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February beginnings

It’s early Februarywe’ve had snow, but it has melted. Another cold snap is in the forecast. There’s been mud, too early for the spring thaw, but it has brought on the itch for flowers and green and warmth, none of which have arrived. For me, February is a month of patience (if I can find it) or frustration (if I can’t).

February is also a month that is a little bit late for giving a year-end update (bye, 2018!), but I hope you’ll bear with me anyway. Writing is often a slow task that seems to go nowhere. But a year of doing work slowly will still have markers of progress.

My biggest achievement of 2018: I finished my first novel.

Phew! That fact deserves its own line. And then a line of people cheering and toasting with champagne and me being hoisted onto shoulders. Not all of those things happened, but I fully celebrated the completion of the book. I’m still a little in awe of thisI wrote a novel!!

Then I promptly turned my attention to the next step: finding a literary agent. Publishing houses and editors are a small group of people with very specific interests and tastes. Literary agents have the important role of finding new writing and authors they love and helping that work find a home in the publishing landscape with the best possible partner. So I’ve been sending query letters to literary agents: emails about the novel I wrote, about who I am, and why I think we’d work well together. Keep your fingers crossed that I’ll find someone who loves my book as much as I do and has a good sense where it might fit in the publishing market.

Since I finished the novel, I’ve been researching the next book idea and have been following my muse as she’s given me other ideas. I’ve written a few creative nonfiction essays. I finished a new short story. I even wrote a few poems.

And all through 2018, I’ve been submitting stories and essays to literary magazines. I didn’t have much to show for this submitting other than a whopping 131 rejections (three of them had nice comments, though). Perhaps this is another reason this update is a little belated. Yeah, I finished the book, but then that turned into a pile of rejections from agents. Yeah, I’ve been writing short stories and essays, but that turned into an even bigger pile of rejections. Last year didn’t have much to show for all of that work.

And then in January: an acceptance.

That deserves it’s own line, too. I submitted an essay that I’d just finished, and it was accepted by the first place I sent it. I almost couldn’t wrap my brain around it. It was joy and surprise and excitement and validation and all the grief from all the rejections that happened to get me there.

Stay tuned: my essay will be published by The Threepenny Review later this year.

One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. The main character is in prison, and he writes one letter a week to the state for support to expand the library. After six years, they send him crates of secondhand books and records and a check for $200. Then they ask him to please stop sending letters.

He looks up, a half-smile on his face, and says, “Now I’ll write two letters a week.”

2019 is the year of “two letters a week.” A year where I’ll keep sending out my stories and essays, trusting that the next acceptance will come. Where I will seek to find a great literary agent to represent my novel. Where I’ll follow the next novel idea, the next story idea, the next poem.

It’s February. The journey starts again, as it always does, and it continues. It starts wherever I am.

Author interviews—a baker’s dozen!

I have interviewed 13 authors with Must Read Fiction. What a six months it has been!

Some of the conversations have been in person. We’ve met in libraries—the Mercer Island Public Library’s meeting rooms are particular favorites—and in bookstores and coworking spaces. We’ve met virtually, spanning hundreds of miles through the power of a video conference. I’ve met authors one-on-one or together with their spouse (a married couple with their debut books releasing the same month!).

Each interview has sparkled with possibility and curiosity and a deep love of words. Elise Hooper talked about the research for her novel, The Other Alcott, and how she initially thought she’d write about Louisa, but May was the sister that drew her in. Husband and wife writers Michael Shou-Yung Shum and Jaclyn Watterson talked about their mutual love for the vintage word “pinchbelly” and how the word found its way into their writing. Jessica Strawser, novelist and editor-at-large for Writer’s Digest, provided highlights from some of her interviews with great contemporary writers (she’s interviewed David Sedaris, Stephen King, and Alice Walker, among many others). I’m so grateful for each conversation and so delighted to be able to share them.

More of my Must Read Fiction conversations are on the way! Stay tuned by subscribing to Must Read Fiction’s YouTube channel or by following Must Read Fiction on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

To the next 13 interviews!

Interview with Devin Murphy, author of The Boat Runner

I love writers! And I love talking writing!

Devin Murphy sat down with me earlier this month to talk about his novel, The Boat Runner, a story of a young Dutch man coming of age during World War II. We also talked about his years of research for the story, his time spent working at sea, and how he uses storytelling as a father to three young children.

Watch the interview on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfJI1WyUH94&t=45s

Enjoy!

A Community of Readers

Before I ever started writing, I was a reader. I love fiction. I love how it makes me feel connected – to myself, to others, to the world. I love how it allows me escape from my skin, how I can be present in the mind and bodies of others. I love how I carry those ideas with me in my daily life, how a scene from a novel will help provide clarity to moments in my day.

So I started Must Read Fiction, a community of readers who also live life with fiction. A novel makes everything better.

Join us!

https://www.facebook.com/mustreadfiction/