July 2022 Newsletter
Hello from the Writing Cave, where I’m busy at work on my new book. If you’ve been part of this newsletter for a while, or if you listened to my podcast Writerly back in 2017-18, you probably know that I have my own way of writing a first draft.
First, I always write my first draft by hand. I don’t know why, exactly, but I feel more connected to the story that way. In those delicate moments when I’m first imagining a scene, and building up a new character, I need to have something solid in my hands, pressing a pen between my fingers and feeling the pressure of the nib on the page. I love crossing lines out, scribbling over words I don’t like, and ripping up whole pages that disappoint me. It makes the process physical, rather than totally cerebral.
Here’s the pen that I used to write my forthcoming novel The Puzzle Master, and the one I’m using now. It’s a Pelikan fine nib pen (the finer the point, the better).
And here are some pages from my WIP (work in progress), The Puzzle Box.
In other news, I cut my hair off. It’s short, which is good for the summer and looks good with my oversized sunglasses… What do you think? Too short?
Here I am walking the streets of Guanajuato last month.
Hadrien and I went for a weekend and wandered until we found….
An excellent pistachio molé and…
One of the more wonderfully horrific spots I’ve checked out was The Guanajuato Mummy Museum. Here we found naturally mummified bodies interred during a cholera outbreak around Guanajuato, Mexico in 1833. Take a look at this particularly memorable mummy.
If you know me, you know that this woman has no ability to keep plants alive. And so it is with a whole lot of humility that I’m growing lime trees on the rooftop terrace of our place. They seem to be doing okay so far… I’ll keep you updated.
My reading recommendation for this month is Carol Goodman’s The Disinvited Guest, which is coming out on July 12th. Carol has written over twenty novels, and has won numerous awards along the way. This latest mystery follows Lucy Harper, who seeks refuge from a new pandemic with her husband on his family’s private island off the coast of Maine. Of course, terrible things happen and it is such fun to experience them with Lucy. Carol’s storytelling powers are impressive, and I’m sure you’ll be up all night reading this one.
Here are a couple questions I asked Carol when I spoke to her via Zoom:
What inspired The Disinvited Guest?
Two events. The first was being lucky enough to go to a writer’s retreat on Norton Island, an island off the coast of Maine, in the summer of 2019. It was beautiful, rugged, remote, and somehow haunting. I knew when I was there that I wanted to set a book on the island, but I was still struggling with the idea in March 2020 when the Covid pandemic changed all our lives. I immediately thought of the island and began imagining a group of friends who go there seeking safety … and finding something else entirely.
There are amazing historical scenes in this book. What research did you do?
Like many people, I was drawn to stories of past pandemics when this one began. I’ve always been interested in the tragic history of the Irish potato famine and of the ships that carried Irish immigrants to the U.S. and Canada (some of my ancestors were on them). When I discovered that an island off the coast of Maine had been used as a quarantine island for the fever ships, I began reading everything I could on the famine and the ships. I also looked at newspapers from the era to see how the events were seen at the time and was startled to see similarities between then and now. I was struck, for instance, by the denial of the British government that a problem even existed. I hoped that the historical elements of the story would give perspective to our present-day situation and also give the reader a sense of the timelessness of the island.
Readers and writing students often ask me about what I’m reading online in the world of books and literature. I’m excited to share a few recent articles that stuck out to me. Let me know what you think…
Fewer things say summer like a comfortingly spooky YA read…
If YA doesn’t do it for you, try these adult titles…
Sometimes the spookiest things are nonfiction…
The start of this review makes an interesting case for the literary zeitgeist…
Take a closer look at the crime phenomenon and its elusive author…
I am part of the incredible low residency writing program at Salve Regina. As such, I’m always on the lookout for submission opportunities for emerging writers. I know many of you are writers, and might be interested in sending out your work. Check out these select opportunities for getting your work published.
Independent, online publication run by volunteers who love literature, art, and the wilderness.
Length: Up to 2,000 words
Payment: Author copies and discounts
Deadline: August 31st, 2022
A “literary corner store” publishing most genres.
Length: Up to 3,000 words
Poetry, fiction, creative prose/nonfiction, and hybrid works on mothering or motherhood.
Length: Up to 1,000 words
Fantasy, sci-fi, and all things magical.
Length: 750-1,000 words
San Francisco literary journal publishing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and visual art.
Deadline: September 1st, 2022
Finally, every month I open the floor to my friends on social media and take any questions about my new books or the writing/reading/publishing world at large.
Has your interest in subject matter for your books evolved over time?
Definitely! My first book was a family memoir, and while there was a lot of research involved– I went to Vietnam to go to some of the places my father had been during the war– the subject matter was essentially my family, my life, and my perceptions about the world in which I grew up.
With time, I’ve wanted to go outside of my life and explore vastly different kinds of experience. Angelology, The Ancestor, and now The Puzzle Master are all novels that push me (and readers too) to think about ‘the other’ and what it means to be radically different from everyone around you.
When did you first recognize yourself as a writer?
I always wrote things down. In fact, when my father passed away, I found a notebook I’d written in when I was six years old that was full of small stories. And then I was a voracious reader since I learned how to read, spending my summers in the library. But I didn’t realize that I wanted to be ‘a writer’ in the sense that I wanted to dedicate myself to the art of writing, until I was about 16. It was then that I started keeping a journal and reading with an eye toward learning the craft of storytelling. Since then, it is all I’ve wanted to do.
As always, a big thank you to everyone for spending the time with me here, on my website, and across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My books wouldn’t be possible without your support! Please stay in touch and let me know how you’re doing.