Where did December come from? We’re four days into my December Writing Challenge, yet still, the month surprises me. So much of this year snailed along, but we hit Labor Day and zip, zip! Not that I will miss 2020, but it’s still a shock to realize how quickly this last part of the year has gone.
Today I bring links, but first, a bit of chatty business. As mentioned above, I’m holding my annual writing challenge this month. You can find all the rules and the kick-off post earlier this week. Please join in, even if you missed the start. I try to keep the challenge encouraging and low key, particularly this year with the pressures of the pandemic. Come for a bit of inspiration, some pep talks, the occasional prompt or writing sprint. Posts will appear hear, and I’m tweeting daily as well. So, come write. The more the merrier.
We’ve entered end-of-year booklist territory. Yes, some of them are ridiculous. There are far too many. And yet, I love them. I’ve included some below, to help with holiday shopping or holiday reading of your own. There also might be some soon-to-come booklists, just to mix it up. But there’s no real theme to this week’s links. We’re very casual around here in December. Kick off your shoes, grab a mug of something hot, and stay a while. Wishing you a great weekend, and happy writing!
This week’s links:
NPR’s Book Concierge 2020. – A wonderful roundup of recommended books that came out this year, with the added ability to search by genre, audience, and more. Previous years’ lists are also available. By far my favorite year-end booklist, just due to sheer volume.
Happy Halloween Eve! The week got away from me, as I’ve been catching up after last week’s virtual Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I started out Monday with a pile of backlog and a brain buzzing about writing structure, saggy middles, handling timelines, and more. Even agents pick up great tips at writing conferences.
So here we are, on the cusp of Halloween, plus a new month and the start of NaNoWriMo. I thought I’d offer a mix of writerly and seasonal links to kick things off. Whether you plan to watch horror movies, dress up, or just settle down with a good book and bowl of candy, I wish you a fun, safe Halloween, and a stellar start to NaNo. Don’t forget to set your clocks back Saturday night. You get an extra hour of writing time on Sunday. Sounds like a treat to me!
Tana French: Hope in Hard Times. – The thriller writer discusses her latest manuscript, which she has the great fortune to hand in shortly before COVID-19 shut downs ramped up, as well as other aspects of her writing on the latest episode of The Secret Library Podcast.
Where to Start with Shirley Jackson. – The author’s work seems to be undergoing a resurgence on screen, but what about actually reading her stories? Here’s a guide to how you might approach them.
Dissecting Suspense in Rebecca. – In light of the new adapation on Netflix (which I advise you to skip; stick to the Hitchcock version), I urge you to read or reread Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel and see for yourself all the ways suspense can build. Terrific lesson, no matter what sort of fiction you write.
Today I wish to celebrate both books and the people who sell them. Independent Bookstore Day is tomorrow, and fall titles start hitting shelves in a few days. Reading good books takes some sting out of this ongoing pandemic, so what better time to praise all things bookish?
What have you all been reading during this period of safer-at-home? I know not everyone can focus on books right now, but sometimes that means returning to old favorites or finding joy in poems or shorter books. I’m doing some rereading, myself. Old romantic mysteries by Mary Stewart. Humorous poetry I discovered as a child. But also new romances and women’s fiction. Fantasy as long as it stays well away from dystopian situtations. All mixed in with “homework” reading: how to be a better, more active ally to BIPOC people, and political titles about the state of our democracy. If that sounds like a lot, it hasn’t been. It’s been slow going, spread over months, with more books piling up on my TBR behind them at a rapid rate.
Fall always brings a wealth of new titles. I’m trying to keep my pre-orders at a minimum, simply because there are soooo many new books I want to read. But pre-orders are the way to go in this new pandemic economy. Let publishers know they should print copies of the books you’re looking forward to reading. Supply chains are still moving slowly, so reader interest helps publishers know where to make their best efforts.
Meanwhile, here are a bunch of links to give you ideas of what to read, and where to get your copies. Plus the usual writing/industry chatter. I hope you find something interesting and inspiring. Have a great weekend, filled with wonderful books and maybe a little quality writing time!
This Week’s Links:
Independent Bookstore Day. – A resource of online and in-store events taking place to celebrate independent bookstores across the country.
117 Black-Owned Bookstores. – A great resource if you’re looking to support Black-owned businesses. You can even check for stores in your own state.
Paris Stories: The Writing of Mavis Gallant. – A short film about the Canadian author and her approach to writing, with interview footage as well as the author reading samples of her work. Inspiring, plus a lovely bit of armchair travel.
The New California Curriculum. – An interesting look at what it means to be a California writer, and where these writers fit into the literary landscape as we reconsider what types of books should be considered “canon.”
I accumulate goodies for Friday Links all week long. The tabs stay open in my browser until I post them here on the site. This becomes problematic, however, when I don’t do a Friday Links post for a few weeks. Hence this random, fly-by collection of links to occupy your weekend. Everything is bookish, related to reading or writing or publishing, but that’s about all I can say for a theme this week. Blame the heat or quarantine or pandemic brain, or possibly all three.
Wishing you all a good weekend. Please take care, whatever that means in your neck of the woods. Social distance, wear a mask, stay home if at all possible. Read something lovely or take a long nap. Be kind to others, and to yourself. Enjoy!
This Friday I propose we all forget about the pandemic (metaphorically) and focus on our TBR piles. Stay home this weekend, fix yourself a pitcher of tasty cocktails (or mocktails–your choice), grab a lawn chair or hammock and get reading. I will admit I’m spurred on by my own weekend reading list. Mine is all client-and-submission related, but the rest of the proposal stands. And you should feel free to tackle all those great vacation reads you’d normally enjoy on a plane or by a pool. (If you have a pool in your yard, even better.)
Not sure where to start? You are in luck. This week’s links feature lots of book lists. So if you are wondering what to read, or just what to pick up first, check below for inspiration. Ignore the insanity of the outside world and sink into a romance or a fantasy or thriller for distraction. Cheers!
Independent Bookstore Day swag. – Independent Bookstore Day is creeping up, and you can now buy swag in the form of face masks or coffee mugs to honor/support the event.
2020 First Novel Prize: The Long List. – The long list for this year’s First Novel Prize by the Center for Fiction. I’m not sure every single one of these titles are out yet–I’ve heard buzz about ARCs for a couple–but many are, and you can always make a mental note for later if something appeals.
Amazon.com announced their list of the Best Books of 2020 So Far, and so many Knight Agency authors made the cut! We had six represent across the various genres, including my clients Nalini Singh and Milla Vane. Congratulations to all these wonderful writers! Several of the titles sit on my TBR pile already, and I’m excited to read the rest, too.
You can check out the entire list of this year’s best books to date over here. You can find the books themselves at all your favorite retailers, either brick-and-mortar or online, including your localindie.
Today we honor Juneteenth, not yet a national holiday, but hopefully on the way. I put this blog mostly on the back burner the last few months, for so many reasons. But today requires acknowledgement, and it feels like a perfect opportunity to discuss racism and humanity. Throughout these weeks of protest and activism following the killing of George Floyd, I’ve been active on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, trying to support and elevate Black voices. But it’s important for me to talk more broadly about my support of the Black community and that needs a little more space.
Racism comes in all shapes and sizes, but it surrounds us. As a white woman, I understand that I have grown up in this system. It’s in my DNA through decades of exposure. I have to do the work to resist that exposure because even if I am not actively, purposefully racist, I can still say or do things carelessly without understanding their effect. Doing that work means listening. It includes reading, viewing, paying attention. Supporting financially, emotionally, professionally. On Juneteenth, and every day after.
Publishing remains a painfully white industry, for all the active discussion about diversity the last few years. I am closed to queries at the moment, but when I reopen I will be rewriting my information about what I’m seeking. Currently I encourage diverse submissions, but I plan to be more specific about addressing BIPOC authors individually. As a reader and consumer, I work to diversify my reading choices, but I know I can always do better. I try to give money to a rotating list of charities and organizations that focus on providing opportunities to those who need them. In recent weeks, I’ve donated to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for African American Students and We Need Diverse Books.
Boosting Black Voices
I’m just one person, with limited resources, but I have something of a platform. A decent Twitter following. Some terrific friends and colleagues who are on the same page about the need to boost Black voices. The older I get, the more I understand that networking can take you far, and a diverse network surpasses one with a narrow focus. More ideas, more connections, more chances of clicking with the right partner or finding that perfect opportunity. It’s not about scrambling to the top of the mountain by yourself; it’s about helping others and watching everyone rise together, then toasting your achievements with an amazing view.
Amistad Books proposed the simple idea of purchasing two books by Black authors this week. Any two you wish. The concept? Flood the bestseller lists with Black voices, fiction and nonfiction. Boost the writers, give them sales, but also introduce readers to new names they might not have encountered. Have you picked up your books yet? There’s still time for this challenge, but any week counts. Go discover a new-to-you voice.
I Am Not Your Negro: the Film. – Many streaming services are showing an array of important Black films for free right now. Of the ones I’ve watched the past couple of weeks, this one struck me as a beautiful balance between the big-picture narrative of racism in the United States and a very personal story of James Baldwin’s experience watching his friends getting gunned downed for standing up for Black rights. Available on Amazon Prime among other places. Highly recommended.
I could keep going on and on, obviously. But this smattering of thoughts and links serves as a beginning, only. We need to keep having the conversation, to keep doing the work, if we’re ever going to approach a world that looks somewhat equitable. And even then, as with everything, we’ll need to keep doing the work. Change isn’t permanent; it’s a process.
New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh returns to her breathtaking Psy-Changeling Trinity series with a mating that shouldn’t exist…
Alpha wolf Selenka Durev’s devotion to her pack is equaled only by her anger at anyone who would harm those under her care. That currently includes the empaths who’ve flowed into her city for a symposium that is a security nightmare, a powder keg just waiting for a match.
Ethan Night is an Arrow who isn’t an Arrow. Numb and disengaged from the world, he’s loyal only to himself. Assigned as part of the security force at a world-first symposium, he carries a dark agenda tied to the power-hungry and murderous Consortium. Then violence erupts and Ethan finds himself crashing into the heart and soul of an alpha wolf. Mating at first sight is a myth, a fairytale. Yet Selenka’s wolf is resolute: Ethan Night, broken Arrow and a man capable of obsessive devotion, is the mate it has chosen. Even if the mating bond is full of static and not quite as it should be. Because Selenka’s new mate has a terrible secret, his mind surging with a power that is a creature of madness and death…
Gear up for summer with this exciting, romantic read. Find ALPHA NIGHT through your favorite onlineretailer, in hard cover, e-book, or audio, or try your local indie bookstore. Be sure to call your favorite store to see if they’re open or doing curbside pickup. If not, order through Bookshop.org, which shares proceeds with a host of independent booksellers.
April arrived, finally. March was possibly the longest month I have ever lived through. My mother likes to say March is her least favorite month. I think it’s mostly a weather thing, but this year, I have to agree. So welcome to April, and this week’s link roundup. I hope you’re all well and staying home, safe, and sane.
I add that last one because I know a lot of people are really starting to feel the magnitude of the situation. Millions of Americans filed for unemployment last week. People are worried. I wish I could help with that, but I hope I can at least provide a small distraction. Don’t be hard on yourself. Do what you need to in order to manage. If being creative helps, go for it. If you can’t focus on writing, go ahead and binge Netflix or bake or nap. If you’re still out there working in the trenches, thank you for taking that risk for all the rest of us, and stay as safe as you can.
I offer up another mixed list of links this week. Enjoy, and have a good weekend.
National Poetry Month does not always hit my radar. I love poetry, but it’s the first thing to fall by the wayside when I’m busy. I realize that’s counterintuitive. Poems slip into cracks of time much more deftly than long novels or even short fiction. But they also require a different sort of thought process. Poetry demands time for reflection — time I don’t always have. But recently I’ve found myself reaching for favorite volumes more often. There’s something soothing about reading poetry when the world is on fire.
Falling into Poetry
I know I read poetry as a child — so many children’s books feature rhymes or short free verse. However, my first awareness of poetry as a formal genre came in fourth grade, when my teachers introduced it. In my homeroom, Mrs. Brown posted a new poem up on the wall each month for us to memorize and recite in front of the class. (I can still remember the first one, though the rest faded with time.) My reading teacher, Ms Islan — this was the first year we changed classes for reading and were grouped by skill level — did a biweekly poetry day, where she would read us a few poems. After the first week, she had us sign up to read a poem aloud, too, encouraging us to discover and choose what we would share.
I first encountered Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson in that class, but the most memorable discovery was Alfred Noyes. One day, Ms Islan stood in front of us and read The Highwayman. It was the longest poem I’d ever heard, a complete story. It was so exciting that I nearly fell off my chair, leaning forward in anticipation. More than forty years later, I can still close my eyes and hear the rise and fall of Ms Islan’s voice.
Later came Shakespeare. T.S. Eliot. Auden and Dylan Thomas, Shelley and Yeats. Edna St. Vincent Millay. e.e. cummings. Sylvia Plath. And modern poetry, discovered in The New Yorker or The Paris Review or tiny, obscure journals from the newstand at Border’s. But when I’m in need of comfort, I return automatically to those old, foundational favorites.
Poems as Meditation
Poetry runs the full range of human emotions. I’ve read poems that stir anger or frustration, that serve as a call to action. But in times like this, I reach for poetry that feels calming. Gentle rhythms, soft ideas, images of nature or quiet spaces. I’ve tried, repeatedly, to develop a meditation practice, but my brain insists on churning ahead. But a peaceful poem can occupy my thoughts, fill up all those frantic corners of my mind. Just the right poem can serve as a small time-out.
Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost
I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain, and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light. I have looked down the saddest city lane. I have passed by the watchman on his beat And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet When far away an interrupted cry Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye; And further still at an unearthly height, O luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right. I have been one acquainted with the night.
The other day I asked for poetry recommendations on Twitter, so now I have some new poets to check out. I hope to find more ideas now that National Poetry Month has started.
How about you? Do you read poetry? Who are your favorite poets? What sort of poetry moves or relaxes you? I’d love to hear about your choices.