How are you holding up?

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired….and not just because Ed-the-dog has decided to sleep in our bedroom. Or, not-sleep, as the case may be. That’s Q2 hour wake-up calls for everyone. 😑

He’s a good boy but we’re headed to the vet to see what his issue is.

Beyond sleep deprivation, the list of things I’m tired of goes on pretty long. I’m tired of hearing the name of our former president who still seems determined to shit on our governmental norms and traditions. I’m tired of hearing the name of a certain virus that seems determined to take all the fun out of life. I’m tired of bad news, like Russian aggression, random shootings, and people camping on street corners because they have no place else to go.

If you can find a one-bedroom apartment in Seattle for less than $1000 a month, GRAB IT because the average rent is much higher.

((To clarify, I’m not mad at the people who have so few options they’re living in tents wherever they can find space. I’m angry that I live in a community/city/state/country where housing isn’t guaranteed, and where you can be arrested for being poor.))

Wow, Ranty-Ranterson! Tell us how you really feel.

But this isn’t about me, or I didn’t intend it to be. I’m worried about everyone around me. I’ve got yoga, my garden, my family and friends. A husband who’s fun to be around. Books to write. I’ve got so many resources I almost feel bad complaining about things.

I mean, it’s Australian Open season. I can watch as much tennis as I want…for research purposes, of course.

I can’t reach out and touch everyone who reads this post, but I can practice what my yoga teacher talked about. She said we should inhale caring for ourselves and exhale love for others.

So I am. Exhaling. For all of you.

I hope you’re finding ways to take care of yourself and that you unplug when you need to. Take a walk. Read a good book. Leave the doomscrolling for another day.

The shit’ll still be there when you get back.

It’s Time to Rethink the “Great American Novel”

Yesterday I came across an article by an author who was trying to both define and write The Great American Novel (GAN). It got me wondering about what, exactly, the GAN is, why we are supposed to aspire to write it, and if the idea of the GAN still holds water today. It is something I hadn’t previously considered–I guess because I write commercial fiction and not literary and most definitions for some reason preclude commercial fiction.

First, how do you define The GAN? According to Wikipedia, it is “a canonical novel that is thought to embody the essence of America, generally written by an American and dealing in some way with the question of America’s national character.” Other criteria that have been developed include:

  • It must encompass the entire nation and not be too consumed with a particular region.
  • It must be democratic in spirit and form.
  • Its author must have been born in the United States or have adopted the country as his or her own.
  • Its true cultural worth must not be recognized upon its publication. (Source)

Let’s break this down:

“A canonical novel”
So it basically has to be a modern classic. But who determines that? Is it academia, critics, the public, or some combination? For the most part, what we define as a “classic” today is what we were told was classic in school. And does a classic always remain a classic? As we’ve very clearly seen over the last few years, culture changes, and with it, so does the definition of what is acceptable, both in subject matter and in regard to the behavior/attitude of the authors. (Let’s face it, the authors of some “classics” were sexist pigs.) Do we allow works with problematic content/authors to continue to be labeled as classic (as products or their time) or does the definition change over time?

“Thought to embody the essence of America”/It must encompass the entire nation and not be too consumed with a particular region.
My first thought is “whose America?” My America as a middle-class white woman is going to be vastly different from that of a Black woman, a white man, a non-binary person, an immigrant, or someone of a class above or below mine. The “essence of America” used to be considered that of the middle-to-upper class white man. But I would argue there is no one essence anymore, nor was there ever–there was simply a prevailing or ruling cultural viewpoint.

As for encompassing the entire nation, how does one do that? Unless you’ve lived everywhere for a length of time, how do you know what it is like to live in a certain place or be from that place? We have different viewpoints, attitudes and values in different parts of the country. If they mean the theme or plot has to be applicable to the entire country and not just, say, the Midwest or South or whatever, I guess I can get that.

Generally written by an American” or “Its author must have been born in the United States or have adopted the country as his or her own.”
Some people argue with this point because it rules out authors from other countries, but I can see it. As I said above, how do you really know a place if you’re not from there or you haven’t lived there for some serious length of time? I LOVE England. But no matter now much of an anglophile I am, can I really write something true to what it means to be English without having lived there? I don’t personally think so.

“It must be democratic in spirit and form.”
I’m not sure what this means. I guess they mean it needs to reflect the democratic system/values behind America. I think I can get behind that.

“Its true cultural worth must not be recognized upon its publication.”
Soooo, does this mean it can’t be a bestseller when it comes out? That it can’t win awards, etc.? That it has to molder in obscurity for 50-100 years? This is just dumb. How can it be a classic if no one at the time thinks it is destined to be? I think this may be an old point that doesn’t apply to an more literate and engaged audience like we have today. I also think it may be a precaution to keep commercial fiction out of the mix because it is what you see on the bestseller lists for the most part.

Why is the GAN important? Is the GAN still relevant today?
If you look at the GAN as it used to be conceived–by well off white men about the white male experience–no, it’s not relevant anymore, at least not to anyone outside of that group. I honestly couldn’t care less what some white dude thinks about American life. We’ve heard their blathering for centuries. They can continue to blather, but I also want to hear the voices of the underrepresented: the people of color, the immigrants, the women, those on the spectrum, the disabled, and those part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

As a concept, I can see the Great American Novel as a kind of guide or signpost about what it means to be American. However, the qualifications given really preclude this kind of book from ever existing. I mean, if it can’t focus on a region, how can it get to the essence of those people? And how can one single book really reflect the essence of a time period? I know some people argue that The Great Gadsby captured the essence of 1920s America. (As someone who HATES that book, I certainly hope not. If it does that means most men were pretenders and most women were featherheads.) But not everyone during that decade was a flapper or a bright young thing, so I don’t see how it can claim or be claimed to represent the whole of a country or period.

Instead, can there be a GAN for each decade, each class or for different parts of the country? It’s certainly more likely than there being one that encompasses everything. As Cheryl Strayed wrote, “the idea that only one person can produce a novel that speaks truth about the disparate American whole is pure hogwash.”

However, if we must persist in this idea of a GAN, then I believe we need to include commercial fiction (whether bestseller or not), break the definition into more manageable pieces, and allow for more than one perspective or book to encompass a part of what it means to be American. I actually wouldn’t mind if there was a collection of great American novels (notice I didn’t cap that)–ones that represent what it is like to live in all strata of American society. What it is like to grow up poor, be homeless, be in jail, have your rights taken away (or never granted) by law, to be blind/single/gender fluid/etc. in a world built for sighted/couples/cis/etc. people. What it is like to be an East coast elite or working class person, a Midwestern mogul or farmer, a Southern woman of color or a poor Appalachian. What it is like to rise from one thing to another within your community/culture/race. You get my point. That would be a really interesting reading experience.

If you want examples of books I would include, I would say that Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone and The Four Winds are both great American novels. The Great Alone vividly captures the isolation and beauty of life in Alaska and also what it must of been like to come back from Vietnam with PTSD, but not have a word or diagnosis for it yet. The Four Winds is an amazing portrayal of life during the Dust Bowl in the South/Middle Plains and as an emigrant seeking shelter in California. Both books are extremely immersive and teach as they entertain. I also think The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is an excellent example of what it must be like to be a Black teenager in a society where you have to fear the police.

Now, if we could just get the reading and literary communities behind something like this that would be a huge accomplishment. It would also be an inspiration for writers everywhere because it would mean any and all of us have the potential to write the GAN.

A reading journey with many, many turnouts

I was recently invited to promote one of my books on a website, specifically World of Ash, my dear, dear little apocalyptic baby. In the promo they wanted me to share some books I recommend for readers to enjoy that would be shelved next to WOA. Great concept, I love promoting other books, especially if it helps readers understand my books so they know if mine is one they would enjoy,

There was just one problem: I haven’t read any Dystopian, Apocalyptic, or Post-Apocalyptic books in ages.

I realized any books I would be recommending would be 5 to even 10 years old. That really had me hung up for awhile. One, would people want to hear about books that weren’t the hot new thing? And two, when had I stopped reading these genres?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with reading older books. And considering most of the books we read in our formative years are decades, if not centuries old, 5-10 years old is nothing. So I did write my post and I focused on some of the books I read around the time I got the inspiration for WOA, explaining why each of these books spoke to me.

But it got me thinking about how I’ll become obsessed with one particular genre and I’ll consume multiple titles over the course of months or years all shelved in the same places and then, just suddenly, poof! No more.

In high school I read a lot of sword and sorcery. A lot of Mercedes Lackey and her contemporaries. Her Elemental Masters would greatly influence my first series, The Elemental Series. Nothing at all like her books, being modern day and teenagers, but still, influenced. I also read my way through most of Anne Rice’s catalogue, gotta love me some vampires and witches!

In college I found a taste for some contemporary romance, probably because they were a good, easy escape from all of my college texts.

After college I found my way back to vampires and witches, discovering paranormal romance and devoured all of the Laurell K Hamiliton books, Keri Arthur, Jeaniene Frost, Patricia Briggs, and Kim Harrison. I mean. I could have opened a tiny used bookstore with just their books alone.

Then, as my bookshelves sagged under the weight of their lengthy series, I found YA. And yes, it was Twilight. You can hate, that’s okay. I had a very bad flu over the course of two weeks and I needed something I could escape into, that didn’t ask me to think too hard to follow complicated plots, and was long enough to fill the time. My dear husband went back to the store for each books as I finished them. And, thanks to Twilight, I realized I wanted to read more fantasy YA. And thank goodness I did because that would lead to my writing career.

Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Lauren DeStefano, Veronica Roth took me through beautiful fantasy realms, new magic systems, and wonderfully flawed but strong female leads. From there I wandered into Steampunk and with grabby hands added Kady Cross’s beautiful covers to my bookshelves.

For a long time I really only read fantasy but eventually I would find a love for cozy murder mysteries, especially Gretchen McNeil and Charlaine Harris (she does more than steamy vampires!).

Then, of course, zombies became all the rage and I found my way into apocalyptic books, which would lead me to Dystopia, which I would find people tended to conflate the two but they are different!

Somewhere in all of that I still read all the Harry Potters, most of Neil Gaiman’s library, and any number of books that are somewhere in my memory now. But I defintetly get hooked on one genre and read it until I am sick of it.

Surprisingly, as much as I love a murder documentary, a paranormal thriller, and a good horror movie (not gore!), I have yet to find a book in that same genre that can captivate me. I think I need the dark room, the ominous music, the silence, for that magic to work and you can’t exactly do that with a book. So I want the fantastical world, the tension of mystery, and the beautiful words for my books.

It’s strange to look back over a reading journey and realize just how vast and varied our tastes run. Maybe that’s why I have three different genres out there in my works. I’ve yet to master sword and sorcery in writing, and I don’t know if I ever plan to, but I am looking forward to seeing what else my reading and writing muses have in store for me.