Jane Finds Marginalia in ROLLING THE R’S

This is a book that little Jane needed. Published in 1995, why didn’t my kid hands hold it, my kid eyes read it? Judging from how much this book has been checked out (borrowed 37 times, the first due date recorded is December 14, 2004), Rolling the R’s is a book that many needed. Considering an acclaimed book like Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, also published in 1995, has been loaned 27 times since 1999. (Note: Other than the fact that I’m returning both books today, this comparison is random. Both books are great, and deserve to be read, praised and shared.)

Roll itToday, R. Zamora Linmark’s debut novel is the most written-in library book I have had the pleasure of consuming. In “Lips,” three places are checkmarked alone:

  • “‘Do the men you go out with ever know what you really are?’ I ask.”
  • “‘Well, I always knew deep inside me that I was made to follow in Sister Eve’s footsteps, but my mother hated apples. In fact, she was allergic to them, especially mountain apples. That’s why I came out a boy instead of a princess,’ Exotica says, giving them her revised version of Creation.”
  • “‘You think my lips hide a million secrets?’ asks Edgar.”

The underlining, the stars, the dog-eared pages made me linger longer on the text. Public libraries boast at least threat of punishment for defacing its property, and the fact that a borrower, or multiple borrowers, ignored this says something, right? What’s the worst that could happen: replace the book and keep the original? (Give or take a minor non-refundable processing charge.) Mahalo!



What Jane Wants to Do Most at AWP 2016

“Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” —Toni Morrison

2016 entered with expectations. The Year of the Monkey and the year Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar was also the year of my first AWP appearance since graduation, lucky number seven. I imagined how this sequel would unfold in Los Angeles: me with colorful business cards, me with a freshly-printed novel manuscript in my tote, me with the pitch scribbled across my life and head and heart line.

Not again.

Three years have passed since I last attended, a literary tradition with a couple soul sisters. I registered. I saved book and cocktail money. I compiled a list of writers and lit mags to hunt. I organized a conference schedule. I arranged plans with friends, made promises.

Not again.

I failed myself in all of those ways. No business cards because I barely have a business. No novel manuscript because it’s not in a printable, shareable state, let alone queryable or pitchable.

Not again.

Even after I was content arriving as myselfa work-in-progress, empty handed but full hearted—I couldn’t even succeed at that.

Not again.

Once again, money is a thing. This time, my bank account lacks deposits, and there are student loans and weddings and a burned-out tail light. I have credit cards and a modest savings but me, understanding the current state of things, cannot part with my tiny, high-interest securities.

Not again.

This is not the worst thing to happen to me. Not. Even. Close. Not this year. Or this month. I know how quickly things can turn, so I count my blessings. I kiss Waylon. I visit the library. I continue editing. I sit in the sun. I pass on the conference.

Not again.

I hope by sharing the things my cells will miss that I can hunch among the audiences, among friends, at booths and tables in spirit.


  • 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm – The Violence of the Page featuring Lucy Corin, Maggie Nelson, Brian Evenson, Ben Weissman, and Fred D’Aguiar. I bought Maggie Nelson‘s Bluets in Seattle last year, and I need to sit in the presence of the woman who experienced then thought then wrote, “Mostly I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for the beauty in that.”
  • 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm – American Tropics featuring Patrick Rosal, Tiphanie Yanique, Willie Perdomo, Christina Olivares, and Brandy Nalani McDougall. Because Hawai’i, and Land of Love and Drowning.
  • 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm at Wolf and Crane Bar – Crossing the Line: Genre-Curious Readings featuring Lily Hoang, Nicole Walker, and others, oh my! I’m a Japanese whisky virgin and who isn’t genre-curious?



This year’s theme, for me, seems to be newness. My What-Jane-Wants-to-Do-Most-at-AWP-2016 list has shed a lot of my long-term obsessions. Maybe I’m exhausted with the familiar, balancing-work-and-the-creative-life anxieties, the craft of drafts upon drafts. Even though it is comforting to revisit kindred spirits, hearts that beat and minds that think in similar ways, I need something else, but I’m not sure what. There is a lesson here.

Jane Recommends “…Things You Should Worry About While Writing A Novel” via LITERARY HUB

An excerpt from “Here Are The Things You Should Worry About While Writing A Novel” by Susannah Felts:

I worry that I have not done enough research. I worry that I’m spending too much time researching. I worry that people will think it’s not true to life. I worry that it’s too true to life and thus boring. I worry that there’s not enough plot. I worry that there’s not enough lyricism. I worry that there’s not enough hours in the day in the week month year life for me to ever finish it.


Jane says: I worry too.



Jane Recommends “On Privilege Guilt…” via THE ESTABLISHMENT

An excerpt from “On Privilege Guilt: My Fraught Path From Foster Care To Luxury High Rise” by Lisa Marie Basile:

I slept in the center of my room on a mattress on the floor, as did my younger brother. I would sleep with the window open in the summer, while friends slept in cool, three-story homes on the better side of town. Our dinner was funded by food stamps; we washed the plates immediately lest the roaches come. The memories are of my little brother’s bedroom. This room was the saddest of all. It didn’t have a window, and it was always dark, always filled with the sound of him playing by himself, a static television. I think now of the little pale boy, alone after school, sitting on his broken bed on the floor. How he didn’t know of the lack. How my mother took the living room couch as her bedroom. And the television with the aluminum foil.


Jane says: Like Lisa Marie Basile, I went into extreme debt (school, school and school) because I wanted to put distance between me and where I’m from. Separately, my parents have given me the “just-don’t-be-like-me” talks, and I can’t write a simple sentence about my childhood. When I remember, pain rushes to the surface, but when I sift, there is beauty too. (Or I choose to see beauty.) For a while, I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean and, later, trains. I know “I’m a poor girl at heart” because any time I think of the things that I have nowlove, safety, health insurance, some writing timeit’s hard to want, but I’m always working towards more. God, do I work. Because of where I’m from, I can’t rest. There is so much to say, too many people like me out there with pain like mine, and time is precious; time is privilege. In fact, I’m so happy I keep thinking someone is going to steal all that is good from me because where I’m from not a lot of dreams come true. I keep splashing my face with cold water and, still, this is my life. Maybe one day I will share my story. Thank you, Lisa Marie Basile, for sharing yours.


Jane Recommends “You Will Be Tokenized…” via BROOKLYN MAGAZINE

Excerpts from “‘You Will Be Tokenized’: Speaking Out About the State of Diversity in Publishing” by Molly McArdle:

  • “We keep bringing others through till we fill up this room.” —William Johnson
  • “We ought to be able to create classroom[s] and school libraries where a student can pick up a book and see the food that she eats, hear the sound of her family, follow her stories. That isn’t achieved by just slapping the name ‘Maria’ on a character.” Meg Medina
  • “How many stories have I not heard because this editor was in charge?” —Mira Jacob
  • “Part of what kept me in the publishing industry was—god damn it—I have my foot in the door. When my job goes they are not going to give it to another black girl. There goes a black woman’s shot at changing something.” —Megan Reid
  • “It takes a lot for a writer of color to be recognized, and then when they are recognized, every single person expects them to be the solution to their diversity problems.” —Angela Flournoy
  • “Growing up in the largest housing projects in the United States, Queensbridge, it affects everything I do, how I read.” —Linda Duggins
  • “I asked, ‘If I had worked at a magazine like Newsweek would you propose I do an internship?’ He said that’s a good question, and I said that’s a bad answer, and I walked out of his office.” —Okey Ndibe
  • “People always say, ‘good work rises’—that’s bullshit.” —Elissa Schappell
  • “Literature is a powerful thing, especially in the hands of a child. If you ask the majority of readers when they fell in love with reading, most of them will say, when they were children. And they will remember the book or the author that changed their lives.” —Shelley Diaz


Jane says: This article hijacked my morning, and I have never been so excited to have something stolen from me because what I was given back—immeasurable. So much of my private pain was spoken, and eased, reading these fifty experiences. I rolled out of bed and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. You’re damn right, Syreeta McFadden; as you said, we are out here, doing everything we can:

I’d like affirmative action the fuck out of that space. I’d readjust salaries for these folks. Solicit interns outside of the usual places. Train them in the culture of what a literary citizen should look like. Make them listen to Kanye. Get the United Colors of Benetton in that bitch. Empower people of color open their own bookstores. Create a literary agency. Buy a pop culture media outlet. I know a couple of people who are doing that but they need capital. I’d give it to them—a fund for affirmation. Seed money for people who are already doing that work. That’s the thing, right? We’ve been out here working.

The sun sets

Considering 2015, Jane Resolves

“White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” —Roald Dahl

I wouldn’t call 2015 a draw between me and my resolutions. I won, narrowly, thanks to high scores in the Always-write and Start-a-writing-group categories. I made a lot of progress, but the lofty list of goals frazzled me by October.

On NYE, I resolved to focus my energies. It has taken me sixish weeks to decide on the key day-to-day elements I must improve to inspire notable positive change, momentum, results.

Find a Way to Sustain a Creative Life

If you follow my blog, you know that balancing work and writing is a constant struggle in my life. A perfectionist and hard worker, it’s difficult for me to do anything half-heartedly. Either I need to find a job that gifts me room to be creative, or I need to find a job that nurtures my creativity. Because I have done the full-time thing and didn’t write, and I have done the part-time thing, which became a full-time thing, and wrote, and when I finished both, I was standing in an eerily similar place; even though I made progress, the matter of a couple drafts, I was another year older and still working on the same things.

Actually Finish Things

When you’re creating, it’s hard to gauge success. Even though the novel manuscript is fully drafted, I’m revising a lot: adding scenes and the much-needed lick or two here and there, deleting darlings here and there, while cringing at—and editing—the remnants of the first draft I wrote in the last 15 months of grad school, which almost murdered me. I have moved so many damn commas that many pages look like they are hemorrhaging or someone’s triplets took Crayolas to them, but I am getting closer.

I am closer than I have ever been, but I curse my honey-slow pace. And time constraints. Money. The general state of things. During one of those life-sucking Twitter holes, I found an essay on the incubation stage of creativity, and it reminded me that books take time. Junot Díaz’s third novel, This is How You Lose Her, took 16 years. Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night took 14 years. Right now I am at 8 years, and that’s okay. It has to be. Because I’m not ready to let go of it yet. But I am ready to let go of parts of it. Of the 290 pages, I feel confident in 38 of them. Then I think, Moving that chapter-six paragraph to the opening might solve all of my problems….

Read Better

Last year, I finished 32 books, a personal high, which naturally makes me want more, more, more. Usually I read organically, one book leading to another, so I thought the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 reading challenge would force me out of my lazy river, give me some structure, force me to consider the uncracked or favs already on my shelves. At the same time, the list (below) only consists of 12 books, so if I read 33 books this year, I will have 21 opportunities to float.

  • A book published this yearGreen Island by Shawna Yang Ryan
  • A book you can finish in a dayThe Lover by Marguerite Duras
  • A book you’ve been meaning to readThe Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • A book recommended by your local librarian or booksellerHow to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
  • A book you should have read in schoolI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • A book chosen for you by a spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFFBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • A book published before the year you were bornSula by Toni Morrison
  • A book that was banned at some pointThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • A book you previously abandonedTales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich
  • A book you own but have never readMake Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
  • A book that intimidates you Bluets by Maggie Nelson
  • A book that you’ve already read at least onceLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

To the readers and writers who are vowing and working towards bettering themselves, please share your resolutions and reading lists with me.


Jane Recommends “Too Busy Being Poor (To Be Creative)” via THE ESTABLISHMENT

An excerpt from “Too Busy Being Poor (To Be Creative)” by Ayla-Monic McKay:

[P]oor kids don’t usually get to be tortured artists—there is no realistic opportunity to do so. I found my first job at 14 so I could help my single mother pay the power bill. I babysat my little brothers because child care was unaffordable. I worked two jobs while taking out as many student loans as I could so that I could maybe, just maybe, get a degree that would move me up the food chain just enough so that life might not be a permanent struggle.


Jane says: Yas! As a thirty-something woman with a BA and an MFA, this essay gets me. As McKay stated, “That first degree I got while working and digging myself into debt didn’t exactly move me up the food chain as much as I had hoped.” Some days I flirt with the idea of a third degree, then I quake the thought away and return to hustling. But going back to school is a very real back-up plan tucked in my dress pocket so that maybe, one day, I can pay for piano or ukulele or hula lessons.

In undergrad, I remember choosing between attending my Art History night class at CC or picking up a waitressing shift to pay the rent for my subsidized apartment. Now, I pay my bills then write, minus random chunks of minutes. (Note: Writing is not something I dabble in; I write to breathe and hope, some day, to make art all day, every day.) Just the fact that I get to pay my bills and write, even if I am only typing what color the sky is and something I overheard in the bathroom for a half-hour a day and singing No to all of the things that I want on Sephora.com, makes me feel rich. You can take the kid out of the last tax bracket, but the memories.

Btw, what human says “various etceteras”with a stone face?


Jane Recommends “What Took You So Long?” via SLATE

An excerpt from What Took You So Long? The quiet hell of 10 years of novel writing. by Susanna Daniel:

The thing is—one-day-at-a-time is the most painful way for active non-accomplishment to happen. It’s the psychological equivalent of death by a thousand cuts. A painter I knew told me once that she’d reached a point when she said goodbye to painting, much the same way Junot Díaz considered doing—she said it was the kindest, most generous thing she’d ever done for herself.


Jane says: I found this article when I truly needed it: wallowing in the ugly depths of a writerly “pit of despair.” My former colleagues and forever friends are publishing, publishing, publishing, while I rust at a day job and toil away at my novel, wondering if I will ever finish.

Actively working on the slow story since 2008, I have taken a sanity break here, a sanity break there, and worked on another project for eighteen months. Nevertheless, this novel has always squatted in the forefront of my mind. Yes, Susanna Daniel, I “wake in the night, [my heart] racing, unable to feel anything but the fear and frustration and disappointment of the fact that [I] haven’t finished anything in a month.”

Knowing that others are laboring in the same painful way helps. And you’re right, writing is “not nearly as hard … as not writing.” Dear writers, what keeps you returning to the desk?

Write Like Cheryl Strayed Said To

Jane and Her Average Work Day

“Always choose creativity over fear.” –Elizabeth Gilbert

Maybe it’s because the sky was just spattered with fireworks and I wore a festive crown representing possibilities and blew a noisemaker while sipping champagne, maybe it’s the recently-passed Mercury retrograde (thank the stars), maybe it’s because there are a few transitions looming beyond tomorrow, but I have spent much of January reflecting.

Déjà Vu

A year and some days ago, I wrote a similar post, Jane and Her Average Writing Day, not knowing where life would take me. That a year and some days later, I would write this. Tsk tsk, I should have known. Especially after I shed the previous job, or the previous job shed me. Knowing I am not bred for the office, I try not to let the dingy day-to-day sequester my creativity.

A Day in the Life of Jane Worker

6:20 a.m. Waylon’s alarm buzzes. He hits snooze.

6:30 a.m. Waylon’s alarm buzzes. He showers.

6:45 a.m. Somewhere between water running and the water twisting off, I hobble downstairs to brew coffee.

7:59 a.m. Somehow I arrive at my desk—not the white space at home with a gold pyramid, shells, and a ratty collection of poetry and craft books—but the one with the dual computer screens, drab carpeting and Steak-and-Shake-like lighting. I sip my coffee, stuff some kind of nutrition in my face (usually the doctor-recommended Greek yogurt), and sleep with my eyes open.

8:03 a.m. The only thing I can manage at this ungodly hour is checking all of my social media accounts for any notifications whatsoever. I delete all the shoe and makeup and sale e-mails because I rather not be tempted into giving any of my hard-earned money away. Not when every paper dollar and zinc penny signifies freedom. Basically, until I have the guts and funds to risk full-time writing, I’m saving.

8:10 a.m. As my officemate pops in and out—her kitten footsteps surprising me again and again—I wade in the beginnings of work: checking messages, populating my timesheet, reaching for the manila folder in my file cabinet.

8:37 a.m. I write a few licks. Shake those writing ligaments awake.

8:43 a.m. I write some policy.

9:16 a.m. Snack.

9:49 a.m. When I need to rest my eyes from the company lingo and legalese, I slide a few pages of my manuscript under the policy to revise.

11:11 a.m. I shut my eyes and make a wish that includes a lot of commas.

11:35 a.m. During lunch, I read an article on craft or freelancing. Over leftovers or a salad, I type some notes (snippets of conversation, current obsessions, sticky dream mush). In this half-hour, much food is dropped, and many shirts and skirts are ruined.

12:06 p.m. I edit some policy.

1:39 p.m. Snack.

2:41 p.m. I sneak a piece of candy, or three, out of the lady down the hall’s treat bowl.

2:42 p.m. I indulge in some chocolate and writing.

2:50 p.m. I format some policy.

4:41 p.m. Snack.

4:59 p.m. As the workforce trickles out to beat traffic and meet their dinner dates or mix their vodka and lime or whatever they do, I edit my manuscript. Once in a while, someone sticks their head in to say bye. I guiltily hide my tab, and they definitely know that I was not working. 

5:31 p.m. Hoping the next morning is fuss-free, I prep a numbered to-do list.

5:48 p.m. I save all of my documents to their respective places (e.g., folders, flash drives).

5:56 p.m. I leave work just in time to witness the sunset, which astonishes me pink night after pink night.

6:20 p.m. While listening to my fav podcasts, I fix dinner. I like losing myself in the washing, chopping and stirring of cooking, and I like multitasking.

6:52 p.m. We eat in the living room while watching Anthony Bourdain eat on Netflix or our DVR.

7:20 p.m. Because I cook, Waylon tidies the kitchen. I shower, unless it’s a good writing day or I’m reading a good novel or I have a literary deadline approaching. You get it. I am driven, and disgusting.

8:06 p.m. While Waylon watches TV and reads or dozes, I do busy work: editing, scheduling payments, researching submission deadlines.

8:59 p.m. We trudge upstairs—imagine the most exhausted trudge you can imagine.

9:07 p.m. While I floss through my night routine, I listen to the baby crying through the wall.

9:20 p.m. I read and breathe, read and breathe, and play footsie with Waylon under the covers until he runs his fingers through my hair. This is, by far, my favorite time of day. My happy place. True rest.

9:21-11:30 p.m. Depending on how good the book is, I read until I PTFO. It sounds peaceful, but it can be dangerous. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hefty fiction, I’m convinced, is a deadly weapon to the bedtime reader.


By skimming an outline of my weekday, I know and you can see what’s important to me. I’m conjuring the guts to let go of the things that don’t matter, and do what I love. But until then, because being a writer is an essential part of me, I will find ways to write. Even the littlest pockets of time can ease the creative soul.

In Cheryl Strayed’s interview in The Great Discontent, she professes, “I believe in writing as a calling. If you truly feel that calling in you, then listen to it and respect it, but don’t expect that anything is going to be given to you—you have to get it.” When I was a preteen, I wanted to be a nun. I’m glad I didn’t follow my little-kid dreams, but what I became wasn’t too far off. To me, writing is service work. We do it because we have to. Nothing else will whisper down the anxieties. And we do it, often, for nothing. We do it so we can sleep. We do it for the tired souls who may not even read it. We do it for peace.

Read or die

Jane Reads Anything But Straight, White Men for a Year

“She was lost in her longing to understand.” —Gabriel García Márquez

Last year, a colleague lent me Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and I accepted it, even though I retched inside. At my desk, the hardcover sits uncracked, blanketed by a film of dust. For this book, I furnished a collateral, a title I hunted down using my indie bookstore resources: multiple search databases, a 30% discount. I will miss that California writer because I can’t make myself read that Pulitzer winner right now, and I do not have the heart to tell my dear friend.

The Bad

My life is held together by lists. We know our kind—how we include one already completed thing to immediately check (it helps stave off Sisyphean angst). But a problem with lists is sometimes things are overlooked, or purposefully excluded. In Litreactor’s “5 Female Short Story Writers You Should Be Reading RIGHT NOW!,” Keith Rawson confesses he is “colorblind” before emphatically (see the caps) plugging the previously mentioned. He is, indeed, colorblind because he neglects and/or ignores people of color, which is painstakingly clear from the displayed head shots. In the Goodreads Blog’s20 Favorite Last Lines from Books,” seven out of twenty of the writers featured are women. Zero POC are represented. And this is just a sampling of what I have clicked on lately.

The Better

In Lit Hub’s “Men Explain Lolita To Me,” Rebecca Solnit posits, “[M]aybe the whole point of reading is to be able to explore and also transcend your gender (and race and class and nationality and moment in history and age and ability) and experience being others.” Unfortunately, some lists don’t support this notion. Thankfully some lists do. Buzzfeed Books features a heart-lifting list “51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature” that features a fantastic mix of writers, writtenof courseby one of us. Recently, the National Endowment for the Arts released a list of the 2016 creative writing fellowship recipients, and that list makes me feel like maybe I, with much hard work and even more luck, have a speckle of a chance in the literary world.

My Reading Past

All of my reading life, I have compiled a TBR list, and have favored women and “diverse” books subconsciously. When referencing books I had read in college courses, shoulder shrugs and note scribbles greeted me, but that is a separate essay. 

Post-grad school, I attacked that list and am embarrassed to say that once upon a not-so-distant time Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Joan Didion and ZZ Packer were strangers to me. When someone mentioned them, I wore blank bug eyes, or I grinned, nodded, made a mental note and changed the subject. As I cross the names and titles off my list, it, the only list I feel comfortable with growing, grows. Who do these writers that I love love? blurb? recommend? I must know the insides of those books, too.

So what kept me from reading the writers I wanted to read? To name several: syllabi and other required reading; the availability of books at libraries, stores, online; books shoved at me without considering, well, me; what was popular, faced-out, in the glossies. Then, I was young and dumb. I didn’t have enough power to not read what everyone else was reading, so I read Slaughterhouse Five, I read Bukowski, I read The Catcher in the Rye, and I honestly liked them because some pain is universal. But the books that I love most are about the pains that aren’t, and I am in charge of my own reading now and as Eleanor Roosevelt asserted, “With freedom comes responsibility.”

My Reading Present

In August 2014, I began reading women writers exclusively, actively. I purchased only books by women. From the library, I requested and checked out only books by women. Therefore, I recommended only books by women. I didn’t miss the white male point-of-view one bit. I did, however, miss other POVs. A year later, I expanded my reading lens to male POC and LGBTTQQIAAP writers. So, yes—like Nicole Perkins declared in LA Times’s “A Response to ‘On Pandering’”—I only avoid books written by straight, white men, except for colleagues I respect and support. Bless the male feminists and the white people who get it; as Elena Ferrante said in her Financial Times interview, you are a minority, too.

In 2015, I read 32 books. Their first sentences are featured below, followed by the author and title. Please find a pen and keep it close to add the ones that whisper themselves into your heart to that TBR list.

“‘You must not tell anyone,’ my mother said, ‘what I am about to tell you.’” —Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

“Strange happenings, Chloe knows, can take place in a town built on tragedy.” —Shawna Yang Ryan, Water Ghosts

“Sometimes our steersman sounded like he was having really hot sex back there in Six, but that was only when the canoe was moving.” —Lisa Linn Kanae, Islands Linked By Ocean

“Lydia is dead.” —Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

“Start the volcano again; I’m watching.” —Mary Ann Samyn, The Boom of A Small Cannon

“She is plucking her bird of paradise of its dead branches, leaning around the plant every time she hears a car. —Julia Alvarez, In the Time of Butterflies

“What Makes Iago Evil? some people ask.” —Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays

“Me and Jasmine and Michael were hanging out at Mr. Thompson’s pool.” —Danielle Evans, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

“In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.” —Joan Didion, Blue Nights

“Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the ètagére.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

“I’ve been called Bone all my life, but my name’s Ruth Anne.” —Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina

“Dear Ol’ Dirty Bastard: I too like it raw, / I don’t especially care for Duke Ellington / at a birthday party.” —Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn

“My name is Ruth.” —Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

“The paint doesn’t move the way the light reflects / so what’s there to be faithful to?” —Richard Siken, War of the Foxes

“Joey felt that his romance with Daisy might ruin his life, but that didn’t stop him.” —Mary Gaitskill, Bad Behavior

“May in Ayemenem is a hot brooding month.” —Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

“The Stark River flowed around the oxbow at Murrayville the way blood flowed through Margo Crane’s heart.” —Bonnie Jo Campbell, Once Upon a River

“My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings.” —Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“A voice mistook for stone / jagged black fist / thrown miles through space, through / doors of dark matter.” —Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise

“I met all four of them at an off-site catering event for the opening of their new Minimally Invasive Spine, Back and Neck Group.” —Merritt Tierce, Love Me Back

“Every Friday at 4:30, they gathered cross-legged on the brown shag rug, picked at its crust of mud and glitter and Elmer’s glue, and leaned against the picture book shelves.” —Rebecca Makkai, The Borrower

“By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909.” —ZZ Packer, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” — Zadie Smith, White Teeth

“The mother jiggles her key in the ancient lock, nudges open the heavy oak door with her shoulder, and then freezes on the threshold.” —Bonnie Jo Campbell, American Salvage

“When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.” —Claudia Rankine, Citizen

“1956.” —Jessica Hagedorn, Dogeaters

“On the fifth anniversary of my father’s death, my mother confessed to his murder.” —Nora Okja Keller, Comfort Woman

“Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

“I dream of her still.” —Nora Okja Keller, Fox Girl

“What’s your story? —Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

“Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake / and dress them in warm clothes again.” —Richard Siken, Crush

“Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah