This Raging Light: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Get through it. Just get through this day. Worry about the other ones later.”

“I am a hell-breathing fire monster and I will not totter.”

This Raging Light by Estelle LaureAfter her dad’s breakdown and her mother’s decision to leave town indefinitely to regroup, seventeen-year-old Lucille finds herself alone with bills mounting, food dwindling, and her little sister Wren who she is desperate to shield from everything that is quickly going to hell.

But with so many things missing from her life, Lucille isn’t sure what to do when other things start appearing–like inconvenient feelings for her best friend Eden’s twin brother, magical deliveries of food, and her changing dynamic with Eden.

Lucille is used to being responsible and she knows that if she takes everything one step at a time she can handle everything. She can find a job, she can take care of Wren, she can make sure no one notices that their mother is conspicuously absent. But Lucille isn’t sure if she can do all of that while holding onto her best friend and maybe falling in love in This Raging Light (2015) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

This Raging Light is Laure’s stunning debut novel.

I saw a lot of myself and my experiences mirrored in Lucille’s story. Talking about this book has become inseparable from talking about my own life. This Raging Light wasn’t something I even knew I needed until I had finished it.

In my mid-twenties I was underemployed and took on a lot of debt. It was incredibly hard to watch that debt pile up and to realize there was no one to fall back on. During that same time my mother was hospitalized twice and for a while it was touch and go. Worse, I had almost no support system the first time and no one I felt comfortable talking to about what was happening.

Those years were some of the hardest in my life and, even now, are some of the hardest to talk about. I came home many nights and cried until I ran out of tears. I was exhausted and certain that I couldn’t handle anything else. But I got up each day and I did it all again. I kept going. It was hard and it was awful but I know now that I can handle anything–everything–because of that time in my life.

This Raging Light is that kind of story and Lucille is that kind of character. She is an unintentional hero and an ordinary girl. She is scared and brave and strong. I am so glad that readers get to meet a girl like Lucille who pushes through every obstacle and just keeps going because that’s the only option.

There’s no easy way to say it: This Raging Light is a real gut punch to read–especially the final third. But here’s the thing: real life is like that too. Laure expertly captures the way in which everything is heightened and seems to happen all at once in any high anxiety situation.

Lucille’s story is somber and introspective. There is romance but there are also themes of family and survival as Lucille works to build a support system for herself from scratch. The way Lucille handles her life is extremely realistic and well-handled throughout the novel. The way every awful thing stacks up and the way Lucille often doesn’t get a chance to breathe is authentic and conveyed incredibly well with her unique narrative voice.

This Raging Light is a page-turner about first love and inner-strength. It’s an empowering novel about never giving up and survival. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to see what Laure does next.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, The Alison Rules by Catherine Clark, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, No One Here is Lonely by Sarah Everett, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson, Golden by Jessi Kirby, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, This Ordinary Life by Jennifer Walkup, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2015*

You can also check out my interview with Estelle about this book!

Author Interview: Estelle Laure on This Raging Light

Estelle Laure author photoI didn’t know when I started Estelle Laure’s debut novel, This Raging Light, that it would be a book that mirrored some of the hardest years in my own life. I didn’t know it would be a book that I would be thinking about days, weeks, and even months after reading it. When all of  that turned out to be true, I knew I had to contact Estelle about a possible interview–especially during Poetically Speaking given how a poem is so key to this novel. So today I am very please to have Estelle here to talk about her first novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Estelle Laure (EL): With a lot of luck and a lot of preparation. Sometimes I look back and think the world has to be full of magic. Like, how did I wind up at a playdate with Laura Ruby when I was starting out? How did I find VCFA, where I wound up going to graduate school, working with some of the best of the best? How did I decide to apply for an internship that led me to my agent and to my job? How did I write a book someone bought? One turn in any direction other than the one I went in would have led me somewhere so different. At this point, I’m of the opinion that following your very wise inner voice is the key to everything, the one that says, “I know it’s raining and your daughter is in a weird mood, but go to a completely new friend’s house (so uncharacteristic). She says her sister is there and she writes too!” Little will you know, sister is going to win the Printz within the decade, help you tons, be your first reader, and blurb your book.

MP: What was the inspiration for This Raging Light?

EL: Desire, a feeling of helplessness, of longing, a pivotal moment in my own ethical quandaries. Basically my life fell apart and I made it into fiction. So the story isn’t my story, but it’s the story I needed to get through what I was facing.

MP: When you started writing this book did you know that it would be YA?

EL: Absolutely. I have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I have never had a grown-up idea, and though I love to read it, I’m not interested in writing it at the moment. I find, and have always found, that children’s literature, books for young adults are the juiciest, the most fantastical, the ones that give me wings, and I love to fly.

MP: One of the things that really impressed me with This Raging Light is how realistically it portrays a character dealing with a very traumatic period in her life. How did you go about finding Lucille’s voice and process for dealing with everything that gets thrown her way?

EL: I did a ton of free writing. I wrote scenes from everyone’s perspectives (when I did Wren’s, the Contessa letter came out), I made art in a workshop, I wrote bad poetry, and then when I sat down to write, this voice came out. But I think it had a lot to do with the sidework.

MP: The title of this book refers to a villanelle by Dylan Thomas called “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Did you always know that this poem would be connected to the title and factor into the narrative? Did you know it would be so important to Lucille right away?

EL: I did. That scene between Lucille and Eden was the first I wrote, actually. That was because a few years earlier in the midst of great stress, that particular poem was the mantra I whispered to myself when I thought I couldn’t go on. It didn’t become the title until much later, but had meant a great deal to me for some time.

MP: Lucille does a lot throughout the book to care for and protect her little sister Wren. Was their bond inspired by a real friend or sibling? If you had to pick, which sister are you most like?

EL: Their bond was inspired both by my love of my daughter, Lilu, and my brother, Chris. When we were little, I fancied beating up anyone who bothered him. I have seen that impulse double and triple as we’ve gotten older. I’m inspired by my daughter’s sense of humor and her wisdom, so I wrote that in there. I would say I’m more like Lucille than Wren, though I like to think I’m more like Eden than either of them (I’m not. I’m a total softie. Don’t tell my ego.)

MP: Although Lucille is very strong on her own, another great part of This Raging Light is seeing all of the characters Lucille meets along the way and the support system she creates for herself throughout the novel. Where did you find inspiration for the small kindnesses and good deeds Lucille and Wren encounter throughout the novel?

EL: I have been lucky enough to have a best friend who is incredibly generous, and at one point some teachers of mine left groceries on my door. I know such things are possible. One thing I learned along the way is that it’s not strong to defend yourself, it’s strong to show yourself. I wanted Lucille to learn that, too. One of the ways she does that is by accepting help, so for me it was an important part of her development.

MP: Without getting into spoilers, This Raging Light ends on an optimistic note while also leaving many things up in the air for Lucille and her friends. Was this always the ending of the story? Have you thought about what might come next for these characters?

EL: I wrote the end of the story after taking a couple week long breaks. I didn’t want to be cheesy or cynical or predictable or jaded. I was in a corner. I did my best. Finally, I gave in to optimism and I’m so glad of it now. And I know what comes next for all of them but I’m not telling . . . yet!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

EL: It’s a companion to This Raging Light called These Mighty Forces. It isn’t a sequel but it picks up another character’s point of view in the same world. That’s all I’m saying about it, except that it’s about love, again. :)

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

EL: I do. Work hard. Play hurt. Trust yourself. Read everything, everything, everything. Don’t give in to desperation or entitlement or fear. Don’t think because you aren’t educated about publishing or even writing itself that you can’t get there. Inform yourself on trends and then forget them. Be honest. Take feedback without defense. Write an excellent query letter. Never send out work prematurely and don’t be a perfectionist either. Write every day unless there’s blood. (Martine Leavitt said that. Words of the wise.)  Okay, end rant.

Thanks again to Estelle for this awesome interview.

You can see more about Estelle and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of This Raging Light.

Poetically Speaking with Lesléa Newman

poeticallyspeaking2Lesléa Newman is the author of seventy books including poetry collections Still Life with Buddy and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (novel-in-verse). She is also the author of the groundbreaking children’s book, Heather Has Two Mommies. Her latest works include the children’s books, Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed, and the poetry collection, I Carry My Mother, whose title poem has just been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 

Today Lesléa is talking about imitation in writing poetry and how she used that as a starting point for several poems in her latest collection I Carry My Mother.

STEALING AWAY

by Lesléa Newman

“Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”

I can’t remember who I stole that quote from. Which doesn’t make me a great writer necessarily. I am, however, a pretty good thief.

I started my career as a crook back in the 1980’s when I was attending the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute. I was studying with such literary luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, and Alice Notley, and one of them put a life-changing book into my hands: Rose: Where Did You Get That Red? The author, Kenneth Koch is often credited for being the granddaddy of the “poetry in the schools” movement, for he was one of the first poets to go into the public schools and teach children how to read and write poetry. How did he do it? He read the children great poems and had them write their own poems modeled on and inspired by the poems they heard. In effect, he taught the children how to “steal.”

And so I decided to give it a try. I am the kind of writer whose process consists of, as the writer Gene Fowler says, “sitting at the typewriter until three drops of blood appear on your forehead.” In other words, ideas for poems do not come easily to me. Once I do have an idea, I can work for hours, days, weeks, even years, to get the poem right. But more often than not, coming up with an idea involves a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

And so I turned to Koch’s book eagerly. Why invent the wheel when it has been invented before, and so beautifully? Why not use the already invented forms of beloved poems as a container to pour my own words into? I have found this way of writing especially useful when writing poems of grief, as I did in my most recent poetry collection, I Carry My Mother, which explores my journey through my mother’s illness and death and how I have carried on without her. My mother loved poetry, and this seemed like a fitting way to pay tribute to her. And when I sat down to write poems about my mother and how I mourned for her, my emotions were so unwieldy, I found it enormously helpful and comforting to have an already established structure to work with and make my own. The structures I “stole” not only held the poems together, they held me together as well. Perhaps this was because the poems I chose were so familiar to me, they were like old friends. And what better tonic for healing is there than to surround oneself with friends who have known you for the better part of your life?

One of the classic poems that Koch employed in his book and his teaching, is Wallace Stevens’ classic “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

which can be found here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503

What is Wallace doing in the poem? He is taking something ordinary—a blackbird—and making it into something extraordinary by describing it in thirteen different ways. He looks closely at the blackbird, observing a tiny part of it in the first stanza: “Among twenty mountains,/The only moving thing/Was the eye of the blackbird.” He multiplies the blackbird and imagines three of them in the second stanza: “I was of three minds/Like a tree/In which there are three blackbirds.” He imagines the blackbird moving as part of a performance or pantomime in the third stanza. And so on. And in these various explorations, he not only observes the blackbird, he observes himself observing the blackbird. And thus he observes many things about life itself.

Here is something anyone can do, whether a novice or experienced poet. Simply put, the poem is a list of keen observations filtered through the poetic eye and imagination. The idea is to see something familiar as if one has never seen it before. One observes the familiar object as if seeing it for the first time. You can also use this form of poetry to observe a person, as I did:

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT MY MOTHER

1

Among seven silent rooms

in the middle of the night

the only moving thing

is a swirl of smoke

rising from the lit tip

of my mother’s cigarette

 

2

My mother was of three minds

like the three sorry children

she would someday come to bear

 

 

3

My mother whirled through the kitchen

slamming drawers, banging dishes

clanging pots and pans

She was a noisy part of the pantomime

 

4

My mother and her mother

are one

My mother and her mother and her daughter

are one

 

5

I do not know which I dread more

arriving at my mother’s house

or leaving it

The pain of being with her

or the pain of being without her

 

6

Knitting needles click and clack

as something wooly grows

My mother stares at her creation

Her mood is indecipherable

 

7

Oh skinny blonde airbrushed models

staring up at my mother as she flips

through glossy magazines,

Why must you torture her so?

 

8

I know how to make matzo balls

big as fists

and how to live on nothing

but cottage cheese, cigarettes, and air

but I know, too

that my mother is involved

in everything I know

 

9

When my mother moved

from Brooklyn to Long Island

she marked the edge

of one of many circles

 

10

At the sight of my mother

staring back at me

at three in the morning

from the unforgiving bathroom mirror

I cry out sharply

 

11

I rode home on the train

and fear pierced me

in that I mistook

the phlegmy hacking cough

coming from three rows back

for the sound of my mother

 

12

The ventilator is on

My mother must be breathing

 

13

It was twilight all day

and all night long

she was breathing

and she was trying to breath

my mother lay in the ICU

her hand in mine

holding on for dear life

Another poem that Koch used very successfully in the classroom is “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams which has also become a classic and a favorite poem of English teachers everywhere. (There is even an entire book of parodies of this poem written by Gail Carson Levine entitled Forgive Me, I Meant To Do It). The poem, told in very simple language, is an apology. But the beauty of the poem is that the speaker is apologizing for something he really isn’t sorry he has done. In fact, it appears he is rather delighted with himself. Children (of all ages) love this poem, for who among us hasn’t apologized for something we do not regret in the least? The poem can be found here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/245576

In this poem, the narrator has eaten some plums that “you were probably/saving” and then asks to be forgiven. The speaker then describes the plums as “so sweet/and so cold” implying that the plums were greatly enjoyed and the speaker really isn’t sorry for eating them at all.

For an imitation of this poem, I chose to write a note of apology in my mother’s voice and have her apologize to me. Was she sorry for leaving me? Yes…..and no.

LETTER FROM MOM, POSTMARKED HEAVEN

 

This is just to say

I’m sorry

I left

you

bereft

and alone

 

Forgive me

for being a daughter

like you

I always rush off

when my mother calls

come home

There are several more imitations in I Carry My Mother. I “stole” from poets both my mom and I adore including Dr. Seuss, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, and Robert Frost. I also “stole” from contemporary writers that my mother was not familiar with, including Molly Peacock and Meg Kearney. Since I know these writers personally, I contacted them to see if they felt okay about my thievery.

Both poets reacted in the same way. “What an honor!” wrote Molly Peacock when I sent her my poem, “At Night” which was inspired by her poem, “Of Night” which appears in her marvelous book, The Second Blush. And by the same token, when I sent Meg Kearney my poem “Wish List” which was inspired by her poem “Empty List Poem” from her fantastic novel in poems, The Secret of Me, Meg wrote, “I’m flattered,” and then went on to say, “‘Great poets steal,’ right?” I was pleased, and I admit, also relieved, that these poets whom I greatly admire felt, as I do, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

And so, I will continue to “steal” from poets whose work I admire. And who knows? Maybe someday, someone will honor and flatter me by “stealing” a poem from me.

“Thirteen Ways of Looking at My Mother” and “Letter from Mom, Postmarked Heaven” copyright ©2015 by Lesléa Newman, from I Carry My Mother published by Headmistress Press, Sequim, WA. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Thank you again to Lesléa for this beautiful post.

If you’d like to learn more about Lesléa and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://www.lesleanewman.com

Week in Review: April 17, 2016

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

This week I was in prep mode at work. I’m chairing my library system’s YA Book Showcase committee which is responsible for two “new book” trainings (one in spring and one in the fall) as well as a Mock Printz program. Our Spring New Books training is next Thursday so I’ve been writing and practicing 4 booktalks I’ll be presenting, coordinating the booktalks my fellow committee members will share (this means formatting things for handouts, setting the agenda, and making a power point to coincide with presentations), and writing up tips and tricks to share for booktalking. It’s wound up generating way more files than I expected but it’s been exciting to put together and I’m very excited for Thursday morning when the training will actually be happening.

Technically last week but on Sunday Nicole and I headed to the Met to see their Vigee Le Brun exhibit. Vigee Le Brun was a French artist in the 18th Century who worked in paints and pastels. Her work was exhibited at various Salon shows and she was a favorite painter of Marie Antoinette. Vigee Le Brun worked through the French Revolution–even in exile for large parts of it. This exhibit features a lot of pieces on loan from other museums and private collections and if you enjoy painting exhibits and are in the area while it’s still on, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

That’s all I’ve had going on besides passive BEA planning (I think I have a schedule for while I’m there but I don’t have any idea what I’ll be wearing because the weather is to erratic right now to plan that far ahead.. My mom and I are watching an old TV show from 2006 called “Kidnapped” that was on for a season and was recently rebroadcast. Anyone watch it when it was new?

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my April Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about a love song poem I wrote about space

poeticallyspeaking2For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to talk about a poem I wrote called “Space Opera Love Song.”

Something I return to on and off when I’m writing poems is something I call my “love song” series. The poems aren’t actual songs–they aren’t lyrics and they don’t have music–but I think of them as a kind of story with a kind of theme which is something I associate with a lot of love songs.

These love song poems are necessarily based on something that happened to me or something I felt. But most of them are just stories I want to tell. For these particular poems I often start with the title because that tells me what kind of story I want to tell and, by extension, what kind of poem I want to write.

Eventually I’ll branch out more but where I started with these poems is with genres that have some familiar tropes. The one I’m sharing today was written when I was on a sci-fi kick so, of course, it’s a space opera.

Space Opera Love Song
there are scars on the moon
craters as big as canyons
maybe there used to be aliens too
everything changes
distances made malleable
with elliptical orbits and light speed
they tell me I can reach you in twenty years
long enough to grow old even though I won’t feel it
long enough for everyone I leave behind to forget me
long enough for you to live a life without me
you say you’ll wait
you say you’ll be there to meet me
twenty years from now
when my ship completes its elliptical orbit to you
but there are scars on the moon
craters as big as canyons
maybe there used to be aliens waiting there too

This one was inspired by a few things. First by one of the stories in The Ghosts of Heaven in which a ship makes a spiral shaped (elliptical) orbit across space. Next I kept thinking about when Logan gave Rory that stupid model rocket in an episode of Gilmore Girls and it took her forever to figure out its significance. That, of course, led to thinking about the Twilight Zone episode “The Long Morrow” that prompted Logan’s gift in the first place.

So when I sat down to write the first draft of this poem I knew I wanted it to say “Space!” which meant there should be a spaceship. Then I knew I didn’t want this to be a perfect love poem because space operas are usually messy, sprawling things. So starcrossed lovers made more sense here which led me to thinking about the characters who essentially miss each other in a very literal sense in “The Long Morrow.”

I don’t remember where a lot of the original imagery came from. I have a feeling the scars on the moon and craters might have been from a documentary I watched with my mom. And aliens feature because, well, why wouldn’t I have aliens in a poem called “Space Opera Love Song.”

As I played with stanzas and line structure I also wound up making the poem circle back on itself the way that the ship’s elliptical orbit might. Unsurprisingly (since I wrote it) this poem is in my favorite kind of style with straightforward lines and a simple structure. I might even go so far as to call it deceptive because a lot of the meaning doesn’t come from reading the poem closely line by line by from reading it as a whole.

Is this poem how I actually feel about love or Space!? It’s hard to say. Sometimes it probably is. But sometimes it isn’t. All I can say for sure is that I like the idea of little green aliens pining on the moon waiting for their own loves to return until the only trace left were scars and craters.

Note: This poem is an original work by me. If you are so inclined you can share it but please do so by crediting me (Emma Carbone not Miss Print) and linking back to this post.

Author Interview (Poetically Speaking): Brenna Yovanoff on “Drowning Variations”

poeticallyspeaking1Brenna Yovanoff author photoBrenna Yovanoff was raised in a barn, a tent, and a tepee, and was homeschooled until high school. She spent her formative years in Arkansas, in a town heavily populated by snakes, where sometimes they would drop turkeys out of the sky. When she was five, she moved to Colorado, where it snows on a regular basis but never snows turkeys. She is the author of a number of novels, including the NYT Bestseller THE REPLACEMENT. Her most recent book is PLACES NO ONE KNOWS, available everywhere May, 2016. Visit her online at www.brennayovanoff.com.

Today I’m talking with Brenna about “Drowning Variations” which appears in her latest anthology (written with Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton) The Anatomy of Curiosity as well as her writing process.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Brenna Yovanoff (BY): I’ve known I wanted to be a writer for a really long time. Even as a kid, I was always writing and illustrating stories, and starting novels but never actually finishing them. For me, the process of becoming a writer was a long, slow, but very steady one. I took pretty much every English class I could find, and spent a lot of time on the internet, learning about agents and publishing and query letters. Once I finally got to the point where I was reliably finishing stuff, I started sending out short stories to magazines, and queries to agents. The short stories were really important for me because any time one got accepted for publication, it made me feel like I was making progress even while novel-writing-revising-querying remained incredibly slow-going. I got an agent with my second finished novel, The Replacement, and that was the first book I sold!

MP: Since The Anatomy of Curiosity is a book about writing, it seems appropriate to ask about where you write. Do you work best alone? With a writing group? What is your ideal writing space and is it your current space?

BY: I am a coffee-shop writer, all the way! I love to work in places where I’m surrounded by activity, but not expected to actively participate or make conversation with anyone. I have a couple different coffee shops that are my absolute favorites, but I can basically work anyplace where it’s not too quiet, but where no one needs to talk to me.

MP: I loved reading about your writing process in “Drowning Variations” and seeing how the story you wanted to tell changed and morphed through various drafts until it reached its final stage. How do you know when you’re finished with an idea and done with revisions?

BY: There’s this great quote from Paul Valery that goes, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” I’ve always loved that, because—as you can see from “Drowning Variations”—I often just have so much to say about a single idea, and so much that I want to do with it. At a certain point though, I usually have to set it down and back away for awhile. That doesn’t mean that I won’t return to it in some other form later on, but I have to wait until I start to have a new perspective on it. If I’m in that place where I would just be saying the same thing over and over if I kept working on something, I consider myself “done for now.”

MP: You write novellas, short stories, and novels. Do you ever write poetry? When you sit down to flesh out an idea do you know right away if it will be a novel or the start of a series or something else?

BY: I actually used to write quite a bit of poetry, and took a number of poetry classes when I was in school. Now though, I write fiction pretty exclusively, although some of the shorts I did when I was running a fiction blog with my critique partners definitely verged on poetry. I’ve never yet written a series, although I’d like to some day. Because I’m so idea-oriented in general, I usually feel like any idea I have could be a novel OR or a short story OR a poem—it’s all about approach.

MP: Do you have any go-to authors and poets that you find yourself returning to when you read in your free time? If you could recommend one book, poet, or poem to readers, what would they be?

BY: My number-one go-to would probably be Neil Gaiman. His work is so prolific and so varied, but he always sounds like himself, and I know that with him, things will always be at least a little dark, and more than a little whimsical.

MP: Can you share any details about your next project?

BY: My next book is coming out May 17th, and I’m SO excited for it! It’s called PLACES NO ONE KNOWS and is about a prickly, super-intense insomniac of a girl who begins dreaming herself into the waking life of one of the most ill-motivated boys in school, and how awkward and terrible and life-saving and intimate that is.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

BY: Read. A LOT. Read things you think you won’t like, or things that seem confusing or aren’t your style. One of the most valuable things for me has always been figuring out what’s working (or not) in books or stories that are completely different from my own approach and then thinking about why someone would choose to tell that particular story that particular way.

Thank you again to Brenna for this fantastic interview.

If you’d like to learn more about Brenna and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://brennayovanoff.com

You can also read my reviews of The Replacement and Paper Valentine here on the blog.

Author Interview (Poetically Speaking): Tessa Gratton on “Desert Canticle”

poeticallyspeaking1Tessa Gratton author photoTessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. Alas, she turned out too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for a someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in Gender Studies, then settled down in Kansas to tell stories about monsters, magic, and teenagers. She’s the author of the Blood Journals Series and Gods of New Asgard Series, as well as dozens of short stories available in anthologies and on merryfates.com. With her critique partners, she authored The Curiosities and The Anatomy of Curiosity, both about writing YA. Her current projects include Season 2 of “Tremontaine” at Serial Box Publishing, and an adult fantasy novel. Visit her at tessagratton.com, @tessagratton, tessagratton.tumblr.com.

Today I’m talking with Tessa about “Desert Canticle”  which appears in her latest anthology (written with Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff) The Anatomy of Curiosity and her writing process.

Miss Print (MP): In your introduction to “Desert Canticle” you mention that this novella was inspired in part by IEDs and news out of the middle east. Can you talk about the kind of research involved as you started building the world in this story?

Tessa Gratton (TG): US participation in (and causing) wars in the Middle East has been an interest of mine for most of my life (my dad has twice been sent to Iraq for two different wars), so in a way it’s unfair to talk about how I researched this book: I’ve kind of been doing it since 1992. I’ve read piles of books about the Iraq war, both fiction and NF, written by soldiers, Marines, corespondents, and native Iraqis. But when I sat down to start developing the world/story itself, though I already had a lot of background information, I did develop a list of topics I needed to know more about specifically in order to tell my story. I dug deeper into IEDs themselves (how they’re frequently made, how hidden, if hidden, how they’re dismantled, how they’re set off on purpose in a controlled detonation), and into different kinds of military set-ups for the groups of soldiers who usually are searching for them. I also did some extra reading about insurgent groups in a variety of cultures, and looked up details about the desert I chose for my setting.

MP: One of the interesting things in your notes on process during “Desert Canticle” was when you highlighted an argument made by one of the characters that would not have been possible without your own knowledge of women’s studies. Does your personal history often inform how you tell your stories and the shapes of your characters? What do you do if your personal history is in conflict with the direction you need a story (or character) to take?

TG: My personal history is all I have – it’s all any writer has. We’re bound to our perspectives, prejudices, and subjectivities, because that’s how humans work. I do think it’s possible to push past ourselves, but only with great effort. My background in gender studies informs everything I do, but especially my writing. I want my writing to be expanding the conversations of literature and culture and society, and I believe feminism is one of the best ways to do that.

I don’t think I could write a story in conflict with who I am. Of course characters can be (should be) different from the writer, but I don’t have any interest in a narrative that is not part of my philosophy and outlook. What I mean is, yes I can write a character who is sexist or racist, but the narrative of the story itself would be meant to point out, condemn, and/or complicate those aspects of the character, not collude with or accept them without problematizing them. Rafel struggles with transphobia, and that’s part of how I’m using the story/characters to explore the subject, but the story itself definitely condemns transphobia.

MP: Since The Anatomy of Curiosity is a book about writing, it seems appropriate to ask about where you write. Do you work best alone? With a writing group? What is your ideal writing space and is it your current space?

TG: I greatly prefer working alone, and group work is the death of me. Even a project like ANATOMY is mostly worked on alone, though Maggie and Brenna and I were in contact frequently and made sure to be together 2-3 times during the course of the project. I love my office, which has a large L shaped desk and my books and art on the walls. I wish it had a better window, but my living room has a massive one, so when I need more light I can take my laptop up there.

MP: Do you have a specific routine for when you write during the day or how you go about building a story? What does one of your typical writing sessions look like?

TG: Those are different questions for me. I go about building a story over the course of years, usually. My world building is a very intricate process that takes time, and I build stories from world, so it’s a very long time from idea to sitting down to write. That said, when I AM writing, a usual day would be: up at 5:30 am, coffee, exercise, shower, read the news (and tumblr, ok), then write 2500 words. When I’m drafting 2000-2500 a day is my best pace. It gets me moving, but doesn’t overwhelm me so that I’m burned out the next day. After that, I do emails, interviews, house chores, or whatever else is on my plate at the time.

MP: You write novellas, short stories, and novels. Do you ever write poetry? When you sit down to flesh out an idea do you know right away if it will be a novel or the start of a series or something else?

TG: I do not write poetry. I adore reading it, memorizing it, performing it, but writing it just doesn’t do anything for me. I prefer prose, possibly because I’m long-winded and not at all musically inclined. ;)

I almost always know if I’m working on a novel or shorter, and I have a sense if it’s going to be a series or not. I love novels best, and especially stand-alone novels, but the thrill of starting a new series is a pretty heady one.

MP: Do you have any go-to authors and poets that you find yourself returning to when you read in your free time? If you could recommend one book, poet, or poem to readers, what would they be?

TG: I most often turn to June Jordan myself, because her poetry is so beautiful and so overly political, especially in the collection “Some of Us Did Not Die.” She inspires me. As for recommendations, the poetry I most often give away or force on people is Gloria Anzaldua’s. She is amazing, passionate, policital, and liminal.

MP: Can you share any details about your next project?

TG: Ah! Not really, not yet. Very soon I hope. I can tell you it’s an adult fantasy novel, codename #bastardbook on Twitter.

Thank you again to Tessa for this great interview.

If you’d like to learn more about Tessa and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://tessagratton.com

You can also read my reviews for several of Tessa’s novels as well as other interviews and guests posts from her here on the blog.

The Anatomy of Curiosity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna YovanoffIn an old walk up in Brooklyn, a young woman is hired as a reader and companion for a strange older woman. What starts a job quickly turns into something much more important as Petra learns about context, ladylike behavior, and speaking her mind all while finding an unusual kind of friendship in “Ladylike” by Maggie Stiefvater.

In a faraway land a young soldier works to disarm magical bombs left behind by rebels. The hum of the desert lulls him and the mysterious magician on his team enchants him, but sometimes loving something is hard until you know the truth about yourself in “Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton.

In a town where water is scarce, drowning is a rarity. There are a lot of ways to tell the you about the boy she found drowned in a half inch of water, but there’s only one right story for Jane and the drowning place in “Drowning Variations” by Brenna Yovanoff.

The Anatomy of Curiosity (2015) is the second anthology from authors (and critique partners) Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stievfater and Brenna Yovanoff. In this followup to The Curiosities the focus is more squarely on the mechanics of writing and how ideas can become stories.

Find it on Bookshop.

For this collection each author wrote a new novella and details their writing process in a preface and margin comments. Between each story all three authors also discuss how they tackled finding critique partners, revision, and managing doubt.

Each author frames their margin comments and notes in the context of their focus when writing. Stiefvater discusses character (how she builds characters and conveys characterization through different aspects of the story), Gratton focuses on world-building (how worlds shape characters and how world-building choices shape the rest of the story), while Yovanoff talks about ideas (getting from the idea she has to the story she wants to tell with a particular project).

It’s worth noting that The Anatomy of Curiosity can be read, first and foremost, as a set of engaging fantasy novellas. As fans of these authors would expect, each novella is well-written and evocative in its own right. In reading the marginalia and supplemental materials, however, readers are treated to not only excellent fiction but also an insider’s view of the creative process from three incredibly talented writers.

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a must-read for aspiring authors and fantasy fans alike.

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2015*

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about “I Died for Beauty” by Emily Dickinson

poeticallyspeaking2For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to talk about “I Died for Beauty” by Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets. She’s one of the first poets I read as a child and when I’m not worried about sounding arrogant I like to think she’s a poet whose style is similar to my own.

It’s a strange thing that even poems you haven’t read or considered for years can come back to you like familiar friends. I hadn’t thought about this poem for years until I read it again in Maggie Stiefvater’s novella “Ladylike.”

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

I’ve always found Dickinson’s style comforting and calming–even when she’s discussing morbid things like death or burial. It’s an odd dichotomy. The only other time I’ve had a similar feeling was exploring the cemetery near St. Paul’s Chapel when I was in college.

Beyond the sense of peace here, I like the style. Dickinson did her own thing in poems and that included determining her own meter and structure. The poem feels carefully organized–because it is–but it’s according to Dickinson’s own choices. There is an obvious cadence and rhythm to each line but it’s one that isn’t always visible in its printed form. The rhymes here comes across more as the poem is being read aloud–a nice reminder that poetry isn’t always meant to sit on a page.

I’ve always liked the idea that the truth–honesty and things that are sometimes ugly in their revelations, especially in the wake of a lie–can be seen as beautiful. At the same time I love that beauty can be something real and true.

I think a lot about how I shape the narrative of my own life; how I want to tell my own story, if you will. It’s something I’ve been gravitating to more recently in the books I read and something that I know has colored a lot of the choices I’ve made this year (usually for the better).

I think about the face I put forth in the world and the reality I create for myself. Sometimes that means presenting things differently to create an actual narrative arc–something, it turns out, that isn’t always easy to find in real life.

This year I’ve been trying to get to some kind of inner truth about myself–my life–and who I want to be moving forward. In seeking those answers and trying to shape my own narrative, I’ve realized that sometimes the truth is the easiest story to follow. Sometimes it’s also the best one, even when it isn’t as grand as I might have imagined. Even if that honesty can be a small thing, as Emily Dickinson clearly knew, it can have its own kind of beauty.

Talk to me about your favorite poems or poetic forms in the comments and be sure to check back every day this April for more poetry-related posts and guest posts.

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about “Dead Love” by Algernon Charles Swinburne

poeticallyspeaking2For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to talk about “Dead Love” by Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Dead love, by treason slain, lies stark,
White as a dead stark-stricken dove:
None that pass by him pause to mark
         Dead love.

 

His heart, that strained and yearned and strove
As toward the sundawn strives the lark,
Is cold as all the old joy thereof.

 

Dead men, re-arisen from dust, may hark
When rings the trumpet blown above:
It will not raise from out the dark
         Dead love.

Despite years of poetry reading and several poetry classes in college, I didn’t discover this poem until it was mentioned in “Ladylike,” Maggie Stiefvater’s novella in The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff.

This poem is much more structured than my go-to favorites. It’s also somehow bleaker perhaps because of the restrained and deliberate language and the way “Dead love.” is dropped rather unceremoniously at the end of the first and third stanzas. There ends up being something unsettling, uncomfortable even, in the poem.

Maybe that was Swinburne’s intention from the start though. It’s hard to say without context. It’s even harder when it comes to interpreting poetry where the author could have a very specific vision in mind or was perhaps just chasing specific words and couplings.

In “Ladylike,” a lot is made of context surrounding a poem–both its meaning and its author–which is why it was so interesting when I came to this poem with no context save for seeing it in a novella. Maybe my sense of unease while reading is context enough for me?

Talk to me about your favorite poems or poetic context in the comments and be sure to check back every day this April for more poetry-related posts and guest posts.