So many of us are staying at home to help limit the spread of COVID-19, and a lot of our to-read book piles are slowly shrinking. Quarantine is very important for flattening the curve, but it’s definitely rough on local bookshops, which must remain closed to the public in Minnesota for now. Since libraries are closed, too, we no longer have to feel guilty about buying so many books we could have borrowed. (Just me?)
Right now, Twin Cities booksellers are adapting to the constantly changing situation, working to stay afloat and serve loyal customers while ensuring the health and safety of everyone. Which is no small task. After browsing through their websites, here are a few tips for supporting them:
Buy books from their websites: maybe you have been looking forward to it, or maybe you just miss browsing bookstore shelves for the title you didn’t know you had to have, or maybe you’re a tsundoku devotee. Either way, you can feel good about the purchase. The indie shops need the orders; Jeff B., not so much.
If you can’t find a book on their websites or want a recommendation, call or email them — after all, who doesn’t need a little more human interaction right now? Even millennials might pick up the phone! Especially for used books, it’s likely not everything will be listed online.
Buy gift cards — whether for future use once we can return to “normal” life or as presents to make sure your friends and family are buying from indie book stores.
Engage from afar: Watch their social media accounts for live readings and book discussions that are now online.
For audiobooks, use Libro.fm, an independent platform gives proceeds to the local bookstore(s) of your choosing. Right now, the website is donating all proceeds for every one-month gift membership to your chosen bookstore(s).
If buying over phone or email makes you anxious, you are having trouble finding a title, or there’s some other reason, buy books from Bookshop.org. This new independent platform gives about 75% of profits to local bookshops across the U.S. and keeps a running tally on its homepage of how much it has raised. (Some of the shops below now use Bookshop.org, which is still in its beta version, as their e-comm platform.)
Below is a non-definitive list of bookstores in the Twin Cities that are still filling web, email, and phone orders right now. Please remember this can change, and I’m sure I missed some that should be included. My intent is to help people spread the love around and also see which locations you didn’t know about or haven’t visited. Maybe when this all ends — and it will end, rest assured — we’ll see each other at one of the locations for a reading, book club, or just to browse.
This week, we lost Henry. He was a rabbit. He was our friend. There has been so much sadness in our little zoo of a house, but also a lot of remembrance.
Anyone who’s ever loved a “pet” (a term I dislike) for some time knows that they have a unique personality and tendency to do particular, oftentimes funny, things. In spite of his small size of 2.5 lbs for most of his life, Henry had one of the biggest spirits I’ve encountered in an animal. And he regularly left a mark on people who met him.
So in celebration, rather than sadness, I with Stephanie’s help put together a brief list of facts about Hen Hen. (Oh, and like most companion animals, he ended up with many nicknames over the years.)
That said, Henry was . . .
1. In double digits
We first brought Henry home in January 2011, but he’d had another home before that for about a year. So we estimate he was born sometime in 2009, and had likely turned 10 years old in recent days. We were always commenting about what a spry little guy he remained, even in his later days, running around and jumping and nudging us to pay attention.
One memory that came to mind last night: Every week after we’d clean the bunny cage, he’d hop in and do an inspection, looking under the platform in particular to make sure everything was just right and sometimes kicking bedding out into the main area.
2. Originally called Frodo
Yeah — that had to change. At his first house, he had the unfortunate experience of being named after a hobbit, and even though he ate like one, it didn’t fit him. At that time, I’d been misguidedly reading a lot of Thoreau in search of enlightenment. The one lasting effect was that I had the perfect name for our little buddy.
3. In a relationship
None of us animals are meant to be alone, right? So, half a year after we brought home Henry, Harper followed in July 2011. The two took to each other immediately. Which isn’t always the case with rabbits, and some pairs bond only after exceptionally difficulty and effort from their humans. And that remained unchanged even as Harpie (again, the nicknames) grew from being half his size to twice his size. I don’t care if it’s anthropomorphizing: These two loved each other. Insert quote about love and how it relates to hating the absence of someone. And his loss has been just as hard on her.
4. A true pal
When I was sick, Henry hopped on the bed to make sure I was all right. When a friend needed a wingman, Henry posed for a Tinder profile pic (you know who you are!). When you were down, he’d come up an nudge you with his nose, then rub his chin on you to mark you as part of his crew. Indeed he was a true pal.
5. A movie star
His debut performance was in “Animaux à Paris” — a grade-A film written, directed, and produced by yours truly for French 201. He starred as Monsieur Lapin, with Harper performing as sa femme, Mademoiselle Lapin. From these humble beginnings, he rose to play the role of Rabbit Friend in a short called “Jamie Snodgrass: Class-C Mulberry Scout” from the Indianapolis-based artist collective Know No Stranger.
6. And a model
Henry and Harper worked the angles for an article about rabbit care. And yeah, maybe I took the photos, and wrote the article, so there might’ve been some nepotism, but look at the top-tier smizing. If you meet bunny people, you know that they could talk forever about rabbits and their unique dietary and health concerns. This piece allowed me to sum it up in a way that was hopefully helpful to others (with serious SEO value, right fellow AL newsies?). One of the vets interviewed commented: “The rabbit patients I have share a very strong human-animal bond.” An understatement.
7. An adventurous eater
Although rabbit diets consist largely of timothy hay and pellets — not carrots and iceberg lettuce as sometimes thought — they can enjoy a number of other foods. And enjoy Hen did. A non-exhaustive list of things he tried and liked includes apple, watermelon, blueberries, strawberries, various lettuces and spinach, celery, parsley, carrot and radish greens, dill, basil, spinach, collard greens, rose petals, grapes, and so on. His favorites were cilantro and banana (as evidenced in this video). Some mornings, I would make him a plate of greens so that we could eat breakfast together. The only things he didn’t seem to care for were mango and mint, go figure.
Listen, no shame here — bunnies have to chew on things to keep their teeth from growing too long. Which leads to serious health issues and costly remedies. But Henny Hen would on occasion eat some unapproved snacks too, including homework and a senior portfolio, shoes in the closet and pants even while they were being worn (leaving a hole in the butt), a chunk of Nutrigrain bar right from Stephanie’s hand.
9. A bun of the world
Counting the place where he was born and his first house where we picked him up from in 2011, Henry lived in 10 homes during his life, as Stephanie and I moved during college in Indy and then during and after grad school in Minnesota. He was a trooper, though, typically taking to new digs quicker than Harp or any of his cat sibs.
The entire crew (at the time two buns and two cats) even stayed in a hotel for a week as we waited for our first Mankato apartment to be finished. We convinced the company to give us two rooms, considering the size of our group. One day, however, the bunnies whom I’d let out a little earlier to exercise in the second room, were nowhere to be found. I thought housekeeping might have come in and taken them away, but then I looked under the bed and saw something moving around in the box spring. “I don’t know how to tell you this,” I reported to Stephanie, “but the bunnies are inside the bed.”
10. A little guy with a big personality
Henry was never afraid of new people. He played with dogs and cats during his life, and oftentimes pushed them around. He was a boss, but the kind you like to have. Henry was so involved in our daily life — the fun, silly chaos of living with five wild dingi — that we have been experiencing many first times doing this or that without him.
In true Libra fashion, I rang in my birthday last night with tears. “Animals break your heart,” a friend recently told me. It’s true, but only if they take up significant space in it to begin with. So although this post is supposed to contain facts about Hen, here are a few about us: 1. We miss Henry very much. 2. We hope we gave him the best life a bun could have. 3. We are very sad for his loss. 4. We don’t see that changing anytime soon. 5. We know it’s because we so enormously loved and were loved by that little guy.
If I didn’t possess the voice of an angel, I wouldn’t attempt this song; if I didn’t attempt this song, I wouldn’t end up in the dark parking lot leaving another voicemail for my ex, Nigel, that he’ll probably never return.
Hinder: “Lips of an Angel”
I own a ferret.
Bruce Springsteen: “Born to Run”
My sister’s garage, unfinished and all, is cozier than you’d think, even if my brother-in-law steals Miller High Lifes from my mini fridge in lieu of the unpaid rent.
The Chainsmokers: “Closer”
This bar is so lit — they never card.
Lady Antebellum: “Need You Now”
Sure, we wear matching outfits and fight if the other one compliments a stranger, but we’re not co-dependent.
He’s not my first ferret.
Foreigner: “I Want to Know What Love Is”
I’m dedicating this song to that beautiful woman right in front, the love of my life, the woman I’m moving in with, the woman I plan to marry, as soon as I tell my wife.
Michael Jackson: “Billie Jean”
Now you know why they call me the cool grandma.
Neil Diamond: “Sweet Caroline”
Every time you all repeat, “So good, so good, so good,” I want to thank you for filling in for the friends I lost touch with when I became a parent, with all of the late nights and diaper changes, about 24 years ago.
Hoobastank: “The Reason”
Did I mention his name is Ferret Bueller?
Rod Stewart: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”
I already know you don’t, but what’s the worst that could happen — if we pretend for tonight, or if we don’t?
All I really want to say is: when you all wake up for work, when you’re stuck in freeway gridlock, when you’re chained to a desk in that prison of an office park, I’ll still be here, I’ll still be high, and I’ll still be singing.
Learning how to put words together made me cry. The memory still stings a little: sitting in the family room, my mom pointing to letters on a sheet of paper, creating new three-letter sequences, such as C-A-T. But why was it so damn hard, M-A-N? My frustration grew with M-A-D.I tried halfheartedly to sound out S-A-D. Then came the tears.
It’s funny now, since words became such large a part of my life. I soon started writing—stories, songs, top secret files for my imagined detective agency—and I read like crazy. I went on to get a bachelor’s and will soon finish a master’s in creative writing. But many times along the way, attempting to put words together has made me want to weep. These moments still pop up, as I string words into sentences, into paragraphs, into chapters of books. And they probably always will.
With this in mind, here are some thoughts to hopefully help you survive your creative writing education. I’ve tried to be broad enough that it will help no matter if you’re taking one-off classes at the local writing center, crossing off a gen-ed for your chemistry degree, or on the way to completing an MFA. The advice is aimed to help, but I feel a little preachy. I would feel even more so if I hadn’t made each mistake mentioned. One faux pas isn’t the end of the world, but it is something to notice and work to correct to be a better writer.
1. Write, write, write, write, write
Only one thing I know of separates writers from non-writers: writing. Students in creative writing classes should go one step further and create dedicated writing time. A professor once advised me not to apply to MFAs until after getting in the habit of writing every day. Recently, a professor gave similar advice: Figure out what kind of writer you are. Can you accomplish something substantial in one hour each day? Or do you need larger chunks, four or eight hours a couple days each week, to really get in a groove? Whatever works for you and your schedule, set aside and protect it.
2. Use the Golden Rule when workshopping
The age-old advice is true for so many creative writing workshop quandaries. Should I be nice at the risk of not giving helpful, critical feedback? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Should I make a brutally honest comment at the risk of discouraging and demoralizing the other person? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Should I turn in something that I haven’t proofread very well? Do unto… Well, you get the point.
3. Be a critic and fan of your peers
It’s easy to praise good work and criticize work that’s not so hot. But in a workshop, that’s not enough. Find ways to make good stories better. Find encouraging things to say about hot-mess poems. This will make things better in workshops and beyond. When your friends place work at your dream lit mag or win top awards, you can celebrate without comparing your successes to theirs because you’re a fan. When they ask your opinion on an objectively flawed essay, you can say so because you’re a reasonable critic, too. But even if it’s tough to be a fan, even if a workshop peer writes robo-unicorn-erotica, never say, “I’m not the audience for this.” Because: 1) you’re automatically the audience by joining the workshop, and 2) well, maybe you should reread the Golden Rule chunk.
4. Get involved outside of class
If you’re lucky enough to be at a school with a reading series, go to every event. You’re a novelist and the reader is a poet? Go anyway. You’re a poet and the reader does graphic CNF? Go anyway. If you’re not in school or your school doesn’t have a reading series, find somewhere nearby that does — another university, a bookstore, a monthly meeting of local writers — or find ways to participate online. Hear as many voices as you can, and meet as many other writers. Even if the reader’s work is not great or the delivery is subpar, you can learn and be a better writer just by going.
5. Be humble and keep working
When a workshop peer points out some canned images or bad tropes that your piece relies on — or simply disagrees with your approach — don’t brush off the advice. Think about where the advice is coming from. What in the piece is causing them to read it that way? What could you adjust or scrap to better reach your reader? Above all, don’t tell your workshoppers you’d already identified every plot hole, inconsistency, mixed metaphor, etc., that they pointed out. Because: 1) you probably didn’t and are just trying to protect your ego, and 2) if you did, you should have done your damnedest to fix said problems before turning in the piece.
But listen: we’re all still figuring out this writing business. George Saunders thought he failed because he couldn’t write like Hemingway. F. Scott Fitzgerald died believing The Great Gatsby, out of print at the time, was a failure. Toni Morrison didn’t even get into the game until her late thirties because she realized the only way to find the book she wanted to read was to write it. We can never know whom our writing will connect with or when. All we can do is to keep trying to put words together, combining them into narratives and stanzas and punchy fragments. By doing this, we can not only survive but also find our own versions of success as writers.
Do you have any other advice to share from your experience as a writer or in creative writing classes? Leave it in a comment below!
Are roses still discounted the day after Valentine’s Day, if on Valentine’s Day there was a mass shooting? Or are those clipped stems, floating in a vat of water, still full price? After all, it’s a supply-and-demand thing—the way gun sales go up after a mass shooting—and either way, these people stand to make a killing.
That we can protect those with little power. As one Florida writer noted: “our two deadliest shootings . . . have involved children (parkland) and queer people (orlando).”
The most powerful members of our society—the President, Vice President, representatives in the House and Senate—profess at a rate of more than 90% to be Christian.
That it will not take a Judgment Day, at the separating of the Sheep and Goats, for us to understand Matthew 25:45: “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
The shooters, we’re told, quite frequently suffer from mental illness. Which is meant to explain why it wouldn’t help to do anything. Really, as those of us with mental illness can attest—those who take the pills, those who see the therapists—it explains why we could do much more.
That the President, who reminded us this morning that the blame for this falls on those who suspected the perpetrator was homicidal and did nothing, will reconsider his policies that make it easier for those with mental illness to get guns.
This morning FOX News shared on social media that the White House had lowered its flag to half staff. Which seemed to be the least they could do. And really, it was.
Maybe it’s wrong to disrespect our leaders like that, in a Christian sense, at least. Because 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says: “. . . I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life. . . .” Similarly, Confucius said to shame the powerful into doing what’s right by living blamelessly, by walking uprightly.
Because something that should be unnecessary is shaming politicians on Twitter who send thoughts and prayers also on Twitter while they take money from the NRA in real life.
That somebody will do something, that once the vigil is over we will not blow out our candles, that we will remember how James 2:26 says: “. . . As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Or how Langston Hughes says:
I am so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two-
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
Or how the Bible also says to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” and what most of our Caesars need is a permanent vacation.
Because something else that’s unnecessary is politicians who take money from the NRA. And people who wait for them to do the right thing.
That we can live a peaceful and quiet life once the majority of Americans who support comprehensive gun reform are heard over the exploding barrels of AR-15s. That we can walk uprightly because we don’t have to hide under desks, around corners, in locked classrooms, like we’ve drilled, so many times.
At school, when teaching logical fallacies, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with an example for the “fallacy fallacy, in which one problem with an argument invalidates the entire point. Here’s a handy example: “It wasn’t an actual AR-15,” or: “No, AR-15s are only semiautomatic.”
That these final lines from Kathy Fish’s story, “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild,” will stop haunting us:
Humans in the wild, gathered and feeling good, previously an exhilaration, now: a target.
A target of concert-goers.
A target of movie-goers.
A target of dancers.
A group of schoolchildren is a target.
But, as we’ve heard, it’s disrespectful to talk about the problem so soon: too soon after Parkland, too soon after Vegas, too soon after Sandy Hook, too soon after Virginia Tech, too soon after Columbine.
That maybe, this time, we can talk about the problem sooner.
It’s probably cheaper to buy two bouquets of a dozen roses than to buy seventeen individually. Just tie together the ones you must, stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem to stem, and pile them on the roadside memorial. The others you can throw in the trash. Because what does it matter when they’re already dead?
The front room of my house is called the pawffice. It has a broad desk, a chair, three windows, a guitar, and a varying number of cats, depending on which spot they fancy that day, that hour, that instant. I used to have to share the pawffice. Stephanie and I both started to work from home when we moved to Minnesota in 2015. We’d trade desks and tables and spaces, the other office in our bureau being less cleverly named the bunny room. Which is exactly what it was. I’d wander in to share some unrelated nugget of information like an annoying officemate who keeps stopping by your desk. This wasn’t new. We’d worked together, in the same office, for a little over a year.
It’s easy to imagine some couples struggling with having to spend this much time with each other. You wake up together in the morning, commute together, go to meetings together, discuss deadlines together, roll your eyes together, leave work together. Then over dinner, you have to think of something new to talk about, because you already know the answer to that go-to question: “How was your day?” But I never minded. Stephanie is one of the smartest, hardest working, and most reliable people I’ve ever known. I, on the other hand, am allergic to deadlines, overly sarcastic in my attempts to be funny, and switch between projects constantly. But for me, even when the work was frustrating, it was a joy to be on her team.
So working from home was much the same as before, just with the ability to wear pajamas most of the day or skip out for an hour in the morning to do yoga. Even after we were laid off from our previous employer, we continued to work together—in the same space, that is—on various freelance projects. Then last spring, Stephanie got a new full-time job that she greatly deserved. One thing became clear over the months I’ve worked from home on my thesis, lesson plans, and magazine article, with just the cats as coworkers: I have been spoiled. Spending that much time with one’s best friend is not a luxury most people get.
On Monday, 13 inches of snow dumped on Mankato. It started in the early morning and continued through the evening, piling higher and higher. Stephanie went to the office for a few hours, but then I picked her up when it started to get bad. For half a day, we shared a workspace again, and because she doesn’t often get the luxury to work from home, she claimed the pawffice with its wide (and for once, relatively clean) desk and view of the street. It was nice. Like old times, I walked out to make some observation, but before returning to my workspace, stopped as we watched the snow come down together.
There’s a chapter from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird that I make students read. It’s called “Shitty First Drafts,” and it’s largely about the “fantasy of the uninitiated” — the idea that writers “take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter.” It’s a myth, I tell the students. But it’s a myth that experienced writers still have a hard time abandoning. We believe that real writers pump out perfect prose.
A few months ago, Fear No Lit accepted my pitch for an interview series called Fail Better. It has adapted a little bit, but remained close to the original intent of debunking the “fantasy of the uninitiated.” The series explores how writers become better through trial and error, failing and learning how to fail a little bit less, a little bit better, the next time. It has been fun to learn from each writer.
A lot of the poems in Ghost County started off way too long. I don’t want to throw myself under the bus, but in the copy of the book I read from, I still make edits. One of the poems has at least six or seven lines crossed out. I’ve even reworded the way a few of the sentences read.
You need to be honest about your failure, but you can’t dwell there. You have to move forward quickly and see that knowledge as an opportunity. You have to let your feelings go and be scientific about it. … A negative result is still a result in science. You don’t feel bad about a negative result. It’s just a result.
With very few exceptions, I’m happy to be published, happy that someone out in the world found some sort of connection with my work. There’s little harm in being published early and online, other than being internet haunted by your past self. It’s like having your gawky seventh grade school picture on your work ID badge. Both exist, but you wouldn’t necessarily choose the former to represent who you are now.
For me, the pleasures come when I discover something new either about a project or about the act of writing. Maybe the biggest thrill is discovering a question I didn’t know I was asking. This probably applies to both drafting and revising, which for me typically overlap to the point of being essentially the same thing.
Next up on Fail Better: an interview with short story writer Hasanthika Sirisena in June!