My long-anticipated short story collection will be available for sale on Amazon exactly one week from today! The collection includes 15 stories: some that appeared only in print, a few online favorites, and 5 all-new, never-before-published stories. In this book, I explore the idea of crime, from the newsworthy (arson, kidnapping) to the everyday (lies, betrayal). You’ll read about a young girl who poisons her best friend, a college student who steals a classmate’s ring, and a journalist who contacts the girl she once bullied. What causes these ordinary people to make such bad decisions? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert–This is a pleasingly ambitious historical novel about the life of a nineteenth-century female botanist. It seems cliche to use the word “sweeping,” but that really does describe the experience of reading this novel. It deals with science, love, family, and perhaps most strikingly, female sexuality, all within the context of one woman’s intellectual quest to describe the natural world.
Euphoria by Lily King–This is the story of a love triangle between anthropologists, based loosely on events in Margaret Mead’s life. King’s writing is gorgeous and the characters are well-realized. The subject is fascinating, the setting vivid, the plot suspenseful. All of this ties in for a perfect read!
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark–This lovely short novel somehow captures perfectly a beloved teacher’s influence, positive and negative, on young students. It’s very difficult for writers to describe such a fleeting, ephemeral thing, yet somehow Spark does it in a way that’s timeless and touching.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton–This classic is really worth reading. Wharton is a master of describing the nuances of forbidden love, within the context of wealthy late nineteenth-century New York. It’s entertaining and heartbreaking and suspenseful all at once. If you love reading about love, this subtle, beautiful novel is for you!
What did you read this summer? Post your recommendations in the comments!
Go online with a specific goal in mind. Stick to it and then get off.
Set social media time limits. My goal is fifteen minutes a day or less. That’s enough to post something, check your notifications, and get off. Even better, go on social media only every two or three days.
Turn off email notifications for social media. That way you’ll be less tempted to go on Twitter, Facebook, etc. every time you check email.
Take note of how much time you spent online. Visualize how that time could be better spent in real life (What are the things you think you don’t have time for? Exercise, reading, taking a class, getting outdoors, DIY projects?)
For long periods of concentration, invest in an internet-blocking app like Freedom.
Set aside periods of no-tech time–weekends, or a few week nights. Physically separate yourself from your laptop and phone.
Keep parts of your life offline. Try not posting photos of everything. It’s worth printing out special photos and putting them in a physical photo album that only you can see.
Don’t always reply to emails or texts right away. I know, this is heretical these days. However, I believe this is about habit and culture formation. If you’re in the habit of replying to messages right away, it reinforces the need to check your phone or email constantly (and if you don’t, you become freer from your devices). Reply time is socially enforced. When we reply instantaneously, everyone expects others to reply right away–causing us to become dependent on phones and laptops. By taking longer to reply, we shift the norm and break the cycle.
Consuming one thing makes you want to consume all the things. It’s not enough to read one or two news stories about an event or person; you have to read all of them.
You find yourself thinking about social media even when you’re not it. You think of tweets or pictures to post even when there’s not a phone or laptop in sight.
You’re not on the internet and you’re itching to get back on. The moment you try to do something serious, your mind urges you to take an internet break.
Every time you read a book or watch a movie or do anything at all, you feel the need to know what other people thought about it. You seek out reviews, amateur and professional, trying to find a piece of writing that sums up your feelings about it in an eloquent, satisfying way. These never exist, but you keep searching for them anyway.
You realize there’s an emptiness to the constant pleasure-seeking, scrolling mindlessly through social media feeds–and yet, even once you’ve decided none of these things are satisfying or enlightening, you continue anyway.
I am very excited to announce that my first book, a crime-themed short story collection titled PALE HEARTS, will be released by Insomnia Publishing later this year. Stay tuned for more specific updates!
In addition, I was just awarded my first artist residency. I’ll be spending a month at New York Mills Regional Cultural Center to work on my novel, a story about the rivalry between two teenage classical musicians.
This haunting, gorgeous novel revolves around two plot lines. Elderly Ruth hears a tiger sneaking into her home at night. Then a mysterious woman shows up to help Ruth around the house, supposedly sent by the government. The novel’s realism is subtly undermined by Ruth’s fantasies, memories, and personality quirks. As Ruth tries to uncover the truth about the tiger and the government helper, the novel becomes surprisingly suspenseful, while still lavishing attention to language and setting. This is such a stunning book, it’s hard to believe it’s McFarlane’s first.
Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta
As a person of small town origin, I loved seeing the suburban milieu treated as a serious subject in this story collection. Perrotta’s examination of suburban life is simultaneously entertaining and arresting. Especially of note were the title story (a masterclass in the perfect last sentence) and “Senior Season.” “Senior Season” dealt with the life of a high school football player who suffers from a concussion. The subject might seem ripe for satire or cliché, but Perrotta treated it with gravity and generosity.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
The more I read this book (this was my fourth or fifth read), the more I’m impressed by its perfect plot construction. A rich dinosaur enthusiast hires some scientists to figure out how to clone dinosaurs. He plans to create an island zoo/amusement park that will feature several extinct species. Experts are brought in to assess the park’s safety for the public, and things go horribly awry. Readers of “literary” fiction might be tempted dismiss this novel as a simple thriller, but it’s so much more than that. Although the plot involves a cool sci-fi concept, it is mainly driven by individual characters’ personality traits and ambitions (in other words, what you’re taught to write in every fiction class: character-driven plot). Also impressive is Crichton’s world-building. A lesser writer might have just had some generic dinosaurs and left it at that. Crichton imagines several different dinosaur species in great detail, describing not only their appearance, but also their behaviors and movements. These traits, in turn, affect parts of the plot, in such a strong way that the dinosaurs almost function as characters.
How to be Both by Ali Smith
This novel has two sections, each with an unusual narrator. The first is a grammar-obsessed sixteen-year-old whose mother has passed away. The second is a fourteenth-century artist. The writing style is original and surprising, almost experimental in sections. Yet Smith’s playful style doesn’t detract from the emotional content of the novel, as sometimes happens in books that focus a lot of attention on language. The jacket copy compared Smith to Woolf, which is sort of a lofty comparison. But after I finished the novel, I felt that Smith had lived up to it.
This novel examines the ambitions of Adam and Cynthia Morey, who ascend from the middle class into the realm of the wealthy–thanks, in no small part, to Adam’s adventures in insider trading. The Moreys are narcissistic, shallow, and materialistic, but somehow compelling in their shameless grand devotion to vice. Yet the characters never become caricatures. Despite all their flaws, the Moreys remain loyal to each other as a family. Adam and Cynthia both have opportunities to cheat on each other, but choose not to. Cynthia is a caring mother, not only to her own children but also to her daughter’s troubled best friend. (I found these to be surprisingly touching developments; dysfunction is in vogue as a literary subject, and it was nice to read about a fictional family that actually stays together.) The Privileges is at once entertaining, unsettling, and beautifully written, making for an enjoyable and memorable read.
There were four ways to kill someone with peanut butter. Beth had listed them herself. So it was practically her own fault, Anna reasoned, that the last way was so easy.
Gym was the best time, when she had easy access to Beth’s lunchbox. In the midst of the dodgeball melee, Anna frowned, rubbed her stomach, and muttered to the male gym teacher about a certain time of month, earning a blush and unlimited bathroom rights. On her way to the lockers, she paused to watch Beth run from a boy who slung ruthless dodgeballs at the weak. Beth escaped him, but she wouldn’t escape this.
I have another music-themed story out this week! This one’s about the odd relationship between two musicology grad students who meet at a conference. I am thrilled that New World Writing has posted this piece. I have admired this journal for a while and it is an honor to have my work published there. I also enjoyed the other stories they published this month– especially this one by Anna Hagen, a fellow Harvard grad!