Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Something I think we don't discuss often enough as writers is diversification. 

In this case, I don't mean diversity of subject matter or characters, although those things are important, as well. Rather, what I mean is that we ourselves must be diverse.

Think about it: in nature, stagnation can--and often does--mean death. If an ecosystem isn't varied enough, it can fail, withering away as its few plants and animals falter under the weight of sustaining something they aren't equipped to handle. Likewise, going hard on one project, all the time, can mean creative death.

It's important to branch out into other areas. Of course, writers should always be reading, and that's one way to diversify: by seeking out genres and topics outside of your own scope. And in order to keep the creative juices flowing, it's helpful to have another artistic endeavor. For me, it's photography (I'm a big fan of Instagram). When I don't feel able to write, or when I need a break from it, I might snap a few pictures and express myself that way. Other options are music, painting, or even crafting (my crafts of choice are usually crochet and scrapbooking). 

Or maybe you have a more scientific hobby. Vladimir Nabokov was into collecting butterflies. Flannery O'Connor raised peacocks. Sylvia Plath kept bees for a time. Hell, even the more run-of-the-mill things out there, like cooking or bowling, make great side pursuits.

The point is, having something to do outside your writing time makes you a more well-rounded person, which in turn makes you a better artist. Sitting at your desk all the time can be crazy-making and lead to myopia. And no one likes a writer who never introduces a new subject or element to his or her writing, right?


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Turning the Lazy Susan

All right, let's talk about something for a second: this horrendous phenomenon of retelling stories from another character's perspective.

When I say this, I don't mean the Wickeds and Grendels of the world, those being mainly original works that expand upon their source material. What I'm referring to, rather, is something along the lines of E.L. James' Grey or its forerunner, Stephenie Meyer's never-finished Midnight Sun.

Not familiar with either of those titles? Consider yourself lucky. I will admit, right here and now, that I read all four of the main Twilight books as well as Midnight Sun, which is available via Meyer's website. I kept waiting for them to get better, or for something truly intriguing to happen; neither of those things came to pass. By the time I got to Midnight Sun, I was no longer hopeful, but like a knight who has undertaken an impossible mission in the name of his king, I felt I was duty-bound to take one last stab at giving Meyer a chance. That, I don't mind telling you, was a mistake.

It turns out that retelling Twilight from Edward's perspective was a terrible move because it made him seem even more irredeemably creepy, even more like an unrehabilitated stalker. And, frankly, it was a waste of time.

Because Meyer had already told this story. Revisiting it with another character as the narrator wasn't groundbreaking, and it certainly wasn't an improvement upon the original. Rather, it was an exercise in laziness. This is the kind of project you undertake when you're working on your first or second draft, playing around with voice and point of view. It's not the sort of thing you do once a project has been completed. To me, that says you're out of other ideas and can't pull yourself away from the thing that made your name.

Since Midnight Sun didn't make it to book form, though, it doesn't seem as brazen as Grey, which looks from where I'm standing like a pure money-grab. Because Grey is nothing more than a retelling of Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian's perspective. (No. I have not read any of the Fifty Shades books.) EL James, rather than moving on to new writing projects, has simply retooled her "original" trilogy; I say "original" because it started out as Twilight fanfiction. And now she's selling it, milking yet more profits from her cash cow, which is a disservice to fans of her writing as well as the craft of writing itself.

Of course, you can make the argument that nothing is ever really new and all that. But in these cases, there is literally nothing new. We owe it to ourselves as writers and readers not to support such endeavors, which lead to stagnation among consumers and our output. Instead, we should be exploring entirely new territory and expanding our horizons by seeking out more original works.

Don't let this become a full-blown trend in the publishing industry. We all deserve better.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On Rereading

If you're familiar with this blog, you've seen my reading list section, which names every book I've read since 2011. I've kept this record more for my own edification than anything, but I feel it can also serve as a jumping-off point for anyone searching for a tome to consume or interested in what a writer actually takes in (short answer: everything).

But my list took a nosedive in 2017. The number of books I read last year was considerably lower than it had been in the past--fewer than my usual goal of one book per week. On the one hand, it is true that I slacked off, partly due to changing circumstances but also thanks to a newfound inability to concentrate on anything for very long (thank you, depression, for making it difficult for me to focus). On the other hand, I also decided to take time in the final quarter of the year to re-read five books that mean something to me.

It started with Steve Almond, whose (Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions brightened my grad school days and which I wanted to revisit for its instructive wit and keen observation. His meditation on Kurt Vonnegut triggered in me a need to spend time with favorite novels of my own. So I went on to Robert Coover's Briar Rose, still a thrilling novella to behold some ten years after I first encountered it. The suffering lovers at the center of Coover's tale, of course, made me think of Thomas Hardy's exquisitely painful plots, so The Return of the Native called out to me. 

It was also October, though, and with Halloween upon the doorstep, I put Hardy on hold to tackle House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski's intricate tale of fractured humans and the things that haunt them. After that, it was back to Hardy, and then of course I had to round out the season with Fahrenheit 451, my long-standing favorite.

I could have gone on, poring over other novels that have influenced me along the way. In fact, I have no doubt I could make an entire career of living inside fictional worlds I've already encountered. More than likely, I will halt my new-to-me progress again this year to re-read more old loves.

Because it only feels right. In spite of the march of progress and the never-ending supply of new material (as well as my bad habit of going on book-buying binges), I feel I owe it to myself--and the novels, in a way--to look back. After all, what is the point of saying something like, "Oh, yes: The Bell Jar had a profound effect on my writing" if the details of that book are getting hazy and I can no longer cite specific moments that set me on fire? And anyway, re-reading gives you that same feeling you get when you go home for the holidays: relief, comfort, and anticipation of the good things ahead. (Side note: if this isn't how you feel about going home for the holidays, you have my sympathies, and also my permission to insert your own analogy here.)

As for what I re-read this time around, I can say the following:

- I relate to the characters in The Return of the Native better now than I did when I was 17, which made this a richer reading experience for me.
- Although House of Leaves didn't scare me this time (it terrified me as a 16-year-old), it still caught my attention and left me wanting the next page.
- Steve Almond is bae just as much today as he was when I first saw him in Cambridge, MA in 2011.
- Coover's work is every bit as magical as I remember.
- Fahrenheit still feels like my forever book, and I hope that never changes.

And I'm curious to know: what books do you like to re-read? Tell me in the comments. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

New Year, New(ish) Project: Food Food Food

Back in the day, when I was working on my first blog, What We Covet (RIP), I decided to branch out into food blogging with a venture called Food We Covet (double RIP). This endeavor was short-lived, due to several factors, including an unfortunate phobia of mine (triple RIP), but it came in handy when I took a course about food writing in grad school. One friend in particular--I'm not naming names, BUT YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE--has made it known that she desires the return of Food We Covet.

While I can't (read: won't) make that happen, I am able to start a new feature here, starting today with a story about a disaster that occurred in October.

Like many mothers, mine has a stockpile of old cookbooks, though some of hers are hidden away in the basement. So while I was waiting for my laundry to finish up one day, I started perusing the titles when I found a slim little volume of pumpkin recipes; I later learned that she didn't even realize she had it, which is why it had been tucked away so long (the receipt inside indicated she purchased it circa 1993). 

As it was Halloween month, I was pretty pumped (no pun intended, or maybe a little), and I decided to dive right in. Obviously I chose the toughest thing possible: a pumpkin soufflé. Soon enough, though, I asked myself the relevant question: WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING.

Up until I got to the butter, things actually went pretty well. Canned pumpkin wasn't ideal, perhaps, but it was a nice way to save time. The ground ginger and nutmeg scents burst through my nose and immediately put me in the holiday mood. Even grating orange zest without a grater proved possible, if annoying (I used the ever-so-delicately serrated part of a table knife for this step, and my upper arms got a nice workout). 

But then the butter wasn't as soft as I thought it was, so it wouldn't blend with the other ingredients, and I wound up with tiny shards of butter in the batter, visible even without my glasses. This is the part where I almost cried, but I hadn't gotten to the eggs yet, so I had to pull myself together in order to separate the eggs in precisely the manner you're told not to separate them, which is to say by pouring the albumen and yolk back and forth from one half of the shell to the other. This is, naturally, the way I wound up with yolks in the white and vice versa. But hey--nobody's perfect.

It turns out, though, that the separation itself wasn't the problem. Rather, it was the fact that no one has ever shown me how to "stiffly beat" egg whites, or more precisely the fact that it is difficult to do this by hand. The short version of this story is that they were not stiffly beaten, although I think it's fair to say they were vigorously swirled around. I'm 99 percent certain this is what went wrong with the recipe.

I say that because the soufflé was well on the way to rising. When I cut into it, the texture was too dense, too wet, and I knew it hadn't gone my way, but it was also spongy, and I could see that the outside walls of it had started to fluff up.

Because the batter hadn't fully set, the whole thing fell apart as I tried to serve it up to my parents. Mom, understandably, abstained after her first bite, and I agreed that it was wrong--the flavors were off because the texture was bad, and it felt more like eating mangled pumpkin stew than anything. Dad happened to enjoy it, so I bequeathed the rest of the entire dish to him.

At any rate, it was nice to be back in the kitchen after not really setting foot in one for awhile, at least with any intention behind it. And while I soufflailed--as I told my friends--it was worth the effort to learn a lesson about how not to do a thing. Maybe I'll never attempt another soufflé, though.


PS For copyright purposes, I won't be sharing the exact recipe here, but if you're interested, e-mail me at for more information.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Year, New Playlist: 2018

I had a tradition on my first blog, What We Covet, of starting each new year off with a playlist of music I intend to take with me throughout the year. As with the previous lists, the songs were culled from my current collection. Most aren't recent, but they certainly sound good to me, and that's really the goal of any playlist I ever make. They come to you in no particular order. I hope you'll check them out, if you're not already familiar with them. Enjoy!


2017 was shitty, y'all. I mean really, truly awful. In the interest of never having another year like that, let us proceed with fun, happy music!

1) "Barbara Ann," The Beach Boys

While I fully recognize that this song was specifically engineered to find the right balance between talent and fun, I don't care: it makes me really happy that it sounds like a jam session at some beach party, with the background noise and ashtray improvisation and everything else. Listen to it and you'll know why people think Brian Wilson is a genius.

2) "Just Dance," Lady Gaga

I'm gonna go ahead and tell you right now that I have scream-sung these lyrics into a phone in the past. Was I under the influence? I decline to say. Was it a good night? It certainly was.

3) "Happy," Pharrell Williams

This song is literally called "Happy." No way was I going to leave it off the list.

4) "Can't Stop the Feeling," Justin Timberlake

Is this song cheesy? I honestly can't decide. But even if it is, it makes me want to dance, and I think it's pretty uplifting, as well.

5) "The Way You Make Me Feel," Michael Jackson

Justin Timberlake's musical godfather Michael Jackson was, in my opinion, at his very best when he was protesting, such as in "They Don't Really Care About Us" or "Scream." But neither of those songs is cheerful at all. You know which of his tracks makes me smile the most? This one.

6) "Holiday," Madonna

Speaking of superstars from the '80s, here's Madonna imploring us all to take "some time to celebrate." With the new year here, why not take her advice?

7) "For Once In My Life," Stevie Wonder

Is it just me, or does Stevie Wonder always sound a little bit elated, even when he's singing sad-ish songs? I suppose the question is moot, as he's singing a genuinely happy song here.

8) "Cheap Thrills," Sia

There's something great about songs that declare, "I need you and that's it," as long as they don't have a creepy tinge to them. Sia only wants to be on the dance floor; it's her happy place. Let the lady hit her groove.

9) "Your Love Is My Drug," Kesha

Let me first say that I am so glad Kesha is back after all the upheaval and drama she experienced for a few years there. It's not that I miss glitter-bomb Kesha; it's more that I look forward to hearing her sound as excited about life as she does on this track.

10) "Like a Feather," Nikka Costa

It is absolutely criminal that Nikka Costa is not more famous than she is. This song alone should have done it: an anthem about letting go and relaxing for once--something I need to learn to do.