Ask the Author: A Q&A with Sonora Taylor

sonora taylor
“While I want to go into my stories with some sense of what will happen, I also don’t want to go in so sure of how it will go that I’ll get stuck and write myself into a corner. It’s better to write and see where it goes — and if you see it going somewhere else, follow it. More often than not, you’ll be lead in the right direction.”

(It’s weird writing a headline about myself in the third person, but not as weird as writing “A Q&A with Me”)

Last week, I posted a Q&A with my editor, Evelyn Duffy. In addition to answering my questions, she turned the virtual mic around and asked some questions of me. Read on to learn more about what it was like writing my first book, how I navigate through both the writing and publishing parts of the process, and how comic strips and sitcoms influence my literary work.


Evelyn: What is your writing process? How has it varied or stayed the same from your short stories to your novels?

Sonora: It’s a simple step, and yet some days, it’s the hardest one to take: I make myself write something every day. Even if it’s just a sentence, or a note, or a revision, I need to engage with a piece every day to keep the momentum going. I can’t count the number of times I put off actual writing because I thought I had nothing, and then when I made myself do it, I got something — something that often surprised me. The story needs to get out of my head in order to form fully, and I need to write it to get it out of my head.

I work better with set, numeric goals — a specific end date, a number to reach, etc. When writing a novel, I set a goal of 1000 words a day. When writing a short story, I aim for 500 to 1000 words. I often surpass these goals — at its peak, I was writing closer to 2000-3000 words a day for my novel, Please Give — but there are also plenty of days I fall short. This is okay. What’s more important to me than a word count is engagement with my work.

Evelyn: What is your revision process? Who do you share your work with pre-publication, and how do you decide? Can you tell us how you incorporate an editor, beta readers, friends and family, and/or your cover artist?

Sonora: Whether a novel or a short story, I always wait until I have a draft I’m mostly satisfied with before sharing it with others. I do this because I don’t want to give someone something to read that I still have a lot of issues with. I want to send it to others when I’ve reached the point where I can’t do more without hearing from someone else. I often say to people reading it that what the story needs now is another set of eyes. My stories usually reach this point after three or four passes on my own.

Beta readers usually give me general thoughts and some copy-edits. My editor is very thorough, with longer assessments on what is and isn’t working in the story, and what I need to draw out or revise. I highly recommend that self-published authors get both beta readers and an editor. You need that span of feedback to really make your story pop.

Evelyn: Please Give is your first novel, but not your first book. What are some of the differences you’ve found between writing a novel and a collection of short stories? Are there any that took you by surprise?

Sonora: The biggest difference was what each piece started as when I wrote the first words. Even when the story was vastly different, I knew Please Give would be a novel. However, I didn’t write the short stories in The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales with the intention to publish them together. When I decided to publish them together, I was pleasantly surprised by how closely connected they turned out to be. Funny enough, that theme was connection: each of the protagonists in the four stories has a goal of making a connection with someone else, and each get different results.

Evelyn: I understand your knowledge of the nonprofit world of Washington D.C. influenced Please Give. Can you talk a little about that?

Sonora: I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for almost ten years. I interned for an animal welfare organization while I was in graduate school, and have worked for two foundations and an advocacy organization since entering the workforce full-time.

Some may think that working for a nonprofit means your 9-to-5 is saving puppies, or going to protests, or traveling the globe to help save the world. For some nonprofit workers, that’s the case; but for many of us, it’s going to the office, sitting in meetings, writing drafts, doing busy work, going to more meetings, fielding phone calls, and going to one or two more meetings before you leave for the day. If you think that sounds like any other office, you’re right.

In every nonprofit office I’ve worked in, though, staff have cared deeply about the organization’s mission. There’s also an overall sense of camaraderie — one that isn’t exclusive to nonprofit offices, of course, but one that I think is heightened by the nature of the field. This can be both a good and bad thing. It’s good because you’re part of a team focused on a goal rooted in service, and everyone wants to work together to achieve that. But it can be bad if that common goal is used to try and justify things that wouldn’t be okay in any office, with the excuse that it’s the mission or the greater good that’s more important. This isn’t exclusive to nonprofit offices, but like camaraderie, I think this is heightened in a mission-based office. Why should we complain about things like pressure to work too hard, or frequently missed deadlines, or excessive micromanagement, or lack of promotions or benefits, when The Mission is there and we have so many more important things to think about? But you can care deeply about the greater good and still want better in your office, because it’s still an office and it’s still okay to ask for better in your work environment. I hope that anyone working or thinking of working in the nonprofit sector remembers this.

Evelyn: As I wrote to you when I edited your book, the protagonist of Please Give is refreshing and complex. Beth has a clear, distinct voice. She owns her unique hobbies and interests, and is sexually confident. She has no physical hang-ups and isn’t trying to define herself based on a relationship with a man. At the same time, she’s also one of the most anxious characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction. What went into writing her? Is she the same character now, after multiple drafts and revisions, that she was when she started?

Sonora: When I started Please Give, I was thinking less about Beth and more about where she worked. Her observations on her job — ones that were much snarkier in the initial drafts — were more my own than hers. While I never intended Please Give to be a memoir, a story that was inspired by my own experiences was going to start with a blurred line of where my story ceased and Beth’s began. This line became more defined as I gave Beth her own world. As her story opened up to me, she did too; and I was better able to step back and write about her instead of me.

A lot of what you like about her are things I see in women, yet don’t see enough of in fictional women. For instance, 95% of the books I read have women say something about eating too much and getting fat, no matter their size or their self-esteem. I find myself thinking, can’t I just read one frickin’ book where a woman eats a burger and doesn’t say “Oh no, I’m going to get fat”? Same goes for Beth’s sexual confidence. I wasn’t interested in yet another story where a woman is either super awkward or weird about sex (sure it’s real, but it’s not the only reality of sexual women); sleeps around with the hope that maybe this guy will want to commit (because we can’t have a woman who dates to date — she must be looking for a husband or a long-term boyfriend, and the men must always be the ones who are reluctant to commit); or else sleeps around because she has emotional baggage that drives her libido, giving her a reason other than her own gratification. Beth has sex because she enjoys it, and it’s something she both likes and knows she’s good at. I want to read more about women like that.

At the same time, Beth is very anxious. She fears offending others and polarizing them; and also fears that she’s not actually deserving of the things she wants. This is most apparent in her office, but it seeps into how she interacts with her friends and her dates (outside of sex, at least). This combination of anxiety and confidence creates its own special brand of despair. Beth very much wants more, and wants this because she knows what she’s capable of — and yet, she still wonders if she can actually do what she wants to do. This leads to a battle in her head between what she thinks, what she thinks others think, and what she thinks she should think to make everyone happy.

It’s exhausting to go through these motions — and they’re motions I’m very familiar with. Even though Beth is her own character, I wrote her inner workings with a clear understanding of them because I go through similar thinking almost every day. It’s a train of thought that can make you feel very lonely. I tend to internalize these anxieties because I hold to the times I’ve opened up about them and been told to just get over it or that I was being ridiculous. While such anxieties aren’t fixed overnight, it helps when I hear from others that they know how it is, or feel that way too, or at the very least understand. This applies to books as well as people, characters as well as friends. I started writing Beth and her story so I could tell a good story. But I hope that by including something personal to me — something hard to share, but necessary — that I can do my own part to let others who go through this know that they’re not alone.

Evelyn: As the author, what is your favorite thing about Please Give? As a reader, do you think it would be different?

Sonora: One of the reasons I loved writing Please Give was because it made me happy to inhabit its world and spend time with its characters. I found several of the scenes hilarious, and would laugh to myself as I wrote them or said the dialogue out loud to myself. It seems odd to say that, given it’s about a woman anxiously navigating through her own head to get through her day-to-day. But I’ve found that my own rough day-to-day’s, ones that can be very rough when my anxious thoughts are getting the better of me, are improved when I find something funny about them. I can make them better with a joke, or a snarky observation, or talking to an understanding friend and making light of everything we’re going through. So while the book isn’t a laughfest from beginning to end, it’s also not a pit of despair. Many things happen in the world of the book, things that sometimes feel like nothing but downs after the ups; but all can perhaps still feel okay because of a good joke and some good people to share it all with. I felt that way while engaging with the book and its characters, and I hope that readers will feel the same.

Evelyn: “All the Pieces Coming Together” is a sexy, funny, dangerous short story, and one of the most unique I’ve read in 10 years of editing. How long did it take you to write? What gave you the idea? Who do you hope will read it, and what do you hope they’ll take away from it?

Sonora: “All the Pieces Coming Together” was the first short story I wrote when I got back into writing in 2016. I’d nursed the idea for a year or so beforehand, focused mainly on one of the first lines: “It’s the perfect place to hide a body. The trouble is, there isn’t anybody to hide.” I found the idea of a wannabe serial killer finding a hiding spot so perfect that no one was around to kill to be darkly hilarious. I wrote down a few notes, including the line, his course of action, and the first part of the ending. Everything else fell into place as I wrote it. Once I started writing the story, it took me a little over a month to complete. I hope people with morbid senses of humor read it, or perhaps people who don’t think they’re into horror or dark comedy. It delves into themes of control and making things just so, something I think we’ve all gone through in less morbid ways (well, hopefully less morbid ways).

Evelyn: Both Please Give and The Crow’s Gift have gorgeous cover art. What can you tell us about your cover artist?

Sonora: Both of my books’ covers, the cover for “All the Pieces Coming Together,” and the illustrations in The Crow’s Gift were done by the immensely-talented Doug Puller. He is an illustrator and graphic designer, and I highly recommend him. You can see examples of his work on his website.

I am also collaborating with Doug on a graphic novel. It’s called Wretched Heroes, and will be released as a multi-volume series. We expect Volume 1: The Man in Rags to be released later this year. You can learn more about it on Facebook.

Evelyn: You’ve mentioned that you attend meetups and classes in the D.C. area related to writing and publishing. What about them did you find helped you? You’ve also learned a lot in a relatively short period of time about self-publishing and promoting your work online. What are your suggestions for someone who has a book finished and wants to self-publish but isn’t sure how to get started?

Sonora: I’ve been going to Write2Publish classes, which meet once a month at my local library. An assortment of writers attend the classes, and they are led by Robin Sullivan, whose husband, Michael J. Sullivan, is a popular fantasy author. She is his business manager. The classes are focused on the business end of writing — how to market your book, query-sending strategies, tips for which publishing avenue to pursue, and more. The classes have been extremely helpful in guiding my foray into self-publishing, while also giving me a primer of what to expect if I ever decide to pursue traditional publishing.

Much of what I’ve learned about self-publishing has come from a combination of writing blogs and these classes. When Robin shares her tips, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially if you are handling all of your own marketing. While I have an eye for marketing, I am a writer first and foremost; and everyone will tell you that the author’s job is to write. Thus, it sometimes feels like I’m always going to come up short meeting every recommendation people like Robin make to ensure self-publishing success — and subsequently come up short in getting my books into the hands of readers. However, one of the nice things about books is that they don’t get just one chance to be read. Think about your favorite author. You probably didn’t hear about their first book — you probably heard about them after their third or fourth. Books stick around, and can gain traction over time.

I think it’s important to remember, then, that while doing it all is helpful, so is doing some of it. Your self-publishing prospects aren’t D.O.A. if you don’t have a full website, social media presence, Google Analytics report, multiple reviews, and well-placed promotion on blogs and in newspapers all before launch day. Maybe aim for two of those things, and the two that come most naturally to you. I’ve had a Twitter presence for years, and while I still use it to talk about non-writing things like hockey and beer, I also use it to talk about my writing. I also started a writing blog where I talk about my projects as well as general writing thoughts. That blog eventually became my website. I’d like to do more to market my work, and when I have some more pieces to promote, perhaps I will. But for now, I have a website and a social media presence, which is a great first step to getting my work out there.

Evelyn: Generally speaking, you draw a lot from film and pop culture. You also read voraciously. Who or what are your greatest influences?

Sonora: I really enjoy both humorous and dark stories, such as Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs and essays. I read Running with Scissors in high school and loved every word. Burroughs has a knack for drawing you into such darkness and sadness but with a laugh and a wink throughout; and his sense of humor is incredibly biting. My favorite authors (with my favorite book by each in parentheses) include John Irving (A Widow for One Year), Anita Shreve (Fortune’s Rocks), Rainbow Rowell (Landline), Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye), and Thomas Hardy (Far From the Madding Crowd). I also read a lot of comic strips growing up, which were very influential on my writing and my humor — in no small part because of the way the dialogue flows. I spent many an afternoon reading Foxtrot and Calvin and Hobbes; and owned many Archie anthologies.

Sitcoms have also had a big influence on my writing. Growing up, my favorite shows were The Golden Girls, The Nanny, That ’70s Show, and Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m also a big fan of sitcoms without laugh tracks. The speed and naturalness at which the jokes come is just so good in the right hands. They’re an excellent primer on how to write good, convincing, and funny dialogue in stories. Some of my favorites include 30 Rock, Scrubs, and Master of None.

Most of my favorite stories are about generally everyday people going through generally everyday things; or else things out of the ordinary being shared as if they were an everyday occurrence, because to that person, it is their everyday. Even a show like Mystery Science Theater 3000 made it a point to emphasize the averageness of Joel and Mike (and now Jonah) in the face of their circumstances. These stories showed me people I’d know, telling jokes and going through things I could at least see myself going through, even if I didn’t actually go through them. Those are the stories I like writing the most.

I am also a horror fan, in case anyone was wondering how my love of Golden Girls and Archie resulted in a story like “All the Pieces Coming Together” (though Riverdale would lend itself well to that). I’ve been a Tim Burton fan since I was a kid, and of course read Stephen King. I am also a big fan of Neil Gaiman and the way he builds worlds and turns a phrase. He makes the darkest corners of the imagination beautiful, even when they’re deeply unsettling.

Evelyn: What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started writing?

Sonora: I’ve read so many author interviews where they say the final version of their book was almost nothing like it was when they started. I read an interview or two like these as I was just getting started on Please Give, and thought, “Well, my story isn’t changing. It’s going to stay exactly the same, and I’m going to follow everything I outlined or noted exactly.”

What a joke. It changed drastically, and many times. I kept some things intact — Beth’s job, for instance; and Beth as the protagonist, and most of the main characters. But at one point, I had a speaking cast of thirty. I still remember a character about whom Beth said, “I don’t know why she was there. She had no reason to be.” One of those magic moments where your characters talk to you and you should listen. Beth was also running an advice blog in an early draft, which will make you laugh very hard when you learn more about Beth and how she feels about sharing her opinions.

But Please Give changed a lot — it even changed titles — and changed even more when I got it back from being edited. It changed despite my naive, stubborn self thinking my novel would be the first rough draft that stayed the same into final form beyond copy clean-up. It’s that stubbornness that makes me wish I’d known how much a story can change sooner. While I want to go into my stories with some sense of what will happen, I also don’t want to go in so sure of how it will go that I’ll get stuck and write myself into a corner. I came around on what did and didn’t need to change in Please Give, but there were pieces I definitely hung onto longer than necessary so I could follow a notion I had of what the story was before I even wrote it. It’s better to write and see where it goes — and if you see it going somewhere else, follow it. More often than not, you’ll be lead in the right direction.

Evelyn: I know you have several other irons in the fire. Would you like to tell us about some of your upcoming books and short story collections?

Sonora: While Please Give was out for edits, I wrote several short stories. I’m publishing five of them in a new collection, tentatively titled Wither and Other Tales. Many of them are on the darker side, like the stories in The Crow’s Gift. It’s currently being edited and revised, and I plan to release it in September.

I’m also hard at work on my next novel. Right now, it’s called Without Condition. It follows a woman named Cara, who tempers her mounting fears and frustrations in less-than-savory ways; and her mother Delores, who’s proud of the way she handles herself. It explores the idea of unconditional love, but in a dark and twisted way. It also explores how Cara reconciles with who she really is — a piece she hides from everyone but her mother, because her mother loves her no matter what — and how that reconciliation affects Cara when she meets and falls for a man named Jackson. It’s dark, bemused, and tender — my favorite kind of story.


Both Please Give and The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales are available now. Thanks for reading, everyone.

My Favorite Books of 2017

It’s been a year. Some parts were good, others not so good. But the year has come and gone, and I am looking forward to seeing what 2018 brings.

I am an avid reader, but noticed the voraciousness ebbed a little as I worked on Please Give, and readied both that and The Crow’s Gift for publication. Still, I read; and close to 30 books this year. I liked most of what I read, and wanted to highlight my favorites that I read this year (even if they weren’t written this year). Here are my favorite books of 2017, in alphabetical order.

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman — I had never heard of this book until I saw the preview for the movie earlier this summer. Once I realized the movie was an adaptation, I got a copy from the library and sped through it in less than a week. It tells the story of Elio, a young man who falls in lust (and perhaps love) with his father’s research assistant over the course of the summer. The book is told from Elio’s perspective, and his scattered thinking — scattered by the sudden onslaught of lust and love at once — is perfectly captured in Aciman’s prose. I recommend both the book and the film.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay — Roxane Gay released two books this year, Difficult Women and Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. I loved Hunger, but was struck by Gay’s beautiful short stories in Difficult Women. Months later, I still hear passages and see scenes in my head. My favorite stories were “Water, All Its Weight” and “La Negra Blanca.”

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — Thomas’ story of Starr, a teenage girl who witnesses her friend being killed by a cop, is a haunting, timely story. It does a deft job of exploring both the personal toll on Starr and the far-reaching ramifications on her family, her friends, her school, and her neighborhood. I highly recommend it.

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977 – 2002) by David Sedaris — this is as-advertised: a collection of Sedaris’ diary entries from 1977 up until 2002. Other than the introduction, they’re presented as-is. I really liked this, as the reader is able to fill in context of current events of the time, where Sedaris was in his career, and other items not necessarily told in each entry. I also read this book during a stressful time in my personal life, and found the picaresque mundane of daily diary entries very comforting to read. Make no mistake, though — Sedaris’ wit and talent as a writer are still present in each entry.

Honorable mention: “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian — like seemingly most everyone in the second week of December, I read and enjoyed “Cat Person.” It was a good story — it didn’t bowl me over or beg for a reread, but it was a good story with some great passages. I give it an honorable mention because I was so struck by how it took off online, especially on Twitter. It speaks to Roupenian’s talent that so many people thought it was an essay or a true, personal story. I recommend giving it a read (the full story is available in the linked title) if you haven’t read it already.

What were some of your favorite books of 2017? Let me know in the comments!

Happy New Year, everyone.

Summer Reading: ‘The Girls’ and ‘The Disaster Artist’

In between writing, my summer reading is moving along. I do find that reading in turn helps the writing. My sentences form more easily when I’m stuck on a passage than when I’m not reading on the side, and I get inspiration for how stories can be told — or how I can choose not to tell them.

I don’t just read so I can write, though. Reading is fun. I like moving through stories and being in another world while I ride the metro or exercise. There are so many stories to tell, and I want to read as many as I can.

Last week, I finished The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s a story of a young girl who finds solace from her troubled parents and crumbling friendships by spending time with a cult that’s reminiscent of the Manson family. Reading it was an interesting experience, because it was a book I couldn’t say was wonderful or even great, but it’s stuck with me in ways that better books have not. I find myself considering it as both a story and a piece. There were lines that when they fell flat, they fell hard; but when they struck, they struck like lightning. It was also a good story, albeit larger than I think the pages, the publisher, or perhaps Cline allowed it to be in its final draft. I recommend it, though I’d tell people reading it to be aware that they may be confused as to why they want to keep reading it. I recommend they do, though; and that they finish. I look forward to Cline’s next book.

Now, I’m rereading The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. The book is a memoir about the greatest bad film ever made, The Room. The Room is one of my favorite cult films — I used to go to midnight screenings regularly, and even cosplayed as Chris-R a few times. The book tells two stories: one of filming The Room, and one of young actor Greg Sestero’s budding friendship with an odd man named Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is, of course, the writer, director, and star of The Room. It’s an excellent book, especially if you love The Room, but also if you’re a fan of cinema, cult cinema, or stories of odd yet persistent friendships. Sestero could’ve easily made the book an insulting tell-all, or treated everything like a joke. And he makes no bones about the fact that the movie was bad and that Wiseau had oddities that were neither quirky nor charming. But, he also writes as Tommy’s friend, and humanizes both the production and the man behind it, both of which are treated by the film community at large as just a bad film and just an odd character, respectively.

What are you reading? I’m always looking for recommendations to add to my always-growing list of what to read next.

Let’s Get Social: Goodreads

A couple weeks ago, I shared some ways to connect apart from this blog. I wanted to add one space where I’m a recent dweller: Goodreads.

I’ve seen Goodreads pop up here and there, mostly through my friends updating their progress on books or my favorite authors promoting giveaways. I joined when two friends wanted to use it to discuss the books we read together.

Since then, I’ve used it pretty much for the activities I saw other people do — update on my reading progress and enter giveaways. I also write brief reviews of the books I finish and log on the site. I have yet to write retroactive reviews of stuff I read before joining, but that may come later.

With summer reading upon, us, and just with a love of reading in general, I invite you all to join me there. The URL will seem very familiar: https://www.goodreads.com/sonorawrites

Feel free to send me a friend request, or just follow along if you like. You all know I sometimes lose focus on reading, and it helps me keep up with it when I have friends to share that reading with.

Hope to see you on Goodreads!

Progress Report: Reading Right Along

Footloose and fancy-free …

moving

Well, maybe not entirely fancy-free. I am making edits (but only a few – I’m doing my best to leave most of the editing to Evelyn Duffy, my editor).

I’ve begun reading Please Give from beginning to end. This is the first time I’ve done this since starting the book. It’s been an interesting experience, as during the writing process, I wrote out-of-order. I read through sections when I was pressed for new content, but I still wouldn’t read in order. I’d skip around the book, usually focusing on sections devoted to characters I still needed to write about.

I wrote the book in a similar manner. Please Give is an ensemble centered around Beth, and I tended to write all the pieces where she interacted with specific characters all at once. A week spent writing chapters with her work friend. Another week on chapters with her roommate and her roommate’s girlfriend. Many more weeks spent on the pieces with her love interest. There was some overlap, but one theme in the book is Beth’s tendency to compartmentalize the people in her life – one of many inadvertently isolating behaviors on her part. I’m aware of the bit of meta irony in my own tendency to compartmentalize their sections of the story.

Still, I was careful to bring them all together as I made small revisions during the writing process and dropped each chapter into the master document. One of the more satisfying parts of the writing process was seeing that master document grow, and also getting to a place where I stopped writing the chapters separately and just started filling in that document. It was becoming a book, and now it is one – one that I’m reading. One that I wrote. It’s still a little weird thinking about it that way.

It’s weird, but it’s pleasant. I’m a little more than halfway through, and I’ve enjoyed reading it. Nothing’s made me cringe, things have flowed well, and most of my edits have been word choices or tightening up dialogue. It’s also been compulsively readable. While there’s always a bias in being able to read one’s own stuff, I don’t approach all my pieces with a desire to keep on reading and get to what happens next. I do with this one. I hope that’s an approach that’s shared.

One key difference, though, is finding out what happens next. I know what happens next, and want to keep reading to see the story get there. My editor and readers won’t know that, and I can only hope they’ll want to once they read it.

But first, I must read it – and now it’s time to get back to it.

Back to the Book

Today’s the day: I’m going back to my book draft, and am going to read it from beginning to end.

What I hope for:

glowing book

What I expect:

fire

Hope for the best, expect the worst …

In all seriousness, I’m sure it’ll be fine. I hope so, anyway.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone!

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!

A Quiet Place to Read

The National Mall is a wonderful place to read. I remember starting Harry Potter for the first time on one of its benches, and finishing Of Mice and Men on another. It is also one of the most popular destinations in D.C., which sometimes interferes with its more peaceful elements. I wrote the essay below when I was feeling a bit sour about all the distractions keeping me from my book of choice (I believe it was Between the World and Me, which was excellent). My outlook on finding peaceful reading spots is typically more optimistic, though I maintain that Heaven will be filled with both books and places to read them.

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A Quiet Place to Read

The other day I walked to the National Mall to read while I waited for my husband to meet me downtown. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, with cooler weather than we’d had in weeks. I found a bench under some scant shade, and could only hear the wind.

As I read, I heard some noises you’d expect in a busy park. Cars here and there. People walking by and taking pictures in front of the Capitol.

My flow was interrupted by machinery. I looked over and saw construction underway on one of the mall’s many lawns. It ceased. I continued to read.

The sounds of cars came ever closer. I looked up, and saw a pick-up truck driving on the mall itself.

Don’t cars have enough space as it is that they don’t have to take up ours? No matter. It drove away, onto the road where it belonged.

I heard a small hissing. I looked at the ground, and saw a squirrel walking expectantly towards me. I shooed it away, and it slowly kept creeping back, until I shooed it away a few times and it finally saw that my book was not food. I silently cursed those who’d fed that squirrel and thus sculpted its natural instincts into something altogether unnatural.

The squirrel returned to a tree, and I returned to my former tree. Suddenly a pop song blared through the air. I looked up and could not find the exact source, though I guessed it had something to do with the stage a few blocks away with giant white letters saying HOPE. Ironic, given that it was dashing away any hope I had of a quiet afternoon of reading.

It was just as well, for around that time, my husband texted me to let me know he was coming downtown. As I put my book away, I decided that, if Heaven exists, it is a library; for only in death will we ever find a quiet place to read.

~September 15, 2016