A Writing Retreat in Approximately 22,000 Words (Plus Captions)

I’m unusually lucky in that I have several in-real-life writing friends (a whole bushel, actually) that I treasure. *Fist-bumps Febe Moss and waves to the North Branch crew.* Online writing friends are fabulous, and IRL non-writing friends are super important too. But only with IRL writing friends can you pull off the kind of productivity and hi jinx Kelsey Macke and I pulled off this spring break with our second annual Tiny Cabin writing retreat. This time we went to Oklahoma. I could write you a blog post, but, well, I think the pictures pretty well capture it.* I’ll let them talk (with a little help).

All amped up and ready to hit the road!

All amped up and ready to hit the road!

We've arrived at our destination: Tiny Cabin 2.

We’ve arrived at our destination: Tiny Cabin 2. If you try to tell me it’s not the cutest little cabin you’ve ever seen I’ll call you a liar.

Isn't it cute? Much less tiny than we expected.

Inside: much less tiny than we expected. More than double Tiny Cabin 1, and cheaper to boot. Win!

First things first, let's get this puzzle set up. (Last year we realized we needed a non-writing thing to do during breaks.)

First things first, let’s get this puzzle set up. (Last year we realized we needed a non-writing thing to do during breaks.)

We were wowed by our first sunset, perfect viewing on the front porch slider.

We were wowed by our first sunset, with perfect viewing on the front porch slider.

Our adorable little beds. The cabin had two bedrooms but we bunked together because we're cute like that.

Our adorable little beds. The cabin had two bedrooms but we bunked together because we’re cute like that.

First morning, enjoying the sun on the back porch.

First morning, enjoying my coffee and the sun on the back porch.

The view. Not bad, Oklahoma. Not bad.

The view. Not bad, Oklahoma. Not bad.

Getting to work.

Getting to work.

Silhouette of a writer -- Kels rocking her headphones.

Silhouette of a writer — Kels rocking her headphones.

And an afternoon hike for a break.

An afternoon hike for a break. That’s Tiny Cabin 2 from a distance.

Look at this cute little babbling creek that bordered the property!

Look at this cute little babbling creek that bordered the property!

Late day session calls for a change in seating.

A late-day session wears me thin. Maybe a change in seating will do the trick?

The second sunset.

The second sunset.

And a tiny little pan-fire for a tiny ilttle cabin.

A tiny little pan-fire for a tiny ilttle cabin.

Day three: despearte circumstances call for desparate measures.

Morning two and the writing is hard to come by: desperate circumstances call for desperate measures.

Enjoying the great outdoors.

Let’s get out of our heads and enjoy the great outdoors.

We were treated to an aerial show right above our heads.

We were treated to an aerial show right above us.

And I tried things one step beyond desparate.

The great outdoors didn’t do the trick. Last night: one step beyond desperate.

The final sunset.

Our final sunset.

And finally, we abandoned the puzzle for the sake of more words.

The worst of the dam broke, and on our last morning we abandoned the puzzle for the sake of more words. We got a lot more words. :)

Tired and happy. We kicked some ass.

Tired and happy. We had fun. We wrote things. We kicked some ass.

*Not pictured here: a questionable hot tub, Amaretto sours, a killer cartwheel, tree-climbing, a healthy dose of creative angst (okay maybe that was pictured here), impromptu dance parties, mysterious critter invasions, and sunshine yoga.

Thanks to Kelsey for the fun, the support, and several of these pictures! It turned out that this retreat was exactly what I needed to prioritize, get my head on straight, and find my groove again.

Now… Who’s in the mood for a retreat? Or if you’re not a writer, for a vacation? Honestly, they always end up getting blurred together for me anyway. I’ve never taken a retreat without stopping to have some fun, and I’ve never been on a vacation where I didn’t drown in inspiration and come home itching to work my butt off. Thus is the wonderful life of a writer. Happy spring!

Posted in My Process | 11 Comments

Zanders the Magnificent at Fireside Magazine

My short story “Zanders the Magnificent” is out now in Fireside Magazine Issue 21, and it’s free for you to read online! This one’s a really fun horror story. Editor Brian White called it “shiver-creepy.” I hope you like it too!

Check out this stellar "Zanders the Magnificent" artwork by Galen Dara! Lucky, lucky me!

A portion of Galen Dara’s stellar illustration for “Zanders the Magnificent” is on the cover of this issue! Visit my story to see the full (and truly spectacular) image. Lucky, lucky me!

“My handsome, darling boys,” Mrs. Zander said, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. “Which one of you wants to be alive today?”

To get into the mood for this one, I’ve been blogging Zanders-themed posts on my tumblr for the past two weeks. You can see almost all of them right on the first page (which also includes some not safe for work images, so click with care) if you feel like taking a look. I think it’s fun before or after reading “Zanders the Magnificent”! Here’s the opening line for a teaser! –>

Issue 21 is free to read online, but Fireside Fiction is an awesome company and there are several ways you can support them! You can subscribe, buy back issues, or donate. They champion fair pay for their authors and artists, which is so important for writers like myself! And you’re getting a great value, because they publish the likes of Chuck Wendig, Lilith Saintcrow, and Stephen Blackmoore. As they say: Many genres. No limits. Just good stories.

I’m thrilled to be included in their lineup this issue. I hope you’ll take time to go read “Zanders the Magnificent” and checkout all Fireside has to offer.

Thank you all for your support. Have a wonderful (dare I say magnificent?) week!

Posted in My Works | 17 Comments

Thoughts on Gone Girl

You guys know how I can’t resist reading the uber-popular books just to see what all the fuss is about? (Twilight thoughts here and a 50 Shades discussion here. Plus check out my whole not quite book review category tag for my thoughts on even more books.) Well, I just finished Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl last week. I knew a few pages in that it was worth blogging about.

Gone Girl by Gillian FlynnThis is a very difficult book to discuss without giving away spoilers, but I HATE spoilers. I definitely won’t give away anything big, and I will do my best to keep details vague while still being useful, but if you know Gone Girl is one you want to read, you might want to bookmark this post for after you finish just in case. Let’s dig in, shall we?

What It Is

Well the obvious answer is that it’s a really, really popular novel that’s been made into a movie. The answer that interests me is that it’s also one of the best examples of upmarket fiction I’ve come across in quite a while. From literary fiction, it borrows the unreliable narrator (two of them!), intentionally unlikable characters (many of them!), and a somewhat unchronological story/unconventional frame style (alternating between Nick’s POV and Amy’s diary). But despite these things, it shares distinct traits with commercial fiction. The plot is fast-paced with high tension, the genre is predominantly mystery, and the prose, though high quality and intellectual, is stylistically easy to read. Put them together and what have you got? Bippity-boppity-upmarket.

A Matter of Taste

So right off the bat, I’ll tell you what I thought. I loved it! As I was reading it, I thought it might end up going on my favorites list. By the time I got to the ending I decided it didn’t quite swing that, but I did give it five solid stars on Goodreads. Let’s break it down a little more.

My Likes

The main thing that strikes me is that this novel is incredibly brave. I love brave books and I admire the brave authors who write them. I will absolutely read more work by Gillian Flynn in the future.

The thing about discussing Twilight or 50 Shades is that the (to my mind) more interesting topics are somewhat obscured by the outcry over the quality of their prose. Writers especially want the most popular books to be the most well-written books, and that often just doesn’t happen. But with Gone Girl, the prose is solid. It isn’t stellar in a pretty or breathtaking way; there’s really nothing flowery here (though I did look up a few new vocabulary words). It’s simply good – not boring, but not flashy – and acutely well-tuned to the “voices” of its protagonists. Writers can quit their whining about all the “crap” that gets published; this one is truly high quality.

What a trip! This book thrusts you into the heads of its extremely disturbed and disturbing main characters – and they struck me as painfully realistic. You do not like them, no, and you aren’t supposed to. It’s uncomfortable. They’re despicable. I sometimes felt a little sick reading them because, honestly, I think those world views are so authentically accurate to real people. But damn if they aren’t compelling. I couldn’t have put the book down if I tried.

Speaking of which, this books reads like lightning. I don’t see how you could be bored! It’s not all plot, true, but the characters and the details of their lives are so richly rendered that I can’t imagine being bored by it. Not to mention the mystery pulls you along at a great pace.

It kept me guessing, and I’m a notorious twist-guesser. (I don’t mean to, but I always accidentally realize what’s going to happen.) I did think of the twist as one of the options, but I wasn’t sure it was the real answer until it was fully revealed.

And finally, it kept me thinking even after I finished. Even the most disgusting characters had some really great points about certain things, and even the most outlandish plot twists brought up some legitimate food for thought.

Some Dislikes

There were very few things in this novel that didn’t work for me, but I have to admit I wasn’t crazy about the ending. It didn’t make me as mad as it did many readers, and I think I disliked it for a different reason. For me it wasn’t about justice, but because the believability factor went way down. For the first three quarters of the novel I was willing to suspend disbelief, but by the end that had slipped. And… yeah, that’s pretty much it for my own dislikes.

I’ve seen several reviewers comment on the prevalence of profanity, which, honestly, I can’t understand. Admittedly, I love profanity, but even if I didn’t I think I’d still see it as justified in this context. It isn’t author interference; it felt like the right “voice” for these narrators. But if that’s something you can’t make an exception for, this isn’t the book for you.

Another complaint I saw in reviews was the economic status and race of the protagonists. I just… what? People said things along the lines of “I can’t make myself care about the problems of rich white people.” Wow. First of all, I don’t really think we’re supposed to be “rooting for” these characters in that way anyway. Second of all, I have to say that I find that reaction just as off-putting as if someone said the opposite. But hey, everyone has a right to their opinion. Personally, race and wealth aren’t reasons for me to read or not read about any characters, pretty much ever.

And the final complaint I saw repeated was how unlikable the main characters are. I can’t argue with that, but it didn’t make the book unenjoyable for me. Some readers want to root for a character; others want to be challenged by them. I like both, so I was able to go with it on this one.

Sexism

Here’s the big debate I’ve been seeing: is this book misogynistic? Scores of people are saying it is, but I completely disagree. Is Nick misogynistic? No doubt. But I believe that he’s supposed to be. And Amy is supposed to be misandrous and misogynistic (so, basically, a misanthrope). Here’s the really important part: having misogynistic and/or sexist characters does not make the author misogynistic and/or sexist. In this case, I would argue the opposite. I read Gone Girl as a fantastically feminist work.

Let’s put it this way: If this were a book written by a man about a despicable male character, would interviewers be asking him, “Why do you hate men so much?” Would readers accuse him of looking down on men? I don’t think so. Male authors are afforded the benefit of the doubt. They’re given the license to write horribly twisted characters of their own gender and not be accused of believing that’s how all men are. In my opinion, it’s high time female authors are afforded that same license.

Amy Dunne doesn’t paint women in a good light. That’s inarguable. But I don’t believe that feminism is a PR campaign. Women are human, and humans come in all shades of good and evil. Demanding authors to only portray female characters as likable and wholesome does more damage than good. Those aren’t women; they’re blowup dolls. They’re cardboard cutouts there for the male characters to do interesting things in the vicinity of. Given my choice between reading about a Mary-Sue and an Amy Dunne, I’ll take Amy Dunne any day. [Note: For my thoughts on “strong female characters” check out this old post!]

This, by the way, is one reason I call Gone Girl a very brave book. I have so much respect for Gillian Flynn for unapologetically writing what she wants to write — and doing a damn good job of it.

Who Should Read It

Writers, to start. I think all writers should read this book, even if they don’t end up liking it. What a fantastic opportunity to study an accomplished author’s choices and take notes. What works for you and what doesn’t? And more importantly, why? Can you use that? Why do you think this novel in particular has been so successful? Can you use that?

As to non-writer readers, not everyone will want this one. I think it comes down to why do you read? If you read for entertainment and/or to make yourself think, Gone Girl is a yes. If you read for light pleasure and/or to uplift and reinforce morals, Gone Girl is a no. If you like tidy endings and clean messages, skip it. If you like books that push the limits and raise questions, it might be worth looking into. And of course, if you only enjoy reading characters you can root for, this one definitely isn’t for you. But if you like to take a dip into darkness, Gone Girl is the best book I’ve read in a while.

Have you read Gone Girl yet? What did you think? (No spoilers, please! If you want to discuss specifics, please do it in a way that won’t ruin others’ enjoyment. I.e. say “post-twist” instead of stating what the twist is, etc.) And if you haven’t read it yet, do you think you’ll add it to your list?

Posted in Books | Tagged | 39 Comments

Bookish Gift Ideas for Your Valentine

So you love someone who reads. Congratulations! Sounds like you’ve bagged a good one. ;) Valentine’s Day is coming up fast: Saturday, February 14th. With less than two weeks to go, now is the time to order gifts online and/or make plans for shopping. Being a book lover myself, I decided to gather up a list of gifts I’d love and share them with you for inspiration. I’ve tried to pick a good variety of price points, from free to extravagant, so hopefully there’s something in here for everyone! And if you’re a reader too? There’s absolutely no shame in emailing this post to your valentine. Hint, hint.

Annie's Valentine Bookshelf

It’s the Thought That Counts

gifts for free or nearly so

♥ A poem you wrote. Honestly, there’s nothing sweeter! If you’re ambitious, you can try writing a sonnet, the classic form for love poems. If that’s too much of a challenge, free verse is just as thoughtful and much easier for first-timers.

♥ Read a poem or story aloud. If you’re not much of a poet, you can always borrow from one of the greats! Hunt down a love poem or a romantic story that you like and give your significant other a private reading.

♥ A homemade valentine with a literary love quote. Not one for reading aloud? You can always hand-make a card (it really is better this way) and feature a sweet quote from an author or poet your S.O. loves.

♥ A reading day. Sometimes what we really want is time. If your lover loves to read, what better than the gift of time? Find a day where you can eliminate all barriers/distractions – take the kids out of the house with you, do the laundry ahead of time, etc. – and leave your sweetie the whole day to lounge about and read.

Small to Medium Gifts

your typical price range for thoughtful presents

♥ A set of magnetic poetry. What reader doesn’t like to dabble at writing? There’s no less intimidating way to get in on the fun than magnetic poetry! Not to mention they’re great for leaving each other love notes on the fridge. Buy sets anywhere and (almost) everywhere, prices ranging from about $2-$30.

♥ Novel teas. Is your sweetie a tea drinker? There’s nothing like curling up with a good buck and a warm mug. How cute are these novel-themed tea pouches? $25 and up.

 Book-themed chocolates. If tea is just a little too wholesome, there’s always this super cute chocolate book set. Yum. $19.99.

♥ Bookish Etsy gifts. If you’re not already familiar with Etsy, you should check it out. It’s an online marketplace where individual artists sell their hand-crafted items. I’ve linked to the “book lovers gifts” category, which has everything from jewelry to framed prints for your wall. Prices vary by item.

♥ A book-scented candle. If your sugar is anything like me, he or she is obsessed with the smell of old books. In step: book-scented candles. $16.

♥ An author-themed candle. Take book-scented one step further, and you get these clever “author-themed” scents. $8-$21.

♥ Shirts, totes, and posters from Litographs. I *love* this store! I have a Litograph t-shirt of Wuthering Heights, and it’s so cool. It’s printed with tiny rows of text from the actual book, shaped to form an image from a distance. Definitely check this one out. $24-$34.

♥ Literary scarves. Too many t-shirts already? How about these cute scarves? $42.

For the Practical Lover

great un-mushy gifts that won’t make your S.O. roll their eyes

Some significant others just don’t like that romantic stuff. No problem. Show them you care without going over the top by giving them bookish gifts they’ll actually use!

♥ Bookshelves. We never have enough. Bonus points if you assemble or install them!

♥ Bookends. Again – never enough. Bonus points if you get a design your S.O. will love.

♥ Bookmarks. I’m sensing a theme here. Cute bookmarks are so easy to find, and so handy to have around.

♥ A book stand. I love my book stand! It’s great for cookbooks, textbooks, or large hardbacks that I want to prop up so I can read while eating or writing, etc. Styles vary, this one is only $6.

♥ A book weight. I’m absolutely obsessed with mine. I use it to hold open paperbacks while I’m eating so I can read during lunch. Indispensable. $8.95.

♥ A thumb book holder. How nifty is this little guy? Any avid reader knows how your hand eventually cramps during marathon sessions. Problem solved! $5.23.

A headlamp with a red filter option. Book lights are okay, but once you’ve owned a head lamp you’ll likely never buy a regular flashlight (or book light) again. They’re way more convenient because they’re hands-free, they don’t get in the way of turning pages, and the red filter is plenty bright enough to read by, but diffuse enough to not keep you awake on those late nights when your bedmate wants to keep reading. $29.95.

Books Themselves

don’t forget the books!

Books are the endless gift resource. You can get your S.O. any book you know he/she has their eye on, but here are some suggestions a bit above the ordinary.

♥ Boxed sets. Boxed sets are cool because they look nice and they insure you get matching versions of a series.

♥ Signed and/or limited editions of their favorite book(s).

♥ Coffee table books. Not only are these fun to read, but they’re beautiful to leave out on display!

♥ Bookstore gift cards. Never fails!

♥ Periodical subscriptions. If your S.O. likes short stories and poems more than novels, they would probably love a subscription to a literary magazine. Some popular ones are The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Granta, and Tin House.

♥ A book of poems. Just a touch more romantic than a ‘typical’ book. Bonus points if it’s romantic or erotic.

♥ A personalized romance novel. Wowza! Will you guys believe me when I tell you I had this idea a year and a half ago? (It’s true!) Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Fill in your partner’s name, physical appearance, etc., and have a personalized romance novel made just for them! $19.95-$39.95.

Big Gifts

for the ambitious lover

♥ A reading nook. This is a gift of labor (and money (and space)). Maybe your loved one wants a designated place to go read. Could you spare a certain area of the house? If so, choose a little nook — whether by a bright window or in a cozy corner — and deck it out with an ultra-comfy chair, recliner, or chaise lounge, a reading lamp, a side table, and a bookshelf nearby. Finish it off with a warm, soft throw and this will be a gift your S.O. never forgets!

♥ An e-reader. Expensive, yes, but oh so useful! It’s an entire library in one device. Prices vary depending on the brand and version you buy, but generally go for around $50-$500.

♥ A romantic getaway in New York. Want to really go all out? How about a romantic book-themed vacation to Manhattan? The Library Hotel offers rooms themed like the Dewey Decimal system. Rates vary by stay dates and lengths, but rooms seem to run from about $250-$450 a night.

♥ Other bookish trips could involve visiting the museums and/or family homes of authors your S.O. loves. Obviously, this could become as extravagant as you want! Paris, anyone?

There we have it; my favorite gift ideas for your book-loving valentine. Whether you decide to shower your S.O. with extravagance or simply give from the heart, I’m sure they’ll love your thoughtful bookish gift. I hope you all have a happy, romantic, and word-filled Valentine’s Day!

Posted in Books | Tagged | 14 Comments