Friday, September 30, 2016

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk




Hello, Cephalopod Coffeehouse participants!

This month I listened to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain on Audible. I had heard a review of the novel on NPR when it was published back in 2012, and was interested in reading it but, for one reason or another, never got around to it.  Thankfully, I recently saw a preview for the movie adaptation, and decided to give it a go. I'm glad I did.

The novel takes place during one day: a Thanksgiving day Dallas Cowboys football game, where Billy Lynn and his other Bravo Squad mates have been invited to participate in the halftime show, where none other than Destiny's Child will be performing. The soldiers have received this rather auspicious invitation because they have been deemed heroes, thanks to an embedded Fox News crew's footage of a firefight against Iraqi insurgents, and is the concluding event in their "victory tour" before they are sent back to serve another tour in Iraq.

One of my favorite scenes of the book is when the members of the Bravo Squad are given footballs and are shown into the Cowboys locker room for autographs. The depiction of these soldiers, who have literally risked their lives, kowtowing to these professional athletes is poignantly ironic. Fountain details the enormous investment made into the athletes: the planning, organization, and infrastructure needed for each game; the superior care and attention given to the players' physical needs. He also illustrates the economically depressed backgrounds of the soldiers, contrasting them with the "patrons" of the Cowboys, who can spend $1000 on a logo monogrammed leather jacket.

This book contains mature language and topics and may not be suitable for all readers. However, if, as I believe, the greatest end of a book is to engender empathy, this book is well worth your time.

Monday, September 19, 2016

You Can Do Anything With an English Degree, and other Tall Tales


Anything feels like a dead end. I am twenty one years old, newly married, and am beginning to question my life choices. The career counselor is not helping.  “You can do anything with an English degree,” she says for the second time. I am a semester away from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English. I have selected this rather audacious course of study because, in the classroom, William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s spring felt like more than words on paper. They felt like everything. But now, with the prospect of actually providing for myself before me, poetry is losing some of its relevance.  “What, specifically, can I do?” I ask. The counselor gives me a wan smile that looks like defeat.
So upon graduation I keep on with the job that I got to get me through college. It is somewhat underwhelming, this job, but it is better than nothing. It is, I tell myself, something. A steady paycheck. Benefits. A place to go from 9 to 5. Still,  I buy a spiral notebook from Albertsons with plans to write a novel. I start and stop and then stuff the notebook in my nightstand, overwhelmed by all the space within its pretty lined pages.

I am twenty four years old and hauling two stuffed suitcases onto the London Underground. My husband has come to study abroad and I am along for the ride. I put together my resume, my “CV” as the Brits call it, and send it out to several temp agencies. I am called in for an interview and receive an optimistic eyebrow raise when the recruiter notices I have an English degree. He might have something for me, he says, at a publishing house near the West End. I hit up the high street for a pinstripe jacket and meet a man in a slim, trim suit who seats me in front of a computer and tells me to “format the document.” I click aimlessly through the thing for the better part of the morning until the man returns to see how I’m getting on.  Not well, apparently, if his dour expression is any indication. “What, specifically, should I do?” I ask.  He gives me a crooked smile before asking me if I wouldn’t like to take an early lunch, go on and call it a day.

So instead I find work at a hospital, doing billing for patients with private health insurance. On the weekend I go to the octagonal-shaped library in West Kensington, the one that reminds me of some primitive, makeshift spaceship, and reserve an hour on the computer. I pull up Word and attempt to write. Nothing. The blank screen stares back at me like a void. I am a reader, not a writer, I tell myself, and check out a book for my hour-long commute.
I am twenty eight years old, a new mother, and renting an apartment in northwest Indiana. My husband is a newly minted attorney. The reality of being a lawyer’s wife is not squaring with the expectation I had when he began school. It is somewhat underwhelming to dwell in an apartment with carpeted kitchen, but it is better than nothing. It is, I tell myself, something. A beginning. A starting place. An almost home. But the money is tight and the apartment is cramped and the baby is beautiful but he cries and cries and sometimes, when I can't get him to settle down, I feel like I am losing my mind. "What, specifically, can I do?" I ask. He gives another epic wail before spitting up on my shoulder.

And then, one night, when the baby is sleeping and my husband is snoring, I wake and creep into the carpeted kitchen. I switch on the light, snag a pen from the junk drawer, and place a sheet of paper on the little round kitchen table. I have waited long enough. Overwhelming or not, there is space here, on this blank page. There is room here, I think. Room of my own. Maybe my career counselor was right. Because the page before me feels like more than something. It feels like an open road. An answer. A calling. It feels like anything.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

This is happening!

On August 9th - two weeks from today - my young adult novel, Accidentally Me, releases for publication with Cedar Fort.

As part of the release, Cedar Fort has organized a blog tour. Check out this darling banner:




To launch the novel, I will be signing books at The King's English Bookshop on Tuesday, August 9th, at 7 PM. Please come celebrate with me!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cover Reveal: On the Corner of Heartache & Love

On the Corner of Heartache & Love
Cover Reveal!

Coming September 2016!

About the Book

After three years, Maren Summers is elated to finally have her dream wedding to her dream man, Kevin Bryant. In her sights is the promotion to Weddings she’s worked so hard for at the newspaper. Happily ever after is within her grasp…
Until Kevin jilts her at the altar, elopes with another woman, and becomes her boss. Devastated by the twisted turn of events Maren moves in with her best friend and notices the not-so-homeless guy on the corner, Zane Whitfield. As his heart-wrenching tale unfolds—his vow to wait a year on the corner for his lost love—Maren sees his compassionate human-interest story as her ticket away from 
Kevin, weddings, and her heartache.
But as the New Year approaches, is Maren headed for heartache again when Zane's lost love returns or has time changed more than one heart?

About the Author

Lisa Swinton caught the romance buy early by way of fairy tales and hasn’t been able to cure it yet. She feeds her addiction with romance novels, films, and chocolate. A doctor’s wife and busy mom of two, she enjoys putting her musical theater degree to use at church and in community theater. She enjoys researching her family tree, painting her house, and baking. She loves to travel and all things Jane Austen. In her next life she’d like to be a professional organizer.

You can visit her at:

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: Station Eleven - Not your teenager's dystopia

Hello, Cephalopod Coffeehouse participants!


This month I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. For your viewing pleasure, the cover:





Um, wow. I heard about this book on NPR, and then, later, spotted it on my mother-in-law's coffee table. The book begins with an on-stage heart attack of a famous movie actor -- playing the role of King Lear, no less. On the heels of his death comes the demise of civilization: a highly contagious virus, the Georgian Flu, wipes out essentially 99.9% of the world's population in a matter of days.

The book is comprised of several narratives from several view point characters and the chronology bounces from pre-collapse to post-collapse and back again. The thread tying all of these characters together is the eponymous Station Eleven, a graphic novel created by Miranda, the actor's first wife.

Although billed as a science fiction dystopian novel, Station Eleven struck me as more of a poetic, philosophical treatise. I mean, the tough guys in this book are a band of musicians and thespians called the "Traveling Symphony." There is some interesting exploration of what is socially significant: if you had the chance to rebuild society, what would you keep from the past? What is worth passing on? What survives?

Although the jumps in point of view and chronology were somewhat distracting, I was engaged because the novel seemed to be building to some great revelatory conclusion. For me, the book ended without fulfilling its promises. Reading this book was like waiting at a train station, instead of taking a ride.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: Fangirl --- Baby's got Voice!

Hello, Cephalopod Coffeehouse participants!

This month I read Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. I picked it up at Costco, because I liked the cover:


Costco. Pretty Cover. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, right?

Fangirl is about Cath, a college freshman whose world is out of whack. Her mother walked out on her family a long time ago (on September 11th - the September 11th), her twin sister Wren (Cath, Wren - get it?) wants space and declines to room together and takes up partying at the frat houses instead, her dad is living alone for this first time in years and struggling with depression. Cath is falling for her roommate Reagan's boyfriend Levi. And the fanfic Cath obsessively writes about Simon Snow (a Harry Potter-ish character/series), isn't cutting it as "original" in her Fiction Writing course.

Fangirl is heavy on dialogue. At times, it felt more like I was eavesdropping on the characters than reading about them. The pacing is slow and the book at times seemed to drag -- although this also made the book feel more real. There are also several long passages of Cath's fanfiction that frankly did not interest me.

But ultimately, I kept reading because of Rainbow Rowell's voice. She has a I-want-to-take-it-behind-the-bleachers-and-get-it-pregnant kind of voice.  Fangirl is a story about voice, too. It is about writing and the many different reasons why we write. It is about leaving the comfort of the stories of our childhood and having the courage to write a story of our own. And it has some fun lines about writing, like this one:


“Cath felt like she was swimming in words. Drowning in them, sometimes.”

Or this one:

“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”  

In conclusion, once again Costco came through for me. It always does.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tuesday

The phone call comes just after 5 on Tuesday afternoon. My sister, who is 38 weeks pregnant, has lost her baby. The news is unbelievable. I was just with my sister, hours earlier, at the salon, both of us sitting side by side under the heater, our hair wrapped in foil. "You two are sitting the exact same way!" the stylist remarked. We had looked at each other and laughed, our crossed legs and folded arms mirror images, our sisterhood affirmed.

I leave my kids with my husband and head for my sister's house. I merge onto the congested freeway and head south.  It is an unbelievably beautiful autumn day. I lurch along, my mind congested with one thought. Questions will come later. Now I am stumped by this fiction masquerading as fact. My sister has lost her baby. It cannot be.

When I reach the point of the mountain, the traffic slows to a dead stop. Ahead, where a bluff breaks the monotony of blue sky,  a dozen or so daring souls are hang-gliding. It is a thing of fantasy, this scene, and I wonder at these colorful sails before me, neither flying or falling, but suspended mid-air.

The traffic picks up and I continue down the road, toward my sister and heartache and unspeakable pain. For a moment I am soothed by the sight of these floating creatures, neither angels or demons, but mere humans propped up by make-shift wings.