“Yeah, um, I don’t like to read.”

ConversationsI’m not that good at starting them. Some people might think I’m odd, but one of the questions I might ask a stranger is what she or he is reading. I was at a writing group one time, and met a girl who was close to my age. She had just read an excerpt from her fiction short story. Asking for her reading preference didn’t seem unusual to me, especially because we were in a writing environment, but then she laughed shortly and answered:

“Yeah, um, I don’t like to read.”

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I tried hiding my shock, but I’m told that my emotions show.

In general I’m not bothered by people who don’t like to read. It’s perfectly fine for people to consume information through a different medium. But it doesn’t make sense to me when I hear that a writer dislikes reading. For my entire life, reading and writing have always gone hand in hand.

Let me explain how I started writing. I read the Harry Potter series over and over again, and in between each book release I created elaborate stories involving Rowling’s characters (aka, fanfiction). Eventually, I realized that my plots involved little to no magic, and my characters were unlike the characters within Rowling’s pages, so I knew that I’d outgrown the Harry Potter world, and needed to create my own. I started writing because I liked reading so much and I wanted different things to read.

I can say that one of my main sources of inspiration stems from the books I read (Harry Potter is only one example). When I can’t think of anything to write, I find refuge in books. True, there have been times when I purposely stopped reading. I foolishly convinced myself that I should focus on my own writing, that I should create sentences and stories, not absorb them. I also worried that by reading and writing at the same time I might accidentally compose a sentence that sounds good, only to realize I had read it in someone else’s work. However, I’ve learned that inspiration doesn’t mean plagiarism (well, to Shia LaBeouf it might). It’s taking one small, compressed detail in an existing work and expanding it into a completely different piece.

Take postmodern literature for example. Wide Sargasso Sea explores the life of a character who later becomes the madwoman in the attic in Jane Eyre. You can also consider more irreverent titles like Jane Slayre, which re-imagines the title character as a demon-slaying heroine. While still relying on the bare bones of Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys and Sherri Browning Erwin‘s novels created something different from the original story.

Additionally, writers who read have a better sense of their place in the spectrum of existing writers, and this awareness helps when you’re trying to establish your writing career. In publishing, there’s something called a Hollywood formula. When pitching a book in a letter, sometimes it’s easiest to write, “This book is such and such meets such and such.” Inception meets 10 Things I Hate About You. Um, well, that might be a weird description. I don’t even know how to make sense of that . . . I hope you get my point. Just one sentence can help an editor understand the content of your work, but it’s near impossible to make comparisons without possessing knowledge of those who are deemed great writers in your genre.

By reading, writers also gain literary aspirations. Be jealous of great writers! I’m constantly envious of today’s writers; I’ve read works from storytellers like Kate Milliken and Denis Johnson, and I think, “Damn. These people are unbelievably good.” I endeavor to be like them one daynot for the fame, but for the ability to evoke powerful, lasting emotions in strangers. People often say that you learn a lot from life, but I’ve learned so much from writers. (I guess what I’m saying is redundant because writers essentially mold life and its peculiarities into plausible words and sentences). I learned about the economy in writing from Raymond Carver, the unnecessary existence of form and punctuation from José Saramago, and the art of writing fascinating disturbed characters from Vladimir Nabokov, Ian McEwan, and Bret Easton Ellis.

If I could meet this non-reader writer againdespite the size of New York, it’s still a possibilityI’d encourage her to read more and read well, and perhaps leave her with this quote from Stephen King regarding the synergy between reading and writing:

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. . . .” (Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)

I’m interested to see which books have influenced writers the most. I’m starting a page called A Writer’s Toolbox, and would love to hear your suggestions. Comment or answer the poll below!

In search of a writing community

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Oh wow! Writers in their natural habitats!

In a previous blog post, I wrote about loneliness and the transition from college life to semi-adult life. Short summary: It wasn’t going very well. My way of coping, of abating that loneliness, was to write. Interestingly enough, after I published that post, a stranger on Twitter suggested that writing could also be the cause of loneliness. I suppose this person is half-right; when you’re doing something you love, you’re in the moment, and you can forget where you are. But I don’t want writing to prevent me from meeting people; I decided that writing should help me meet people.

I immediately began my search for writing groups in NYC and Brooklyn, and let me tell you: The quest was exhausting. I left my first meeting feeling utterly disappointed. I was the youngest person in attendance, and felt as if the older members devalued my opinions. They were also creepy.

Then I attended a Gotham Writers’ Workshop course in downtown Brooklyn, which turned out to be a much better experience. I felt included—perhaps it was because the instructor sought to make all writers feel comfortable. Despite this, I’m not sure I’d want to pay $20 for another course. The instructor only allowed us to offer positive feedback. I’m all for positive energy, but I wonder how we’ll improve as writers if we receive only positive feedback. Perhaps I am used to seeing my writing be brutally torn apart, thanks to my journalism experience (starting with the time I got a 76 on my first journalism assignment in Dr. Simon’s freshman news writing class…but that doesn’t really matter…)

Anyways, guys, I’ve finally found a writers’ group. It’s been around for twelve years, with a solid core and a welcoming attitude toward newer members like moi. I’ve attended four meetings so far, recently returning from a session last night, and I feel like I can belong here eventually. I really enjoyed meeting and talking to the other writers. There’s a writer who is a financial analyst by day and a horror screenwriter by night, a former Silicon Valley techie working on a (surprise!) technology thriller, and a librarian writing the next big teen novel (sans vampires).

Here’s the drill: we chat for a few minutes and then take an hour to work on our writing. After the host says stop, we spend two and a half hours reading and critiquing each other’s works. Three types of readers usually show up to these meetings. There are the immediate volunteers. This person is confident enough to be the first to read. Or, this person is overly confident and likes the sound of his or her own voice (ew). There are the reluctant sharers. They look around and see no one volunteering. They decide, after a sigh, to read. There are the oh-god-don’t-look-at-me non-readers. They usually sit in the corner and frantically shake their heads when asked to read. They don’t share in fear that they might be horrible—but by doing this, they might be brilliant writers, but we’d never know it.

I can be any of these three types of people, but I tend to be the reluctant reader. I’ve always been a self-conscious speaker, because I stumble over my words. Good thing I can practice at these meetings! It actually helps to listen to myself. For example, if I struggle with a sentence, I make sure to mark the spot and see if I can smooth it out later.

As much as I love writing and reading my work, my favorite part is the feedback session. Over the years I’ve received countless writing advice from trustworthy writers, and I like to absorb all that I can to become a better writer. Naturally, I want other writers to feel like they’re receiving constructive feedback—something they can use and not just think about. At the last group meeting, our critique got intensely detailed. For about twenty minutes, we pondered if it was right for a particular character to drink Bass Pale Ale. Yes, I know how silly that sounds, but we were all serious! Is this character really a Bass guy? Or would he drink Guinness? Decisions, decisions (As a non-drinker, I tried to play along).

I do worry, however, that some feedback will go unheard. Writers can’t help but feel a small stab whenever they receive critiques. There are some who can swallow their pride, and there are others who feel the need to defend their every word. I’m sure people have felt the frustration of explaining a critique only to find a writer completely intolerant to the idea that maybe – just maybe – they have committed a fault in their writing. Because of this, I sometimes prefer writing feedback, rather than giving it to the person upfront (yay reader’s reports!)

I’m so excited for more writing sessions!

In effort to become more social on the web (I hear writers need to do that these days), here’s a question to end this post: writers, what do you think of writers’ groups?

 

 

 

 

My Reading Resolution (Thanks, Random House!)

Retreat, a blog from Random House of Canada that seeks to help the average reader “read, retreat, and relax,” recently posted a fun activity for the year 2013. I can’t tell you how many times I tell myself to read instead of sleeping until noon every day during school break. My laziness is seriously inhibiting my resolution to read more. But I am also hesitant because I don’t know where to start. What’s in and what’s out in the publishing industry?

Luckily, Retreat understands that life gets in the way of pleasure reading, which is why the bloggers decided to provide motivation with their new Reading Bingo 2013 Challenge. The bingo card has 25 boxes that describe different books. I can choose a book because of its cover, because it’s a book recommended to me, because it has a great first line, and etc. Apparently I can try to fill a row or diagonal (like in the actual game) or I can conquer the whole card. I’m choosing the latter, since I know I’ll be seriously challenged by that number. I like that this game allows me to read books from different genres. I typically read thrillers and contemporary fiction, but I’ll have to read a book of poetry and a book by a Canadian author (of course: this is Random House of Canada).

After a lot of research and an hour of memory retrieval, I’ve planned out my bingo card.

Books

Sorry, my handwriting is so messy. But at least the image is clear–thanks to my iPhone.

This is a long post, so if you are interested in seeing a few books, look at this list and press a bullet for a more detailed description. If you have time to spare, read on, my peeps.

 

A book you chose because of the cover: “Obsession,” by Leonard J. Davis

Summary from Amazon: We live in an age of obsession. Not only are we hopelessly devoted to our work, strangely addicted to our favorite television shows, and desperately impassioned about our cars, we admire obsession in others: we demand that lovers be infatuated with one another in films, we respond to the passion of single-minded musicians, we cheer on driven athletes. To be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern.

But obsession is not only a phenomenon of modern existence: it is a medical category—both a pathology and a goal. Behind this paradox lies a fascinating history, which Lennard J. Davis tells in Obsession. Beginning with the roots of the disease in demonic possession and its secular successors, Davis traces the evolution of obsessive behavior from a social and religious fact of life into a medical and psychiatric problem. From obsessive aspects of professional specialization to obsessive compulsive disorder and nymphomania, no variety of obsession eludes Davis’s graceful analysis.

 Just look at the cover. This is designer porn right here. I don’t have a zoom function, but apparently the obsession typeface was not produced via Photoshop; it was handmade by poking “tiny pinpricks through heavy cardstock.” Credits for the design and lettering go to Isaac Tobin and Lauren Nassef, respectively. The summary is also intriguing. The line “to be obsessive is to be American; to be obsessive is to be modern,” caught my attention, leading me to ask: “Are we really defined by this phenomenon?” Reading this nonfiction book will surely be an eye-opening experience.

A book you saw someone reading: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by David Foster Wallace

Summary from Amazon: “In this exuberantly praised book – a collection of seven pieces on subjects ranging from television to tennis, from the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, from postmodern literary theory to the supposed fun of traveling aboard a Caribbean luxury cruiseliner – David Foster Wallace brings to nonfiction the same curiosity, hilarity, and exhilarating verbal facility that has delighted readers of his fiction, including the bestselling Infinite Jest.”

I haven’t spotted anyone reading a physical book in a while. See, the negative aspect of e-readers is that you can never figure out what a stranger is reading! However, I’ve consulted one of my favorite Tumblrs called Underground New York Public Library. Moroccan/New Yorker photographer Ourit Ben-Haïm takes pictures of people reading in the subway. Though she puts in e-reader up once in a while, many of the pictures show people and the books they’re reading. On the front page, I found “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by the famous David Foster Wallace.

A book that will help with your career: “Object Lessons,” by The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story

Yup. That’s me with “Object Lessons.”


Some chose classics. Some chose stories that were new even to us. Our hope is that this collection will be useful to young writers, and to others interested in literary technique. Most of all, it is intended for readers who are not (or are no longer) in the habit of reading short stories. We hope these object lessons will remind them how varied the form can be, how vital it remains, and how much pleasure it can give.”

My sister gave me this book for Christmas, and I’ve been perusing it occasionally. I’m excited to dig deeper. I’m considering both journalism and publishing careers, and I see no better way to learn writing than to read select stories from masters. I also admit that I’m not one to read short stories for fun, even though I aspire to write them. I mostly read short story submissions for Dogwood and my Fiction I class. It’s sad, I know, but I’m trying to change. This past summer I picked up a collection from Ernest Hemingway, and I loved it. My next collection after this book is “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders. I never heard of him until I read this ridiculously well-written article by Joel Lovell in The New York Times.

A book you saw on TV: “The Beautiful and the Damned,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Summary from Goodreads: “… the story of Harvard-educated, aspiring aesthete Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife, Gloria. As they await the inheritance of his grandfather’s fortune, their reckless marriage sways under the influence of alcohol and avarice. A devastating look at the nouveau riche and New York nightlife, as well as the ruinous effects wild ambition…”

A friend tells me that this novel was mentioned in an episode of “Gossip Girls.” Fitting, I believe.

A book with an animal on the cover: “Disgrace,” by J.M. Coetzee


Summary from Goodreads: “…tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University. Lurie believes he has created a comfortable, if somewhat passionless, life for himself. He lives within his financial and emotional means. Though his position at the university has been reduced, he teaches his classes dutifully; and while age has diminished his attractiveness, weekly visits to a prostitute satisfy his sexual needs. He considers himself happy. But when Lurie seduces one of his students, he sets in motion a chain of events that will shatter his complacency and leave him utterly disgraced.”

I only know Coetzee as a post-modern writer, but ooh la la, what a plot. By the way, the animal is a dog on the cover.

A book from the library: Random!

A book that is out of your comfort zone: “Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Robert A. Heinlein

Summary from Amazon: “…an epic saga of an earthling, Valentine Michael Smith, born and educated on Mars, who arrives on our planet with psi powers—telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, teleportation, pyrolysis, and the ability to take control of the minds of others—and complete innocence regarding the mores of man…Valentine begins his transformation into a messiah figure. His introduction into Earth society, together with his exceptional abilities, lead Valentine to become many things to many people: freak, scam artist, media commodity, searcher, free-love pioneer, neon evangelist, and martyr.”


I’ve only read two science fiction books in my life: Ender’s Game and Shade’s Children. It’s not that I don’t want to read in that genre; it’s just not on the top of my list. For the spring semester, I will be enrolled in an Introduction to Science Fiction class and I will have to read “Stranger.” There’s no better motivation than mandatory reading.

An award-winning book: “Tinkers,” by Paul Harding

Summary from The Pulitzer Prizes: The novel is “… a powerful celebration of life in which a New England father and son, through suffering and joy, transcend their imprisoning lives and offer new ways of perceiving the world and mortality.”

I like depressing books. I like happy books. Makes sense to me.

A book recommended by your local bookseller: “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders

There’s already praise in the book description on Amazon: “Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.”

Taken from Lovell’s article, Saunders on David Foster Wallace and what it means to write: “I admired him so much,” he said about Wallace. “His on-the-spot capabilities were just incredible. And I thought, Yeah, we’re a lot alike. We’re similar, nervous guys. And then when he died, I thought [of myself], Wait a minute, you’re not like that. You don’t have chronic, killing depression. I’m sad sometimes, but I’m not depressed. And I also have a mawkish, natural enthusiasm for things. I like being alive in a way that’s a little bit cheerleaderish, and I always felt that around Dave. When he died, I saw how unnegotiable it was, that kind of depression. And it led to my being a little more honest about one’s natural disposition. If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you’ve doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it” — which is, in part, what the process of writing allows — “then the possibility exists that you can convert it.”

A young adult novel: “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green


Summary from Goodreads: A girl who has tumours in her lungs meets a guy who is, for some reason, attracted to her. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.”

This was recommended to me by my good friend, Ali, who texted: “Yeah, it’s really good. You would like it especially.” Since Ali knows me very well, I’ll trust her judgment. I think I’ll like it because I already love John. Let me tell you: John and his brother Hank are some of my favorite YouTube Vloggers. They’re the epitome of nerds (followers are called ‘nerdfighters,’) and they are awesome. Based on the summary, I can expect to get a huge dose of angst, romance and life lessons.


A book that’s been on your shelf for more than 5 years: “The Book of Fate,” by Brad Meltzer


“Washington, D.C., has a two-hundred-year-old secret. Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead. None of us knew it was coming. So says Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide, about the day he put Ron Boyle, the chief executive’s oldest friend, into the president’s limousine. By the trip’s end, a crazed assassin would permanently disfigure Wes and kill Boyle. Now, eight years later, Boyle has been spotted alive. Trying to figure out what really happened takes Wes back into disturbing secrets buried in Freemason history, a decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, a two hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson that conceals secrets worth dying for.”

And I ask myself: Why has this been on my shelf for five years?

A book someone recommends to you: Random!

A book with a great first line: “Metamorphosis,” by Franz Kafka

Summary from Goodreads: “It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction.
As W.H. Auden wrote, “Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”

First line is: “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.”

A book written by a celebrity: “The Pleasure of My Company,” by Steve Martin

Summary from Amazon: “Daniel resides in his Santa Monica apartment, living much of his life as a bystander…It is through Daniel’s growing attachment to Clarissa, and to Teddy, that he finally gains the courage to begin to engage the world outside, and in doing so, he discovers love, and life, in the most surprising places.”

You’ll never catch me reading Snooki’s biography. So, I chose a funny man named Steve Martin instead. In addition to acting in comedic films, Martin also writes and makes music.

A book with more than 400 pages: “Anna Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy

Summary from Amazon: “…tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.”

This is a classic. I bought my copy at a book sale, and I’ve gone through maybe a hundred pages already. Yeah, I know, I need to get working. You don’t have to tell me that again.

A book of poetry: “Theories and Apparitions,” by Mark Doty

From The Independent: Urbane New York peregrinations and conversational musings from the prizewinning American.

Again, I am not a poet; the best I can do is a haiku–a sorely, horrible, and uncreative haiku. This book of poetry can go in hand with the “book that is out of your comfort zone.” I found this book on the Independent website as part of their ‘Ten Best-Selling Poetry Books,’ and I usually trust their judgment.

A book you heard about on the radio: Random!

A book with pictures: “Watchmen,” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Summary from Amazon: “This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.”

I’ve only read “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel and “Stitches,” by David Small (both from my college English courses!), but these two have spurred my love for graphic novels. I’ve heard of “Watchmen,” and its raving reviews from graphic novel fans, so I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon and check it out. As long as the storyline is compelling and graphics are amazing, I’m sold. Then again, that can be pretty hard to do.

A book recommended by barista: Random!

Hold on – looking for a barista. Contact me if you can suggest a good person or received a great recommendation!

A book recommended by a celebrity: “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn

Summary from Amazon: Marriage can be a real killer. One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong.

I’m not sure if ‘unputdownable’ is a word, but I’ll let it slide, Amazon. Anderson Cooper and I have a close and personal relationship, and he told me once over a cup of Chai Latte on the streets of Paris that I should read this novel. Andy, I hear you now. Will I like it? I don’t know; the ‘suspense’ is killing me 😉

 

A book by a Canadian author: “Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel

Summary from Amazon: The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them “the truth.” After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional–but is it more true?

Canadian, ey? JOKES! I honestly don’t know what a Canadian accent sounds like, but I bet Canadians are super nice. I always thought of this novel as a kid’s book because of the cover, which is why I stayed away from it. However, people have been telling me to read this, so I will. Guess I’ll see the movie after.


A book you (should have) read in high school: “The Heart of Darkness,” by Joseph Conrad

How dare you, Random House! Of course I’ve read–well, kind of-not-really–OKAY! You caught me, sneaky publishing house. I’ve perused HoD and watched the totally tripping movie version, but I’ll try and get a closer reading of it when I have the time.

From Amazon: Heart of Darkness tells of Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, who journeys into the heart of the African continent to discover how the enigmatic Kurtz has gained power over the local people.

A book you would have picked up as a teenager:  “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens

Summary from Goodreads: After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the aging Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

A book “everyone” but you has read:  “Lord of the Ring” series by J.R.R. Tolkien

At first I wanted to read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E.L. James, but then I decided against it. “Everyone,” in that case, only applies to the female population. My next choice is the LoTR. I used to be a total “Harry Potter” snob. I said, “No, HP is the best!” (Not that it’s a bad thing, but now that I think about it, that assumption sounds so narrow-minded. Luckily no one punched me.) I’ve grown out of that phase and now I want to go back and read what everyone seemed to obsess over in middle school and high school. I saw the movies–fantastic–but I admit I still don’t understand the whole evil eye thing.

I really hope I can complete this challenge. Rereading this post, I’m getting excited about buying and borrowing these books! And you’ll be glad to know that I am sticking with printed books. Reading on e-readers actually cause strain on my eyes. Also, e-readers cannot replace the sensation of paper between your fingers.

Now, I am curious…what will you read? Comment below, you brave souls who stuck around.

Many of these images were found using Creative Commons

Short fiction piece: Freedom

I’m reading this short piece tomorrow at a gathering for creative writers. I’m so nervous. I don’t often read my fiction to people other than my close friends. Wish me luck!

Update: It wasn’t bad at all! Everyone seemed nervous but when they started reading from the podium, they sailed through. People read a variety of works. I read short fiction. My roommate, Ali, read a nonfiction piece about ‘catastrophic diarrhea,’ which sounds disgusting but was absolutely hilarious. One person from my fiction class read spoken word and I didn’t know that he was so good at it! A really nervous-looking girl read a poem in which she made a metaphor out of one person’s body part. Who thinks of that?

I left this event feeling extremely fulfilled. We all bared some bit of our souls, so in the end, it didn’t matter if one person messed up or not. What mattered was that we, as creative writers, took the step to read works that we usually keep to ourselves.

The event also made me think about the future. Representatives from Fairfield University’s MFA program discussed how life-changing the seminars and meetings were. They have a community of writers willing to critique and comment on each others’ work. I wish we had more of that at school.

I mean, sure, we have Inkwell, the student-run literary magazine, but at the meetings, we do prompts and read unfinished work. I know that a lot of students don’t feel comfortable reading something that’s unedited and based off a prompt. I think that people might prefer to have a set time and date to read finished masterpieces, and then accept constructive criticisms. I had time to talk to the people who’ve read at this event and they all seemed to agree that this event had somehow changed the writer in them. I can see the confidence in the way they talked about their experience. I sense some coffee shop readings in the future.

Overall, I am so glad that I went to this event and I hope that the creative writing department holds more of these in order to nurture the writing community that they talked about.

Freedom

by Loan Le

When Abby shot the security guard, she didn’t notice that her father, who was pinned underneath the other man’s knee, stopped struggling against his impending arrest. She didn’t know at the time that the gleaming golden bullet from her Glock 27 would make a nearly straight path toward the guard’s neck and lodge itself in his external jugular vein. Abby had only wanted it to go for his shoulder or arm, or anything that’d stop him from reaching for his handcuffs, which were intended for her father. The split second after she sees the guard’s blood spurt in different directions, she naively thinks that, somehow, he’d be alright. Somehow, the mahogany flesh encasing the guard’s massive neck would diminish the bullet’s impact.

The guard didn’t see her. The guard didn’t know that he’d die on a Tuesday in October at 8:14 in the morning. The 250-pound guard collapses on top of her father, who then grimaces at the added weight to his much smaller prone body. Abby doesn’t help him up, not immediately, that is, because she finds that she can’t move her legs. The Glock drops to her feet, only to skid across the sleek marble floor of the bank. Around her, people, who waited to cash in a check or pay their late mortgages, clamber over the black bars that kept them in line, and they run from her, the sixteen-year-old girl who just wanted to help her father pay the bills.

He can’t be dead, she thinks.

If her brother Hayden was with her, Abby knew he’d look at the guard and say, “Wow, good shot, Abs,” because that’s the type of sick guy he is—was … well, before he overdosed two months ago. Hayden would push the man’s body off their father’s. He’d even shoot the guy again for a good measure. He’d tell Abby to run. Abby needs someone to tell her what to do, because right now, she’s stuck. She feels a sudden, new ache in the part that burns whenever she cries alone in her bathroom, the part that perks up when she learns that they’d have enough money to last the month, the part that yearns for freedom. Abby knows the name of this intruder that’s gnawing at her insides, it’s called ‘remorse,’ and she doesn’t like how it feels, but she can’t stop herself from recognizing the calamity that she has caused. As she stares blindly at her trembling hands, she wonders if the man had a toddler waiting at home, excited to see her “Dada” after a long day of work. She imagines the wife who will never again run her hand through her husband’s mousy brown hair in a show of absent-minded affection. Abby thinks of all this because that’s the kind of girl she is – the soft-spoken girl who never, ever imagined that she could kill.

This isn’t what she imagined would happen when she first agreed to help plan robberies with her father and Hayden. If she could have predicted this, she would have said no the day her father told her: “I promise, it’ll only be this one time.” She pictures in her head that cloudy summer morning, when they had, for the third time that week, charred Spam and runny scrambled eggs. She sees her twelve and a half-year-old thin self, hunched over her chipped Ikea plate, holding her shoulders in a way so that her nipples wouldn’t brush up against her T-shirt. At the time, she was growing what all girls her age wanted, but she also knew that her family had no money, and buying training bras were not on the top of the family’s list of priorities. Her father’s plan seemed like the only option they had, so she said yes.

But now, now, as the bank is empty, as her father reaches for her, she finds herself inexplicably caught in what she wanted to escape that day she said yes. Trouble. Confusion. Desperation. She knows that this is the last time she’d steal anything.

The doors to the bank open up, the entrance bell’s chime gets Abby’s attention. She hears the quick footsteps of the officers who barrel themselves into the lobby and their shouts to “Get down!” and “Drop your weapons!” The dead man is pushed unceremoniously off her father, and before he has the time to rub the pain away from his aching chest, the SWAT officers grab hold of him and roughly slam him back onto his stomach.  Abby’s pale blue eyes connect with the officer who’s pointing the nozzle of a gun at her.

She wants to run away. But then she searches for her father. His gray hair has speckles of blood on it. Her father refuses to look at her, now that he’s being led away. She feels a light hand on her left arm; she glances down and back up to see that a redheaded cop is touching her. Her fingers are light on Abby’s pale and dry skin. Abby thinks this is the maternal instinct of the cop coming out. Maybe the cop feels sorry for her – Abby’s only sixteen and going to jail. She killed for her father. She killed because of him.

Abby’s not going anywhere for a long time.