WAITING ON WEDNESDAY #24

I was thrilled to see my book has started popping up in more places. On podcasts, in reviews, and now in a few weekly spotlight blogs. Cheers!

Flying Through Fiction

WAITING ON” WEDNESDAY IS A WEEKLY EVENT, HOSTED BY BREAKING THE SPINE, THAT SPOTLIGHTS UPCOMING RELEASES THAT WE’RE EAGERLY ANTICIPATING.

nyxWritten by: Scott Reintgen

Release Date: September 12th, 2017

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 Synopsis:

A Detroit teen accepts an interstellar space contract only to realize the promised millions must be won in a brutal competition where winners face the ultimate choice—take the money and become pawns in the corporation’s sinister plans or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise their humanity.

That tagline, though. Does it not make you intrigued? And that awesome synopsis? Sci-fi isn’t a genre I generally reach for but this one just sounds really good! I always looove reading about competitions in novels because it just gets me so hyped up and excited for everything that’s going on! So I am definitely highly anticipating this one!

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Congratulations to K.D. Edwards

I just wanted to take a second to congratulate a member of my writing group. K.D. Edwards deal announcement can be found here on the kt literary website:

http://ktliterary.com/2016/12/sold-congratulations-to-k-d-edwards/

I had the pleasure of working with K.D. over the last five years or so. I jumped into his debut novel and participated in critiquing it for nearly a year. Let me say with bold confidence that this is one of the most dynamic, incredible worlds I’ve ever read. Paired with Keith’s breathtaking prose and two, addicting central characters… It’s a book that should be on everyone’s radar. Thrilled for his deal and thrilled to see what comes next.

This is just one of those products that I’ll endorse over, and over, and over again until its publication date. It’s that good, it’s that worthy of your time and attention. Go read!

LEARN: Trigger Warnings

I’m planning a number of short blog posts that will explore concepts, phrases, and beliefs that I think are often misunderstood. Recent conversations, however, have helped me see that it’s worth offering some concise explanations to friends and relatives about a number of issues. This series will all be labeled “LEARN”. I’ve chosen to emphasize that word because it’s not meant to be some slamming opinion that knocks you off your feet. I also want to make it clear that I am not some self-appointed expert. I am daily learning how my actions and words have an impact on those around me. These posts are simply meant to express a side of these issues that you might not have considered. Many will be better versed on the subject; please feel free to add your knowledge. I ask only that you consider the information and decide whether or not it might be useful for you in the future.

 

Let’s start with the first subject: trigger warnings.

Below I’ve linked an article that I think explores the topic, especially in light of recent news, quite well. It will go much deeper into the subject than I do. It’s worth a read:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/university-of-chicago-trigger-warning_us_57bf16d9e4b085c1ff28176d

Let’s define first. Trigger warnings can be attached to books, poems, essays, lectures, etc. They are used in a similar fashion to movie content warnings. A movie that is rated R immediately moves into a specific category in your mind. If that movie is labeled as having adult language, you would have an even more specific idea of what you can expect. The goal is simply to give a potential audience an initial warning about topics that are potentially connected to issues that are normally connected to various traumas. A warning can a) mentally prepare a person for the upcoming subject of material or b) give that person an opportunity to remove themselves from the experience.

Now an example: My creative writing students often wrote and shared their poems. Early in my classes, we introduced the concept of announcing trigger warnings. If a student wanted to explore the concept of sexual harassment, I wanted my class to be a place where they could artistically examine their experiences, their fears, and their beliefs on those subjects. However, before sharing their poem I might ask them to say the phrase: “Trigger Warning – Sexual Assault.” At that point, I would give students about 30 seconds to make a decision. If students were free to write about a subject, they were also free to remove themselves from hearing about that subject. It was common practice for my students to politely step out of my room as the writer began their poem.

Let’s examine why this is a good practice. As that Huffington Post article states, trigger warnings were first introduced in connection to soldiers, war, and PTSD. It was clear that certain experiences could trigger the feelings, fears, and experiences of war when a soldier returned home. This eventually expanded, as researchers realized symptoms of PTSD weren’t limited to people who fought in wars. Victims of sexual assault, racism, abuse, etc. could also experience these symptoms.

As a teacher, I was always stunned by how much my students had been through. I have lived a relatively trauma free life. It hasn’t been entirely free of pain, but even at this point in my life, I can say that there have been only a handful of truly difficult experiences. My students, on the other hand, deal with the deaths of their loved ones. Many experience sexual assault. Others are victims of racism. Every year I had a handful of students who, as grades dropped, would reveal an experience of personal pain that left me dumbfounded.

So I know that many people feel trigger warnings have gone too far. I know many people feel that our next generation isn’t tough. I’m willing to accept there are examples in which the idea of trigger warnings might seem to stretch beyond the initial intent of the practice… but I would ask you to examine whether or not it is fair to use outliers to dismiss the need to be sensitive to the pain of other people.

The thing I respect the most about the practice of trigger warnings is that it costs almost nothing. At the most, you could say it cost me 30 seconds. Before showing a certain spoken word poem, I would pause. “This next poem deals honestly with the abuses suffered by many students who identify as gay. While I feel the ultimate message is one of hope and one that emphasizes your ability to make a difference in the lives of marginalized students, I want to be clear that this poem uses evocative images that might be sensitive to anyone who has dealt with this pain, or who has friends/family who have dealt with bullying. I’m going to give anyone who needs to step outside a second to do so.”

So my final challenges. What does it cost you to consider how you speak? What does it cost to provide a warning when content could potentially bring out painful memories? Why are you opposed to the idea of treating people with sensitivity? In what ways does the existence of trigger warnings actually offend or do damage to you personally? What subjects make you squeamish, or outright uncomfortable? Is there a scenario in which the discussion of those personal events would make you feel even more uncomfortable? When you express dislike for trigger warnings, who is at the center of your thoughts? Are you thinking about your own personal tastes, strengths, personality, and experiences? Are you thinking about others and their concerns above your own? In these conversations, is there a measure of mercy in how you’re viewing people? Is their love in your thoughts?

 

My personal take: If I ever have an opportunity to reduce the pain and hurt another person experiences, I’d like to take it. The use of trigger warnings works to allow students space to explore personal pain without forcing others to re-experience that pain.

That’s all I’ve got. Until next time.

School Visit Advice

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This post really goes out to all my writing friends, many of whom are debuts, and will focus on some basic strategies for making a school visit successful. To give you a sense of my experience, I was an educator for four years. I taught English and Creative Writing at the high school level. I teach every summer at Duke Young Writers’ Camp. Before that, I was a YoungLife leader in Durham, NC. I’ve basically spent the last eight years speaking in front of and to teenagers.

But only recently have I really done so with the focused identity of a writer. So I’m a work-in-progress, but speaking at some thirty events over the past 6 months has given me some perspective. So I’ll go through some basics below. I hope you find them helpful:

  1. Getting in touch. A lot of people just want to know how to make first contact. Research is required. I have a network in place already (as I was a teacher), but most of the time I’m reaching out to new schools. My usual route is visiting the school website. I find the email address of the English department chair and the emails of the school’s librarians. I’ve got a “form” email that is short, effective. Remember that teachers have very hectic email accounts. You want to avoid the overload, in-your-face email. Mine is about two paragraphs long. I usually share a few things:
    1. Who am I? Why would they want me to talk to their kids?
    2. What can they expect? What is the format of my visit?
    3. Resources and materials for them to choose from.
  2. Make it easy on the teacher. Right now, most of my talks are on the level of individual class sessions. I have prepared six different mini-lessons (Example: Opening Image Exercise). I’ve formatted these so they are easy to copy. Never more than a front and back one-pager. I also have a half-sheet that introduces me. One side has my book summary, contact info, etc. The other side has an excerpt. I make it very clear that the teacher simply needs to provide copies for me. They don’t have to do any other actual work besides choosing which lesson fits their class best.
  3. Find a format that works.  My run time is about an hour and fifteen minutes. In our district, that’s almost a full class period. There’s no one size fits all. You just have to figure out what works best for you. My format is:
    1. Introduction – I describe my book, share funny stories about becoming a writer, and try to make the students laugh a lot.
    2. Question and Answer – Big tip here… Request that the teacher have every student come up with five questions to ask an author. Request that they have those out when you come in. Q and A is super awkward if the three kids ask a question and then you stare at each other.
    3. Mini-Lessons – Remember this is not time for a lecture. That might work at the collegiate level, but you’ve already been talking at the students for about 20 minutes by now. This activity should get them doing some writing, or discussion in groups. Something that breaks the dynamic of you speaking and them listening.
    4. Final Questions/Message/Info- This varies. Sometimes the lesson excites students and they have all kinds of new questions they were too shy to ask before. Sometimes I deliver a message about being the best WHATEVER you want to be. Often, I have only enough time to remind them of where to find my book when it comes out and how to follow me on social medias.
  4. Invite their interests into the process. During my typical mini-lesson, students do some writing. I always invite them to share, but I also ask them to say their name and  what kinds of stories they write. Engagement rises when someone is given ownership in something.
  5. If possible, be funny. I know this isn’t everyone’s bag… but I get silly and stupid up in front of teenagers. Sometimes the jokes don’t work. Sometimes they’re huge hits. I’ve noticed the number one correlation, though, with students remembering me or following up with me on social media is humor. The second is the desire for me to read their work.
  6. Talk to and engage with the teacher. They’re the one who might remind students of your book. They’re the one who you’ll want to follow up with the next time you come in. Do they write? What kind of stuff do they like to read? Are they having a good semester? It helps to build rapport for ongoing relationships. They teach 120 students every semester. Those students might benefit from your books!
  7. Repetition is your friend. I’ve taught a lesson called Gardeners vs. Architects about 30 times now. It’s pretty old to me… but it works and students really respond to it. So I get over my slight boredom because it makes my life easier and it engages students.
  8. Sneak your own work into things. The example writing in most of my mini-lessons are… dun dun dun… from my book or future books. One lesson has them taking the very first paragraph in one of my books and continuing the story. First, it’s a great way to showcase your writing. Second, it’s a great way to praise how they take your ideas and make them your own.
  9. Find ways to engage the whole class. You totally know what kind of personality you have and what kind of writing and all of that. If you know that your style misses a few student groups, consider adjusting some of your examples and stories to reach other folks. I realized early on that my entire talk misses out on engaging athletes. I changed that by adding an example to one of my normal stories that touches on basketball. It’s simple, but it works.
  10. Bring water. I just get thirsty I guess.

So I could keep going. I want this to be an ongoing, open dialogue, because not all of this works for everyone. These are my personal guideposts. Take what works. Leave what doesn’t. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments if you’re unsure of what I meant by any of this. I want my fellow authors to feel as comfortable and equipped in the classroom as they can be. Students need you! There’s so much to be gained from authors engaging with youth. I hope any of this advice can be useful to you. Good luck!

All the Places We Call Home – Switzerland

We went home last week. Not back to where we were born, or through the neighborhoods where we grew up, but to a place that’s carved out corners of our hearts. Katie and I lived in Switzerland for 10 months. When we returned to North Carolina in April, we had a hard time imagining when we would ever go back. In a year? In a decade? Some distant future, surely, but not just six months later. So when we found out Katie’s work would take her back for a few days, there was no question of going or not going, but how long our trip would be and how best to squeeze the most of home out of that short time.

As Katie took part in a company workshop, I explored old haunts. All  the coffee shops that  I had transformed into offices, the same places I finished book after book while abroad. I looked out over the city at Lindenplatz, ate on the steps of Gross Munster, and walked the Limmat River. It felt nostalgic to retrace my steps through the unchanged city.

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We had the pleasure of old friends to accompany old haunts. One night we snagged dinner with Jo and Jordash, who happily played CodeNames with us. I also was fortunate to grab a meal with Stefan Bachmann, friend and writer, who lives in the area. But several of our meals, and our entire weekend of travel, was hosted and helped by the Domecks.

The trip began with factory tours and quaint towns. You can see from the picture below, Gruyeres is a small gathering of buildings on a slice of Swiss land. The chateau overlooking the town proper is breathtaking. We went for the views, but also for the cheese and chocolate. Our first tour was of the Gruyeres cheese factory.

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A quick ride took us from there to the Cailler factory. This side of heaven, chocolate is the closest we can get to perfection. Not only were we stunned by the production of the tour (imagine traveling through an animated history of chocolate), but we all found our sweet tooth at the end, where Cailler set out about 20 different chocolates and you could eat as many as you like. I finally had my golden ticket…

… and I went all the way through the chocolate buffet. Twice.

From there, we redirected our journey toward the French regions of Switzerland, heading for Montreaux. The sites that waited for us on the banks of Lake Geneva were truly stunning. Vineyards marching their formations down to a sway of blue, all offset by mountains and sunsets. Not a bad way to enjoy a glass of wine. We found a fine restaurant in town later that night and enjoyed the stag medallions, along with our first taste of escargots (Katie wasn’t a big fan of that one). The winning meal, however, might have been Justin’s Pumpkin Cappuccino.

The next morning we had our stomachs filled by a French bakery and set out on a new adventure. This, of course, is where the Domecks’ spontaneity plays into the trip. The plan was to drive to Interlaken, where Katie and I would spend a few days on our own. Of course, we decided to take the more scenic route. This brought us through a massive canyon, onto a tunnel-train, and finally to the beautiful launch pad that is Kandersteg.

While the Jungrau region still stands out in my mind, we were privileged with a flawless afternoon and that incomparable lake reflection of towering mountains… Oeschinen Lake really stole our breath away.

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From there, we hiked down, climbed back in the car, and headed on. It felt like so many of the adventures that had come before it. Good company, beautiful vistas, and secret threads. Katie and I parted ways that night, barely making it into our room (apparently 8pm was well past the check in time for our hotel in Wengen). The next morning we ate pastries and drank coffee and ascended the familiar lift, setting our feet down in Mannlichen once more. The hiking paths belonged to us. We saw the occasional person being ferried overhead on the lifts down to Grindelwald, but otherwise, we had the quiet mountains to ourselves.

Highlights include:

  • being really cold, then really hot, then really cold.
  • A standoff with a bull
  • Quiet talks with the love of my life
  • Snow-tipped mountains
  • A really, horrible tourist lunch
  • Katie’s decision that she is definitely coming back as dairy cow

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On Tuesday, we headed back to Zurich. The Domecks hosted us one last time (with Katie providing her famous Chicken Parmesan recipe with the secret sauce). Between dinner and games and conversation, it was quite clear that we had come home… We would fly home the next day, tired from the trip, catching flights, all to get back to another home. It’s quite a worthy state to be in, though, isn’t it? Finding a home here, leaving a home there. Knowing always there are places that you aren’t simply welcome, but at ease, in your element; finding a way to smile and laugh and dig deeper into this one, wonderful life. I find myself aching for whatever comes next. I find myself missing good friends. I find myself thankful for home, wherever that may be.

What now, you ask? The next adventure of course.

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New York City

I adjusted my Pirates hat and disembarked at Utica Avenue. After the stifling cabin of a plane and the drawling heat of the subway, I found the light rain pleasant. A bell sounded and hundreds of black teenagers from the Boys and Girls school filled the street ahead of me. A girl slipped past with a copy of The Book Thief tucked under one arm. A boy raised his voice to tell his friends to wait up. I moved through the commotion, smiling, and found my wife waiting up by Malcolm X Boulevard.

We spent the weekend in a beautiful, basement apartment on Bainbridge Street. The owner had made the home industrial and chic. Exposed brick walls and sliding barn doors and a out-of-the-future fireplace. Our comfortable base of operations as we introduced ourselves to the big city. We would laugh later and wonder if the home was too chic, as the door to our room was paneled with glass and offered no privacy at all. We just had to ask Katie’s brother, Victor, and his girlfriend, Patience, to not walk into the kitchen whenever we needed to change. But hey, it did look cool at least (with an added benefit that our basement rooms doubled as a fallout shelter).

After settling in, Katie and I found our way to Greenwich Village to meet up with her cousin. Gottino, a local wine bar, was the perfect spot to kick up our feet and breathe in.

The main purpose behind our visit was to meet my agent and editor. We slept in late and got up in time to catch the train into Manhattan. The Random House tower sits between 55th and 56th street. There’s something breathtaking about the entryway. A glass case plays host to recent, breakout titles from various imprints. A bigger display to the right and left shows off books published since its foundation in 1927. It’s quite humbling.

My editor, Emily Easton, awaited us on the 9th floor. Penguin Random House’s various children divisions line that floor and the one below. Emily kindly took us on a tour of everything. Some general observations from my time there:

  1. Editors are real people, but I still think of them as rock stars. Emily was incredibly easygoing and kind to us. Our brief meeting with Phoebe Yeh (the editor who worked with Walter Dean Myers) was equally positive and kind. It helped so much to put faces and voices to the people I’ve mostly known through emails and book editing.
  2. Books. Everywhere. Piles of books. I don’t know how they get anything done?
  3. Art. Everywhere. It was really cool to see the little, intricate pieces that form the covers we fall in love with or the characters we envision. Really cool stuff.
  4. It’s massive. There are so many moving parts to publishing a book. I knew that in some vague sense, but really had no idea just how many people are doing X number of things for my book. Again, it’s humbling to see.

Our lunch went very well. The book continues to move in really positive directions. Both the team and myself have such high hopes for it’s success and we’re all looking forward to the next steps as we develop what could be a really smashing series. I’m thrilled.

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So how do you top meeting your editor for the first time?

You don’t, not really, but we tried. A quick, rain-slung walk through Times Square rewarded us with a Daniel Fox sighting. Considering the species is endangered, we felt particularly blessed to spot one just outside of the Walgreens (EDITED: A helpful reader pointed out this serious mistake. It was not, in fact, a CVS).

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After returning home and changing, we forged ahead to dinner and the theatre. Becco gets a full recommendation from me. Fancy eating and delicious food, and like most of the restaurants in that section of the city, famous for getting you in your seats before a show begins. The show in question was Wicked. And what a performance. I was surprised by how funny the show is, but also by how flawlessly it’s performed. I don’t know much about voices or choreography, but there’s a legitimacy behind Broadway’s claims of having the best musical performances in the world. My favorite moment came during the “Defying Gravity” song. Seeing Elphaba in the air, her cloak stretching out behind her, the lights ethereal and ghostly… All of it was just so stunning.

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But Saturday refused to be outdone by Friday. We started with Bagel Pub, devouring what was easily the best bagels I’ve ever had in my life. From there a walk through Central Park that included a celebratory dog festival and a hilarious street performance. We made it to Yankee Stadium just in time to get some dogs and enjoy the game.

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The final stop of our tour was dinner with my agent, Kristin Nelson. We were particularly looking forward to it, in part because Kristin has been so instrumental in the start of my career as a writer, but also because Red Farm’s menu looked amazing. It didn’t disappoint. Katz’s Pastrami Egg Rolls? Lobster Long Noodles? Bacon and Shrimp Fried Rice?

Please and thank you.

As expected, the night with Kristin was just a blast. We talked a little bit about upcoming projects, but mostly had fun celebrating how well the debut has gone and getting to know each other. Can’t wait to rinse and repeat, but next time in Denver?!

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In conclusion, it was a great weekend in a great city. I feel like we managed to scratch .001% of the surface that is New York. As with Chicago and San Francisco, it’s a city I plan on returning to many times, with the understanding that years and years from now, I’ll still feel like I’m just getting to know all the little nooks and crannies. Let that worthy exploration continue. Until next time!

 

 

Reading List: Fantasy and Science Fiction

Students and friends ask this question a lot: What are some great books to read in the genre? Recently, I wrote a pretty extensive email in answer. Here’s the list of books I’ve either fallen in love with or I have on my to-be-read shelf at home:

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
– A familiar title, but if you’ve never read it, the first book in that series is simply gorgeous. A master class in just about every imaginable category.
Binti or Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor
– There’s a reason she just won awards for Binti. Brilliant writing in diverse settings with diverse characters. Please grab Akata Witch instead of reading about Rowling’s school of magic in Africa. Okorafor’s is by far the superior version.
The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
– In terms of literary/lyrical writing in fantasy, few really stand up to Rothfuss. He even wrote an off-shooting book for this world in iambic pentameter. A worthy, sprawling epic.
The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
– Not action oriented at all. It’s much more focused on diplomacy and navigating traditional waters in a new way. The main character, Maia, wrestles with maintaining his thoughts and beliefs in light of an unexpected and powerful new status.
The Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson
– Only read this if you enjoy a steep learning curve, feeling a little lost, and the convergence of powerful forces. Erikson’s characters tend to feel like video game bosses, which I really enjoy. His magic system is also pretty great in this one.
Wizard of Earthsea- Ursula K. Le Guin
Old school, but she does it so well. We can thank her for all the wizarding schools that followed. I’d also suggest The Left Hand of Darkness, if you want a taste of her sci-fi.
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
– This series was tops for me after the past few years. It’s relentlessly action-packed with characters we simply can’t help attaching ourselves to. It has the darkness of Game of Thrones, but really tends to read more tightly, and without so confusing a cast.
 
The Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb
In my mind, this is the benchmark for traditional fantasy. The magic, the world, the characters… all brilliantly rendered, but I’ve never read someone who writes relationships better than her. Fitz reads like a Jane Austen character in that respect. His interactions with each person are incredibly dynamic. Whether it’s the Fool or Molly or Chivalry
The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
In my mind, it’s Ocean’s 11 but set in a fantasy world. Great characters and a very gritty world.
Temeraire – Naomi Novik
Not my personal favorite, but if you like historical fantasy, this is one of the tops in the category. Imagine the 1800’s navies of our world, but with a dragon air force. Pretty great concept. Her more recent novel, Uprooted, was up for all kinds of awards.
N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
One of my recent favorites. The work she does with narration in this one is just brilliant. She also has some mind-bending, eye-popping world building within the story.
The Scar – China Mieville
If you want weird fantasy, go this direction. He’s trying to push back against Tolkien (dwarves and elves) and carve out some funky newness in the genre. I just started his book The City and the City It’s one of the coolest things I’ve read in a while.
Bone Street Rumba / Shadowshaper – Daniel Jose Older
Daniel’s known for being a force on Twitter and a force in his books. He crafts distinct, diverse worlds with casts of characters you’ll follow to the end.
Station Eleven  – Emily St. Mandel
A group travels from town to town performing Shakespeare in the apocalypse. She jumps through time quite a bit, but I really thought she pulled it off better than most.
The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker
1900’s New York. A story about a golem and jinni trying to make life work in the city of immigrants. Really beautiful prose throughout
Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
Science fiction. Really cool story, sort of creepy, but very compelling intellectually.
A Darker Shade of Magic – V.E. Schwab
A character who can travel to three different versions of London?! Treat yourself.
Just to be clear this is the equivalent of a starter kit. I also didn’t really include ANY YA books in here. I know there are MASSIVE gaps in my reading as a science fiction, fantasy, and young adult author… I’m working every day to shore those gaps up, but I’m also admitting to myself that I’ll never really complete that task. Too many new books. Too many brilliant writers over the year. Just pick the books you love and keep reading them!