2016 in Books

The last few years, I’ve set myself a reading goal, something that I would be challenging but achievable, and each of the last 2 years, I’ve missed it. So I decided not to set a number goal for books this year, and just read.

Well, I read 52 books this year. It’s the most I’ve read in the last few years, and while I was sort of hoping for more, I feel pretty happy with that number. There were a few months where I didn’t pick up a book at all, so if I can eliminate those dry months next year, I bet I can bump that number up a bit more.

In 2017, I’d like to read one non-fiction book a month on a topic I’d like to learn more about (I have a couple fields in mind), and try to push that 52 to at least 60. We’ll see how that goes (you can always follow me on Goodreads if you want to take a look at what I’ve been reading).

I wanted to share some of my favourite books of the year with you, in case you need some inspiration for 2017! (Think of these as sort of a highlight; I read some great books this year, and this list is hardly exhaustive.)

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

This is the last book I finished this year, and it was one of my favourites. Beautifully written, this book tackles topics such as race and interracial marriage in the 1970s, family dynamics, and the crushing weight of parental expectations. Equal parts haunting and redemptive. Absolutely stunning.

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon

This was another late-year read that skyrocketed to the top of my favourites list. I’m not the biggest YA fan, but the depth of this novel was fantastic. I love novels that focus on the complexity of relationships, and this book does that fabulously well. I thought the ending was really well done, and I loved the way Yoon worked in a number of different points of view, giving such a richness to the story and characters.

Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton

Melton’s second book did not disappoint. She tells a compelling story with honesty and vulnerability, and such grace. There is pain and beauty and redemption and love in this book, and knowing how her life has changed even since publication sheds new light on this book and the journey she has taken. Such a profound book.

All of the Inspector Gamache books, Louise Penny

I went on a reading binge when I got a hold of these books in the early summer. Penny’s writing is breathtaking, her descriptions of the small Quebec town made me ache. They’re mystery novels, but not gory and with profoundly layered and flawed characters. In fact, it’s the people who kept me coming back for more, the mysteries themselves an added bonus. I read all of these books in short order, something I hadn’t done since the Harry Potter series. So, so good. (that’s a link to the most recent one above)

The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Do we sense a theme? Troubled faily dynamics? I’m there. Cannot get enough of these kinds of these books, and Sweeney wrote this one so well. Characters I hated one second, loved the next. Characters I was rooting for and rooting against, almost at the same time. It was a little dark, a little hopeful, and so interesting. I couldn’t put this book down.

Rising Strong, Brene Brown

I feel like everyone’s heard of this one, and I don’t know that I can add anything that hasn’t already been said, but I appreciate Brene Brown’s voice so much, and this book was no exception.

Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, Addie Zierman

I love Addie’s writing so much; her blog remains one of my favourite things to read, and I loved her first memoir, When We Were on Fire. For Christians who grew up evangelical in the 90s, her words ring so very true. I appreciated the honesty and transparency in this book as she struggled with her faith, wrestled with big questions, and I loved the premise of doing it on a road trip with her boys. There was no red bow at the end, neatly tying everything together, and I think I loved that most of all. This book is so beautiful and hopeful and honest. I loved it.

Like I said, that’s hardly an exhaustive list. Some other books that I really enjoyed this year are Americanah, Searching for Sunday, Between the World and Me, The Year of Yes and The Lake House.

If you’ve got anything for me to add to my list for 2017, lemme know!

Happy, happy new year friends!

 

 

Why There’s Swearing in My Novels

When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time writing books. I finished a few of them, and they’re still bound in one-inch binders, stacked in my basement. More of them remained half-finished on my desktop, but there was one theme that ran throughout all of them, completed or not—they were Christian novels, with a very clear redemption storyline.

I grew up in the evangelical tradition, and a fairly conservative one at that, so swearing and sex and all those kinds of things were off-limits when I was writing, and I felt an obligation to have a prominent Christian theme as well.

But if you’ve read Remember Us, you know that it’s mainstream romantic fiction. There’s sex and swearing, and no mention of God or church or faith or anything like that.

I still consider myself a person of faith, although what that looks like has admittedly changed significantly since my teenage years (which is not really a discussion for this blog, is it?), but I no longer feel the need to write “Christian” books anymore. I’m an author who is a Christian, but I’m not a Christian author. Don’t expect I ever will be.

I wrote a long post on my personal Facebook page before I released Remember Us, preparing my friends and family for the content of the book. I was concerned that they’d be upset by parts of the plot and the language. Because, well, it gets a little salty. For the most part, it was really well-received, but I did have a few comments about the language I used, and I wanted to share some of my reasoning around that, especially since my next book will be very much the same, and even a bit darker as far as the storyline goes.

 

I know there are people who believe that swearing is lazy writing, that sex and violence are gratuitous and inappropriate, and that they don’t add anything to a book, but for me, it’s about believability.

My characters swear because that’s what people do. For me to write a book, especially one that revolves around a troubled, falling-apart marriage, without swearing, would have been ridiculous. And, not for nothing, there are only so many physical descriptions I can use to describe anger, when a well-placed f-bomb does the trick nicely.

I don’t have graphic sex scenes in my novels, because it doesn’t fit with my genre; same with violence. But unless I’m writing YA fiction, or there’s extenuating circumstances, adults are having sex. And if I choose to ignore that fact, my book is going to suffer. And we all need to remember that novels are fiction. My characters are making choices that make sense for them; it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d endorse that behaviour or make the same choices myself, or that I speak the same way they do. It means that I’ve created characters who live, act and speak a certain way.

My job as a writer is to tell the best story I can. It’s to create a world my readers can immerse themselves in. It’s to develop characters they love or hate, but who make them feel something. It’s to invite them into a well-crafted world for a few hours, and one way I do that is to write the most believable world I can, with characters I think could exist in real life.

Readers obviously always have the final say in what kinds of things they want to read. I don’t read graphically violent books because the content really bothers me. I skipped whole passages in The Hunger Games and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example, because of that. But I understand why it was there; I understand what it added to the book. And that’s the only thing I’d ask of readers who are wondering why an author uses the language they do, or includes violence or sex or other uncomfortable content. Why is it there? What is it telling you about the character? Most writers have very good reasons for why they include certain language, scenes, character traits, and I wouldn’t assume it’s to be offensive. If it’s not for you, that’s okay—we all like different things. But don’t villify authors for content choices; after all, it is just a book.

 

The Dream Job

Along with everyone else in the world, 2016 didn’t exactly turn out the way I’d hoped. I hate to be a person who is wishing time away, but I’ll be more than happy to greet 2017, and hope it turns out to be less of an asshole than this year.

This was going to be the year I published my second novel. In fact, at the beginning of last year I was well on my way, hitting the same word count and pace I’d seen for my first novel. I had dedicated writing hours a few mornings a week and I was committed to them, and by the spring my first draft was finished and I expected to be publishing my book sometime in the late summer, early fall.

Well, revisions ended up getting me stuck, because I was having trouble finding the true voice of the story. And then we bought a house, renovated that house, and moved. And nothing will destroy your creativity like the stress of moving. And, as I’ve said before, summer tends to be my creative wasteland anyway.

But nothing changed in the fall. At least, not around the writing. Some family and life things hit at the end of the summer, and my schedule and routine have been upended. And instead of figuring out how to make it work, I let the book collect dust.

Some of that is because I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to self-publish this time around. I bounced some ideas around with friends about editing and book covers, but nothing ever felt right, and in fact, it began to feel like I was pressing on something that needed to wait. And when I start to get that feeling, I know I need to step back and breathe for a moment. My implusive nature has landed me in trouble countless times, and at 34, I’m finally beginning to respect the signs.

It’s been a weird year. I’ve looked for jobs, I’ve dreamed about building my editing business into full-time work, thought about trying to break into freelance writing, I’m considering taking some courses. I’ve thought about walking away from writing, because maybe it’s not for me, and then a few weeks later wondered what financial magic I would need to perform to enable me to be home full-time so I could write. And came back again, because for whatever reason, I really believe that I am in the right place for me and my family right now. It doesn’t mean I’m not frustrated or restless, but it’s not time for big changes. I feel that in my gut.

So what now? Because I need my life to be about more than parenting and house responsibilities. I need something to do that excites me, that energizes me. And I’ve always known that thing is writing.

And as I started another day, same as all the others for the past few months, with a baby demanding my attention, and a cluttered house in need of tidying, I realized that my life isn’t going to get any less busy anytime soon. Flipping the calendar from December to January isn’t going to magically make my life easier to manage.

So I decided that if I want writing to be my dream job, then it’s time to make it happen. Not by up and quitting things or anything quite so dramatic, but by doing the small, quiet, boring things. I’m going to carve out time and protect it. And right now, it won’t be during my happy early-mid morning hours. Those aren’t times I have available to me, not for the next few months anyway. So it’ll be evenings and weekends, and maybe some early mornings before everyone else is awake. And it’s going to be tackling the revisions in this novel, even though they overwhelm me. And sticking with a story even when it’s not easy because it’s the story I was given, and the story I need to tell.

I’ll make writing my work by doing the work, instead of waiting for hours to open up, for inspiration to fall from the sky, for revisions to suddenly become crystal clear and easy.

And… *whispering* I’m going to query this book. It’s the thought, the nudge, that won’t leave me alone. When I wrote Remember Us, everything for self-publishing snapped into place. It was right. This time, though, it’s not working. And I know it’s for a reason. I don’t think that it’s necessarily because there’s a publisher dying for my book, or an agent who will be desperate to sign me, but I think it’s because I need to try. Because for so much of my life I have shied away from the kind of work that requires me to be judged and critiqued. I don’t want to find out I’m no good, or that my story is terrible. The idea of hundreds of rejections piling up does not fill me with glee.

But I think I have to do it. So I will. If for no other reason than because I know that this might just be a step along the way to self-publishing my book anyway, and I do want to see it out in the world. Also so that I get to working on another one!

Whew. That was a lot for one post. I guess I’ve had a lot on my mind the last few months, even if I haven’t been writing it all down.

2017 is going to be the year of work. Doing the work, trusting the work, believing in the work. Believing that the work of writing is valuable and necessary, and that maybe now more than ever, story is what we need.