Monthly Archives: October 2010

August & September 2010 Recommended Reading List

I’d planned to make this a monthly post, but this is the busiest time of the year for me so it didn’t happen.  Maybe next month.  Maybe next year.

In any case, here’s the best of what I’ve been reading.

Cabot, MegQueen of Babble Gets Hitched, William Morrow, 2008.  Meg Cabot is more famous for her Princess series and deservedly so.  Queen of Babble doesn’t quite live up to that high standard, but it is a fun read.  (Adult males are about the last demographic these books are geared toward, but I enjoy them anyway.)

If a writer wants to learn about voice, read Princess Dairies.  Cabot is a master.

Child, Lee, Tripwire, Putnam, 1999. It took me an unconscionably long time to check out Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, but I’m making up for lost time. I’ve started out at the beginning and gotten to this one, the third volume.

As with the first two, Child holds you spellbound throughout.  Highly recommended.

Connelly, MichaelThe Black Ice, 1993. I’d been reading Connelly for quite a while before I decided to go back and read some of his early ones that I’d missed.  This is one of them, the second Harry Bosch novel.  I’m stunned at what a terrific novelist he was way back when he was still earning the fame he has today.

Jackson, Shirley“The Lottery,” The New Yorker, podcast. I know what you’re thinking.  “The Lottery.”  Oh my God, why don’t you recommend Mark Twain or Shakespeare?

Fair enough.  But what I’m really recommending are the podcasts of short fiction that are becoming increasingly abundant, in this case from The New Yorker via iTunes.

It’s fascinating that this story, so widely read today, prompted such outrage when it first was published in 1948.  It still stands tall.

Rusch, Kristine Kathyrn, “G-Men,” Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories, 2010.  A terrific alternate history andmystery story.  It’s no surprise that it was selected for Best of the Year anthologies in both genres.  Outstanding.

Rusch, Kristine Kathyrn, “June Sixteenth at Anna’s,” Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories, 2010.  A poignant, bittersweet tale that I loved all the way through.   

Rusch, Kristine Kathyrn, Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories, Golden Gryphon Press, 2010.  It should be pretty clear that I loved this short story collection.  I singled out two stories in the last edition of my list of recommendations and added another two this time.  I’d have added “Craters” and “Diving into the Wreck” if I hadn’t read them previously.   And you know what?  I liked the other three stories, too, but didn’t feel I could list them all.

This collection should nominated for all the top awards. Consistently outstanding.

Stockett, KatherynThe Help, audio download from Audible.com, 2009.  You no doubt have heard of this bestselling novel so I’ll just say that it isn’t all hype.  This was my favorite novel of the year. 

Valente, Catherynne M., “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time,” Clarkesworld , August 1, 2010 podcast.  An ingeniously creative short story.  Experimental, but highly readable.  (Or listenable in this case.)

The Power of Inertia

inertia – the tendency of a body to preserve its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force.

Man, does this apply to writers!  The more you write, the easier it is to keep writing.  The more you don’t write, the harder it is to get started.

Before I go any further, let me say that all writers are different.  What works for one writer might not for another.  I recognize that there are literary marathoners and sprinters.  The marathoners write day in and day out, or close to it.  The sprinters take a lot more days off, but when push comes to shove show extraordinary productivity to complete projects.

(I will say that in my opinion a lot of writers who call themselves sprinters are deluding themselves.  They simply don’t have their act together and until they get their act together they’re going to have minimal, if any, success.  If you’re writing five or six stories a year, you’re not a sprinter.  You’re a couch potato.  

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with being a writing couch potato.  As long as you’ve only got couch potato goals and when it’s all said and done you won’t be disappointed have achieved nothing more than your couch potato goals.

A true sprinter might write a 4000-word short story in bursts over a weekend after doing nothing all week, compared to the marathoner who worked steadily on the story for seven days.

Same result. Different approaches.  To each his own.  Those are sprinters and marathoners.

But if you’ve been working on the same story for months… I mean, don’t you know deep down that you’ve lost your way?  Can’t you feel it in your bones that you’re not going to get to your version of the Promised Land of Writing that way?)

Okay.

All that said, I’m a marathoner.  I’ve had years that I’ve written all 365 days.  It works for me.  If I’ve written the previous day, it’s so much easier to keep that momentum going.  To use inertia, staying in motion.  I pick up where I left off and keep the new words flowing.

If I miss a day, it’s a bit harder.  If I miss two days, harder still.

Recently, however, I went through a stretch in which I wrote no new fiction for two weeks.  (Feel free to brandish your torches and pitchforks and call me a fraud.)  It was my longest stretch without writing since making a lifelong commitment to my writing in 2006 after attending Jeanne Cavelos’s Odyssey writing workshop.  A number of things converged to knock me off track, but to be honest those really were excuses, not reasons.

What I found was that the inertia that had served me so well when I was writing 365 days a year was a powerful force working against me.  I felt like the first few seconds of a NASA rocket launch.  A deafening roar.  Immense exertion.  And almost no movement at all.  Those first few inches of liftoff seem to take forever.

That’s about how I felt as I tried to get myself off the launching pad.

So for me, I don’t intend to ever again go two weeks without writing fiction.  Not unless I’m in the hospital and even in that case, I’ll be asking for my laptop.

If you’ve been struggling with your writing, try using inertia to your advantage.  Commit to writing at least five days out of the next week.  Or if you’re a sprinter — a true sprinter, not a couch potato calling yourself a sprinter — then see if a bit shorter intervals between your bursts of productivity work for you.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how you get the work done.  It just matters that you get it done.  At the end of the year, you’ve written the number of new words that are keeping you on track for your goals.

But you may find that using inertia to your advantage makes that path a bit less bumpy.