Cuttyhunk Island Writers’ Residency

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 9:20 am on Tuesday, August 2, 2016

In June I went to the Cuttyhunk Island Writers’ Residency. It was the first year they had the residency, which was located on Cuttyhunk Island, near Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. I’d never heard of it before.

Along with 14 other writers, I studied with the author Paul Harding. I also wrote about 50 pages in my new book. We stayed at The Avalon, a lovely old inn. Here’s a picture:


The residency was a new experience for me. It made me think a lot about class and how its intersection with literary fiction fundamentally blocks our ability to achieve diversity in literature. Part of my reaction was due to the fact that Cuttyhunk Island is so clearly a place for rich people. Of course, it’s a beautiful place.



I didn’t get a decent picture of my room, so here’s one from the Avalon website.


My room had a balcony where I did a lot of writing. The view from the balcony was also great.



One night, there was a double rainbow.


The beaches are rocky and loaded with wild roses.


East Coast insects hate me. I was stung by a wasp, bitten by spiders, and devoured by mosquitoes. This never happens in California.


There were ticks everywhere. I went down this path, and when I came out the other side, seven ticks were crawling up my legs.


I keep thinking I want to move to New England, but it’s really not for me. It was nice to visit though.


Back in New Bedford, I went to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where Herman Melville set part of Moby-Dick. It was a fascinating, weird place. I took pictures with my phone. This is my favorite.

Writing 10+ Pages A Day

Filed under: Writing and Publishing — Administrator at 3:08 pm on Monday, August 1, 2016


In July, I made a goal to complete the first draft of a new novel. I’d been working on a book for several months and I needed to finish it so that I could move onto other things.

So I increased the number of pages until I was writing 10 a day, sometimes even 15-20 pages when I was on a roll. I tracked my progress on Twitter.

It was a harrowing time. I wasn’t sure I would make it, but on July 31st, I finished the first draft of the book. It is 151,000 words, 530 pages.

Since I made my progress public on Twitter, lots of people asked me how I was writing so many pages in a day. Here are some thoughts on that.

I can’t stress enough that this was a first draft.
It will be a long time before I have a finished manuscript ready to send out for publication. For me, it’s easy to spit out a lot of words. It’s harder to edit them.

So, this draft is rough. Just because I wrote 10 pages doesn’t mean that they were all good pages.

I was motivated to finish because I took time off paying work.
I put aside my day job–writing articles–to spend a month on fiction. I can’t afford to do that often, so I made the most of my time, not only writing this first draft but working on short fiction as well. When I plan time to write fiction, I take it seriously.

I used rewards to motivate myself. My writing buddy and I agreed that if we met our July writing goals, we would get a reward. That was doubly motivating because I wanted the reward and I didn’t want to let my buddy (okay it was Marcia) down. Now we’re going on a road trip!

I used markers to motivate myself.
I find that visual evidence of progress is helpful, so I put a sticker by every completed bullet point on my outline and I made a dash on my notebook every time I finished a page, like so:


I also wrote my daily word count on my whiteboard. This is for July.


You’ll see I started on page 342 and finished on page 529.

The more I wrote, the easier it was to produce pages.
When I started, writing this book was so hard that completing three pages was a decent day’s work. Then something clicked and I got used to writing a lot every day. It’s like any other discipline: You do something enough, you get used to it, and it becomes easier. It’s a shift in perspective.

Everyone works at their own pace.
Several people contacted me saying they could never write this much this quickly. You know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Every writer has a different process, and it doesn’t matter if you do 10 pages or 2 pages as long as you write regularly enough to make progress on your work.

Now this book will have a long rest before editing. I find that my fiction benefits from distance. Letting a draft sit for a period of time makes me more objective, which means that I can look at the book with clear eyes and have a higher chance of knowing what to do with it. Therefore this book is going to sit in a metaphorical drawer for several months before I pick it up again.

And that’s just fine… I have plenty of other things to write in the meantime.

I Was On The Radio In Ireland

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 3:59 pm on Monday, June 20, 2016


The Green Room in Ireland interviewed me about my article in The Atlantic on the rise of plagiarism in self-publishing. Listen to it online here.

I Was On A Beer Panel

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 3:17 pm on Monday, June 20, 2016


I was lucky enough to be on another beer panel for All About Beer magazine. I got to taste beer and say what I thought of the nuances and flavors. Nice work if you can get it. Check out the July issue to see which beers we liked the best.

I Was On The Radio In Australia

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 3:08 pm on Monday, June 20, 2016


ABC in Australia interviewed me about my article in The Atlantic on the rise of plagiarism in self-publishing. You can listen to it online here!

Short Story: Drought in Tin House and The Guardian

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 3:03 pm on Monday, June 20, 2016


I’m so proud to have a short story on Tin House’s Open Bar. It’s called Drought. You can read it here.

And guess what? It was also reprinted in The Guardian.

Article: Stealing Books in the Age of Self-Publishing in The Atlantic

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 2:56 pm on Monday, June 20, 2016


Did you get a chance to check out my latest article for The Atlantic? It’s about the rise of plagiarism among self-published books. Anonymous strangers are stealing other people’s books, changing them superficially, and passing them off as their own work on site like Amazon. Read all about it here.

I Went Up In A Hot Air Balloon

Filed under: Personal — Administrator at 7:26 am on Sunday, June 5, 2016

When it came to celebrating Marcia’s birthday this year, we decided to go on a hot air balloon ride, something both of us have been wanting to do for years. It’s great! I recommend it, even though you have to get up before the sun comes up to do it. Here’s a picture of the sunrise:


We watched them blow up our balloon, which was exciting to see.

blowing u

Marcia and I went with five other people, including the pilot. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this, but it turned out that it was fun to go with other people. We were all first timers and experienced it together. Here we are in the basket right before take off:

us in basket

Going up in the sky is smooth and surreal. It feels like being in a slow, exposed elevator. You’re an inch off the ground, and then feet, and then suddenly you’re very high up:

looking down2

At first, I was scared and had to fight against thoughts about dying/crashing. Then I got used to it and enjoyed the gorgeous views.


yellow balloon2


I even got the nerve to look over the side of the basket. I saw tiny cows and horses, vineyards, cars, and trees. We also flew over other hot air balloons.

looking down

yellow balloon

Landing was fun. It turns out that hot air balloons don’t have a lot of control where they land, so they end up going down in all kinds of weird places. We ended up in a field surrounded by high grass and hundreds of tiny hopping tree frogs.


A van had to come and get us out, which meant attaching a strap to the balloon and towing us through the air. In a way, it was the most exciting part.

After that, we went to lunch in Napa and then to a Calistoga spa. Neither of us had done an expensive spa treatment before. We had facials. Here I am in a spa robe.


I don’t know if I would bother with a spa again but hot air balloons? Definitely.

My Husband Is An Interesting Man

Filed under: Kyle Rankin,Personal — Administrator at 2:21 pm on Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I’ve been married to Kyle 14 years this June. One of my favorite things about him is that he never ceases to explore his intellectual interests in a curious and accomplished way. Here are some things Kyle has been interested in lately:

* He decided to take up Speed Cubing, which is when people solve a Rubik’s Cube quickly. I think he has it down to 2 minutes so far.

* He’s 3D printing an entire tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, which will be the size of a turkey when he’s done.

* He’s reading all eight volumes of the The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He’s on volume three.

* He taught himself to play Bach’s Invention #13 on the banjo.

But I was most excited about his decision to make croissants. I love croissants, and I know how difficult they are to make. It was an elaborate, three-day process of making croissant dough, laminating it, taking it in and out of the fridge at various times, then cutting it:


And shaping it:


And letting it rise again before finally baking it.


We had them on the morning of Gideon’s 4th birthday. They came out fresh from the oven, and they were exactly right. I say that as someone who has high standards for bread.

c 1

They may have looked a little stripey, but they were all the things a croissant should be: crunchy, buttery, soft in the center, with good layers.


Seeing these excellent croissants, my dad said to me, “You know, everything Kyle does turns out like that.”

And it’s true.

Smithsonian Article: The Forgotten Dust Bowl Novel That Rivaled The Grapes of Wrath

Filed under: Joy's Work — Administrator at 6:20 am on Tuesday, May 24, 2016


I’m so excited to announce my first article in The Smithsonian, The Forgotten Dust Bowl Novel That Rivaled The Grapes of Wrath.

It’s about Sanora Babb, who wrote a great Dust Bowl novel called Whose Names Are Unknown the same time John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath. In fact, Babb used much of the same research material as Steinbeck and saw many of the same things. When The Grapes of Wrath came out, Babb’s book was shelved for 65 years. Read the article to find out more!

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