Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

Summer 2017 Reading List

Summer officially arrives on June 20th, but I like to plan ahead. With college now two years behind me (yikes!), I’ve finally remembered what it feels like to read for pleasure. Not because my professor said so, or, you know, because the book has their name on it. The act of it feels like being reunited with an old friend—we’ve picked up right where we left off. I have a lot of reading to catch up on, and there’s no better time to do so than summer. Here are the books on my summer 2017 reading list.

 

Lucky Boy

Author: Shanthi Sekaran
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Solimar (Soli) Castro Valdez is eighteen when she leaves Oaxaca, crossing the US/Mexican border and landing on her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, California. Silvia, her cousin, is a housekeeper for the well-to-do Cassidy family. By the time Soli arrives, she’s also pregnant. While motherhood wasn’t the plan, her baby boy, nicknamed “Nacho,” keeps Soli grounded in this foreign world. When she is arrested and detained, Nacho falls into the custody of the foster system and, inevitably, under the care of Kavya Reddy and her husband, Rishi.

Kavya is a chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house. In her mid-thirties, she’s unexpectedly beginning to feel the pull of motherhood. When fulfilling this desire proves to be more challenging than she expected,
it takes a strain on her marriage. With Nacho suddenly thrust into Kavya’s life, she attempts to become the mother she always dreamed of being, even if that identity is wrapped up together with someone else’s child.

An emotional journey, there are no villains in this story, and there are no heroes. Sekaran gives a human face to the timely topic of illegal immigration.


Fever Dream

Author: Samanta Schweblin
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Schweblin’s novel is difficult to describe. Translated from Spanish into English by Megan McDowell, Fever Dream is a story of a young mother, Amanda, dying in a rural hospital, and the young boy, David, sitting by her side. Together, they attempt to weave together the events that led to Amanda’s illness, and the result is a haunting, dream-like narrative “where souls shift from sick bodies to healthy hosts and poisonous toxins seep under the skin upon contact with the grass.” And while David is not Amanda’s son, the two have met before.

At their vacation home, Amanda and her daughter, Nina, encountered David’s mother, Carla, spinning tales of her son on more than one occasion. Their eventual, frightening introduction causes Amanda to throw Carla and David out of her home. Not too long after, the three women meet again. In her hospital bed, Amanda tries to put the fragments of her memories back together, how that reunion led her down this path. Readers will begin to question how reliable a narrator Amanda actually is.

Bookish Beach Towels for Summer

World Domination for Cats Beach Towel available on Society6

Summer may not officially kick off until June 20th, but here in California, the weather is already providing an excuse to throw on a swimsuit and head down to the water. It’s also giving me an excuse to search for bookish beach towels to bring along with me, like the one above (cats are jerks, so it only makes sense that they’re secretly plotting world domination).

Below you can find some more of my favorites.

 

Another Quiet Spot Beach Towel available on Society6
Another Quiet Spot Beach Towel

 

It’s story time in this dark forest, where a friendly monster and cute bunny find a quiet spot to read. I love the soft, muted colors and imagery in this print.

 

Book Dinosaurs Beach Towel available on Society6
Book Dinosaurs Beach Towel

 

Anyone who knows me can tell you my favorite movie is Jurassic Park (the book, though quite different, is great too), and as such, I’ve always been fascinated with dinosaurs. On this beach towel, the artist has combined dinosaurs and books. I love the fact that the dinosaurs aren’t only reading them, they’re made of them—their bony armor replaced with colorful books.

The Difference Between Myths, Legends, and Fairy Tales

Myths, legends, fairy tales—we know them well, the stories we pass down from generation to generation. Add in folktales and fables, and you have yourself a plethora of names for the sort of stories people often lump under the same category.

Yet each of these represents a story with its own distinct characteristics. The terms are not interchangeable.

Editors and readers have certain expectations associated with different genres, and you’ll want to play into those.

Myths

Myths explain the reasons why things have come to be—why our world looks and feels and works the way it does. Think creation myths. These provide a worldview, telling the reader how it is that a certain practice, belief, or natural event came about. How the world itself came about.

Gods and goddesses, in all their various shapes and traditions and cultures, fall under this category. We are living in the mud on Big Turtle’s back. The Fates are spinning their thread, doling out misery and suffering. He said “Let there be light,” and there was light.

Myths are old, ancient things, generally speaking.

They inspire legends.

Book Abandonment, and Why It’s Okay

Bookshelf

Readers often feel a sense of guilt when abandoning a book. It could be simply that we’re not quitters, determined to finish a project or task no matter how unenjoyable. We’ve committed to this book, checked it out at the library or paid good money for it at the bookstore, and we are damn well going to finish it. Even if it’s the last thing we do.

Maybe we’re also competitive or, if you will, gluttonous. We want to read as many books as we can get our hands on. We’ve told ourselves we were going to read X amount of books this year (I’m currently behind on my personal 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge). If we can simply push through this book, it’s one more toward that goal, but in doing so, we end up slowing ourselves down.

The reasons we choose to give up on a book vary. It’s naive to assume that because you like a book everyone else you know will too. Reading is subjective. Sometimes your favorite blogger or Goodreads reviewer will fail you.

Here are a few reasons it might be time to let a book go.

We’re Back!

Well, folks, it has been one long hiatus, and for that, we apologize.

Last year, as graduation loomed before me, I decided I needed to take a step back. I was worried that I was putting too much pressure on myself to “do it all,” and that because of that, any posts written here would ultimately suffer.

A lot has happened since I made that decision. Back then, I was living in Portland, Oregon, while earning a master’s degree in writing and book publishing, juggling a flurry of internships and part-time jobs. After moving back home in March 2015, I started working at a Southern California nonfiction book publisher, editing everything from “serious” art books for adults to quirky books about literary dinosaurs for children.

Now I’m freelancing and returning to the world of blogging, which for years has been a much needed creative outlet—one that I’ve been anxious to get back to. That’s the short of it, at least.

So for those new readers who stumbled to this post and for those past readers who gave us a chance, here’s a little bit about what you can expect from this blog. First and foremost, a lot about the writing life and the stories we love (and probably the ones we don’t). I don’t promise to be an expert writer or editor. I just turned 26. I go into each project assuming most of what I write will be crap, but that’s okay, because within all that bad will be a little good that I can shape into something I’m proud of. For me, this blog has always been a way for me to explore, learn, and lay the groundwork for a creative life.

Expect posts about that journey.

A new post will be up next week (an updated edition of one of our most popular, so I hope you enjoy it!). For now, be sure to read my co-editor’s post, The Ways I Use Poetry, which she wrote in anticipation of us presenting several of our published poems tomorrow on a panel titled, “Poetry in (Digital) Process: A Poetry Reading and Publishing Discussion with Pomona Valley Review,” at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association Conference in Pasadena.

Until next time.

10 Male Authors who Bring Sexy to the Paperback

Authors are known for a lot of things–being eccentric, loving cats, even, well, being dicks–but being sexy isn’t usually one of them. For that reason, we at The Poetics Project have decided to shed a little light on all of the sexy male writers out there.

 

1. Rupert Brooke

(Credit: Public Domain)
(Credit: Public Domain)

 
Rupert Brooke was born in 1887. Brooke wrote for most his life; he was known for being quite dashing and befriended people like Winston Churchill and Virginia Woolf, which helped him get his work published and read. When World War I reached England, Brooke enlisted, and in 1915, on an expedition with the Navy, Brooke died of blood poisoning brought on by a mosquito bite. Brooke, the charming, beautiful, young poet became a symbol of the tragic loss of youth brought on by the war.
 

Bringing Readers Inside the Bedroom

Writing about sex is hard (no pun intended). While there are plenty of writers who have found their niche writing romance novels filled to the brim with sensual scenes, the majority of us do anything to avoid a sex scene. As my book editing professor has mentioned on more than one occasion, readers don’t need to be taken into the bedroom. In other words, describe your lovers ripping each other’s clothes off and passionately kissing, but let the reader’s imaginations fill in the rest.

But what if you don’t want to stop at the bedroom door? How do you write about sex without causing your reader to roll their eyes, skip ahead, or feel completely awkward (mostly for you). For one, understand that metaphors and sex work–up until a certain point, at which you lose readers. In Slate.com’s recent article “The Worst Sex Writing of the Year Features Statisticians, Superheroes, and Brie Cheese,” Amanda Hess gives readers one example of what she deems a “delusional” metaphor from Manil Suri’s The City of Devi:

We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here, but Hess’ astute observation, “Congratulations–you fucked,” pretty much sums it up. When metaphors are too complex, they seem unrealistic. For most of us, sex doesn’t equate to feeling like a superhero diving through atomic nuclei and causing statisticians to rejoice. Hess also offers other examples of “bad” sex writing.

MFA Programs: Are They Worth It?

So you want to be a writer. You have graduated from high school and college with a few creative writing workshops under your belt and produced a few short pieces you’re proud of. You think, if I could just find the time or had people to read my work, I think I could do this. I could be the voice of my generation.

(Credit: Huffington Post)
(Credit: Huffington Post)

You still need to learn a few tricks. And you just know that if you jump straight into a full-time job that you’ll never get around to writing that novel. Life will happen. You’ll head straight for the fridge and then your bed after a long shift instead of opening up a blank page and writing.

This is a valid concern. If I wasn’t in grad school right now (albeit for publishing and not creative writing), I don’t know where I’d find the time to write. Or rather I do know where I’d find the time, but that notion is scary because it requires dedication and commitment. It requires long nights and early mornings typing away on your computer rather than going out for drinks with friends or binging on Netflix.

You have to find your own motivation rather than being motivated by your fellow students or professors. Being able to find your own motivation isn’t bad. It’s good. And certainly after finishing an MFA program, it’s a skill you will need to develop, but it can be hard to motivate yourself when you’re still figuring things out. When your own writing style isn’t fully-formed. Or when you haven’t found that story inside of you yet that is just dying to get out.

But it’s important to be realistic about MFA programs and to consider your options before jumping straight in.

Story Shots: Gloom

Story_Shots

The shorts below were written by some of our contributors for the month of June, which, as we know, is typically a month associated with gloom. But rather than focus on April showers and May flowers—the weather and nature that springs up this time of year—our contributors focused on the way gloom has seeped into their own lives.


The story of how I ended up naked on the internet seems a lot more complicated than it actually is. The truth is simple.

It started with a boy named Tyler. Six-foot, thin, baby-faced Tyler.

He was my first date since my breakup with a longterm boyfriend, who was completely his opposite. It was a big day, and I was really just looking for a hookup, and yes, women can say that, too.

But the night came and went, and I remained firmly unlaid. It was full of science and art and history and music and booze and food until 5 a.m. but not a look down my shirt, not a grab for my ring, not a tongue in my mouth, let alone anything else in my anything else.

I walked out of his apartment after the sun was up with a hug and some new music but completely bereft. What the hell? What man would rather have a friend more than a vagina? What was wrong with me? It must be because I’m…fat? Am I fat? Did he hate my thighs?

It was then that I missed my old boyfriend more than ever—my boyfriend who knew what he wanted, took charge, could fuck like a man, and called me the right names. And who always made me feel sexy as hell. Maybe I’d made a mistake in letting him go.

So I did what any 28-year-old, freshly graduated girl living in Gresham, Oregon and looking to win back some of her self esteem would do: I slapped a pic of my boobs on a site called ratemeplease.com and waited to be judged—obviously a classy choice, since the domain name had “please” in it.

The average scores of others were lots of threes and fours, and the highest on the hall of fame didn’t even hit 8, so I wasn’t expecting much.

But then my scores and private messages started pouring it by the hundreds, and before I knew it, I was #12 on the entire site out of thousands (not now, so don’t bother looking)—my highest achievement after my master’s degree.

And the messages, or “fan mail,” as I like to think of them, well, they included it all, some sweet and others nasty enough to get me pregnant just by reading them. The only thing they always left out were negative comments. I never got one.

There’s more to this Missy’s-naked-on-the-internet story (so much more), but the only relevant thing is how one rejection in June can devastate the usual confident woman, and apparently winning a boob competition is the way to respond. Also: Tyler missed out, and I’m a respectable 7.8.

–Missy Lacock

AWP 2014: Writing Unsympathetic Characters

Last week, I attended AWP in Seattle with other students in my program and fellow contributor, Tiffany Shelton. For those of you who haven’t heard of AWP, it’s a conference and bookfair held in a different city each year and hosted by the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Both AWP and Write to Publish took place in February, and both conferences have set me on a roll. Recently, I’ve been writing anywhere from five hundred to a thousand words or more a night—and because I just told you, reader, I feel a certain obligation to keep up this stamina.

Because I’ve already written about how inspiring writing conferences can be, I won’t linger on the subject too long. Just go to one, if you can. They’re terrifying and uplifting; you leave feeling you have the permission to write, to struggle, and to succeed. And they make you realize that “success” doesn’t look the same for every writer—and that’s okay.

At AWP, I went to several panels, but this post will focus on a panel titled “I’m Just Not That Into You: Unsympathetic Characters in Fiction.” Author Irinia Reyn moderated the panel, which consisted of authors Hannah Tinti, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Maud Newton, and agent Ryan Harbage.

I attended this panel, because as both a reader and writer I have come to the realization that I am drawn to characters who others may deem unsympathetic. Irinia began by asking the panelists what they mean when they say a character is unsympathetic. Responses varied from “They appeal to our dark side” to “They are the characters I want to read about.” One panelist—and this stuck with me—said that sometimes unsympathetic characters are just people “put in a difficult situation who have to make a controversial choice.” Are unsympathetic characters the same as unlikeable characters? No. That was the response from the majority of the panelists. There’s no writer’s handbook that says your readers must like character a, b, and c. As one panelist said, “It’s good when someone has a reaction.”