Hometown surprises

courtesy of facebook fan page

Goodday Coffee and Books

Shocking but true: hometowns change, even Kilgore, Texas. While home over the holidays, I discovered that the gritty, grubby, but very lovable oil town that I called home for 16 years now has… a bookstore. And not just any bookstore. An independently owned, down-right darling spot called Goodday Coffee and Books. Yes, amazing coffee and baked goods, plus a carefully chosen wall of books from all genres.

The book selection really is fantastic–like browsing the shelves of your most discriminating writer/reader friend’s library. Just enough to tantalize, not enough to overwhelm as in a bigger store.

I think I have a crush on Goodday Books. But there is one small problem: where the heck was Goodday when I was a teen? Seriously. I would have l.o.v.e.d. a place like Goodday. No, I needed a place like Goodday. Can we please put it in a time machine and send it back to 1984 so that it would be there for me when I became an angsty teen in need of a spot to think deep thoughts and write bad poetry? 

I’ve grown up (sort of), and I guess Kilgore is growing up, too.  Finding Goodday in Kilgore ranks with fantasy discoveries like “I really am an Indian princess!” or “this old lunchbox collection is actually worth thousands!”

Goodday gives me one more thing to look forward to when we go home to visit the kinfolk. 

Read more about Goodday or become a fan on facebook.

“We all choose things…”

“We all choose things, and we also choose against things. I want to be the kind of person who chooses for more than chooses against.”

–Alex, from Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (page 241)

It’s been some time since I read this novel, but this is a line that still resonates for me. I love it when a writer manages to offer up a perfect expression of something I’ve felt but not named precisely. Here, it’s the idea that how we choose what we choose could constitute a kind of life ethic. To “choose for” would mean having causes, pursuing goals, acting with a sense of purpose and commitment. To “choose against,” by contrast, would mean reacting to circumstances and resisting situations without knowing what one wants instead.

This is a useful distinction, too, when thinking about how characters function. If you thought of a spectrum from “Always chooses for” to “Always chooses against,” where would you place your character?

I also recall a number of wonderful (related) lines from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I’ll have to fish them up for you and maybe even tell you all how reading Annie Dillard in an Austin coffee shop landed me my first (and only) tattoo and motivated me to embrace the writing and teaching life.

About the quotation. Read Everything Is Illuminated. It’s on my top shelf of books (full disclosure: I don’t like JSF’s more recent Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close half as much). Check out two interesting reviews from the British press, a glowing one at The Times and a bit more muted one from The Guardian (critiques reactions to the novel as much as the novel itself). 

Making Writing Work

Something I already know: Good daily habits are not just for goody-two-shoes. They’re what it takes to get a book written.

Since our son Liam Miguel was born in April of 2010, I’ve had a hard time sticking to a writing schedule. I’ve gotten some work done here and there, generated pages for a couple of days in a row, even managed to work through a revision of my second novel. But what’s missing is the consistency—putting in time, however little, every day—that has been the bedrock of my writing practice. And the weeks just keep slipping by.

So I’ve been cooking up the resolution to get back on track, and I recently came across two great pieces by other writers who are also moms that got my attention and deflated my excuses.

The first is Mayra Calvani’s “Writing Between Diapers.”  Calvani offers heaps of common-sense advice for making writing while parenting work, and I love the last lines of the article: “Frustrated writers are frustrated moms. Frustrated moms are unhappy moms. Artistically fulfilled moms are happy moms who can give themselves to their loved ones without reservations.” If you need “permission” to make writing a priority, paste that bit up.

The second is a blog post·from Sara Bennett Wealer, another YA author whose first book, Rival, will be out in 2011. Wealer reminds us why it is so essential to figure out how to write while having kids, a job, a spouse, and so on. The reason? Most of us writers are not going to make it J.K. Rowling big.

And that’s okay with me. Really. I’m blessed to love my “day job,” which is currently taking care of Liam and teaching college kids.

I just don’t want to forget that I have stories in me that want to find readers, stories that won’t get written unless I park my butt in the desk chair and put in the time.

Let’s Talk About Vampire Literature

So at IU, where I’m a graduate student, I give an undergraduate course on vampires in literature. When I tell people what I’m teaching, I get reactions like:Penguin Book of Vampire Stories

“You must be a big fan of vampires.” Penguin Book of Vampire Stories

“Wait, vampire literature? Is there such a thing?”

“Do you teach Twilight?”

“Oh my, I bet you get so sick of the same thing over and over.”

I’ll tackle these responses one by one to give you a glimpse of how I approach the course.

“You must be a big fan of vampires.”·

Actually, before deciding on the theme of the course, the only novel on vampires I had read was Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. (This is a great book, by the way, and it’s fantastic on audiobook.) But I was aware of all the hype around Twilight and other vampire-themed novels, and I wondered, what’s the prehistory of this phenomenon? I also talked to students about what topic they’d love taking a class on, and vampires kept coming up.

So on day one of the vamp lit class, I come clean to my students: I’m no expert on the vampire literature. We work together to come up with interpretations and to trace recurring themes, attend to differences among the text, and figure out how we got from folkloric representations of vampires as animated corpses to the glittery-skinned vamps of Twilight.

Is there really such a thing as vampire literature?

Well, there’s a wikipedia article with the title “vampire literature.” (The article is actually quite good.) For the purposes of the course, I wanted “literature” in the title to make clear that we would be looking at the vampire in written texts, not in movies, TV, or other popular culture.

As for “literature” in the sense of “great literary feats,” I like pointing out to my students that while Bram Stoker’s Dracula is now taken quite seriously and written about by prominent literary critics, it wasn’t intended as high art. Stoker wanted to write a page-turner, a thriller; he was an Anne Rice figure, not a typical “literary” writer. We read Dracula and think that the references to steamboats, phonographs, and trains are quaint, but this was all cutting-edge for 1897, stuff Stoker threw in to make his tale seem high-tech (the same sort of strategy we see in thrillers by Crichton and company).

In addition to other classic vampire tales like Goethe’s “The Bride of Corinth” and Le Fanu’s Camilla, we read extensively from The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. In my book, if a text lends itself to multiple interesting interpretations, it “counts” as literature worth teaching.

“Do you teach Twilight?”

I tell students on the first day of class that we will not be reading Twilight. This is for a couple of reasons. First of all, I try to teach texts that I can really get excited about, and—while I’m happy for anything that gets folks reading—I didn’t likeTwilight much. (True story: while I was listening to Twilight, I accidentally skipped three CDs, but it took me over half an hour to realize it. That’s how little I had missed.) Secondly, most students have already either read the book or seen the movie anyway, so it’s still a useful point of reference for us.

“Oh my, I bet you get so sick of the same thing over and over.”

I, too, feared that this would be the case, but my experience (and that of my students) has been quite the opposite. I’m teaching the class for the second time now, and I’m still not bored. The figure of the vampire has been put to many, many uses, none of them quite the same. We look at how writers have used vamps variously to write disguised sex scenes, explore alternatives to standard gender roles, figure monstrosity, create humor, and more.

One thing I love about the course is how students keep coming up with original perspectives on the vampires we read. One of my favorite student interpretations likens the vampire of one of our stories to an “eternal adolescent” endlessly searching for his identity.

Vampire fiction in my writing future? Nope, I’m keeping it real for now. But I have been drinking a lot more tomato juice…

Looking for a way to sort through all the vampire fiction out there? Check out:http://www.lovevampires.com·or·http://www.vampirelibrary.com/

Happy Monday.

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All materials © 2022 Ashley Hope Pérez. Author website by Websy Daisy.