Today I’ve a got a book review of Michael Andreasen’s The Sea Beast Takes a Lover up at the Ploughshares blog! I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this delightfully weird short story collection, which comes out this Tuesday (but I wasn’t paid or given anything else by the author or publisher to write this review). Check it out!
The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is the debut short story collection from Michael Andreasen. Through a mix of absurdism, hyperbole, science fiction, history, and fantasy, the author draws a map of washed-up American dreams and fears. His stories chart the plains of abandonment, the futility of love, and vague hopes that never solidify. From the titular lonely sea monster to the King of Retired Amusements to time-traveling third graders, Andreasen’s characters explore this map of disappointment and hardship, learning again and again what we already know but are too afraid to speak aloud: Everything comes to an end. Everything.
My favorite pens, which were an anniversary gift from Bell Telephone to my grandfather in 1978.
Last month I received a scholarship to attend Writer Camp, a yearly retreat for writers put on by the folks at literary journal Barrelhouse. It. Was. Awesome.
The five days away from the stresses of work, ongoing renovations on my house, dealing with my dog’s degenerative condition, and the general stress of being me in my brain was restorative. For five days, I had nothing to do but write, and talk about writing with other amazing writers, and eat delicious food prepared by our hosts. I am so grateful for that time and the company.
I wrote 39 new pages of fiction, reworked the outline for my novel-in-progress, sent out a few query letters for my short story manuscript, and had two very productive meetings with my editor, Amanda Miska of Split Lip Press. I also met some wonderful people, and had so much fun chatting over food and our nightly bonfires with a glass or two of wine.
Writer Camp is held at the Godspeed Hostel in Port Matilda, PA, which is a lovely area with a nice view of the surrounding mountains and a pleasant stream that you can swim in. The water is crisp and cold and so refreshing. There are hammocks everywhere, and a tree swing, and it’s not hard to find a comfortable place to write.
The stream at Godspeed.
I fell into a general routine of eating breakfast, writing for an hour or two, taking a stroll along the stream, working on my novel outline or sending out submissions, eating lunch, meeting with my editor, and then writing for another hour or two before our afternoon excursion and dinner. That right there is what I want my life to look like.
Of course I don’t have that sort of luxury at this point in time—I have to work to pay my bills, after all, but that doesn’t mean I can’t put some elements of Writer Camp into my daily routine and writing practice. I live in a city and don’t have a stream nearby, but I have a big front porch and a big backyard that I’m slowly turning into my own little oasis. I can easily write on my porch in the warmer months, and on weekends I can take my notebook out to one of Pittsburgh’s many beautiful parks for more nature time.
Perhaps even more importantly than the real progress I made on a few of my writing projects is the reminder that writing time and time in nature are both an essential part of my self-care routine. Without both of those things, I start to go a little batty. I feel on edge, restless, unfulfilled. But when I make time for them I feel at ease, happy, content.
On the days that I write before I head into work, I feel productive and accomplished, and it doesn’t matter what happens at work. Writing is like a force field against all the little negative things that add up throughout the day. And Writer Camp was a way to recharge those force field batteries, make them strong again.
But just because I’m back in the “real” world doesn’t mean the work is done. The work of writing is never done, not really. So off I go, to do the work.
Today is the first day in a long time where I haven’t had to be anywhere or do anything. It feels nice, if weird. I feel like I can breathe a little, plan the rest of my summer, and actually enjoy the nerdy nerdy things I love (oh video games, how I’ve missed you).
Time, as always, still runs out before I accomplish everything on my list (plus all the things I want to do but don’t put on my list), but I still have a good number of accomplishments to round up from the first stretch of summer:
My short story “What Jeannie Needs” was published in Rose Red Review, an online journal that publishes modern fairy tales. I’ll write up a little behind the scenes post for this story in the near future.
My short story “The Time I Listened to Warren Zevon for One Year Straight” will appear in Permafrost’s Summer 2016 online issue.
For the work blog, I wrote about my corgi’s degenerative nerve disease and the debut novel Lily and the Octopus, and apparently made some people cry. I also wrote about Pokémon Go, which hopefully didn’t make anyone cry.
And finally, my review of Sherrie Flick’s Whiskey, Etc., written for the work blog, was syndicated on Littsburgh. This is another fantastic book that I highly recommend.
Even though this is a great list, I feel guilty about the things I haven’t done: written a synopsis for my short story collection and novel so I can attempt to sell both projects to an agent, reading a friend’s novel, reading my husband’s novel, devoting serious time to Wild Age Press… I could go on forever. It’s something I’m working on with my therapist.
Maybe one day I’ll hack this time thing. But in the more likely scenario that I don’t, I’ll try to remember that friends, family, and writing are the important things, and those should always come before all the necessary chores of life.