My Saturday was spent celebrating my niece’s third birthday with a pool party at my apartment. It was so much fun watching her splash around and leap off the edge into the water — that girl has no fear and I hope it stays that way as she grows up. She’s a giant piece of my heart right now, her and her baby brother both and it give me so much joy to spend time with them.
Of course, it took three hours of scrubbing my house top to bottom, while crying Oh, my gawd, why is my house so filthy, in order to have guests over, only to have to clean all over again after they left. But I have no complaints, every bit of scrubbing was worth it.
Sunday was a big fat slug-fest because I was tired of functioning for the week. I feel no regrets…., okay, I feel some regrets, but only little ones.
What I’m Reading
I’ve just started reading my signed(!) copy of The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. As is no surprise to me, I’m already falling in love with the language and with these complicated girls. There’s a reason Suma is one of my favorite authors.
What I’m Writing
Just a little bit of writing got done last week, mostly on Tuesday night with some editing of a review I’ve been working on. I think I needed to take it easy in order to recover from the go-get-em attitude of the week before.
Accepted! I’m pleased to announce that Nonbinary review has accepted my essay, “Beyond Shahrazad: Feminist Portrayals of Women in The Arabian Nights,” for its 1001 Arabian Nights issue. I’m thrilled to know that all that hard work paid off.
Rejected! Two publishers have rejected my Sincerely Yours chapbook (le sigh), but there are two more out. If they both come back as rejections, too, I’ll have to reassess and resubmit.
Goal(s) for this week: Finish and submit a selection of poem(s).
On Monday night I attended YA Thrills & Chills at Books Inc. in Palo Alto, where three fabulous women writers — Nova Ren Suma, Lauren Saft, and Katie Coyle — gave wonderful readings of their newly released books and talked about why they write YA and their writing process, and what books they’ve enjoyed lately.
Book Description (from Goodreads): On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.
On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.
Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…
What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?
“I think it’s such a great compliment when people are scared,” Nova Ren said, explaining that she was too close to the process while writing the book to feel fear of what she was writing herself.
I attending this event because of my love for Nova Ren’s past novels, most notable Imaginary Girls, which I still obsess over from time to time. So, I was freaking out a little (read: a lot) to be able to meet her in person and it was fascinating to hear how she approaches the writing process, which she described as part pantsing, part outlining. Nova Ren said the opening was important for her. “I need a way in. To find the right voice.” For the The Walls Around Us, she explained, she spent several months of a writing retreat just working on the right paragraph, trying to find the right voice. Once she found that, act one of the story flowed out fairly quickly. Then, after completing the first 50 pages or so, she would outline the rest of the book heavily in order to work it to completion.
Book Description (from Goodreads): Some girls will always have your back, and some girls can’t help but stab you in it.
Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they’re the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them–and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band–without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved–literally, figuratively, physically….she’s not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever….or tears them apart for good?
One of the fascinating things about Those Girls is that Lauren Saft wanted to step away from the good girls who tend to populate YA novels and instead focused on the party girls, the ones who drink and smoke and have sex and get into trouble, the ones who are most often get painted as the villain in stories. But they have their own stories, Lauren explained, they have their own insecurities and dreams. Although I ran out of funds and, thus, could not buy a copy of Those Girls, it’s gone on my TBR list to read at a future date, because I’m fascinated by those kinds of characters, too.
Lauren Saft said her writing of Those Girls started with the characters. She had a clear understanding of those girls, their voices, their relationships, and she was really clear on who they were. She mentioned that writing has been described as driving down the road in which you can only see so many feet ahead of you. “I didn’t really outline this book. I just sort of put my foot on the gas and drove,” she said, explaining that she was surprised when it all worked out by the end.
Book Description (from Goodreads): Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.
“I did what nobody should ever do,” Katie Coyle said about writing Vivian Apple At the End of the World, explaining that she join a writing contest, to which she submitted the first chapter of the book and a detailed synopsis. At which point, she proceeded to do nothing with it, assuming she wouldn’t advance any further. But lo and behold, the contest representatives called up and told her she was a finalist and the completed novel had to be submitted in three weeks — which she did. Another eight months of editing resulted in the novel I now have sitting on my bookshelf. Based on her reading from the first chapter, it’ll be quite good. As a fan of apocalyptic stories, I don’t often see rapture tales, so I’m excited to see where this goes.
STATS: Total Books Read = 100, of which
67 were Fiction (a mix of scifi, fantasy, horror, and classics)
9 were Nonfiction
13 were Comics/Graphic Novels
11 were Poetry
11 were Audio Books
1 was DNF (read enough to count it, but didn’t actually finish)
Best Reads in 2013
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff 17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Best Science Fiction Book Parable of the Sower was a reread and I loved this apocalyptic world and the survivors who wander through it just as much the second time around as I did the first.
Runner Up: Even with all the techno babble, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem was fascinating.
Best Horror Novel Rosemary’s Baby just about blew my mind. On the surface, it’s almost not a horror story. It reads like a literary tale of a couple dealing with the challenges of creating a home for themselves, and yet, the thread of threat is subtly there throughout. It’s amazing.
Best YA Novel
Though there are three great YA novels in my best of list, I think I’ll go with Eleanor & Park for my top. It’s just such a sweet story of young love between awkward teenagers.
Best Short Story Collection
I really enjoyed Scheherazade’s Facade: Fantastical Tales of Gender Bending, Cross-Dressing, and Transformation, edited by Michael M. Jones. The stories are consistently good throughout and explore many aspects of gender while telling entertaining speculative tales.
Best Graphic Novel
Alison Bechdel presents a moving portrait of her young years in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a story as much about her father and his eventual suicide. The mix of literature and cultural references, along with the structure makes this a fantastic read.
Runner Up: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a fantastic ghost story, which is scary and well told.
Best Poetry Book The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg was by far my favorite poetry read this year. It was a fantastic mix of poetry and voices, all with the speculative spin that I love.
Runner Up: Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey
Best Poetry Chapbook 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford is a lovely exploration of youth with moments of hurt and humor. Highly recommended.
Best Nonfiction Book The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang told the story of a family torn between honoring their grandmother’s wishes for a proper, traditional burial and respecting the new communist system, which requires cremation. This painted an honest look at family life and was a fascinating look at Chinese culture in a state of transition.
Best Audio Book
Eleanor Bron’s reading of The House of Mirth is spot on. She hit the perfect tone for the story, which contributed to it also winning the honorary award of Book that Made Me Weep in the Front Seat of My Car.
What were your favorite reads this year? Let me know in the comments.
From the inside flap: “Chloe’s older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can’t be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby’s friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.
But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.”
Reading Imaginary Girls is like walking through the halls of a haunted house. Everything on the outside is normal, but strange things happen from time to time and you can’t be sure whether the ghosts are real or if its just your mind playing tricks. Events in the book are subtly strange in this way, and the surreal tone of the tale is entirely appropriate, because hauntings abound. The lost town of Olive haunts the bottom of the reservoir, Chloe is haunted by the memory of the dead girl, Ruby is haunted by the secrets she tries to hide.
The title is also wonderfully appropriate, as the uncertainty of what is imagined and what isn’t unfolds throughout the story. Not to mention, what makes a girl imaginary? Is Chloe imaginary because she isn’t entirely her own, because she’s possessed by Ruby (and willingly so, as she offers her devotion wholeheartedly to her sister)? Is Ruby imaginary, because how can that kind of girl, the kind of girl that gets everything and anything she wants really exist? Or is the imaginary part of Ruby dependent on how Chloe sees her, how Chloe idolizes her and in a way shapes her with that idolatry that no person can live up to? And London? Oh, there are many, many ways that London could be imaginary, if she exists at all.
Imaginary Girls is a book that is multilayered and achingly beautiful, one that leaves just the right amount of questions for you to sit with on rainy Sunday and ponder, while outside the water swirls. It’s a book I want to hold in the hollows of my heart and never, ever let go.
It’s also one of those books I want to see made into a movie right now, damnit, now. In fact, as soon as I put the book down, I began to imagine how I would adapt the screenplay and shape the work into a finished film.
It would a be a difficult book to adapt, due to its subtly and Hollywood has a tendency to want things clearly explained, especially in movies geared toward young adults. No doubt the immediate inclination of any screenwriter would be to use voice over. I can understand the temptation, as it would allow Chloe share the inner workings of her emotional state.
However, I would squash this temptation. A movie made from this would be better off if the images and events stand for themselves, letting the strange be strange, making it the “surreal nightmare” someone described it as on the cover. Use of camera angles and direction would make it clear that the movie was filmed from Chloe’s point of view and the scenes as they unfold would let us in to how she feels about it. (The right actress would also be vital for this, someone who could express the internal while saying nothing.)
Color would be a vital part of this movie, reds would be too red, blues too blue, but all or most of the color would be for the girls, especially Ruby, who’s eyes would be the most green thing in all the movie. The rest of the town, compared to Ruby (and at points Chloe, too) would be gray and brown, dull in comparison. Ruby, too, would appear subtly sharper, more in focus, than everything and everyone around her. The cinematic tone in the town where Ruby rules would be different than everywhere outside of town or when Ruby is not in the scene.
Light would also play a large part, especially at night, when shadows have greater impact and the reservoir (a character in and of itself) would be inky black, like oil. It would lick at the shore, it would seem to reach up around the edges. Sometimes the reservoir would reflect the starlight with perfect clarity, so it looks like Chloe is swiming in the sky, sometimes it would reflect nothing at all.
People who come to see the movie should leave at the end feeling joyfully unsettled, as though they had just walked into amd experienced someone else’s dream.