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Writers@Grinnell

After I blogged about a number of the fall Writers@Grinnell events, Dean Bakopoulos of the English Department invited me to do my own Writers@Grinnell event. It took place last month in the Mears Cottage Living Room. I was quite surprised–pleasantly so!–by the turnout. There were so many people that some of them had to sit on the floor behind the sofa where I was seated. There were a lot of students, most of whom I didn’t know (I did have one former student and one current student in attendance). There were some of my fellow speculative fiction reading group members. And there were some English Department faculty.

Hosting me was Paula V. Smith, also of the English Department. She gave me a lovely introduction and then revealed (to the audience and to me) that she had a surprise gift for me. It was a copy of Small CraftWarnings Vol. 1 No. 2, which she and her best friend had co-edited in 1981. Jonathan Franzen was also on staff at the time. Small Craft Warnings is one of Swarthmore College’s literary magazines; when I was there, I served on the editorial board for three years. The issue Paula gave me was one of the first under the magazine’s new name. I was delighted to receive it. The issue consists of poetry and photography, and a number of the poems are translations, from Chinese, Spanish, and French.

I spoke briefly about how Sparkers and Wildings came to be (the long journey for Sparkers and the much quicker crafting of Wildings), and then I took questions. They were all interesting! A couple had to do with my approach to writing specifically for middle grade readers: whether I thought about my audience or how I’d had to revise my books to make them suited to young readers (the political machinations can only be so twisty!). Someone asked about how to balance exposition and action when you have a lot of worldbuilding to do. Somehow the subject of what I’m writing next came up, so I gave away a couple of details about the project I hope will be my next book. My current student asked me about the languages in my fantasy worlds, and I explained that there were no full-fledged conlangs behind the languages in Sparkers and Wildings. But the language in my next book actually has a sketched-out grammar and a deeper vocabulary beyond what little makes it onto the page. Paula asked me about the names in Sparkers and Wildings, a topic I’ve thought about and get asked about relatively often.

Afterwards, I signed a few books, breaking out Isabelle’s stamp again, and chatted with a few students. One of them asked me about story ideas and length. That is, how do you generate enough stuff for a whole novel but not so much that it becomes too much? I wasn’t sure how to answer at first because I always write too long and then embark on epic word-cutting sessions. I’m not very good at writing short stories that are actually short. But upon reflection, I think it’s best, at least when drafting, to let a story grow to the length it wants to be, even if it’s awkward. Novellas exist! Then you can always revise, fleshing out bare bones or carving away excess until you have the story you intended.

New Story: Yet a Youth

My short story “Yet a Youth” came out on Monday in Issue 80 of Youth Imagination. You can read it here! This story actually originally appeared in almost identical form in the Spring 2010 issue of Small Craft Warnings, Swarthmore College’s oldest literary magazine (of which I was also an editor). So this story is at least ten years old! I’m still fond of it, though.

“Yet a Youth” is one of the rare stories I’ve written that has no elements of fantasy. Maybe I could even say it’s not speculative fiction, except that I hesitate to categorize it as historical fiction because it isn’t set in a real time and place. Maybe this setting could have existed or did exist somewhere in the United States of the 19th century, but I didn’t actually research it. So it might be alternative history. It’s also a little bit unusual for me because the protagonist and POV character is a boy. Most of my main characters are girls.

The inspiration for this story came from a verse in the book of Judges. There was a time about a decade ago when I decided to read the King James Bible straight through from Genesis onward, and I stumbled upon some verses that particularly struck me. I guess this was one of them. I didn’t want to name my main character Jether, though.

Fun fact: I entered “Yet a Youth” in Swarthmore’s William Plumer Potter short story competition, which was judged that year by Wesley Stace/John Wesley Harding (who recorded a rendition of the shape note tune “Columbus”). While I did not win or even place, the judge gave public comments on all the entries, and he described “Yet a Youth” as Gothic.

2019 in Review

2019 was also a big year, though I did not travel as far as in 2018. On Twitter (which I have now joined), I’ve seen people reflecting on the whole decade since we’re about to enter the new 20s (how weird–I think “the 20s” still evokes flappers and Prohibition to me, though the pull of the 20th century feels weaker than for “the 60s,” say). It hadn’t occurred to me to look back on the decade till I started seeing those tweets. I don’t think I much noticed the dawn of the last decade; I was just trundling along in college. But if I look back on this past decade, most of the major accomplishments of my life were achieved in it: I got an agent, I graduated from college, I published two novels, I got a Ph.D…. One can, of course, debate the merits of cataloging one’s life in terms of material accomplishments. Anyway, let me zoom back in on 2019 and recall the highlights, non-chronologically:

2020, here I come!

Danez Smith@Grinnell

One of the perks of being at Grinnell is getting to experience Writers@Grinnell, the English department’s visiting author series. The first visitor this year was the Minnesotan poet Danez Smith. I’m often not much of a poetry person (whatever that means), though occasionally I’ll stumble upon a poem that really resonates with me (see Gina Myers’ “Memorial”), but I was interested in Smith’s visit because 1) they’re from Minnesota and 2) their next poetry collection, coming out next spring from Graywolf Press, is about friendship.

Another new professor told me she was going to the afternoon roundtable, so I decided to go too, though I wasn’t sure what to expect (I was hardly going to participate in a craft discussion about poetry!). It turned out to be a Q & A with mostly students (as it should be). Now, going in, I thought I’d never heard of Danez Smith before, but as they opened the roundtable by reading one of their poems, I was suddenly certain that they had written a poem I’d discovered a few years ago and loved. It was about being in California and missing the Minnesota cold (and something deeper). Later I checked, and I was right (but I’d been certain); the poem is “I’m Going Back to Minnesota Where Sadness Makes Sense.”

Smith kept reading, and the poem mentioned Hague St., and I started because when I lived in St. Paul I lived on Hague Ave., and Smith was from St. Paul. Was it…?

After reading one more poem (with audience participation), Smith fielded questions from students. The following are some bits of answers I liked best or found most intriguing (filtered through my memory):

  • Joy is hard to make special. So maybe this is why there’s less writing about happiness?
  • You should write about the things you think you’re avoiding because good writing is dangerous.
  • At the same time, while you find your voice in the place that scares you, you also find it in the spaces where you feel safety, love, and intimacy.
  • Your best work should surprise you.
  • Poetry is about being immortal, not inaccessible. (That is, poetry shouldn’t be abstruse work produced by members of a small elite for one another.)
  • They said they were excited for their next book, Homie, because it was going to force people to ask them about their friends (among other things).

In the evening, I went to Smith’s reading in the auditorium at Hotel Grinnell. It was very well attended, and this being a small town and a small college, I recognized all sorts of people I’d met in the less-than-a-month I’ve been here. They came from all manner of departments too. (I think this reading encapsulated exactly what I meant when I tried to express what appealed to me about small liberal arts colleges to faculty search committees!)

The reading was lively, powerful, alternately raucous and still, and Smith had no trouble engaging us all. Among the most memorable poems was “my president,” about all the people they would be proud and happy to call their president (celebrities, family members, and so on). Sometimes I felt like Smith was not talking to me, that I was on the outside looking in, because I’m not black, but this felt right in a way, because not everything we say is for everyone.

The most moving moment of the night, for me, was the reading of the last poem. Smith said they’d posted on social media asking people to give them a very brief description of when they knew their best friend was their best friend. I believe the responses fed into the poem, which is entitled “acknowledgments.” It was funny and beautiful and poignant, and I loved it.

New Story: The Mailbox

My short story “The Mailbox” is out in the September issue of The Society of Misfit Stories. Unfortunately, it isn’t available to read for free online, but you can purchase the issue in a variety of formats here (Amazon even has print, if you like).

“The Mailbox” is about loneliness, grief, friendship, writing letters to the dead, and dangerous plants. Parts of the setting were inspired by Los Angeles (though San Francisco and Paris each had their contributions). In particular, the nursery is based on a nursery in Sawtelle.

My Gocco-Printed Business Card

Last week I wrote about screenprinting my cupcake zine, and this week I’m back with another printing post featuring Isabelle‘s artwork and ingenuity–and my first ever business card! Isabelle had wanted to design me an author business card for a while, and earlier this year she’d sketched out some sample art. She also bought a Gocco on eBay. What is a Gocco? It’s a Japanese screenprinting system, compact and very cleverly designed, but they aren’t produced anymore, so the only way to purchase machines and supplies is secondhand, generally online.

Last time, I tried to explain how screenprinting works; the Gocco also uses screenprinting, but the process is a little different than what it was for the cupcake zine. After Isabelle drew the final business card design digitally, she printed it out on paper on her laser printer. The Gocco machine is equipped for burning screens, so there’s no photo emulsion or exposure to sunlight. Instead, you place the printed design on the squishy, sticky printing block, slide a fresh screen into its slot, and place a box containing two flash bulbs on top of the machine. When you press down, the bulbs flash, burning the screen so that ink will pass through the areas corresponding to the printed design and not pass through elsewhere.

Ready to burn the screen

After burning the screen, you apply Gocco ink to the surface of the screen (which is then covered with a transparency so ink doesn’t get everywhere), slide it into its slot, put your paper or cardstock or whatever on the printing block, and press down to print. The stickiness of the block is helpful for keeping paper in place, and the grid on it is helpful for registration.

Printing the blue layer on the back of the card (the box with the flash bulbs is visible in the background, along with Gocco inks in the box)

The business card design was two-color. We first printed the blue layer on the back. Then came registration. The first time we tried printing cards, we printed the black layer on a transparency taped to the printing block to see where the black would print and then positioned a card with the blue layer already printed on it under the transparency to get the right alignment.

Ensuring proper registration of the black layer

The second time we printed, we got a bit smarter and burned the screen such that the cards could always be aligned with the edges of the printing block. This made registration easier.

The black layer included both the front and back of the card, so we printed two cards (one side of each) at a time. One press would print the black layer on top of the blue layer on the back of one card as well as the black text on the front of another card.

The full design

Finishing up production

After printing, Isabelle recycled some glossy cardstock to make a box and covered it with marbled paper bought at the Printers Fair!

2018 in Review

2018 has been quite a year. Do I say that every year? (I actually don’t, but I probably could.) Between the am-I-finishing-grad-school-this-year-or-not uncertainty (answer: no), the politics, the traveling, and the wonderful times with friends, it’s been a full year. Here are some highlights, not in chronological order:

In 2019, I will be dissertating and, I hope, writing and perhaps beginning a brand new adventure!

Turkish Editions

The Turkish editions of Sparkers and Wildings have been out for a while, but only recently did I get my hands on some copies, thanks to both my publisher and a family friend who regularly visits Turkey. The books are pretty!

There are also Sparkers bookmarks and Kırmızı Kedi bookmarks!

I also saw that How to Tell If You’re in an X Novel meme, inspired by The Toast, going around on Twitter (where I sometimes lurk unofficially), and Isabelle helped me come up with my own list:

How to Tell You’re in an Eleanor Glewwe Novel

  • One of your parents is dead
  • You play at least one musical instrument
  • Music might be magical
  • Siblings are the best
  • Not a lot of food, but what there is is tasty
  • Ship it all you want, it’s never coming to the foreground

New Story in Cicada: Lómr

My short story “Lómr” recently came out in Cicada! You can read it here. This is actually my first published short story. When I was younger, I subscribed to Cricket, a children’s magazine of short stories, poetry, and art. My greatest ambition as a young writer was to be published in Cricket. Cicada is the teen counterpart to Cricket, and I never subscribed to it, but somehow having my first short story appear in Cicada feels like coming full circle.

A little background on “Lómr” (if you want to go into the story knowing nothing, DO NOT READ FURTHER BECAUSE THIS IS PROBABLY A BIT SPOILERY): As you may know, I’ve canoed and camped in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota quite a few times. It’s a beautiful, peaceful, pristine wilderness. I started writing the story that became “Lómr” after returning from a trip I made to the Boundary Waters with three high school friends the summer before our senior years of college. Thus the characters’ itinerary in “Lómr” is exactly the itinerary my friends and I took. The story started out being about a group of friends who had been a string quartet in high school. They had drifted somewhat apart in college, and music had come to mean different things to each of them, but somehow they had decided to take this quartet reunion camping trip together. I never finished that story. Instead, a couple of years ago I wanted to write a story for a friend for her birthday. I took the unfinished Boundary Waters story, got rid of the string quartet, and turned it into a selkie story about loons. In the process, I think “Lómr” became even more Minnesotan.

2017 in Review

Well, what do you know, apparently I began my 2016 in Review post by saying 2016 had been awful. Little did I know what 2017 had in store! -_- But again, despite the political train wreck and the grad school angst, 2017 also had its share of joys. Instead of doing a month-by-month recap of 2017, I’ve decided to just recall some highlights, in no particular order:

And 2017 is ending on an exciting note–on Friday, I learned that a short story of mine had been accepted for publication! This is my first short fiction sale. I’ll be excited to share it with you in 2018! Happy New Year!