Writers’ Homes: A Phenomenon

In the summer of 2016, my cousin (a fellow book nerd) and I journeyed to Key West to visit the home of Ernest Hemingway. A bizarro heat cloaked the whole day. We saw dozens Hemingway lookalikes on the street. There was a contest apparently, but knowing that didn’t take away from the feeling of surrealism. It was the heat, I told myself. The heat turned the tour group chatty as we petted the cat perched on the great writer’s bed. A mother said to her son that people would tour their house like this someday. That made me chuckle. He must have been a writer, especially from the way he shrunk from the volume of her voice.

That mother’s words got me thinking how strange this all was. There we were, twenty strangers touring a dead guy’s house, petting the six-toed descendant of his cat, marveling at the authentic bathroom fixtures (even the urinal in his garden). I was the only English teacher among us. Of the people I talked to, there were a few students, a postal worker, and a nurse. I knew why I was there: to experience and tell my students about it when I go back. But why were they?

Of course there are Hollywood tours, but most of them seem to focus on pointing out houses and hoping for celebrity sightings. On others, you can tour the sites of famous deaths and murders. Then there are homes famous for their architecture like the Biltmore. Historical residences like Mount Vernon bring the past to life. They also memorialize figures in our country’s collective imagination.

Writers, especially the greats like Hemingway, tend to be elevated to monolithic proportions. These writers, they are not like us mortal beings. You see, this is where they worked their magic. This is where Hemingway slept. This is where Hemingway coached boxing. This is where Hemingway sat to read. Look how glamorous his life was.

Wait. There is no air conditioning. His wife took out all the fans to put up chandeliers. Hemingway probably sweat like we were sweating. Hemingway was a human despite his miraculous gift (and hard work) with words. People tour writers’ homes to see writers both ways. They want a little bit of the mystical to slough off on their lives, but they also want to witness the mundanities, hence our fascination with Hemingway’s toilet.

Novel Writing Progress and How You Can Help

In November 2016, I started writing the novel that has taken shape into Raintree. I’ve never worked on a project so hard or devoted so much of my time and energy to, well, anything. I’ll tell you about it more in another post, but right now I’m going to focus on the craziness of the novel-writing process.

I planned the whole plot out by hand. I read horse books for inspiration.

I referred back to my notes from interviewing my father before he died. Once upon a time, he ran a horse racing farm. His stories inspired me to write this novel.

I also did research in person. I went to the Florida Derby in April, and crazy things happened, as only they can happen to me. (Someday, I’ll write about it, but I’m too busy right now. It involves being adopted by a Cuban abuelito and him teaching me everything he knew about stakes and betting. Also, I was hit on by a jockey. Ha. Only me.)

Fun fact: I did see the future Kentucky Derby winner run! Always Dreaming, who won the Florida Derby, went on to triumph at Churchill Downs.

After that fun interlude, I got back down to work. What is free time again?

Then in May, I accomplished one of my dreams: I became a Book Riot contributor!

The very next day, I finished the first draft of Raintree! I was bummed though, because 125,000 words is much longer than I want it to be. At that point, the task of editing seemed insurmountable.

But I have to edit it. I’m determined to get this book published, and I’m prepared to work hard enough to land a deal from one of the Big Five.

So I got down to cutting. I got organized. And I realized: this may not be so insurmountable after all.

My hope is to be done and ready to query by September. Wish me luck!


How can you help?

  1. Follow me on social media: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Goodreads.
  2. Follow this blog. 🙂
  3. Sign up for my mailing list here.
  4. But if you really love me, (and you also want something in return), sign up for my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/beckyrenner. Rewards on my Patreon include retweets, writing critiques, and even signed copies of Raintree when it is finally published!

 

LITSY A-TO-Z READING CHALLENGE – May Update

My life has been so crazy full this year. I am unbelievably behind on my Goodreads reading challenge. I think I’ll make it up. Maybe? I’m also participating in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, which I’ll write an update post on soon.

Another challenge I’m participating in this year is the Litsy A-to-Z challenge. There are a few options for that one, but the one I’m choosing is this: read 26 books, each with an author whose last name starts with a different letter. If you’re on Litsy, follow me: @becky_renner, and click this link to join in the fun.

Here are the books I have read so far:

A-

B- Borsuk, Amaranth – Between Page and Screen

C- Cluess, Jessica – A Shadow Bright and Burning

D-

E- Engel, Patricia – Veins of the Ocean

F- Fitzgerald, F. Scott – The Great Gatsby

G- Garber, Stephanie – Caraval; Gordon, Jaimy – Lord of Misrule

H- Hartnett, Annie – Rabbit Cake

I-

J- Johansen, Erika – The Queen of the Tearling; James, Vic – Gilded Cage

K- Kendi, Ibram X. – Stamped from the Beginning

L- Le Guin, Ursula – Steering the Craft

M- Meyer, Marissa – Cinder

N- Novik, Naomi – Uprooted

O-

P- Poreba, Christine – Rough Knowledge; Patchett, Ann – Bel Canto

Q- Queneau, Raymond – Exercises in Style

R-

S- Saunders, George – Lincoln in the Bardo; Solnit, Rebecca – Men Explain Things to Me; Smiley, Jane – Horse Heaven (currently reading)

T-

U-

V-

W-

X-

Y- Yanagihara, Hanya – A Little Life

Z-

 

Somehow I’ve done 15/26. I have a list of other potential books I may read here. But who knows what I’ll end up reading.

Want to try the challenge yourself? Join the fun here.

Book List: Five Horse Books to Get You Hyped for the Kentucky Derby

When I was a baby, my dad ran a horse farm in Ocala, FL, and my mom trained racehorses. They first put me on a horse before I could walk. My earliest memories include the slough of horse hair on my mother’s jeans from riding bareback and the sway of the horse’s shoulders as we rode under mossy live oaks. Even after we left the farm and headed for the coast, horses remained a staple of my imagination. They were wild, majestic, magical, and free. Horse books like Misty of Chincoteague and The Black Stallion fluttered through my hands again and again. I blame these books for igniting my love of reading.

I plowed through all the horse books for kids (Saddle Club, anyone? I was totally obsessed.), and started to crave longer reads with more tangled stories. In other words, I was growing up. But that didn’t mean I wanted to leave horse books behind. To my surprise, there aren’t nearly as many horse books for adults. So now I’m writing one.

Here are five books that inspired me:

The most recent entry on the list, The Sport of Kings (2016) by C. E. Morgan follows an old Kentucky horse-racing family from the birth of their horse farm to racing for the roses. A doorstopper of a book that leaves no detail untold, The Sport of Kings is nonetheless a must-read for any horse lover.

And now for something completely different: Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon will completely dismantle your conceptions of what it is to be a novel. Capturing the seedy side of horse racing, Gordon’s 2010 National Book Award Winner is 100% voice-driven. I can hear every character when I read. It’s extraordinary! A word of caution: this book is very literary and not for the casual reader. The perspective is sometimes so close to the viewpoint character that the narrative will be difficult to understand if you don’t know anything about horse racing.

Lyrical and dark, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses tells the story of a young Texas rancher who sets off on a journey to Mexico across the kind of wide-open spaces that make McCarthy famous. All the Pretty Horses won the National Book Award in 1993.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand is one of my all-time favorite books. The movie staring Tobey Maguire brought my grandmother, a long-time equestrian and the owner of my parents’ horse farm, to tears. At seventeen years old, she had cheered from the stands as Seabiscuit faced War Admiral in their iconic 1938 clash at Pimlico. Basically: I love this book, and I want to read it again and again.

(Side note: one of her daughters, my aunt, was bitten by Secretariat, but that’s a story for another time.)

Finally, the book I’m currently reading is Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley, who won the Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres in 1992. My first impression with this book was: dear God, what have I gotten myself into?! It’s quite a brick. But I love horse racing, and I can’t get enough horse racing books. There’s just this strange beauty and mystery about horse racing, and so far, Horse Heaven does not disappoint.

I can’t wait until my book makes it onto this list. I should be finishing the rough draft in the next few days (or weeks), and then I’ll get down to the arduous task of editing.

Book Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

Vic James’s debut dystopic fantasy, Gilded Cage, blends the magic of Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen and the well-known squalor of The Hunger Games with a relatable cast of characters and vast plot that reminds me of A Song of Ice and Fire.

In the world of Gilded Cage, not everyone is created Equal. Most aristocrats wield astonishing magical powers in addition to their powers of wealth, governance, and prestige. The common folk are kept down by a law that requires them to complete their “slave days,” ten years of brutal servitude beneath the rule of the Equals. But the commoners can’t cower forever. In Gilded Cage, they begin to realize the strength in their numbers and how oppression steels people who were once soft.

Gilded Cage is characterized by layers. In the way of the best works of fantasy literature, the reader comes away with the impression that they have only read the very surface. The characters seem real. They all have hopes, passions, and dreams. Even those who might be villains have a positive side.

In all, Gilded Cage left me with the impression that there is so much more that this world has to offer. I applaud James for hooking me, and I can’t wait for the next installment of the Dark Gifts series.

*Disclaimer: An ARC of this book was furnished through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Interested in my book reviews? Please read my review policy.

Don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Fahrenheit 2017

This post was originally published on obraartifact.com.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury

 

My students groaned when I passed out the books.

“I thought you said we weren’t reading another novel,” said the kid in front.

“I was wrong,” I said. “We’re reading this one because I think it’s important with everything that’s happening these days. Like how we just studied fake news.”

They lazed in their chairs. A guy down front took a pull on his Dunkin Donuts latte, eyeing me like he couldn’t decide if I was up to no good.

“What’s it about?” he asked. Continue reading

Review of Annie Hartnett’s Rabbit Cake

Elvis Babbitt, who shares a name and birthday with the King of Rock & Roll, is the precocious and obsessive protagonist of Annie Hartnett’s Rabbit Cake. Elvis’s peculiar proclivities stem in part from her mother, a failed naturalist who settled for teaching in community college in Alabama. Mom herself harbors quite a bit of quirk. For one, she always makes her daughters, Elvis and Lizzie, rabbit-shaped cakes complete with raspberry blood for their birthdays. But that isn’t the only weird thing about Mom. Continue reading

More than Weirdness Machines: The Inequality of Hurricanes in Fiction

I wrote this post right after Hurricane Matthew, but my life was so scrambled that it never got posted. The following are my belated thoughts on hurricanes in fiction.


Like many of my fellow Floridians, I evacuated for Hurricane Matthew. As I’m writing this, it’s been nearly a week since it hit. I’m still without power. I’m sitting in Denny’s, basking in the Wi-Fi, and thinking about how in my 26 years (in other words, my life) in Florida, hurricanes have always acted as weirdness machines.

Aftermath carries a bizarre glow, a strange cast to the sky. Oddities have been shaken out of hiding. Strangers carry on conversations, empathize and sympathize, never to see each other again. Matthew sent me to hunker with my cousin and his wife in Ocala, where I saw a letter-board outside a hunting outpost that read “Remember Lot’s Wife.” Driving home, a man dressed half in Army fatigues and half in Confederate gray uniform crossed the road in front of my car. I have found stray shot glasses in my yard after a storm not once but twice. Continue reading

Litsy A-to-Z Reading Challenge

Life has been very busy in many excellent (and a few mundane) ways. I should be posting a new life & writing update soon, and I’ll also be slapping some reviews on here, because I have been flooded with arcs. It’s truly hard for me to say no when somebody hands me a book.

Meanwhile, I’ve still been reading. One of the challenges I’m participating in this year is the Litsy A-to-Z challenge. There are a few options for that one, but the one I’m choosing is this: read 26 books, each with an author whose last name starts with a different letter. If you’re on Litsy, follow me: @becky_renner, and click this link to join in the fun.

Here are the books I have read so far: Continue reading

Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge 2017

I seem to be a literary glutton for punishment this year. Not only am I writing a novel, I’m planning to read gobs of them as well. (As I should be.) I already have all the books I agreed to review (and I’m SO behind), not to mention my personal reading list for my MFA this semester. (Ha ha ha – I’m dying. No, really. Can I hire a maid?) I am also daring to attempt TWO reading challenges. One of them is Litsy A to Z. The other is Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. Continue reading