Coming to a Bookshelf Near You . . .

I signed the contract today, so I guess it's official: I sold a short story!

My story "Wheels on the Bus" was accepted for inclusion in Smoking Pen Press's anthology A Wink and a Smile, part of SPP's Reading on the Run series. The story is a revised, slightly longer version of my 2017 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge entry.

I don't have a publication date or purchase information for the anthology yet, but you can bet I'll post when I do.

UPDATE (2/3/18): You can read more about the anthology here:  http://smokingpenpress.com/fyi

The Best Book I Read This Month: The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed

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The best book I read this month is a remarkable work by historian Annette Gordon-Reed: The Hemingses of Monticello. To be perfectly honest, I am still reading it. It's a massive work--662 pages, not including the notes and other back matter. I've got a little more than two hundred pages left to go, but I will be reading every word.

I'd heard about the book and the acclaim surrounding it (it won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award) when it came out in 2008, but it took me until this month to actually pick it up and read it. My book club was reading a work of historical fiction, America's First Daughter, which told the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings through the eyes of Jefferson's oldest daughter, Patsy. My book club loved the book, but I didn't, for reasons I still can't entirely pinpoint. I put it down about 200 pages in. I still wanted to know more about Hemings and Jefferson, though, so I picked up Gordon-Reed's book.

I was not disappointed. Gordon-Reed tells the story not just of Sally Hemings, but of Hemings's family--from her grandmother, who was brought over from Africa, to her children, some of whom passed as white. In doing so, Gordon-Reed also tells the story of Jefferson and slavery in colonial America--not from the usual white plantation owner perspective, but from the perspective of the enslaved and of society at the time. She points out how our modern perceptions of life in that era are narrow and do not account for the varied realities of enslaved people, but neither does she skimp on the harshness of  those realities.

It's an eye-opening read. Every paragraph is packed with information. (Hence, the slow reading pace.) Gordon-Reed did a remarkable amount of research, and it shows in her work. We have no writings left by Sally Hemings or her mother. If Jefferson wrote about Sally, those letters and papers have been destroyed. (Many historians believe that Jefferson's daughter Patsy and her children purged Jefferson's papers after his death, removing all references to his relationship with Sally Hemings.) So Gordon-Reed pieced together their story from public records and scraps about Sally left by others and by examining patterns of life in colonial Virginia, pre-Revolutionary France, and the early United States. The conclusions she draws and inferences she makes are well supported by a wealth of facts and details.

What I particularly liked, in addition to the plethora of historical details, was that Gordon-Reed paints a picture of Sally Hemings as a woman with agency, not as a helpless victim of circumstance. The same is true for many of the other Hemingses. That agency was possible partly because of the Hemings's white forebears and partly because of the value Jefferson saw in them as a family. He treated the whole Hemings clan very differently than he treated the other enslaved workers on his plantations.

I will say that Gordon-Reed is far kinder to Jefferson than I would be. From the other reading I've done, he seems to have been a manipulative narcissist. She does not go that far in her assessment of him, but she does make the point that Jefferson was not the broad-minded, forward-thinking Founding Father that our textbooks so often paint him as. He was very much a man of his time, especially when it came to his views of women and race.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

I spent most of today reading through Draft 4 of my novel. I'd finished the draft last weekend and then set it aside. I even paid to have Office Depot print out the manuscript so I couldn't sneak a peek at it. I wanted a true break.

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Today, my goal was to read through that draft and make notes for Draft 5. I expected a long list. When the premise of this story first planted its seeds in my brain, I imagined a dark, fraught tale and by Draft 4, when the tale wasn't that, I was feeling disappointed and overwhelmed.

But today I had an epiphany: my story is good. Its tone is just right. It's not meant to be dark or fraught. These characters would not work in that kind of story, and this story is theirs, not mine.

I felt both relieved and pleased. I still have work to do in Draft 5, but the list of substantive changes is much smaller than what I had anticipated. (I do, however, have an embarrassing number of typos to correct.)

That means the manuscript will be ready for beta readers much earlier than I had anticipated, and--depending on the feedback I get--I might actually be able to start querying agents before year's end (which is my deepest, darkest hope).

What a great way to start my writing year.

2017: My Year in Writing

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I’ve been doing my annual end-of-year inventory, looking back at what I hoped to accomplish and what I actually did accomplish this past year. Some things—like selling my house—didn’t come to fruition; others—like getting a salaried job with benefits—did.

When it came to my writing, it felt like I hadn’t done much. But when I looked through my writing folder, I realized I’d done a lot more than I realized. 

Since January, I have: 

  • completed a major plot revision draft of my novel  
  • progressed to the finals of the NYC Midnight 2017 Short Story Challenge 
  • queried two articles to a children’s history magazine (neither was accepted) 
  • entered two short stories in a Writer magazine contest (Neither placed but both did make it past the second round of judging.) 
  • submitted a short story for consideration for a 2018 anthology  
  • attended a writers’ conference  
  • heard Stephen King speak about the craft of writing  

My hope now is to continue this momentum in 2018!