The 2017 Reading Challenge

Last year I signed up for a reading challenge. It was a disaster. I don’t think I read a single book from the recommended list. And I didn’t feel bad about it. The books just weren’t interesting enough to hold my attention and that’s not anyone’s fault but mine. I needed something more. So, in the wake of that failure, I searched high and low for a list that might actually work for me. It had to be something slightly fluid, something I could make adjustments to as I needed. Because things change pretty regularly around here and I feel pressure to complete something if it’s in list form. When I found the Better World Books 2017 Reading Challenge, I knew it was something that would work for me. Even better, it includes works by POC and WOC, which is something important to me. So, without further ado, my 2017 Reading Challenge list:

2017 Reading List

PS. If this seems like a challenge you want to be part of, grab yourself a printable form here and let me know what books you decide to put on your list!

My Grandfather’s Hands

hands

       He towered over the other mourners, his shiny head bowed low to his chest. He had been undefeated in the boxing ring during his Korean tour, his large, meaty hands protecting him from blows. Today his hands were useless to protect him from the pain; they hung limply at his sides or twisted his flat-brimmed hat until it resembled a wrung out dish towel. He had been unable to read the eulogy he had composed for her; shaking his head, he pressed the slip of paper into his brother’s hand. He had held himself in check through all the well-wishes, handshakes, and casserole deliveries but later that night, in front of an old black and white movie, the tears soaked the collar of his button up shirt while he talked to me about the old days. How he had loved her from the moment he saw her behind the perfume counter at Gimbels and how she refused his suggestion for dinner that night, because she needed to wash her hair. But her spunk was no match for his determination and six weeks later they were married at the Presbyterian Church on Elm Street. She wore gardenias in her hair and her pearly nailed matched the delicate shade of her cheeks. He liked that people were confused by their marriage; a strange mix of contented silence and heated bickering over, say how to mix the perfect Manhattan. He smiled to himself a little, remembering how he liked to start arguments with her; she was so lovely when she was angry, eyes snapping, cheeks flushed. His chest heaved when he remembered the morning he had woken up and felt alone; that something was missing. How he sat with her, holding her hand and taking his time to say good-bye. “Sometimes I think I’m a bad Christian,” he murmured, breaking eye contact, “cause I don’t much care about seeing Jesus. I just want to see her again. Do you think that’s a sin?” And as he looked at me with those watery blue eyes, troubled behind the thick lenses of his glasses, I realized that we should all be so lucky to be loved that way: the way my grandfather loved my gram.

Copyright 2016 Katharine Brown

Photo: Vinoth Chandar via Flickr

Shipwrecked!

Do you remember in the 90’s when everyone was really into icebreakers? For you younger readers, an icebreaker was a question asked in meetings, hangouts, and other social situations to prevent the awkwardness one feels from having to speak first or converse without a topic. The thing about icebreakers was the questions were usually ones that would take a lot of thought, but you only had a few seconds to come up with an answer.

If you HAD to give up one of your senses, which would it be and why? There is a little bit of analysis needed here, right? I mean, this is a really loaded question.

If you had a time machine that would work only once, what point in the future or in history would you visit? I don’t know about you but this question takes a lot of thought. The machine only works once, which means I won’t be coming home. I have to get this right!

Ok, so you get the idea. The icebreaker that I heard most often went something like this:

If you were stranded on a desert island, what one object would you bring and why? (Variations include, what food would you choose to eat FOREVER? and who would you want to be stranded with you?)

I’m not sure why, but this desert isle icebreaker popped into my head the other day while I was packing my books for our big move and I thought, hmmm…which of these books would I be willing to read over and over, potentially forever. And so, without further ado, my list of three books I would want with me should I ever become stranded on a desert island.

#1 The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History

I bet you guys are sick of hearing about this book. Too bad. It is my all-time favorite and, since I read it every year anyway, I’m bringing it with me. Not only will it entertain me in my loneliness, it’s pretty thick so I can use it to reach bananas from the tops of the tall trees that shade my palm branch lean-to.

#2 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

the remains of the day

Another staple in my literary diet that would keep my mind off the scorching sun and terrible thunderstorms that alternately plague me in my new home. This book would encourage self introspection while I huddle away from the rays and the rain.

#3 The Failure of Certain Charms by Gordon Henry

the failure of certain charms

I think learning to exist alone on an island demands poetry. Something full of meaning and beauty and truth, that can be read in a relatively short period of time, between gathering kindling for my rescue bonfire and fishing for shoal fish with a safety-pin and some thread from the hem of my dress. This book will fit the bill nicely.

What about you? What three books would you take with you on a pleasure cruise, knowing they may be all that keeps you sane on a desert island?

The Things I Carry

I wrote this reflection my first semester in college in response to a story from ‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien. The stories in this collection, blurring the lines between truth and fiction, revealed the weights that men carry, physically, emotionally, and mentally, during times of conflict and how those weights impact their actions. I wanted to explore the concept of this dichotomy in my own life and scribbled this down in an old journal.

I carry the ache of love that has been taken away with no apology. I carry the fear of others pushing me away, keeping me down and isolated. I carry a secret smile for when I am alone and sad, to cheer me up. I carry a scar to show that I am brave. I carry anger to keep me strong, but it also eats holes in my soul. I carry the memories of friends who have loved me with their whole being. I carry the weight of always needing to be right, to prove myself. I carry a rage toward those who take advantage of others. I carry the hurts of those around me, for they are heavy burdens to carry alone. I carry my books, Monday, Wednesday, & Friday, to school and home again; their weight validating my life, their words changing my views. I carry Chapstick so I feel moist and soft. I carry a cell phone, I don’t know why. I hate that everyone can get a hold of me whenever they want because I feel guilty when I press ignore. I carry jealousy towards those who “have” what I never got: beauty, popularity, wealth. I carry uncertainty about my body. I am smart, I am funny, I am fat. I carry heavy weights that I have chosen for myself, placed myself under. To take them off or let them go would mean that I am not strong enough to handle them. And this cannot be.

 

Copyright © 2015 Katharine Brown.

Introductions: Abandoned Words

This week, like last week, is brought to you courtesy of my old writing journals. A little back story may be necessary so let me start by telling you about one of my all-time favorite short story writers, William Sydney Porter, otherwise known as O. Henry. I haven’t read a single story I didn’t love! Henry has a way of fleshing out characters in just a few short sentences that makes them almost immediately relatable. He is a master of wit and wordplay, and he almost always surprises you with a twist, just at the end of the story. Basically, he’s everything I want to be when I grow up! And he actually used words that I’d never heard of in his stories. I would sit on the couch (next to my goldfish, Norman) and read collections of O. Henry’s short stories with a dictionary close at hand.

It was during one of these reading times that I decided to try to revive some of these old words, to give them life again. I began collecting them and attempting to use them in my daily conversations or papers for school. A few months after I began my collection, a website popped up where you could actually adopt a word and I really enjoyed browsing there (until it closed down). It’s been a while since I made a list of abandoned words but here are a few of my favorites from O. Henry’s collected works:

Prospicient – having foresight

Chapfallen (or chopfallen) – dejected or dispirited

Recusant – refusing to submit to authority; dissenting

Insouciant – happily unconcerned; carefree; nonchalant

Inveterate – firmly established; habitual

Do you look up words while reading? What are a few of your favorite words people seem to have forgotten?

Dealing with Rejection

Ok, let’s be honest, no one in the history of ever likes dealing with rejection. It’s not just about publication, it’s something so much more personal and painful. As artists, we pour ourselves into everything we do and getting a rejection letter feels like failure because it isn’t just a story or a poem or a painting, it’s us. We are being rejected. And that is hard. It’s hard to realize that the publishers aren’t actually rejecting us, just the work. And maybe not even forever. I’ve gotten multiple rejections which encouraged me to submit again, after polishing my work. In fact, when I got my first rejection letter it had a little note at the bottom that said,

We can tell that you are really excited about your stories but they feel rushed. Take some time to create some depth and please submit again.

I couldn’t see the good in that little note (though I’ve been told that any additional notes added to rejections are really great things). All I could do was close the computer and walk away with tears in my eyes because I had really thought that collection of short stories was the best I could do. I shelved the stories and left them for all of last year. When I pulled them out last month and read through them, I instantly knew what that editor meant. He was right. They were rushed. So now, I work on pacing. Adding in more details, slowing down, taking my time. It’s not a race to the finish. It’s about the feeling of the story.

In case you think this means I’ve come to terms with rejection, I haven’t. It still hurts each and every time I get an email or a postcard. But there are some super positive things that come out of rejection and those are the things I will choose to focus on.

1. I wrote something through to completion. It might not have been perfect, maybe it needs some tweaking, but I finished it.

2. I put myself out there. I took this living, breathing, meaningful brain baby and I sent it out into the world to see if it could stand on its own two feet. So it couldn’t, that isn’t the point. The point is that I risked, and that is a huge success.

3. I didn’t stop because I was rejected. I can’t let a rejection keep me from writing because I have to write. It’s what makes me happy so I’m going to keep trying until I get it right.

The next time you’re facing that rejection letter, remind yourself that you finished something, and sent it bravely into the world. Remind yourself that you are courageous and a damn good writer…and then write some more!

Retrospective: January

January was a pretty good month, all told. I set the bar by instituting a lot of new practices that I intend to make habits. I came up with three monthly goals for this year and I am happy to say that I completed the majority of them. That might seem like a silly thing to be bragging about but the reality is, I am a mom first and being a mom means that I am in high demand during almost all twenty-four hours of a given day. The fact that I completed any of my goals is a miracle and I am really proud of that. In addition, I am a perfectionist and so continuing to stick with the goals I had written out, even while not getting it right every single day, is HUGE for me. That is probably the biggest win of all.

In January I wrote 6,500 words, submitted two poems for publication, submitted two short stories for editing/review, read 1/4 of The Writing Life, developed one short story idea and two novel ideas, with the help of my super creative hubby, and (on top of it all) started a new job. All in all, a big month and not to shabby of a start to this new year of writing. I realized that getting in 500 words a day was too much for me in this season of young babies so, for February, I have lowered the count a little in the hopes that I will complete the entire month. So far, so good, she said on day three. 

What new things are you trying with your writing? What seems to work and what have you had to tweak?

Word Count: January

As you may remember from earlier this month, one of my resolutions for the year is to write every day. This might seem like a pretty simple task but when you add three kids 5 and under, an artist/poet/songwriting husband, a handful of great friends and a group blogtraining for a half marathon, and a new part-time job you can see where it might be hard to find the time for words. I have actually been doing really well, especially for me. Usually if I set a goal and miss it one time (which happened to me three times this month, just in the interest of honesty) I throw the entire thing out the window and spend a week moping about how I’m a terrible person and I can’t even culture one little habit, blah, blah, blah. Yes, I can be a real joy to be around. But this year is different. I can just feel it. This is my year. This is a good year.

I have missed three days so far this month but you know what? I just kept plugging away. What I wrote wasn’t the most amazing or polished writing, but it was words on a page, everyday (almost). My goal for January is 500 words per day and it has been really amazing to me to see how easily they come…most days. There were a few times where I was counting up words every dozen or so just waiting for the 500 mark. But that is where the rubber meets the road. When it’s hard and I don’t want to write and I just want to give myself a pass and go watch Dr. Who, that’s when it’s most important to get those words on the page. Most of the time, I am writing after the gym which is after the kids in bed which means my writing time is usually eleven thirty or later. But I’ve enjoyed most of it, I was a night owl before kids and I think my body is kind of enjoying it again.

To ensure success, an old writing buddy and I have linked forces once again for inspiration and accountability. We get together (online) every Sunday night to write for a while and to think tank longer pieces we are working on. This week, the prompt was to write a story titled Kinetic Energy. At the beginning it was rough going and I restarted the piece about three times before it just started coming to me. I thought you might like a sneak peek at what came out of it so, without further ado, Kinetic Energy:

It was two days longer than normal when she showed up again, all softness and smiles. Something was different. She was keeping a secret, it seemed. She walked with power and purpose. But she kept me at arm’s length. This hadn’t been a lovers’ quarrel. I was on the outside now, the outside of what I wasn’t sure. She cut her hair. Got a manicure. She spent evenings out with friends and came home with red wine in her teeth.  She stopped sleeping so late, remembered to eat, painted her toenails red. The letters started coming in a few weeks into this change of habit. They were plain, stamped return addresses of galleries near our apartment, a few in DC and NY. I asked her about them and she gave me a generic answer. She shopped for gowns. I couldn’t write. I needed to know what was going on, with her, with us. She wouldn’t talk about it. Answered my questions with her own. “What are you talking about? What big changes?” Things were as they always had been according to her. As if I hadn’t been the muse. The one encouraging her. Pushing her. Driving her along. She would smile at my outbursts, amused and aloof. She made plans for an installation, displayed in two galleries, didn’t have time to talk.

Happy New Year!

Well, this is it. The last week before a new year, a clean slate, a fresh beginning. 2014 was a good year for me, as far as writing is concerned. I didn’t accomplish all my goals but I came closer than I ever have before and I am proud of that. Heading into 2015 I wanted to come up with some more attainable resolutions and I thought, maybe if I share them with you, that will help motivate me to achieve them. So, without further ado, my 2015 New Year’s resolutions:

1. Read 1 book a month. Ok, this might seem really ridiculous (especially for those of you who know me and how much I love to read) but I seriously only read like 6 books last year. It’s sad. With writing and cleaning and “momming” I just didn’t devote the time I wanted to reading. To make sure this actually happens, I’ll be posting a review of the book I read on the blog on a monthly basis. So less time on Facebook and more time flipping pages! 

2. Write a certain number of words per day each month. This number will vary each month (one month may be 350 words, another may be 500) but I want to cultivate a habit of writing each day because I know it will pay off in the long run. It worked for Kazuo Ishiguro. I will share one of my word count “stories” per month, just so you can keep tabs on me (and so I’ll actually do them).

3. Complete something each month. I know, vague right? But I need to get some edits done and I need to crank out some new stories so vague is the best I can do. I will try to share a review of sorts each month that outlines any submissions, edits, ideas, drafts that were completed in the month to keep myself accountable.

I think those are totally doable and realistic goals for the new year. How about you? Any goals, writerly or otherwise, that you’ve set for yourself in this brand new year? I can’t wait to hear all about them!

National Novel Writing Month

Hello friends!

I hate to break from my All Stars posts, especially when I am so close to finishing them out, but November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and it’s a tradition for me. I will be spending my nights this month sitting in front of my computer until all hours of the morning, plowing through coffees and typing as fast as I can. It’s madcap fun, whether you finish or not, and I have a feeling that I might be able to reach the 50,000 word goal this year. Regardless of the outcome, I have to try so I bid you adieu for the next few weeks. I will return on the 2nd with my good friend Shel Silverstein to wrap up the last few authors in my series before moving on to the next thing. See you in a few!