My Changing Reading Tastes and What It Means for My Writing

September 24, 2012

Over the past year, I’ve noticed a distinct change in my reading preferences. While Young Adult and speculative fiction (even better, both!) used to be my genres of choice, now I find myself more compelled to read memoir and other non-fiction genres. And while I used to regularly read literary fiction, now I sometimes bypass the general fiction category at used booksales altogether. It’s not that I’m not interested in realistic human stories anymore … it’s just that, if there’s a book about something that could actually happen … I’d rather read a book by someone that it actually happened to.

While memoir has always been on the margins of my reading tastes, I’ve hypothesized several reasons that I have a renewed interest in it now.

  1. There’s a definite correlation between beginning my relationship with my husband almost three years ago and my interest in non-fiction. Although I’d been in love before, this was my first “serious” relationship, and I was hungry to see how other real people navigated this terrain. Not even six months into my marriage, I’m drawn to memoirs about lifelong partnerships and both successful and failed love. There are a lot of people who know this road better than I do.
  2. I’ve also had a pretty strong shift in my internal world in the past several years. Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that I’ve made a shift out of my internal world in the past several years. While I used to prefer to hide in my own imagination and would often choose its sanctuary over my real life, I’ve since become much more integrated into the real world. My reading taste seems to reflect this, although it was about two or three years behind my shift in consciousness.
  3. For a lot of my life, I’ve needed or thought I needed to escape for one reason or another. Although everyone needs an escape once in a while, myself included, I’m much less prone to it these days. I think it’s because I like my life, and so I seek to read books that help me understand it more deeply, rather than that help me get away from it.
  4. It may be that my genes are finally catching up with me. Although both my parents enjoy a good novel (especially a good sci-fi novel), they’re also strongly drawn to non-fiction. My dad devours biographies, while my mom, a nurse, seems to crack open books about health far more often than any of the hundreds of other books on her shelves (although she listens mostly to fiction audiobooks).
  5. I may simply have OD’d on fiction. Although I’ve been picking up non-fiction about subjects that interest me (mostly religion and feminism) for years at used book sales, I haven’t actually read all that much of it. I often asked myself if I ever would get around to reading all that non-fiction when novels were so enticing to me. Well, perhaps I was more prescient than I thought, and I now find myself quite well-stocked for my increased non-fiction appetite!

While I still try to read across genres, and actually set something of a reading “schedule/system” to guarantee variety, I do wonder how or whether this new attraction to non-fiction will play out in my writing. Of course it makes sense to write within the genre that you read the most in — but right now, I have very little interest in writing non-fiction aside from journaling, blogging, and responding to requests to write articles. Still, the first book with my byline is not a novel but a collection of true stories from young adult Catholics — in essence, a collection of short memoirs. And my own short memoir-esque piece about being bisexual and Catholic is currently set for publication in two separate collections.

So although I have no immediate plans to write heavily within the non-fiction genre, I find myself wondering what might emerge after all this has settled in several years. I’ve always loved reading retellings, for example, but didn’t write my first retelling until about seven years after I began reading them, and it was a very loose retelling at that. Now, I’m working on a retelling of “Rumplestiltskin” with plans to retell “Rapunzel” during NaNoWriMo and, eventually I hope, “The Little Mermaid.” Does this mean a non-fiction book will be beating at the edges of my brain about ten years from now? I guess I’ll just wait and see, and enjoy all the writing and reading in the meantime.

Advertisements

Pay Attention to Your Dreams

December 8, 2008

Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid it made you question reality for a bit? Or one that lodged so deeply in your gut that you felt sure it was telling you SOMETHING, that maybe, just maybe, it might even be prophetic? And have you ever noticed that no one else seems to get what a big deal this dream was when you relate it?

I hate to break it to you, but most people only find their own dreams interesting. And why shouldn’t we? Not only are they all about us, but they can sometimes give us insight into things we didn’t know we knew. But I do advise refraining from relating your long, crazy dreams to your friends and coworkers; I think we’ve all had the experience of feeling our mind glaze over when someone begins a sentence with,  “Once I had this dream that . . .” (Exception to this rule: people like hearing about themselves. If you had a dream that your best friend shaved her head and moved to Madagascar, by all means, let her know!)

The funny thing is, the things people often find dull or boring in conversation can be endlessly fascinating on the page. So while you shouldn’t tell everyone your every dream, don’t let them go to waste, either.

I’m a strong proponent of writing vivid dreams down first thing in the morning; usually they’ve lost their impact by lunchtime. Writing them down not only allows you to hold onto that otherwordly experience, but it also helps you untangle the delightfully twisted symbolism of your psyche. AND writing down your dreams makes you more likely to remember your future dreams, and believe me, you want to keep those dreams coming. It’s not just that it’s darn interesting to be the star of your own art film every night — dreaming, even nightmares, are healthy for you. One study conducted on people who suffered from depression discovered that those who dreamed vividly and remembered those dreams were more likely to recover from depression, even without the help of therapy or medication. Some mental health professionals even believe that we would go crazy without the nightly unraveling of our unconscious.

But what does all this have to do with writing? Dreaming is a lot like reading: it can suck you in so deeply  that you don’t even think of coming up for air. And when it’s over, you can ache to go back or breathe a sigh of relief that you can return to your regularly scheduled life. And in both cases, you’re left with the uncanny feeling that you have definitely experienced something phenomenal and you’ve come away changed–even if the rest of the world doesn’t understand that it happened.

Because of this, your dreams can make an almost seamless transition into your writing. Although people don’t want to hear about your dreams every morning, they’ll be happy to read them disguised as poetry, fiction, or music — because if done right, these venues don’t just “relate” the experience. They make the receiver a participant in the experience.

One of my recent novels was inspired by a dream that later became a scene in it; the queer SF short story that finally began taking root in my mind was also inspired by a dream I had months ago (and I knew I should do SOMETHING with that dream, though I couldn’t imagine what at the time). Stephanie Meyer claims that a dream that later became Chapter 13 of Twilight inspired the whole series (love or hate the books — and I’ll refrain from telling you my stance on them — you can’t deny that she must feel pretty satisfied that she didn’t let that dream go to waste).

Whenever I write something inspired by a dream, I feel as if I’m “cheating,” because I didn’t “really” make that up. But if I didn’t make it up, who did? All art is really a connection to the subconscious anyway, and you might as well take advantage of the movies that play exclusively in your mind. So dream big.


Poetry and Pantoums

December 4, 2008

Tomorrow night I’m going to be in Madison, Wisconsin, reading my poem, “Angry Catholic Woman” from the GirlChild Press anthology, Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta! I feel nervous about it, as I’ve never considered myself much of a spoken-word artist, but I like Madison, and it was so easy to commit back in the summer when the thought of reading in front of strangers (and a few friends) felt so far away. But then, I’ve never considered myself much of a poet, either (my eyes always glaze over calls for poetry submissions),  but that wasn’t enough to keep me from submitting this one.

Of course, I feel a bit as thought I cheated: I used a template.

I wrote “Angry Catholic Woman” shortly after my friend Theodora introduced me to the Pantoum, a poetry form that follows a specific pattern of repetition. So I decided to try my own Pantoum out, and voila! About six months later, I was holding the acceptance letter in my hands (which is still hanging on the fridge, by the way — GirlChild Press has gorgeous stationary). So if you’re like me, and don’t consider yourself a poet, or even if you do, the Pantoum is definitely a form worth trying.

And if you’re not able to make it to A Room of One’s Own for the reading tomorrow night, or if you just want to see what a finished pantoum looks like, here is mine:

I am an angry Catholic woman
I cross my arms, don’t fold my hands
I slouch in the pew
I drop post-it notes in with dollar bills during the offertory.

I cross my arms, don’t fold my hands
The notes say, “Jesus challenged the status quo.”
I drop post-it notes in with dollar bills during the offertory.
The notes say, “Male and Female God created them.”

The notes say, “Jesus challenged the status quo,”
so “Support the ordination of women.”
The notes say, “Male and Female God created them.”
I cried the first time I saw a woman at the altar

So “Support the ordination of women.”
The priest wouldn’t wash women’s feet on Holy Thursday
I cried the first time I saw a woman at the altar
The priest wouldn’t wash their feet because their nylons were a hassle.

The priest wouldn’t wash women’s feet on Holy Thursday
He started when I left the Church, I like to think my anger had something to do with it
The priest wouldn’t wash their feet because their nylons were a hassle.
Still, I go barefoot and I love the feel of clean feet.

He started when I left the Church, I like to think my anger had something to do with it
But I only explored, traded one for another, always came back.
Still, I go barefoot and I love the feel of clean feet.
And you are not fit to untie the strap of my sandal.

But I only explored, traded one for another, always came back.
I slouch in the pew.
And you are not fit to untie the strap of my sandal.
I am an angry Catholic woman.