2019: My Year In Review

At my age, time really flies. I can’t believe this year is over already. But I have to say, as years go (not counting the national political scene), it was a good one, and I’ve got a lot to be pleased with.

My First Novel. Without question, the biggest thing that happened for me in 2019 was the publication of my novel, The Shaman of Turtle Valley, which came out in May from Braddock Avenue Books. In truth, the book has overshadowed everything else, with pre-publication work, launch events (we had a great party at Ox-Eye Vineyards Tasting Room in May), readings and appearances throughout the year (and even stretching into 2020). I’m happy with the book and people have had very nice things to say about it. I hope it will continue to find new readers. There are several ways to buy the book, which I list here: How you can buy The Shaman of Turtle Valley (scroll down to Ordering Information). I’m also happy to visit book clubs (in person or by Skype) or give readings.

Travel. I was away from home a lot in 2019. I spent January in Chicago (during the most recent Polar Vortex) at Ragdale, working on my new novel. It wasn’t the most successful residency I’ve ever had, mostly because I was struggling with several aspects of the book (some of which still haven’t fully been resolved) and also because I was anticipating the publication of The Shaman of Turtle Valley. But being at Ragdale with a bunch of other artists was great. In March I was all over the place—Hot Springs, Virginia for an Electoral Board Conference; Portland, Oregon for the annual AWP Conference; New York City for some theater and museums; Charlottesville, Virginia for the Virginia Festival of the Book; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina for the new High Road Festival of Poetry and Short Fiction, where I taught a workshop on editing. Some of my other trips were for book events—Winchester, Virginia for a reading at the Handley Library and then later for the Summer LitFest sponsored by 1455 Literary Arts; a visit to Gettysburg College where I spoke with students and gave a public reading; readings and talks in Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Charlottesville, Virginia; and to Spartanburg, South Carolina for the Southern Independent Booksellers Association for their Discover trade show. I also returned to New York to see some more theater and to give a reading in the Yeah You Write reading series, which was a blast. And I made two trips to Europe: I spent 10 days in Prague in early September and two weeks in Barcelona in late November and early December. I wrapped up the year of travel with a two-week stay at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts just before they closed for the year-end holidays. Altogether that’s close to three months away from home.

Theater. As I mentioned above, I went to New York twice this year and saw some shows. First up, in March, was The Ferryman, a terrific play, winner of several awards including a Tony for Best Play, by Jez Butterworth that I saw because my old friend Fred Applegate was in it. (Bonus: backstage tour and drinks after with some members of the cast.) I also saw Boesman and Lena by Athol Fugard in a wonderful off-Broadway revival that was meaningful to me because one of my favorite Indiana University graduate school professors wrote a book about Fugard, who was for a time in residence at the university. (The Dramatic Art of Athol Fugard by Albert Wertheim.) In June I saw The Phantom of the Opera, a show I’d somehow managed never to see anywhere, even though it’s been on Broadway for more than thirty years and has been produced everywhere else, too. I was familiar with the music, but the show seems dated. It’s still making money—the theater was packed—but maybe it’s time to retire that one? My final New York show for the year was Hamilton. Because of the hype over this show, I expected to be disappointed. How could anything live up to the praise that’s been heaped on it? But it did. The show is fantastic. There’s a touring production that I’d love to see, but it was a thrill to see it on Broadway. These New York shows weren’t the extent of my theater-going, however, as we have the amazing and wonderful American Shakespeare Center right here in Staunton, Virginia, and we (I’m on the Board of Trustees) do great work. I saw every show we produced this year, most more than once, and loved them all: Winter Season (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV, Part 1, The Belle’s Stratagem, Arden of Faversham, and Anne Page Hates Fun), Spring Season (The Comedy of Errors, The Winter’s Tale, Antigone, 16 Winters or The Bear’s Tale), Summer/Fall Season (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Caesar and Cleopatra, The Willard Suitcases), and Holiday Season (A Christmas Carol, Every Christmas Story Ever Told and Then Some). Rehearsals start momentarily for the 2020 Winter Season, with opening performances near the end of January.

Reading. For the past several years I have set a reading goal for myself on Goodreads. Thinking it would be a busy year for me (it was), I set a modest goal for 2019 of 60 books—just 5 books a month. But I’ve smashed through that goal and somehow have managed to read 80 books this year. Not a record for me, but not too shabby, either. Also, I managed to do blog posts every month about the books I’d read. Rather than recreate that list, I invite you to check the posts out, one for each month: 2019 Reading. I read some really excellent books and only a few that I didn’t like. I’m not going to make a list of my favorites, but there is no question that the best book I read in 2019 was The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. One of the best books of the decade.

Books read in 2019

Looking Forward. I intend to do a separate post about writing goals, but here I’ll just say that I’d really like to finish a draft of my current work-in-progress, a novel, in 2020. But there are plenty of distractions that may prevent me from achieving that goal.

  1. New Book. My new story collection, House of the Ancients and Other Stories will be published in May 2020 by Press 53. We’re beginning to think about events associated with the launch, and I hope to do several appearances throughout the year to support the book.
  2. Old Book. The Shaman of Turtle Valley, published in May of 2019, is still alive and kicking, and I’m lining up readings and book signings for the first half of the year, including an appearance in March at the Virginia Festival of the Book.
  3. Next Book. Yes, I’m currently working on a novel, but I have a finished novel that will be published in 2021 by Regal House Publishing, and because they like to produce Advance Reading Copies more than six months ahead of publication, we’ll be diving into edits for the novel very soon. I’m looking forward to working with the editor on the book, but I know it’s going to be time-consuming.
  4. Elections. There are likely to be three elections here in 2020. The Democratic Presidential Preference Primary will be March 3; there will almost certainly be a primary in June for the Republicans to pick their nominee to run for Senate and for the Democrats to pick their nominee to run for the House from this district; and the big one, the 2020 Presidential Election, will be on November 3. For most people, voting involves a few minutes on election day, but as Chair of the County Electoral Board, my obligations stretch out for months in advance of each election.
  5. Travel. I’m determined to go abroad again, but I have no idea where. I’m studying Spanish, so maybe South America? But I haven’t been to Asia for a few years, so maybe Japan?

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