October Reading List

For the sake of just generally writing more here, I’ve decided I’m going to start posting lists at the end of each month of everything I’ve spent that month reading. I figure even if this will be of use to absolutely nobody else, it’ll at least be a good way for me to keep track of everything I’ve been reading lately. And who knows, maybe it’ll even motivate me to start reading more — although, what with all of my classes and everything, I don’t really know if I have room for that type of motivation in my life.

Anyway, here is everything I read in October! (And for your reading pleasure, I’m cutting out anything too boring and/or irrelevant.)

  • The Haunting of Hill House (by Shirley Jackson), which I actually wrote an article about here for The Michigan Daily
  • We Were Eight Years in Power (by Ta-Nehisi Coates), which I reviewed for the Daily here
  • The Ballad of the Sad Café (by Carson McCullers), and the short stories included with it (my favorites were “A Domestic Dilemma” and “Wunderkind,” which McCullers wrote and published when she was still a teenager!)
  • Dracula (by Bram Stoker)
  • H.R. 40, which I learned about while reading one of the essays in We Were Eight Years in Power, “The Case for Reparations”— it’s a very important government document that I didn’t even know existed before
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Daddy’s World,” by Walter Jon Williams
  • “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • “This Lime-tree Bower My Prison,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • These scary poems

That’s about all I can think of for now! Have fun checking out any and/or all and/or none of those. And Happy November!

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HALLOWEEN SONGS!

It’s been sort of a while since I’ve posted something, so I’ve got TWO SCARY SONGS here, and this is sooo writing-unrelated because I didn’t even write either of these songs myself, but anyway, they’re both scary and creepy, so here they are.

This is a cover of “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. (Amanda Seyfried did a semi-popular cover of it and that was the first version I ever heard, so that ‘s why it’s labeled with her name.) I performed it at my house’s open mic a couple of weeks ago, and my friend and housemate Qianru was awesome enough to record it!

This one is a cover of “Shankill Butchers” by The Decemberists. The way I originally heard this song had some of the words changed, and it was sort of difficult for me to try to sing them here, the way they were originally written, without reverting back to that.

I have written a couple of scary songs on my own, but I’m not going to post either of them here or anywhere, at least not anytime soon. (One is about the Salem witch trials, and it’s okay but it’s definitely not finished yet; the other is a rewriting of “Pirate Jenny” from The Threepenny Opera, and like the original, it’s pretty extreme.)

So those are my Halloween songs! Two days late, but all the same, happy Halloween!!!!!

LHSP Release Party

This post will be short because I’m trying to get to bed before midnight, which is 8 minutes away so I’m really racing the clock. But tonight was the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program’s literary magazine release party, which I thought was worth mentioning!! (Shout out to the title of the magazine, which is literally “Things Worth Mentioning”.) My Caldwell-winning poems, “How Was Your Trip?” and “Winter in Oz,” were published in this year’s anthology, alongside a ton of awesome work from other current and former LHSP students. I took a picture so you can see what the cover looks like (along with a random corner of my bedroom):

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I flipped through the anthology as much as I could before people started reading, and there’s some really awesome work in it, some of it written by people I know and have studied with! I also got to read “Winter in Oz” tonight, and to hear some of the other published work read aloud. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned LHSP here a lot before, but at any rate I’ll say again that I’m so glad to be a part of such a creative and supportive community.

In unrelated news, I got three things today: two of them were rejections (holla @ my haterz) and one of them was my copy of New American Stories edited by Ben Marcus!!!!

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(A moment of appreciation for the line “You have to stare down a story until it wobbles, yields, then catapults into your face.”)

I took that photo with my bed as the background, so you can tell I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here. I guess I’m just so proud of myself for knowing how to embed images in a post that I want to show off that skill as much as possible. Anyway, this collection looks great, I’ve already read two of the stories for my fiction class and I can’t wait to check out more.

Okay and it’s midnight, so that’s all my content for tonight! Peace out!!

Late Summer Recap!

It’s been a long time since I last posted here! I would say it was because I’ve been really busy, but in truth that would only account for the first week or two. After that I started watching Game of Thrones, and that was sort of that.

The good news is that all of the stuff I have been busy with has been really exciting! Last weekend, I went on a writers’ retreat with the Ann Arbor Writers Workshop. We spent two days at a cabin in the woods in Lake, Michigan, reading and writing and workshopping each other’s pieces. There were also plenty of s’mores. I’ve had so much fun being a part of the workshop remotely this summer, and it was great to hang out with everybody in person and to get some writing done as well.

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While we were there, I started reading Stranger in a Strange Land, which has totally knocked me off my feet so far. There’s a brave nurse who risks her job and her life to do what’s right! There’s a journalist who gets arrested for being too heroic! There are sky taxis and Martians! And why haven’t ceiling tables been invented yet? (They hang from the ceiling and you can lower them to whatever height you want, and they never touch the floor or mess up your carpet or anything! I seriously can’t get over this.)

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While I’m on the subject of the writers’ retreat, I have some more delayed news: one of our members, Vahid Arefi, placed last month as the runner-up in Round 2 of Midwestern Gothic’s Summer Flash Fiction Contest! You can read his piece, “Unwed,” here.

On a more general note, summer is ending! This time next week, I’ll be back at school in Ann Arbor, taking classes and doing homework. Ordinarily, by this point in the summer, I’d feel a little resigned and maybe regretful that I hadn’t spent more time doing such-and-such (usually writing) during all of my free time. I do have a couple of regrets — I started writing a couple of songs that I never quite finished, and I never ended up going to the state fair — but I realized recently that I’ve done A TON of writing this summer! Granted, U of M’s summer is crazy long (four whole months!), so I’ve had a ton of time, but I still feel unusually good about this. Over the course of the summer, I’ve written two short stories, four short short stories, an essay, a couple of poems, a couple of songs, a crap ton of journalism (for my internship), and most of a novel. I don’t feel like doing the math to add up how many words that is, so I’ll just say it’s enough to leave me feeling really good about my summer.

Of course, I’m expecting school to be a different story — I’ll have homework to think about when I’m not working, not to mention various clubs and co-op-related activities. And (no point in lying here) I can already tell that until I’m all caught up on Game of Thrones, that’s going to be a bit of a time-consumer of its own. But I’m still determined to hit the ground running! I’m taking two separate creative writing classes this semester, a workshop and a tutorial, and my work can’t overlap between the two of them, which means I’ll likely be doing more fiction-writing this semester than I’ve ever done before.

So by December, depending on how I spend my time, I could either end up with quite a lot of carefully revised short stories I’m really happy with and ready to submit to publications and contests, or a handful of slipshod stories I didn’t try very hard to make awesome and don’t care to look at anymore. Either way, a lot of stories, but I know which outcome I’d prefer. Stay tuned to find out which path I choose!

And most importantly, I hope anybody who’s reading this has had a terrific summer! Happy September!

Caldwell Update– Winning Pieces

I already wrote about this a while ago, but this spring I was lucky enough to win the Alumni/Written Category of LHSP’s Caldwell Poetry Competition, although I submitted five poems and wasn’t sure which had won. Last week I got an email letting me know that two pieces of mine are going to be published in the LHSP Arts & Literary Journal! The poems are “Winter in Oz” (which reimagines Dorothy’s journey through Oz as something actually difficult) and “How Was Your Trip?” (a poem I wrote for my mom after babysitting my younger siblings alone for a week). I’ve had “Winter in Oz” sitting around for a particularly long while, so it’s good to have somewhere to put it finally. I’ve thought before about adapting it into a short story (mostly just because I got bored one time and wrote the first paragraph on my phone), but we’ll see if I’m ever in a dreary enough mood.

Nashville Summer (original song)

Here’s another song of mine! This was only the first or second one I ever wrote, so I’m aware of how cheesy the lyrics are and I apologize. I guess that’s what being a freshman in college does to a person.

Also, fun fact, this song is not about the Nashville you’re probably thinking of.

Next Time (original song)

I’m finally starting the process of posting some of my original songs on YouTube (which thankfully makes this a lot more relevant for this blog)!

This song I actually recorded a while ago, and then never uploaded it because the guitar sounded really soft and I wanted to try redoing it. But yesterday I decided I was just going to be lazy about it and upload it as it was! So here it is!

FAIR PEOPLE is up!

Issue #19 of Ginosko Literary Review is officially published!

As someone raised in Indiana and going to school in Michigan, I love the Midwest and feel at home in it, but I also know that thanks to politics, history, and general public culture, there are plenty of people who are not made to feel at home in the Midwest at all, even though they ought to be. (Obviously this problem extends beyond the Midwest, this is just the region I was thinking about when I wrote this story.) I was thinking last fall about how hard it can be to reconcile a love for one’s hometown with an awareness of the town’s underlying judgments and prejudices, and whether this reconciliation is even possible. The resulting short story, “Fair People,” is about Midwestern pride and the problems that exist under its surface. I often use real experiences of mine as very loose jumping-off points in fiction, so it’s based in part off of truth — namely that, like the narrator, I’m from Indiana and I went to a county fair last summer — but all of the characters and events are completely fictional. If you want, you can check it out at the link below. Enjoy!

http://www.ginoskoliteraryjournal.com/images/ginosko19.pdf

Published!!!

I got word today that a short story of mine, “Fair People,” has been accepted for publication in Ginosko Literary Journal! “Fair People” is like 5000 words long and therefore probably the longest short story I’ve written before, and I honestly wasn’t expecting anybody to want it, so it made me really surprised and happy to find a home for it with Ginosko. I’m especially glad because all of my previous publications have been with campus and school-affiliated literary magazines, and while I’m super thankful to be featured in all of those, it also feels good to branch out a little into the broader scheme of things. Yay for publication!!

The issue should be up in a couple of weeks and it’ll be available online, so I’ll be sure to post a link here as soon as that happens.

An Argument Against Sadism (Hear Me Out)

I know what you’re thinking. Nobody needs you to argue against sadism. It’s sadism. Everyone already knows it’s bad.

In the context of writing, though, I don’t think that’s totally true. Kurt Vonnegut has a list of 8 basics that he calls “Creative Writing 101,” and number 6 is this:

“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

I know obviously I’m in no position to argue with Kurt Vonnegut when it comes to writing, and I don’t want to — in fact I totally agree with this point. Writing is nothing without conflict. It’s important to put even the most charming characters — maybe even especially the most charming characters — into terrible situations, exactly for this reason, so that the reader gets a better idea of who they really are. (It also makes them more relatable. It’s better than reading about a character you really like just walking around and having a good day.)

But I disagree with the idea of that being sadism. And I know that seems nitpicky — it’s just a word he used to get your attention — but I’ve heard this idea elsewhere. A friend once told me that all writers are both sadists and masochists. That seemed like a bit of a melodramatic way to put it to me, but I also kind of got where they were coming from. It can be fun, really fun actually, to write about situations of conflict, because that’s where things get interesting! Since conflict is so central to writing, if you dislike writing about challenging situations, then you’re probably going to have a tough time writing any fiction at all. So the act of writing about these situations themselves — giving yourself that chance to really think about conflict — is probably what attracts a lot of people to writing in general. At least it is for me.

So there is pleasure to be found in putting characters into these situations. And this can seem weirdly close to a kind of sadism.

But this is where I think I disagree.

I’m not going to do that high-school-English-essay thing here where I give you the Merriam-Webster definition of something, but we all know that sadism is basically deriving enjoyment from the pain of others. I’d like to reiterate at this point that I’m a total amateur when it comes to writing and that I know about as much as any presumptuous undergrad with an English major can claim to know about it, because that’s all I am. So if you’re looking for a valid opinion from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, go buy a copy of On Writing or something like that. But it seems to me that writing about conflict, if you want it to be good, has a lot less to do with sadism and more to do with its opposite, with compassion.

Think about it: You want the reader to be right there with the character while this is happening. You want them to be so close to the character that when the character is driven into a serious situation of conflict and comes away changed, the reader comes away a little changed, too. That’s all writing is supposed to do. What does this necessitate if not compassion? If you’re just sitting there having fun while you torment this character, and that’s the only motivation behind any of it, then that’s not going to lead to any real end. Really caring for and thinking about the characters, even while you’re writing them into difficult situations, makes those situations more layered, even if that’s only happening subconsciously.

I didn’t even start thinking about this until pretty recently. People ask me every once in a while why I like writing; three or four times in school I’ve had to write essays about it. I never know what to say. I want the answer to be really complicated, and/or really passionate. Like I write to uncover the truths of the world, which isn’t true at all because I think you can find truth doing anything, or Writing helps me deal with the demons of my own subconscious, or the standard fallback, Writing is my passion/I need it like I need air/look at me I shed paper, I bleed typewriter ink if you can believe it. It’s different for everybody but for me, that’s kind of BS. The real answer is that whatever my reasons, I don’t really think about them too much. I think writing is really fun.

Like I said before, enjoying writing about conflict is a big part of that fun. I only realized pretty recently that that’s not because I enjoy causing my characters pain in and of itself. It’s because I love figuring out how to make conflict mean something. It’s like a big puzzle — sorting out how to fit it into the rest of the story, making sure it’s relevant and will mean something to somebody. This sounds technical but it really isn’t — it’s a matter of figuring out how to conjure up emotions out of completely nowhere, of looking at something as neutral as a piece of paper and somehow finding a way to make someone look at it and feel grieving or angry or relieved. That’s true emotion and there’s nothing technical about it, because if there were, then maybe it would be easier to become good at it. I believe in magic because when I read stuff by Katherine Anne Porter, by Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates and everyone else I look up to, I know I’m feeling it. They’ve figured out this impossible puzzle — they know how to teach me something, how to reach me and affect the way I think, even though they’ve never met me, never even seen me and never will. They’ve gotten close to something I might never touch, but it’s so worth trying.

I write because when I finish writing a story that I feel good about, it’s a feeling like nothing else I know: like I’ve gotten to know somebody who isn’t even real, but who matters anyway. Like me and them have worked together to say something that could maybe mean something to other people.

If you want to call it sadism, then fine. But the way I see it, writing is about understanding people and trying to show people how to understand you. And even if that’s an impossible puzzle, it’s a really fun one to mess around with, and I think that’s something people know — even if they only know it subconsciously, and “sadism” is the first word they can come up with for it.

Writing is obviously different for everybody, or else we would all be using it to say the same thing. For me, though, thinking about writing as an exercise in compassion has I think made my writing better than it used to be, and hopefully someday it will make me better as a person, too. I can’t say what other people use it for or how other people view it because I’m not them, but I know caring when I see it in other people’s work. This is just the way I think about writing personally these days, and I’m glad for it.