Summer Reading: Pride Edition

Happy Pride! The entire month of June is a recognition, celebration, and honoring of LGBTQIA individuals. While there are many ways to celebrate, I plan to spend part of June reading books by LGBTQIA authors.

One of my 2019 resolutions was to read at least one book per month that someone recommended to me. I put out a request on Twitter for recommended reads by queer authors. One user recommended White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, which is on its way to my front door as we speak. I look forward to reading that one!

As far as my own recommendations, here are some books I’ve enjoyed that were written by LGBTQIA authors. I recommend them for Pride month and, of course, for any month.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado — a fascinating collection of feminist horror. My favorite story was “Inventories.”

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay — another great collection of short fiction. My favorite story was “Water, All Its Weight.”

Dry by Augusten Burroughs — Burroughs is one of my favorite authors, and you really can’t go wrong with any of his books.

Letters for Lucardo, Vol. 1 by Otava Heikkilä — a tender, erotic comic about a May-December romance between a human and a vampire.

F4 by Larissa Glaser — a wild, crazy, sexy creature tale that’s perfect for summer.

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag — a graphic novel about a young boy who yearns to be a witch.

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arcenaux — a wonderful, funny collection of essays.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby — I laughed now just remembering this book. The essays within are a scream.

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Allison Bechdel — a “best of” treasury of Bechdel’s amazing comic.

Do you have any recommended reads for Pride? Leave them in the comments below!

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!

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?

What I’m Reading: True Crime Time

First, my second book — I’m almost finished with the first draft! I think I can safely say I’m 3/4 done. I’m hoping to finish by the end of May, and use June and part of July as a resting period to finish revising the stories in my upcoming short story collection.

In between work on my own books, I’m still trying to read each day. I have read a couple of good true crime books (which, without revealing too much, have also helped me along with Book #2). I recently read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by the late Michelle McNamara. I admit I was not familiar with her blog or her work until after her death in 2016. I read the book before they caught the suspected Golden State Killer last month.

The book was an interesting read about McNamara’s attempt to solve the mystery of who was responsible for a series of murders and rapes in California. Without a known criminal to detail, most of the book was accounts of the murders and accounts of the cops’ attempts to find him; as well as her own. It was an interesting read, but I did find myself thinking it got repetitive after awhile with no known suspect to bring all the murders together. There was no villain to get to know — just his crimes. It’s understandable why this was the case, but now that there’s a suspect in jail, I hope the book will be rereleased with an addendum from Patton Oswalt, Paul Haynes, or Billy Jensen, all of whom helped finish the book McNamara left behind. I would buy and read it if they did.

Shortly after (though not right after — I need breaks between true crime stories), I read a classic true crime novel for the first time: The Stranger Beside Me: The True Crime Story of Ted Bundy by Ann Rule. This was the polar opposite of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, for not only did Rule (and the public) know that Bundy was responsible for a slew of murdered girls, Rule knew him personally. They’d worked together at a crisis center, and remained friends and confidants even as he was being investigated.

The Stranger Beside Me was fascinating. Rule did an excellent job with something that’s very hard to do: she wrote about Ted Bundy’s human side without glossing over the atrocity of his actions or the fact that he was not a good person. One of the passages that struck me the most was from the FAQ she added to the revised edition I purchased:

Q: Was Ted Bundy really nice … underneath?
A: No.

I really appreciated how quick she was to shoot down any notion one might have to try and gloss over who he was. Rule spoke of their friendship, and spoke to how she thought he was broken and how she wished he could’ve been committed or had some sort of treatment that would’ve saved others and himself; but she never made him out to be a martyr or a nice person. She knew who he was, and she wrote about what she knew.

Despite my lifelong fascination with the macabre and my interest in stories about killers, true crime was never really on my reading radar. Reading two true crime novels in a short period of time, I’d say that’s mostly still the case. I’m interested in these stories, but the format can grow tiresome when every other chapter has yet another story of someone getting killed. There are only so many times I can read a variation on “Jane Doe was really excited to live a full life. She didn’t get to” before I want to say, I get it. It’s like reading a really long episode of Unsolved Mysteries. The first couple accounts at least are necessary, because it establishes what the killer did and how they did it. After awhile, though, it’s understood that there is a killer and these people we’re being introduced to will be killed. It no longer feels suspenseful or shocking after that. It feels tedious, and almost feels exploitative.

This is why I’m a little more fascinated with stories about other things to know about the killer. What were they thinking? What were they like before? What’s going on with the friends and relatives and partners who love them even after they’ve been exposed? What did people know about them and yet not associate with them becoming murderers? What can we learn from all this?

A story I feel does this really well is My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. It’s a graphic novel written by one of Dahmer’s childhood friends. While his violent crimes are mentioned, they’re not shown or depicted over and over. Rather, we see Dahmer as a teen, one with violent habits that are ignored and psychological issues that the adults in his life dismiss as growing pains. The book ends with him picking up his first hitchhiker. We all know what happens next — and in my mind, it’s more effective to leave it there.

I’m taking a small break from true crime, as I do; but if you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments!


I’m no stranger to serial killer stories — my short story, All the Pieces Coming Together, tells the tale of a man who’s found a place so perfect to hide the bodies that there isn’t anybody to hide. You can read it for free. It’s also included in my short story collection, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales.

Last summer, I read and discussed The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s a story of a girl who’s drawn into a cult reminiscent of the Manson family. I think it’s going to be a movie soon. I recommend the book despite its flaws.

Thanks for reading!

What I’m Reading: Nocturnally Beautiful Agendas

I’m working on my next novel almost every day. It’s my main focus, as a work-in-progress should be. However, I’m also making sure to keep some time open to read every day. I am typically a voracious reader, but when I was in the thick of writing Please Give, my reading took a notable dip. For instance, I started reading Bruce Springsteen’s memoir last fall, and what would normally take me 2-3 weeks to finish took me almost three months.

Reading, though, is just as important to keeping the writing wheels going as writing every day. It helps me see new ways to phrase things, shows me different ways stories can be told, and makes sure I’m seeing more words than just my own each day. Plus, it’s both fun and relaxing. Writing is fun and relaxing, but it’s also work; and all work requires a break.

Right now, I’m reading Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’m a big fan of his work, and was happy to see he had a collection of short stories available. I’ve read three of the five stories, and all three have shown Ishiguro’s talent for slipping in a line that’s beautifully simple, yet fills you with a slow burn sadness as it settles into your consciousness. Thus far, the story that does this the most is “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

I just finished Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I wanted to read it before the movie adaptation (titled Love, Simon) was released. Whether I’ll see the movie is TBD, but I adored the book. It follows a closeted high schooler named Simon who finds himself falling for a mystery classmate he knows only as Blue, another student he connects with after seeing his post on the school’s Tumblr (a side note: this is the second YA novel I’ve read where Tumblr played a huge narrative role. Tumblr didn’t exist when I was in high school, but forums were everywhere and I was on quite a few. I can’t imagine wanting to be on a forum connected to my school or even my classmates. But I digress). The book switches between Simon’s narration and the increasingly romantic email correspondence between him and Blue. It was funny, tender, and ripe with a rich cast of characters.

A few books before that, I read a book that’s at the top of my Favorites of 2018 right now: Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. It tells the story of two sisters, Miranda and Lucia; and how Miranda, Lucia’s husband, Lucia’s boyfriend, and Lucia herself all try to care for her as Lucia’s illness grows worse. It was a wonderful book, with both poetic prose and a great story. I highly recommend it.

Once I finish Nocturnes, I have a couple different books lined up. Over the weekend, I purchased Afterlife with Archie, Vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale. I read the first issue way back when, but I have little time and patience to purchase and read comics one issue at a time. This is why I gravitate towards dailies (like Questionable Content), graphic novels, or collected treasuries/trade paperbacks. So, I was very happy to see this unique Archie series collected in a book; and even happier to see that Volume 2 is set to come out later this month.

I also recently purchased I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. I became familiar with this book after McNamara’s untimely death (I am a fan of her comedian husband, Patton Oswalt; who is also a gifted writer), and I look forward to reading this one.

What are you reading? If you have any recommendations, please leave them for me in the comments. I am always looking for something new to read! And, if you want to follow me as I both read and write, give me a follow and send me a friend request on Goodreads.

When Writing Precludes Reading

One of my favorite movies is Quills, the 2000 film about the Marquis de Sade. I first watched it when I was fifteen, and it’s been one of my favorites ever since.

A line that always stuck with me was uttered during one of Abbé de Coulmier’s many arguments with the Marquis. He notes the irony of the Marquis himself barely reading, and classifies him with disdain as “a writer who writes more than he reads.”

That quote stuck with me as excellent writing advice, and over the past 16 years since I saw the film ( … damn …), I’ve read and written in a ratio of roughly 5:1. I am a voracious reader. I move in ebbs and flows in terms of how much I read, but on average, I can read a book a week when I’m otherwise unoccupied. I read on the metro, at the gym, and before I go to bed. I check out 4-5 books at a time from the library, because otherwise I run out of reading material too quickly.

This was the case until roughly September 2016, when I started Please Give.

Since then, it has taken me weeks to finish a book I would’ve finished in less than a week. The last book I finished, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, would’ve taken me 2-3 weeks, and it took me three months. It’s an odd feeling, as one of the reasons I read so quickly is because the urge to read just comes to me. I love to read. I feel incomplete without a book in my hands.

I suppose one fixation supplanted another, as now I feel incomplete if I go a day without writing. I daydream about my stories while I ride the elliptical at the gym. I type up passages on the metro on my way to work. I write, revise, and read my stories before going to bed. I’ve replaced the stories I read with the stories I’m creating.

However, there’s a part of me that know the stories I’m creating wouldn’t be there without the stories I’ve read. As such, I am trying my damndest to still read, even when I have to turn off the story I’m writing in order to focus on the story I’m reading. I fully believe it’s important to have both in your life at once, even as one competes for the attention of the other.

Right now, I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing, which my parents gave me for my birthday. It’s admittedly easier to focus on memoirs and nonfiction while I write my fiction pieces. I also hope to read Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women once my library gets me a copy (I’m currently 14th in line on a hold list). Sometimes, taking a break from my own words helps those words flow more freely when I return to my drafts. As such, I try very hard to take the Abbe’s advice and try not to write more than I read.

If you have any book recommendations, let me know — I’ll respond with a book recommendation in kind!