Regrets, I’ve Had a Few; or, My Writing History and What I’ve Learned from It

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My name is Elise, and I am a writer. Or at least I try to be. In some senses I am; I did work as a ghostwriter for nearly a decade and write upward of fifty books in that time. So I think that qualifies me. And I have notebooks and thumb drives full of first drafts and incomplete scenes and unfinished stories that I take out and read from time to time and wonder why on earth I didn’t follow through on them. And then I remember: I am a procrastinator. I also get mental blocks and writing blocks, and then I had a kid and all my free time got tied up in diaper changing and cleaning up vomit (baby had reflux, I don’t recommend it) and back-to-school nights and weekend swim classes. Throughout all of that I continued to write at work; I’ve always prided myself on the fact that with the exception of a few years in social services, I have spent the majority of my career supporting myself—and my family—as a writer. Not many people can say that.

But let me back up a little. Or a lot. Thirty-two years, to be exact. (Yes, I am that old.) To 1986, to my childhood bedroom, all white and pastel blue, my posters of Duran Duran and Michael J. Fox on the walls, and my radio constantly blaring the weekly Top 40. It was around that time that I first started journaling; I’m not sure what gave me the idea, but somehow I ended up with one of those black-and-white composition notebooks that I scrawled in endlessly, page after page about what music videos were playing on MTV and what I was doing with my friends and what was happening on my favorite TV shows. (I still have this notebook. I take it out from time to time and cringe at it.)

It was also around this time that I began devouring my local library’s YA section book by book. Paul Zindel and Lois Duncan and Judy Blume’s stories about periods and sex, and this horror series called Twilight, which had nothing to do with sparkling vampires but did cover all sorts of macabre subjects like witches and evil twins and astral projection. It was also around this time that I discovered S. E. Hinton’s novels, and while I read them all repeatedly—Tex; That Was Then, This Is Now; Rumble Fish—I was particularly obsessed with The Outsiders. I didn’t have a whole lot in common with Ponyboy Curtis, the main character—we were both poor, but my parents, though split up, were still alive, and I didn’t have to worry about getting into any knife fights with the rich kids in town. But his story appealed to me. I liked his world, where grown-ups didn’t exist and loyalty was everything, where friends would do anything for one another, where your family at least tried to protect you from the harshness of the world. I read the book over and over; I would literally finish the last word then turn back to the beginning or go back to reread my favorite parts.

And then after a while, just reading it wasn’t enough. All the feelings and ideas it brought into my head, they had nowhere to go, and I needed an outlet. So one day instead of writing in my journal about pop music and John Hughes movies, I started writing a story. About two brothers with no parents (I don’t remember how I killed them off) and their tight-knit group of friends. There wasn’t much of a story line, but there was tons of drama. It was a complete Outsiders rip-off, but I was totally into it. Soon it got its own notebook, a white vinyl binder with loose-leaf pages crammed with my bubbly early teenager handwriting, whole lines and paragraphs scratched out and rewritten in the margins. Even then, I was not good at first drafts. I would write a little and then go back and edit and revise endlessly, until I got that buzz in my head I still get when I do some good writing.

I worked on that story for the longest time, mimicking what I read in teen novels and saw in teen movies and on TV. The brothers had arguments and differences, they pined after girls, they felt more existential angst than even I did in my real life at the time, which is saying quite a lot; writing was a way for me to vent my feelings, yes, but it was also a rather effective means of escape from my less than happy home life, which more often than not was full of shouting and hitting and general unhappiness. When I was writing, I could create the world I wanted, with absent parents and older siblings who looked out for you instead of abusing you. Where kids had normal kid problems and the support they needed to get through them. My characters might have been flawed and imperfect and were definitely complete copies of S. E. Hinton’s, but they lived in the world I wanted to inhabit. Consequently, they became the realest and most important thing to me.

Then Ferris Bueller rolled into my life, and everything changed. (My influences, I am first to admit, have been somewhat…eclectic. If not downright ridiculous.) Having had a massive crush on Matthew Broderick since WarGames in 1983, I was beside myself when the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out; I saw it twice, two days in a row, the weekend it was released. And now I knew this…this was how I wanted my life to be. Ferris was smart and so sure of himself and flouted authority at every turn, and though I was outwardly a fat, shy kid with braces, acne, and a middling fear of the school principal, I was Ferris at heart. In my mind I was calling myself in sick to school and joyriding in my best friend’s dad’s sports car. But in reality, I knew my life couldn’t be anything like his, with his successful parents and nice house and popularity. (Remember, the sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, and dickheads all thought he was a righteous dude.)

So I did the next best thing: I wrote about it. My main character became a Ferris clone (named Scott, I believe…I don’t know why). Good looking, smart-assy, pretty girlfriend. No real story line that I can remember, just one rambling situation after another. But again, I loved it. It felt so important to me. And I worked at it in earnest whenever I had free time. Which at roughly fourteen years old was quite often. And I continued my journaling too, every day practicing in one way or another this craft I’d come to love. Words had become my life, stringing them together in pleasing ways the only thing I wanted to do.

Of course, as I was still a developing human, my writing continued to grow and change as well. I read new books, saw new movies, found new inspirations. At one point my family came into the possession of a home computer, an Apple Macintosh 128k, the neanderthal ancestor of the iMac, and so my writing notebook went from scribbled-on loose leaf to dot matrix printouts of my endless stories, though still with all the scratch outs and marginalia. (I still have all of these, too. It’s clear I was a tough editor even for myself, even back then.) Perhaps the biggest change of all came when my sister gave me Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire to read, and I followed that up quickly with The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned. After getting sucked into that world (pun intended, sorry), my writing style changed and, I like to think, matured. I was crafting longer, more florid sentences, paying more attention to imagery and details, exploring characters’ inner lives more than their outward appearances and actions. Crazy though she might be, Anne Rice taught me a lot; I can still see her influence in my writing today, and I don’t consider that a bad thing.

Did I write about vampires? Thankfully, no, with the exception of one very short story when I was in college, just to see what it was like, and even then it was more implied than outright. I guess it was good, too, because it got published in the school literary magazine. But I did write about tragic figures—homeless runaway teenagers, rich kids whose parents didn’t care about them, all sorts of young people in sad, difficult situations. I wrote and wrote and wrote about them, and when I wasn’t writing about them I was thinking about them, to the point that I had a whole mental soap opera going on as well, an ongoing saga that I never wrote down except in bits and pieces here and there, when I didn’t have anything else I was working on. I always thought this was a little strange, that I had this constantly growing novel contained entirely in my head, but then I read an interview with Anne Rice where she mentioned that she did the same thing. She too had a cast of characters who lived only in her mind, and she put them into situations and crafted their unwritten story entirely for her own enjoyment. So I felt a little vindicated.

I still find it a bit embarrassing, though, truth be told; this is the first and only time I’ve ever publicly admitted I have this story in my head. And yes, that’s have, present tense. I still, some twenty-plus years later, think about these characters and their stories whenever I have a little time to daydream. At this point they’re like a security blanket; thinking about them is comforting. But I also know they will probably never see the light of day.

So what do I actually write, then? Well, blog posts, for one. And I’m also working on a memoir, which is both rewarding and difficult. That’s where I’m trying to focus most of my efforts these days, as it is one of my yearly goals to finish the entire thing. So far I have two chapters, and I’ve started a third. Guess I’d better get going on that one.

I did go to a memoir writing class at a local library, which didn’t help me that much in learning about the genre but did make one thing abundantly clear to me: I missed out by not pursuing a writing degree. Or at least taking some classes along the way. Aside from taking a creative writing elective in high school, I signed up for one writing class in college that I went to twice and then dropped. It was at 8:00 in the morning, first of all—far too early to be creative. Second, I read some of the other students’ writing in those two classes, and well, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I couldn’t imagine having to read an entire semester’s worth of it.

But I should’ve stuck with it; I see that now. Because when I went to this memoir writing class, it was taught by a woman pursuing an MFA in creative writing, and I could tell just from what she spoke about that she had learned things as part of her education that experience alone had never taught me. Yes, I am a good writer, I believe that. But I am entirely self-taught. And while I never saw this as a bad thing—in fact, I’ve worn it as a point of pride—these days I’m seeing more clearly how some formal learning could have really improved what I do and given me some tools I didn’t even know I need in order to make my writing the best it could be.

Still, I won’t let that stop me. In lieu of the education I should have had ages ago, I read books on writing, and I read as much fiction and memoirs as I can, observing the ways that other people tell stories and the conventions they use in order to get their points across. And I practice, practice, practice. With every word I type, I’m practicing, I’m improving, I’m building upon what I know and what I’ve learned over the last thirty-two years, and that is an ongoing process. I might not have a formal writing education, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about it, about this craft that has come to define my life. I’m not a best-selling novelist or a literary great, but I am a writer through and through, in heart and in mind. No matter what else I do, that is always how I’ll describe myself.

Once Is Never Enough

One of my reading goals this year is to reread some old favorites, so I was pretty stoked when I found out that this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (from thatartsyreadergirl.com) is Books I Could Reread Forever. Because I’ve already got a list of those going! But it was also a good excuse to go and peruse my bookshelves, looking for my literary comfort food—those books I can pick up and read again and again, in whole or in part, and never, ever get tired of them. Some because they’re so meaningful to me or remind me of where and who I was when I first read them; some because they make me laugh; some because they’re just plain beautiful. I’ll let you guess which one is which—here is my list, in no specific order:

  1. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. I might have mentioned this a hundred times already, but this is the book that made me want to be a writer back when I was thirteen years old, when I first read it. And since then I’ve read it so many times, I’ve lost count. It’s probably, for obvious reasons, the book that means the most to me in the world, which I guess is why I have so many copies of it.
  2. Collected Stories by Tennessee Williams. I had such a thing for Tennessee Williams when I was in high school, and reading this book takes me right back to senior year, to cutting class to hang out in Mr. Buhtanic’s office—the head of the English department who turned me on to the wonders of Tennessee and other authors I probably shouldn’t have been reading. (I remember him recommending Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. but telling me not to let anyone know he told me about it. He was the best.)
  3. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. When this book came out I put off reading it for a long time because it was so popular, and I thought it was just more dumb chick lit. But when I finally picked it up, I was hooked because I was Bridget Jones. In my twenties I smoked too much and drank too much and often found myself getting involved with good-looking but highly inappropriate men. I was clumsy and awkward, always ready with the wrong thing to say. I’m older and married now, but I still relate to Bridget probably more than I should, and rereading this book always brings back some entertaining if not blush-worthy memories.
  4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I reread this one last year for the third or fourth time (listened to the audiobook, actually, and it made my best-of-the-year list) and was still incredibly impressed by it. The story is so immersive, so sweet and scary and so, so tragic all at the same time. Every time I read it’s like I’m getting to know Clare and Henry all over again, and their story fills me with a sense of wonder and longing and hope that it will work out for them, even though I know how it’s eventually going to end.
  5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Another one I reread last year, this one for I believe the fifth time. At 524 pages, you’d think once or twice might be enough, but I feel like I could read this one every year and still enjoy it. Tartt is a queen of world-building, and her characters are insanely flawed but flawlessly executed; I love that all of them, even the ones you’re supposed to like, have something vile about them. No one is completely likable here, and I just love that.
  6. The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. Particularly The Vampire Lestat (one of my personal classics). I was so obsessed with these books when I was fifteen-sixteen. I had never read anything like them: the florid language, the epic story lines, the beautiful but damned characters. The fact that Interview with the Vampire didn’t have a happy ending was a complete revelation to me the first time I read it; it seriously turned my literary world upside down. These books had such an influence on me, everything I wrote in my mid- to late teens sounded like Anne Rice (and I think sometimes, to some extent, it still does). I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Interview and loving every overdramatic minute of it.

LGBT YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy: It’s a Thing, and I Love It

Toward the end of 2016, I was browsing for something to read—something to finish out the year right, to carry me through the holidays and into my weeklong staycation between Christmas and New Year’s. I hit all the usuals—the Kindle new releases and daily deals pages, my Amazon “to read” wish list, my Goodreads “Want to Read” shelf and posts from friends, my Audible wish list….

And that was where I found it, a book I’d saved some time ago thinking it sounded intriguing, but I wasn’t in any rush to listen it: We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson. I read the description—Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens—and knew I had found my title.

I immediately downloaded We Are the Ants and started listening to it on my drive home from work that day. About thirty seconds into main character Henry’s opening monologue, I was hooked. Part of it was Gibson Frazier’s narration—deadpan and monotone and totally teenager but awesomely passionate at the same time—but mostly it was the writing. So good, so honest. Full of teen angst and vulnerability and…aliens? Yes, but it totally makes sense. Henry talks about being abducted by aliens like he’s talking about what he did at school that day, like it’s just something that happens in the normal course of his life (which, in fact, it is).

And that’s how the story approaches the fact that he’s gay as well. It’s what I love most about We Are the Ants and most of the other books in this genre that I’ve read: In them, being LGBT (any variation thereof) is not a big deal. It’s not something to be overcome or outed but just part of the normal everyday lives of the characters. Just like their height and hair color, they are gay, or trans, or asexual, and it’s not a big deal. I mean, it is a big deal that books like this exist. But as part of the storyline, it’s really just another character trait, and I can’t tell you how much I love that.

That said, here are five great LGBT YA sci-fi/fantasy novels I’ve read and/or listened to:

  1. We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. The book that started it all for me and the one to which I compare all other LGBT YA sci-fi/fantasy novels. It is the bar. It is perfection. It is a gay John Hughes movie with aliens.
  2. Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak. This one made my top seven favorites list for 2017, and with good cause. The writing is amazing, the story so deep and sensitive and sweet. And I might have mentioned this before, but Jarrod, the love interest? Totally dreamy.
  3. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This was the first Rowell book I read, and I didn’t realize until I was done with it that I had gone about things a little backward. See, she has this other book called Fangirl, where the main character writes fan fiction about this character called Simon Snow—a sort of Harry Potter knockoff. Well, Carry On is the fan fiction novel she is writing throughout Fangirl. I didn’t know this when I read Carry On, so I just took it at face value—and loved every word of it. A gay wizard and a gay vampire with a searing love/hate relationship? Yes, thanks.
  4. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. The way this one starts out, you think it’s just a good, solid urban coming-of-age story, but then that sci-fi stuff sneaks up on you. It’s worked in so seamlessly, it makes it a totally believable part of the story.
  5. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. The genius of this novel is that it really is about the rest of us who just live here—while the heroic kids are off saving the world, this story focuses on the other kids who are just living their lives, with all the requisite teen angst, confusing love…and a guy who’s actually a god worshiped by cats. It’s kind of awesome.

Bonus book: At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson, who has become the Brad Pitt of the YA literary world for me: Just like I will see any Brad Pitt movie without even knowing what it’s about because there’s no such thing as a bad Brad Pitt movie, I will read anything Shaun puts out, because I can trust it will be good. Also looking forward to his upcoming title The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, due out on February 6.

CPB Goals 2018

How many posts can I write about my 2018 goals? We’re going to find out!  

(Don’t know what a commonplace book is? Read about it here.)  

So as you saw in the previous post, my co-blogger Vicky is quite prolific with her commonplace book. Me, not so much. As with many things in my life, I love the idea of a commonplace book but find it hard to keep up with. Well, not hard exactly. The truth is that I’m lazy. I have a backlog of audiobook clips to transcribe into mine and Kindle notes to copy. I keep lists of words I look up in the dictionary, and they have found a home in my CPB as well, but at the moment I have several of those sitting on stickies on my desktop waiting to be added. I can pull out that old “I just don’t have time for it, with everything else going on in my life” card, but that’s getting a little broken record-ish, no? I think it’s time I start making time instead of complaining that I have no time to begin with. The time is there. I just have to find it. That is my new mantra.  

That decided, I have a few questions I need to answer first:

1. Do I enter things in my CPB right away, as I read them, or wait and do one big dump on a schedule, say once a week or twice a month? 

Right now I’m basically doing the big periodic dump. I’ve added a few things as I come across them, like clips from other blogs’ posts and snaps of snippets from magazines, but for the longer works, I’ve been lax. I highlight and note as I read in my Kindle, but then when I’m done with the book, I let it sit for quite some time without adding those highlights and quotes to my CPB (which, like Vicky, I use Evernote for). I have to find the right balance. I feel like posting as soon as I’m done reading the book is the way to go, so I’ll try to do that instead of procrastinating.

2. How do I handle print books? 

 One of my reading goals for this year is to read more print books. So, how do I record quotes from them in my CPB? Vicky’s post outlined how she’s able to take pics of print materials and edit them down to include only the text she wants quoted—I’m going to have to pick her brain on that one, because my attempts at same have not been successful. This seems like a better, quicker method than typing up every quote I want to save and less complicated than highlighting quotes and going back to snap them later (as I’ve tried…so time consuming), so I must master it.

3. And what about those word lists, anyway? 

So I have what the kids these days call a side hustle as a book editor. My clients are all self-published authors. It’s interesting, and while I complain about it a lot because hey, who wants to work two jobs, I do enjoy it. I love editing in and of itself, and I get some satisfaction from hopefully helping people who have chosen the nontraditional publishing route to put out the best product possible and maybe become better writers in the process. 

I also have a full-time job as a copy editor, where I edit audiobook descriptions. Yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds, but again, I love editing, so I like it. Anyway, between these two jobs, I look up a lot of words in the dictionary to check for proper spelling, hyphenation, compounding, etc. (I wrote a blog post about that a while back. I have a lot of feelings about editing, okay?) And I keep lists of these words, have done for a while. Why? Well, there’s a practical side to it—once I look up a word during an edit, if I list it, I can just refer back to the list and won’t have to look it up if it appears again. Largely, though, it’s all about self-amusement. Curiosity. And a plain old love of all things wordy. Maybe I’m just a word hoarder. I don’t know. 

So now that I have a CPB, I have someplace to collect these lists, rather than just amassing a myriad of sticky notes on my various computer desktops. Which is great! But I feel like I need some larger purpose for these words. Recording them is fine, adding them to my CPB is brilliant, but what then? This is what I must figure out. How do my word lists fit in to my larger CPB goals, and what inherent weight do they hold? Is there something more I can be doing with them?  

These are all questions I will answer in time. The most important thing is to jump in and start posting in my CPB more often. In fact, I think I’ll go and catch up on some of that audiobook transcription right now. 

Ten Books I Meant to Read in 2017 but Didn’t Get to (and Totallyyyy Plan to Get to in 2018!)

Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish for the title and topic as part of their Top Ten Tuesdays!

As I’ve probably mentioned on this blog a few times already, time is at a premium in my life. I know, whose isn’t? But for real, I just don’t get a lot of time to read in an average day. Listening to audiobooks has helped with this a lot—I have at least an hour in my car a day when I can listen, and sometimes I can even get away with listening while I work—but still, in 2017, I just couldn’t manage to get to everything on my (lengthy) to-read list. Here are a few I didn’t read/listen to but totally plan to in 2018, in no particular order.

  1. We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel. Dana Scully, the TV role for which Gillian Anderson will probably forever be best known, is my spirit animal: skeptical, stern, and takes no bullshit from anyone. And I went to a women’s college, so I’m definitely a feminist from way back. So how could I not want to read this book?
  2. Memoirs by Tennessee Williams. I have had a soft spot for Tennessee since my favorite English teacher/mentor in high school introduced me to his short stories, and I actually have two or three memoirs/bios of him on my to-read list. I actually started this one but just didn’t get to finish it yet. Bonus: a fantastic introduction by John Waters in which he says things like “Was Tennessee nuts when he wrote Memoirs, or just high?” As you read on, you see this is a legitimate question.
  3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Can you believe I made it through my seriously book-obsessed childhood without ever reading this one? Neither can I. Decided to give it a go now on Vicky’s recommendation.
  4. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. I was a latecomer to Becky’s awesome first book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but I finally read it and loved it. Looking forward to catching up with this one in 2018 and the Simon sequel due out in April, Leah on the Offbeat.
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Everyone—everyone—loved this book, but I stayed away because (and I know this makes me a wuss) it seemed depressing, like “awful, terrible subject matter I can do nothing about and that makes me feel helpless” depressing. But Vicky says Angie Thomas is the next Toni Morrison, so now I’m in.
  6. From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars by Virginia Grohl. Yes, Dave Grohl’s mom. I like memoirs, and I like music, and I am a mom of a boy who wants to be a Skrillex/Deadmaus-style DJ when he grows up, so this one seems entertaining to me.
  7. Pep Talks for Writers by Grant Faulkner. I may be anti-NaNoWriMo, but a book of inspiration and motivation from its founder? That I can do. I need all the motivation and inspiration I can get, tbh.
  8. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks. I generally give fiction written by actors the side eye, but come on, it’s Tom Hanks. You can’t side eye Tom Hanks. (Let’s just hope it’s not as painfully boring as fellow actor/my idol Molly Ringwald’s When It Happens to You.)
  9. Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay. Daphne du Maurier has been one of my favorite writers since I was assigned Rebecca for summer reading before my freshman year in high school, but I don’t know much about her life. Her own daughter said this is a good biography, so I’ll give it a try.
  10. Release by Patrick Ness. He got me with A Monster Calls. Also loved The Rest of Us Just Live Here. This one is supposedly inspired by Judy Blume’s Forever…—how could I possibly pass it up?

 

Goals for People Who Hate Making Goals (Namely, Me)

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 This quote pretty much sums up my relationship with goals of any sort—work-related, personal, deadlines, resolutions, all of it. I’ve never been good with them; I’ve always seen them more as loose guidelines that don’t necessarily have to be followed than hard-and-fast rules for how and when something needs to get done.

At least, that was how I was in my younger years. The older I get, the more respect I have for goals and deadlines. Not respect meaning I revere them, just that I understand why they’re sometimes necessary and can force myself to meet them when I have to. Which is more than I can say for my twentysomething did-forbearance-on-her-student-loans-six-times self. My current job, where I have daily and sometimes hourly deadlines, has done a lot to help me improve in this area. And in the coming year, I’ve decided, I’m going to try to let that bleed over into the rest of my life.

And that means…New Year’s resolutions. Not to go to the gym more (already working on that one from last year) or to spend less money (just to budget it better, thanks to You Need a Budget) but to do more things that I enjoy, because that’s what’s really missing from my life. And the two things I enjoy most are reading and writing, so I suppose it makes sense that the majority of my goals for 2018 relate to those two topics in some way.

First, for my reading goals. I tried to keep them simple but still ended up with quite a few. Common sense tells me I should cut some out, but what the hell. I’ve never been one for subtlety; if I’m going to do something, I’m going all in. So, they are:

Read/listen to four books per month. In 2017 I read forty-three (out of a goal of forty, go me!) books in the Goodreads Reading Challenge; this year I’ve upped it to forty-eight.

Read more new releases. Despite my recent declaration to the contrary, I think it’s time to at least try to start keeping up with the times.

Reread at least three favorite books. I already have a list of seven contenders, so we’ll see how this one goes.

Read all the unread books on my to-read shelves/in my Kindle library. This one is steep—there’s a lot of titles there—but I’ve already jumped in with a 495-page novel. Feeling ambitious.

Read more print books. The previous goal is going to help with this one.

Read more motivational books and actually do what they say! Not like cheesy self-help books, but books about positivity, mindfulness, and how to live a better life. I am a negative person by nature, and that’s gotta stop. (Short version of this goal: This year I will stop rolling my eyes at Brene Brown.)

And my writing goals. For most of my writing life—and it’s been a long one—I’ve written because I enjoy it, with the thought of publication only a “maybe someday” thing in the back of my mind. That changes this year. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s time to get serious about this craft I’ve been working on since I had braces. This year I will:

Finish a first draft of a book. I have a few ideas, some I’m working on, some not yet. I’m not sure which I’ll go with yet.

Get something published. A short story, a chapter of my memoir I’ve been working on, even a flash fiction piece. Something.

Try out a writing group. I know of a local one that meets weekly; I’ll try for once a month if it seems like a good fit. I just need to network. I need to know other writers.

Write more than once a week (which doesn’t even happen regularly now). I’m aiming for three times a week, hoping realistically for two.

Write in a journal every day. Inspired by Vicky’s recent post, I pulled out a new blank journal and started on it today—a week late, but hopefully I’ll keep up with it every day until December 31.

 That’s all I got. And it’s quite a bit, to be honest. I feel like I’m going from zero to sixty in about a second here, but it’s gotta happen. I’m going to make it happen. This is the year I start taking goals seriously, starting with reading and writing. Wish me luck!

 

Top Seven Books Elise Read (and/or Listened to) in 2017

Because ten reviews was just too damn long. 

As we already know, I don’t keep up with the latest books. Hence my reading list this year has been all over the map, a mishmash of older and newer titles in genres from memoirs to YA LGBT fantasy/sci fi (it’s a thing, and I love it). In fact memoirs were what I seemed to have read the most of, and that’s great because it was my goal for the year to start reading memoirs, a genre I never explored before. 

That said, here’s my list, in no particular order, accompanied by a quote I liked from each:

1. Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming.  

It’s hard to explain how much that feeling of the bottom potentially falling out at any moment takes its toll. It makes you anxious, of course, and constant anxiety is impossible for the body to handle. So you develop a coping mechanism, and for us that meant shutting down. Everything we liked or wanted or felt joy in had to be hidden or suppressed. I’m sad to say that this method works. 

I’ve been a fan of Alan since seeing him in the ’90s in Cabaret on Broadway and have always admired his versatility as an actor. I have to admit the subject matter of his memoir—his abusive childhood—gave me pause, as it’s a difficult one for me personally. But the writing is so well done, so thoughtful, it even gave me new insights into my own life. And isn’t that what good memoirs are supposed to do?

2. In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor.  

So I had been working on a new concept of God, with the intention of creating something that I would feel comfortable praying to, conversing with, trusting. Which had seemed heretical to the old Catholic in me, but the truth was, the old ideas had only been able to get me so far…. I chose to turn to a higher power that was filled with the generosity of spirit and unconditional love that my parents always had for me and was as supportive as my family now were. As loving as my wife, and as goodhearted as my bandmates. This God was on my side, had my back, and wanted the best for me.  

Full disclosure: I have a tattoo of the cover of Rio on my arm. So just know that I went into this one with a bit of a bias.  

If you were not as obsessed with Duran Duran in the ’80s as I was (okay, and as I continue to be to this day), John Taylor is the band’s bass player, and this is the story of his life. And while this might sound pretty yawn-worthy to someone who isn’t a fan, it honestly is just a good solid memoir. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s got ups and downs and the obligatory addiction and recovery yet maintains an overall optimistic tone throughout. Mostly I was pleased to hear that he and his bandmates seem to be nice people.  

PS, if you are a fan, listen to the audiobook. Hearing John talk for almost eight hours straight is swoon-worthy.  

3. A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold. 

As a mother, this was the most difficult prayer I had ever spoken in the silence of my thoughts, but in that instant I knew the greatest mercy I could pray for was not my son’s safety, but for his death. 

Sue Klebold comes across as an intelligent, strong, and caring woman – none of which she really gets credit for as the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters in the Columbine school massacre. As evidenced in many reviews of this book, she is often seen simply as a bad mother who is culpable for what her son did. This, we find out here, is not truly the case. The truth is a whole lot more complicated than that, and I applaud Sue for allowing us to peer into her life and see who she really is beyond the news coverage, to witness her own struggle to come to terms with what her son did while also grieving for his death and for the violent, sudden loss of the son she knew. 

4. Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak. 

The teller shapes the story. If you don’t tell it, the story shapes you. 

I listened to the audiobook of this one, and let me tell you: The story, the writing, the narration by Michael Crouch. A perfect trifecta of perfection. The main character’s coming-of-age story is beautiful, translatable from the microcosm of his life to the macrocosm of society and the culture he lives in. He faces his vulnerabilities without fear and works to accept the people in his life and himself as they and he are. He doesn’t know how strong he is until he’s really tested, and then he finds out he’s stronger than he ever knew possible (a trope I generally hate when it’s included in a book’s description, but it works so well here). 

5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. 

I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were coming or I’d have cleaned up a little more. My life, I mean, not just the apartment. 

This was a reread for me—the third or fourth, I believe; it’s one of my favorite books—but this time I listened to the audiobook, which did not disappoint. Excellent narration by Fred Berman and Phoebe Strole, and even with my familiarity with the story, I was still moved by Henry’s inevitable, unstoppable downward spiral and his and Clare’s inability to do anything about it. Tragic love story at its finest. I can guarantee this won’t be the last time I read or listen to it.  

6. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay. 

It took me a long time, but I prefer victim to survivor now. I don’t want to diminish the gravity of what happened. I don’t want to pretend I’m on some triumphant, uplifting journey. I don’t want to pretend that everything is okay. I’m living with what happened, moving forward without forgetting, moving forward without pretending I am unscarred. 

One of the most honest memoirs I’ve read (well, listened to the audiobook of). There’s a level of candidness you don’t often see in memoirs, where the story generally revolves around the hardships the author has endured and how she overcame them. Instead this is an examination of one woman’s trials throughout her life and up through the present day; the ways in which trauma can shape a life; and the problematic ways our culture, our families and friends, and ourselves deal with those who are different or imperfect.   

7. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. 

“But how,” said Charles, who was close to tears, “how can you possibly justify cold-blooded murder?” 

Henry lit a cigarette. “I prefer to think of it,” he had said, “as redistribution of matter.” 

Another reread, this one for the fourth or maybe fifth time. Another of my favorite books. Donna Tartt’s world building is extraordinary, as is her talent for taking extraordinary circumstances and making them completely believable. With anyone else, the kind of insane characters in this book might have fallen flat, but she makes them deep and real, even sympathetic despite the vile situation they’re in. This review is sort of vague, but I don’t want to give away too much for those who haven’t read it. If you haven’t, be sure to put it on your list for 2018.