- Too Like the Lightning (Ada Palmer)
- Great Ladies: The Forgotten Witnesses to the Lives of Tudor Queens (Sylvia Barbara Soberton)
- The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh (David Damrosch)
- The Story of a Brief Marriage (Anuk Arudpragasam)
- Inseminating the Elephant (Lucia Perillo)
- Next Life Might Be Kinder (Howard Norman)
- Pachinko (Min Jin Lee)
- Freshwater (Akwaeke Emezi)
- The Sparsholt Affair (Alan Hollinghurst)
Lots of good stuff this month. Notes on a few:
I’m late to Too Like the Lightning, and I can see both sides of the common opinions about it. It’s sprawling and layered and shooting for the fences to do different things; it’s also not at all hitting all of them. I’m planning to try the second book in the series, but I’m not 100% committed to the full series yet. Still, I’m inspired both by the writing and by the sheer boldness of it.
The Buried Book reminds me that I need to re-read Gilgamesh, which I last read in college. There are probably some good new translations out there. Also need to read some newer nonfiction about Mesopotamia in general, with my brain open for inspiration.
Pachinko is exactly the kind of big sprawling multigeneration saga I love. It’s the second Min Jin Lee novel I’ve read this year, and just like the first one, my only real frustration is how abruptly it ends.
Freshwater is mindbogglingly good. A strong voice, based in Igbo belief, precise and economical prose… just so good. I’ve been recommending it a lot.
I was about halfway through The Sparsholt Affair when I saw it mentioned in an article about current novels looking back over the queer experience over the decades. It was helpful to realize the book was supposed to be about the queer experience, because the jacket copy said it was another family saga, and I had been confused because it definitely wasn’t meeting that lens. It fits the other lens better, but I still didn’t find it very satisfying.
- The Magician’s Lie (Greer Macallister)
- Devil on the Cross (Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o)
I came across this shawl pattern the other day: Shipwreck Shawl. It’s gorgeous and extremely complicated and I can’t wait to clear a few other knitting projects off my plate so I can give it a try.
I think I’ll skip the beads, and use a pre-dyed variegated oceanesque colorway of yarn instead of dyeing the end product.
But this shawl absolutely will also appear in a story somehow; maybe worn by a witch, or noblewoman, or maybe it has coded messages knitted into it that can be deciphered by someone in the know. I can see so many possibilities coming out of this beautiful fiber art, and it’s thrilling.
Thoroughbreds: This was originally written as a stage play, and it shows; it had a limited cast and most scenes are one-on-one between the two main characters, with some fairly stage-y monologues. The two main actresses are very strong, though, and sell all of it, and the cinematography is incredibly on-point, creating such beautifully framed and shaded images that I can’t imagine how this story could be shown in a live theater staging. An excellent film, though the themes aren’t quite new or revolutionary.
Gringo: Where Thoroughbreds is icily, precisely controlled, Gringo is chaotic and messy. A comedy thriller that relies on the inherent (?) hilariousness (?) of Americans in Mexico (the title is the main joke), it puts a slightly different spin on the usual beats of the story by casting David Oyelowo in the main role. Oyelowo’s Harold is set up as the oblivious, dim-witted straight man of the story, but unfolds more layers than expected as it goes on. Charlize Theron doesn’t have much to do, but does it with energy and scene-chewing glee, in the only memorable supporting role. One notable minus- the movie presents cheap fat jokes for no reason.
The contract has been signed, so I can confirm that my story “The Price of Wool and Sunflowers” will be included in the Strange Economics anthology. The story takes the idea of competitive devaluation into a second-world fantasy environment.
I’ve had the general idea of this story in the back of my mind since I worked for an economics think tank a few years ago, so it was very exciting to have an opportunity to write it for a targeted market and have it accepted. More information on the anthology to come!
Yesterday I got on a bit of a role and submitted four things and pitched another.
- Pitched a hockey writeup to Deadspin (nonfiction)
- Submitted an essay to The Establishment (nonfiction)
- “The Saltwater Kind” to Apex (fiction)
- “The Beastmasters Guild” to Clarkesworld (fiction)
- “The Death Edda” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies (fiction)
I’m happy with myself for the burst of energy and self-confidence that made this happen, and very aware that I need to switch up my story titling scheme.
Very happy to announce that I have another soft sale (that is, no contract signed yet). More details once the contract is taken care of, but this one is a bit of a quirky story and an idea I’ve had for a long time. It was great to have a chance to write it, and for it to find a home with this anthology. I can’t wait to share more!
I submitted a story on Monday night** and got a rejection notice on it last night, which is always disappointing. However, this was another kindly personalize rejection (any rejection that starts with “This is a lovely story–so this is one of those rejections that’s a bummer to write” is going to take the edge off). Thank you, kind editors who take the time to do this. I know it’s not always (or even often) possible, but it is always appreciated when you can.
It also included an aside that maybe this particular story would be more suited to a novella size and framing. This fits with the thoughts I’ve been having anyway about shifting my focus away from short-form, since I don’t gel into that as comfortably as long form.
I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who said “or don’t get reined in by artificial limitations” of wordcount. Unfortunately, when writing to a call for submissions, it’s not an artificial limitation, it’s part of the call. This is definitely a push to set aside writing to calls for a bit and focus on the ideas I have, letting them grow to whatever size they want. More focus on story, less on writing to spec. Not that I’ll never write to spec, just more flexibility, less monofocus.
I really need those four words done up as an art print on my wall.
** And forgot to log it here; my primary tracking for story status is done with a spreadsheet, and while I always get that updated, adding “log on the blog” to the sequence is apparently a work in progress
- Empire of Cotton: A Global History (Sven Beckert)
- How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (Bart D. Ehrman)
- Cane (Jean Toomer)
- Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People (Nadia Bolz-Weber)
- I Hear She’s a Real Bitch (Jen Agg)
- Among the Ten Thousand Things (Julia Pierpont)
- Too Like The Lightning (Ada Palmer)
- Family Lexicon (Natalia Ginzburg)
Talk about worldbuilding. Wow. I’m not entirely sure I’m going to like this book as a book, but as something that has my wheels turning and is inspiring as a specfic writer, it’s already an A+.
Usually I try to pick out one book each month and do a deeper dive, but this time I think I have something to say about all of them. Four of six are nonfiction, two are Christianity-focused, two are focused on taking history we assume we know and putting a new spin on it, and one hits a favorite small genre of mine. A good haul!