Stefanie Brook Trout

Author Page with Resources for Writers

Category: Editing

Great Reads 2018

Screen Shot 2019-01-02 at 10.21.00 PMAt the end of every year, I like to reflect on all of the wonderful books I have read over the past 365 or so days and highlight the standouts.

This is my fifth annual Great Reads post – apparently the only blog post I can reliably hold myself to doing each year.

I use Goodreads to set a personal reading challenge each year, and I can’t recommend the site enough for fellow readers and writers.

Check out my Goodreads author profile here.

I’m excited to share that I exceeded my 2018 reading goal of 33 books.

The 37 books I read this year include a lot of young adult novels, a few graphic novels, some classics, a little nonfiction, and a lot of contemporary fiction.

(I used to set my goal at 50 books each year, but it was very difficult to reach and pushed me to read shorter books just for the sake of my book count instead of reading what I actually wanted. In 2017, I set my goal at 32 – my age at the time – and have increased my goal by one book each year. Since this change, I have not only been able to read what I wanted, but I have also exceeded my goal every year.)

I really liked most of the books I read this year, but when I reviewed my Goodreads ratings, I was surprised to see that I was stingy with my five-star ratings. I only gave out two five-star ratings this year: one to Angie Thomas for The Hate U Give and one to J. K. Rowling for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

This is really interesting!

It might seem like the only thing these two books have in common is the fact that they are YA novels, but I’ve come to realize that they have a lot more in common than that. 

Thematically, they are both about a very specific type of coming-of-age: having the courage to stand up to authority and do what what you know is right, no matter the consequences. 

I also realized that they both follow the Hero’s Journey fairly closely. As a fantasy hero, Harry Potter follows the journey rather obviously, but Starr Carter’s growth as a character can be plotted on a Hero’s Journey diagram with an even better fit than Potter’s. 

On a personal level, these books also have in common the facts that I have read them multiple times and that I have taught them to my high school students. Neither of these books received a five-star rating from me upon my first read. Each time I reread the books, I picked up on more of the authors’ craft and fell more and more in love with the stories and how they are told.

This is significant because I typically don’t reread books. I usually only reread a book if I am teaching it. With so many books on my To Read list, who has the time to read something they’ve already read before?

But this year’s Great Reads reflection has brought my attention to the value of rereading. In the future, I hope to give more of my four-star books a second go. I am a book hoarder, so they are already in my possession. I just have to make it a priority.

If I love the book even more, then it was well worth my time. If I don’t, then maybe it’s time to let it go by passing the book along to a friend or donating it to a local free library.

Here’s to another year of great reads for all of us!

Great Reads 2017

I’m so excited to write my fourth annual Great Reads post. I’m so excited, in fact, that I’m not even going to apologize for not writing enough content for the blog. (It’s been so long since I’ve updated this website that WordPress didn’t remember my log-in credentials. Worse, it’s been so long since I’ve even visited my own website that Google Chrome couldn’t auto-complete the URL…)

To be clear, the idea of this post is to list the top books that I read in 2017. Not all of them were actually published in 2017.

Before I begin, I have to give a big shout out to the Book of the Month club, which helped diversify my reading list. (Last year’s list was, regrettably, brought to you by all white male authors. Great books all the same, but I was ashamed that I couldn’t amplify any other voices.) Beyond adding women writers and writers of color, BOTM has helped me balance my 2017 reading list with contemporary authors, so this year’s list does feature a lot more new books than my previous lists have.

I joined Book of the Month in November 2016, and it’s been so much fun reading their selections this year. Fifteen of the thirty-nine books I’ve read this year were from BOTM, and six out of my nine top books listed here (including all of the top 5!) were from BOTM. My subscription was the best gift I have ever given myself. (If you’d like to check it out for yourself, use my referral link to get your first book for $9.99 plus a free tote bag.)

So here they are, folks: the nine books that earned a five-star rating from me on Goodreads this year along with the short reviews I wrote for each of them. Check ’em out.

  1. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
    Ruth Emmie Lang
    St. Martin’s Press, 2017

    33574161I expected to not like this book based on the premise, but I love magical realism, so I gave it a shot as my October Book of the Month pick. I’m so glad I took a chance on it – it’s easily one of my favorite books of all time. It was one of those books that you start reading really fast until you get close to the end, and then you start dragging it out just because you don’t want the dream to end! For me, the initial hook was the To Kill a Mockingbird allusions, but the characters quickly took hold of me and carried the narrative from there. I loved the structure; it was a unique way of letting the story unfold but not gimmicky in any way. Even though it’s classified as adult fiction, I can see a lot of my students loving this book as much as I do. I’m so impressed that this is a debut novel and can’t wait to read more of Lang’s work in the future.
  2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
    Neil Gaiman
    William Morrow Books, 2013

    I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.

    15783514One of the biggest questions I had before reading this book was whether or not it could be classified as YA. But like the neopagan mythology Gaiman calls back to once again with his Triple Goddess from The Sandman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is neither YA nor not-YA. It just is. Most of the story is narrated from a child’s POV, and I think many of my teenage students would appreciate it, but I agree with other reviewers that the reader who will get the most out of the story is the one with nostalgia for childhood lost.

    It’s a short, quick read with a dreamlike – at times, nightmarish – quality that feels expansive while you are immersed in it but slips away as soon as you set it aside to return to reality.

  3. The Sun Is Also a Star
    Nicola Yoon
    Delacorte Press, 2016

    Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddIt’s difficult for me to review this book because it is so great that anything I write about it will feel lame by comparison. I expected to like this novel because of all the science – specifically, the interplay between cosmology and poetry – and I did love all of the scientific and historical interludes, but what really blew me away was how much heart the characters had. The main characters, yes, but even the minor characters, who still get to have their story heard no matter how few pages we meet them for. It would be easy for this love story to feel cheesy or sappy, but it was so earnest that I never questioned it. Beautiful stuff. My new favorite YA novel. 
  4. Exit West
    Mohsin Hamid
    Riverhead, 2017

    30688435There is something brilliant about the language here – wholly unique and yet completely ordinary at the same time, just like the story itself. The narrative is at once timely and timeless, and the book’s multiple identities couldn’t be more appropriate for a story of migration. I was unprepared for the supernatural turn, but it was a pleasant surprise because I love speculative fiction. I highly recommend Exit West for any reader who doesn’t mind a little magic in their realism.
  5. Dark Matter
    Blake Crouch
    Crown, 2016

    27833670I had so much fun nerding out with this one. Dark Matter has just the right amount of suspense, science, and heart. I can’t say too much more without spoilers.
  6. In the Woods 
    Dublin Murder Squad #1
    Tana French
    Viking, 2007

    237209This was exactly what I was looking for. I don’t normally read crime fiction, but I was trying to find a solid series that would hook me like a good TV procedural while still having the depth and texture of literary writing. I binge-read the first installment in a weekend, and though I feel a bit icky claiming a book this dark is “amazing” with my five-star review, I was literally amazed at what French accomplished. I can’t wait to devour the series; I hope she can keep this up.
  7. The Graveyard Book
    Neil Gaiman
    Dave McKean, Illustrator
    HarperCollins, 2008

    2213661This was such a perfectly written story. Loved it.

    Note – I feel I should elaborate now since I wrote such a sparse review of this one initially. I’m a late-comer to the Neil Gaiman party – just started reading his work three years ago – and I’m still playing catch-up. The Graveyard Book was my first introduction to Gaiman’s writing for middle grade/young adult readers, and it was such a treat. At least once per trimester, I cry in front of my students during sustained silent reading (SSR), and this was the Fall 2017 Made-Ms.-Trout-Cry book. The closest analogy I can make – though I am loathe to do it – is to Harry Potter but with the heart and magic of the entire series condensed into one volume. On the one hand, a part of me wished Gaiman had stretched out the narrative, so we could spend more time with Nobody “Bod” Owens, but there is such a gorgeous simplicity to the way Gaiman leaves so many of his stories open ended. It makes it impossible for him to disappoint me.

  8. Coraline
    Neil Gaiman
    Dave McKean, Illustrator
    HarperCollins, 2012 (first published in 2002) 

    589836Such a great book! Coraline is technically middle grade, but due to the creepiness, some kids might want to wait until they are young adults to read it. As an adult, I loved it! It’s really only the brevity and inclusion of illustrations that make it middle grade. Gaiman uses great words for young people building their vocabulary, but like a pro, he uses them sparingly so they can learn their meaning in context without getting lost as to what is going on in the book. I plan on buying a few copies for my classroom. It will make a great choice book for fall literature circles!
  9. Lucky You
    Erika Carter
    Counterpoint, 2017

    33825216I can see why so many people have given this book lower reviews. The characters felt realistic but were not always likable – it was hard to want to relate to them. And the plot was not conventionally driven. There were plenty of opportunities for conflict between characters, but the narrative largely skipped over all that to resonate in the quiet internal conflicts within each character. It’s not a long book, and it doesn’t come to a firm – or necessarily satisfying – conclusion.
    And yet, there’s something remarkable about this book. The narrative voice is luscious and lyric without being overwrought. The momentum is incredible, alternating points of view and skipping through time with each chapter to focus on set-piece moments that define each character’s experience. It was funny but serious at the same time, making me cringe, laugh, reflect, and keep turning the pages until – just like that – it was over.
    Many thanks to BOTM for the recommendation and for the opportunity to read a gorgeous early release of Lucky You. This is Erika Carter’s debut novel, and I can’t wait to read what she publishes next. Note – I had a couple random people comment on my Goodreads review about how Lucky You did not deserve the rating and praise I had given it, so I had to add: “I would agree that this is not a ‘five-star’ book if five stars means it’s one of the best and most important works out there, but we aren’t defining the literary canon here. Goodreads defines five stars as ‘I really liked it,’ and since I really enjoyed reading this book, it earned five stars from this reader.”

Several wonderful books that I gave four-star ratings in 2017 almost got honorable mentions here, but since this year’s list features more books than any of my previous Great Reads posts, I thought I’d let these nine awesome novels bask in their five-star glory without any end-of-the-year amendments.

That’s right – every one of my top nine books is a novel. Apparently, I only read two nonfiction books and three graphic novels this year – no books of poetry, plays, or even short story or essay collections. Oops! I guess they got pushed down by all of the YA novels I added to my never ending To Read list…

Good thing there’s always 2018 – feel free to comment with recommendations.

If you’d like to keep up with my book reviews throughout the year, follow me on Goodreads at goodreads.com/stefbt and/or Twitter @brooktrouting.

Happy Reading in the New Year!

2017 Goals

Each year, I set new reading and writing goals. Most years, I fail to meet them. How did I do this year? Let’s reflect and set new goals accordingly…

Read at least 36 Goodreads-countable books, plus as many non-countable texts as I want.

I technically failed this goal, only having read 30 Goodreads-countable books, but I read a lot that doesn’t count, and I finally read House of Leaves, so I’m happy with how I did. Now that I’m not in grad school anymore, I don’t have nearly as much reading built into my work week, so I need to recalibrate.

My Goodreads goal for 2017 is to read at least 32 countable books. Why 32? Because, as of today, that’s my age. Can I increase my books-read by one book each year? Only time will tell. Follow me on Goodreads at goodreads.com/stefbt, and check out my Books to Read in 2017 board on Pinterest here.

Write something new and/or edit something old daily. Set deadlines for each project, and prioritize meeting them.

Epic fail. I knew I would fail this goal because I’m not a write-every-day kind of writer, but I should always be writing (and revising!) more than I am, so I’m going to carry this goal over to 2017 as-is.

Submit pieces that are ready at least once each week. Create a new submission schedule, and actually use it this time.

Another failure. I didn’t submit much this year, but this goal was a little unrealistic to start with. In 2017, I’m going to shoot for submitting at least once each month. It’s a little more my speed.

Develop new content for this website, especially resources for fellow writers.

Great success! I redesigned my blog this year and developed a resources for writers section. I haven’t added to it since the April launch, but the infrastructure is there, and I plan to increase how often I put out new “issues” gradually. In 2017, I plan to put out at least two.

Post on blog at least once each week, and share content on Twitter at least once per day.

Ha! I really didn’t do this one. While the Fracture tour was in full swing, I was pretty good about sharing the news both here and on Twitter, but by the time the tour was wrapping up, I was a little burnt out on the self-promotion. I’m going to be realistic in recalibrating this goal for 2017 and say that if I can post on the blog at least once each month, I’ll be happy. As for social medias, I haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter very much in the past six months, so I think a once-a-week goal is much more realistic. Follow me on Twitter @brooktrouting.

Attend at least a dozen events that support my writing life, whether conferences, readings, or field research opportunities.

I think I met this goal. Most of the events were Fracture-related, but I’ve also had a lot of experiences that would count as field research. I’m going to carry this goal into 2017, but without a book release, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to meet. Also, I recently moved from Grand Rapids (population: about 200,000) to Ithaca, Michigan (population: about 3,000), so it’s not like there are a lot of readings or other literary events happening in the community (yet!).

In 2017, I will probably primarily meet this goal through field research opportunities, but I’d also like to start building a literary community in the heart of Central Michigan. Get in touch if you’re in the area and would like to be a part of it.

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I have a lot of non-reading-or-writing goals for 2017 too. Many of them relate to food: cook six days a week, put in a garden, learn to can (and ferment!), get up early enough for the Farmer’s Market every week once it opens for the season, get ready for chickens in 2018 – I could go on, but I won’t. I think you get the idea: lots to accomplish in 2017.

Happy (belated) New Year, and good luck achieving your own goals this year!

Great Reads 2016

With every New Year, I like to call out my favorite books that I read the previous year. (Find my 2014 list here and 2015 list here.) This year, I am compiling another top books list for 2016, but this time, there is one clear standout and a handful of honorable mentions.

Again, the idea is to list the top books that I read in 2016. Most of what I read was not actually published in 2016. All the books on this list received five-star “it was amazing” ratings from me on Goodreads. The runners-up are listed in the order in which I read them, not any kind of ranking.

Book of the Year337907

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

I never ended up writing a review about this book, though I had intended to as soon as I recovered from the reading experience. The problem with reviewing House of Leaves is that any formal consideration of the book lends itself to dissertation-level thoughts that would have to be expressed in dissertation length to do it any justice. It took me years of trying to start House of Leaves before I finally committed and gave up my winter break to it. And by it, I mean madness. To read this book is to question your own sanity. It changed my idea of what literature is/does while avoiding gimmick with flawless execution.

Runners Up28282

Election by Tom Perotta

My Goodreads review: “A fun book – great read for a Presidential Election year.”

I don’t know if I would have felt the same sentiment had I read the book in December instead of February, but I’m going to let the comment stand.

15811496Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

My Goodreads review: “So good!”

If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s work before, you must read Cooked. It’s a wonderful exploration of food culture that will challenge you to take your relationship to food to the next level. If you haven’t read Michael Pollan’s work, I don’t know that this is the best place to start. Check out some of his earlier work first, but keep Cooked on your to-read list.

17707989Brown Dog by Jim Harrison

My Goodreads review: “Though each of the six novellas could stand alone, I really enjoyed reading them together as a collection. I had to take breaks to read other books between the novellas because there is a decent amount of recapitulation in each one, but I loved having all of them together in sequence. Harrison is one of my heroes, and I’m glad that we can still learn so much from him through his writing.”

934329The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Achievement Gap for American Children by  E.D. Hirsch Jr.

My Goodreads review: “Anyone with a stake in the American educational system—so, all Americans but especially educators, educational policy makers, parents, and advocates—should read this book. People who haven’t read a lot of pedagogy might find the writing a bit dry, but it’s the best written (and least bogged down in jargon, abstraction, and vagueness) book on education that I’ve ever read, so if you have had to read a lot of pedagogy, The Knowledge Deficit will be a page turner! I want to hand it out to every teacher, administrator, and politician I know.”

13533747The Wake (The Sandman #10) by Neil Gaiman

My Goodreads review: “After ‘really liking but not quite loving’ most of the volumes of this series, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the way Gaiman closed his story. I look forward to rereading the series and have a feeling I’ll appreciate it even more with additional passes.”

If you’re a reader of graphic novels, then I’m sure you’ve already read The Sandman, but if you aren’t, it’s time to check the Dream King out. I was never “into comic books” until the used book store in Ames moved away from downtown and a new comic book store moved in. I wanted to support my Main Street bookstore, even if most of their books are illustrated. For me, The Sandman was a gateway into a whole new type of storytelling. I highly recommend to anyone who likes good literature but isn’t “into comic books” yet.

12502523Breakfast of Champions by  Kurt Vonnegut

My Goodreads review: “Listen: You might not like this book if you have a problem with illustrations of assholes and wide open beavers. The assholes look something like this: *. You’ll have to read the book to see the rest of the illustrations. You might like this book if you have chemicals in your brain that make you like Vonnegut, his illustrations, his characters, and his dark humor. And you might like the way he gives the plot away in Chapter 1 and defines useful terms like legume for the reader. You might like that this book prominently features Kilgore Trout.

“And so on.”

22522808Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

My Goodreads review: “A wonderful collection, mostly short stories with a few narrative poems here and there. As in any collection, there were a few pieces that I didn’t enjoy as much, but there were many more great ones.

“I really enjoyed Gaiman’s introduction, which includes a brief note on each of the pieces. You can certainly appreciate the ‘disturbances’ without any backstory, but as I writer, I always love reading notes like these.”

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What’s missing from this list? Authors who aren’t white men! I do make sure to include women writers and writers-of-color in each year’s reading list, but this year none of the ones I chose made it to five-star status. Looking forward to 2017, I’m planning to devote a lot more of my reading time to these underrepresented authors with the hope that I’ll be able to feature them in next year’s New Year post. Feel free to shoot me any recommendations you might have.

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In addition to tracking my books read and books-I-want-to-read on Goodreads, last year I made a Pinterest board to track them as well, and I’m doing it again this year. Check out my Books Read in 2016 board here and my Books to Read in 2017 board here.

Happy Reading in 2017!

Honey from the Lion Review

It has long been a dream of mine to get paid to read books, and after four years of giving my book reviews away for free, I am thrilled to share that I’m finally getting paid for one!

Pick up a copy of the November/December 2016 issue of Orion Magazine to check out my review of Matthew Neill Null’s debut novel, Honey from the Lion (Lookout Books, 2015).

597_large_image-sca1-55025134618

More Michigan Fracture Events

IMG_0495Here are a couple photos from our April event at Lansing’s Everybody Reads. Sorry about the quality; we did have a professional photographer attend our Creston Wellness Center event, and I hope to share the photos from that soon.

Here also are a few more dates for upcoming Fracture readings in Michigan. As always, they are free and open to the public!

Saturday, August 6 – Traverse City, Michigan

Join us at the Horizon Books for a reading and book signing with contributors Stephanie Mills and Maryann Lesert as well as yours truly.

Details on the Horizon’s event page.IMG_0498

Tuesday, August 9 – Pellston, Michigan

The University of Michigan Biological Station will host a reading and discussion with me as well as contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills.

Details on the UMBS event page.

Tuesday, September 20 – Lansing, Michigan

In partnership with Lansing Community College’s Science Department, Schuler Books (Eastwood) hosts the monthly discussion group Cafe Scientifique, an outreach program to promote public interest in science. This September, the group will discuss fracking and Fracture with contributor Maryann Lesert as their honored guest.

Find a list of Cafe Scientifique’s past events here.


There are still more events in the works, and on Thursday, I’m going into the studio with Maryann Lesert to talk to Lester Graham, host of Michigan Radio’s Stateside program. I’ll post those dates and a link to the interview when I have them!

A frequently updated list of past and upcoming readings can be found at the bottom of  our page on the publisher’s (newly redesigned!) website. Be sure to follow both the book and the press on Facebook to keep up with the latest news, and tweet at us @icecubepress, @fractureanth, and @brooktrouting.

The Fracture Tour Continues

UWy

Photo by Taylor Brorby at our U Wyoming event

Here’s an update on our Michigan Fracture events, all of which are free and open to the public.

There are a couple more in the works—I’ll let you know when we have the details for you!

 

Tuesday, May 10 – Grand Haven, Michigan

Join us at the Bookman for a reading and book signing with contributors Stephanie Mills and Maryann Lesert as well as yours truly.

Details on the Bookman’s event page.

Tuesday, May 24 – Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Creston Wellness Center will host an evening of music by Sarah Barker and Max Lockwood as well as readings by contributor Maryann Lesert and myself. With just one week left to gather enough signatures to put fracking on Michigan’s 2016 ballot, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan will be on site with petitions.

Find details about this event here.

Tuesday, August 9 – Pellston, Michigan

The University of Michigan Biological Station will host a reading and discussion with me as well as contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills.

Details on the UMBS event page.


A frequently updated list of past and upcoming readings can be found at the bottom of  our page on the publisher’s website.

Fracture on Tour

Since early February, my co-editor, Taylor Brorby, and many of our contributors have been sharing Fracture with audiences across America–from Pennsylvania to Colorado, from Wisconsin and Minnesota to Texas, and all across Ice Cube Press’s home state of Iowa and Taylor’s home state of North Dakota. Though Ice Cube Press is a “Midwest Book Publisher,” fracking and its impacts know no such geographical distinctions.

I’m looking forward to joining the tour in April, traveling throughout my own home state of Michigan and even all the way to Laramie, Wyoming. All events are free and open to the public.

Stay tuned for additional Michigan events (including Harmony Brewing and Creston Wellness Center in Grand Rapids, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and Schuler Books in Lansing) as we finalize dates, but for now, you can plan on the following opportunities:

Tuesday, April 12 – Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids Community College‘s School of Arts and Sciences and English Department will host an evening of music by Sarah Barker and readings by contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills as well as me. Details on our Facebook event page.

Saturday, April 16 – Laramie, Wyoming

The University of Wyoming Creative Writing Program will present an all-day event devoted to Fracture, including readings, presentations, and book signings with contributors Kathleen Dean Moore, Rick Bass, and Antonia Felix as well as both editors. Find details about this event here.

Saturday, April 23 – Lansing, Michigan

Everybody Reads will host a reading with contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills as well as me. I’ll update this post with a link to the event page soon.

Tuesday, August 9 – Pellston, Michigan

The University of Michigan Biological Station will host a reading and discussion with contributors Maryann Lesert and Stephanie Mills as well as me. Details forthcoming on their event page.


A frequently updated list of past and upcoming readings can be found at the bottom of  our page on the publisher’s website.

Fracture in the News

Fracture officially released February 14, and there has been a lot of great media coverage of the book since then, including a review in Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, an interview in Orion Magazine, and conversations with public radio.

One recent article we’re excited about is an online review by Thomas Fate for the Chicago Tribune. Here’s an excerpt:

Fracture includes a wide variety of voices and thinking, which is what keeps the book from slipping into what anthologies of social critique can become — cycles of guilt-laden lament, where the language of the activist overwhelms the language of the artist. In Fracture these two viewpoints somehow converge rather than compete, resulting in an innovative and compelling weave of writers who both educate and inspire.

Fracture will also be featured in their Sunday edition.

Another recent article worth calling out is by Adam Burke for Little Village magazine. In addition to promoting tomorrow’s reading at Prairie Lights, Burke sought to understand the significance of the book through the experiences of the editors and contributors. He interviewed both Taylor and me, plus three of our contributors, beautifully illustrating the range of perspectives and motivations you’ll find in Fracture.

“Bringing a book like Fracture into the world is important because our society needs to cultivate healthy, productive ways to talk about big contentious issues like hydraulic fracturing,” Trout said, adding, “We have not attempted to represent every side of the issue, but we have aimed to provide context for conversations about fracking and to illustrate just how complicated the issue is.”

Ice Cube Press frequently updates this page with links to reviews and local and national media reporting on the book.

Fracture Trailer: The Sequel

Fracture features the voices of more than fifty writers. Preview two of them—Debra Marquart and Frederick L. Kirschenmann—in our second book trailer.

 

Fracture Trailer

 

We are less than two weeks from our official release date, and those of us who have had the privilege of working on the book are thrilled to share Fracture with the rest of the world.

Enjoy this trailer by videographer extraordinaire Ana Hurtado and my co-editor, Taylor Brorby:

 

And now get yourself over to Ice Cube Press to order yourself a copy!

New Year, New Hope

Each year, I set new reading and writing goals. Most years, I fail to meet them. Last year, I did something radical and set abstract goals: read more, write more, polish/submit more, and hustle more.

This went against everything I’d been taught about goal-setting. Goals should be SMART—that is, specific, measurable, achievable, rigorous, and time-bound.

It’s impossible to judge whether or not I met my 2015 goals, which was kind of the point.

Overall, I think I did read and write more. The abstract nature of the goals gave me the freedom to read and write what and when I wanted. If I felt like starting a 700-page book, I did, regardless of what impact it might have on my tally of annual number of books read. (Enter House of Leaves.)

That’s my real problem with the Goodreads goal: literary journals and magazines don’t count, reading one book (like one I’m editing) multiple times doesn’t count, nothing read online counts, reading a friend’s unpublished work—or rereading my own work for that matter—doesn’t count. The incentive created by the Goodreads goal doesn’t match my own reading objectives. (I went into this more last year, if you’re interested.)

I’d rather read 35 books I really want to read plus all of the above texts than read 50 books chosen simply because I could get through them all in a single calendar year.

But at the same time, I did find myself frequently counting my Goodreads tally even if I wasn’t aiming toward a specific goal. (For the record, I read eight more Goodreads-countable books in 2015 than in 2014 when I had a goal.) I do plan on setting a Goodreads goal this year, but I’ll make it far smaller than I have before so I don’t feel limited by book length or non-countability.

Writing is different, however. I simply can’t abide bean counting when it comes to writing. Many of my writer friends love word count goals, but it takes all the pleasure out of writing for me. Rather than set numerical goals for my writing, I’m going to focus on what I’d like to produce and set deadlines for accomplishing those objectives.

Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure I polished/submitted less. I “hustled” less in the way I meant it—maintaining an active web presence—but perhaps more in other ways: speaking at conferences, giving readings, and other important networking that goes beyond a Tweet here and a blog post there.

I like to share my goals publicly because it holds me more accountable for meeting them, or at least sincerely working toward them. So without further ado, here they are:

Read at least 36 Goodreads-countable books, plus as many non-countable texts as I want.

Follow me on Goodreads at goodreads.com/stefbt.

Write something new and/or edit something old daily. Set deadlines for each project, and prioritize meeting them.

Submit pieces that are ready at least once each week. Create a new submission schedule, and actually use it this time.

Develop new content for this website, especially resources for fellow writers.

Post on blog at least once each week, and share content on Twitter at least once per day.

Follow me on Twitter @brooktrouting.

Attend at least a dozen events that support my writing life, whether conferences, readings, or field research opportunities.


 

I think that’s enough to keep me busy for the next 366 days. (That’s right—we get an extra day. 2016 is going to be awesome.)

Happy New Year, and good luck achieving your own goals!

Great Reads 2015

Last year, I called out the top five books I read in 2014. This year, I am compiling another top books list for 2015, but I’ve thrown in a little twist by selecting a top book in several categories.

Again, the idea is to list the top books that I read in 2015. None of them were actually published in 2015.

vonneBest Short Story Collection

Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut

As I mentioned in my Goodreads review, I often claim to prefer novels to short stories, but Vonnegut is a master of both. Look no further if you’d like to see just how large a story can be communicated in just a few words.

jcoBest Novel

Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates

I wrote a six-paragraph review of this one for Goodreads, so I’m just going to share a tiny piece of it here: “It’s blow-your-mind good.”

Find the rest of the review here.

zooBest Essay Collection

Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit
by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Each chapter of this book is an essay exploring a different connection between humans and non-human animals with great insight and expertly precise language, and though there is lamentation, there is also hope.

Read the rest of my review here.

feastBest Memoir

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
(The Restored Edition edited by Seán Hemingway)

Here’s another one that I waxed poetic about in my Goodreads review. Here’s a link if you’re interested in my ramblings.

soulMost Innovative

Soul External: Rediscovering the Great Blue Heron
by Steve Semken

Placing the soul externally is not difficult. Just figure out how and where.

This is the future of nature writing at the intersection of fantasy, myth lore, natural history, personal essay, philosophy, and even theology. It’s pastiche with several quotations celebrating the authors that have influenced Steve the most—from Edward Abbey to Robert Wolf—as well as full-color illustrations and typography by Andrew Driscoll and poetic text formatting that often had me wondering: what is this book I’m reading? Beautiful is what it is. It’s the kind of book that you won’t ever see as a mass market paperback. It’s far too precious for that. It’s a gift to all those who can’t live without wildness.

fracBest Book-That’s-Not-Out-Yet
(or Best Multi-Genre Collection)

Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America
by Taylor Brorby and Stefanie Brook Trout, editors

I know it’s probably gauche to include my own book on my annual “Tops” list two years in a row. If you’d read Fracture, you’d know why it deserves to make this list, but you haven’t because it’s not out yet! Don’t take my word for it. Ask those who have gotten a sneak peak at the collection, like Mary Evelyn Tucker who says, “This stunning collection of essays, poems, and fiction is gripping and illuminating. […] Indeed, no where else has such a gifted group of writers been assembled for a clarion call to awakening for our future generations.” Preorder your copy here.

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I faced a few dilemmas in coming up with this list.

The first, though these really aren’t in any particular order, is that I really wanted a “Best Graphic Novel” or “Best Sequential Art” category, but I really couldn’t decide. I’ve dabbled in four different series this year, and Neil Gaiman easily wins with the Sandman, but which volume? Number 5, A Game of You? Or #6, Fables and Reflections? I’m really not that concerned about it, but I wanted to acknowledge that I did, in fact, read enough comic books to warrant a subcategory here, but my indecision won out again.

On the other hand, I didn’t read enough poetry collections in 2015 to really have a “Best Book of Poetry” category. This year, my poetry mostly came in small doses: in anthologies, literary journals, and online. So with that in mind and looking toward the future, one of my 2016 goals is to read more poetry, starting with the two books on my to-read shelf. Then I’ll have to go out and actually buy more poetry, which I should be doing anyway.

Likewise, I really didn’t read much Murakami in 2015. How tragic! There’s another 2016 goal: must read more Murakami.

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So what were the best books you read in 2015?

Five Points Review

5ptsMy work as a reviewer for the Review Review continues with a review of Five Points: A Journal of Literature and Art.

Read “Lit Mag is Place of Convergence for Genres, Styles, Artists and Writers” here.

Gratitude

Fracture opened for submissions a little over one year ago, and this Thanksgiving, I wanted to take the opportunity to express my gratitude toward those who have helped support the project.

I have to start with Taylor Brorby, my co-editor, since this book simply would not exist without him. The concept was his idea, and I am so grateful that he invited me to join him in taking this book from concept to reality.

Of course, Steve Semken of Ice Cube Press was the one who said yes when we pitched the idea, and Taylor and I are both so thankful to Steve for believing in us and in Fracture. The publishing world needs more people like Steve, and I’m honored to continue working with him.

Without all of our contributors, Taylor and I would have a pretty slim volume, and I am grateful for each of them as well as everyone else who submitted their work to Fracture. Thanks also to Samantha Futhey, a brilliant poet, wonderful person, and Ice Cube Press intern for her help with final copyedits.

Many thanks to Pam Houston for agreeing to write an introduction to the book and to everyone who gave us their endorsements (which can be found here on the Ice Cube Press website).

We are indebted to Bruce J. Miller of Miller Book Trade Marketing, who is the Ice Cube Press sales rep, for his support of the project. And thanks also to our distributors, all the book sellers, and the professors who are teaching Fracture in their college classes. Without them, Fracture would be a tree falling in the forest without anyone around to hear it.

Thanks to our partners at 350.org and Orion, to everyone who has pre-ordered a copy of Fracture, and to everyone else who eagerly awaits its release. Thanks to all of my friends, family, and colleagues that have supported me thought this project.

To the environmental writers and activists who came before us, to those who will come after us, to all who have the courage to speak: thank you.