Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the co-creator of and an editor at The Poetics Project. She's also a freelance editor and writer who helps content creators polish their words before they go out into the world. She has a M.S. in writing and book publishing from Portland State University. Her favorite books are always changing. Right now, her top three are Zazen, The Poisonwood Bible, and Prep. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells and learn more about her editorial services at melnichole.com.

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.

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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.
 

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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.

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Story Shots: Gloom

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 …

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.”

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Self-Publishing: No Degree Necessary

Self-publishing has taken off, that’s no secret. Bestsellers, from Fifty Shades of Grey to Wool, began as self-published books. Recently, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in the UK, even began its own masters program in self-publishing. A full-time student can complete the program in one year; when he or she graduates, they will have all the skills needed to edit, design, publish, and market their own book. At least, that’s the idea.

I’ll admit, I’ve read very few self-published books. So few, that as I write this, I can’t recall their titles. But by no means do I “hate on” self-published books. Sure, I have, on occasion, expressed the belief that self-published titles are generally lacking in editing, design, and marketing—all those aspects of publishing that UCLan hopes to teach—but that isn’t always the case. If I’m being honest, those nameless self-published titles were bad apples that spoiled the rest.

What do I mean by spoiled? The great thing about self-published titles are that you can often get them for cheap (sometimes even free if they’re e-books). Low prices are great; that means more books for me. Yet, in my experience, this leads to reading a lot of bad writing, and in the end, I’d rather pay more for the good stuff.

(Credit: IndieBound)
For a long time, most readers have felt this way. Publishers may be the “gate keepers,” but, as a reader, I appreciate knowing that I can trust a book stamped with HarperCollins’ or Penguins’ logo will be a good read. However, I think it’s important to remember the exceptions, because, surely, not every reader will love every book published by the “Big Five.” So why shouldn’t that same logic apply to self-publishing?

Self-publishing has many positives. None too small to overlook. Wool, as I mentioned earlier, was a great success story. Hugh Howey originally self-published the book as a stand-alone, short story on Amazon. When it began to develop a following, he continued the plot with additional stories, all of which he eventually sold to Simon & Schuster for six figures.

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The Tumblr Post that Started a Debate on Race and Writing

Normally, I’m not one to start an online debate with another blog, but while scrolling through Tumblr a few days ago, I came across this post.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

I immediately shared the post with the other contributors here at the blog, and we, along with many other Tumblr users, had a wide range of thoughts regarding this piece of advice.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

Before I begin, I think it’s only fair to say that there were also many Tumblr users who shared their support of The Writers Helpers, the Tumblr blog which handed out this advice. According to these users, the account admins were not being racist, but simply honest.

(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)
(Credit: www.thewritershelpers.com)

In case you were wondering, I fundamentally disagree with the original advice offered by The Writers Helpers. Do I think that the admins of this blog (or “S,” the specific admin who responded to the question) are racist? No. I do not. However, the statement—the advice itself—advises writers to treat their own characters’ races as unequal.

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Women are People: Who Knew?

Two-dimensional characters aren’t merely results of poor writing; although, they can be. You can spot them right away. There’s the femme fatale, the bad boy, the cat lady, the everyman, the damsel in distress, the jock, the farmer’s daughter, or the sidekick. Shall I go on?

While they can be predictable, two-dimensional characters often serve to drive the plot along. The women are given to drawing the men into situations that make for entertaining spectacles. The hero saves the damsel from a burning building, or the farmer, waving a shotgun, chases the young man caught climbing out his daughter’s window off the property.

Yet, good writers are the ones who are able to surprise their readers. Mad Men‘s Don Draper, for instance, is a womanizer. When I first started watching the show, I wanted to hate him. He appears to have no shame or morals, constantly sleeping with women who aren’t his wife. But really, he’s so much more than just a womanizer. His story is complicated (I won’t give away any spoilers), and his unpredictability makes him that much more intriguing.

The problem is that female characters in the media aren’t generally as complex. In part, this may be due to the small amount of women in these industries that are actually in a position to influence character development. According to the Women’s Media Center 2013 report on the status of women in the media, women made up only 9 percent of the directors for the top grossing films. From 2011-2012, women made up only 26 percent of the behind-the-scenes jobs in television. And in 2011, women made up less than 50 percent of submissions to literary magazines. At the New York Review of Books in particular, women made up only 19 percent of submissions.

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