2016 Poetry Campaign: It Becomes You by Dobby Gibson

it becomes youThis was a re-read for me. I first read Dobby Gibson’s It Becomes You about two years ago, and I loved it so much that I immediately bought his other collections (both of which I also enjoyed very much!). He is a brilliant writer, and to top it off, he’s local! It was fun to read poetry about Minneapolis.

How to describe his work? While I read, I had comparisons bouncing around in my brain. Dobby Gibson writes with the tremendous peeling-open-of-ideas and thoughtful phrases of Billy Collins, with the great breadth of vocabulary of Annie Dillard but much more accessible. There are phrases that will make you pause in awe, and every poem will leave you feeling thoughtful, somehow weightless and heavy at once.


Highly recommend: also, his other books Skirmish and Polar are fantastic reads too!

Join me next month for my 2016 Poetry Campaign. We’ll be reading Brooklyn Copeland’s Siphon, Harbor. Click here to see the schedule for the rest of the year!


The Doors

No, not these guys.

the doors

These guys:

collage photos of doors on the old districts of Europe

I thought I’d update you on my creative goals for this year, the doors I want to walk through.

Behind Door 1: a final manuscript of Yes Novel Salt Novel (edited 1.10.16)

This goal changed only ten days into the new year, as my editor and I decided to set aside the manuscript I was working on and pick up a different one. I’m thrilled about that and loving the chance to dive back into the world of Salt Novel, which is set on an island. So fun! I got a little sick, and that set me back in my revision timeline, but then again, we just decided to push the publication back to summer 2018, so it’s probably okay. feel good about the direction of this book; I’ll update you after I submit a draft to my editor next month! But rest assured, you’re gonna love these characters. They are fun and jaded and had so many sharp edges. I adore them.

Behind Door 2: a first draft of my next novel.

This is not gonna happen, not with the revised timeline. That’s okay.

Behind Door 3: three new story ideas, just the bare bones.

I’ve been thinking on these– I have characters taking shape in my brain, characters who beckon me to know them better.

Behind Door 4: a writing retreat.

I’m planning it for this summer. Gosh, I feel like I could do so much damage if I could just get a week in Duluth.

Behind Door 5: a day of creative exploration.

I haven’t really thought about this much. I was waiting for it to be nicer outside first. And then– “like the first signs of spring, like good news” (Narnia)– it was 60 degrees here yesterday! (And then today it snowed a little. Oh Minnesota.)

Behind Door 6: a pruned TBR shelf, via reading and weeding.

hpbI’m getting back in the rhythm of reading! Feels so good. I just DNFed a book halfway through last night, which sucks (and no, I won’t tell you which book! I really want my blog to be a place where I rave about the books I love, not complain about the books I don’t– which is why you will almost never see a negative review here). That prompted me to go through my TBR (to be read) bookshelf and be brutally honest with myself about what books I’m unlikely to read. I pulled almost twenty books off the shelf!

Behind Door 7: a book of poetry every month.

Staying on track! Tomorrow my review of It Becomes You by Dobby Gibson will go live. Join me next month in reading Siphon, Harbor by Brooklyn Copeland. A list for the whole year is available here.

Behind Door 8: a healthier writing lifestyle.

Figuring it out! I’m taking one day a week away from writing, which feels really good and alleviates the pressure. I’ve also created a detailed word count document that keeps me from feeling like I have to do EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW. Next step: training myself to go to bed on time!!

So, there you have it. Trucking along. Mostly. 🙂

Being a Creator is Uncomfortable

This week an interview with Leigh Bardugo was published in which she said, “I think the hard work of writing is just how long a book is terrible before it’s good.”

That’s a one-sentence summary of this post. 🙂


Writing a novel is a long, difficult journey full of emotions. Some days I’m thrilled with my work; some days it disgusts me. Sometimes I feel a sort of writer’s high; often I am in a slump.

But amidst all the join and pain of writing, I experience this level of … discomfort. Discomfort is probably the best word for it.


I’ve been thinking a little bit about it, and I have a few random thoughts. Do you care if I use bullet points? Thanks.

  • My discomfort stems from having something incomplete. I understand that the nature of creation is that something is being created and that likely doesn’t happen in a moment. But I hate having messy drafts. I want to know that if I got hit by a bus today, something could still be done with my manuscript. (Gruesome much, Sommers?)
  • I think this discomfort is a huge…

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Fiction: How I Start

Was talking about some of these things with a book club (that just read Truest and invited me to join them for discussion) this week. Thought I’d repost. Tell me about how YOU start a story.


Not that you should necessarily take writing-life advice from me.  Perhaps you ought to listen to Jo Rowling and spend seven years plotting.  But this it the irrational, backward way I start a new story.

1. I have a tiny idea.  Teenaged wards of the state in hospice care.  That’s nowhere near a full-blown idea, let alone a plot, but it’s enough.  Just a tiny idea is all I need.  But I have to love it, have to want it.

2. Characters.  Whatever-this-is-going-to-be is going to be nothing without a handful of characters.  I start with names and photos, which I find by scouring the internet until angels start singing.  Again, this seems backward, doesn’t it?

Yes, I think.  Her name will be Macaulay, and she will go by Mack.  And this will be her.

mackThat’s fascinating, I think.  She has purple hair.  I didn’t know…

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Cold Milk

Is there anything better than a glass of cold milk?

Okay, probably. But right now it’s rocking my world.

I’ve been reading like a maniac. I just finished four books. Two reviews are up: Underwater (review) and In A World Just Right (review). The other two are forthcoming. Plus I started another book, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios. It feels really good (and healthy!) to be reading a ton.

I’m working on my 2016 creative goalsI especially want to tackle what’s behind door #6 (a pruned TBR shelf). I think this upcoming weekend, I need to do another round of culling the shelf. Plus, of course, all the reading helps move books from my TBR shelf to my beautiful full-wall bookcase. Rock and roll.

To that end, I’m being super selective in my book purchases lately. As you know, I pre-ordered a handful right after Christmas; now that Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo is available for pre-order and MELINA MARCHETTA’S NEW BOOK (Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil) is available too, I’ll place orders for those. My gosh, I don’t think she’s put out a book since Quintana in 2012, which honestly feels like forever ago. Even though this an adult mystery (instead of her usual YA contemp or YA fantasy), it doesn’t matter to me. I’d read her grocery lists.

Just finished my glass of milk. Dang, that was good.

I want to be a better blogger. Not sure yet what that will look like.

I’ve been PLOTTING. This might come as a shock since many of you know that I abhor plotting, but this has actually been sort of fun. I think it’s mostly because I already mostly knew what was going to happen and what needed to happen and got to hammer it out in a spreadsheet, of all things. Plus, I’ve been doing lots of brainstorming and research, and I’m excited about my ideas. Nothing like spending hours on Pinterest and getting to call it work!

Now to write. I’ve been avoiding my manuscript for over a week now. That is not good, nor is it like me. But we had this exhausting weekend of work, and afterward I just needed to rest, and before you know it, my rhythm is all off and I’m terrified to dive back in. It’s like, as long as I write five or six days a week, I’m the queen of double dutch.

double dutch

But once I stop for a couple days, I’ve bounced out of the ropes and cannot figure out how to jump back in. 

jump in

Does that analogy work for you?

I know I just need to do it, no matter how sloppy it is.

I’ve been sick. I’m desperately trying to save up PTO to take a writing retreat (see 2016 creative goals, door #4), but I just had to blow it all this week. Ugh. Starting over.

In case you missed it, my next novel is not coming out till summer 2018 now. I feel GREAT about it … until I go on Twitter. I really should not go on Twitter. It is a dark place for me. I wonder if I will always, always struggle with comparing myself to other writers.

That’s the scoop from my sick-couch! Pray I am better by tomorrow morning. I have to be.


Review: In A World Just Right by Jen Brooks

I met Jen Brooks during a panel discussion we were both a part of last November, and I was fascinated by the excerpt she read from In A World Just Right. I bought a copy that very night, but I haven’t had a chance to dive in until yesterday. I started it yesterday. I finished it yesterday. I was home sick from work, so I legit just read for eight hours straight.

in a world just rightThis book.

Let me tell you.

The premise is clever: ever since Jonathan went through a traumatic accident at age eight, he’s been a world-maker, that is, he can invent worlds and come and go from them as he pleases. The one he spends the most time in is Kylie-Simms-is-my-girlfriend, where– you guessed it– Kylie Simms is his girlfriend. In real life, that’s not even close to being true. Jonathan is a bit of an outcast, mostly invisible to his classmates.

Fascinating, right?

Things get trickier from there, once the real Kylie Simms starts paying attention to him and Jonathan starts learning the extent of his powers and has to deal with some pretty huge moral decisions. Like, fantastically huge. He really, really wrestles through things, and I loved him for it.

Then things get even trickier. Really.

Let’s just say that this is as close to a YA Inception that I’ve ever read. That’s a good thing– no, a great thing.

About halfway through, I tweeted to Jen that “I can’t figure out how in the world(s) this will end,” and she tweeted back, “Fingers crossed you like where it ends up. :)”

After my eight-hour journey of my mind being blown, I tweeted her, “PERFECT ENDING!”

Not my typical read, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. You guys know I love books that make me think. This book will make you think.


Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

It feels like a million years ago that Marisa Reichardt first contacted me– she wanted to interview me for The Sweet Sixteens (interview here). I sent her a PDF copy of Truest, since there weren’t even ARCs at that time. Since then, Marisa has become so dear to me, someone I can go to about all my writer-problems, someone who gets it and is brimming with compassion and empathy.

underwater3Now it was my turn to read her book!

Underwater is Morgan’s story– readers learn in the earliest pages that she was witness to a school shooting and has since been dealing with agoraphobia. Yes, Morgan has not left her family’s apartment in months. Then a new guy moves in next door, and things start to change.

My favorite part of this book was how much I understood what Morgan was going through– the panic, at first, then later, as she begins to venture out (starting with just the welcome mat!), the way she has to sit with so much uncertainty and fear– but how she accommodates to it! I had the distinct thought, “This is exposure therapy. This is also how you treat OCD.” Afterward, I looked it up online, to see if my guesses were right. The sites that I looked at talked specifically about exposure therapy being the best treatment for agoraphobia.

Mind. Blown.

Here I thought we with OCD had the corner on the exposure therapy market! Not so.

Some reviews I read said that the book is a little dark and heavy– but I disagree. Well, time out. Yes, it begins dark and heavy. But it should. We are dealing with PTSD here, people, not a hangnail! But what I loved most about Underwater was how it bent toward the light.

time & books & paradoxes

As many of you regular blog readers already know, I just recently set aside the novel I spent the last 14 months working on and decided to instead focus on a different story.

Today my editor emailed me with a new timeline: Salt Novel will likely be published in summer 2018.

On the one hand, this is such a relief. I’m tremendously grateful for an editor who cares so much about putting out a quality piece of literature that she’s willing to give me the space to make it the best it can be. So many publishers seem to demand a book a year from their authors, and my life is just not conducive to that kind of rushed production. I’m lucky.

On the other hand, one of my writer-friends just announced today his book deal for books #3 and #4. He debuted with me last year. His second book comes out this year. The third in 2017, and the fourth in 2018. And I can’t help but think, Wow, he will have four books out when my second one is published. There’s a little bit of envy there, yes.

I don’t know. I’d love to be prolific, but the stress of producing a book a year doesn’t feel worth it or even realistic for me. I am so glad for the extended timeline, but then I wonder old books isolated on whiteif my career is going to be hampered by it.

Just sounding off tonight. Needed to type up my thoughts. Care to chime in?: do you get antsy when your favorite writers take a long time to write their books? Or do you appreciate it?


Review: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

weight of feathersFirst of all, can we just pause and admire that cover? So gorgeous.

The Weight of Feathers a magical, enchanted story along the lines of Romeo and Juliet. The Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies for over a generation. Both are traveling Romani families who perform their “magical” shows– the Palomas have a mermaid show, and the Corbeaus have a winged-birds-in-the-trees show, both of which are fascinating. Each believes the other family uses black magic, and these families are serious rivals: to even touch a member of the opposite family could mean death or shunning. But when an accident happens, Lace Paloma is rescued by Cluck Corbeau, and that opens up the world of the Corbeaus to her.

It’s so beautifully written. It’s magical realism at its finest. I’ve seen comparisons to The Night Circus (which is one of my all-time favorites), and I agree with the description. Beautiful writing, lovely characters, fascinating setting, and a few WHOA twists and turns make this book a joy to read. I tore through it.

I wanted a little more from the ending (justice! revenge!), but overall, a lovely, lovely book.