This year in writing

In the spirit of retrospection—and also recognizing that without Facebook to update the friendly masses on my writerly aspirations, contributing to my underused blog is the best way to let the world know what I’m up—I feel the urge to share the latest and greatest adventures in writing.

I started off the year working on a new novel (yes, this marks number three for those keeping score) written mostly during November 2016 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). In January, I joined a critique group (recently dubbed La Madeleine Writers in honor of the Bethesda cafe where we convene) which meets monthly, inspires daily. I recruited new beta readers and when those readers funneled back dissatisfaction with the novel’s ending, I edited, wrote and rewrote and found new suckers readers to take on a revised version.

Then I edited and wrote and rewrote some more.

As a self-imposed May 31st deadline to have a query-ready manuscript approached (for those who don’t know, I amicably broke up with my previous agent in 2016) I snuck in writing/editing time when I could, mostly at five o’clock in the morning before sun, kids, and cats rise. I started with a light pitch in June, sending the manuscript to a handful of literary agents.

While those queries did not yield a match, one agent provided feedback. Detailed feedback. And engaged in a back and forth exchange where I could ask questions, which she promptly answered. If you aren’t a writer struggling to forge this impossible seeming professional relationship, you don’t understand how glorious and rare unsolicited feedback is in a world of form letter email rejections. (The process isn’t unlike online dating.) Her suggestions made my manuscript stronger, even if we didn’t find happily ever after.

In August, I submitted my novel for #PitchWars, an online contest pairing aspiring authors (aka mentees) with agented/published authors or others in the industry (aka mentors). Mentors help mentees edit their novel/pitch in preparation for an agent showcase round, where matches are made in heaven. I wasn’t selected as a mentee, but made a writer friend out of my dream mentor. Her advice has helped me improve in immeasurable ways, and she always responds immediately to my “what do you think if I xxx” texts.

In November, I hired Hyphen Craft, an editing service recently established by former literary agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock. She honed my Twitter pitches for #PitMad and reviewed my submission package (i.e. query letter, synopsis and first ten pages) advising on what grabs—and holds—an agent’s attention. In the process of all that fine-tooth comb editing, together we realized my working title didn’t convey the serious aspect of the manuscript. I vowed to spend Christmas batting around ideas when out of the blue, I got an email from her with an inspired (secret, for now) title suggestion. That’s working overtime!

Also over Christmas, I read Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, and while he doesn’t know me—and doubtfully remembers the time I went to a birthday party at his house when I was 12 years old—his words helped propel an aspiring author (and fellow Mainer) forward during a time of despair. So as the new year approaches, I continue to edit, write and rewrite. I have no deadline in mind, but I maintain hope I’ll find my perfect literary match.

Then maybe I’ll try online dating again.

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My favorite reads of 2017

I just added to Goodreads the latest (and probably last) read in 2017, marking 110 books read this year, 35 more than the goal I set in January.

I hear you ask: how do you have so much time to read? And to that question I respond, I wish I had more time. To be a good writer, I have to be a voracious reader. Thus the librarian recognizes me, Amazon gift cards put a smile on my face and a stack of untouched books pouts next to my bed, each wanting to be the next up. Also facilitating my reading appetite, I gave up cable TV in 2015 and Facebook in 2016, two conduits of time suckage. I sleep and read better without the digital distractions. Not that I don’t partake in social media (hello, Twitter) or watch TV; Project Runway, Game of Thrones, the Bachelor franchise and Veep vie for my attention. But I like books better. And I love recommending books. Not every story is for everybody, thus I put careful consideration into what books I push on which friends. But hands down, the following were my favorite reads of 2017.

Fiction:

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge. The last book I read in 2017 is one of my favorites. This gripping account of castaways stranded on a remote island reeled me in and left me sobbing.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The most anticipated book of 2017 did not disappoint as the story effortlessly floated between points of view (so hard for the writer to pull off). I cared about each character and felt their absence once I was done reading.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta. No one conveys disaffected suburbia better than Perrotta and this tale made me laugh out loud. As a Gen-X-er, it was refreshing to read about a woman my age taking on life’s challenges from parenthood to dating.

Touch by Courtney Maum. I cannot stop thinking about this book and how prophetic the notion that someday our digitally obsessed culture may pay for human touch. This work of fiction inspired real life efforts to connect on a deeper level than our handheld devices permit.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The old school Hollywood glamour and grit of this novel kept me turning pages and the love stories gutted me. I read the last 150 pages on an airplane, where my body heaving sobs earned me sympathetic glances and the offer of a package of tissues.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney. I felt like I was taking that New Year’s Eve walk with Lillian, who in my perfect book world could meet A Gentleman in Moscow. A lifetime of ups and downs recounted in one night, this story will forever make me look at New Year’s Eve—and a life well lived—differently.

Nonfiction:

Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler by Bruce Henderson. I am not including my dad’s book just because he’s my dad. Hudson Booksellers listed it as a top ten of 2017, as did the Washington Independent Review of Books. This account of a little-known troop of Jewish naturalized American soldiers returning to their homelands to fight Hitler tells a story of redemption, patriotism and bravery.

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden. I am a sucker for gut-wrenching stories and listening to Biden talk about his son’s illness and death gave me new perspective on the former Vice President, his family’s strength, and what it means to be a public servant. I only rolled my eyes a few times.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. I like nonfiction books that teach me something I don’t already know, and though I live in an urban area not immune to poverty, reading the housing struggles of the Milwaukee families profiled in this work reminded me how even when times are tough, how very lucky I am to have a roof over my head and not have to choose between food or shelter.

What were the books you couldn’t put down? Give me your recommendations. I’m preparing my list for 2018.

Happy reading!