Archive | Update RSS feed for this section

NaNoWriMo: LitBeetle Wrote a Book!

5 Dec

Well, folks, I did it. I wrote a novel. My very own, very first, very novelly novel. The London Necropolis Company is hardly a finished product, but it exists (if only in my ultra secret Google Docs folder) and it has a beginning, middle, and end! It has a couple of protagonists and a couple of antagonists. It has a conflict and character growth. It even has a climax (multiple climaxes, actually, because one is never enough and my novel has just that much endurance). It also has (like the last several sentences in this paragraph) a lot of passive verbs. All this to say, my novel isn’t going to see the light of day or the critical eyes of beta readers for an extremely long time.  The manuscript is going to sit in my Google Docs folder and simmer for a while before I go back to redraft. I’m not even that sorry about it.

What I’m even less sorry about is  the fact that I get to start reading again! For the entire month of November, I set aside my real job as a book reader to try out this side gig of being a book writer, but I’m diving right back into things. Here are the few books on my plate for the month of December:

the-fall-of-the-stone-city The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare

Two surgeons who happen to share the same surname of Gurameto find a way to survive in their small hometown in Albania during a time of just a little teeny weeny bit of trouble: World War II. As Albania changes hands from tyrant to tyrant (Mussolini to Hitler to Stalin), the doctors’ grip on reality begins to shift, and the entire city–a character in its own right–starts to (guess what?) fall.

APBOOKCOVER American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

In an iconic piece of American literature, Ellis gives us one of the most lasting and chilling minds of fiction: that of Patrick Bateman, the narcissistic, (yes) psychopathic investor who spends his money as flippantly as he kills women. The book was given even more notoriety by Mary Harron’s film adaptation starring Christian Bale. This will be interesting since I have seen the film but still haven’t finished the book.

Galbraith_TheCuckoosCalling_HC-1 The Cuckoo’s Calling by Richard Galbraith

I just couldn’t resist. I’m not a huge J.K. Rowling fan, and didn’t grow up reading Harry Potter like the rest of the Universe, so I wasn’t driven to Rowling’s pseudonymously published mystery novel out of love or fandom. I am, however, wildly curious about the author’s supposedly successful attempt at breaking out of her pigeon-holed identity as a children’s book writer.

So, I’m glad I participated in the National Novel Writing Month, even though I probably won’t participate again. Now I know I can pump out a 60,000-word novel in a month, and I’m satisfied with that knowledge. But as you can see, I’m ready to sit down with the books other and better authors have compiled! Prepare yourselves for more book reviews, coming to you soon!

Advertisements

Mid-Month NaNoWriMo Report

15 Nov

Who knew so many revelations were in store for me during the first two weeks of National Novel Writing Month?? While my male coworkers are busy working on the scraggly beards for No-Shave November or awareness-raising mustaches for Movember, I–fortunately/unfortunately facial hairless–have been slowly growing my patchy novel for the NaNoWriMo challenge: writing a 50,000+ word novel in a single month. Today, I’m taking a moment to procrastinate with this short list of my recent revelations (my NaNolations? my reveWriMos?)

So fitting. So kinda sad. Once again, Toothpaste for Dinner nails my life on the head.

So fitting. So kinda sad. Once again, Toothpaste for Dinner nails my life on the head. (Yes, I know it says, “September,” but it’s the same thing.)

  1. Writing a blog is way easier than writing a novel. I’m not sure why I ever thought otherwise, but there you have it. Ranting in a quick draft about how much I liked/didn’t like a book is (surprise!) much easier than creating a coherent, interesting, well-written, anti-cliché, pro-female (but NOT anti-male) narrative. On the other hand, writing blog posts consistently has toned my writing muscles over this past year. I feel much more comfortable with idea of being a “writer” and much less intimidated facing a blank page.
  2. The first draft is the easy part. I’m rather proud that I’m moving along at a nice clip, thousands of words ahead of my daily quota, but I was struck by the understanding that I’m doing the easy part. I’m shoveling out trashy sentence structure and clumsy dialogue as quickly as I can. On the flip side of the calendar page, though, I’ll be faced with the notorious shitty first draft. And then the real work will begin. I’m beginning to see this like going to the gym for a hard workout: it’s great the first day, but on the second day you have to go back and do it again, but this time while your body feels like it was hit by a freight train. Oh, and this time you have destroy then rebuild all of the weight machines.
  3. In order to be writer, I need to stop being a reader. Some people may argue with me on this, but I tried picking up a book a week into NaNoWriMo, and I couldn’t read it. For those who don’t know me very well, I’ll try to convey the gravity of this idea using wily font tricks. I COULDN’T READ A BOOK. This was maybe the hardest revelation. My identity has always been that of a reader. These days, I haven’t even been carrying a book in my book tote. I feel naked. I feel like a little orphan. I simply can’t have another story line, another person’s voice, another (better) author’s writing style interfering with my own. Honestly, I’m “reading” in another way, though–it’s a “reading” of my imagination and desires, and the act of writing is an act of transcribing the book in my mind.
  4. I get to say I wrote a book after I’ve written this book! Do you know how excited I am about getting to tell people I wrote a book? I AM REALLY EXCITED. From a ridiculously young age, I wanted to call myself an author–to be an author. An although this manuscript may never even see the red pen of an editor or even the screen of a Kindle, I think I’ll have earned the right to finally identify as an author. Perhaps one day a book of mine will make it to the bookshelves, and then I’ll get to experience the flip side of what I do on this blog … which will probably mean I’ll spend the rest of my life in the corner crying into a pillow and trying to get my emotionally oblivious cat to console me. Wish me luck!

I’m sure there are more revelations to come, because there are two full weeks left in November, and I have a long ways to go before I can call this a first draft. I won’t be sharing  any of my writing as of yet, but here’s my NaNo profile. Maybe I’ll eventually feel brave enough by the seventh or eighth draft. Thanks to everyone who has given me support, and I’ll see you all at the end!

NaNoWriMo: LitBeetle Goes on Hiatus

1 Nov
Wish me luck, folks. Or just join me, and over 200,000 other writers, in my NaNoWriMo endeavors!

Wish me luck, folks. Or just join me, and over 200,000 other writers, in my NaNoWriMo endeavors!

Welcome to November, ladies and gents (and androids, of course), the wonderful month of turkey dinners, frosty football fields, and the infamous masochistic event of the year: NaNoWriMo. That’s right, November is National Novel Writing Month, the only time of the year when anyone ever is allowed to write novels. This year I decided to join tens of thousands of writers around the world in NaNoWriMo, the goal being to write a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November. That’s essentially a hundred-page book, which may not seem like a lot to most readers, but sitting in front of a blank page (screen) wondering how the hell you’re going to survive writing one hundred pages really puts things in perspective.

After reviewing a bunch of books this year and having always been an avid reader (why is it always an “avid” reader? Why not a “masterful” or “exceedingly prodigious” or “divine” reader?), I thought it was high time I stopped bitching about other people’s books and right my own book. It can’t be that hard, right? Right??? In all honesty, writing has always been difficult for me. It’s always been slow and torturous, and to date I’ve only written a single short story that I ever want to see again, and that’s only to look at it and grimace. So this step is more an act of self-torture of the soul than anything.

This is all to say that my book review posts will be few and far between during these trying weeks. I hope to pick back up again as soon as I’ve put this month behind me.

Here’s the synopsis of what I plan on writing, but you can always check out updates on my NaNoWriMo profile page:

In an alternate, steamy 19th Century England, death is a business, and business is booming. Olivia Cutter works for The London Necropolis Company as a fraud and internal investigator. When a coworker and ex-lover shows up dead in Trafalgar Square under mysterious circumstances, Cutter is compelled to find answers, even if they lead her to the center of a massive conspiracy. With the help of her rough-and-tumble South Bank buddies and a mildly mad Scottish scientist (who happens to be her mother) Cutter will face all kinds of fun and all kinds of trouble in this alternate history fantasy novel.

NecropolisSationEntranceWaterloo1890r

I’m always open to critique, criticism, encouragement, free kittens–so bring it on! See you on the other side! (Or in a few days and I need to procrastinate by reading and reviewing a book that I [thankfully] didn’t write.)

Leaving on a Jet Plane (and What to Bring Along to Read)

13 Sep

20080727SeaTacPlane

Today, I’m jumping on a plane again, heading to Boston to celebrate the marriage of some dear friends. (Congratulations, Lindsey and Kell!) But I relish any excuse to find myself in the airport. (After all, I spent a lot of my childhood in airports, because this is what happens when your grandparents live in another state.) Airports are bizarre places. If I believed in magic, I would say airports are one of the most magical places in the human world right now. They are portals to other places, but they’re also strangely permanent and homey–with their restaurants and shops, the way people settle in with blankets and pillows while wearing their sweatpants or pajamas. I mean, you don’t see me snuggling with my favorite stuffed dog Spot down at the pub (but if you ever do, please cut me off). Airports are at once all displacing–filled with strangers and strange air–and all the same. It’s in these weird flux environments that I most love to read and write. I made a list of my favorite books to read while traveling. Let me know what your favorite travel books are!

10. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

I have a soft spot for Dickens–for all Victorian literature, really–and Bleak House is my favorite of them all. I won’t go gushing about this fantastically sinister, dirty, creepy book (I mean, human combustion! Come on!), but Dickens is a great read at the airport for one obvious reason: he writes super, big honking novels. You could start reading Bleak House right out of the security gate, straight through all your delays, slogging through the six-hour flight and you’ll barely be halfway through that sucker. (Just wait until you get to the 8.5-hour Masterpiece Theatre TV adaptation!)

***

9. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Watch out! This bad boy won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, so you’re not allowed to dislike it or say anything detrimental. But really, The Shipping News is the perfect book for a plane ride: it balances the loftiness and changeability of air travel with its stark setting of Newfoundland; and it also exemplifies the feeling of alienation as its main character Quoyle adjusts to a foreign, tight-knit community. Quoyle and his non-traditional family unit strive to make a safe space for themselves and discover Newfoundland, even at its most tempestuous, isn’t frightening at all, but a beautiful land of beautiful characters.

***

8. Mao II by Don DeLillo

This isn’t my favorite of DeLillo’s, but the champion of postmodern pop-culture takes it to town in Mao II, which makes it a chilling read in a place that’s plastered with logos, newspapers, and duty-free commercial everything. The novel follows a reclusive writer as he navigates a conflict of motivations: does he publish his newest book and dilute himself with the masses, or does he refrain to protect himself in and his ideas and ultimately recede entirely from the public’s eye? DeLillo’s protagonist faces what most of DeLillo’s protagonist faces, but Mao II takes him across the globe in a series of painful and sometimes horrifying enlightenment.

***

7. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Sometimes I feel like I just need a good laugh. Sometimes I feel like I need a Babel fish to decipher the Bostonian accent. All the times I should have a towel handy, and maybe especially on a cross-country flight. Douglas Adams’s classic sci-fi novel rejuvenated a genre that was traditionally cradled in pulp or overly serious political metaphors. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is irreverent, subversive, and above all wildly entertaining. Join Arthur Dent–the last living human after Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route–and his unlikely companions in a journey to just stay alive in a violent galaxy, and maybe find the answer to everything along the way.

***

6. Away by Amy Bloom

Away is a novel about traveling across America in pursuit of family. Enough said. ( But no, really, this beautiful, heart-wrenching novel will fulfill any reader’s need for the epic. Lillian Leyb, a refugee in 1920s America, has survived the Russian pogrom, but she’s separated from her daughter Sophie. Now, having heard word that Sophie still lives and is being cared for by a family in Siberia, Lillian must traverse all of America, including the barely civilized hinterlands of Seattle and Alaska, to try and reach her only child. Bloom doesn’t write a long novel, and it isn’t saturated with swords and dragons and damsels, but Away is a gigantic story. It fills your imagination and heart as your read it. And you might cry. Just saying.)

***

5. The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Millay’s poetry is imbued with her sense of constant transition. She was fluid in her art and life and love. Poems like “Assault,” “Travel,” and “Spring” speak to her obsession with the goings and returnings in this life. I can think of no better poet to carry with me while on my way “from one house to another!”

***

4. Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

I read this while traveling through England, as a bright-eyed college student finally stretching her wings (meaning drinking while under the age of 21). But Kapuscinski’s own discoveries and introspection of reading Herodotus’s Histories while journeying through the Mediterranean captivated me. His journalistic training combined with his sense for the magical made me fall even more in love with travel.

***

3. Brave New World by Alduous Huxley

The first time I read this book, I was stranded for five hours in the Sea-Tac airport. Mind you, it’s a beautiful airport. I was by myself and this was before smartphones were thing. I had the most glorious time binge-reading Huxley’s classic, and I can’t step foot in an airport without being haunted by that final image of the novel.

***

2. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Would you like to talk travel? Nothing quite says it like fatal expeditions through the wildest jungle on a our planet–a jungle filled to the brim with animals and native tribes willing to protect their own with tooth and claw (and poisoned arrows), and enchanted with the hopes of a lost city of gold. David Grann’s entertaining, journalistic writing will carry you through the true story of aging Colonel Percy Fawcett, the last of his kind of gentlemen explorers, and his quest to make his name legendary by finding said lost city. The book is filled with mystery, danger, and death. What better book to take with you on your perfectly safe, adventureless plane ride?

***

1. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

No, I didn’t pick this one just because it has the world “traveler” in the title. Honestly, this is my favorite book right now. MY FAVORITE BOOK. Calvino doesn’t explore travel in the literal way Kapuscinski does, or the fantastical way Adams does, or the epic way Bloom does. Calvino’s is an exploration of the journey of reading. His experimental work of fiction imitates and examines the process of the reader as we travel with the protagonist on his quest to find the book he’s looking for. A mosaic of story lines and settings begins to form the larger work of art that is the experience of reading, and Calvino’s exceptional writing (yep, I cried in this book, too) makes it possible.

What books do you bring with you on plane trips? Or train trips? Or long, epic car rides? Which are the best companions to your travels?

On Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” (and Relocation to a New/Old Town)

4 Jun

It finally happened. After four years of self-imposed exile from the West (Best) Coast and a six-hour, non-stop flight (that I spent worrying my poor, poor baby cat would suffocate) from Boston Logan to Sea-Tac International, I have finally returned to Seattle, my true home. Never mind having been born beneath the smoggy, salty skies of Los Angeles. Never mind the eleven years I spent twiddling my thumbs in the arid high deserts of Eastern Oregon. This gloomy, passive-aggressive, over-educated, under-socialized Emerald City is my home.

Almost dropped my phone off the Ballard Bridge taking this, so you all better appreciate it.

Almost dropped my phone off the Ballard Bridge taking this, so you all better appreciate it.

Nothing makes Seattle more my home than the attachments I formed over its bookstores: I live about a football throw (and that’s my throw, and even though I have a mean spiral, it’s only a mean spiral for about 20 yards) from Mercer Street Books; the famous and tragically relocated Elliott Bay Book Company; Third Place Books; Queen Anne Book Company; Capitol Hill’s Twice Sold Tales; and the uncountable Goodwills, Value Villages, and Half Price Books.

But the one that takes the cake, the one that cradled me through the terrors and trials of my college years, the one I would have to killed to work in–Ophelia’s.

I don't think I have ever walked out of this store without a newly purchased old book in my hands. (Photo from Yelp)

I don’t think I have ever walked out of this store without a newly purchased old book in my hands. (Photo from Yelp)

Besides the books and their stores, there are the tiny things–the ways strangers like to nod at each other but never speak, or the way I can stand at a certain corner in Fremont and simultaneously smell Thai food and hamburgers and pho and Greek food and pie, the way people use their bicycles and the buses, the way a young man in flannel can stand so close to an older woman dressed for the theatre and they board the same bus and go to the same place and see the same things. These tiny things remind me of me and the way I was me four years ago. I’m still not sure if I love Seattle as it is love it as I remember it.

I returned to a city full of old selves and nostalgia. I must constantly remind myself to look for the new city. I look around me and see signs: everything represents something as it was. “There was this one time that I … .”

The more I move, city of desire to city of desire, the more I understand Basho’s poem:

Even in Kyoto–

Hearing the cuckoo’s cry–

I long for Kyoto.

It happens to be a poem I tattooed on myself. At the time I let a strange bald man stick me with a needle and make it a permanent part of my skin, I thought I understood it. I was a transient child and was always returning places. I still feel transient, and this poem becomes truer to me by the day.

ARE YOU JEALOUS OF MY AWESOME BOOK? Good.

ARE YOU JEALOUS OF MY AWESOME BOOK? Good.

And here’s where this post actually becomes a book review. On my second full day in this city of memories, I made an epic journey across the road to Mercer Street Books and made probably the third most important purchase of my adult life: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. In this novel, Marco Polo finds himself lingering in the court of Kublai Khan, telling and retelling details of all the cities he traveled to and through and around and under during his escapades. The Khan listens to Polo tell him of all the cities in his empire that he will never see and never know: like Hypatia, a city of signs, or the trading city of Chloe, or Leadra, the city of two gods, and Eusapia, where the city of the dead slowly reconstructs the city of the living.

Each of the cities Polo relates has its own personality, desires, births, deaths, and it becomes obvious some exist outside the scope of time or plausibility. As Polo’s cities become more fantastical–places where the dead live fuller lives than the living, places where all cities are mirrored in the stars or the lake or the piles of refuse and decay–the Great Khan’s musings become more fantasticaly introspective. Or maybe the Khan’s introspection builds/destroys Polo’s fantastical cities …

imagesThis short novel is saturated with Calvino’s customary musings, too intense for a brief reading. The book is only 165 pages long, but it’s rich like steak, and I can’t handle more than a few bites at a time, and every line written is a line about my Seattle, a line about Marco Polo’s Venice and Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Gertrude Stein’s Paris. Khan asks Polo why he hasn’t heard the merchant talk about Venice. Polo replies:

Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. … Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.

Calvino is just one of those writers that make me think to myself, “Yes! That’s exactly how I feel!” at every phrase. “Oh, jeepers! Italo and I are, like, twin souls! We’re exactly the same!” I’m sitting here furiously writing down quotes into my little journal and find out I’m just rewriting the whole novel. Calvino can do this, though. He has the talent and the breadth of experience to know what cities are to human beings. His Kublai Khan is trying to understand the empire he’s conquered through another man’s memories of cities. Polo valiantly tries to describe what every and no city is through those memories, and as Calvino knows, “Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.”

I know, as I reread it and reread it, Invisible Cities will become one of my favorites through all time. It’s language and its cities are my language and cities, and yet I reach the end thinking I understand nothing. This is the way I want books to leave me.

On … Finding a New Job (That Doesn’t Kill My Soul and/or Destroy My Reading Life)

10 Dec

Hello, all.

It’s been far too long since a post, and I have excuses:

1) I got a new job!

2) I hate my new job, and it’s stealing all of my emotional energy;

3) I don’t have the attention span to accomplish anything more than a re-read of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series (an epic undertaking, but chosen mostly for escapist value);

4) I’m spending my free time desperately scouring Boston’s job networks for a new career.

So, chums, to sum it all up:

qmjobmeme

2012 was a year for hard lessons, but this was my most recent one learned. My new job makes good money, and for once I get to enjoy the luxuries of a bougie office building: gourmet chefs, card key access, private Starbucks. But all the luxuries of mid-market industry can’t make up for the soul-killing tasks it sets for its entry-level employees.

I’ve had my fair share of jobs in the past: data entry for a fruit orchard, bagging groceries at a supermarket, assisting teachers at a middle school, pushing strollers and changing diapers and teaching bad habits to the 18-month-old son of an amateur playwright, organizing donations for needy families in Seattle, making gourmet fudge and taffy, waiting on the tables of stingy tourists who complain about the barbaric culinary traditions of Americans, picking up kitchen utensils off the floor for forty hours a week at Bed, Bath & Beyond, attempting to futile epic quest of alphabetizing the books at Borders while the proverbial ship was sinking with me still on it, schlepping telecommunications products door to door, and answering phones all day.

All this job experience taught me that you can never fool yourself into thinking you’re satisfied when you’re not, and the culture of a workplace is everything.

I’m a happy duck when I’ve got a red pen in a my hand and a freshly written article in front of me, or when I have stacks of misshelved books to replace (because I’m secretly shopping while I’m working). But I’m the happiest of all happy ducks in the whole happy pond when I have a red pen in one hand, a book in another, and I’m surrounded by people who respect and value each other’s needs.

So I’m questing again, this time with a narrower search field, and hopefully the next job will allow me time and emotional strength enough that I can stop re-reading the Wheel of Time. (But, then again, the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills …)

Yes, yes. I know. I'm a complete nerd. Just wait until you see my other vices.

Yes, yes. I know. I’m a complete nerd. Just wait until you see my other vices.

The Cat Inside … MY HOUSE

17 Jul

The Internet community is known for and guilty of bragging about a lot of things, but especially about the adorable cats and kittens it adopts from shelters, finds in cardboard boxes, discovers under decks, inherits from friends. I was fated to passively sit back and pine for good fortune to fall on me one day. Actually, I just resigned myself to creating my own good fortune.

My girlfriend and I planned to save money and adopt, preferably an older cat who needed a good retirement home and was too apathetic to run when we wanted to pet it. But that didn’t stop us from looking in every cardboard box we walked by. And it didn’t stop us from timidly attempting to lure the neighborhood stray to our stoop with tuna. (She doesn’t like tuna, it turns out.)

Yesterday, we walked through Jamaica Plain and passed someone’s pile of garbage out on the curb, and on top sat a lonely, little cat carrier. The joke was we would carry around an empty carrier, waiting for the karmic moment we would find our own adoptable kittens, but we decided that was too desperate. Our philosophy is that finding a cat is like finding a girlfriend/boyfriend: you only find them when you’re not looking and stop acting desperate in public. So instead, we spent the rest of the day developing good names for cats. Kipling (as in Rudyard), Spoon (as in the silverware), and any kind of kitchen utensil (as in Toaster or Spatula or Meat Tenderizer) were high on the list.

On the way home from JP, the planets aligned. Whatever deity or non-deity in the sky or not-sky shined its face or not-its not-face down on us. Lo and behold, a kitten, lying in the grass. At first I thought it was dead and was on the verge of crying out, “Cruel world! What am I supposed to do with a dead kitten??”

But it wasn’t.

Little thing jumped right into my lap. Laps were made for kittens.

It was very much alive and is now very much in my bathroom. We washed her and flea-collared her, and she’s entering into a trial run in my home to see if she likes us. There’s no question everyone in the house likes her.

All this cat business reminds me of a teeny weeny book by William S. Burroughs called The Cat Inside. Here, Burroughs tames his prose (slightly) to address a centuries-old symbiosis with a cats that dates back to Ancient Egypt. He wrote, “My relationships with my cats has saved me from a deadly, pervasive ignorance,” and he received a kind of quiet, constant revelation through the cats he interacted with over his lifetime. I can only hope to understand through this little kitten half of what he claimed he learned in this book. The other half can probably be accredited to experimental drugs I don’t care to try.

Mr. Burroughs looks dapper even when he’s crawling on the ground. Also, that cat looks eerily like the forefather of the Little One in my bathroom. (Kate Simon)

Dozens of my other favorite authors also formed surprisingly tender relationships with cats: Foucault, Sartre, Roy, Mishima, Murakami (obviously), etc., etc., even the crotchety, domineering Patricia Highsmith.

ISN’T SHE PRETTY?? (Lutz Widmaier)

Besides Burroughs’s The Cat Inside, what other literary works about cats does everyone know of and like?