Stefanie Brook Trout

Author Page with Resources for Writers

Category: Musings

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!

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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?

So You Wanna Be Anthologized?

My Fracture co-editor Taylor Brorby and I have a few tips for writers who would like to see their work anthologized some day soon.

Read “So You Wanna Be Anthologized” in The Review Review or on the Ice Cube Press blog.

Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America is open for submissions until June 1, 2015. Find our guidelines on the Ice Cube Press website.

Happy Aldo Leopold Week!

ALWThere are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.

Though Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac was written in and about Wisconsin, Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa, and that’s where his love of nature first began to emerge. Last fall, the State of Iowa proclaimed the first full week of March as Aldo Leopold Week, a time to celebrate and pay tribute to Leopold’s legacy as a leader in conservation.

As a writer, I also see Aldo Leopold Week as a time to celebrate and reflect on nature writing, a genre that influences my own writing deeply. I don’t define myself primarily as a nature writer because the term is limited, and I don’t build fences between what I do and don’t do, but my experiences writing about nature were certainly what inspired me to pursue writing seriously and remains a passion of mine.

(Those interested in beginning nature writing should check out this excellent resource: “Henry Thoreau as a Model for Nature Writing” by Ron Harton.)

Great Reads

I wanted to take this opportunity to call out some amazing nature writing texts. There are hundreds of books shelved under the category of “Nature Writing” on Goodreads, and there are a lot that I haven’t read. I’m not including any books on this list that I haven’t read in their entirety, and while I’m ashamed to admit it, there are some really important books that I’ve only read in excerpts.

It’s worth acknowledging that this list is more than 75% white men. For a long time, the genre was largely dominated by white men, but there are now plenty of excellent nature writing texts by women and people of color. I just haven’t read them all yet, and a lot of the ones to which I’ve been exposed, I haven’t had the chance to enjoy in their entirety yet. Don’t worry. It is a priority of mine. Many are sitting on my bookshelf right now, just waiting for their turn.

Therefore, please don’t see this list as my nature writing canon–far from it. I can only recommend that which I know, and unfortunately, my formal literary education focused primarily on white men, and I’m still in the process of making up for lost time. Check out that Goodreads shelf I mentioned, and you’ll see a more diverse array of nature writing texts.

One more thing worth noting is that I don’t actually use the category of “nature writing” to organize my own books on Goodreads. It’s too hard for me to define. I use the much broader “environment.” I didn’t want to overthink what is or isn’t nature writing for this blog post, so the following list is based on the Goodreads hive mind. If people are shelving it under “nature writing,” then I counted it. If they aren’t, then I didn’t. I expect controversy.

Without further ado, here are just a few great nature writing books besides A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays on Conservation from Round River by Aldo Leopold. They appear in alphabetical order, not in any order of preference.

  1. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
  2. The Lives of Rocks by Rick Bass
  3. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
  4. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England by William Cronon
  5. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
  6. The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway
  7. A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
  8. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
  9. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  10. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  11. The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd F. Olson
  12. The Wilding by Benjamin Percy
  13. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
  14. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  15. Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment by Sandra Steingraber
  16. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  17. Words from the Land: Encounters with Natural History by Stephen Trimble (editor)
  18. Biophilia by Edward O. Wilson
  19. The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson
  20. The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson

Lots of omissions here, I know, and probably plenty of books that would be better classified elsewhere. The point is not to for me to establish the nature writing canon but to spark discussion, so discuss!

What are your favorite nature writing books? What are the most offensive omissions (which may be either because I haven’t read a critical nature writing text yet or because the Goodreads community hasn’t yet shelved the work as “nature writing”)? What doesn’t belong on this list? Often we think of nature writing as nonfiction, yet a few fiction texts made the list–but no poetry. Does nature writing have to be nonfiction? Within nonfiction, do research (rather than observation) based texts count? Does any of this even matter? 

Ames Reads Leopold

ARLThough this is the first annual Aldo Leopold Week, communities nationwide have been celebrating Aldo Leopold Weekend on the first weekend of March since 2004. And Saturday, March 7, will be the eighth annual Ames Reads Leopold event.

I had the pleasure of reading “Axe-in-Hand” at last year’s Ames Reads Leopold, and this year, I am thrilled to be reading “January Thaw.”

The event is free and open to the public. You can expect readings from Leopold’s work, a screening of the Emmy award winning documentary Green Fire, and an overall good time. It’s also a great opportunity to check out the newly renovated Ames Public Library if you haven’t had the chance to do that yet. Check out this news release for more information.

Great Reads 2014

Inspired by the lovely blog Pints And Cupcakes, I wanted to look back at the books I read in 2014 and call out a few of my favorites. P&C‘s Chloe Clark listed her top 15, but I’m just going to pick five because I don’t think I read nearly as many books as she did in 2014.

To be clear, the idea is to list the top books that I read in 2014. Only a few of them were actually published in 2014.

  1. TTTCThe Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I know what you’re thinking. “This is the first time you’re reading this?” The answer is yes, and it shames me to say as much. First published in 1990, TTTC is one of the finest works of fiction I’ve ever encountered. If you haven’t read it yet, stop reading my words right now and get on it. I promise this post will still be here when you get back.
  2. CTTAHYOPColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I love Murakami, and I try to read at least one of his books each year, though I’ll have to read more than that if I’m ever going to keep pace with his new work while getting caught up on some of his older stuff. I’ve encountered several negative reviews of CTTAHYOP (published in 2014), but they were mostly from people who are either just starting to read Murakami or else have tried him before and didn’t like it but maybe wanted to so were trying him again. So I strongly recommend it to Murakami fans, but I realize it’s not for everyone.
  3. HTBAWHow to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran. (Here’s my short Goodreads review.) I’d been wanting to read this one since I first heard Caitlin Moran on NPR in 2012. I actually surprised myself when HTBAW ended up the only nonfiction book that rose to the Top Five. I’m working on a novel for my thesis, so I guess I’ve been in fiction mode lately. But let’s not let that diminish how much I enjoyed reading Moran’s 2011 memoir. I read some great nonfiction books this year, but I devoured this one.
  4. PushcartThe Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses 2014 Edition – Edited by Bill Henderson. (Here’s my short Goodreads review, where I rank my favorite pieces in each genre.) The quality of the nonfiction alone got this book on my Top Five list. Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of good fiction and poetry here too. But the nonfiction seemed of another class entirely. It inspired me to step my own essay-writing game up considerably.
  5. PGPrairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland – Edited by Lance M. Sacknoff, Xavier Cavazos, and me, Stefanie Brook Trout. So I know it’s tacky to list your own book – I’d say it’s an unwritten rule, but I’m sure it is in fact written somewhere – and yet I’m going to do it anyway because as hard as I worked on this thing, I can’t take credit for the quality of writing our contributors brought to the table. I’ve read this book more times than I’ve read any other text, and it never fails to fill me with joy, pride, and excitement. (More about Prairie Gold on the publisher’s website.)

Several wonderful books almost made the Top Five, but these were the ones that made me feel the most.

I’m looking forward to doing this again next year, maybe even with a longer list, though for the first time in several years I won’t be setting an annual goal.

Tangent about Annual Reading Goals

I love Goodreads – absolutely adore it – and I’ve participated in their annual reading challenge since 2011. It’s a fun way to hold myself accountable for spending as much time reading as I both should and want to without making it feel like work. It’s always so much easier to find a new show to binge watch on Netflix, but you have to rein that in somehow.

Inevitably, at the end of the year, I was always scrambling to get my hands on shorter reads – novellas, poetry collections, graphic novels, chapbooks, you get the idea – or else finishing books I’ve partially read for some reason or another in order to meet my goal, which is fine because that stuff is good to read too, but this past year I really didn’t want to do that again. I just didn’t feel like it, and I’m a strong believer in doing what you feel like when it comes to reading.

I wonder if there isn’t another way to do a reading challenge that goes beyond books. I love books – I really can’t overstate that enough. But this year, I’ve been trying to read more literary journals, magazines, news, blogs, etc., and I’ve also been doing a lot of editing – reading other people’s work over and over again (and I guess reading my own work over and over again as well) – and this type of reading matters too, even though I can’t log it into my Goodreads.

My older sister, who is a middle school teacher and uses this strategy with her students, suggested (several years ago, in fact, when I first mentioned my impulse to read shorter novels rather than undertake weighty tomes because of the impending Goodreads deadline) that I go by a page count goal instead, which is a smart and perfectly reasonable suggestion, but I don’t want to have to add tally marks to a scrap of paper every time I read something. (Is there an app for this? Or can someone please develop one? Thanks!)

Maybe I’ll set a 2015 Goodreads Reading Challenge in a few months, but for now my goal for 2015 is simply to read a lot and not just books.

Speaking of Goodreads

Are you on Goodreads too? Do you want to connect on Goodreads? Add me as a friend or follow me as a fan here.

2014 Retrospective and 2015 Resolutions

I started this website in late 2013 because Mary Swander, the Poet Laureate of Iowa, told me that “As writers, we need to be hustling everyday.” The purpose of the site is to build a fan base by publicly sharing and archiving my professional accomplishments.

I’ve never been wholly comfortable with the level of self-promotion being an artist requires, but it’s part of the territory, and in 2015, so is blogging and social media. I know I am not the only writer who feels this way – it’s something I’ve discussed with my writer friends and colleagues extensively – but I think it’s important to mention every now and then. Because I’m not posting updates about all of my failures. Rejections don’t get a blog post. Nor do the awards I didn’t get. You won’t see me tweeting about not meeting my 2014 Goodreads goal or winning NaNoWriMo.

So as I celebrate some awesome things that have happened over the past year, it isn’t to brag or, worse, #humblebrag but to remind myself and others that, despite the setbacks that are perhaps more readily apparent in the day-to-day, 2014 was actually a pretty rocking year.

With out further ado, here are a bunch of things I’m looking back and feeling good about, a few things I want to work on, and a few things I’m just really excited about. I wish everyone a very happy 2015!

14 Awesome Things that Happened in 2014*

  1. I met Bill Bryson.
  2. As the nonfiction editor for Flyway, I published some amazing environmental writing.
  3. I went to my first AWP and presented on two panels.
  4. I did three public readings of my nonfiction work.
  5. My essay “The Drawing” was picked up by Cardinal Sins and received an honorable mention in their “translation”-themed nonfiction contest.
  6. My poem “White Squirrel” won a campus prize for National Poetry Month.
  7. I received a Teaching Excellence Award for my undergraduate English instruction.
  8. Lance and Xav brought me on as an editor of Prairie Gold, which was published in July. There were several readings, including one I did as part of a radio interview with Lance and the Voice of Fairfield. We did a Goodreads giveaway and just got a great review in the Wapsi.
  9. After my one-year term at Flyway was up, I started interning at Ice Cube Press.
  10. I started a new job as the communications assistant for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, where I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of news writing, produce short films, and design publications.
  11. I had three short pieces picked up by Festival Writer.
  12. My Prairie Gold essay “Letters After Achilles” was excerpted on the Winged: New Writing on Bees blog.
  13. Ice Cube Press nominated “Letters After Achilles” for a Pushcart.
  14. I became a reviewer for the Review Review and had my first review published.

*More details about each of these highlights can be found in past News & Events posts or on either the Bio or Publications, Etc. pages.

4 Resolutions for 2015

  1. Read more.
  2. Write more.
  3. Polish and submit more.
  4. Hustle more, which includes actually posting on this blog (and more non-me content, like the mini-interview I did earlier this year) as well as sharing updates on my Twitter and Tumblr accounts on a semi-regular basis.

4 Things I’m Also Looking Forward To

  1. Lance and I are going to be speaking at the University of Northern Iowa and then reading as part of the Hearst Center’s Final Thursday Reading Series. (Details in the Public Events section of this publication.)
  2. AWP 2015! I’ll be helping out at the Ice Cube Press table, where several authors – including Prairie Gold contributors – will be doing book signings. And I’ll be joining Lance and Xav for a Prairie Gold editors book signing at the Flyway table.
  3. Reviewing submissions with Taylor Brorby for our Ice Cube Press anthology, Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America. (Submissions currently open! Guidelines here.)
  4. Finishing my novel and my MFA in Creative Writing and Environment. After that, I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll be doing, but I’m excited to find out.

Let’s Talk Books

I grew up in Western Michigan, the youngest of three daughters. We didn’t have a lot of money for extras, but my mom could never say no if my sisters or I asked her to buy a book. “Do you need it?” she would always ask, and when we said yes, she never tried to tell us otherwise.

In the past 25-ish years since I learned to read, a lot of things have changed, but the way I feel about books—the way I need books—hasn’t. I’m not just referring to stories and the pleasures of reading but the books themselves, the physical artifacts that contain the stories and endure long after you’ve forgotten what they were about.

And though I have always had a great appreciation for libraries and used bookstores, there is something extra special about a brand new book: the unscuffed cover, the cleanness of the pages, the spine that I will try to keep uncracked for as long as possible. Inevitably, there comes a time with every good book that I realize I need to mutilate it—by folding the corner of a page, writing a note to myself, or underlining a memorable passage—and though I recognize the value of such interactions with the text, especially as a writer, I do not take the decision to first desecrate a book lightly.

Read the rest of “To Make a Book” on the Ice Cube Press blog.