2014: The Retrospective

Let’s take a look. It’s (mostly) in a book. This past year, that is.

Professionally, I started a new full-time job that came out of the blue. I applied online and thought nothing of it. Maybe because it happened alongside a very serious city job that had a very involved hiring process and horribly impersonal interview format. However, when I got to the interview for my current job, I felt very confident. I mentioned my writing and editing, I even showed them this blog. I’d never really mentioned my writing at an interview before because I felt it was mostly irrelevant. In fact, my previous supervisor completely forgot I even had a degree in English. But I have my own business cards now and that’s all that matters. Welcome to the real world, Joseph.

I got published in a few more journals, although not as much as I wanted. I entered poetry contests and made it to the final round several times. I got angry at some rejections. I was nominated for the Best of the Net anthology. I started reading for the online literary journal Pithead Chapel, which publishes monthly issues of both fiction and nonfiction. I’m now an assistant fiction editor.

I thought this would be the year of poetry, but it became much more eclectic. Short story collections, graphic novels, essays. Last year I mentioned how I read a lot of women writers and I continued with this trend, albeit unconsciously. I just happened to pick up more books by women. They definitely aren’t scarce. They’re still not winning enough awards though. Speaking of underrepresented voices, one of my posts about literary magazines publishing those who often get overlooked somehow went viral. At least, “viral” in terms of the online literary community. I received kind messages of support from readers and editors, and it continues to get passed around every once in a while. If anything, I hope it helps connect writers with publishers and maybe encourage editors to be more aware of the imbalance and strive to become more inclusive.

I went to Miami to meet Amy Tan at my alma mater. I went to a very intense poetry reading at the Miami Book Fair, featuring Ocean Vuong. I visited coffee houses, local used bookstores, and cozy places to read. I wrote more letters than I ever have before, I’m pretty sure.

There was also a lot of tragedy this year that is impossible to gloss over. There was a lot of public grieving, which you often don’t see. Suicides and shootings. Protests and anger. We can always do better. We should always do better.

Soon enough, I’ll be posting photos of my memory jar from this year too. I’ll spill the contents I’ve collected. This project was fun and I hope to make it a tradition. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are a bunch of things that helped to define the year 2014 for me.

Books:

The Isle of Youth and What the World Will Look Like When the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg
The Diaries of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1 by Anaïs Nin
This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Crush by Richard Siken
Burnings by Ocean Vuong
The Lions by Peter Campion
Poetry and Commitment and Tonight No Poetry Will Do by Adrienne Rich
An Untamed State and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Every Kiss a War by Leesa Cross-Smith
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
The Penguin Book of Witches by Katherine Howe
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Fleshtrap by Magen Cubed
The Self Unstable by Elisa Gabbert

Literary journals:

NANO Fiction
Hobart
Provocateur
Rattle
Atlas Review
Black Warrior Review
The Pinch

Movies and TV series:

Cowboys and Angels
Heathers
(again)
The Big Lebowski
Girls (again)
Dallas Buyers Club
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Portlandia
Bob’s Burgers
Ergo Proxy
Return to Oz

The Wind Rises
The Fifth Element

Video games:

Broken Age
Gone Home

Dark Cloud
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
Child of Light
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy
Sims 3
Costume Quest 2
Puppeteer

Music:

“The Gypsy King” and “Tristan” by Patrick Wolf
“Floating City” by Tori Amos/Y Kant Tori Read
“Spellwork” by Austra
“Black Cat” by Ladytron
“Magic Rabbit” by My Brightest Diamond
“Experiment IV” by Kate Bush
“Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
“Chandelier” by Sia
“Completely Not Me” by Jenny Lewis
“Words as Weapons” by Birdy
“Tous Les Memes” by Stromae
“On Ira” and “Comme ci, Comme ça”  by Zaz
Everything by Lorde (again)
Everything by PJ Harvey
Everything by FKA twigs

And now, onto the 2015 resolutions:

  • Find some kind of physical activity that I don’t hate completely and follow a routine
  • Eat healthier
  • Find a place of my own to settle and build a nest
  • Learn some French?
  • I could always read more
  • Submit to lit magazines more often

The Year of Poetry

Poetry month came and went. I did it right by reading tons of it: John Ashbery, Charles Bukowski (my first ever, if the internet can believe that), Adrienne Rich (all-time favorite still), Peter Campion, Juliana Spahr, Angela Sorby, Richard Siken, Ocean Vuong, Campbell McGrath. I think I may just extend it to make 2014 my year of poetry, much like 2013 was my year of women writers. It looks like it’s headed that way regardless.

About a month ago, I met Amy Tan. She was at FIU, my alma mater. The university presented her with the Lawrence Sanders award for her contribution to literature. I first read The Joy Luck Club in high school, one of the books that inspired me as a teenager to take writing more seriously. Her fascination with an indomitable mother figure also resonated. Her speech at the ceremony was funny and heartfelt. She discussed the idea of the writer’s brain being more porous, having less barriers. Her husband of 40+ years was in the audience with their little dogs in a bag. The next day was their anniversary and they were heading out to Key West to celebrate. Ms. Tan talked about the Dry Tortugas and how she wanted to swim with the sharks. She signed my copy of her newest novel: To Joseph, joy and luck.

I didn’t go to AWP this year, even though I’d been invited to do a reading at an off-site panel that focused on videogame writing. I’ve actually never been to AWP. It’s on my bucket list though. From what I’ve gleaned from Twitter, AWP always seems like a huge frenzy that causes a lot of exhaustion. But hopefully fun exhaustion. I would especially love to meet some of the editors from the literary magazines I read. And of course, maybe I’ll even bump into some writer friends that, up until this point, I only internet-know.

Speaking of internet friends, thanks to some help from Adam, I was recently able to start a Goodreads author page. You can now become a fan of me. Oh wow. It might make it easier since my blog posts will also update through Goodreads now. If you’re into that. And of course, my constant barrage of books.

In the past couple of months, I’ve managed to stumble upon a few bookish places in tight little corners of South Florida. I am always on the lookout–especially since there are hardly any bookish places within my immediate vicinity. I sometimes feel so culture-starved.

secondedition1

secondedition2

One of these places was Second Edition Books. I went with my sister, who is always up for an adventure. She bought some Shakespeare, I bought some Lorrie Moore. There were shelves and shelves, stacks and stacks. It was crammed full. The bookstore provides a very homey atmosphere–rustic interior and leather armchairs. We sat in them and looked for the Great Catsby, the bookstore’s mascot. Catsby the cat lounges around the books. My sister pointed out that he also has an Instagram with a huge amount of followers.

coffeehaus1 coffeehaus2

Another place I found was the Undergrounds Coffeehaus. The first thing I noticed: it’s not actually underground. In fact, you have to climb stairs to get to the door, where it warns you that no illegal substances are permitted beyond the threshold. Already I think we’d found a place with a distinct personality. Inside, there is a playful kind of chaos: board games set out on tables, shelves of books against walls, knick-knacks scattered all over. It seems like a good local hangout spot for artists and youth with that kind of alternative edge. Tattoos and green hair. They serve tater tots and lots and lots of different coffee and teas.

When I’m not exploring books nooks or working now, I write letters–actual paper and pen–in order to fill the void where the incessant blogging would be. If you wish to start an exchange, you can let me know at lettersforburning@yahoo.com. I promise I won’t burn them–not this time.

Carousel #5

  1. All I really want for my birthday this year is Scrivener. Sounds absolutely perfect.
  2. Have some chiptunes I came across. Music made with a GameBoy, for those not in the know.
  3. Here’s an interesting article about Tumblr as the modern commonplace book. I’ve never kept one of my own, although I suppose this blog has become a sort with the inclusion of these carousels.
  4. I recently discovered the fantastic Dear Sugar advice column. Anonymous questions (often difficult, sometimes quite strange) are sent in and eloquently answered by the always compassionate, level-headed Sugar (who recently revealed herself as the author Cheryl Strayed, by the way).
  5. While the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games enjoying a huge success at the box office wasn’t all too surprising, it was surprising to see how some fans reacted to some of the characters being portrayed as black. I haven’t read the books myself, but the response is quite shocking to say the least. On the heels of this whole debacle, here’s Toni Morrison discussing racism.
  6. Aaron Burch, the fantastic editor over at Hobart, wrote a eulogy for the closing of a bookstore he used to work at. Sad to see all these bookstores go.
  7. Something I’ve noticed when it comes to fiction novels these days: there are a ton of books out there with the titles “The _____’s Daughter,” or “The _____’s Wife.” Apparently though, I’m not the only one who has picked up on this. Maybe the titles have a nice cadence, and maybe people do pick them up because they’re familiar, but I think it’s about time we retire them.
  8. Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorite short story writers, and it was her birthday last week. A big volume of her complete works sits on my shelf. Lacy Marschalk, a writer and a teacher, recounts her visit to Ms. O’Connor’s house in Georgia and the farm. Plus peacocks!
  9. This week, poet Adrienne Rich passed away. She was one of my favorite poets as an undergrad. Read and listen to her poem “Diving into the Wreck.”

The Small Things and the Big Things

This week, I spent some time with Melissa, dear friend and fellow writer, and we went to the same Barnes and Noble I was talking about a few weeks ago. Apparently, I’m not going crazy because there have been articles now where the stores are actually stocking less and less books. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I managed to pick up Other People We Married, a short story collection by Emma Straub that I was somewhat surprised to see (maybe I’ll tweet Emma and tell her how it was right in the front of the store, in the “new fiction” section), and Melissa got me The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Díaz is one of her favorites). We  also had a very nice breakfast together and talked about our current writing projects. She has been mostly working on fairly large projects, while I’ve been working on small things. It got me thinking about my own bigger, more involved long-term projects I’ve had in my head for a while.

Here are some of those long-term projects:

  1. A coming of age novel. Probably the one I have thought about the most over the years, and the one most likely to happen eventually. I have names for the characters I want to write about and short backgrounds on who they are, as well as the title for the novel itself. I have scraps of conversations I want them to have and recurring symbols and images to flesh their world out. What I don’t have: what kind of point of view I want to use (first-person or third? alternating between characters?) and the central conflict or main plot thread that will tie everything and everyone together.
  2. A children’s book. My family thinks I have the capacity to write one of these (or a series of these) over everything else. I definitely have the gist of a story written down somewhere, but it’s nothing fleshed out yet. Hypothetically, it would read something like a cross between The Phantom Tollbooth and The Little Prince in that it will have an imaginative world with curious characters, and hopefully can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike due to it being a story with both simple language and underlying symbolism. The main issue with this one is the fact that I think it may be too morbid or mature for children. But I know there are plenty of strange books out there like that anyway (see: anything by Roald Dahl, mostly).
  3. A short story collection. It’s the form I’m used to. I’ve written an online collection before called Letters for Burning. Short fiction is something I’ve always been naturally drawn to and I love writing it.
  4. An epic, sprawling novel with a light touch of magical realism or mythology. I’m not sure I can handle the “epic” and “sprawling” parts, but I’d like to experiment with this. I’ve written short stories that read like this, so who knows. I don’t have any ideas for it yet though.
  5. A novel that is more like interconnected stories about a community of characters. I guess this one would be in the vein of something like Winesburg, Ohio or A Visit From the Goon Squad. I like this idea quite a lot because it’s like writing short stories, but with recurring characters, themes, and timelines. No idea for anything yet, but I think maybe it would involve a gated community based on the one in which I live and how the families and their surrounding eccentric neighbors come to relate to each other.

Another Pointless Trip to the Bookstore

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to a local Barnes and Noble. I hadn’t been to this particular one in a really long time, or even to any other actual physical bookstore. The only other local bookseller around here is a place called Volume One, which I’ve been to a few times. It’s nice (and there are shelves and shelves of books there, with that great old book smell that you want to shove your face in), but their books are all used and they don’t really have any new stuff by contemporary writers. And then we come to my other dilemma: Barnes and Noble no longer seems to carry what I want either.

On this most recent trip, I noticed how things had changed considerably. Nooks are in the very front instead of a showcase of new bestsellers that just recently came out, and they completely rearranged the store’s shelving. Poetry is non-existent except for Homer. I also noticed a distinct change in genre: there were a lot of new sections dedicated to “young adult” books. Not only that, but these sections were further divided according to sub-genre: fantasy, dystopian, romance, etc.

“Young adult” is very popular now. I’ve read quite a few articles popping up here and there claiming how more young adults must be reading avidly now, considering how popular this new genre has quickly become. But really, I can’t help but wonder: Is it really more young adults reading young adult fiction, or more adults reading (and writing) more young adult fiction? I’m not sure.

I always thought of coming of age stories as stories that anyone could write. Hypothetically, I mean. If people were forced to actually write books, even if they weren’t “writers” themselves, I would hypothesize that this would be the genre they would naturally gravitate towards more than any other, just because we all grow up and we all remember what that’s like. But therein lies the problem: not all of them will be particularly good reads (or particularly well-written).

I hope this isn’t coming off as too cynical. I just really want to give my money to a bookseller other than Amazon, but it’s fairly difficult if Barnes and Noble doesn’t even carry what I want and ultimately forces me to return home, bookless, and order what I want online anyway (and probably, for less money elsewhere). I wish there were more local independent bookstores. I would open one up myself, in my dreams, but somehow, I don’t think it would be a particularly wise investment here (even in my dreams).