I’m having a hard time finding the right word to describe this past spring. “Rollercoaster” would be… appropriate, but exaggerated? April was turbulent in terms of stress and emotions, and the beginning of May was busy mostly because of vacation. But for the most part, May and June were much calmer. And regardless of what was going on, I continued making progress on different creative projects… except for one.
Yeah. Unfortunately I lost some momentum (and confidence) with Draft #1 of my new manuscript. But I shouldn’t focus so much on the one hiccup, because the highlights (including a certain cookbook that is now out in the world!!) were fantastic. In fact, let’s kick off this post with…
The 2018 Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, MA
This was the big literary event on my calendar this year, and it was INCREDIBLE! For three days I attended poetry readings, panel discussions, and workshops; and connected with other poets as well as editors of literary journals and poetry presses. And with beautiful weather, scrumptious food, and centuries of history around every corner, it was fantastic as a long-weekend get-away, too. If you’re interested, you can check out this write-up for the touristy side of my trip, including more photos and some restaurant recommendations.
So what were some of the highlights at the Mass Poetry Fest for me? It’s tough to narrow it down to just a few, but they were:
- Headline readings by award-winning poets including Dorianne Laux and Sonia Sanchez.
- Meeting Jennie Xie, whose first book Eye Level won the Walt Whitman Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and was published by Graywolf Press earlier this year.
- “Golden Walkman,” a workshop named after the podcast literary magazine Golden Walkman. The editors encouraged participants to write a “response poem” after listening to a piece of instrumental music – an approach that was right up my alley!
- “Poetry and Yoga,” a 2-hour yin yoga (a.k.a. restorative yoga) workshop where the instructor read some of her favorite Robert Frost poems about the seasons as we students held each long pose. Ahhhhhhhh. 🙂
- The Shakespeare Time-Traveling SpeakEasy closed out the festival with an exhilarating and hysterical performance that paid tribute to the “Cat from the Strat” (a.k.a. William Shakespeare).
What I’ve Been Writing
Thanks to the Mass Poetry Festival, I came home inspired and motivated to work on my own poems. In fact, I should have brought a second suitcase with me, just to carry ALL THE IDEAS I brought back with me. It’s amazing how an event like that can open your eyes and mind to new ways of seeing the world (or to things you may have missed before) and remind you of other thoughts or feelings you’ve been meaning to share.
So at the moment, one batch of poems is out on submission (*fingers crossed*), several more poems are at different stages of revision, and others are waiting to be written. (So many poems, not enough time – but that’s not the worst problem to have, right?) I purposely took a break from submissions over the spring to nurture as many of these “newborns” as I could, and it’s been quite satisfying. Once I have more ready to go, I’ll send out more batches. And then write, revise, and submit, again and again and again…
Oh, and what about the poem that was accepted back in March? Don’t worry – you haven’t missed it. 😉 I’ll share the link as soon as it’s available!
Storm (YA / College-Age Magical Realism)
On the opposite “extreme,” my feelings about my progress on Storm have seesawing. Draft #1’s word count is now up to a whopping 109K (WHAT ON EARTH?!?!), and the end is… not exactly in sight yet. It also didn’t help that, over a 2-week period, I was so busy with the poetry festival, the rest of my vacation, and other things that I only worked on Storm for maybe 2 hours. Not to mention that, during that same time, I hit a wall with figuring out scenes that would connect the first half of the book with the last quarter. (Some days I love being a “plotser” who writes nonlinearly, and other days…. *sighs*)
So… yeah. But I’m moving forward now and filling in the gaps between those previously written scenes… and watching that word count grow with a mounting sense of dread. I know I should focus on finishing Draft #1 and not even think about all the cutting I’m going to have to do during Draft #2. Still, I’m concerned that my habit of overwriting isn’t the only reason why this manuscript is waaaayyy too long.
It’s also why I’m wondering whether to change the POV style in Draft #2. Up to this point, I’ve written Storm in third person (she, her, hers). Part of me was hesitant to do first person (I, me, my, mine) because, since the protagonist suffers from a form of anxiety, I was afraid it would make the experience too emotionally intense for readers. But it recently occurred to me that… well, maybe the story needs that intensity. Plus, maybe with first person, I’d be less apt to overexplain things or be so detailed. That makes sense, right? Or maybe I’m being obsessive again…
Anyway, I hope to finish Draft #1 by summer’s end. And I really hope it’s not as long as TKC’s 133k first draft. (*sigh*) Where is the light at the end of the tunnel when you need it?
Alison Walsh’s A Literary Tea Party (Cookbook Introduction)
Remember the cookbook that Alison Walsh of Wonderland Recipes asked me to write an introduction for? It’s been published!! A Literary Tea Party came out on June 5th, and it’s thrilling and surreal to have my own copy. And as proud as I am to have contributed to the finished product and to see my name on the cover, I’m ECSTATIC for Alison. This is her book baby, after all, and she put her heart and soul into crafting the overall theme, selecting and fine-tuning her recipes, and (if I’m not mistaken) taking the beautiful photos. Anyone who purchases A Literary Tea Party is truly in for a treat.
If you missed it earlier this month, check out Alison’s guest post on how to plan a tea party. And for any podcast fans, check out her interview on the latest edition of DIY MFA Radio here.
What I’ve Been Listening to While Writing
Since I’m still working on Storm, I’ve continued adding songs to its playlist. Here are some of the musical “helping hands” for the most recent scenes I’ve worked on:
- “Beautiful Girl” by Sarah McLachlan
- “Hymn for the Fallen” by Early Cross
- “November” by Kingfisher Sky
- “Paving Stones” by Kingfisher Sky
- “Perfection?” by Guilt Machine
What I’ve Been Reading
I read 14 fiction books over the spring, which brings my 2018 total to 28 books. So far I’ve stuck to my plan to alternate between brand new books, “market research” reads for Storm, and my existing TBR pile, and it’s working out really well. Funny thing is, I’ve only read five books that came out this year. So I’ve caught up quite a bit on 2017 “holdovers” – and I’ve finally made a dent in my TBR pile! (*lol*)
Anyway, here are my favorite reads from over the spring:
- American Street by Ibi Zoboi: This raw, powerful YA contemporary tinged with magical realism caught my attention as soon as I learned its main character was Haitian. It also addresses some relevant and hard-hitting social issues – immigration, police tensions, and inner-city violence, among others – as Fabiola adjusts to her new life in America, holding dear her Vodou traditions and her hope of being reunited with her beloved Manman all the while.
- Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson: My first Brandon Sanderson read! And OMGALJFLAJFKLAAAAAAA. A trope-twisting plot, complex and realistic characters, and fascinating world-building with a metal-infused magic system and the bold question serving as its axis: “What if the prophesied hero rose up against humankind’s enemy – and failed?” I’ve never read a fantasy quite like Mistborn before, and now I want to devour the rest of this series and everything else Sanderson has ever written.
- The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton: Very different from Walton’s debut The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, but in a good way. This YA magical realism novel is darkly atmospheric, with a quirky setting, a haunting ending, and a slightly macabre tone. Some of the subject matter (particularly Nor’s struggles with self-harm) may be difficult for younger readers. But at its heart, The Price Guide to the Occult is as much about friendship, self-acceptance, and courage as it is about mental health and witchcraft.
- Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older: Is this second and latest installment in the Shadowshaper Cypher as good as Shadowshaper? Oh no. It’s EVEN BETTER. Breathlessly paced and brimming with Brooklyn’s many cultures, it expands on Older’s urban realm of spirits and art-driven magic while addressing racism, police brutality, and other relevant topics. So not only is this book thrilling and authentic, but like American Street it’s also timely.
- Side By Side by Jenni L. Walsh: I enjoyed Jenni L. Walsh’s first novel Becoming Bonnie, which imagines how Bonnelyn Parker might have gone from wholesome good girl to one half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. The sequel Side By Side explores the next chapter in the couple’s story: their two-year crime spree during the Great Depression. Once again, Walsh portrays the events and characters so vividly that I felt like I was riding in Bonnie and Clyde’s backseat. It also made me sympathize and cheer for the duo despite the wrongs they committed… and the tragic ending that I knew was coming.
Two other reading highlights of the spring were The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. They’re the second and third novels in Carson’s Fire and Thorns Trilogy, which is now one of my favorite YA fantasy series ever. If you like immersive world-building, Spanish-influenced cultures, unique settings not normally seen in YA fantasy, and vulnerable yet emotionally strong heroines, then put this series higher on your list of reading priorities. 😉
My Writing and Reading Plans for the Summer
Normally I don’t include goals for the coming season. But this time it feels appropriate, since one project may be nearing the end of a very important stage. So when the next Creativity Corner posts in late September, I hope I’ll have accomplished the following:
- Finish Draft #1 of Storm.
- Continue writing new poems.
- Submit at least two (2) batches of revised poems to literary journals.
- Using my current reading plan, read 10 to 15 fiction books to bring my year-to-date total close to 40.
And, of course, whenever #1 happens, I’ll let you know as soon as I can! 🙂
How are your writing / creative projects coming along? What are your plans for them over the summer? What do you do when you hit a rough patch (delays, lapse in confidence, etc.) in your work? What books have you read recently? Any good music on repeat?