• 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.

  • What I'm Reading: Cartwheel

    One time I went to Buenos Aires too! But I was never a murder suspect, so that's a major difference between my life and the book.

    This is my third semester at VCFA, which means that it’s time to write my critical thesis! Because of that, I don’t have a regular book list. Instead, for the first couple of months of the semester, I’ll just be reading whatever will help me with my thesis. But I did get a chance to read a couple of books before and during residency, including Jennifer duBois’ Cartwheel, a novel inspired by Amanda Knox, the young American woman who may or may not have killed her roommate while studying abroad in Italy.

    The cartwheel of the title refers to an event that happens both in real life and in the entirely fictional world of the novel, which is set in Buenos Aires: both women, Amanda Knox and her fictional counterpart Lily Hayes, turn a cartwheel when they’re in police custody, a move that inspires endless interpretation. What kind of woman, accused of murder, would do such a thing? Doesn’t she know how it could look to people?

    For Lily, the answer is no. Lily is a frustrating, heartbreaking character. In the present day, we hear about damning evidence against Lily, and then later we retroactively watch Lily doing the harmless thing that’s going to be used against her later. Because we’re allowed access into her thoughts, we understand her; she endears herself to us, and that's what makes it maddening. Knowing, for example, the police will find Lily’s DNA on her dead roommate’s bra strap, we cringe when we watch her pick up the bra months earlier, wondering what bra size her prettier roommate wore. But then, because we are allowed access into the thoughts of others as well, we see the way Lily comes across. We see her lack of self-awareness, a naiveté tinged with a coldness she doesn’t see in herself.

    On the other end of the spectrum is Lily’s friend and quasi-boyfriend, Sebastian LeCompte, who’s so painfully self-aware that he can’t let himself become open and vulnerable, even when he wants to, and instead arms himself with impenetrable irony. DuBois has said that Cartwheel explores the issue of “how we decide what to believe and what to keep believing,” and that certainly has to do with the way people view Lily and the crime she may have committed, but it’s also about how we see and understand ourselves. What do we choose to believe about who we are, even if all the evidence—the things we do, what we say—suggests otherwise?

    The novel is a sort of cartwheel itself. It sends us reeling through multiple points of view, all insightfully written, backward and forward through time, through the surreal and vivid city of Buenos Aires. It’s a dizzying, disorienting ride, and when we land on our feet again, it’s hard to say if we’re looking at the sky or the grass or the horizon line where they both meet.

  • Home again!

    View from the hall of my dorm :)

    I’m home from residency! It was, as usual, beautiful and exhausting. Residency is such a funny mix of serious literary salon and summer camp. There are workshops and lectures, but then there are dance parties and late nights and an entire private world, and for two weeks we live in two places, the one we left behind—the one with our jobs, our families—and the strange realm of residency with its own sense of time and unique concerns. I laughed hard and slept poorly and had dessert everyday. One day, I sat outside at a picnic table under a tree for hours, reading and working and chatting with my friends, until the sun began to set and the wind began to pick up, ushering in an evening of thunderstorms. A heat wave rolled in, and my roommate Kelly and I put our mattresses side by side on the floor and slept in front of the fan and the open window. We cheered each other on at student readings; we commiserated over the agonies of writing life and regular life, and then celebrated the joy in them too. I’m so happy to be home with my husband and my dog and my bed and my shower, but I’m so thankful, too, for the small adventure of the last two weeks.

    Here are a few pictures!

    My favorite bench

    The beloved dorm

    College Hall

    Dance party!

    Last day before Kelly and I were Texas-bound!