It has come to my attention (thanks, Annie!) that Rider Strong, aka Shawn Hunter, aka the moody dreamboat of Boy Meets World, is all grown up and is a BOOK NERD with an awesome bookish podcast.
Literary Disco is a top notch distraction for when you’re bored at work. You get to listen in on three friends argue about books and make fun of each other. And did I mention Shawn Hunter?
Bonus link: While searching for a sweet Shawn Hunter pic, I came across this 2012 article: “Rider Strong Is All Grown Up And Bearded (Hunk of the Day).” If you’ve been dreaming about Shawn Hunter wearing yet another leather jacket (obvi), shooting a gun (weird), or posing with a fluffy dog (sigh), this article has it all.
Donna Tartt at Congregation Beth Elohim, 10/29/13
I went to this reading and for the first time in a long time, I was thrilled to live in NYC.
It was such a SCENE! I spied J. Courtney Sullivan, Emily Mandel, Emma Straub (and baby!), Emily Gould, and the goddess of Tumblr, Rachel Fershleiser.
The event was already packed by the time I showed up, so I’m sure I missed seeing many a literary star. It was an author stalker’s dream come true.
Just when I thought Friday couldn’t get better, I saw this. I love her writing so much.
Cranberries, cocktails, and social good.
Starvation Alley Farms is set to become Washington’s first USDA Certified Organic cranberry farm, and I got to interview the (very nice looking) farmers who are making it happen.
If you’re already ready to call it a day, read to the end for their Starvation Alley Negroni recipe.
Photo by Giles Clement.
Sarah Gerkensmeyer is the author of What You Are Now Enjoying, a short story collection that blew me away with its gorgeous writing, unusual subject matter, and complex female characters. The book won the 2012 Autumn House Press Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Sarah, a Pushcart Prize nominee and finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, was kind enough to answer my questions.
When did you decide to be a writer? More specifically, did deciding to write professionally feel like a conscious choice, or was it more like an unavoidable calling?
I don’t think I ever had one of those singular, earth-shattering realizations of “This is what I must do.” I guess I’ve had a lot of small realizations about needing to write, starting since I was very young. It just happened to be the activity that I chose each morning during free time when I was in the first grade (I churned out a short story a day back then). It just happened to seem like a cool major when I was an undergraduate. And when my husband/then-boyfriend was in graduate school, I just happened to be extremely jealous and applied to MFA programs. I have realized, very gradually, that I am happiest when I’ve been writing. And who doesn’t want to be happy?
You have a job teaching creative writing, as well as a family. What is your writing schedule? Is it hard to find time to write?
Now that I’m a true grownup with all of the things that often accompany that category, my writing schedule is constantly in flux. When I’m writing regularly, I work best during the first half of the day. But a long series of uncluttered mornings is harder and harder to come by. Since I’ve had children, I have been relying a great deal on writing retreats. I leave for two weeks and become a writing robot, barely stopping to eat and sleep. When my second son was born, I gave myself little assignments and tried to write entire story drafts during his brief naps. I churned out very strange pieces, and a few of them survived and became the stories that pulled my entire collection together. So being busy and juggling a lot of things in life is not a bad thing for a writer. It’s important to figure out how that chaos can fuel our work in wonderful ways.
Between your own writing and teaching about writing, do you ever get sick of writing? Do you have any hobbies that are unrelated to the literary world?
I get sick of letting myself believe that I don’t have enough time for writing. During the pockets of clarity when I haven’t brainwashed myself into that belief, I never get sick of writing. I don’t think I have any hobbies, and I’m jealous of people who do. A few years ago a new friend asked me what my hobbies were, and I panicked. I don’t know that writing counts, since it feels like something I need to do in order to live. I used to have fish aquariums when I was a kid. Does that count? At one point I think I had four or five, and the big tank was brackish (part saltwater, very difficult to maintain). I’m impressed with how good I was at that. Maybe I need to do that again.
What are your writing routines or quirks, if any?
When I find myself getting stuck, especially in an early draft of something, I turn on the caps lock key. For some reason, this shuts down my nit-picky internal editors and allows me to just push on into a sense of strange discovery. Of course there’s still a little rat perched there on my shoulder, insisting that I’m churning out nothing but a big mess. But when I go back to those caps lock sections, I usually find my strongest stuff wound up within that mess.
Your story collection, What You Are Now Enjoying, is so wonderfully unique. While the stories are realistic, they all seem to have a nice dose of magic realism. Would you place your stories in this genre?
Slipstream, magical realism, fabulism, fairy tale…sometimes (okay—most of the time) I’m not quite sure exactly where some of my stories fall. I do know that I’m pushing boundaries, often blurring genre lines.
Do the magical aspects of the stories come naturally or do you have to work to find the “magical potential” of each story?
I do not consciously work to find the magic (or—in my best stories, I don’t allow that to be a conscious goal that takes over the piece). In fact, I would not let much of that magic through the front door of my story if it knocked and politely asked to be let in. I prefer magic that pops up out of nowhere and then insists, defiantly, that it has been there all along and that it belongs. Much of my writing career has been learning to be okay with how out of control my stories want to be. “Hank,” a story about a five-month-old who has long discussions with his new babysitter about his parents’ failing marriage, was one of the first pieces that got strange on me. Or the first strange story that I was able to successfully be okay with.
The stories’ subject matter is all over the place – from Wonder Woman to diving ama women in Japan to catfish noodling (which I had no idea was a thing until I googled it post-reading). Where do you find your inspiration? Once you have the idea to write about something (i.e., catfish noodling), how much research happens before you start writing?
I’ll hear about some bizarre, fantastic thing and then store it away in a disorganized mental file cabinet. A friend happened to mention the catfish noodling several years ago during an awesome Mexican lunch. I started to file the subject away, but it refused to be archived. I had to write that story. Creative research is such a strange beast. I think I’m most successful when I don’t let the research take complete control of the story. My mind needs plenty of room to wander and play. Having kids has helped with that.
With how much I’m juggling, I’m constantly switching gears and my attention span can be whacko. And this is the nature of creative research: Yes, sometimes you have the luxury to get totally sucked in and watch five straight hours of Youtube videos of men pulling five-foot-long catfish onto a muddy shore in some backwoods town with their bare hands. But it’s better when I only have enough time for a little bit of research at a time, spreading it out into small bursts. I need to be forced to piece things together at some later date, deep within the recesses of my imagination.
When I was reading the collection, I thought an overarching theme was women’s loneliness, or women’s independence, depending on how you view things. The women in the stories seem to be the most at peace when they have escaped from men or when they’ve turned to other women for support. Did you have this theme in mind when you were putting the collection together?
Thanks for the glass-half-full possibility! Because it’s been weird for me to realize how sad these stories are. That actually caught me a bit by surprise once the collection came together. I did not have a theme in mind while writing these stories. The plan was not, it turns out, to make myself cry. I was aware that I was telling stories from a female perspective, but I didn’t think through exactly what that perspective might be. I guess I’m discovering that now. For example, the idea of women escaping the world of men…now I’m going to have to mull that one over. There is a piece of each one of us that craves solitude, to some degree. That idea definitely seems to worm through a lot of my stories.
Do you have a favorite story from the collection? Were any stories particularly hard to write?
I’m going to tell you which story was the easiest to write instead. The last piece in the collection: “The Cellar.” This is one of the short-short stories that I wrote during one of my newborn’s naps. I probably wrote it in about a half an hour, if that. And it hasn’t changed much since that very first draft. That’s the magical moment I’m always chasing after, a story coming to me like that in such an unexpected and unfamiliar way.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Do not, under any circumstances, figure out what you are doing.
Which authors do you admire?
I’ll give a shout out to some of the strange women storytellers I admire: Aimee Bender, Karen Russell, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Shirley Jackson, Kelly Link, Judy Budnitz, Octavia Butler, Katherine Dunn, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.
Are you working on a new writing project?
I have plenty of strange stories whirling around in my head. But I’m actively focusing on my novel in progress right now. Some of the story’s contents include: blue skin, heart disease, wilderness, a failing indoor waterpark, first love/first sex, death, and hopefully some magic.
Finally, as summer wraps up, what was your favorite book that you read this season?
I thought that Karin Tidbeck’s story collection Jagannath was fantastic. She’s got such a raw instinct when it comes to fairy tale.
Author photo by Lori Deemer. You can follow Sarah Gerkensmeyer on Twitter @sarahgerk
Jo March, from Little Women. I love her single-minded pursuit of her objective. She wanted to be a writer, and she took risks and made it happen. Everything else came second to her, and as a people-pleaser, it’s an important lesson for me to remember: you have to do what’s right for YOU.
Based on my news feed, you’ve already heard about Reblog Book Club. I don’t want to be redundant, but can we just recognize what a great idea this is? Tumblr continues to be exceptionally awesome at supporting authors and readers, and I’m pumped that Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is the club’s first book.
I’ve been hearing amazing things about Fangirl for months, including this rave review written by Kerry Winfrey for Hello Giggles. Kerry is my most trusted book pal — needless to say, I ordered Fangirl as soon as I finished the first paragraph of her review:
Last week I wrote about why I love YA romance so much, and this week I’m following up with one of the best YA romances I’ve read in awhile: Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Ever since I got an advance copy months ago, I’ve been impatiently waiting to tell you guys all about how awesome, swoony and basically perfect this book is. I tore through it in a couple of days and, let’s be real, I’m probably going to reread it as soon as I’m done writing about it.
What You Are Now Enjoying, Sarah Gerkensmeyer - This is such a well-written, weird collection of stories. The female protagonists are all striving for independence, stability, and purpose while also dealing with polygamy, never-born twin siblings, catfish noodling, and monsters. To steal a phrase from Rachel Fershleiser, this is a perfect “women-processing-their-shit” book.
Meaty, Samantha Irby - Oh my dear lord. I got an advance copy of this hilarious book of essays and I feel nothing but sadness for people who have to wait until the September 10th release date. This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Samantha Irby somehow turns swearing into an art form. It is UNREAL. Amazing. Buy it.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris - I wish I hadn’t picked up the Sedaris book immediately after finishing Meaty, because nothing is funnier than Meaty. However, I love reading the ongoing adventures of David and Hugh, and this book did not disappoint. My only complaint is that a lot of the essays had previously been published in the New Yorker and weren’t new to me. But really, that’s just another reason I’m happy to have canceled my New Yorker subscription.