2016 First Novel Prize Shortlist aka My Fall Reading List

Go here for synopsis’s about these books.

A week ago the Center of Fiction announced the finalists for this years First Novel Prize. Seeing that the list was a lovely mix of women and color (plus one stoic male equivalent), and I’d already read and loved Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, I wanted to read other books first-time novelists were being celebrated for. The winner will be announced on December 6th so I hope to have read all except Kia Cothron’s The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter by then, which is a galloping 800 pages.

I snagged a free copy of Emma Cline’s The Girls during my creative writing class (which was equivalent to winning the lottery considering the amount of other people who’d shot their hands up for it), I’m halfway through and it’s so enjoyable. I find myself both inspired and wholly consumed with jealousy by Cline’s style, humor, and insight – so much confidence I didn’t think could (or should) exist in a twenty-seven year old writer. But Cline is an obvious exception to the rule and was published in Tin House by the time she was sixteen, while most of us teens were still figuring this writing thing out through angsty poetry.

These finalists have written novels that explore girlhood, freedom, homosexuality, loneliness, and race. For the same reasons I think it’s valuable to keep up to snuff with what literary magazines are publishing, I think it’s also good to read books by new novelists – it’s a direct observation of what the publishing and creative worlds are paying attention to.

Of the five books I haven’t yet read, I’m most excited to read Here Comes The Sun and will pick that one up once I’m done with The Girls. Have you read any of the books on the First Novel Prize shortlist? What did you think? Are any of these going on your ‘to read’ list? Do you have any guesses at which book might win?

Craft Quote #5 – Why Do We Write?

Photo: Goodreads.com

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
—George Orwell

George Orwell authored dystopian masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984, which are now required reading in many high-school English classes around the world, and still considered the process of novel writing to be a dire one.

So why did he do it? Why does any writer, famous, infamous, or aspiring, do it? Short stories and novellas are also a struggle to complete (in some aspects, even more so than a novel). Clearly there is some unknown entity that chases most of us writers. I, for one, have no idea why the strong urge to write has followed me through childhood and well into my twenties, even when I stifled art in pursuit of other careers it was only a temporary distraction and attempt at not being my mother’s worst nightmare. I may not understand what initially sparked my desire to write, write, write, but I have some idea of why I am doing it now; I love the empathetic perspective writing requires; there are endless cultures and lifestyles waiting to be explored and recreated; the rhythm and clarity of a well structured sentence is something truly wonderful; I’m a nerd for the emotions words create, and a sympathetic person that I also hate; there’s a story in me that needs to be written.

Why do you write? Do you remember the first time you picked up a book and thought I could do this!? Do you also remember how wrong you were about how easy it would be?

Literary Magazines Every Emerging Writer Should Read

Especially the uninspired, which unless you’re going through a writing streak (lucky you!), is most of us. Poets & Writers! Tin House! AGNI! Why should you care these magazines exist? Do you even care? I didn’t, once. But having since been liberated from sub-rock living, I’ve had the chance to read one clear and moving story after another, discover new writers, and learn about my own writing.

In general, writers who read books have a leg up on those who do not. Those reading-writers who read outside of one genre; the leg raises even higher. And those who read literary magazines; both legs fly in the air.  

I’ve mentioned before the value of reading work other writers are creating (and in turn, what publishers are currently reading) is priceless. Literary magazines are a world where short stories, poetry, and essays from emerging and experienced writers come together without judgement and create a mix of beautiful voices. The sweetest part? A lot of magazines regularly accept unsolicited submissions, so writers who may never have had the opportunity to be seen end up getting published.

Just like the blogosphere, literary magazines create community, discussion, and information exchange. Keeping this in mind, I compiled a list of magazines every emerging writer should read, love, hug, enjoy, feel a strange sense of jealousy towards, and learn the craft from. Although I refer to the print versions of these magazines most of these have the option to read online, making infinite entertainment and knowledge just a thumb tap away.

Tin House. Published four times a year.

For the writer seeking clear voice and quirky plots.

Tin House features short stories, essays, poetry, author interviews, book reviews, and a Lost and Found section that focuses on under appreciated books of the past. Publisher Win McCormack writes of the magazines creation, that he “wanted to create a literary magazine for the many passionate readers who are not necessarily literary academics or publishing professionals.” and he succeeded ten-fold. Tin House stays true to this by ensuring at least one undiscovered writer and poet is presented in each issue.

Poets & Writers. Published bimonthly.

For the writer seeking information on the ins and outs of the ‘industry’.

Contest deadlines, author interviews, stories, discussion articles on what’s new in the writing world, the information, tips from authors, support, and community P&W provides is endless. Their work is rooted in fostering “the professional development of poets and writers,  to promote communication throughout the literary community, and to help create an environment in which literature can be appreciated by the widest possible public.” They have a huge online presence where all of this information is much easier to funnel down and return to in this format, outlining the steps you could make towards turning your fun writing habit into a career.

Boulevard. Published three times a year.

For the writer interested in contemporary literature, arts, and culture.

Boulevard magazine publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and although names like John Updike are present in a long list of authors who have published work in this magazine,  Boulevard likes to see “less experienced or unpublished writers with exceptional promise.” Poetry and short story contests are held often, so it is easy to discover new authors with varied experience levels and backgrounds.

One story. Published eighteen times a year.

For writers looking for the great story.

One Story features one short story per issue, good enough to stand alone in a magazine. This means there is a lot of due diligence behind finding that story, and what is chosen is always top quality writing with clear voice, and a story that has never been told before. I especially recommend this for writers in a rut. Reading just one story and studying it, rather than reading one short after the other, can be a good technique for particular writers to learn.

AGNI. Published twice a year.

For the writer searching for meaning in stories.

Created by once aspiring writer, Askold Melnyczuk, AGNI aims to showcase a new generation of writers and visual artists, and is known for publishing well known writers at the start of their careers. Publications see “writers and artists hold a mirror up to nature, mankind, the world; they courageously reflect their age, for better or worse; and their work provokes perceptions and thoughts that help us understand and respond to our age.” AGNI pushes emerging writers to give context and meaning to their own work, and ask themselves “why?” rather than writing just for the sake of it.

Granta. Published four times a year.

For the writer with wanderlust.

Granta is so old they have published work from Sylvia Plath, but don’t let that scare you emerging writers away (after all, Plath was once considered ‘emerging’ at some point too, right? Right?!). Every issue has a particular theme and it’s great to see how each writer tackles the challenge. Focused in essays, photojournalism, contemporary realist fiction, and showcasing the best voices from around the world; the UK, US, Norway, Brazil, Japan, Spain, to name a few. Granta shows emerging writers a global perspective when it comes to storytelling and observing the world around us. 

All of these magazines are just the very limited few emerging writers should consider buying/downloading and giving a long read, whether you’re trying to learn about writing, the industry, or just find new and interesting voices. Let me know in the comments what magazines you would add to this list! Are you already addicted to any of these publications? Do you remember any particular literary magazines that helped you develop as a writer?