B L O G

  • What I'm Reading, Part 1

    Here's how I get all my reading done these days--with a sleeping baby on my lap. It's not bad.

    As it turns out, there are lots of things babies won’t always let you do, including but not limited to: cooking, eating breakfast, cleaning, eating lunch, going to the gym, eating dinner, watching TV, sleeping soundly, showering, having a conversation with your partner when he gets home from work, writing.

    But reading! There is so much more time for reading than I could have ever imagined. Here is part one of what I’ve read recently:

    • Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor- A truly bizarre and brilliant novel about Hazel Motes, a young atheist who begins his own religion: the Church of Christ Without Christ. I read this for my graduate lecture about made-up cults and religions in literature, but if that’s not your thing, read this for the crazy zookeeper, a charlatan street minister, the mummified dwarf, at least one person who willingly blinds himself, and a man in a gorilla costume.
    • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro- Stevens, a butler in post-war England, takes a drive through the countryside—his first holiday in years—and reflects on his time of service at Darlington Hall. This sounds incredibly boring, but it isn’t! It’s a heartbreaking portrait of regret and self-denial and the unrelenting quest for dignity. Fun fact: literally ten minutes after I finished this book, my water broke, and eleven hours after that, Margaux was born.
    • Us by David Nicholls- Douglas and Connie, a middle-aged married couple in the suburbs of London, take their seventeen-year-old son Albie on a Grand Tour of Europe. The only problem is that right before they are scheduled to leave, Connie tells Douglas, who narrates the novel, that she isn’t sure she wants to be married to him anymore...but off they go on vacation anyway. This is one of my favorite books I’ve read recently. It’s equally funny and sad, hopeful and painful. It will ignite your wanderlust too, though you won’t want to be on this particular trip.
    • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr- This won the Pulitzer, and probably everyone you know has read it. Here, Doerr tells the story of a blind French girl and a German boy in occupied France during WWII. Read with a pen in hand--to underline all the beautiful sentences--and tissues within arms’ reach.
    • The Secret History by Donna Tartt- This book may not have a mummified dwarf, but this novel about a group of Classics students at a small college in Vermont has lots of other things to recommend it: a murder, a bacchanal, at least one sociopath, and all the Latin and Greek phrases you can translate, you pretentious nerd.
    • The Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill- A lyrical, dreamy slip of a book about a marriage and all the things, good and bad, that come with it.
    • California by Eden Lepucki- Another book about marriage! The United States is slowly crumbling, and Frida and Cal have escaped a deteriorating L.A. and established a homestead out in the remote wilderness. When Frida becomes pregnant, they have to make a drastic choice about what they will do, and where they will go, next. But in their years away from civilization, their marriage has changed as much as the world around them, and this next change threatens to undo them entirely.
    • Dare Me by Megan Abbott- With this novel, centered on a cheerleading squad ruled first by Beth, the team’s awesome and awful captain, and then the new coach, whose reign inspires a fanatical devotion from the girls, Abbott takes us into the dark, luscious, devious, and utterly complex corner of the world inhabited by teenage girls.

    And there's more, but I'll wait and make that part two. :) In the meantime, anyone have any good recommendations?

  • So many things!

    Margaux and me post-graduation ceremony

    WELL, I may not have kept this blog up, but I’ve accomplished a few other things in the meantime:

    BABY- She’s here (and has been here for awhile…whoops)! On Valentine’s Day, at 1:43 a.m., almost a month before her due date, we welcomed Margaux Juliet into our little family. She is the most beautiful and cleverest and sweetest baby in the world. So far this has been the hardest five months of my life, but hey, I’m still standing. Although if I’m honest, there are lots of days when I’m still standing only because I have to be. I want to write a separate post about how motherhood has been so far, but in the meantime, here are a few recent Margaux pictures from our trip to Vermont.

    Reunited after five days apart! Margaux looks so beautiful and melancholy. Which would not be an inaccurate description for many of her days.

    Margaux got to dip her pretty toes into this pretty lake. We hiked up here, and Josh wore her in the Baby Bjorn. When he took it off, he had a Baby Bjorn shaped sweat mark taking up his entire torso. #trooper

    Margaux's first Fourth of July

    My two favorite people

    MFA- Which leads me to this! We just returned home this week from my final residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts. There, I gave my first reading and my first lecture, attended the lectures and readings of my comrades, participated in the final workshop of my MFA career—and laughed a lot with a group of people I really love. I had no idea what I was getting myself into two years ago, but I’m leaving with so many good things: I’m a better writer—and I expected that, if I expected anything at all—but now I have a tribe, and I didn’t really expect that. I’m a tiny part of an important community. I have friends who will read my work, whose work I will read, who will celebrate with me and listen patiently to my litany of anxieties about writing and motherhood. Thank you, VCFA, for giving these things to me, and thank you for the adventure.

    WRITING- Finishing this last semester with a baby was super hard, but in a way, the timing was a gift. I didn’t even have a chance to take a real break from writing because I was still in the middle of the semester. I was trying to finish a novella. I was putting together my creative thesis. I was writing my lecture. My advisor was wonderful and understanding, but I still had to get all these things done; I had to learn how to write in whatever tiny moments of quiet were awarded to me. Thankfully, Josh and my family have been incredibly supportive, and finishing this semester really became a team effort. It would have been impossible without them. This semester, too, right before I went up to Vermont, I found out that a story of mine will be published in the Winter 2015 issue of Ploughshares!

    READING- In another post—and I feel confident I can actually do this one because it’s a list and how hard is it to write a list?—I’ll make a list of what I’ve read this semester. When your baby will only nap if you hold her, you actually get a lot of reading done. :)

    It really has been an amazing past few months, but I’m afraid this post doesn’t do justice to its hard parts, which have been so hard, so painful. When I realized what it would really be like to be a mom, I made a promise to myself that I would be as honest as I could about what motherhood has been like so far for me, and I hope that I’ll be able to share a little bit of that here, if I get the chance. If Margaux lets me. Haha. 

    Here a few pictures from my last few days at residency!

    Liz and Margaux finally meet!

    Historical swordplay at the talent show because why wouldn't there be?

    <3

  • VCFA in Puerto Rico

    I’m back! Back to the blog and back from my fourth Vermont College of Fine Arts residency! Normally, I go to residency in Montpelier, but VCFA offers study abroad options—Slovenia in the summer and Puerto Rico in the winter—so I ditched the freezing temps of Vermont in exchange for some island sun.

     We spent the first half of the week in Old San Juan, searching out the best mofongo, wandering the blue cobblestone streets, and talking writing in an airy apartment where we kept all the windows open. San Juan is beautiful: the ocean, the pastel buildings, the bright flowers wrapping around the wrought-iron balconies.

    El Morro Fort

    From there we headed to El Yunque National Forest, where we stayed at Casa Cubuy, an ecolodge about an hour or so away from San Juan. We spent the second half of the week basking in the beauty of the rainforest, falling asleep to the chirping chorus of frogs, and of course, talking more about writing, but this time, instead of being in a quaint apartment, our workshops and lectures took place on a balcony in front of lush hills of jungle.

    Everyone else went on a hike through the rainforest, but being seven months pregnant and unable to scale fences and climb up rocks, I was forced to stay behind in this hammock where I spent hours reading in the sun. Poor me.

    The "ghost house" of El Yunque, built in the 1930s and abandoned

    Luquillo Beach

    Now it’s time for my last semester at VCFA, which means I’ll be assembling my creative thesis and preparing for my lecture and graduating in July! And also having a baby in March! So this semester may be a little bit of an adventure. :)

     Here’s to five more packets!

  • A new story in Story|Houston!

    Here I am texting my mysterious secret boyfriend. Or probably checking Instagram since I don't have a mysterious secret boyfriend. Josh will be so relieved.

    Just a quick plug for the latest issue of the journal Story|Houston, which you can read online AND which features my story "Someone Else," an uplifting little tale about texting, Snapchat, and adultery.

    I love living in Houston, so I am excited my work gets to appear in a journal based in my very own city. Houston has a great literary community, and I'm thankful to be a (very tiny) part of it!

  • Happy Halloween!

    Oh no, I didn’t do any of the blog posts I planned on doing. Haha. I’m going to blame it on being pregnant. The good news is that while the blog has been left untended, I’ve still been able to get all the work done I need to do—the important work of writing fiction…and finishing my critical thesis. It’s been hard staying focused on writing, and I know once the baby comes in the spring, it’s just going to get even harder. Luckily, I know plenty of wonderful writers who have children (or full-time jobs or children and full-time jobs) to show me how this thing works. If you’re reading this and are one of those people, get ready for me to come to you crying and asking how you get it all done. Just give me a cookie and tell me something nice. Then I can go away and do something productive, like feed my child or read or write something. All good, important things!

    But anyway, back to books! Because I’m completely unoriginal, I love the fall, including riding boots and pumpkin-scented candles, though not sweaters because I think I look like a box when I wear them. And October is, arguably, the queen of the season. It even ends on a high note: Halloween!

    I’m not exactly a connoisseur of scary books, but I do love a themed book list, so in honor of the spookiest day of the year, here are a few of the scariest, creepiest books I’ve read in my lifetime (and that I could think of off the top of my head):

     

    • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes follows Detective Gabriella Versado as she and her team track down a serial killer who isn’t just killing people but mutilating their corpses, transforming them into what he believes are works of art. Very scary, very gross art. Plus it’s set in Detroit. The book is a lot more complicated than that short description makes it seem; it’s less a conventional crime novel than a fantastical, frightening look into monstrosity and brokenness and the way we try to make ourselves whole again. I have never had a book give me nightmares, but the final few chapters of this one definitely brought on the bad dreams.
    • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, to me, is far creepier than Gone Girl. On the whole, I prefer Gone Girl—I loved Gone Girl and couldn’t put it down—but really, I couldn’t put this book down either. Camille Preaker is a newpaper reporter whose latest scoop involves her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, where several young girls have been killed…and have had all their teeth removed. When she follows the story back home, she has to contend with the complicated mores of small-town society and the even more complicated relationships she has with the estranged family she left behind years ago.
    • Broken Harbor by Tana French is the fourth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. They’re all worth checking out, but this one was the scariest. Also, I’m noticing that the only scary books I read involve disturbing murders. In this one, the disturbing murder is of an entire family found slaughtered in their home, with only the mother left barely alive. And to add to the creepiness, their home is a lonely McMansion in an unfinished, abandoned subdivision, a casualty of the housing crisis. As Detective Scorcher Kennedy investigates, he delves deeper into the secrets of the Spain family. What makes this book frightening is French’s look into a family governed by a tenuous grip on reality and their eventual unraveling; what makes this book tragic is that all while we are learning about the lives of the Spains, we already know, of course, how their story ends.
    • The Ruins by Scott Smith isn’t really about a disturbing murder as much as it is about disturbing deaths in general. I have no idea what led me to read this book but I did, and it was gross and scary and frustrating. It follows a group of college kids on vacation in Mexico who stupidly go off in search of these ruins deep in the jungle far away from civilization. I’m getting frustrated just remembering it. They find the ruins but are soon trapped there by local villagers lining the perimeter with guns, refusing to let them leave even when the kids’ scant supplies run out. Lots of people die in various gross ways. If nothing else, this book will remind you not to be a stupid college kid.
    • Maybe you fell asleep in freshman English and didn’t notice, but Lord of the Flies by William Golding is pretty scary stuff. What scared me about this book when I first read it in high school was the realization that regular, plain old humans were the scariest beasts of all.
    • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is a dystopian tale of a society governed by an ultra-conservative, totalitarian theocracy. In this world, women are the big losers, and our poor narrator is one of the biggest losers of all: she’s a handmaid, which means her job entails sleeping with a man in the ruling class for the purposes of conception. As the story’s present action progresses, we learn about her old life too, and the juxtaposition of the before and after make this a compelling, heartbreaking, troubling read.
    • The Road by Cormac McCarthy is best for people who enjoy post-apocalyptic literature and whose hearts are made of stone. A father and son must traverse a bleak country devastated by an apocalyptic event, and literally, the entire book consists of them just trying not to die. Whatever has happened to their world—McCarthy never tells us exactly what kind of cataclysm took place, which makes everything even scarier—has killed most life on Earth, and the people who were lucky/unlucky enough to survive have to survive on limited resources and fight brutal winters, roving bandits, and cannibals. As in most McCarthy novels, the language is as beautiful and clean as the landscape is grim, but grab a tissue and try not to imagine yourself and your future child/mother/father/friend/dog in the same situation.
    • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is a classic. A group of strangers assembles on an island, each summoned by a letter promising something different upon their arrival, a job offer or a summer vacation, but when they get there, it becomes clear that they have been gathered for an entirely different reason: each of them has taken part in some crime and walked away free, and it’s time for their comeuppance. Someone wants them dead. Sure enough, one by one they begin to die—each in a way that mirrors a line from the children’s nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians.”

    Have a spooky, scary Halloween!

    Image above originally found here.

  • I'm back!

    The Wisdom Whatleys, party of four

    Whoops, it’s been awhile! But with the start of the new semester, it’s been a little crazy. Then there’s this little thing that happened:

     

    I’m pregnant! I’m thirteen weeks now, so I’m finally out of the first trimester and am looking forward to the energy spike everyone says is coming. I’ve spent the last two months of school falling asleep in various places as I’ve tried to work, including at my desk in front of my computer, my hands still on the keyboard. This semester, the big project is the critical thesis, and I’ve just sent off the first draft. I’ve enjoyed the critical work, but I’m ready to get back to the creative work…I’m also ready to have the energy for creative work. In between the sleeping and the nausea and the crying at dog food commercials, I didn’t get any creative work done this last month. I’m guessing that having to work around my body’s schedule and write only when I could, rather than when I wanted to, will be good preparation for having to work around a little one’s schedule come March. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time!

    So my life lately has included a lot of Netflix (in addition to crying at dog food commercials, I also cried in every episode of Mad Men and the last ten minutes of The Killing...I'll love you forever, Holder), but I’ve been reading too! I won’t do a full blog post for these few books, but here’s a peek into what I’ve been reading:

    The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

    My critical thesis began as an exploration into contemporary fairy tales and fables, so obviously Aimee Bender, a master of fabulism, belonged on my list, but I quickly realized that I needed to narrow my scope just to fairy tales, and then I wanted to use her retelling of “Donkeyskin,” called “The Color Master,” but then I had to edit that out of this draft too. BUT if you like stories that are a little quirky and super smart with a touch of the fabulous, please check out Aimee Bender. Also I discovered that she teaches a course on fairy tales that is pretty much exactly my critical thesis! So maybe I’m not breaking any new ground here, but guys, Aimee Bender and I thought about the same things. Be my friend, Aimee!

    The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

    My love for this trilogy is no secret, and I plan on blogging about this book specifically in its own post. Maybe it was the hormones, but I was so sad when the book was over that I cried for longer than I should have. Long live Fillory!

    The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

    I should have added Neil Gaiman to my list of authors I should have read but haven’t. But now I have! This was my first foray into Gaimanland, and while I enjoyed this book quite a bit, I didn’t love it. This book did, however, make it into my critical thesis, so I’m sure Neil would be very honored.

    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

    I’m actually in the middle of this, and I’ll be honest: I’m not loving it. I really want to love it! I really admire his skill and the structure is super cool too, so it’s just a matter of personal opinion. I wasn’t into the first story at all, and I was slightly more into the next one, and my interest increased as we got farther into the future, but now I have to go back in time because, for those of you are unfamiliar with the novel’s structure, the book begins in the 1800s and moves forward until the middle of the book, and then it moves backward again, so that it ends once more with the 1800s story. But I have a history of not knowing how much I like a book until it’s over, so I’ll reserve judgment until then. J

    The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

    I just decided this is going to get its own post too!

    The People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

    My one recent foray into nonfiction. This is a pretty unbelievable story about a young woman who disappears while working as a hostess in Japan. Parry delves into the seedy side of Tokyo, the bizarre world of hostessing, and Japan’s complicated legal system. If you, like me, are slightly obsessed with the TV channel Investigation Discovery, this, my friend, is the book for you.