had come from nearby colleges, students whose parents are from Nigeria, but they are not. Here are some of the main points Adichie made during the event. I tried to get the wording as close to her’s as possible, but really it’s all paraphrased because I couldn’t record the lecture.

She made the point that feminists can’t just critique, they have to do something. Here, I was immediately reminded of my experience reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I’d read Gay’s articles online and always found them insightful but puzzling. Why, I couldn’t figure out. When I read a collection of these essays altogether, I realized what it was: Gay has many things she critiques, but rarely in her book did she have some sort of suggestion to do something about the problems.

Women are complicit in demeaning women and hurting feminism. This one is easy to see in everyday life. Women constantly tear each other down, and I’m sure you all see it.

Women shouldn’t worry so much about what men who aren’t feminists think. They’re going to think it anyway. Worry more about raising children to be feminists. Adichie also added the point that a wife can find a fairly balanced man and then shape him by teaching him. Hoping that a whole generation of women across the globe will raise their sons differently is beautiful, but this also neglects the effects of other people who are not in the same age cohort as children raised as feminists. Adichie was responding to a question from the audience, and it seemed like the real point was ignore the trolls.

Professional women feel like they can’t talk about the surgery they did or the class they taught, but reassure everyone their husband is cared for in order to be forgiven for having a job. This is a point with which I am familiar, but I guess I never thought of it as feminist guilt. I always thought women were trying to show the world they are do-it-alls. This point definitely gave me something to think about.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a novel set during a war that is not far in our past. They people involved are still alive, and so when her book came out and she did her first event, people yelled at each other, which she said she found quite delightful because now they were talking about it. She also said that if a writer is going to write about a period in history, especially a recent and contested one, then they’d better get it right, factually. I enjoyed this answer Adichie gave to a question from the audience. I’ve read too many books and seen too many movies that romanticize tumultuous periods. It’s one of the main reasons I won’t go see the movie Race even though I love Jesse Owens. What are the chances that film ends with the true end of his story: Owens being so poor because he can’t get a job in American because he’s black, so he starts running races against horses to entertain white people?

There are so many problems in the world, and when people write back to those things, they are not writing art. I would have liked to hear more about this comment from Adichie. Many readings I’ve attended emphasize that when we see obstacles in life, writing will help us make sense of them. I came away puzzled by this comment.

A professor from a nearby college asked how to say the names of the characters in Americanah. One of the names is hard to say, Adichie told us, even in Nigeria, because Adichie likes to be difficult. She says she used to read Russian books growing up and didn’t even try to say their names, they were always “the one who starts with an I.” She thought this all was quite funny, and the audience did, too!

An African student who identified as a writer asked if Africans must write books that are political. Adichie said no, and said she knew a few African authors who write genre stories. There didn’t seem to be many examples, though! It was a good question!

A black student asked Adichie what her advice would be to women of color navigating college. Adichie’s first piece of advice was step 1, throw away the weave. The author laughed a lot and seemed delighted by the questions asked of her. She described watching YouTube videos about natural black hair when she feels stuck writing, and everyone laughed. There were a lot of women of color in the audience. She said natural black hair is about doing something for yourself, and pride.

After the reading, one of the fangirls next to me asked if I liked the event. I paused for a long time and said it was good. I’m sure she thought this meant I didn’t really like it. Who doesn’t just say, “YES!” right away?

I realized I was a million miles away from being a fangirl undergrad like I once was and that instead of being in awe of speakers, I forget they are famous and think about the messages, their practicality, and where I’ve heard those messages before. I’m constructing patterns in my head. The ideas about global perspectives and compassion that Adichie talked about reminded me of things Salman Rushdie said at a lecture in Lansing, Michigan, in 2005. He said, “For God’s sakes, open the world a bit.” Adichie also made a strong connection to the people of color in the audience (without ignoring anyone else) like Nikki Giovanni did at Central Michigan University in 2008. There were so many black students, both college and high school, at the Giovanni event who came to hear what she had to say about black lives in contemporary America. Adichie did the same, but added a multi-cultural perspective as a Nigerian.

In the end, there were no books for sale and no book signing. I think the many, many people I saw sitting around me, clutching their copies of her book eagerly, were super disappointed. I’m okay with that; I’ll head to the library.

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