Just a quick note to say that all my updates have moved to a substack mailing list, if you’d like to subscribe! I’ll only send out my newsletter about once per quarter, and plan to have updates with my own writing, but also with what I’m reading and cooking and laughing about.
I’m a debut author from the Midwest. I’m in four book clubs and love reading even more than writing. I also teach at a university and am a mom– three kids under ten! Much of this book was written right after bedtime with a bottle of beer and a stack of research books next to me.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
My novel is about an anti-social butterfly. The heroine, Greta studies butterflies and prefers them to people. When her twin has a health emergency, she has to rush home from a research trip. While taking care of him, she has to rebuild the bridges she burnt in her family– and with her ex-boyfriend. It’s a good fit for lovers of a grumpy hero, like inA Man Called Ove.
Megan Giddings is the features editor of The Rumpus and author of some amazing short stories at places like The Iowa Review and Gulf Coast. After reading some of her shorter work, I was thrilled to receive and advanced copy of her debut novel.
Lena Johnson, fresh from her grandmother’s funeral, comes face to face with the realities of overdue bills and the full weight of care-taking for her mother. Instead of being able to return to college, Lena opts to join a medical study in order to get full health insurance and earn money for her family.
What follows is a mix of literary fiction and horror inspired by real-life medical experimentation on communities of color. Lena’s journey and time at Lakewood is part absurd and part too real. She signs an NDA, agrees to all protocols, and is forced to go to a “cover job” that seems like a normal office environment every day. Meanwhile, the town around the facility is complicit and very white– and both of those realities chill and force the narrative forward. The side effects, the experiments, and the lies start to add up as the plot progresses. The reader is exposed to Lena’s dreams and hallucinations, wants and fears, and I found that I could not put this novel down.
One of the most amazing things about Giddings’ work here is the expert sprinkling of humor that makes the horrific all the more surreal. The nicknames for the “observers” in the lab and the almost The Office-like nature of the cover job only make the dark moments darker. Giddings is an expert craftswoman and an exacting critic here.
Do not sleep on this book– or rather, don’t try to sleep after reading it. Make sure to add it to your reading list for the year if you liked the movie GET OUT or are a fan of twisty lit-fic.
Lakewood by Megan Giddings, Amistad/Harper Collins (March 24, 2020)
I set my original reading goal at the number of books I ended up reading last year, and the comparative of how much I read now that I’m not in the midst of PPD is pretty unreal. I had a lot of favorites this year, but above the joy of finding a good book was the joy of wanting to read at all and I’m grateful for that return.
Best Nonfic read this year: How to Sit by Tyrese Coleman (a genrebuster of a memoir and incredible), In the Country of Women by Susan Straight, All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, and Godland by Lyz Lenz
Best Poetry read this year: Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez, Our Debatable Bodies by Marisa Crane, and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (get the audiobook!)
Books Recommended to Me that I Loved: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, All of Tana French (literally read it all this year), and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Books that I Could Not Put Down: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
Audiobooks that I Could Not Stop Listening To: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett, SLAY by Brittany Morris, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Books that actually made me laugh out loud: Several Terry Pratchetts (including Going Postal), Bunny by Mona Awad, and French Exit by Patrick DeWitt:
Reading Resolutions for the new year: Read at least 110 books, read more short story collections, continue reviewing ARCs
Besides finding a great agent and partner, I’ve polished up some manuscripts, and gotten some publications in The New York Times, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and others. I’m looking forward to forthcoming accepted pieces, including a piece of fiction I can announce will come out in X RAY on January 11.
Writing resolutions for the new year: Finish a new manuscript, continue to write and sub humor, and work toward at least five hours of “deep focus” a week.
This New Year’s Eve I spent doing laundry, scrubbing rugs, and bleaching the kitchen floor after my toddler projective vomited everywhere, so this is adulthood I guess. Wrapped in a blanket, watching Star Trek and blogging, and feeling thankful for a good washer/dryer, good health (most of the time), and good friends who commiserate via Snap when I bitch about said vomit.
Happy New Year, folks. May it be the best one yet. Stay brave. Eyes up. We got this.
And I Do Not Forgive You is a 2020 release, and the short story collection from Amber Sparks with the subtitle “and other revenges.” Boy does it live up to that subtitle. At its heart, the collection shows modern people in the quasi-fantastic, mostly-all-too-real world of technology, familial betrayal, and city life. The princesses, kings, and queens which people some of the most fairy-tale-esque of the stories don’t reside in some 1400s Europe that never was– they live now, here, and struggle as we do now, here. A stand-out in that department was “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” where the magical-realist elements meshed so nicely with the themes that I found myself bookmarking it again to read later.
While I didn’t love every story in the collection, I could find myself wanting to read them all again to find new depths. My absolute favorite story was “A Short and Slightly Speculative History of the Lavoisier’s Wife,” which was honestly one of the best short stories I’ve read in a while in terms of form and voice.
In general, the stories have distinct tones and themes, but each shine with a lush mixture of gritty vernacular (“#Bullshit, I said, and you said the #endtimes was no place for #haters”) and taut phrasing.
And I Do Not Forgive You is a collection you’ll want to share and discuss, both for its feminist themes and commentary on modern life as well as for its prose. Brava to Sparks.
And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks
Been too busy to write monthly wrap-ups, but thought I would update on the last few months!
Since my last post, I signed with Veronica Park at Fuse Literary, and I’m so pleased to have her as the advocate for my novels. She is a taskmaster when it comes to polishing, and I appreciate her vision for my career.
This summer, I took a humor course at Catapult under the esteemed Elissa Bassist, which basically changed my life and gave me the confidence to take humor writing seriously (ha), something I’ve always wanted to do. Since then, I’ve placed pieces in McSweeney’s, The Belladonna, and other outlets that I’ve always enjoyed reading. (If you’re interested, see link to clips here.)
I also published my most personal essay to date in The New York Times, and have been so grateful for the outpouring of support from other women (religious or not) discussing their own experiences with family planning and postpartum depression.
As for new things, I’m 30k into a new project and have logged off social media, deleted my phone games, and set some daily writing goals to finish a first draft before the end of the year. I think I’ll NaNo in my own way next month, but probably not to the full level of 50k. Those of you currently outlining in preparation, know that I’m rooting for you!
I’ve been busy reading, so busy that I didn’t realize how close I’ve gotten to my target already! Over the past six months, I’ve discovered and chewed through multiple Tana French novels, adored the new Jacqueline Woodson, Margaret Atwood, and Ta-Nehsi Coates, and dug deep into some fantastic contemporary romance by Jasmine Guillory and Helen Hoang. I’ve tried to diversify my reading diet in genre, especially since I’m working on a project and don’t want to read too close to comps as I’m preparing something new.
I’ve had the chance to talk to a few authors about books I’ve enjoyed, too. For Electric Lit, I was able to talk to Lyz Lenz about her nonfiction debut, GOD LAND, centering around the culture of Christianity in the Midwest (and we talked about casserole recipes, too). For this blog, I interviewed Sonya Heaney about her debut historical romance set in Australia.
Lots of travel this summer and the family and I are settled into the routine of the school year. Kids are busy with their schedules and activities, and we’re finally at a point where we can say, “go out and play” and the kids can entertain themselves (at least for twenty minutes).
Too much rain, too many bug bites, but beyond that, life is sweet. Garden is still blooming with broccoli, squash, and tomatoes, and I’ve got the mums about to open.
Best books of the month: Daisy Jones & the Six was incredible and I finally got to read All You Can Ever Know, both highly recommended. If you want something surreal and yet too real, Severance by Ling Ma was an interesting take on the outbreak/end of humanity narrative
Best bookstore of the universe: Powell’s. Got a chance to finally make a pilgrimage and bought wayyyy too many books (on top of the books I bought at the AWP book fair. Whoops).
Got a chance to attend, volunteer, and read at AWP19 this past weekend. Highlights of the trip included some amazing panels about revision and the novel, amazing readings (biased about the Cotton Xenomorph one, but also highly enjoyed the Split Lip/Indiana Review combo reading), and karaoke with new friends (Alanis forever). I also had some dedicated writing time that helped inform a new project and a requested revision. AWP gets slack from some, but it fed my soul in many ways. I needed time away from normalcy and duty to help refuel and I’m so glad I got the chance.
Amazing to see my name in the new print edition of Split Lip’s mag (vol 2). Even saw it on the shelves at Powell’s! Grab a copy if you have the chance. It’s an amazing issue.
Feeling good about the month ahead!
Baby got ear tubes this month and that was a game-changer. He’s finally started to sleep through the night and I am, too. I cannot tell you how much more human this makes me feel. Big kids are enjoying the warmer weather and I am, too. Can’t wait to get back into the garden. The earliest shoots of tulips and daffs are popping up– now to rabbit-proof them.
I’ve been walking outside more with the nicer weather– and I’ve downloaded Pokemon Go to make that even more fun. It’s been a fun bonding activity with the big kids to go looking for “animals” to catch.
The header pic was from Portland, with cherry blossoms in bloom. We’re not there yet, but I can see the buds forming on our pear tree and it makes me feel like good things are coming soon for all of us.
Total books toward reading goal so far: 18/105 (2 ahead of schedule!)
Total books read this month: 10
Poetry book read for Poetry Challenge:Season of the Second Thought by Lynn Powell. Lovely nature-based poetry with a wry pushback-against-religious undertone. Lots of fine poems in the collection, picked up randomly off the shelf and glad I did. A taste of all the seasons during a month that has been too wintery.
Best audiobooks of the month: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin (I adore Bahni Turpin and loved Thomas’s first novel, so I’m not surprised) and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Both were so immersive I had trouble unplugging from them.
Other bests of the month: I had a really good reading month, which I desperately needed. The Friend by Sigrid Nunez was exactly the genre-breaking, heart-breaking novel I needed, and I chewed through The Nix in less than a month, which had been on my TBR forever. If you want a David Foster Wallace-esque book, but with more heart and firmer narrative structure: you’ve found it in The Nix by Nathan Hill. Finally, I loved Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith. It was a multiple POV love story–really, love in every formulation.
This was kind of a fallow month for me, which I think I needed. I wrote a few shorter pieces, essays and humor mostly, and did a bit of editing, but I think I needed a creative recharge. I’m considering myself fallow, but receptive, and I’ll hit the longer works again soon.
This month I quit Facebook, had too many snow days, got very little sleep due to a sick baby, went to lots of meetings, counted piles of box tops for my kids’ school, made lots of phone calls for volunteer work, and generally felt a little burned out. These long, cold days need to brighten soon, and I think they will. The seed catalogs have started arriving and mentally mapping my garden brings a smile to my face. Other bright spots of the month include watching Jeopardy! with my husband, starting Harry Potter with my oldest kid, and watching my baby learn to pull himself up and navigate around the furniture.
Most Fun Book of the Month: I adored Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik in terms of pure compulsive-need-to-read-ness.
Most Necessary Book of the Month: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was so hard to read, but so relevant. I wish I would have read it with a group of people, or in a class.
Poetry of the Month: Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez. Highly recommended collection from 2018. Shockingly funny and serious in parts. Reading more poetry is a new year’s resolution, so I plan to recommend a manuscript every month.
Reviews Published: I had a chance to review Maid in Electric Lit. I highly recommend the book, and it was a pleasure to talk about the complicated experience I had with it.
Hard at work editing a new project. I had a lightning bolt moment that made me realize how passive my character had been. I’m polishing this fifth (final?) draft, then onto composing a query letter and sending this baby out into the world. My brain has already started to flirt with new ideas, so I’m itching to explore something new.
This month was full of snow days at home with the kids, so I’ve struggled to find time for myself to write and get much done. There’s been a lot of joy, too. Batches of cookies, storytime cuddles, and lots of playdough time.
Other small joys: reading to cats, meeting my new semester of students, discovering avocado toast (so late to this), hot coffee, hot blankets, audiobooks, Marie-Kondo-ing my drawers, an eight-course date night with the hubs, adult conversations, my son’s first musical performance, beating my personal best at push ups, rediscovering Mario Kart on the Wii, and singing along to the radio.
Best Books of the Month: Can I say all of them? Becoming by Michelle Obama was a balm that I chewed through in two days, I adored Premee Mohamed’s ghost-ish novella The Apple-Tree Throne (check that out here). Also The Secret History ruined me for all other books in so many ways. I reread The Sympathizer because I needed to, and got angry when I had to put down the most recent Comoran Strike. Lots of genres, lots of good reads.
Best Books Read this Year:Educated, An American Marriage, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, The Belles, Circe, Less
Total pages read: 36,742 (give or take)
Unplanned themes for reading this year: Lots of mystery novels, lots of empowered women in my fic and nonfic, some fantastic fantasy YA, and
Goals for next year: Meet or beat my 105 books from this year, read more non-fic and romance
For shorter works, I’ve had some awesome stuff published this year that I’m proud of. Just this month, I had a short story published in Literary Mama about the first weeks of parenthood. I’ve published about breastfeeding horror stories in Scary Mommy and posted a ridiculous list about politics in the humor site Little Old Lady Comedy. I wrote a few things for the fantastic journal, Cotton Xenomorph, including this little piece of flash fiction about fruit and relationships. Helpful as we jump into 2019, I also got to write about setting bookish new years resolutions in Women Writers, Women’s Books, a site I adore. I ended the year publishing for Data-Driven Investor, talking about the twentieth anniversary of the Furby. The most fun I’ve had this year was also in writing and performing a true story live, without notes, for the podcast Story Collider. Audio of that is available here.
For longer works, I’ve polished a novel and finished another, which I’m still in the process of beautifying. I’m looking forward to diving into another project soon.
The Year In Numbers
Classes taught: 5
Babies born: 1
Family trips: 4
Homegrown strawberries eaten: 60+
Real push-ups that I can do (for the first time in my life): 10
Hours I usually sleep at night now: 5
Hours I wish I could sleep at night: 8+
Hilarious stories written with my kindergartner: 12+
Number of those stories that are about pac-man: too many
Looking forward to the New Year, in all of its glories and challenges. 2018 was not the best in so many ways, but I’ve got hope for the year to come. Wishing the best to you and your crew.