Posts Tagged: books

My Writing Philosophy, AKA Meg Cabot is My Hero

Have you read the Princess Diaries books? If not, please go read them. I’ll wait.

Okay, so you’re set now? Great. Then you get why I’ve always loved them so much. I mean, it’s pretty easy to understand. For one thing, they’re funny. Like, actually laugh-out-loud funny, filled with weird side characters and hilarious situations and a voice-y narrator who instantly feels like she’s your real best friend. And just as importantly, they’re romantic. Michael Moscovitz is near the top of my list of Ideal YA Book Boyfriends (and I’ve read a lot of YA, you guys). The most recent PD book, Royal Wedding, was just as funny and romantic and goofy and sweet as every other book in the series. Meg Cabot is the queen of the YA (and adult!) romcom.

But, if I can keep fangirling over Meg Cabot for a little while longer, she also gave me something even more important than wonderful books: a writing philosophy.

So here’s the thing. I have a lot of friends who are extremely educated. They have multiple degrees and letters after their names. They have big, important jobs where they make actual money and save actual lives. They talk about doing things at work that I can’t even imagine. It’s all enough to sometimes make me feel a little bit inadequate, with my little bachelor’s degree and my job that basically involves sitting at a computer and listening to a weird Youtube mix called STUDY MUSIC BRAIN POWER because it helps me zone out and write fighting scenes, or kissing scenes, or fighting and kissing scenes.

Because that’s what I write! Kissing books! Okay, so I’ve only written the one, but the likelihood that I’ll ever write a book that doesn’t prominently feature a climactic first kiss is pretty slim. That’s what I like, but I’ve spent a long time feeling like it’s not enough. I was lucky to study creative writing with professors who were surprisingly open to genre fiction (that’s not always the case!), but creative writing programs are almost exclusively focused on literary fiction. That means, basically, that you’re gonna end up with a room full of 21 year olds writing about divorce and aging. When I was in school, I just sort of assumed I’d write stories like Lorrie Moore or Charles Baxter or George Saunders. That was partly because I love their stories–there’s no one funnier than Lorrie Moore, or more emotional than Charles Baxter, or better at making me sob while laughing than George Saunders. But it was also because I thought that’s what I was supposed to write. After all, I was “studying” the Best American Short Stories compilation, not paperbacks from the romance section of Barnes and Noble.

Although I love literary fiction as much as the next girl, commercial fiction has always taken up the biggest piece of my heart. Commercial YA, specifically. I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I actually read one of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books hidden behind in a textbook. Contemporary YA, the kind that’s funny and involves a whole lot of kissing, is my jam. It’s just what I like!

But even though I like it, there was a part of me that felt like it wasn’t enough. I’m certainly not saving lives with it, like my friends do at their jobs. And writing isn’t exactly a great career to pick if you’re set on making reliable bank. And then there’s the whole thing about how I like to write funny things that involve kissing, not the next Great American Novel. Like, Jonathan Franzen would actually hate everything I’ve ever written (as well as everything about me, if I’m being honest).

That’s where Meg Cabot comes in (seriously, thanks for hanging in there for so long). In one of the later Princess Diaries books, when Mia is writing a romance novel and Michael, her boyfriend, is busy inventing this high-tech robotic arm that’s going to be used by doctors during surgery, Mia starts feeling kind of useless. She’s got this genius boyfriend who’s literally saving lives, and she doesn’t feel like her kissing books are as important. Michael tells her something that really stuck with me: While his fancy robot arm is saving someone’s life, that person’s family members are sitting in the waiting room. And those people are sad and scared and freaked out, and they need something to comfort them. Maybe Mia’s books don’t save lives in the literal robot arm sense, but to those people who need something to read to distract themselves from what’s happening and to comfort themselves when they’re scared, those books can be life-saving in a different way.

It’s something that I’ve come back to over and over again in a year that’s been emotional enough that I simply haven’t wanted to read anything “serious” or “depressing.” I’ve been reading a lot of kissing books, a lot of funny books, a lot of straight up romance novels. And you know what? The Nora Roberts Bride Quartet may not have literally saved my life, but it sure did make it better. When I was younger, I used to think that using art as a means of escaping from your life was somehow weak or sad. (I was dumb.) The thing is, life is hard sometimes. Sometimes it’s really hard. And maybe you deal with it by dancing with your friends to some dope Outkast jams at a wedding (ahem, me last week), or maybe you deal with it by helping other people, or maybe you deal with it by picking up a book that has a guaranteed happy ending. That escapism and comfort is important, and meaningful, and honestly, sometimes essential.

So maybe I’m not operating on anybody, or counseling anybody, or saving any animals’ lives. But I do believe that what I’m doing is making a difference, even if it’s in a less obvious way. I probably would have realized this on my own eventually, but hearing Meg Cabot say it through the words of Michael Moscovitz helped a lot. I remember those words every single time I sit down to write, and I keep them in mind throughout every kiss, every friendship, and every happy ending.

2015 Read Harder Challenge Progress

So how’s your year of reading going so far? Back at the beginning of the year, I decided to do the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder challenge as a fun way to make sure my reading is varied. I have a tendency to read a lot of the same thing, which I don’t necessarily think is a negative. But still, there are a whole lot of books out there, and I’d like to make sure I’m at least exploring them.

Here are the challenge books I’ve read so far:

A book published by an indie press: Safari Honeymoon.

A book by a person whose gender is different from your own: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King. I love him but I did not love this book.

A book that takes place in Asia: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed, which mostly takes place in Pakistan.

A book by an author from Africa: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who’s from Nigeria.

A YA novel: Probably 60% of what I read is YA, so…I’ve already completed this one several times over.

A romance novel: Again, I read a lot of romance. But Vision in White by Nora Roberts is one of the first true “romance novels” I’ve read.

A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade: I tried to read Redeployment and decided not to after the first story. Read harder, sure, but also don’t give yourself stress nightmares. But I requested Olive Kitteridge from the library!

A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.): This is hard for me because I really don’t like retellings of myths, Bible stories, Shakespeare, etc. They only remind me about how I know NOTHING about ANY myths and I have no religious education whatsoever, so I don’t get any references. But I’ll do it, Read Harder challenge. I’ll do it. I’m thinking of reading The Wrath and the Dawn.

An audiobook: The Stephen King book I mentioned earlier! It’s his shortest book, so a good pick for a few hours of driving. But be warned: the ENTIRE thing is narrated in dialect.

A book that someone else has recommended to you: Gonna read Olive Kitteridge because of Lauren’s recommendation! But honestly, I’ve probably already read something she recommended this year.

A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind: Safari Honeymoon by Jesse Jacobs. I also have Kiss and Tell by MariNaomi on my TBR list.

A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure: This is a little hard, since I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures. BUT I guess Nora Roberts isn’t seen as “literature.” Guess what? She rules. Suck it, haters. She practically owns an entire town and she’s incredibly rich and she gets to write all day.

A book published before 1850: I’m working on Wuthering Heights. It’s really hard to read Wuthering Heights when you have so many funny, romantic YA novels to read.

A book published this year: I’m a book reviewer, so I’ve already read tons of books that came out or are coming out this year.

A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”): I’m not sure if Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work! counts, but I think it does.

I still have to read a book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ, a collection of poetry, a book that was originally published in another language, a sci-fi novel, a collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people), a microhistory, a book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.), a book written by someone when they were under the age of 25, and a book written by someone when they were over the age of 65.

I’m a little surprised that I’m not doing so bad, and it’s only April, so I have plenty of time to read books that fit in the rest of the categories on the list (and I already have most of the books sitting around, which makes it easy). But I wouldn’t say that I’m really “reading harder.” If anything, I’m reading waaaaay easy. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff that will not upset me because I’ve been stressed out and anxious, and let me tell you, when you’re already having weird nightmares the last thing you want to do is read a book of short stories about war and PTSD. So I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels and lighter things. But you know? I don’t feel bad about it. I write things that are definitely on the lighter, funnier side (sort of), and I think all writers should read really widely in their genre. Still, I probably need to read some more classics.

You can find me on Goodreads if you want to know more about what I’m reading!

The Things I Want to Write

Have you noticed that I haven’t been writing on this blog even half as often as I used to? “No, Kerry, because we all have lives that don’t revolve around you,” you say as one. Well, okay, guys. Maybe you DON’T CARE, but I will explain my absence anyway: I’ve been doing a lot of non-blog writing, and that gives me less time for this blog. I do love Welcome to Ladyville, but I also love writing other things. And, because writing begets writing, all I can think about now is all the stuff I WANT to write. So here’s a list. Some of these are more serious/more practical than others.

-About 15 million YA contemporary romances, because these are probably my favorite things ever and I just want to be Meg Cabot (aka write all the time and live in Key West).

-A girl detective series, like Nancy Drew but the detective is Bess and she messes everything up constantly. Or maybe the main character is George and she barely even gives a SHIT about yr dumb mysteries.

-A screenplay with my brother Alex, because we’re both writers and we need to be more like the Duplass bros (or the brother/sister team who wrote Our Idiot Brother).

-A blog with Lauren because we email each other multiple times a day and, I know I’m biased, but our emails are so great that it’s a real shame they aren’t shared with the world. But they’re probably 50% shit-talking, so maybe it’s best that no one else reads them.

-A short story that’s good enough for Rookie.

More fanfic about Lenny Kravitz because I’m only human and I really do love him/make up stories about him in my head all the time.

-A blog about romantic comedies (whoops, I’m already writing that).

-A YA/MG book in diary format because those were always my favorite growing up (and, again, I just want to be Meg Cabot).

-Romantic comedies that aren’t YA.

-A TV show set in a small town full of quirky characters like Hart of Dixie. One where everything always ends up pretty happy at the end of each episode, and also Jason Street is involved.

-Those mysteries that are all about food and have, like, a picture of pie on the front and a recipe in the back? Have you ever seen those at the library? They look fun. Also I’m obsessed with mysteries because I love them and CONSTANTLY tried to write them as a child. The murderer was always the next door neighbor.

-A series about four bffs, because Sisterhood the Traveling Pants is perfect.

-Updated Baby-Sitters Club books. I remember a LOT of details and I can totally do it. Mallory might be “mysteriously” absent and/or this series can turn into the murder mystery I always wanted to write.

-Anything you will pay me for, basically. Give me $$$ for words, please.

What I Read: January 2015

I’m taking a cue from my friend, your friend, our friend Lauren and writing a post about the books I read this month. I read a lot more than usual and I’m not sure why–I guess because it’s January and what else am I going to do? Here’s what I read last month!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’ll admit that I have a bit of a bias against long books–I don’t really know why. But even though Americanah was on the long side, it flew by. This book is funny and smart and very current–the main character has a blog that I can totally imagine existing in real life. It’s very, very good and I cannot recommend it enough.

Safari Honeymoon by Jesse Jacobs
I don’t know if I liked this or not, but it did make me laugh out loud twice, so there you go.

Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer
If you like Friday Night Lights and you like food, you’ll like this. It’s set in Texas and features a chef who gets a job cooking last meals for inmates on death row. It’s such a perfect concept for a book that it makes me a little angry I didn’t think of it.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
If you’re not yet part of the cult of Patchett, read this profile of her on The Hairpin. She’s great, right? The essays in this collection are about dogs, her grandma, her marriages, and books. They’re all deeply enjoyable and effortless to read.

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
I like books about creativity. This isn’t a “heavy” read, but if you’re interested in creativity and promoting your work, you’ll probably like it.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
I wrote about this book (and interviewed the author) on HelloGiggles. It’s so good. I love books that really communicate what it’s like to grow up in a small town and be afraid that you’ll get “stuck” there but then also knowing you’ll miss parts of it.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I liked this book! I will warn you that it is much more of a family drama than a mystery. One of the characters has a revelation while looking through her mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook and I’m pretty sure my response to that was not supposed to be, “Oh man, I should bake a pie,” but you know what? It was. I can’t help it. I’m so hopelessly domestic that even reading about a character rebelling against domesticity makes me want to make a pot roast with two sides.

Reading Resolutions

My 2014 in books was, honestly, not that great. I read 61 books, which sounds like a lot, but isn’t really. Two of my jobs (writing for HelloGiggles and writing book reviews) involve reading books, which I think means I should be reading way more. And, yeah, I work a lot and I’m busy, but so are a lot of people who manage to read way more.

Even if I consider quality over quantity, I’m not super happy with my year in reading. I read a lot of books that were just okay last year. Do you know how much I hate reading an okay book? Just about as much as I hate eating an okay meal. I know that I’m more food motivated than my dog, but I just want every meal to be a completely perfect taste experience. In the same vein, I want every book to totally knock my over. Did that happen last year? No. I did read some really great books (An Untamed State, The Girls from Corona del Mar, The Start of Me and You, Vivian Apple at the End of the World, Every Kiss a War, Strange Light, Since You’ve Been Gone, and Meaty are a few examples), but I’m struggling to remember what some of the books I read were even about. Honestly, I would rather read a terrible book than a book that’s just fine.

This year I got my first gig writing straight-up book reviews (I don’t consider the writing I do for HelloGiggles to be “reviewing” since I only write about things I like). It’s hard and fun in equal measure, but mostly it’s taught me something invaluable: a lot of books are really boring. Like, so boring. As a writer, this is both incredibly discouraging and incredibly motivating. On the one hand, what if I’m accidentally writing something really boring? But on the other hand, maybe now that I know Being Boring is the #1 book crime, maybe I can just work extra hard to avoid it.

And maybe I’m being boring right now and I should just stop. The point is, I made some reading resolutions for 2015 to hopefully ensure that my year in reading is a lot more interesting.

1. Complete the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. I’ve only read three books so far this year and I’ve already completed a few of the requirements.

2. Read every book by Toni Morrison and Ann Patchett. I figured these authors were good picks because I like both of them but I’ve only read two of their books. And neither of them have such a huge catalogue that it’s totally unrealistic.

3. Read 62 books. I read 61 last year, so basically I just want to barely outdo Past Kerry.

Will I complete all of these resolutions? Probably not! But, as of late, my motto has been “progress is better than perfection,” and I’m just excited to see how far I get.

What about you guys? Do you make reading resolutions? The first book I read this year was Americanah and it was so amazing that it gave me hope for the rest of the year. Let me know your reading resolutions and, seriously, go read Americanah right now if you haven’t.