Donate Books This Holiday Season

(Note: this is not a paid or requested post — I’m writing this on my own accord)

I’ve been a little quiet on the blog because I don’t have much to report beyond the fact that I’m editing Without Condition. It’s going pretty well — I’m about 2/3 done, and I haven’t felt the urge to print it out and light it on fire, which I consider to be a success.

While this is a time of year where I’m typically editing, I’m also shopping; and I wanted to draw attention to one of my favorite annual charity drives. Each year between November and December, Barnes and Noble holds a book drive for a local school or library in need. They have a box of books that you can choose from to add to your purchase when you check out. They’re usually kids books, meaning you may be adding $5 – $12 to your bill — and sometimes less!

This drive means a lot to me because my love of reading and writing came from access to a variety of books at a young age. I had well-stocked school libraries and public libraries nearby, and friends and family who kept my bookshelf full. I’m grateful for that privilege, but access to good reading, especially for kids and teenagers, should be a right. Book drives like this one help get more books into more readers’ hands.

If you’re shopping at B&N this year, I’d like to ask that you add a book to donate when you check out. It’s for a good cause, and it’s an easy way to give. Thanks, and happy holidays!

Happy Birthday, Neil Gaiman

Today is Neil Gaiman’s 58th birthday, and I hope he has a happy one.

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read many of his books, and I’d have to say my favorite is The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s simple and elegant, sparse and yet full of story. I still remember in vivid detail the scene where the narrator falls back into Daisy Hempstock’s ocean.

I also really love The Graveyard Book. It came out when I was 22 years old, but I wish I’d had a book like that when I was in middle school — creepy and yet lovely. I think “creepy and yet lovely” describes most of his work, and explains why I love it so much.

Happiest of birthdays, Mr. Gaiman.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, boils and ghouls!

cryptkeeper

Halloween, along with Christmas, is my favorite holiday. I love how everything takes on an extra spooky feel, even beyond decorations and costumes. The trees are a little more crooked, the wind is a little bit more like a sigh, and the silence in the darkness is a little more thick.

While Halloween is the pinnacle of all things scary, I celebrate it all year long. A frequent exchange in my house is me suggesting a horror movie, and my husband saying, “It’s not October.” Yes, and?

My books follow the same pattern. My next novel, Without Condition, is scheduled for February 12, 2019. I’ve scheduled its release around another holiday: Valentine’s Day. It is a romance, after all — just my version of one.

I also have two short story collections that are great for any time of year, but extra good when read during late autumn’s chill. Check out The Crow’s Gift and Wither if you’re looking for some quick, scary reads today.

Have a great holiday, everyone!

October Reads: Time for (More) Darkness

It’s October, the time of year when most people dust off their horror novels and horror movies. I, for one, like engaging with dark fiction all year long. But I do feel an extra pull to the darker corners of literature in October. There’s a chill in the air and an excited energy to immerse oneself in the macabre, the shocking, and the unexplained.

While my month is filled with writing projects — including two new releases, some short stories in progress, and making revisions to Without Condition — I’m still reading every day. I have a few dark novels on my “To Read” list, including Destroyer by Victor LaValle and Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott. If you have any recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments!

I also have a few recommendations for you, if you are looking for something new to read this October.

I recently finished Breathe, Breathe by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi. It is a short collection of dark poetry and short stories. The short stories were good overall — my favorite was “The Madness of the Woodpecker” — but I was most impressed by the poetry. I have a hard time engaging with collections of poetry because I read too quickly to really absorb the meaning of the verse (my fault, not the fault of any poem or poet). Al-Mehairi’s poems stuck with me and chilled me as I read them. Some tell stories, others describe chaotic emotions, but all are terrifying.

I also recommend Sacrificial Lambs and Others by Sheri White. The collection contains several flash pieces as well as longer short stories. Flash fiction, like poetry, also has a hard time sticking with me because of how fast I read. White’s stories still find themselves in my head, though, even though I read the collection months ago. My personal favorites were “Ashes to Ashes” and “First Day of School.”

You may remember that last month, I interviewed author Loren Rhoads. I was excited to read her memoir, Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. I’ve now read it, and I highly recommend it if you’d like to read some macabre nonfiction — namely, if you’re interested in travel essays (I want to note that Rhoads did not ask me to review the book as part of our interview — I purchased the book, read it, and am now reviewing it all on my own accord). Her writing gives the reader a wonderful sense of place in cemeteries around the globe. I’ve now added several new destinations to my list, including Bela Lugosi’s grave and the skeleton-filled catacombs of Paris.

I hope you find some excellent eerie reads for October — and, I hope you’ll consider adding both Wither and Other Stories and Quoth the Raven to your reading list!

Back from Dublin

Last week, I visited Dublin for the first time. I’ve never been to Ireland, period, so I was glad to start in one big city that had so much to do, that we still had things we didn’t see or do even after staying there for a week. We ate a lot of brown bread and drank a lot of whiskey. We heard a lot of seagulls and walked along a lot of cobblestone streets. It was a wonderful trip.

dublin writers museum

One thing I found appropriate was the proximity of our hotel to the Dublin Writers Museum. The museum is a bit small — two floors — but a must-see for any literary travelers. The museum has letters, first editions, audio recordings, photos, and more from some of Ireland’s most famous writers, including James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

My favorite display was the case devoted to Bram Stoker. The case housed a first edition of Dracula, along with other old copies. The museum came with an audio guide, and the entry for Stoker included a reading of the “Children of the Night” passage. I grinned from ear to ear as the narrator spoke. I’m due to give Dracula a reread.

bram stoker's dracula

My only critique is that the museum was focused almost entirely on men. Some women were featured, but not many. I understand the earlier years will have more men than women, but I also believe more women could’ve been found to be showcased. The museum certainly has room.

The museum is taking a step to rectify this by putting together a special exhibit on women writers. A nice step, though I do hope they’ll reconsider the current name of the exhibit: “Ireland’s Other Writers.” Come on.

the women's room dublin writers museum
Really?

There was plenty of non-literary fun to be had as well. My husband and I visited many pubs. My favorite was The Ha’Penny Bridge Inn near the River Liffey. The patrons were friendly, the drinks were great, and the walls were filled with poetry.

the mouse on the barroom floor
One of my favorite poems.

We also took a day trip to Northern Ireland. The tour was focused on Game of Thrones filming locations, including the Dark Hedges and Ballintoy Harbor. We also visited Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s a wonder to behold. It’s filled with rock walls, stepping stones, marshy shores, and hills to climb. Give it a visit if you find yourself in Ireland or Northern Ireland for sure.

The Dark Hedges

the dark hedges

giant's causeway
Giant’s Causeway

giant's causewaygiant's causewaygiant's causewaygiant's causeway

ballintoy harbor
Ballintoy Harbor

ballintoy harbor

cushenden caves
Cushenden Caves, where Melisandre gave birth to the smoke monster in “Game of Thrones.”

cushenden caves

cushenden caves

I’ve been back for almost a week, and I still miss waking up to the sound of seagulls. I hope to return sooner rather than later.

rainbow in dublin

Summer Reading: Memoirs and Whiskey

My manuscript for Without Condition is with Evelyn for editing. I’m writing a short story, doing a final revision on Wither, and outlining ideas for future projects as I wait to get the manuscript back. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading.

This summer, I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by memoirs. I like memoirs, so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised about liking them; but I was surprised at how much I liked two in particular that I read recently.

The first is Educated by Tara Westover. Westover talks about growing up with her religious family in rural Idaho. She was home-schooled until the age of 17, when she enrolled at Brigham Young; then later went to graduate school to earn her PhD. While her school trajectory is remarkable, what’s most remarkable is that trajectory in the full context of her home life: her family were Mormon extremists, with a patriarch who was convinced that the end of the world was coming and that the government was coming for them.

Westover’s experiences were harrowing. However, she narrates almost every traumatic event with the same calm demeanor as she describes school, being in plays, and spending (less tumultuous) time with her family. I found this remarkable not only in how it still worked to convey horror, but added the extra layer of such horrors being a part of her every day, and thus, narrated as such. It also drives home the idea that it’s harder to talk of such horrors as horrific when they’re normalized by being a part of your family, the first connections you develop and, often, the ones that are hardest to break.

I found a similar narrative voice in another memoir: Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Khakpour reflects on her life leading up to her career as a writer, all in the context of Lyme disease and her struggles with chronic illness. Khakpour leaves nothing out when it comes to doctor’s visits, relapses, hospital stays, emergency room visits, prescriptions, homeopathy, and more. If you were exhausted reading that sentence, imagine what she herself has gone through and continues to go through every day. (Khakpour has a GoFundMe for her treatment, if you’d like to give)

Khakpour creates that connection to her illness with beautiful prose throughout. Sick is an elegant piece, one that weaves her experiences in and out of places she’s lived with ease. Just like Educated, it was hard to put down even with such difficult subject matter.

While memoirs have led the way in my favorite summer reads, I’m also reading a lot of good fiction. I recently finished Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith. It tells the story of a recently-widowed woman, her brother-in-law, and during the time he’s alive, her husband. The story weaves in and out of points in time, and the order in which it reveals key things about each character is exceptional. It’s not easy to do that well, and Cross-Smith does it almost perfectly.

The story itself is also melancholy and sweet, good for an August day in particular. I was immediately drawn into the narrative, and was sad to see it end. I plan to read it again to see how it feels knowing what lies ahead.

What have you been reading this summer?