By BLH

Launch Day for THE DEVOTED

THE DEVOTED is officially available for purchase in bookstores or online! Here’s a roundup of some of the most exciting things that have been happening with the book:

On launch day, I signed copies of The Devoted at bookstores in New York, including The Strand, McNally Jackson, and Kinokuniya. And I read at the amazing H.I.P. Lit series.

TIME MAGAZINE reviewed The Devoted, in conversation with R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries! Eliana Dockterman writes, “Both novels set themselves apart from others in the genre with a terrifying but insightful warning not to look for easy answers offered by false prophets”: False Prophets Come Under Fire in Two Timely Summer Novels

The Rumpus reviewed The Devoted! Maikie Paje writes, “The Devoted is a personal journey. Who you are informs your reading experience. Hurley leaves you thinking and sorting through feelings long after her final page”: Finding Her Way: The Devoted by Blair Hurley

Thanks to all the teachers, readers, writers, and friends who have brought the book to bookstores, and continue to support its release.

News about my Novel, THE DEVOTED, coming August 21st

It’s almost here, readers — THE DEVOTED will be available online and in bookstores on August 21st! It would mean a lot if you pre-ordered, on Amazon or at the Indie bookstore of your choice:
Amazon pre-order
Indie pre-order

Recent News about THE DEVOTED:

Booklist gave THE DEVOTED a starred review! Here’s an excerpt:
“Hurley’s debut is a breathtaking performance, portraying not just the ugly corners of an abusive relationship but also how faith can color the contours of our lives. With absolutely spot-on descriptions of Boston, this spellbinding story adds much-needed nuance to the discussion of faith and what we’re willing to forsake in the name of absolution.”

Library Journal picked THE DEVOTED as one of its Summer/Fall Best Reads and wrote “All lovers of great fiction with complex characters as well as anyone fascinated by narratives about religious cults will want.”

And THE DEVOTED is on the Center for Fiction’s longlist for its First Novel Prize!

I’m so excited to see the responses that have started coming in. And finally, I’ll be doing events this summer and fall in Boston, New York, Chicago, and beyond to launch The Devoted. Check back at my Events Page to see new events added. I hope to see you there!


EVENTS

AUGUST 21, 2018 / New York, NY
7pm: H.I.P. Lit Reading Series at Nowadays Bar

SEPTEMBER 5, 2018 / Toronto, ON
7pm: Reading at Ben McNally Bookstore

SEPTEMBER 12, 2018 / New York, NY
7pm: Reading and conversation with Darin Strauss at McNally Jackson Bookstore

SEPTEMBER 13, 2018 / Brookline, MA
7pm: Reading and conversation with Laura Van Den Berg at Brookline Booksmith

SEPTEMBER 22, 2018 / St. Louis, MO
Panel discussion at Bookfest St Louis

SEPTEMBER 25, 2018 / Providence, RI
Point Street Reading Series at Alchemy

SEPTEMBER 28, 2018 / Elkins Park, PA
8pm: Author Cabaret at St. Paul’s Elkins Park

SEPTEMBER 30, 2018 / Chicago, IL
2pm: Panel discussion at Storystudio Writers’ Festival

OCTOBER 1, 2018 / Chicago, IL
7pm: Reading and conversation with Rebekah Frumkin at Volumes Bookcafe

OCTOBER 12, 2018 / Princeton, NJ
6pm: Reading and conversation with Joyce Carol Oates, Rachel Lyon, and Lillian Li at Labyrinth Books

OCTOBER 13, 2018 / Boston, MA
Panel discussion with Sam Graham-Felsen, Yang Huang, and Fatima Farheen Mirza at Boston Book Festival

From my March Newsletter: How THE DEVOTED Began

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THE FIRST PAGE OF “THE DEVOTED” STARTS WITH A PROBLEM. I’d written a shaky short story for my fiction workshop. It was about Zen Buddhism, and growing up Irish Catholic; it was about getting sucked into religious devotion that became more like sexual worship. But it was talky and vague and technical and confusing. The workshop hadn’t gone well. But at the end of the painful discussion, my teacher said, “it’s not working well because there’s too much here. There’s a novel here.”
I rode the train back to my apartment in Brooklyn, clutching my wrinkled stack of commented stories, thinking about what my teacher had said. The story was a disaster; but I knew there was something there, the seed of a story, the characters and ideas I’d been mulling over, wrestling with, for most of my life.
Back in the apartment, I pulled out my 1935 Royal typewriter, a graduation present from my parents. Sometimes when the blinking cursor on a blank page on my computer felt too overwhelming, I turned to this ancient, creaking machine to get my writing done. Every key press was an effort. It felt like I was really doing something heroic. I looked out the window, let the quiet of the afternoon fill me, and I wrote a page. It was the same character I’d been writing about in my failed short story, but now the central problem of her life was laid bare, and Boston was wrapped up in it too, those long trips on the train, those muddy backyards and strangers walking by with their coat collars turned up. This time, the first page of the story was an open door into everything I wanted to say about belief, about sensuality, about family and devotion and their hard irreconcilability.

That first paragraph got tweaked and shuffled around a bit from draft to draft, but in the final work, it’s still there — and all the energy and mood, the promise of it, was what kept me going through the years it took to reach this story’s completion.

This month, I’m off to the AWP writers’ conference, which is always a huge jolt in the arm for me; it’s tremendously inspiring to learn of others’ projects, successes, and failures, and to re-connect with writers I’ve met from around the country. Coming soon will be some of the first scheduled events for The Devoted — so stay tuned.

Hello from Canada

Hello, readers. It’s official: I’ve moved to Canada for a writing teaching position, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the culture and literary scene here. The timing is downright odd, I know, and I’ll be writing about my experiences here as well as my thoughts on what it means to be leaving the States at this particular time. You can see some of my first posts on my Medium blog here:

My Medium stories

And here’s an excerpt of my first post:

Hello, Canada! I’m new to you! The timing might seem suspect, an American arriving in Canada just now, after a crazy 2016 and a maddening election season. It’s so suspect, in fact, that I’ve gotten used to shrugging and smiling when people joke about my fleeing the country. But I’m here because my fiancé and I got teaching jobs at a university. This was in the works for nearly a year. So while I watched the election results with the same obsessiveness as all my friends, and bit my nails and watched too much MSNBC, there was always this knowledge in the back of my mind…that I’d be leaving soon. Either I’d be looking proudly on from afar as our first female president set up shop, or, well…I’d be high-tailing it out of there.
I knew I wanted to observe everything that was new to me in Canada as soon as I got here. My job as a newcomer, I think, is to look with big eyes and listen with big ears. To notice the differences and the similarities. And as a writer, my job is to observe and form theories about the national character. To see the contradictions and learn the jokes. To put my foot in it a few times and learn how to step gracefully out again. So this post will be the first of many scattered thoughts and observations about what might become my new home.

Continue reading

Stay tuned for more thoughts on the writing life from North of the Border, and also come back for some exciting new progress on the novel. More soon.

When Does Home Become Home?




For me, the most recent happening of it was when I was scheduling my taxi to the airport.

I was visiting my family in Boston, back for a few weeks in order to get laser eye surgery (it’s been great!). But finally the last check-up was done and I was heading back to Chicago, where I’ve been living for the past year and a half. “Only a few hours until I’m home,” I thought. And I felt it too. And as soon as I had that thought, I felt a pang, the sting of my disloyalty to Boston.

I’ll always be a Boston girl. Boston is my home; every time I return, I feel that warm spark of affection for this dinky little two-skyscraper city, for the unsmiling, taciturn New Englanders on the train and the deep gray-blue sparkle of the Charles River. The suburbs where I grew up will always be my suburbs. But all too fast, my self, my body, has been splitting, bisecting and tripling itself. Because I feel strongly now that Chicago, too, is home. It’s remarkable how quickly that process can happen.

What makes a city feel like home? In a purely materialistic sense, it’s all the stuff you have there. It’s the books and clothes and knickknacks, all the things I’ve been missing while I’ve been away: my mug, my comforter, my skungy old slippers. In a hedonistic sense, it’s the sensory pleasures you have there: my special gourmet tea that I’ve been craving, the mac and cheese place I am too fond of, the doughnut shop (Boston’s doughnut situation is sad. Dunkin’ Donuts has driven every competitor, including Krispy Kreme, out of business). And in a deeper, more emotional sense, it’s the people and things I love: my significant other, even my cats. All of these things add up. You don’t start realizing what is home to you until you leave it and feel homesick.

But home is more than all of those things combined as well: it’s a sense of feeling in command of your place, of moving comfortably as a local down its streets and on its public transit, understanding the arguments in the local paper, knowing where to get lunch and what the best coffee shop is. In my years away from Boston, I’ve never stopped feeling it to be home, but I have gotten out of touch with its transformation. The seaport is a neighborhood that barely existed when I left, and now all the best restaurants are there. The farmers’ markets have moved. The stores, even the roads, have changed. The stops on the T have been altered, and in the years to come they’ll change even more. When I’m in Boston, I defer to old friends, letting them pick the meeting place and the restaurant, because I don’t know where to go anymore.

When people visit me in Chicago, on the other hand, I’m fully in command of my city. I know how to show visitors a good time and what funny quirks the city has. I’ve ridden its buses and trains, and I’ve gotten lost among vacant lots and deserted streets. There is much more to explore, but I’m happy and unafraid in that process of discovery. I know that no matter how lost I get, I can always find my way back.

Chicago is just a temporary waystation, though. Years ago I already started heading down a life path that wasn’t conducive to putting down roots, at least for a while. Rather, my S.O. and I follow career paths that will take us to new cities in the future, and I will have to say goodbye. Will Chicago always carry a bit of home-feeling with it, or will it become alien to me? Can I pick up and fall in love again with a new place, take command of it and wedge my heart somewhere inside, again and again and again? I try to keep my heart soft and elastic, ready to grow and stretch and take in another place. Is there any limit to the number of places in your life that can feel like home? I know immigrants have to struggle with this all the time; they learn to hold more than one place inside them, like a painted triptych in their hearts. I’m working on a similar structure encompassing all the cities I’ve lived in and felt loved: Boston, New York, Chicago, and onward.




The Purge: Why You Have to Clean House





I’m not the best housekeeper. If a dish is sitting on the counter or dustbunnies are galloping down the hall, I’m not too fussed; I’ll let them accumulate before I finally pick up a broom with a sigh. Life’s too short for obsessing about the little details of a tidy house, I feel.

And yet the funny thing is that I’m the exact opposite when it comes to my papers, computer files, and stories. I can’t stand having a file out of place; my desktop is in a state of minimalist splendor; I have an elaborate nesting system for stories depending on their stage of completion, and color-coded tags and neatly organized archives. My “Unfinished Stories” folder is the only one that is allowed to grow and sag, as I create a document and write a page or two of a new story idea. But even there, every now and then I feel a need to do a purge.

Staying organized and doing a file purge can be good for one’s inner state as well, I’ve found. If I have a half-dozen stories in various stages of completion or neglect, then I feel more scattered, stretched between them. I find myself wondering on any given day whether I should be devoting my energies to this one or that one. And it leaves me overwhelmed and paralyzed, unable to finish even one story as long as six other enticing beginnings are out there.

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Find the Hole in Your Story




So you’ve written a short story. Congratulations! You’ve maneuvered the characters into position, shown the heroes and the villains, pulled them into conflict and steered them into a climax.

And yet — something is missing.

Have you had that feeling before when you read back a story draft? That there’s a hole somewhere in the story? Many stories in their first or second versions can feel this way. Because if a story is only the sum of its parts — then that’s all it is. The stories that we love to read, the truly masterful stories, are the ones that make up something more. Their authors have learned to fill up those holes that are in the early outlines of stories, that make drafts like Swiss cheese.

I’m not just talking about plot holes here, the blatant mistakes of story or logical inconsistencies. Those things are essential to fix, but that’s just good housekeeping. I’m talking about identifying the beating heart of your story, and of finding ways to make it mean something larger than it is.

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New Awards and Honors

I’m pleased to report that I’ve had several successes this month with new short stories.

“A Night Odyssey” was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open.

“These Things Happen Here” was a finalist in AWP’s scholarship competition, and judge Lori Ostlund had these kind words for the piece:

Because the world of “These Things Happen Here”—an urban community college classroom—is so familiar to me, I was prepared not to be surprised by the story. How wrong I was. In fact, what was most impressive to me about this story is the way that the author constantly takes risks, writing with great honesty about a main character who is vulnerable and wants what is best for his students but is in way over his head. The unspoken secret of the classroom is that sometimes teachers dislike their students, and this author goes there also, as well as into the complicated relationship between art and revenge. The ending is complex and spot on. Like all great stories, this one stayed with me after the first reading and the second, but the meaning kept shifting, changing and evolving.

“The Deconstruction” was shortlisted for The Masters Review Anthology.

I’ve also been selected as a resident at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and as a scholar at Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

Editing Challenge Day 30: Have the Courage Not to Be Done

This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.

You made it, writers! You’ve gotten to the end of the marathon! Here we are, on the very last day of our thirty-day editing challenge. Did you go all the way? Did you try to do a little editing every day, even if it wasn’t exactly the tip I prescribed? I’d love to hear what your editing process has looked like in the past month. Send me a note on Twitter @bhurley to tell me how things went. Are you proud of the story you’ve created? Are you surprised by what form it ultimately took? Are you inspired to create new spin-off stories, using the characters that were jettisoned? Tell me all about it.

I want to conclude this project with just a few thoughts about where to go from here. One teacher of mine, who offered some of the most helpful advice I’ve heard about editing, finished his talk by saying that at the end of all the exhausting work, you must be willing not to be done. So many budding writers get tired and then get frozen. They stop seeing things that could be changed in their work; they give up. They think the work is as good as it can be and that’s that and now it will sink or float the way it is. This period of fatalism is often followed by a flurry of sending the story out and having it get rejected. That’s when most people quit. They can even get bitter at this very delicate stage, and start blaming politics or the environment at literary magazines or whatnot. There are many reasons to be frustrated about the system and the way it works, but I think that’s a separate conversation from whether your work can be made better. And the truth is that the writers who succeed are the ones who have the courage not to be done.

It means being willing to pull that story out of the drawer, maybe right after it has received a disheartening rejection, and think about ways it could be changed. It means being open to radical changes even way down the track, even if you’ve had your heart set on one particular ending for weeks, months, years. It means being open to possibility, and to the wonders of your own talent and ability and hard work.

So today, on our very last day of our editing challenge, I’m asking you to do one more thing: to not be done. To revisit that story and other stories as many times as is necessary. To examine and re-examine and find ways to shake up your thinking so that you don’t fall into old rutted grooves. Print out the story in a different font or color. Make a game of cutting words. Read it aloud. Have a friend or partner read it aloud to you. De-construct it and build it again. Make it work. Keep working even after the joy is gone; push through the sweat and tears; take a break, recover your energies, and do it all over again. Do not be done until you feel deeply and firmly that the story is better than anything you’ve ever written, and that it’s ready to go out the door. And even then, read it once more, and find that one typo that has hidden in a sentence through twenty drafts. Read it one final time, and be proud of what you’ve created.

Editing Challenge Day 29: Read it Aloud

This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.

For our second-to-last day of editing, writers, we’re going back to one of the most tried-and-true tricks of editing. This is a technique that everyone agrees on: nothing is better for identifying awkwardness or weak phrasings or logical inconsistencies or dull bits or just about any other weakness in writing. This trick is why professional writers about to read from their published books can often be seen with pen in hand, hastily crossing things out in their printed books because they now know it won’t sound right.

So today, your job is easy: just find a quiet place, whether it’s out in the garden or in your bathroom; get somewhere where you won’t feel self-conscious, and no one else is listening.

And read that thing out loud.

Sound mortifying? That’s exactly why it must be done. You must be confident enough in your work to be proud of how it sounds, or for it to be at least tolerable to hear. If even you can’t bear listening, then how do you expect anyone else to want to listen to it?

The great thing about reading aloud is that sentences that are awkwardly phrased or unclear jump immediately to the fore. Now something that you could skim over with your eyes becomes clunky in your mouth. Now you can hear where your prose sings and where it squawks.

Good luck, writers. Have fun; enjoy yourself. The other great thing about reading aloud is that it isn’t only shaming; it’s an occasion to feel proud of the sentences you’ve created as well.