What We Were Reading in 2014: Recommended by the Editors

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Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker) & Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

The real writer is one who really writes (thanks Marge Piercy), but writers need to read, too. As Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” But with so much to choose from sometimes it’s hard to decide what to read next. So we asked the editors what they read this year and what they’d recommend to TC readers and here is what they had to say.

What We Were Reading In 2014

Background Image: Paul Bence/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Baker recommends:

Carsick by John Waters. Equal parts fiction and memoir, even more fun with the author-read audio book. Not to everyone’s taste but if it’s to your taste, we should get together for lunch.

Captain Marvel (ongoing series). Sometimes the “as you know Bob” element of comics deters me from reading but I am absolutely captured by the new Captain Marvel. The visuals are lush; the story and dialogue are well ahead of standard comics. Captain Marvel will be looked back on as a turning point in what comics can be.

Closing Time by Joe Queenan. While reading on my Kindle, I wanted to reach through the screen. Sometimes to comfort Queenan and sometimes to fingerpoke him in the shoulder. Long in my “to read” pile, I finally got around to it and hated putting it down, even when Queenan frustrated me with his word choice or double standards.

Tina DuPuy (blog, columns, articles, Twitter). DuPuy’s voice is clear and unapologetic, with humor and more than an occasional dose of snark. She writes from a progressive viewpoint on topics that are always ahead of the mainstream. Reading her prepares me to talk about the next big thing when it turns up on everyone’s lips.

The Shame of Poor Teeth in a Rich World” by Sarah Smarsh (Aeon Magazine). I think that Americans don’t talk often enough or realistically enough about poverty and its effect on generation after generation, not just in big ways but in small. John Cheese has written on the topic for Cracked (+ and +), combining truth and dark humor. Smarsh’s piece came to my attention through social media. I shared it liberally but it didn’t catch on the way I think it should have. I can only imagine that it’s because of its specificity and that specificity is why this simple 3,500 word essay still crosses my mind often nearly a month after I read it. My husband and I discussed our personal experiences relevant to the article over dinner and in the car and while brushing our teeth before bed. Even if you don’t share the experience, Smarsh’s writing draws in the reader and paints an unpretty picture I think more Americans should see.

Recommendations from TC’s archives:

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Billiard recommends:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples. Saga is an ongoing comic series, but it’s one that I read when the collected volumes are published. It’s fantasy/SF, and the plot is…difficult to explain. It’s about war, and love, and literature, and it is one of the most compelling things I’ve read in quite some time. Volume 3 was published in March of this year, but you’ll probably want to start with Volume 1.

Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Weibe. Like Saga, Rat Queens is an ongoing comic series. Volume 1 was published in April. This book has a female-led cast, and is a tremendous amount of fun. It’s also difficult to explain, so allow me to borrow from Amazon’s description: “…a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!” Reading Rat Queens is some of the most fun I’ve had this year.

The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire. This is the eighth volume in Seanan’s October Daye series. Upon completing The Winter Long, I went back to the beginning and re-read the entire series. I never do this.

Seanan also has a blog, and while she mostly posts work and travel updates these days, sometimes she posts things like this. (Be aware that the linked post deals with depression and suicide.) Earlier this year, she published a collection of blog posts/essays called Letters to the Pumpkin King. Seanan’s nonfiction writing is witty, insightful, often hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking. I love it; I hope you do, too.

I first encountered Lindy West last year on an episode of (the sadly canceled) Totally Biased where she appeared opposite comedian Jim Norton to discuss rape jokes. I found her to be funny and eloquent and started following her immediately. She writes about pop culture and feminism and body acceptance, formerly for Jezebel, but she’s very recently moved to GQ. Here’s a post from this year about liking Chris Pratt before it was cool.

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Broker recommends:

Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking. What it says on the box.

Anne Lamott, who has a wonderful blog and is just out with a new book, Small Victories. She has a way of shucking right down to the cob, saying simple-sounding things that are also very profound.

What-If by Randall Munroe. His comic is always worth reading, and he has a weekly answering the mail questions thing that’s gathered in the book. The rollover text on the comics is part of the fun.

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the end of the Lane is seriously wonderful: magical realism and childhood nightmare all in one.

To round things out, this article from The Atlantic (not for the squeamish; it features parasites): How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy” by Kathleen McAuliffe on work by Jaroslav Flegr.

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Harpspeed recommends:

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. This mystery novel from an Icelandic writer is also part ghost story—Sigurdardóttir creates a fabulously atmospheric setting that make the word “creepy” obsolete.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I liked the juxtaposition of the two historical characters, deeply dimensional and rich.

This is a Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Pachett. I am curiously drawn to writers’ personal stories and liked reading Pachett’s memoir because she also fills her pages with good advice for writers.

The Last Walk: Reflections on our Pets at the End of Their Lives by Jessica Pierce. This story is part biography, memoir, ethical philosophy, and science journal in its examination of the author’s beloved dog’s descent into old age and the author, herself, who explores the many facets of the human-animal bond.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury by Amy Newmark and Carolyn Roy Bornstein. Disclosure: My friend, Carolyn, is one of the editors of this collection and recently gave me a signed copy knowing how interested I am in her work on the subject of writing and TBI, and that I enjoy reading personal essays; this collection is a great introduction to the power of the personal essay and the growing concern that is currently trending across America’s landscape.

Recommendations from TC’s archives:

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Beaver recommends:

Proof of Loss” by Emily Rapp (The Rumpus). Emily Rapp writes unsentimentally about continuing to live after the inevitable death of her son Ronan from Tay-Sachs disease: “In those final days of my son’s life, I thought I would die, but knew I would not, which made me want to die even more ardently. Still, I lived. How? Perhaps I didn’t live at all but existed, half-alive, half-dead, in some liminal space.”

Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women” by Rose Lichter-Marck (The New Yorker). I am fascinated by this story about creating and not-sharing and unasked-for posthumous fame. If you have a hard drive full of unpublished stories, you might be, too.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. An Untamed State grew out of a short story called “Things I Know About Fairy Tales.” The novel starts where happily ever after leaves off, playing off both the sunny Disney versions of fairy tales we’re all familiar with and the dark, twisted original stories that didn’t hesitate to make readers uncomfortable.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. You should read it because it’s on every* best nonfiction book list of 2014. You should also follow Roxane on Twitter because she’s smart and hilarious and gives a lesson on how to deal with haters on a daily basis. (*possibly a slight exaggeration but not much)

One Long Country Song: What Friday Night Lights Taught Me About Storytelling”  by Hannah Gerson (The Millions). Hannah Gerson, on writing about that small town background she’d been avoiding and how watching TV “to relax” got her there. (Writers are always writing. Even when they’re not.)

Recommendations from TC’s archives:


Escape Your (Reading) Comfort Zone

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A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker & Beaver

  1. This month we challenge you to read outside your comfort zone. If you always read books by men, pick up a book by a woman writer. If you always read white writers, pick up a book by a writer of color. If you always read writers from your own country, pick up a book by a writer from another part of the world. If you always read fiction, pick up a memoir. And so on.
  2. Check out these hashtags for recommendations and discussion:
  3. Take the title—just the title—of one of the pieces in this month’s article and create a mind map. Write the title in the center of the paper, branch out from there with ideas until you’re dry, then go back to the center and start again. (For examples of mind maps, do a Google Images search for “mind map” or “mind map template”.)
  4. Many of the editors’ choices are deeply personal true stories. Write at least a paragraph (hopefully more) of one of your most personal, private stories. Afterward, put it away or delete it and write a fictional paragraph or poem inspired by your previous exercise.

14th Annual Dead of Winter Writing Contest

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The 14th Annual Dead of Winter Writing Contest is OPEN!

Dead of Winter is a horror fiction contest. This year’s theme is: TOYS IN THE ATTIC.

Stories submitted to the 14th Annual Dead of Winter contest (December 2014) must use the theme Toys In the Attic. A child’s plaything must feature prominently in your story and the story setting should be an attic, penthouse, or other “top floor.” Be creative with other setting elements, including time period and geographic location.

Be sure to read both the Dead of Winter contest rules and the general contest guidelines before submitting your entry.

Deadline for entries is December 21.

Questions? Feel free to ask them here or at the forums.

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

A Podcast in Each Hand

Toasted Cheese presents A Podcast In Each Hand: original exercises and writing prompts from our archive to inspire you for the week ahead. Each podcast is briefer than the time it would take to sizzle up a toasted cheese sandwich. If you use any of our exercises or prompts, we’d love to hear about it!

 

Producer: Stephanie Lenz
Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

Three Cheers and a Tiger Winners

We have (finally) finished reading and judging the stories for the fall Three Cheers and a Tiger writing contest, and are happy to announce the winners:

  • Gold: Jill Spencer, “Something Wicked”
  • Silver: Amelia Diamond, “A Small Miscalculation”
  • Bronze: Alexander Pawlowski, “My Funeral”

Congratulations to the winners! These stories will appear in the December issue of Toasted Cheese Literary Journal.

Our next contest, Dead of Winter, is currently open.

Question of the Week

Welcome to TC’s Question of the Week minicast. We post a new question every Wednesday for #writerwednesday. Each minicast is 30 seconds or less.

If you like these questions, you might also like the Friday FUM.

Be sure to check out our longer A Podcast in Each Hand writing-inspiration podcast on Mondays. If you like the minicasts and podcasts, please let us know! Like, share, comment and all that good stuff. Thanks :)

 

Answer in the comments or link back here if you post your answer on your own blog. (If you’d like to record your response and are looking for somewhere to host your audio file, try SoundCloud.)

Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org

A Podcast in Each Hand

Toasted Cheese presents A Podcast In Each Hand: original exercises and writing prompts from our archive to inspire you for the week ahead. Each podcast is briefer than the time it would take to sizzle up a toasted cheese sandwich. If you use any of our exercises or prompts, we’d love to hear about it!

 

Producer: Stephanie Lenz
Sounds: PacmanGamer and Corsica_S; Music: gadzooks. All shared under a Creative Commons Attribution license and available at Freesound.org