Raven Leilani – Luster

Luster was another book I had a difficult time putting down. It was like witnessing something you shouldn’t be privy to and not being able to look away. These people had issues!

Thing is, all people have issues and this book was very much a weird peek into the dysfunction that can happen when other people are brought into a marriage and the nonsense we will allow ourselves to endure when we have no place else to go.

Edie is young and struggling financially, so I mostly give her a pass for the shenanigans, but the shenanigans were many. She constantly makes bad decisions, starting with sleeping around the office with literally (almost)every man (and one woman, if I remember correctly) at her job. I won’t fault her for getting into a relationship with a married man. If the couple has an open marriage, there’s no reason she should feel guilty about being involved with him.

However, how are you just going to walk up into somebody’s house like that? Especially when one of the “open relationship rules” is to not go to the house. But, also, how are you going to leave your front door open when you’re upstairs cleaning or whatever? Not only can strangers walk into your house (like Edie did), but stray cats, snakes, racoons… Who even does that?

The wife was in over her head anyway. She probably didn’t even want the open marriage to begin with. Her obsession with Edie and how she invited her to live in their house when her husband (Edie’s boyfriend) wasn’t home. Yes, this white couple’s Black child needed some Black love in her life, and it was nice watching her relationship with Edie grow, but living in your married boyfriend’s house with his wife and child is weird. The wife’s treatment of Edie is weird. Did she really think Edie would stop sleeping with her husband because she asked her to (and put a roof over her head)?

If you don’t want an open marriage, just say that.

I don’t know, y’all. I was thoroughly entertained, though.

Pick it up or don’t. These people are a mess and I felt awkward with the interactions throughout the book, like I was the one doing something wrong (chuckles internally).

It’s like, I don’t judge a book by its characters, or even its storyline most of the time. I judge a book by its ability to keep me from putting it down. My reading habits aren’t nearly as indiscriminate as my movie-watching habits (I will watch almost anything), but I still find myself choosing books just because someone else said it was good, or I liked the cover, or the title spoke to me. Even when I read the book description, by the time my Overdrive hold becomes available, I’ve forgotten what the book is about anyway and go into it blindly. I kind of like that, though. I get to surprise myself with new stories and characters that frustrate me while they intrigue me.

I missed my download window for The Personal Librarian, so now I have to wait until the 16th to get it back. That’s my next read. I also have no idea what it’s about. I just liked the title and the cover art (yes, I do judge a book by its cover sometimes).

Happy reading, y’all!

May Writing Goals

I’ve come to two conclusions since last week:

  1. Fridays should be my writing days.
  2. I’m going to finish my novel before continuing my next collection of essays.

I’ve recently started working with my cousin and (separately) her web designer. I’m working part time for both of them (9a-1p and 1p-5p, respectively), but I don’t work for either of them on Fridays. So, instead of trying to cram writing time into my current morning routine (which does not allow for 1-2 hours of writing), I figure Friday should be the day I spend on book and blog work.

I’m down to one blog now (this one), and I really want to focus on making this space better for you and for me (I’ve mentioned my merch dreams before). I also really want to clean the first half of this novel up and then finish it.

I printed the 73-page draft at Staples last week and it cost me almost $12. I don’t have a reliable printer at home, so if you know of less expensive ways to print a manuscript, please let me know. I also bought a 24-pack of Pen + Gear Dual-End Markers from Walmart, which are supposed to be similar to the Zebra Mildliners but less expensive (I’ll let you know how I like them later). My goal is to assign one color to each character and highlight each character as I read through this draft. Once each character is highlighted throughout, I will edit character-by-character to clean up the narratives and fill in plot/character holes. I’ll update you on my progress as I go.

That brings me to my decision to finish this novel first. I started drafting this novel in 2016 during a period of unemployment when I had a lot of time on my hands (I hadn’t become a plant mom yet). After self-publishing my collection of essays and short stories last year, I wanted to go into my next collection of essays immediately.

However, I’m still working through some of the relationships and experiences that need to be included in this next collection, and I don’t want to rush through the healing that needs to take place in order for me to feel comfortable talking (writing) about these experiences. I tried to force it, but it left me stumped and frustrated.

Thankfully, my novel is completely fictional. And although there is a lot of work to be done to it, it’s not personal at all, and I think I need that kind of break while still being able to move forward.

So, the goals for May are to thoroughly review and edit each of my character descriptions and then edit as much of their storylines as possible. Once the individual and overall storylines have been tidied, then I can move forward with writing the rest of the book.

I will try my hardest not to get lost in the story again. There are a lot of weeds to cut through, but we’ll get there.

Lastly, I’m almost done reading Luster. It was an impromptu Overdrive download because I needed something to read while waiting on my tires to be replaced. My feelings aren’t settled on what’s happening in this book, but we’ll chat about that another time.

Happy reading!

Book Two Doubts

I did not have high expectations for my first book. I wrote it because I had to; it was the only way to move forward. I received a lot of support from family and my mom’s work friends that I did not expect, but it was very much welcomed. Even before I published Discovering My Outside Voice, I had a list of additional books I wanted to write (including a novel I started years ago that I want to finish) and I planned to get started right away with book number two. However, after several weeks of sitting in front of my computer with semi-drafted thoughts for these essays, I couldn’t get myself to actually work on them.

I keep going back and forth between finishing the novel and completing the next book of essays (life, religion, and relationships). I have a couple of dilemmas that are weighing on me, however.

With the novel: I have about half of it written, but it needs a good edit—there are some details I want to change about particular characters, and I also need to clean up the storyline since I’d changed it a few times before I got it to where it is now. The problem is, editing a 50,000-word story isn’t as simple as editing one of my short stories or essays. It’s easy to go back to page 3 of 5 and fix some details but trying to remember all the details to go back and change things in this much larger story is giving me a headache. How do y’all do it?

I have a plan, though. A somewhat tedious, but hopefully helpful, plan. I intend to print out the entire document and highlight each character’s story/details in a different color and then edit by color until I fix the entire thing. 😀 It doesn’t sound as simple when I write it out like this, but that’s the only thing I can think of that will organize my editing process with this story (and the multiple storylines within this story).

With the essays: I’m not sure which direction I should go or how thoroughly I should get into things. My first book was incredibly personal and vulnerable, especially regarding childhood traumas and my mental health over the past two years. Thing is, letting people into my head is a lot less invasive than letting them into my body. I didn’t have any hesitation about exposing myself to strangers in my writing, but the reality of people who’ve known me for a long time reading my first book makes me really uncomfortable about exposing the more intimate thoughts and experiences required of this next book of essays. Part of me says not to make the essays too detailed so people aren’t privy to such intimate knowledge of me, but the other part says to be real or don’t write it at all. My brother suggested I talk to my therapist about this one lol.

I thought I was stuck because I didn’t know what to write next, but I’m realizing some things. The first is that I’m tired. The content of book one, as well as the writing and self-publishing process itself, took a lot out of me. Second, I’m not sure how to write the next book. I don’t even know which book should be the next book—the novel or the essays. My idea to work on them simultaneously was not a good one.

I’m not writing these books to be famous, and Outside Voice hasn’t made any bestseller lists or anything, but I love writing and I want to see my name on more books. It’s really that simple. Thing is, I don’t want to publish anything I feel is inauthentic to my experiences or who I am. I may just have to tell a couple people they can’t read the essays (though that will probably make them even more curious to read it). I feel like I should talk to somebody about this!

There are very few people who even know about some of these experiences, so I can’t just call up one of my friends and ask for advice without pre-exposing my business. It really boils down to my mom, two of my cousins, and my therapist, and I already know my cousins are probably going to acknowledge why it would be uncomfortable and then encourage me to tell my truth and not care about other people’s opinions/thoughts/feelings. But it’s also like… do I want people to know this about me?

Maybe my brother is right—this is work for therapy.

While I work through that mess, I have to find the cheapest place to print the first half of my novel so I can edit. My dad’s printer hates my laptop and will either not connect to print, or it’ll print one page and stop, so printing at home isn’t an option. Where do people print things (inexpensively) when they don’t have a printer? Do I have to buy a printer now? Ugh, I hate the very thought. I used to have one but then didn’t and I don’t remember the conversation I had with myself that led to me getting rid of it.

Anyway, you know I will update you as I come to clarity about the next book. In the meantime…

Happy reading!