What I’ll be reading this year: fewer straight white guys—an update

Faithful readers may remember that in January I said that one of my goals this year was to read fewer books by straight white guys. This was inspired by a post by writer Ayelet Tsabari, who set a goal of reading books by writers of colour in 2014. Since it’s almost the end of the third quarter, I thought, why not put together a progress report?

You can see all of the books I’ve read this year in this handy list on Goodreads. So far, in 2014 I’ve read 24 books. Two of those have been written by straight white guys. One of the guys, my grandmother’s cousin, is deceased. The other is John Green. Out of those 24, seven were written by writers of colour. Fifteen were written (or co-written, in the case of anthologies) by women. Eight were written by queer writers. I’m kind of surprised that latter number is only one-third of the total, but there we are.

So, I guess that’s no bad as far as trying to diversify, but I think it could be better. There could be more writers of colour. There were some more books on my to-read list in that January post by diverse writers; as luck would have it, they’re sitting in a box at my parents’ home in Washington state (because there’s only so much you can fit in luggage, I’ve found). Hopefully, I’ll be able to pick up some of those when I visit them in September (that’s when I’m taking part in that reading at Orca Books in Olympia—achievement unlocked: shameless plug!). The ones I do have in my current to-read stack at home will get moved up. Also, I still have about twenty bucks leftover on a bookstore gift card given to me after graduating from grad school, so it may be time to do some shopping. And, of course, there’s always the library. I’m getting ready for a YA writing workshop I’ll be leading, so I’ve been trying to concentrate a lot on YA lately. I just started reading an excerpt of Huntress by Malinda Lo and, well, I’m hooked. So it’s going on the “currently reading” list.

So, what are you reading lately? Any suggestions?

Focus

*Tap tap tap* Is this thing on? It is? Oh, good.

Has it really been two weeks since I posted something? I’d like to say that it’s because I’ve been fantastically productive, but that would be a big ol’ lie. (I did have an idea for a story this morning, though, that I might work on later, after I’ve done all the other things that are on the list before it.)

About that list…. I have eleventy million things to do in the next couple weeks and not nearly enough time to do them all. For starters, there’s the reading at Left Bank Books next week, and I need to decide which part of The Unwanted I’m going to read. I’m thinking chapter one and then a bloody bit from the middle, which will make no one ever want to go down into a school basement ever again. (Of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer already did that for me.)

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My week at the Lambda Writers Retreat

Lambda Literary Reading, August 8, at Antioch University. Photo by Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta.

Me at the Lambda Literary Reading, August 8, at Antioch University. Photo by Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta.

…or, “They don’t call it ‘writers’ boot camp’ for nothing.”

You would think that I’d be used to writing workshops after two years of graduate school, but this past week really wiped me out. I was one of twelve fiction writers in a workshop led by Lucy Jane Bledsoe at the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. (I know, it’s kind of weird to think of myself at age 44 as an emerging voice, but it’s also true. Hey, late bloomer and all.) We came from all over the U.S. and Canada and, in one instance, Australia (if you’re reading this: hi, Ed!). Our writing styles and forms ranged from contemporary literary fiction to otherworldly, gender-fluid speculative fiction, but we all had at least one thing in common: we thought we had something to say, and we wanted to learn how to say it better.

It’s funny, watching how a group’s social dynamic coalesces when you’re only going to be together for a short, defined period of time. There are the initial introductions and everyone’s still a little… not exactly on their guard, but still feeling each other out, seeing “is this the sort of group where I can say this but not that? What’s the best way to make this point so that they’ll hear it and not misunderstand? How does all of our respective baggage match up?”

Because, you know, we’re talking about writers. We’ve all got baggage.

Then there’s a point, about midway through the week, when suddenly you can’t imagine a time when you never knew these people. They get you, and they get what you’re trying to do, or they’re really putting themselves out there with their work and it’s really vulnerable, or something you wrote hits a chord in them that was so unexpected that they just burst into tears.

That bursting into tears part? Happened a lot.

(As an aside, I think I was really lucky in choosing the MFA program that I attended. With rare exception, I found an environment that welcomed writers from a range of backgrounds and identities, and a constructive and encouraging atmosphere. I know, that’s a lot of descriptors and modifiers, but what I’m trying to say is that the people in the program were generally not snobby, didn’t look down on other writers, and were queer friendly. I don’t think a lot of other people at the retreat who’d been in MFA programs had a similar experience. So, I just want to say to the people at UBC, keep that up. You’re doing it right.)

At the same time, the experience at this retreat was different from the welcoming atmosphere in grad school or any sort of place where you might be welcomed but still don’t feel 100% like you fit in. Here they got that you were a writer and they got that you were a queer writer. It may seem like a subtle distinction, but they were also able to bring to bear a perspective on the work that sometimes slips by other readers. It also means they can call you on things that might slip past a straight reader.

But within that commonality there was so much diversity too, as I mentioned above. There were people with lots of publishing credits, people with one or two, people with none. MFA, no MFA, just finished undergrad, never even went. It didn’t matter. Everyone was there to write and be better. And boy, did we work hard. Basically, we had a three-hour workshop every day for six days straight. (In grad school, I had two a week, three at most, and they were two hours long.) That took up the mornings, and after lunch there was usually a guest lecture on topics ranging from DIY marketing to cisgender individuals writing trans* characters. Then after dinner, there was usually a reading, another lecture, or some other function. By the time that ended, it was time to prepare for the next day’s workshop. So, even though I was in sunny L.A., there wasn’t time for anything else.

Now that I’m back at home, watching all of the retreat-related posts scroll through my Facebook feed, knowing they’ll trickle out and things will go back to normal, I’m missing the people I met and sad that the experience is over. But I also know that I’ll be seeing these friends again, especially on bookshelves. I’m also looking through my notes and thinking about the next revision of the story I workshopped, and thinking about other places to send the backlog of finished stories I’m just sitting on (word to the wise: send that stuff out), and I’m looking at my calendar of deadlines for other writing workshops, residencies, and fellowships. I met people last week who were later on their way to Bread Loaf, to Vermont Studio Center, and other destinations. Who’d been to Ragdale, or Tin House, or a residency at the bottom of the world (twice). And I’m thinking, I’ve got to keep moving.

I owe a huge thank you to poet Leah Horlick, who was a Lambda Literary fellow in 2012 and encouraged me to apply for the retreat. Andmassive thanks to everyone who donated and made it possible for me to attend. And stupendous thanks to Tony Valenzuela and Kyle Sawyer, who basically worked 12-plus hours a day for seven days straight to make the retreat happen. I can only imagine how tired they still must be. If you know them, do something nice for them. They deserve it.

Mark your calendars! Reading September 3 at Left Bank Books

You might remember my reading/signing for my first book, when the fabulous Kris Kleindienst from Left Bank Books set up her book table in a bar (The Civil Life, to be exact) and sold a lot of copies of Detours while we all drank Jake Hafner’s fantastic local brews.

This photo of Kris and my former co-worker Holly was one of my favorite shots from that night:

"That'll be $100, please." ;)

“That’ll be $100, please.” ;)

That was a lot of fun, but this time I’m going to be in the store itself. (This is probably for the best, as I may have drunk most of my advance that evening.)

The Unwanted 300 DPIAnyway! Mark your calendar for Wednesday, September 3 at 7 p.m., when I’ll be reading and signing The Unwanted at Left Bank Books in the Central West End, 399 North Euclid Avenue (the corner of Euclid and McPherson). Complete details are here.
Come hear me read! Watch me try to sound coherent when people ask me questions about the book! Ask me how the sequel’s coming along and watch me really get flustered! Spend quality time with Spike the resident feline! Watch me stop abusing exclamation marks! (Yeah, like that’s going to happen.)

But anyway, please come and help validate my existence and maybe buy a copy of the book. I’ll even sign it legibly. Honest. And afterwards, maybe we can head down to Jake’s for a beer!

On the (net)Radio

on the air(With apologies to the late, great Donna Summer)

Over on my official website (you know, where I try to look all professional and stuff), I recently mentioned a few events and appearances that are coming up, but I forgot about one thing that I’m also really excited about: I’m gonna be on the air this October with People You Should Know, a podcast hosted by playwright and YA author David-Matthew Barnes. I’ll be on October 3 with fellow author Jove Belle. Check out the rest of the lineup here, and be sure to listen in and hear me stumble, stutter, and generally make an idiot of myself (although hopefully a charming or at least inoffensive one).

And hopefully I’ll be able to let you know about a reading/signing in St. Louis soon. Stay tuned!

Adventures in poutine, part one

It’s like I’ve been in withdrawal, really.

I haven’t had poutine since I left Vancouver at the end of May. Before that, I made sure to have as much of it as I possibly could, so going from feast to famine, as it were, was particularly rough. I’d also joked that maybe I would need to learn to make my own and that could lead to a lucrative side business as St. Louis’s only purveyor of poutine.

As it happens, there are some places you can get poutine here. However, they are hardly what I would call authentic. One restaurant makes it with pork belly and sweet potato fries. Another uses meaty gravy and the waitress told me, “It’s not like the real thing, trust me.” There’s even  a place here that makes poutine with—get this—blue cheese.

Did you hear that, Canada? Blue cheese. If this were Twitter, I’d be SMDH.

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Ruth Sternglantz on editing your own work

This may make me an oddity, but I like editing my own work. I might even like it a bit more than the initial first draft process. For me, getting something down on paper (or more likely these days, on screen) can be a challenge. I’m a slow writer, and I’m okay with that—I’m not going to berate myself for not being able to keep up a faster pace. Once it’s finally done, I can close the file and let it sit for a little while. It’s when I go back and open it up again that, for me, the real work begins.

Ruth Sternglantz, an editor at Bold Strokes Books, has a great metaphor for dealing with your work, especially if you find you’re the sort of writer who has a hard time revising their own writing. It’s a metaphor that she takes from a novel by Radclyffe: look into the wound. It’s all about a way of seeing your work, finding the things that do work, that aren’t damaged and don’t need to be changed, and let them drive your revision.

Read the whole story over at the Bold Strokes Books Authors’ Blog.

In the comments over there, Ruth mentions a remark by Andrew Holleran, about how writers and teachers will often talk about “vomiting out” that first draft. Let’s hope your first draft doesn’t look like barf! There’s nothing like having to clean up a pile of sick; why would you want to do that with a manuscript? That being said, a first draft is messy and imperfect. After recalling a ceramics class I took in college, I liken the first draft to making pottery. You’ve got to get the clay on the wheel before you can start to pull up the shape of the vase, or pot, or jar, or whatever it is you’re making. You’ve got to get enough clay on and you’ve got to get it in the center, which is harder than it sounds. But if the clay’s not on there, you’re just spinning your wheel. (Ha! See what I did there?)

What’s your process? How many times do you revise a work? I find I don’t have a set number, but three seems to be the minimum number of drafts a book goes through for me.