Rock Bottom Is a Firm Foundation

Woman-underwater-Kaare-Long-article

Sometimes when you think you’ve reached rock bottom, you’re actually finding firm footing. When you feel stone-cold solid rock beneath your bare feet, curl your toes into it. Press hard. Wipe your tear-filled eyes, and look up. You may be surprised to see the many hands of true friends reaching down to pull you up, while others’ hands are folded in prayer on your behalf, and still others’ hands are lifted in praise for your abundant victories yet to come.

Take the hands reaching out for you. Feel yourself being lifted.

Share your gratitude and joy, as it’s contagious, and so many need your smile.

The bountiful blessing you’ve just received is wasted unless you share it.

Now is good.

Share it now.

And if you find yourself at rock bottom as you read this, reach up. Take my hand.

*

Thank you to those of you who’ve extended your hands, your love, and your friendship to Randy, Jacob, and I, as we toppled, keeled, and pitched headlong downward, found our footing, and looked up toward you for friendship, encouragement, support–and found love.

You know who you are! 

Breaking News on Facebook

              “You have cancer,” the doctor says.

             For a moment, the only sound you hear is your heartbeat thrumming much too loudly in your ears.

             “How bad is it?”

            The doctor’s sincere stare unnerves you.

            “Randy, it’s bad.”

 

This is the exact conversation held last week in the physician’s office between my husband and his doctor. Nothing can prepare you to hear those words. Within seconds, your life has changed.

Minutes later, you’re holding a handful of papers: pamphlets, orders, biopsy results, a CD with photos of the cancer, even the doctor’s personal cell-phone number. It’s pressing toward 5:00 pm, so you’re rushed to the clinic to pick up contrast liquid for tomorrow morning’s CT scan. Drink this. Don’t eat that. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the radiologist. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the surgeon.

Somewhere in there, you remember that you haven’t eaten since breakfast.

*

It’s an understatement to say that my husband and I were caught up in an immediate whirlwind—perhaps tornado is a better metaphor—within minutes of his diagnosis. We cried for a few minutes, but there were simply too many deadlines to meet to cope with the flood of emotions, questions, and next steps for tears just then.

And we needed to tell our son.

How do you break such news to an eighteen-year-old who is a day away from final exams? How do you risk discoloring what should be the happiest time of his life—his high-school graduation—which is only a week away?

When we arrived home that evening, our son was at work, so our decision to wait until after he’d completed his exams the next day was made easier. But in the meantime, we began receiving phone calls from concerned relatives who knew we were to receive the biopsy results—which we’d been convinced were going to be benign—that day.

We broke the news to immediate relatives who called, adding the admonition, “Please don’t say anything to anyone yet, as we can’t tell our son until tomorrow afternoon.” Besides, we’d have the result of the CT scan by then, so we’d know exactly what to tell him.

Relaying this news once is painful. Two or three times is agonizing, but having to say “aggressive cancer” five or six times is excruciating.

Bad news travels fast, and in a small town, it spreads like . . . malignancy.

By the time we received the results of the CT scan the next afternoon, our phones were blowing up. We shared the news with our son and discussed our next options and plan of attack. One day at a time. We will kick this!

As our home and cell phones kept ringing, we realized we had to get ahead of this, and we certainly had to free up the phone lines, as we were expecting calls from doctors and hospitals. Though we’d first said we’d never put such news on social media, we realized we had no other option—if not, someone would likely do it for us and perhaps not with the kind of message we wanted to convey.

That evening, we requested on Facebook the support, prayers, and love of our friends and family as we fight the battles before us in order to win this war. We anticipated dozens of responses, but we were truly humbled by the hundreds we received. The outpouring of love touches out hearts and does much to strengthen our faith and hope.

And then came the other comments: the scoldings via IM or text or phone. “Why didn’t you call me right away?” “Why did I have to read this on Facebook?” “So-and-so told me. You should have called me yourself!”

Hear me when I say this: it’s not about you.

It’s about the patient. And more remotely, it’s about his children and his wife and his parents and his siblings.

We’ll be the first to agree that Facebook isn’t the best place to break such news, but in order to maintain some semblance of sanity during an insane period of our lives, it seemed the logical option; the quickest and least-painful way to say those words once instead of dozens more times.

Worse than the scoldings, however, was the IM from an old friend who related the same diagnosis in her church member, and how the cancer had metastasized and invaded other parts of the body, and how he would soon surely die. I stopped her short between messages: “No negativity, please. We are surrounding ourselves with positive vibes, positive thoughts, prayers, and positive people. Faith, hope, and love.” It startled and appalled me several minutes later when she returned an I-wasn’t-finished-yet-here’s-where-else-he-had-tumors message. A few days later, I listened (briefly, before walking away), as someone else tried to tell me a horror story of another person with a similar diagnosis and rotten outcome.

Listen carefully: when you’ve learned that a friend or family member has cancer, if you can’t offer supportive, kind, uplifting, encouraging, loving, or compassionate words, then Shut. The fuck. Up.

Yes, I said that; and yes, I meant it.

I’m grateful to say that these kinds of comments have been few among the deluge of caring and encouraging, love-filled messages we’ve received. The sensitivity and compassion of our family and friends who have rallied around us have helped strengthen our resolve to face each morning and each long, sometimes-scary night with steadfast hope and faith.

Understand that, in the days that follow a cancer diagnosis, a person’s day-to-day life and that of his family is turned upside down and shaken. It’s easy to momentarily forget to call even the dearest of friends. Don’t be offended if, in the great confusion of the days following such news, you feel forgotten, and please don’t be offended if you (aren’t an immediate family member and you) learn such news through social media. Know that your friend still needs you—now more than ever before.

You don’t have to be Shakespeare to send an “I care” note to a friend who’s dealing with a devastating diagnosis; you simply have to be kind. Your friend needs you to remind him or her that there is hope in each new day. Put yourself in that person’s mindset for a moment, and think of what positive things you’d like to hear. Send warm thoughts and well wishes. Light a candle, and say a prayer (or twelve).

And if you have a spare moment, please say another for us.

faith hope love

 ” . . . but the greatest of these is love.” –I Cor. 13:13 (ESV)

Adventures of a Neti Pot Spartan

Meet Glen Hager.

Glen is, among other things, a US Navy Veteran, a skilled craft-beer aficionado, and a CrossFit junkie. He regularly wins or places highly in local Spartan Races. In short, he’s a manly man, and a good-looking one, at that. Glen has no need for the wimpy things in life, so when my husband Randy and I encountered Glen on one of our eight-mile beach walks, we were surprised to see him sniveling. Well, sort of sniveling. Sniffling is more like it.

“Allergies,” Glen said. “I’ve tried everything short of dynamite to open my nose. Nothing works.”

“Have you tried a neti pot?” I asked. I went on to explain where to purchase and how to use this awesome little piece of equipment that’s highly recommended by physicians and surgeons to clear, clean, and soothe the sinuses. “Be sure to boil the water to sterilize it, let it cool to a comfortable temperature, and add a packet of the saline powder that’ll come in your kit.”

neti-pot

“Sounds like waterboarding,” Glen said, then puffed out his chest. “But I can take it.”

I convinced him that it’s an easy process, and while it may take a time or two to get the hang of it, he’d feel much better even after the first try.

If only!

That evening, Glen told us that when he went to pick up the neti pot I’d recommended, sitting just to the right of it was the Spartan version—a squeeze bottle with “a huge, black, nostril-filling power head.” Of course, that’s what he bought. He got it home, breezed through the instructions, and dumped out “a whole butt load of saline packs” that came in the box. The plastic neti bottle he’d purchased was stiff and firm, and it took a little effort to squeeze water out of it when he first rinsed it, so our strong-man friend knew he’d purchased the perfect macho product for his masculine needs. Remembering my admonishment about sterility, he boiled eight ounces of water in a measuring cup.

And that’s when things began to go south.

“If one packet of saline is good for you,” Glen later said, “two would do the job better and faster, right?” He dumped in two packets and poured the boiling water into his bottle and headed for the bathroom sink.

“I let the water cool for a few minutes, then I bent over the sink, inserted the big, black, power-nozzle into my nose, and gave a mighty power-squeeze. Well, the boiling water had softened the bottle just enough to allow me to generate about 150 PSI of water pressure, so I rapidly injected about four ounces of scalding water—with a saline density approximating that of the Dead Sea—into my skull.

“Hot water shot out of every orifice above my shoulders (and a few below). Snot, earwax, eye boogers, a tooth filling, that ball bearing I shoved up my nose when I was three, and the bug that crawled into my ear when I was six all came shooting out at once.”

“Oh, no, Glen!” I said, trying to contain my giggles, “What did you do?”

“Well, before I fully regained my senses, I quickly injected the other nostril.

“The good news is,” he said, “I have no more congestion! Afterward, I felt so darn good I went on a Harley ride to cool my scalded-and-salt-cured sinuses. Truly, I feel better than I have in weeks!

“I gotta say, though,” he said in a humbled voice, “do-it-yourself enemas are now off my “I Can Do This’ list.”

Yes, readers, I probably should have prefaced this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story with a “Don’t Try This at Home” warning, but surely no one, save Glen Hager, will ever have quite this same experience.

“After all,” he said, “you should keep in mind that I’m the guy who has performed minor surgery on myself more than once with a Kabar.”

True . . . but that’s another story.

 

 

Writing Advice from the Masters: Writing in Paradise

WIP Magnuson

I recently spent eight fabulous days at the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference: Writers in Paradise, under the tutelage of some of America’s finest authors. Set on Eckerd’s idyllic waterfront campus (some of us took a boat ride into Boca Bay as the sun set late one afternoon), we attended readings, social events, lectures, panel discussions, and intensive workshops over the course of the program. I was privileged to be awarded the Sterling Watson MFA Fellowship to attend this exciting conference, and doubly privileged to have a chapter of my novel workshopped by eleven brilliant authors, including multi-award-winning author and conference co-director Les Standiford.

As you might imagine, in a conference of this lauded measure, one receives a plethora of great advice and inspiration. It’s a serious writer’s job, then, to apply that advice to her manuscript and to carry that inspiration into her work. (Check out my brief essay on how to do that here.)

If you have the opportunity to attend a conference of this high caliber, I strongly recommend it. Until then, here’s a tiny taste of some of the advice and inspiration shared by the masters at Writers in Paradise. I hope you’ll support these generous spirits by attending their readings, buying and sharing their books, and reviewing their outstanding work.

 

On the craft of writing:

“Every good story is personal.” –Les Standiford

“Let suspense hook the reader, but don’t show them the hook.” –Dennis Lehane

“We can’t know who you are, until we know what you’ve lost.” –Andre Dubus III

“Don’t shroud the opening in secrecy. Tell the whole story in the first sentence.” –Les Standiford

 

On the writing habit:

“The ones who make it are the ones who stick with it. They’re the grinders.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Sculpt your entire life around getting your writing done. Don’t waste time. Write. Write. Write.” –Ann Hood

“We need special language to commemorate our lives: weddings, love, death, inaugurations. We need poetry.” –Aimee Nezhukumatathil

“Writing is an act of humility, and it takes its own time.” –Ann Hood

 

On researching story details:

“Go where the story takes you.” –Gilbert King

“Writing is problem solving.” –Sterling Watson

“Start from ignorance. Admit you know nothing.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Always be particular. Writers will do anything to weasel out of being specific.” –Les Standiford

 

What success means to you as a writer:

“Success means being able to continue writing. I don’t want to be publishing, marketing, or finishing a book. I want to be writing. That’s where the reward is.” –Stewart O’Nan

“Writing a poem is devastatingly difficult; it’s also a privilege. Writing is a privilege.” –Aimee Nezhukumatathil

 

Do any of these words of wisdom speak to you or your process as a writer? What is the best writing advice you have to give?

 

Tiny Poetry at @Tiny_Text “Spirits Tasting”

It’s always a pleasure to have your work appreciated by and shared with others. It’s an honor when one of those others  is @Tiny_Text, who regularly Tweets some of the most powerful, concise, thoughtful poetry found on Twitter. If you aren’t following @Tiny_Text, you’re missing out! Go follow them now, and enjoy a little bite of literature in your day!

Thank you, Tiny Text,  for publishing my poem, “Spirits Tasting.” I appreciate your support!

 

@Tiny_Text is currently accepting submissions, so send in your best work! Here are their guidelines:

Teeny tiny Twitter fictions and memoirs. 140 characters or less. No other limits except quality. Submit to teeny.tiny.text@gmail.com.

Good luck!

 

How to Make Money as a Writer

Can you really make a living as a writer, without being one of the lucky few who make the New York Times Bestseller list? Can you quit your day job, or must writing always come last on your list of ways to earn a living?

Certainly you can make a living—and a good one—as a writer, without having a long list of novels under your belt. Here are some steps toward building your writing portfolio; landing paying jobs as a writer, editor, or proofreader; getting published; and yes, eventually quitting the daily grind of your current job.

  1. Tell everyone you know that you’re a professional writer who’s available for hire. One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to become paid writers is keeping their mouths shut! Tell everyone you meet that you’re a writer and that you’re available for work. What kind of work? Any kind, as long as it includes some form of writing and a paycheck.
  1. Successful service industries and businesses get the word out about their services. You do have a business card or contact card, right? And what about word of mouth? It’s vital to becoming a paid writer. Social media? Make sure your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn connections know you’re available for work. Start local. Do you have references? Start a list of your publications and clients for whom you’ve written. Do it today.
  1. Hand out business cards and flyers to bridal shops, book clubs, churches, community groups, your child’s school, libraries, and small businesses in your community. Organizations like the Elks, Moose, Eagles, and Freemasons not only publish national magazines, but often need to have local newsletters and press releases professionally written. Businesses need blog articles, employee handbooks, technical manuals, and company newsletters prepared. If you have specialized training in your background (i.e., medical experience, IT experience, etc.) solicit work from companies in that field, marketing yourself as an expert.
  1. Don’t be afraid to start small. And yes, small can be a synonym for free when you’re getting started. If you don’t have a writer’s resume or list of professional writing references and publications, you must start somewhere. Write weekly bulletins for your church, a PTA press release, a groom’s tribute for a wedding program, or even short speeches for local banquets. Your current employer may need to have the office policy or benefits package updated and rewritten. Offer to do it free, after work hours, in exchange for a letter of reference, testimonial, or recommendation. Then, once you’ve written your company’s policy, you can solicit other similar businesses, charging a fee to update theirs.

The Beginner’s Bottom Line

Don’t look at any of your first writing jobs as “free,” even if they don’t pay with cash. You’re earning a byline, a professional business reference, and perhaps a long-term client who may hire you for higher-paying jobs in the future.

Now, About That Money . . .

You’ve got a bite. There’s a fish on the hook. All you gotta do is reel him in and serve him for dinner. But how much do you charge? Who sets the standards for what you can and should charge, once you’ve established yourself as a professional writer? The short answer: You do!

By the hour – What’s your time worth? How much would you make per hour at your day job? Does the fee you have in mind compete with other writers in your area? How much is too much? Even worse, how much is too little? Always consider your level of expertise. Beginners simply can’t charge the same hourly rate as someone with a long list of bylines attached to their name. Check the Web for information on going prices in your state, and base your price competitively. My recommendation? Consider $20-60 per hour, depending on the project and company, with a set minimum fee. Minimum fees (say, $45-$60) help weed out clients who “only want a short paragraph,” but who will take up three days of your time to get that paragraph “just right.”

 By the project – You might quote large, standardized, one-time projects with a set amount. Be careful not to under-quote yourself in these cases, because sometimes a small article can turn into a huge volume overnight. Consider whether research is involved. If so, can you apply that research to other similar jobs in the future? As an example, early in my freelance career, I wrote employee handbooks for various companies. When I wrote the first one, I spent a lot of time researching federal workplace laws, state employment laws, the employer’s benefit packages, and so forth. Once the first manual was written, subsequent clients only required minor changes specific to their company, because the state and federal laws remained the same. Your client doesn’t need to know that, however. For those jobs, in the early 2000s, I charged a flat rate of $450, which the clients were quite happy to pay. (Maybe I should have charged more!)

By the word – Charging a flat fee per word is an excellent way to receive a fair amount of pay for a fair amount of work, and it notifies your clients what you expect for the quantity of work they want delivered. Then, if they add extra pages to the job, you’ll earn extra pay!

Share the Wealth

If you follow these steps and you provide quality work, it won’t be long until you have more work than you can handle. As you build your portfolio, network with other writers, and read samples of their work. Offer to proofread each other’s project. Then, instead of turning away a job that seems too big, too involved, too rushed, or too time-consuming for you, offer it to another strong writer, with the understanding that they’ll return the favor. You might even retain a percentage of the company’s payment as a finder’s fee.

Remember, the best writers are only as strong as their network, so don’t hesitate to pay it forward. Uplift other writers, offering to pick up extra work when they’re overwhelmed, and sharing your overburden in return. As soon as the customers for whom you’re freelancing learn that you are available for any project, regardless of size or deadline, your business will grow–and so will your bank account.

 

 

The Hiatus: Taking a Break from Writing

 

“Write every day.” We writers have heard this mantra from nearly every teacher, writing coach, agent, and editor we’ve encountered. We’ve heard it from other authors who’ve had it drilled into their heads so often they have no choice but parrot it when asked about their writing habits.

I call bullshit.

First, I believe that all writers can—and should—have different processes for creating new work, and that a particular process can—and should—change to fit the creation. If forcing yourself to sit each morning in front of a blank screen until beads of words form on your brow is a technique that works for you, that’s great. Goody for you. And if waking from a deep sleep with a scene in your head rouses you from bed at 2:00 a.m. to pound on your keyboard, that’s equally as wonderful. Or, if staring out the window for an hour, or sitting on the beach for three days, or walking your neighborhood each morning for two weeks is what causes (or allows) a story to jell in your mind before you type the first word, then that’s fabulous, too.

If your particular way of writing works for you, then it’s the perfect way for you to write. One size does not fit all.

There’s nothing like a deadline to encourage your words to appear on a page. When you were in school, your teachers gave you a due date for every assignment, because if they didn’t, you wouldn’t do the research that resulted in ideas that formed the thoughts you typed onto the page. Now that you’re out of school, it may be up to you to set imaginary deadlines, if that’s what it takes to keep you focused. Or maybe you work with a writing group, and you set deadlines for each other to meet. If deadlines are what you need, then set them.

Whether your deadline is real or imaginary, sometimes life gets in the way, and you simply must take a break from writing. Recently, that’s happened to me.

I work multiple jobs (adjunct professor, Realtor, ghostwriter, editor) and have myriad “unpaid” responsibilities (mother, wife, homemaker, book reviewer, blogger). It’s no surprise that these tasks often come with their own deadlines, and sometimes those deadlines bottleneck into the same week or same day. My personal writing simply has to take a back seat for a while.

I’m not advocating putting your writing aside for other duties: no! Writing—if you take your writing seriously at all—must be a priority. However, if you’re sitting in front of your computer in an attempt to get into the mind of your main character while ignoring more pressing responsibilities, your brain often won’t let you slide into the creative mode required to write well. The muse—if you believe in muses—will tell you to get your butt up and do what must be done.

When, then, will you get back to writing?

Here’s what I believe: writers are always writing. Just because we’re not sitting in front of our computers or holding a pad and pen in hand doesn’t mean we’re not creating stories.

During my low-residency MFA days, we were tasked with keeping a writing log that detailed the hours we spent reading and writing. I always struggled with how to approach this log, because it seemed to me then—and now—that rare are the hours when I’m not reading or writing. When I’m driving, I’m plotting. When I’m drifting off to sleep at night, I place my characters in a scene (one that may or may not be appropriate for my story), and I see what they’ll do. When I’m doing housework, I imagine a setting and how I’d describe it from my main character’s point of view. When I’m in the shower, I consider what obstacles I can put in the way of my characters’ goals and dreams. When I’m walking, I figure out how in the world my character can get around those obstacles I’ve created. This is writing.

Sometimes I make notes when a great idea pops into my head. My desk, my purse, and the inside covers of books I’m reading are littered with scribbles; scrawled ideas, scenes, sentences, or even sparse phrases that I know I’ll use when I next sit down to write.

And when time has passed and that precious, quiet hour arrives when I finally sit down in front of my screen, the ideas are all there. The sticky notes and index cards are placed in front of me, the books are stacked within reach, their pages flagged with points of inspiration. My fingers fly over the keys.

It’s then I realize that my time away from the keyboard is not and never has been a hiatus from writing: it is my impetus to create.

 

 

Sharing Homemade Bread

Today is bread day.

A few weeks ago, I succumbed to an urge that had been rising within me for a few months, and that was to make bread. Not just any bread, not bread from a boxed mix, and nothing that could be whipped up in a few minutes’ time, dumped into a bread machine, and popped out in a squarish loaf resembling an Amazon.com cardboard package. I wanted to make homemade sourdough bread; the kind that takes at least a week to prepare, the kind that must be fed and nurtured and allowed to rest, the kind created from—and by—living, breathing beings.

I should tell you that I killed my first starter.

There are certain, unbreakable, scientific laws that come with making homemade sourdough bread, and as ominous as that sounds, they’re actually quite simple to follow. That is, as long as you remember one of the most important rules, that being that you must stir your starter with a wooden spoon. Any contact with metal spoons (nickel, silver, aluminum, etc.) can introduce molecules that will kill the living microorganisms of yeasty sourdough starter. When feeding my sourdough starter the first time, you guessed it; I grabbed a metal spoon. Two days later, instead of the sweetly sour fragrance given off by healthy sourdough starter, mine reeked of rotting garbage, and the bubbles that occasionally rose to the surface had ceased. My starter had stopped breathing and died.

Bread mixing 1

I’ve taken more care since then, and today as I stirred sugar, salt, oil, and flour into my starter and began kneading the dough, I thought of stories and of writing. Why is it that one creative act feeds another? I may never know the answer, but I’m always grateful for the inspirational nourishment.

As I worked the dough, I recalled scripture from the King James Version of the Holy Bible: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). I then thought of even older writings, one from the ancient Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf, in which the bakers charge a share of grain to make and bake bread for the entire community in communal ovens. I was further inspired to look up a couple of quotes that I remembered from other poems and stories, wondering why these snippets have stuck with me for so long, choosing today to bubble to the surface:

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!” –The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 5th Ed.

And from more recent works:

“They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight under the fluorescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.” –Raymond Carver, from “A Small, Good Thing”

“The heat of the bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life.” –Suzanne Collins, from The Hunger Games

You probably recall many other examples of bread used symbolically in literature. Why is it that writers often mention bread in their stories—aside from the obvious, that their characters must eat? Bread does more than simply feed the hungry protagonist; it serves as metaphor for deeper issues and hidden secrets in a story. Bread is sometimes used to represent life and health, or the lack thereof (as in stale bread, or moldy bread); it is used to represent plenty, as in the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes; it’s sometimes symbolic of comfort, family, and unity, as in To Kill a Mockingbird; and, in Hansel and Gretel, breadcrumbs are used to mark the way back home. It’s this last metaphor that I chose to use in my current novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Romie & Jasper’s Big Empty:

“I stand on the back deck of the house, overlooking the acres and acres of grapevines, and I feel small, as if I’ve shrunk. I wonder if it’s true, if I have become smaller each time I’ve moved, if I left behind a broken-off piece of myself, like a trail of breadcrumbs, so I can someday find my way back to whatever place might be home.”

As I kneaded my bread this morning, it occurred to me how much making homemade sourdough bread is akin to writing. We put in the basic ingredients—our nouns and verbs and punctuation—and we let them rest. Days later, we return to the mixture, feed it with fresh words, stir them around, and let them breathe. After more respite, we keep a carefully measured portion, toss out what isn’t needed, and we add something sweet, something salty, and we work out the lumps and bubbles, ensuring that when we are done, it will rise and nourish all who taste it.

My sourdough recipe makes three loaves: one for today, one for later in the week, and one to share with friends. Sharing homemade bread—and memories and stories—with friends is my favorite part of the artistic process: it is the giving of one’s creativity, of one’s effort, of oneself, however noble or humble that gift may be.

“And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19 (KJV)

How to Feast on Your Summer Reading List

Today is the day serious book nerds like you and I look forward to for days, weeks, even months: it’s the day summer reading begins! You probably have a tall stack (or, if you’re like me, stacks) of books that you’ve anticipated reading for far too long. Some of these books may be mindless entertainment; stories you won’t take too seriously, and ones you’ll probably forget a few weeks from now. Some may be literary fiction; stories that will cause introspection, play with your emotions, leave you forever remembering characters who touched you. Some may be nonfiction; memoir, how-to, or self-help texts that will teach you something new. If you’re lucky, one will be a poetry collection; poems to inspire your day, lift your spirit, and encourage new ways of seeing the unique in everyday moments.

The best way to devour your summer reading list is to relax, and get started. Begin your day with a cup of coffee and a couple of great poems. Once you’ve been sufficiently inspired, crack open a non-fiction text and learn something new about a topic that interests you. In the afternoon, visit the beach with umbrella drink in hand, or grab an iced tea and sit outside on your porch, and lose track of time with a riveting novel that will transport you to a different world. Then, for a bedtime snack, pull out a collection of short stories or a fine literary magazine. Short stories couch brief flashes of light, of insight, of understanding; they’re perfect morsels of fiction that can nourish dreams and visions during your sleeping hours.

Now, what should you read? Feast your eyes upon whatever stories interest you! There’s a smorgasbord of summer reading lists online, and most any supermarket-checkout magazine will include someone’s recommended list of summer must-reads. If you don’t already have a stack you’ve been waiting to devour, check out the reviews at NewPages.com, or search Goodreads.com for suggestions. Or, check out the titles (some new, some a few years older) on my personal summer reading list, below:

My Summer 2015 Reading List
My Summer 2015 Reading List

American Sycamore by Kathleen Nalley – Poetry collection – I’ve had the privilege of not only reading Kathleen’s poetry before, but of hearing her read it aloud at the Converse Low-Residency MFA Program in Spartanburg, SC. Kathleen’s writing is sharp, precise, and easy to understand, yet it never fails to leave me breathless with newfound revelations.  

Pasture Art by Marlin Barton – Short-story collection – Another collection of work by a friend whose Southern voice I hear in my head every time I read his stunning stories. This collection, set in Alabama, has been in my “save for dessert” stack. Why? Because I know from reading Barton’s prior work that this collection will indeed be a treat to be savored, full of stories I won’t want to rush through (even though they are brief), stories I’ll want to ponder and re-read, letting them melt into me, like ice cream on the tongue.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron – Writing craft text – Every good writer must regularly read more about the craft of writing, but this text is touted as more than another how-to-write-well manual: it’s a blueprint of how the brain understands and processes stories, offering “cognitive secrets” and neuroscientific breakthroughs on how we respond to the stories we read (and write). Yes, this one should be worth biting into!

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane – Crime fiction– I’ve always loved to wolf down a riveting thriller, and when I first discovered Lehane’s work through his Gone, Baby, Gone series starring detectives Kenzie and Gennaro, I was hooked on his writing, as it’s the perfect blend of entertaining genre and literary fiction. Live by Night is the story of the rise and fall of a Prohibition-Era gangster, soon to be made into a major motion picture directed by Ben Affleck.

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates – Literary fiction – Yes, this “Oprah’s Book Club” bestselling novel was published in 1997, but it’s never too late to catch up on classic fiction that you missed the first time around. This family saga of heartbreak, healing, and hope has been recommended to me at least a dozen times, and this summer is the perfect time for me to sink my teeth into it.

Lost Mountain by Erik Reece – Environmental non-fiction – Another text that’s a few years old (2006), but one that I’m anxious to read. Reviews of this work collectively state that it’s more than a nature book, more than ecocriticism, more than a documentary; it’s evocative writing in truthful terms about a subject that is often buried, and when it is unearthed is sometimes pushed aside as mere righteous indignation. The unpalatable, radical destruction of Appalachia through mountaintop-removal mining is something every American needs to know more about, and this is the text I’ll be reading to further my education on this devastating reality.

Bellevue Literary Review, Vol. 15, No. 1 – Literary magazine – If you aren’t regularly reading literary magazines, you are really missing out. Not only is it the best way to be the first among your friends to discover great new writers, it’s the best way to support those new writers as they’re starting out. In addition, you’ll find smashingly good work by your personal favorites. Bellevue Literary Review, with its focus on short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction stories about medicine, nursing, philosophy, ethics, psychology, and sociology, has long been one of my favorite literary journals. These little literary bites are perfect for mental noshing while waiting for an appointment, lounging by the pool, or just before bedtime. I’m looking forward to whetting my story appetite on this quarter’s issue.

Now you know what I’ll be reading this summer. What are some of the titles on your summer reading list? Share them in the comments section below, and let’s exchange recommendations and reviews!

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