Now and again when life gets busy, I find I need to step back and think about what I’m doing and where I’m headed. Life has been like that recently, with the start of school for my kids and the start of the term at the college where I work, teaching writing classes and advising students. Sometimes things get so busy, I can hardly remember my own name. Who am I? What year is it? Don’t ask me how old I am, because I always forget. That probably means I’m old.
Anyway, taking stock…I’m sad to say I haven’t done much writing lately, but maybe that’s not terrible, because it’s given me space to think about my current writing projects and how I can improve them—fleshing out characters more and tightening scenes. A friend and I are co-writing a novel about a coastal town under siege. It’s been fun to think about our villains and figure out how to build the story around them. The project is in the early stages, so I can’t share much yet, but at some point I will.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the craft of writing because I’m teaching a class on short stories, starting Monday. Writing a short story is a different experience than writing a novel. You generally only have time to explore one major character and one conflict, and the writing has to be tight to be effective. You get in, you make your point, and you get out. You can’t afford to waste words. That’s a good skill to practice for writing a longer story too, because even though novels are more forgiving, each word should have a purpose. I’ll also be editing another novel for Barking Rain Press. I’m excited about this one because I loved the concept when I saw the author’s submission. No spoilers, but I can say the book portrays vampires in a way I’ve not seen before.
Besides the class and editing, October is filled with writing events. On October 8th, I’ll be at the release party for the North Coast Squid at the Hoffman Center in Manzanita, reading an excerpt from my short story, Sacred. This was my first time to submit work to the Squid, and I’m honored to be included in the publication.
On October 15th, I’ll be participating in the Written in the Sand Authors Fair, sponsored by Beach Books in Seaside. I’m thrilled to be a part of this, and grateful to Beach Books for all they do to support local authors. It’s a fun event for me, connecting with readers and other authors at one of the best bookstores on the coast.
Then, on Halloween, I’ll be telling ghost stories on the historic Astoria Trolley. This event was so much fun last year, and I’m excited to participate again. I’ll be talking about local legends and hauntings, as well as sharing classic ghost stories.
Although I haven’t done much writing lately, I have done some reading. I know—the time I spent reading could have been spent on writing. The thing is, if you want to write and you want to improve your skills, you’ve got to read, and you’ve got to have a critical perspective when you do, thinking about why the author makes the choices they make about writing. The more you read, the better you’ll write. The two go hand in hand.
So, what have I been reading? I just finished The Last Star, the third book in the 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey. This is a fantastic young adult sci-fi series, and it’s not just for teens. There are some big concepts in this one—genocide, and what it means to be human. The methods the alien invaders use to take over our planet are diabolical, and the books are full of twists I didn’t expect. If you saw the movie, don’t let it deter you from the books. As is true most of the time, the books are better because they have more substance. The movie had great action, but the story was abbreviated on film and there wasn’t time to get to know the characters. Read the books instead.
I also read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Although it’s an older sci-fi book, first published in 1985, it has a similar feel to more recent dystopian books. The world has changed drastically: society is controlled by a religious cult and women are property of the state, forced into roles where they have no rights over their own bodies. It’s well-written and an important read in thinking about human rights and equality. It’s a frightening read too, because even now, in 2016, there are places in the world where women don’t have rights and are forced into roles similar to what is described in the book. It is also disconcerting to read this book in our current political climate, where a certain presidential candidate makes misogynistic statements on a regular basis.
I have a number of books on my to-read list, but I’ll share one that stands out: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. I loved Blake’s first book about a vengeful ghost, Anna Dressed in Blood, which hooked me from the start. She’s a talented and witty author. Her latest book is a YA fantasy about three sisters who must fight to the death for the crown. They all are thought to have extraordinary powers, but two of them might be faking. Even so, the strongest sister might not win. I can’t wait to dive into this world of intrigue and treachery.
What are you reading? Any recommendations?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016