Monthly Archives: September 2014

My Fall Reading List 2014

fall 2014 reading list

What a fabulous summer of reading! After 4 months so rich with reading that they merited two summer reading lists (My Summer Reading List 2014 and Mid-Summer Reading 2014), it’s hard to believe that Fall is here with more novels, nonfiction and young adult fiction clamoring onto the must-read list. My poet friends, note the gap in that series: we need your recommendations for poetry titles.

Here are the books I plan to be reading as I enjoy my first fall back in the north in years. Nice how the cooling, crisp weather seems perfect justification for stealing extra hours to read. Enjoy your reading, and do share your own recommendations!

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Adult Fiction

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (2013). This Nigerian-American author has won the Orange Award for her prior novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, and had her short fiction published in some of my favorite literary magazines and anthologies. The New York Times Book Review listed Americanah as one of the ten best books of the year, yet I kept passing it up until Julianne Stirling recommended it. Her big tip: Listen to Americanah via Audible, as Julianne says the Audible narrator, Adjoa Andoh, brings pronunciation of African dialects and names to life. Update: I loved the subject and ideas of this book, but felt it rambled, so didn’t gush over this one as much as other reviewers.
  • Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (August 2014). A bit of booklove and… a pinch of guilt went into making this book an impulse buy. Guilt: too long I procrastinated tackling IQ84 (too many books to read and it was soooo long), so I was preconditioned to thinking I should read something by Murakami. Booklove: you have to see the hardcover in person to appreciate the publishing joy that went into the window-cut jacket and underlying map. Shallow reasons perhaps, but I am happy to have this renowned author from Kyoto among my reading this month. Update: Help, fellow readers. I can’t get past the first 40-60 pages. Do I push on; does all the who-cares? detail begin to mean something? So far, it’s losing out to other reads…
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (September 2014). Author Erin Morgenstern (her Night Circus was among my favorite Spring reads) raved about Station Eleven on its release today, which had me exploring Emily’s author site… I have to say, I am just as curious about two of her earlier novels: The Lola Quartet or Last Night in Montreal. I love the genre-crossover elements of crime or mystery with the depth of character typical to a literary novel. Either way, it’s my plan to read one of her books.
  • Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (February 2014). I discovered this one in a tweet by Aragi, Inc., announcing the novel’s inclusion on the National Book Award longlist, which led me to a series of tweets and webpages ranging from a picture of Rabih, hands to either side of his head in joy on hearing the NBA news, to this description of the book on his author site: “heartrending novel that celebrates the singular life of an obsessive introvert, revealing Beirut’s beauties and horrors along the way.” I’ve shared before my aspirational admiration of agent Nicole Aragi, so could have said, “You had me at Aragi.” For all these reasons, Unnecessary Woman makes my fall shortlist.
  • Ian McEwan, The Children Act (September 2014). I once lamented that I wanted to read McEwan’s Atonement, but had seen the film already and couldn’t get far enough past it to forget the ending, for it not to be a spoiler to reading. So, as a guest at a book club, I had McEwan’s latest novel added to my reading list in Atonement’s stead.
  • Benjamin Percy, Red Moon (2013). I’ve had Percy on my radar for a couple years as a highly recommended workshop leader, and his books are definitely on my reading list this fall as I will be in a workshop with him in January. Red Moon gets the most attention as his most recent novel (other than Dead Lands, due out in April 2015) but I could read one or more of his others instead: novel, The Wilding, or short story collections: Refresh, Refresh or The Language of Elk. Update: Red Moon was a powerful and thought-provoking read — a fantasy thriller set in an alternative America, grappling with terrorism and fear of disease as the government wavers between controlling or integrating a minority population of lycans. I’ve heard nothing but praise of Percy, and found his writing muscular and compelling. I’ll be curious to read Dead Lands, and still want to catch his top-rated collection, Refresh, Refresh.

Fiction carried over from prior reading lists (links to prior reading lists are below):

Young Adult Fiction

  • lupica signing 1Mike Lupica, Fantasy League (September 2014) or Travel Team. For years, students — especially boys who swore they hated to read, but loved sports — have been telling me how great Mike Lupica’s books are. My sons and I waited an hour in line to meet with him at Fairfield University Book Store the day Fantasy League was released, so I will be reading this one or his basketball book, Travel Team, along with my sons. (BTW: If you are an author doing a book tour in the area, Fairfield University Bookstore is a beautiful indy on the walk-around main street in Fairfield – a great place to sign books.)

Carryover from My Summer Reading List:

Nonfiction

  • Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (September 2014). I read an interesting interview with the author of this book, which makes me want to take a moment to remember this young Yale graduate, whose life of promise was cut short.

Having just started a Masters program in educational leadership, I’ll be reading these 2 over the next 7 weeks:

Carryover from My Summer Reading List:

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What About You?

What is on your current must-read list, or what books have you read recently that you highly recommend?  How do you usually get your reading recommendations — suggestions from a friend? lists in the news? books on shelves in the store?

If you post your own reading list, feel free to share your link in the comments below. If you would like to join in a reading blog hop, let me know.

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Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link on Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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 If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I can be found on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Friday Links for Writers 09.25.14

Ah, the dreaded "blah" in the margin. c. Elissa Field

Ah, the dreaded “blah” in the margin. c. Elissa Field

It’s been a busy week for reading and writing — from a Hedgebrook application to receiving acceptance to a Masters program, to finishing one client project and starting a pro bono project… In the meantime, I’ve been shifting gears to take a season off from teaching which has meant taking on new writing and editing clients once again. Networking with fellow writers has been a great (and fun and inspiring) resource and I’m getting ready to head into New York for a kickstarter conference of women writers, the BinderCon (Binder Women Writers Symposium) the weekend after next.

With all the business in play at the moment, it’s not surprising that this week’s Friday Links for Writers includes some great writing resources I’ve stumbled across for working writers: two on freelance writing or editing, one on Twitter pitch wars and another on the kinds of topics to write about when building platform. Work on the novel continues to be the heart of my work, so the last two links are for fiction writers: on critique partners and endings.

As always, let me know what resounds with you, what you wish you could find more information about, or share your own links in the comments. Have a great writing week!

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From Full Time to Freelance: How to Make the Leap

This feature by Laura Lin via Forbes is a great cross-section of concrete advice for anyone contemplating jumping from traditional employment to freelancing — and serves equally well as a diagnostic for any freelancer, with ways to make sure your business is on track for success. Related articles are available in the footlinks.

Negotiating: Theory and Practice

While on the topic of freelancing, the Editorial Freelancers Association is a great resource for writers and editors. As part of a weekly #EFAchat, the association shared this article with tips for negotiating rates and scope for client projects. Other resources on the site include contracts and job listings.

 The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Pitch Contests

As a guest blogger on the site Writers in the Storm, literary agent Carly Watters shares some great advice for anyone throwing their novel into the fray in any of the half dozen or so pitch wars that take place on Twitter. First off: pitch war? These are scheduled days for writers to tweet the pitch for their novel — that’s right: your beloved masterpiece in less than 140 characters — using an established hashtag for the event (for example, #pitmad). As with all query tips, Carly’s advice boils down to, “You only have one chance to impress an agent.” She gives concrete tips for writing your pitch. Overall, she say, ” My big advice is that if your book isn’t done, don’t jump in. There are many Twitter Pitch Contests every year so don’t feel like you have to be involved in every one. Wait until your book is ready.”

34 Blog Topics Just for Writers

This post by Frances Caballo at Social Media Just for Writers is a great resource for writers wondering what topics are best to share about on a blog, to give a sense of their work and direction as a writer. The post includes topics for nonfiction, fiction and poetry writers.

Cheerleaders vs. Critique Partners

This piece by Heather Jackson at WriteOnSisters.com does a great job of establishing the difference a cheerleaders of our writing, who constantly eggs us on with praise, and an effective critique partner, who pushes us to craft our best work. Complete with a tool to assess which category your writing partner tends toward, the post also helps one appreciate the value in having both cheerleaders and critique partners in your corner.

An Anatomy of Endings

“Endings haunt us because they are mortality formalized,” concludes staff writer Adam Gopnik in this great piece on types of endings in the New Yorker. “Endings are what life cheats us of. As long as a sense of the ending hovers, the story goes on.” I love the philosophy of this line — but any writer working on the structure of their novel or story’s ending will appreciate the concrete type of endings his article identifies. (Karen Joy Fowler mentioned this article during a workshop at Brisbane Writers Festival.)

Want more?

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

Check out yesterday’s Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City.

Or, for great reading recommendations, check out tomorrow’s My Fall Reading List 2014 (link will go live Saturday).

If you’re curious what I’ve been working on, here are two recent posts sharing work or inspiration: Press Freedom for Journalists Covering Conflict: Free Austin Tice and Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said.

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What About You?

What writing goals are you working on this week — or what great reads did you stumble across? Feel free to share links (including to your own posts) in the comments.

Do you ever blog about the books you read or post your Must Reads list? Let me know in the comments or by using the contact sheet on the home page if you would be interested in participating in a reading blog hop.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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Writing Prompt: Develop Setting – Inspired by Colson Whitehead on New York City

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

I am a very visual person — I think in pictures — so writing setting is perhaps the last aspect of storytelling that I worry about. In writing a story set in India, details crept into every line without me thinking about them. I knew the exact color of shadows, the moment a bird would flush out of dry brush. A lot of writers can relate to this, especially if their drive to tell a story is inspired by place.

But that’s not always the case. In Friday Links for Writers: 3.21.14 , I quoted Anne Enright from a bit of advice where she said, “description is hard.”

Describing setting can be a powerful way to engage readers, conjure up surprising sensory details, reveal character, add resonance to a scene, develop internal and external conflicts… but it has do so in a way that moves the story, and that fits the voice and character(s)’ point of view.

Continuing the series on Novel Revision, today’s post shares a prompt for developing an important setting in your story, making it work to build character, motion and greater resonance. While many details may have come about in a first draft, midlevel revision is a great time to revise for ideas that were not yet clear in your first vision.

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Find a Place to Stand

Anne Enright’s advice was: “Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.”

This is a great starting point for thinking about setting: begin by knowing your character(s)’ point of view and seeing your setting from where the character stands.

Colson Whitehead on New York

Some of you may know I am working from my family’s house outside New York City at the moment, and felt the impact of this year’s anniversary of 9.11.01 in that context. On the anniversary, Jodi Kantor shared on Twitter a link to Colson Whitehead’s beautiful article from the New York Times that ran November 11, 2001.

As a New Yorker living in the city as it recovered, Colson wrote not directly about the event, but about what defines one’s connection to and identification as being from the city.

Read it because it’s beautiful — and because we’ll use it as our prompt. (Read it now, or in the prompt below: The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01)

The First Brick in Your City

Colson says, “You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it.” Anyone who’s spent time in New York knows what he means by “private New York,” as everyone comes to define their own sense of the city — a city so large that any of us sees it only in pieces.

But isn’t that true of each character’s response to setting?

In the paragraph that follows, Colson lists a handful of ways a person might have experienced their first moment in the city.

Freeze it there,” he says; “that instant is the first brick in your city.”

There is so much about writing setting that can be taken from his words. The point of details in your novel is not to inform a reader of what to see and do when visiting the place; you are not a glorified camera taking a picture for the reader. What matters about the places in your story are the ways your character(s) perceive and respond to them.

In Colson’s essay, each example of a newbie arriving in New York City presents a character you can view clearly in your mind, despite being limited to the details of a single sentence. They are details of setting, but they clearly define the interaction of people within that setting. The details involve objects, structures, qualities and even the kinds of actions and thoughts a character has within that setting. A detail could be as mundane as holding a piece of paper or a communication between friends, but the detail is not left vague. “The phone rang,” could happen in any city, but Colson made the same detail of a phone call place-defining, as: “there was some mix-up in the plans.”

Prompt for Developing Details of Setting

So let’s turn his essay into a prompt for your own writing today.

Interpret this for whatever you are working on: a novel, a short story, a poem, a detail in your memoir, a detail in an essay, details fleshed out for a travel piece, or start something new.  You won’t be recreating Colson’s format; you’ll just use the prompt for generating details in whatever scene you imagine.

  1. Read Colson Whitehead’s The Way We Live Now: 11.01.01
  2. Have in mind the place you will write about, thinking of it first as it is in the story’s present. Tip: Have in mind a specific place. For existing work, this will be an important location in your piece. For new work, be sure to have a single place in mind before writing. While Colson writes about a city, yours could be any kind of a place, real or imagined.
  3. What is the “first brick” in your character’s experience of this setting? Be vivid. Be true. Likely part of your backstory, what first memory comes to mind as the moment he/she began to define their own private version of their place? Freeze there. Think, then write where it feels revealing.
    • What emotion attaches to that first brick? Awe? Horror, pain, fear, injury…? Joy, excitement, beauty, anticipation, faith…?
    • What details attach to that first brick? Think of the stub of paper with a new address in the hand of the New Yorker arriving at their first address, or the limited view of a toddler in a carriage.
    • What actions or motion are involved? Are there details of arrival, communication, cross signals, movement? Are there broad sights or limited senses?
    • What does your character want (or think they want) in that first moment? This may be very different — distorted, more basic, more naïve — than later in the story.
  4. Moving through your story, how does your character continue to build their definition of the setting?
    • How does that first brick define the setting for your character?  Does it leave a ghost of emotion through later events? Does it start memory on solid or unstable footing? Do regrets haunt, long after, no matter how much success follows? Do later moments never live up to the first glow? Is there a sweetness the character carries from that first memory that lends forgiveness or blind faith in later experience? or..?
    • Does your character (or do you) come to measure later scenes against that first experience, or is it nearly forgotten as others take priority?
  5. Options for how this might create tensions, conflict development or structure in your story – where you might take it next:
    • What other “bricks” of memory, detail or experience define the setting for your character? Does this possibly suggest a structure for story events?
    • In what ways do these details define your character’s “own private” setting? Is your reader aware of a contrast between that private vision vs. other perspectives?
    • Do different characters perceive contrasting “private” versions of the setting? Does this lend structure, tension or just details to scenes? Would these different perspective ever cause missed understanding in dialogue between characters?
  6. Going beyond a single scene, how could you use this different private viewpoint to add details of how characters dress, what they carry, how they speak or what they do?

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What About You?

Are you working on setting this week? Did you use this prompt or what other inspiration helps you envision your setting clearly? Several of my friends work in photography or other media — how do you reflect on setting in your work?

Let us know how your work is going in the comments. Feel free to share a link to your own post, if you want to share an excerpt or other writing.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s follow option or via email, or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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