First [Everything] Without

How I lied but maybe it was for the best

Let me tell you a quick story. First, if you are a child, DO NOT READ THIS. It’s about taxes and what hemaroids are and you don’t want to know.

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Okay, no kids? Perfect. So when I was five, I found out that Santa didn’t exist. I found a huge present in my mom’s closet— a horse barn with plastic horses. [lazy present hiding is a family trait and I am sure I will be found out by the same manner]. But, I was the youngest kid and it was kind of ‘a thing’ that everyone still let me believe, so I pretended to. That holiday season, I won a phone call with Santa that would be recorded and played ON TV {!!} during a commercial break for Babes in Toyland.

Pro: I got to be on TV in voice form. I was basically famous.

Cons: I had to talk to a strange man who I knew wasn’t bringing me something and also pretend to believe he was.

Anyway, on the call, I pretended that I wanted that toy I saw in the closet (it was just a meh fit for me, honestly) and I pretended that this rando dude who I’m sure was very nice was Santa because I knew my parents would be sitting there and listening and totally psyched that I believed and that they chose right.

I pretended to believe for two more years. When some of my other classmates finally copped to knowing Santa wasn’t real, it felt like letting out a breath. I didn’t have to be that guy, so I told my parents I didn’t believe either.


It’s been a rough few weeks for me. My dad went into the hospital on December 13th and died on December 18th. Because it wasn’t COVID, my mom was able to hold his hand at the end. We had a ten-person funeral on December 21st, and the planets aligned in the sky for his send-off. Jupiter just saying, “Hey dude, welcome.”

Because of life and 2020 and just whatever, I happened to record a conversation on December 17th with Iowa Public Radio about my debut novel. Despite looking like a rom-com, THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT focuses on family and forgiveness (and bugs, duh). The interviewer, Charity Nebbe, asked how I balanced humor and grief in this book, and I told her that even in our darkest moments, it resonnates with me, at least, when we can find humor.

So, I’ve been laughing and crying with a healthy dose of numb dissociation since he went into the hospital. In some ways, it feels like that first no-Santa Christmas times a zillion, mostly because of the pretense. I had made it to the end of 2020 with a tenuous hope— in the continued safety of my family, in my debut novel, in the coming changes in our country. Now, at the finish line, my mask (the emotional one) is falling. Don’t worry, I’m still wearing the fabric one.

I’m not alone in feeling more alone this Christmas. I’m blessed to have my mom and husband and kids with me, but I am mostly pretending to be here. My kids are all-in on Santa this Christmas, and on joy. Listening to them talk, I’m grateful that I at least pretended to want what my parents bought me all those years ago. That was one more time I got to check off the good daughter box, and we never know how many of those boxes we actually were given.

I’m not alone in having lost someone very close to me in 2020, and if you did, too, know that I’m thinking of you.

Don't let the door hit you

Imagining ourselves into 2021

My friends, we are so close to making it to the other side of this horror year—- but let’s stay far apart until we do. And a bit after. Despite the good vaccine news lately, it will not be a normal holiday season.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the children’s book Frederick by Leo Lionni. A little dreamer mouse spends his time soaking up memories and stories, and ends up sharing them with the other mice during a long cold winter. I’m storing up my coziest blankets and books to get me through the next few months.

I’ve been reading a lot this year. As of today, I’ve read 139 books for the year. I have cried a lot over books and I have fallen asleep with them open on my chest for the first time since I was a child. Thank you, writers, whose work is letting me pretend to exist somewhere beyond my own walls while I’m in your pages. I am indebted.

Some reading recs, if you’re stuck:

GODSHOT (cults, coming of age story!) ; WINTER COUNTS (mystery! amazing narrator! series forthcoming!); WELL PLAYED (swoony, escapist, huzzah!)—- and a lot more. Reading recommendations are my love language, so let me know if you’re stuck/what you like, and I’ll get back to you.

Speaking of books, mine is out in less than three weeks. Yikes/yay/phew/all of the above and more. THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT is a book about family and forgiveness, about bugs and Star Trek, about the Midwest and love. On December 6th, I’ll be ‘hosting a potluck’ at Prairie Lights with some other fantastic Midwestern authors, and on December 7th, I’ll be chatting with Premee Mohamed about scifi, science, and writing online for Mysterious Galaxy. On my launch day— December 8th— I have a live event with Ripped Bodice (link forthcoming) with Jen DeLuca and Jesse Sutanto, two long-time friends from our querying days. If you’re planning on buying the book and would like a signed bookplate, those bookstores would be great ways to get them! Otherwise, shoot me a DM on Twitter and I’d be happy to send you one.

I’ve had a chance to write a bit this year, while parenting and teaching. I was in the Washington Post talking about how I miss the simple days of lice infestations as my biggest fear, and in Electric Lit recommending books about Midwesterners who aren’t trying to be nice. For Catapult, I wrote about misconceptions about caterpillars and the crisises of parenting. I’m honored by the people who’ve emailed me about the last piece, especially, talking about their own struggles. Much love to all of you during this ridiculous year.

It’s hard not to wish time away when we can’t spend that time as we want. I miss teaching in person. I miss seeing my friends and having in person book clubs. I miss my family.

But I can miss it a bit more. I’m staying home to keep you safe. I hope you’ll do the same.

Summer Update

Dude, Where's Your Book?

Forgive the obscure movie reference, but lately I’ve been getting more questions of "How's the book going?"

Great!


My debut novel is out December 8th. There are a lot more steps to book publishing than meets the eye. Before I pursued a traditional publishing route, I kind of assumed you printed your book and sent it a la Jo March to an editor with bated breath until they sent a check and a copy of your book in return. Yep, not really how it happens. I’m happy to have my book out with Alcove Press, distributed by Penguin Random House and I can’t wait to see it on shelves soon.

Here’s a general timeline of how I got from writing to publishing The Butterfly Effect:

September 2016: Started writing TBE

December 2016: Finished first draft of TBE

January 2016 - December 2018: Revised—- and revised and revised. I majorly rewrote portions of this book.

December 2018- March 2019: Queried TBE (this meant sending a letter, along with selected pages from the novel to agents. Agents represent your book to publishing houses, and it can be hard to get your foot in the door— or rather, your pages in the inbox— without one).

March 2019: Signed with my incredible agent, Veronica Park at Fuse

June 2019: Went on sub with TBE

October 2019: Exciting phone call with my editor at Alcove! We clicked right away. Still had some other editors to check in with, but I had a feeling we’d found ‘the one.’

January 2020: Signed papers, changed the title, and celebrated

April 2020: Got my first round edits (the major things)— right as the pandemic hit and our lives went into upheaval.

June 2020: Cover! Starting to think about blurbs! Redoing my website!

July 2020: Edits finalized, advanced copies released for reviewers, and publicity gearing up.

Still to come: Final proof edits and introducing it to readers and a whole lot of other things I’m excited and terrified about.

This timeline is considered pretty quick in the publishing world. When fellow author friends talk about “giving birth to a book baby”, they’re usually “pregnant” with that “baby” for a year+.

So, if you’re interested in finding out the fruit of this past few years’ work, think about adding it on Goodreads, or pre-ordering from your local bookstore (or other favorite distributer. Here’s a link to possible retailers.

Pandemic/Spring Update

If 2020 could just take it down a notch, that would be great.

SO, big news since I wrote last is that I’m going to be a published author! My novel, The Butterfly Effect, is forthcoming from Alcove Press on December 8, 2020. It’s a book perfect for book clubs, starring a grumpy heroine who loves insects. I hope you’ll add it on Goodreads.

That’s big, but not as big as whatever-the-hell we’re going through right now. I feel like I’ve written “I hope this email finds you well” seven zillion times since March and meaning it so intensely that I feel like you can feel the hand sanitizer through the computer screen. I truly, truly hope this post finds you well.

Even if you’re not at risk, physical-health wise, I hope you’re taking care of yourself mentally. I’ve been chatting with some of my sober friends— and some of my friends who are disappointed to find themselves way less sober than they usually are— and isolation does shitty things to your brain. No advice, just gentle reminder that I’m here if you need to reach out to someone.

Turns out that finagling three children while suddenly shifting to teaching three classes online has been stressful. Luckily this week marks the end of my semester and I’m grateful for a few months to find balance and strategize for fall— mentally, physically, and pedagogically.

What I’ve Been Reading So Far in 2020:

Best relaxing reads: Well Met by Jen DeLuca, All Systems Red by Martha Wells, New Erotica for Feminists by The Belladonnas, The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal, Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Best debuts: Real Life by Brandon Taylor, Lakewood by Megan Giddings, The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg, and How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

Biggest/Best WTF did I just reads so far: Brotopia by Emily Chang (rage-making), The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (surreal and lush), and The World Doesn’t Require You: Stories by Rion Amilcar Scott (broke my brain, and I cannot recommend it more)

I’m 58 books into my 110 book reading challenge for the year already, and ripe for recommendations from you guys. Let me know if you’ve read anything incredible lately.

What I’ve Been Cooking

Beans: Deb Perelman’s Pizza Beans; Ali Slagle’s Creamy White Braised Beans

Be well. Much love. <3

Book Review: And I Do Not Forgive You

The Review

And I Do Not Forgive You is a 2020 release, and the short story collection from Amber Sparks with the subtitle “and other revenges.” Boy does it live up to that subtitle. At its heart, the collection shows modern people in the quasi-fantastic, mostly-all-too-real world of technology, familial betrayal, and city life. The princesses, kings, and queens which people some of the most fairy-tale-esque of the stories don’t reside in some 1400s Europe that never was– they live now, here, and struggle as we do now, here. A stand-out in that department was “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” where the magical-realist elements meshed so nicely with the themes that I found myself bookmarking it again to read later.

While I didn’t love every story in the collection, I could find myself wanting to read them all again to find new depths. My absolute favorite story was “A Short and Slightly Speculative History of the Lavoisier’s Wife,” which was honestly one of the best short-stories I’ve read in a while in terms of form and voice.

In general, the stories have distinct tones and themes, but each shine with a lush mixture of gritty vernacular (“#Bullshit, I said, and you said the #endtimes was no place for #haters”) and taut phrasing.

And I Do Not Forgive You is a collection you’ll want to share and discuss, both for its feminist themes and commentary on modern life as well as for its prose. Brava to Sparks.

The Details

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

Publisher: Liveright (February 11, 2020)

Find it on Goodreads, or order on Indiebound or Amazon

Thank you to NetGalley who gave me a free advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

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