Friday, February 25, 2011

50 in '11 Update: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon & The Lottery and Other Stories

Happy belated President's Day, Writer Friends, and a hearty huzzah to good old Abe and Georgie for getting us some time off of work! Over the long weekend I did some traveling, and in three days read two of my books for the 50 in '11 challenge: Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories.

My first impression on picking up Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was that I was glad to be buying a copy; the book as a physical object is one of the nicest I've ever seen. The whimsical cover (which looks rather dashing with its Newberry Honor sticker on it, I might add) is just the beginning of what makes this book gorgeous. The interior is full-color throughout, and each chapter is dotted with gorgeous illustrations that stay delightfully true to the story's tone and themes. On the matte pages, Grace Lin's beautiful illustrations at the head of each chapter look like original woodblock prints so fresh the ink is still drying. I love the typography; from the title page to the chapter text to the subtly different font used for the text of stories told within each chapter, it feels comfortable, playful and perfectly suited to a story of fairy tales within fairy tales. The care put into this book as a physical item is obvious.

And for all the beauty of the package that contains it, the writing itself doesn't disappoint. Grace Lin has an ear for lovely language, and the world she creates is spellbinding. Her story is sweet without being saccharine, and I love how both the main character and the adults around her undergo believable, meaningful transformations over the course of the story. Grace Lin does justice to the many Chinese fairy tales that inspired Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and at the same time creates a new one to stand worthily alongside them.

I highly recommend Where the Mountain Meets the Moon for readers of any age.

I also finished Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories over the weekend. I'd already read "The Lottery," so I expected more dystopian sentiments from this collection. I was surprised to find, however, that while just as dark, none of the other stories seem to take place in any world other than our own. From desperation in the country to self-loathing and lonesomeness in the city, they paint a bleak, desperate image of the lives of women in America. Few of the stories accompanying "The Lottery" in this collection take on the same epic-feeling scope as Jackson's most well-known story, but they all make something epic of the sometimes inexplicable actions of anonymous characters. I'd love to pick these stories apart from a psychoanalytic angle; there's so much there beneath the surface.

All in all, another one I'd recommend, especially for those interested in learning the craft of short story writing. These stories, like so many great short stories, are about moments; they are glimpses into a characters' psyche. And they are brilliant examples of how that can be done well.

Thoughts on these books? Questions? Share them in the comments! Next up, I'm reading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, a childhood classic that I somehow missed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Want to Work in Publishing? Start by Getting an Internship!

The weather warmed up this weekend, and maybe that got you thinking that summer’s right around the corner. No? Well, maybe not. But maybe you’ve noticed at least a few groups of people already looking ahead to summer; summer internship postings have been springing up on job boards at an increasingly rapid past these past few weeks. If you’re interested in a career in publishing, or even in exploring your options in the book world, perhaps you’ve noticed.

And good on you if you have! Whether you’re a student, a recent graduate looking for some entry-level exposure, or an established professional looking for make a career switch, you shouldn’t pass these opportunities up lightly. This may not be true in every industry, but in publishing a good internship experience is still one of the best ways to get into the business. They offer valuable exposure to the actual process of acquiring, editing, producing and marketing a book; they allow you to begin developing a discerning editorial eye under the watch of the industry’s most skilled players; and they give you a chance to make friends and connections who, in a small community like the book industry, will appear in your life again and again.

But, especially with the economy and the industry suffering, they can be hard to get, and if you’re feeling a little lost as application deadlines loom, I don’t blame you! I was really fortunate to hold five fabulous internships during my journey into publishing, and finding each one of them was an adventure. I don’t know everything about getting into the industry, but I learned a lot from each of my searches. And, Writer Friends, I’d like to share it with you!

So as you get your application materials together over the next couple of weeks, remember to stop by Trac Changes to see what’s going on. Each week I’ll post a new segment of my Guide to Getting a Totally Sweet Internship in Publishing. Topics will include networking, how to approach your cover letter, types of internships to consider, and more. But don’t shy away from those buzz words—this will be a lot more fun than going to your school’s career center. Promise.

See you next week for the first installment!

Update: In case you're catching up in reverse, here are the episodes:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

WHY WRITE?: Literary Fiction

Gentle Readers, it’s finally time for the last installment of the WHY WRITE?TM series!

Last but certainly not least, let’s discuss that lofty ideal of writerly circles, the prized gem of the literateur: the work of literary fiction. No one can quite define what it is. Agents and editors may tell you they can’t sell it. But, boy oh boy, do we in the book world ever lust after it anyway.

So, why write literary fiction?

For the glory. Let’s not kid ourselves: if you want a National Book Award or a Pulitzer Prize, you’re best off writing literary fiction. If you want to be read in classrooms long after your writing days are over, or to be immortalized between Sherman Alexie and Margaret Atwood in some ages-from-now edition of the Norton Anthology, you’re best off writing literary fiction. Writers of other genres may have avid, loyal fan-bases, but writers of lit. fic. tend to find followers in high places. There’s something about the genre that, when done well, demands respect. Those hungry for fame, or driven to find immortality through fiction (and let’s face it, who among us isn’t one of those people, to some extent?) seem to find themselves irresistibly drawn to literary fiction.

Because you are devoted to—nay, even obsessive about—the craft of writing. How does literary fiction earn that kind of respect? Though every writer labors over their craft, it’s the authors of literary fiction who seem to take it to a near-obsessive extreme. They make keen observations about even the most miniscule of events, then make an art form of expressing them. Writers of literary fiction, even when they rise to fame on the strength of their novels, are essentially poets and short story writers at heart. They excel at saying much in as few words as possible; at expressing complex thoughts in a single, clever turn of phrase or a precisely-chosen word; and at drawing lofty themes out of even the most deceptively simple texts.

Because you have something to say… Because of its complex nature, literary fiction begs analysis. Think of Hemingway’s spare dialogue, which nonetheless can spur hours of debate, or Tony Morrison’s lush language packed with Freudian metaphor and cultural significance. It’s nearly impossible to pick up a good work of literary fiction and not have to wonder what’s going on beneath the service. Well-crafted lit. fic. reveals more of itself as the reader delves deeper into its elements; thus, it’s a natural choice for a writer who wants to be considered in academic circles, to reveal universal truths about human nature, or to comment upon or critique society.

…And you want to be taken seriously about it. As you’ll know if you read the WHY WRITE?TM episodes on science fiction and fantasy, YA, or historical fiction, I don’t believe that literary fiction is the only genre that tells universal truths or lends itself to disseminating meaning. However, it may be the genre in which we most expect it, and thus the genre that gets the majority of the credit for it. Maybe it’s because so many of those who judge the merits of texts earned their laurels primarily by studying the last several centuries’ authors writing in the same style, or maybe it’s because the lit. fic. genre more than any other allows an author to strip her text down to its most meaningful elements; whatever the reason, the literary world does seem to take literary fiction more seriously than any other genre. The credibility gained from writing well in such a respected genre can easily transfer to your message—so if you want to be heard, literary fiction may be the way to go.

What are your reasons for writing or reading literary fiction, if you do? What have I missed?

And on another note, what did you like about this series; what did you not?

Let me know in comments!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Turn-Key: My Latest (And By Far Greatest!) Editorial Adventure

Kayla got made when she was just seventeen. It was a fair fight, no surprises for anyone, but that doesn't change the fact that she shot a woman in cold blood. That she played her part in the mafia's game.

With her Uncle Damian just murdered, it's Kayla who should be stepping into his shoes. She's the natural leader the family needs—except she's never quite fit in. And in any case, the mob is no place for a woman.

Abandoned by the family and plagued by doubt, Kayla must finally decide where her allegiance lies. Can she continue to play the pawn, or is it time to cut ties with the mob for good?

"Turn-Key" is a new short story by J. Hickman, the writer and artist behind the web comic Morgens. Told in a voice that's in parts haunting, irreverent and sardonic, it follows a band of punks, rebels and mobsters through a journey to find common ground. Forced finally to decide who she can trust, Kayla is about to finish the growth she started years ago, when she first became the mafia's tool.

I cannot rave enough about "Turn-Key," or Morgens in general. J. Hickman's sense of voice, the thoroughness with which she explores her characters, and her impeccable artistic style make the Morgens universe one you won't want to leave. I'm flattered to have had the opportunity to work with her as a developmental editor on her latest projects. I hope you'll follow this link (or the one in the banner above!) to follow along as "Turn-Key" unfolds. The story updates on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so if you hurry over now you won't have far to go to catch up! You won't be sorry you did.

While you're there, be sure to check out J. Hickman's extraordinary design portfolio, 13 Avocados (ever wondered who designed this blog?). Seriously. When she gets big, you're gonna want to be able to say you knew her when.

Note: This story and the Morgens series as a whole is intended for teens and contains some content that may not be suitable for younger age groups.

Friday, February 4, 2011

50 in '11 Update: The Audacity of Hope

The good news is that I'm still on track to make my goal of 50 books this year, given that I'm four books into my list and about four weeks into the year. The bad news is that I've lost the head start I got by finishing The Road so early. It's not that I didn't love The Audacity of Hope—I definitely did. But one of the reasons that I had to list nonfiction as one of my categories for this year is that, when it comes to nonfiction, I'm a love-'em-and-leave-'em kind of gal.

I often enjoy nonfiction. Reading is my favorite way to absorb information, and I do love to learn. Besides, good writing is always good writing, whether it's about true events or not. But, unlike with really good fiction, it's a rare piece of nonfiction that I can't walk away from at any time. Fiction keeps me reading to find out what happens next; in nonfiction, I have to motivate myself to go back to that well of information and keep drinking.

And on weeks like the past few, when everything seems to be spinning out of control, and I can barely keep up with where I'm supposed to be and when, and what I owe to people in the in-between hours? I am so not going to that well.

So I made my way through The Audacity of Hope slowly, but I nonetheless enjoyed every minute that I did spend reading. It probably won't surprise anyone who's listened to even one of my feminist/pro-diversity/liberal-as-all-get-out rants that I'm already a big fan of our president, but I was still floored by the fluidity of his prose and the depth of his thought on every issue. He finds compromise where radicals on both sides insist there can be none, and behind all of his thinking on even the most touchy issues is a calm sense of reason. Here's someone who really believes that all of humanity, and especially Americans, are called to do good in the world. Here's somebody who's willing to have a real discussion about how to do it, and to question his own assumptions. He made me question mine.

Next up, I think I'll grab The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson. I'm craving some short fiction, and I think the quick reads will help me get my nightly page count back up so I don't fall behind!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Broadcasting with a Very Exciting Announcement!

Sorry, Cats and Kittens and Writer Friends: there will be no post this week. But never fear: there is some good news!

On Saturday, April 16th, I will be participating in a panel on Publishing in the Digital Era at Baltimore's CityLit Festival. Here's a quick description of the panel:
E-books. Vooks. iPads. Technology is altering how we read and deliver literature. Co-sponsored by BackList, this timely panel, composed of local writers and publishing professionals, will explore and discuss the ever-changing face of publishing—and what it means to writers—as we move further into the digital era.

If you're in the Baltimore area on April 16th, be sure to drop by the Enoch Pratt Free Library's central branch for a full-day of author presentations, readings, panels, and networking opportunities. You'll hear from National Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon, my past professor (and totally butt-kicking novelist) Jessica Anya Blau, and more. Be sure to stop by the Fine Arts Department at 3:30 pm to participate in the panel discussion. It should be lots of fun!