A Quick Reminder About Two Fiction Workshops Coming Up (Just A Few Seats Still Open)

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying this very busy week. (Well, it’s busy for me, but maybe you’re just having a nice week? I hope so.)

This is a very quick note about, as the title of this post suggests, two fiction workshops I’m teaching over the next couple of weekends. Both are three-hour jaunts on a Saturday, conducted via Zoom, and both are classes I’ve taught before and which were super fun so we brought them back! These are generative workshops which include a balanced mix of instruction, writing time, sharing (which is optional), and feedback. We pack all of that into three hours (with a little break in the middle), and the workshops are appropriate for anyone interested in writing fiction. As of yesterday, there were seats available in both classes.

BUILDING A STORY WITH CHARACTER (Writespace)
Saturday, September 24th, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

WRITING FICTION: GOTHIC STORY ELEMENTS (Writespace)
Saturday, October 1st, 1:00-4:00 p.m.

Click this link to be taken to my new CLASSES page here on the blog to learn more about these workshops and to register.

Thanks!

Monday Earworm: Fiona Apple, Summer Debrief, and Newsy Bits

Hello! I hope your cultural summer has come to a delightful close and that you’re excited for fall. Tonight’s post is going to do triple duty because it’s been that kind of summer over here. I don’t know whether to be glad it’s finally over or what! I’m going to tell you all about it, but first, let me start us off with a lovely tune to get us in a very mellow September mood. Then read on…

 

So, this summer. Goodness gracious.

I never realized how much I depended on my summer holidays — the poolside barbecues, getting together with family and friends. Even during the first year of the pandemic, we still managed to have socially distanced, masked-up, teensy-tiny outdoor get-togethers with my parents and brother. It was something. And like I said, I had no idea how much I relied upon those events to set the cycles and rhythms of my year until I couldn’t have any. This year, I didn’t get to participate in Memorial Day because the day before, I came down with covid. July 4th was canceled because my oldest had it. And last week, my son came down with it, followed by Dear Husband. So no fun Labor Day weekend festivities, alas. And I find myself focusing on the loss of the traditions because, frankly, in my house we’re all vaccinated and boosted and so for us, so far, covid has not been tragic KNOCK ON WOOD. (DH isn’t well yet. Hopefully soon, though! He does seem to be slowly on the mend.)

I found myself going through a lot of feels about it all this summer, though, all this sickness. Quite the range of emotions. There were so many things that got canceled, besides just the backyard fun. Vacations, projects, even some extra-curricular activities. All of them just pre-empted. And I had to do some real internal investigation into my mindset about how I approach summer break in the first place.

I inherited a stunning, even shocking, work ethic. I won’t say it’s the healthiest thing I could have learned — in fact, it conclusively is not — but here we are. And I was thinking of summer break not as a real break, but as a chance to cram in all the work that I have to put off the other ten months of the year while I’m working sixty to seventy hours a week teaching. This was, needless to say, bonkers. I’d been coming back to school every August at a deficit already because how on earth could I ever fit in All The Things (and by “Things” I mostly mean work, usually including but not limited to writing a new book) that I told myself at the end of May I would?

I needed a reset, and I rather unwillingly got one. It took me a while to formulate a good attitude (or semblance of one) about it. I came to recognize, by the time I went back to school last month, that I need to not think of June and July as a marathon to some accomplishments finish line. I need to think of them as a break. Yes, get some stuff done: there will always be house projects I want to tackle and books to write. But also? Freakin’ relax. Do these that make me happy.

So here, in no particular order, are some things I *did* get done (yes, I’ll be working on new ways to cast that) over the summer that made me happy:

  • I made some crucial updates to my website, including adding in some newer reviews of my books. The site as a whole is still not exactly where I want it to be, but web design is not my super power, so this will have to do for now. (Feel free to send along suggestions for improvement.)
  • I made some crucial updates to the blog here, too! Most notably, I restructured the pages, and now I have dedicated pages for my zine Sonic Chihuahua, the classes I’m teaching, and my hobbies — including the jewelry I make. (If you click on the Hobbies tab above, you’ll see some other features there, too, and more will be added to this section as time goes on.)

(Side note for shameless self-promotion, because writers have to make a living, too: The poetry class I’m teaching for Grackle & Grackle this month has sold out, but you can still jump into my two one-off fiction workshops coming up in a few weeks, offered by Writespace and back by popular demand! They’ll be on Zoom, so you can join us from anywhere. The first is a three-hour generative class on building character-driven stories using a blend of literary analysis, pop culture, and narrative craft, happening on September 24th. The second is a three-hour generative class on writing Gothic fiction, happening on October 1st. Click here for more details and to register!)

  • I read lots of books. Like, lots of them. The first week I was sick with covid, I read literally ten. And while I also read the things I needed to in preparation for the school year, I also gave myself permission to read plenty of books that just flat-out made me happy. Fun books, funny books. That was crucial, especially while I was sick. (You’ll see the epic list at my Year in Reading round-up come January.)
  • I also did a fair bit of writing. In addition to getting out two new issues of Sonic Chihuahua, I did a full-scale edit of a novel which is currently out on submission, and made real progress on the novel I’m currently drafting. Did I do enough writing? I never do (Can you hear that old mindset creeping back in?), but I moved the needle forward, and that’s what matters this time around (And there’s the new mindset; I’m still breaking it in).
  • Some of my work was published this summer. I had two poems come out in A Fire To Light Our Tongues: Texas Writers on Spirituality, and my essay reviewing Kristen Bird’s The Night She Went Missing was published by Literary Mama.
  • I made two baby blankets for new babies in my life. Both new babies live far away, and so I haven’t met them yet, but I can’t wait to give them snuggles!

blanket for Valerie
blanket for Rosie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • I rekindled my love for the card game Solitaire. (As in with actual cards, not on a screen.) I played it all the time when I was growing up, and I played it a lot again when I got sick at the beginning of the summer and had to isolate. I found that it brought me a sense of inner calm that worked better for me even than formal meditation. So then I kept using the game as a way to soothe myself during times of stress or fatigue, and it worked beautifully. The game requires just enough strategy to distract me from whatever might be causing me anxiety — or even eyestrain — and relies on just enough luck for me to not care too much about whether I win or lose. 

I have much to be thankful for, orneriness about my dashed summer plans aside. Not least of those is my relatively good health now KNOCK ON WOOD AGAIN. So I’ll sign off for the moment, with the intention that I’ll get back to more regular blog posts around here in the new season. Such is the plan.

Be well!

Monday Earworm — And A Reading Tomorrow Night!!

So apparently there was this show called Live From Daryl’s House, that was just Daryl Hall at his house jamming with a bunch of famous people or something? I didn’t see the show, didn’t even know about it, but I always enjoyed Hall and Oates’ music back in the day (and not gonna lie, still do), and then I came across this clip from that aforementioned series with Daryl Hall and Cee Lo Green and a band performing “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” and it’s pretty great. Very relaxed, very funky, very jammy. So here, now you can enjoy it, too!

OH, and also! Tomorrow night I’m going to be the featured poet at the Cobalt Café reading. The last time I was the featured reader at Cobalt was in the late 90s, when I was living in Los Angeles. Because that’s where Cobalt is. But I’m not in L.A. right now, and won’t be tomorrow, either, because their reading series is now online! Yay!

Wonderful poet, founder of PoetrySuperHighway, and all-around purveyor of and advocate for poetry Rick Lupert is still running the show. I’ll be reading, and there will also be an open mic. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Los Angeles time. If you’re on the west coast, great! Tune in with or after your dinner? But for those of you in the central time zone (like me), that will be 9:30 p.m. (And doing the math from there, mountain time is 8:30 pm. and eastern time is 10:30 p.m.) I hope you can tune in and enjoy the reading with us — and maybe read one of your own poems if you have some? (The reading will be over Zoom, so be sure to register with your actual name so Rick will let you in from the waiting room. Go to this event page to get the Zoom link.)

So now that the shameless promotion portion of this post is out of the way, here’s some music for you. Enjoy!

Monday Earworm: Thin Lizzy

School starts this week.

Well, classes start this week. We on the faculty and staff have been back since August 1st. In another post I’ll tell you about the non-sickness-related stuff I did over the summer, but for now I’m just going to share with you an earworm.

The boys are back. So are the girls and the non-binary kids. It’s going to be so good to see them all. And even though this song is about the start of the summer and I’m looking at the end of mine, I think it still works.

Enjoy this little dance break! I’m headed off to go work some more on my Canvas pages…

 

Monday Earworm: Jack Black and Jimmy Fallon

Perhaps some other time I will write an essay about my feelings around this song, which are complicated and bound up in cultural conditioning and social expectations and gender roles. The essay has been cartwheeling around in my head for a really long time, but I’ve yet to commit it to paper or screen. At some point I probably will.

But I’m going to share this earworm now anyway because last night I saw Bullet Train and am still reveling in its slow-burn humor. That movie is absurdist archetype theatre, and it’s worth watching for that reason alone. (But perhaps go in with that understanding to enjoy it more.)

Anyway, this video is absurd. It’s Jack Black and Jimmy Fallon recreating the official video for Extreme’s “More Than Words,” and they are really faithful in their commitment to the self-conscious and, dare I suggest from the perch of hindsight, pompous original. And they are also really adept at playing and singing the song. And I love both videos for different reasons.

So first up is the parody, and after that is the original. Do enjoy.

 

And for comparison and nostalgia’s sake…

Monday Earworm: Tori Amos

When I graduated from high school, I used some of the money people gifted me to buy my first CD player. It wasn’t brand-new technology anymore, but it wasn’t old enough yet for me to be significantly behind the curve. I’ve not often been an early adopter of tech, anyway. My parents had a CD player on their stereo system in our living room, and that was fine, but I was pretty excited about my little boom box. The first CDs I bought for myself that spring were Pearl Jam’s Ten, They Might Be Giants’ Flood, and Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. Although TMBG’s album had come out in 1990, it was new to me, and the other two came out my senior year.

I was still a devoted MTV watcher, because MTV was still devoted to playing music videos. “Silent All These Years” was introduced as a breakout video, and the song, the video, and the artist all made a strong impression on me. I was preparing to graduate from high school and go off to college. I wouldn’t be quite the first in my family to attend college, but I would end up being only the second person in my extended family to graduate, after my father’s little sister. I was going to be moving out of my parents’ house and making use of the independence I’d been cultivating since middle school. I was headed off to one of the best schools in the country for Creative Writing, which was my chosen field. I was leaving a thick trail of academic accomplishments in my wake, and the world felt open to me in a way I didn’t even have the life experience to appreciate or recognize at the time. And Tori Amos’ ethereal image and style, her deeply rooted piano, struck chords in me that hadn’t been sounded before.

Little Earthquakes — which was not, incidentally, her first album, though it put her into our consciousness and it might still remain my favorite of hers — made up a significant portion of the soundtrack of that spring and of my first year of college. Even now when I listen to some of those tracks I’m submerged in the emotions those songs shepherded me through during that tumultuous time, even though I’ve long since taken leave of the things that generated them. And as a piano player myself, just listening to Amos’ work plucks at that artistic part of me I still regret not fostering enough when I needed it to. I can blame the fact that I no longer play as well as I did on several things: the death of my cousin, which spiraled me into an abiding and undiagnosed depression; the guy who lived in my dorm who followed me to the practice room at night to sexually harass me while I tried to learn my new sheet music; the multiple and constant demands on my time in my adulthood that made me push that time for myself by the wayside; the people who raised me not to have agency or to put my own needs first. And all of those things are true, but what is also true is that I didn’t make the time for myself, either, even once I had learned how to recognize the need for it.

But I haven’t given up on it quite yet. I do have the sheet music for this album, and every now and then I take it out and play a little from one of the songs. One day I’ll learn a whole one, perhaps. I need to get my piano tuned; I’ll just add that to my endless list.

The school year is about to start again. I went back into my classroom today and started rearranging the furniture that has come back from being in storage during the pandemic. My oldest kid is a senior in high school now — and embarking on the college process, which will ultimately take them away into a world of possibility that they are also not yet ready to appreciate or recognize. I hope I am better equipped to shepherd them through it. We are all in liminal spaces right now, for just a little bit longer.

Tori Amos’ music, and this profound album in particular, has been showing up a lot lately in our Pandora feeds. It’s nice.

Enjoy.

I Had A Review Published In Literary Mama!

So today the new issue of Literary Mama came out, and it includes a review I wrote for Kristen Bird’s debut novel, The Night She Went Missing.

Literary Mama is one of the oldest literary journals featuring the work of writer-mothers in existence. Every issue features poetry, reviews, profiles, fiction, and non-fiction. 

In case you’d like to check it out — and I so hope that you will — here is the link to my review of Bird’s excellent novel. Please feel free to share it widely.

And while you’re over at Literary Mama’s site, be sure to read the whole issue. It’s filled with excellent work, as always!

 

A FIRE TO LIGHT OUR TONGUES

Hello! I have some very exciting news! Two of my poems, “Magdalen” and “Epiphany,” have just been published in A Fire to Light Our Tongues: Texas Writers on Spirituality. This anthology had a long road to publication.

It began before covid times and one of the women fiercely behind the project actually passed away before she could see the book in print. But it is out now, and filled with poetry on the ever-shifting nature of spirituality and how we interact with it, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Other poets featured in this book include Naomi Shihab Nye, Rich Levy, Robin Davidson, Robert Okaji, and Kevin Prufer, just to name a few. The anthology contains two parts, “Pandemic Time” and “Contraries,” and within “Contraries” are the following themed sections:
Belief and Doubt
Good and Evil
Love and Hope
Known and Unknown
Truth and Beauty
Joy and Gratitude

This is a beautiful book, and I hope you’ll give it a look. You can even get it, at least for a time, at a 20% discount with the code “TCU20” at this link to TAMU Press. (Don’t use the quotation marks when you put the code in.)

I’m seriously excited about this. We’ve waited a few years for this book to finally come out, and it has definitely been worth the wait!