Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To: Natalie, Greg, Ina, Mari, Finn, Jason, et. al

Dear Characters of My Novel,

First off, I know it's been a while. I'm sorry for that. You see, out here in the out-of-book world (I hate to say "real" world, you know what I mean? Your world is real to you. At least, I try and make it real to you), things are hectic. Money must be made, rent must be paid, and classes must be planned. I think about you all a lot, see out-of-book versions of you walking around all the time, but I know it's not the same. I miss you. I miss our hours together alone. I am hoping to spend some of that time with you soon, but until then, know that your existence will be pondered by me at least an hour a day, if not more.

Hang in there, my friends.

Your Writer

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kate Recommends: The Weird Sisters

Reviewer's Note: I usually like something about everything I read, but I will probably most often be writing about books I liked overall. These are really meant to be less "review" and more "recommendation." Oh, and of course "Ways for Kate to Remember What She Liked Reading." Enjoy!

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown
2011, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam

As I am now reading quite a bit, I've been getting a lot from the library. Let's face it: M.F.A. doesn't stand for "Multitudes of Financial Assets." So when I heard about this book, or read a review somewhere, I dashed right off to the Cambridge Public Library. Turns out I dashed in vain, because it was a month before my name came up on the reserve list and I got my copy.

Anyway. It was worth the wait.

Growing up with a Shakespearean scholar for a father, in the world of the Bard, the Andreas sisters never watched television, nor did they leave the house without something to read. But it is almost only this - and their perchance for quoting Shakey - that they have in common: Rosalind feels she holds the family together single-handedly, Bianca escapes for the big city only to find herself sabotaging her own dreams, and Cordelia, the youngest (and favorite, they all agree), flits around the country aimlessly until she is forced with more than she can handle alone.

"We came home because we were failures," the book begins, and the stress of their mother's cancer and their own personal crises unravels in the following 300 or so pages. It's a homecoming story - a rediscovery of one's past, one's hometown, the idea of one's identity in a family unit, and how to achieve happiness within all of that. The sisters must come home to face their parent's mortality, each others secrets, and ultimately, their own issues.

So here's what I liked:

I like stories like this, in which characters find ways to see rebirth in what they had always found boring and commonplace, so I found myself very comfortable with the premise immediately. I try to do a bit of this every time I visit a town I used to live in, when I have the chance.

I also liked the style of the book. Each chapter and section is from the perspective of a different sister, but the novel as a whole is really narrated by all of them, and the collective first person ("we") provides not only insight and characterization, but also flavor. I can imagine it was a natural decision for Brown, and her comfort with the form made it feel very natural for me to read.

The story's setting, fictional college town Barnwell, Ohio, reminded me so much of the towns of my high school and college years, and I honestly wondered if Brown used Granville as a model city (I later read in this Columbus Dispatch review that it was "Kenyon and Oberlin, with a bit of Wooster thrown in." - I was close.) It made me a little nostalgic, to tell you the truth.

And then of course there's Shakespeare - from Shakespeare class in high school and college, to a three-week Drama in England trip in 2004, to my own Arden Complete Works of Shakespeare on my shelf, it was a bit of a no-brainer that I would appreciate that the Bard featured in this story. One can really draw a fine line, however, between integrating classic Shakespearean themes and quotes into the world of strong characters, and alienating readers who might not be so brushed up by making the story all about his work. I thought Brown did a fine job of letting the characters run the show, and I don't think readers would find the book any less enjoyable without recognizing certain themes or placing from which play each quote was pulled.

Overall, I think I might have waited two months, and I will be picking it up in paperback.

Read For: Unique Writing Style, Lovable Flawed Characters, and Shakespearean Indulgence.

Book Memory and Reviews

I have the extraordinary luck of having a spring/summer position that affords me the time to read. Great, I think - time to expand my horizons of literature, maybe even time to store a few craft ideas away for when I teach writing someday.

Which would be a fabulous idea, if I could just remember what I've read.

Just last night, as I tried to make a list from memory, I got stuck on one title: I could pull up a character's name, the plot, even the ending, but not the title or author. Luckily, the character didn't have a very common name and Google found the book in one try. But that snag, along with the blank stare I usually give people when they ask for a book recommendation, is why I should probably start writing such things down.

I usually talk myself out of doing book reviews on this blog because I think, "Well I got that book from the new section at the library, but it's been out a year already," which is a dumb excuse considering a lot of people get their books out of the new section of the library. Also, I think, "I don't know how to write a book review," which is even dumber. [sarcasm] If there's one thing I hate, it's learning how to write something. [/sarcasm]

So keep on the lookout for my take on The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, coming to this blog near you soon. And by soon I mean hopefully later today or tomorrow.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Short Story "One New Message" Published in 322 Review

I'm pleased to introduce everyone to my first published short story "One New Message," which was published by the nice folks over at 322 Review.

Like Printer's Devil Review, 322 Review features both established and new writers in an online format. Though the Spring 2011 issue doesn't center around any particular theme, the magazine itself likes to explore "the paths of human experience," which is probably why they've chosen U.S. Route 322 as both their logo and their name. Founded by graduates of Rowan University, 322 Review has just published Issue Eight.

Check them out, won't you? And thanks to everyone for your support!

EDIT: Though 322 Review is now defunct, the story can be found archived here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Introducing Printer's Devil Review

Good news, everyone!

I have joined some fellow writers here in Cambridge to launch an online literary journal. My limited experience with reading the slush pile at Harvard Review makes me hopeful that I'll be able to pick out the pretty snowflakes from the not-quite-as-formed-yet snowflakes.

Right now we are preparing our first issue, which should hit e-newsstands at on April 20. Soon after, we'll open up the submission period for everyone. We'll be releasing sneak peeks soon, so I'll be sure to keep everyone informed.

For now, you should check us out on Facebook here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflection, and a Look Ahead

I survived my first semester of teaching much wiser than when I started. I haven't gotten back my evaluations yet, but overall I think I at least gave my students access to the tools they will need for the rest of their time in undergrad. Will they actually use those tools? That part is out of my control.

I learned, mostly, that I need to assume that they know less than I think they know. I need to do a little bit more hand-holding. And I need to change up my readings a little more. I don't think I would do the same seminar again, even though I have most of the classes already planned out. But I do think I would try to put in a bit more variety of readings: poetry and feature news stories were left out. I didn't make them do their own research in terms of the reading as I should have. I should also include a few more writing assignments next time, instead of relying on discussion board responses and their four big papers.

So I learned from the experience, which was the point of teaching in the first place, so I call it a success. I'm taking a break from it this semester, mostly because my course isn't taught at in the spring, though I have been playing phone tag with someone from another school for an interview. With my time freed up I've been doing some temping, some freelancing, and some novel writing. Thankfully, my finances have held up thus far. The goal for the rest of 2011 is not to take a full-time desk job, to get as much differentiated experience as possible, and to finish the first draft of the novel.

To my fellow writing teachers: what was the most valuable experience you took away from your first semester?

To my fellow writers: what are your writing goals for 2011?