For this month, I chose at random stories by LGBT+ writers in honor of October being LGBT History Month. I found them through google searches looking first for LGBT+ writers, then for LGBT+ specific literary journals. As with the previous nine months, I have no idea what these stories are about – the goal is simply to experience new writing. Feel free to read along!
I first met Ophelia O’Leary several years ago. She was smart and complex and a little bit sassy – not unlike her creator, Jack Lelko (who you all know as my writing buddy). I’ve had the chance to revisit her world a few times over the years – most recently when I set her published pages on my waiting bookshelf (the same shelf I’d been pointing eagerly to every time he and I FaceTimed while I was in my office, going – see, right here is where your book is going!).
It’s been such a joy watching my friend Jack go through the process of self-publishing his book. Not everything went smoothly, mind you – but he was going for it, and I was so happy to see him believe in himself and his story so much. This was a labor of love…and blood and sweat and tears and, allegedly, a sacrifice or two. But Ophelia is out in the world – meeting people and causing chaos, as she was designed to do.
She’s been out in the world a couple of months, now, but yesterday was the first time I’d been able to see my Jack in person (I live in the Midwest; he’s on the coast) – and I couldn’t let the occasion go without a celebration of this special story.
If you like Christmas, chaos, and cheekiness – with a bit of magic realism and whimsy thrown in – I encourage you to visit Ophelia and her friends in Nollag. You can find Christmas Bitch in many places, including at BookShop.Org.
To celebrate properly, we of course needed a cake*:
*So, I’m not going to say where I got this cake. Because when I went in the first time to ask about pricing, no one said anything about the use of “bitch” in the title. Then I went in to place the order, and I was told that they couldn’t do it because it’s not ‘family friendly.’ I was given the option to have it done but with “bitch” covered over in red. (I asked if they had any recommendations of where I could go to have it done, and they listed off places that wouldn’t do it because “they’re moral, too.” [strained smile]) I realize I should have considered this was a possibility – but, again, no one said anything when I went in to have a consultation about it. At this point, I was out of time, so I said fine, figuring I’d buy some icing and write it in myself. Then, when I went to pick it up, I saw the moment when the person going through the cooler looked for my name on a cake realized which cake I was picking up – they glanced around, came over to me with the cake in a cardboard box (instead of the normal see through plastic), and whispered – “So, I did it anyway. Please don’t open the box in the store.” To the person that “did it anyway,” thank you – there’s no way I wouldn’t have ruined this cake trying to write it in…
Yes, it’s getting colder. Yes, you can now get just about any beverage with a dose of pumpkin spice. Yes, school is back in session and snow is inevitable. [enter sobbing here]
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still adventures to be had – and we sure love any adventures dealing with books. And let me tell you, if you’ve never been to Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan, WI – you are missing out.
Bookworm Gardens opened it’s (out)doors in 2010 and is now home to over seventy different gardens – all inspired by children’s literature and driven by their mission is to “enrich the mind, body, and spirit of the young and young at heart.”
While the Gardens are an adventure on their own, there are also themed events to keep an eye out for. Last summer, I had the chance to share Bookworm Gardnes with my nephew and sister, and we arrived without knowing it was fairy day – in addition to exploring the Gardens, we also got to decorate our own wands, got our faces painted, and even built a ‘ready to move in” home for tiny fairies.
Some special events that still remain are the Boos + Brews (young at heart only) on Oct 14 and the Happily Haunted Gardens (all ages) on Oct 16-16, 20-23, and 27-30 (from 5 -8 p.m. each night, with “twinkly lights, live book characters, entertainment, trick or treat stations and fun surprises during this beloved, not-so-spooky event”). See the Bookworm Gardens website for more information and to get your advance tickets.
The Gardens are currently open Wednesday through Sunday until the end of October from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. (except for Sunday, when the gardens are open 9-5). If you can’t make it before October ends, don’t worry – they will open again in May! See the Bookworm Gardens website for more information about reservations and admission prices.
Back in March, I wrote about a wintery trip my friend, Jen, and I took to Cave Point. We’ve since bookended our summer with another trek to our favorite spot on Earth. It’s hard to believe summer, defined here as the time period between the end of one academic year and the start of another, is over. But here I am, four weeks into the new year (five if you count in-service). And I’m still trying to figure out what happened to summer.
Well, I do know, of course. I taught this summer. I took care of the house (really looking forward to being able to put that mower away for the winter…). I took care of my cat, who started on meds, who injured her leg, who has been switched to a new diet so that I don’t have to force her to take a pill twice a day. I created material for a new course I’m now four weeks into teaching. I dealt with not one, but two trees falling on my things. I mean – who saw that coming? Not this girl.
And I wrote (a bit). I didn’t quite make my goals of words in my WIP or with reading (I still have two Anne of Green Gables books left). But summer threw a lot my way, so I’m ok with where things are. Goals are made to motivate us. And they can be revised.
Taking the day to head up north and traipse around with my friend was just what my little soul needed. I always feel refreshed after – the fresh air, the heart to heart chats, the sound of the water crashing into the cliffs. There is not a time of the year that I don’t love this place – and every time we go, not matter the weather, we say the same thing – what a perfect day to be here.
And it was a perfect day. The bright sky – the shade from the trees. The water level was low enough that we could still safely climb around – but the wind was moving enough that we still got some epic splashes. I already can’t wait to get back. Maybe once the colors change. 🙂
Normally, I have no idea how many words I read in a year because I don’t track them. I’m also not someone who usually sets goals for reading because I’ve never needed an incentive to do it (plus, my life isn’t consistent in its chaos, so it’s hard to know what I can feasibly accomplish or not).
It seemed easy enough, though, to add a short story to my mornings (even if I have to occasionally punt that story to my evening and set a reminder in my phone to read it). Enter the “A Story A Day” challenge.
Well, as of today, this short story challenge has added an additional million words read to my year. Not something I was aiming for – just a fun surprise when my excel sheet updated this morning and hit seven figures. 🙂
I’ve made a fairly big decision about my second baby – Lucy’s story. I’ve decided that I will be self-publishing this novel. It might not feel like a big decision to most – but it feels big to me.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is because of my experience with the publication of my first book. As a debut writer, especially, there is a lot that is out of your control. Understandably. (But also, of course, frustratingly.)
I started writing this manuscript, my love letter to Scotland (my first, I guess I should say – there will certainly be more), on July 1 of 2020, though the idea came to me much earlier than that. As with my first book (and each book since), I “casted” my characters to help give me a static idea of what they would look like. I wrote out the (tentative) outline of the story. Then I got to writing.
The first full draft of the book was 60K. [chuckles] I was SO eager to get to the Scotland part of the story that I absolutely RUSHED the rest of it. I was left with a skeleton of a story. I immediately went through the manuscript to fill it out – to slow down the parts that I had rushed. I ended up somewhere around 76K. Better – but still short. I decided then to call on my trusty beta readers – asking them specifically where they would want/need more. With their help (I did a revision after each of the three sent their comments back), I ended up with a story of 83K that I absolutely loved. A story about family. About identity. About journeys – both metaphorical and literal.
I, however, still had no title for it. [chuckles flatly] Titles are the worst. For a brief moment, the title was Luminous. Also, it was Looking for Lucy for a bit. And a few others. I finally landed on Wherever Would I Be, which has stuck.
I did spend some time querying, to no luck. There were a number of folks who liked the story, but for this reason or that felt they weren’t the right ones to champion it. (Doesn’t matter how it’s framed, the rejection still smarts, right?) I did submit to RevPit just to see if there was interest. And this is where the seed of self-publishing officially took root. One of the editors I had subbed to wrote me after the announcements were made (I was not chosen) about the connection she had to the story and gave me some feedback on the pages she had read. What she wrote made me feel like she understood the story.
I reached out and asked if she would do a line edit for me. I sent along a sample chapter, and her response, again, made me feel like I could trust her with the work (she said it didn’t need a line edit and offered what her plan would be). I said yes, we signed a contract, and now I’m awaiting her email (which should arrive today). I’m looking forward to seeing what she had to say and for a chance to jump back into this story again.
One of my favorite things about writer twitter are the daily questions that folks pose – some of which get you to think about things relating to your main characters or story that you might not have otherwise. One such question popped up recently:
My initial response was – I had a hard enough time trying to come up with the title for the story as is! [nervous laughter]
But then I thought about it a bit, and I really liked the prompt (one I might have to borrow for my fiction students!) – we are, after all, the heroes of our own stories. Of course the antagonist would have their own version with their own title.
For my book All Falling Things, there are two external antagonists for Alice. The first, Cat, was a tricky one to think of a title for – and I’m still not sure I like it, but I dove into her Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland alternate character (the caterpillar) and (from a piece of the caterpillar’s dialogue) came up with Are You Content Yet? I’m not 100% satisfied with it, though it is fitting for who Cat is. While she’s willing to wait for what she wants, she doesn’t have the patience to deal with people who don’t know what they want. The other external antagonist is Alice’s mother, Vivian Hart. Her title was easy: Mother Knows Best.
Funnily enough, these titles would work for Stanley’s side of things, too. Cat is one of his external antagonists, as well, though instead of a know-it-all mother, his other antagonist’s title would be Father Knows Best.
The main antagonist in Alice’s story is internal – Alice’s struggle against herself, all the notions she was raised with, battling against what she’s told to want so that she can figure out what she actually wants. If the story was based just on her perspective (rather than the dual narrator) and the attempt to quiet her mother’s voice in her own head, I (jokingly) imagine it would be something along the lines of this (screenshot from Lucifer, Season Five, Episode Ten “Bloody Celestial Karaoke Jam”):
For this month, I chose (kind of) at random stories from Granta (I ended up needing to purchase a subscription to finish reading Month Three, so thought I’d use them again), the literary quarterly from Cambridge University. I say ‘kind of’ because I scrolled through their list and chose any story that I came across – but skipped over the excerpts* because I wanted stand-alone stories. As with the previous eight months, I have no idea what these stories are about – the goal is simply to experience new writing. Feel free to read along!
This summer, I opted to reread the Anne of Green Gables series, partly because it’s been a while and partly because my WIP takes place in this world. I wanted a chance to re-immerse myself with this story and these people. I then plan to rewatch the CBC mini series – which is how I was first introduced to Anne (by my grandmother).
Seemingly unrelated, I’ve been watching a friend of mine post on Instagram all these fun drinks that she’s been experimenting with – one more delicious-sounding/looking than the next. I’ve enjoyed living vicariously through her feed, and one day, as I was taking a reading break to flip through insta, an idea sparked:
I wanted to make some raspberry cordial (which, if you’ve read the first book of the series or seen the CBC miniseries, you know where this idea sparked) to perhaps drink in celebration of finishing the series. (Now, in this scene, Diana is supposed to be drinking raspberry cordial…but she is accidentally drinking currant wine…oops…)
I’m opting to make two types of raspberry cordial – one like what might have existed in the story (i.e. non-alcoholic); the other a bit boozy. The boozy version is a bit easier to make – but it takes time.
Using two one quart mason jars, I dropped a half cup of granulated sugar into the bottom of each, followed by a pint of fresh, rinsed raspberries in each, and then topped with vodka (you need a minimum of 80 proof for the alcohol to preserve the fruit – and remember that the taste of the vodka will affect the final product, so I recommend a good vodka – one that doesn’t taste like hairspray…looking at you, broke college-aged me). Store in a cool, dark place (mine are in my pantry), and give a bit of a shake once a week to help dislodge the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, you’re good to go – but, of course, the longer you let it sit, the strong the raspberry taste will be.
For the young Diana Barry-friendly cordial, you’ll want a pint of fresh raspberries, rinsed, as well as one and a half tablespoons of lemon juice (can be from a bottle or fresh squeezed), 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and three cups boiling water. Coat the raspberries in the lemon juice – make sure they get good and coated (whenever you work with lemon juice, you’ll want to use a bowl that is not reactive – avoid things like aluminum, cast iron, or copper – aim instead for glass or ceramic). Boil the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Once this happens, pour the sugar/water over the raspberries and allow it all to cool on the counter to room temp – then cover and place in the fridge for at least a day.
In both instances, once the mixture is ready, you’ll want to use a mesh sieve to strain the liquid. Then you’re ready to enjoy! (You can drink the boozy version straight – or mix with lemonade or tea.)
Week One Check In:
As noted above, the recipe says to shake gently… The sugar was pretty stuck on there. It’s already a really pretty bright, red color. 🙂
Week Two Check In:
About half the sugar still solid last week has dissolved. The color has remained about as red, though the majority of the berries are now white.
Week Three Check In (minus one day) – the recipe does recommend one month minimum to infuse, so I’ve got another eight days to go before it’s ‘officially’ ready:
All of the sugar has been dissolved. The color has remained consistent – but look at the sun shining through! 😀
From my work with UntitledTown (so “last year” was actually several years ago by now):
Last year, I was given the task to write about why poetry matters, and it paralyzed me – because how does one put into words why poetry matters. As a writer, this frustrated me to no end. Words are supposedly my thing, after all. It took some time – and some reaching out to other poets – but I eventually found a way. So this year, I actually requested the opportunity to write about why stories matter. While poetry has become an important part of my life, stories have always been there.
You see, I grew up knowing the importance of stories, and I credit this knowledge to my maternal grandfather, my papa. Papa was the best storyteller I’ve ever known. He could take a single moment and turn it into an hour-long story – and we would all sit there with rapt attention. It’s been over a decade since I was able to last hear the story of his hole-in-one – but I can still tell you the exact blue of the sky – probably right down to its pantone number.
And though my father would never admit it, he is a storyteller, too. Thanks to him, I know what it was like to watch the Beatles live in concert, to travel the U.S. on the back of a motorcycle, and all the ways I am like his mother, a woman I never had the chance to meet.
Stories are escape. They are magic.
I grew up on the opposite end of the block from my neighborhood’s public elementary school. Every week, I could be spotted with my arms full of books headed towards the school where the city bookmobile parked. I’d trade that pile of books for another and make my way back home – where I would blow through the entire stack before the day was over. I was a voracious reader because it allowed me to not only escape to places all around the world and meet all kinds of people, but also because it allowed me to escape from. No matter what was happening in my life, I had these portals to walk through.
My dear friend Laura Chiavini echoed these sentiments, noting that “stories matter to me because they transport me to other places, other times, other cultures, and inside other minds. When I open a book, I walk around in another’s shoes for a few hundred pages and learn something about people and about myself. The experience always changes me.”
My friend and fellow writer Jack Lelko says, “Stories matter to me because they’re an extension of what it means to be human. They’re able to touch a part of the human soul or the human psyche that nothing else can reach.”
The older we get, the less we tend to believe in magic – but that is what exactly stories are: real life magic.
And they matter for so many reasons.
Stories have the power to change us.
“When I was eight,” Laura recalls, “I saw a hard bound copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty in the dime store, and I loved the drawing of Beauty’s face on the cover. Being horse-crazy, I asked for it for Christmas, and I got it. I traced the horse’s head for many days and then finally cracked the book open to read it. I was no longer in my little Illinois working-class town. I was in the streets of London with Beauty. I cried so hard I could not read the words on the page when Ginger died (a passage that still can make me cry). I smiled when Merrylegs was in the shady paddock with all the other horses. I was thrilled when Beauty’s old groom was reunited with her in the end. I read it about five times back to back. And then I wondered if there were other books that could make me feel so deeply. Joyfully, I discovered there were. I got a library card that spring. I have never been the same.”
Stories are lifeline.
Confession time – when I was in high school, I snuck a book out of my school’s library without checking it out. I still feel guilty about it to this day – but I did it because I was in search of myself, and I was afraid of admitting it. Especially to the circulation desk. But back then, in a time before smartphones with a ready-made community at my finger tips, when the internet was just getting its start, and I was coming of age in a very tiny town, it was in books where I found others who were like me. And despite having easy access to the internet these days, it is still in books where many of us continue to look for our ever changing selves.
Stories are empowerment.
On June 16, 2014, I was aboard a plane headed for Africa. I was thirty-one and on my way out of the country for my first time. Ever. Four months previous to this, I had seen the end of an eight and a half year relationship – meaning I was single for the first time since my early twenties. The irony that I was headed to a small school for girls to teach the importance of telling their stories with their own voices when I was just learning that I had no idea what I even wanted my story to be was not lost on me. But the three weeks I spent there, with some of the hardest working students I have ever met, taught me more about the importance of my own voice than any other experience in my life thus far. Some of these women had already fought harder just to get an education than most people will ever have to fight in their entire lives. And they jumped at the opportunity to tell their stories in order to help other young women have access to education. They were able to opt into publishing their story in a collection that would then raise money for scholarships to the school –
because the best part about loving stories? Getting to share them.
A few years ago, my two-year-old nephew saw me reading – he grabbed a book, opened it up, and stared down the page – in perfect imitation of me. I remember thinking – if he learns nothing else from his auntie, let him learn to love stories. And in the couple years since, I’ve been astounded at the stories this little boy comes up with. Some may call what he does fibbing – I call it imagination. 🙂
And just last December, I sat on my sister’s couch snuggled up with my tiny nephew, and I listened as he read. I can honestly say that no matter how long I live, this moment will forever remain one of my absolute favorite memories.