Book Review: How to Survive a Summer

The Review

 

Five boys went in, but only four came out.

Ten years ago, Will Dillard’s preacher father put him in a “homosexual rehabilitation” camp which ended tragically. Now, Will is distanced from his family, but firm in his identity. Life seems to be falling into place as a film student when suddenly a new movie comes out which seems eerily familiar.

A new horror release becomes an instant cult classic, but when the horror movie twists the narrative he knows, Will goes in search of the past of the camp, his fellow campers, and his family.

This book, White’s debut, weaves together a tight but chronologically varied narrative. White ekes out the details in the present and past so skillfully that I felt him answering questions as they came to mind. Like another literary debut this year, Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own, the elements of violence and suspense are only heightened by the literary language.

Briefly paging through early reviews on Goodreads of the novel, I found myself cringing at the criticism of Will’s character as “unlikable.” Will’s character isn’t always likable, but that’s not the point of a narrator. He is the narrator because he moves the story– and Will does. He makes decisions, whether the reader wants to peek through their fingers to watch the outcomes or not. Often painful, but always believable, Will is a narrator I will remember.

A review on this book would be amiss not to mention the cast of majority LGBT characters. Zeus and Will’s love story was unlike one I’ve ever read, and watching the changes in the campers from past to present was one of my favorite connections in the book.

Recommended! Pick up a copy of this and/or recommend it for your local library.

The Details

How to Survive a Summer by Nick White, Blue Rider Press

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Buy on Amazon, B&N, Parnassus and add it on Goodreads!

Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Shiny New Things and Slumps

I got a project successfully off to prom and immediately spent the next week stewing and miserable. I stomped around the house and sighed a lot and refreshed my email like I was giving it rescue breaths. Yesterday, I started outlining something and felt that pressure ease almost immediately.

But I feel that slump sneaking up on me, and I still feel it at my shoulder, ready to strike if I let it. To combat this, I’ve set some daily word goals and will be doing Camp NaNoWriMo in April. Also, I just decided to let this project be a little zany. The real world provides enough stress without writing something too serious right now.

Hope all of your projects are going well!

Querying Trenches and Community

It’s dirty down here, here in the trenches. Mostly, it’s dirty with coffee grounds and crumbs from that roll of Caramel Delights you ate while rewriting your query letter for the thirtieth time. I’ve been doing something lately that makes me feel the smallest ounce better, and maybe it will for you, too.

I’ve been reading a lot this summer. I’ve taken to heart the old Stephen King quote that “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write.” Some has been pure pleasure reading of the binge-y kind that I used to as a kid (The Martian in less than 24 hours, A Darker Shade of Magic ) while others have been to study the craft or my genre more thoughtfully (Infinite Jest, The Girls, Sweetbitter). Regardless, I’ve been reading all the way to the end of the book, and by that, I mean reading the acknowledgements page.

Reading the Acknowledgements page of a first time (or even often published) writer often feels like picking up someone else’s thank you card off of the street. The intended audience isn’t really Joe Reader anymore. Most of the names you don’t recognize, most of the inside jokes glide over you like you’re made of saran wrap, and most of the initials are impenetrable. Sure, you can sometimes pick out the name of an agent or editor you recognize (or even one from your query list), but more often than not, it’s a list of relationships and memories that are intangible to you.

But those people helped make that book and that author. Whenever I read a particularly good book with a long acknowledgments page, I remember that once (even if very long ago), that author was querying. That author complained to their partner and their parents and their writing group. That author studied with a professor that gave them a C that meant they had to improve and they did improve. Each initial and inside joke is a jenga block that helped build that book into something that’s in my hands.

Querying can feel lonely. Querying can feel like gym class kickball drafting. Querying can feel like the best blind date you’ve ever had, or the worst. But in the query trenches I have to remind myself that while I’m the one responsible for revising and being the best representative of my manuscript, it’s a very good thing to find others going through the same thing and especially, others who can force you to talk about something else at the end of the day.

What’s made you feel better in the trenches?

#pitmad- No Reason to Get Mad about Pitches

The next #pitmad event is coming up on Thursday from 8AM- 8PM EST. Never participated before? Well, first things first– read the link above. Done that? Okay. Double check that you meet all of the key qualifications:

  • Is your manuscript completed?

When you get a request for that awesome project that you’re only 1/3 done with, you’re going to be sad about that bridge you just torched because you couldn’t hold off for a few months.

Being completed also means having the elements of your submission ready, too, not just your book. Make sure your query letter is complete, and it’s a good idea to draft a solid, full synopsis as well.

  • Is your manuscript polished?

If no one else has read your words and your manuscript is as virgin as untrodden grass, hold off this round. Instead, find a good beta reader (who reads and gives an overall impression of ‘this works’/’this doesn’t work’) or critique partner (who gives the real, gritty feedback and who you should make cookies for at least once a month).

  • Is your manuscript unpublished?

That means no self-published books. Great as they are, self-pubs are already out there in the world, in the hands of readers (hopefully). They aren’t going to have much appeal to most agents/publishers as far as acquiring a new project/client goes (not that they don’t have their benefits!)

Good manners (and professionalism) also dictates that if you’ve got an exclusive with an agent right now in the cold-query game, don’t join in on pitch contests.


So, you’ve got your manuscript that fits all three criteria… what next? Well, assemble your pitches. You’ve only got 280 characters to grab the attention of an agent or publisher, so what do you include?

Stakes. Character. Hook. Don’t waste words on what makes your book like every other book of your genre. And, just like in your query letter, your voice needs to connect in the pitch, too. Remove cliches and “verdant verbage”. If you read your pitches out loud, do they sound awkward? If so, they just might be.

Make sure to save room in your pitches to include the hashtag #pitmad (or else you’re not technically participating) and a hashtag of your genre (a full list is on Brenda’s post, but #A for adult, #MG for middle-grade, etc.)

Create THREE unique pitches for each project you’re pitching (only three allowed!) and prepare to post them throughout the day or schedule your tweets ahead of time so that they appear at different times. If you get a favorite, make sure to follow the agent/publisher’s submission instructions. Also, don’t tweet at agents. If you’re interested in querying them, you can do that through traditional querying methods.

 


But I’m not pitching at #pitmad, so why should I care?

Already agented? Not ready to query yet? #Pitmad is still a great day to watch the feed and see what’s being written right now. Remember not to favorite posts that you like since that’s how agents and editors are expressing their interest. If you see a book that you can’t wait to read some day, comment on the post and let the writer know that or quote/retweet it with #pitmad to spread its goodness. Writing can be a lonely business, and querying, even more so!

Reminder: If you don’t have luck with #pitmad, you’re not alone. I quite a few requests from #pitmad, but that wasn’t how I found my agent. Cold querying works well, too!

 

 

A Case for Rereading

It’s hard to beat the shiver of recognition when you read words you’ve read before, almost like hearing a friend’s voice over the phone for a first time in a long time. As writers, reading is essential and it can be hard to make time to reread a book, but I’m learning how important it can be. A mentor of mine, Dave Griffith, once told me he rereads Great Gatsby annually because of the lessons the prose taught him. I’ve also taken a fiction class where the main text was a collection of Chekhov short stories. Reading, rereading, and dissecting the structure and plotting taught me a lot.

Sometimes rereading is a completely emotional experience, rather than one you’re trying to learn lessons from. When I was a kid I reread my favorite books all of the time. I loved Garth Nix, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, the Babysitter’s Club series, and Beverly Cleary (especially the Ramona books). Recently I stumbled back across The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and couldn’t resist reading it in a sitting. Rereading a book reminds you of when you first read it, much like hearing music can bring you back to an old time. For me, this is especially true with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Every year from fourth grade on, I’ve reread Hitchhiker’s Guide in memorial to sci-fi loving brother who passed away when I was young. Beginning in front of the bulldozer in front of Arthur Dent’s house, Jesse and I can reunite for two hundred or so pages.

If you’re anything like me, your “to read” list grows as fast as a kid’s Christmas list. There’s not enough time for every book (even if you ignored those pesky interruptions like your paying job or those wonderful insertions like friends and family). I challenge you, though, to think of that book you should reread, for craft or for guilty pleasure. What book would you pick?