Word Play, January 2020

News on writing, books and the world of publishing

Text by Diane Slocum

January is a time for new beginnings. For authors, selling that first book can be a spectacular new beginning, especially if that novel is named one of the best books of the year.

Disappearing Earth - Julia PhillipsJulia Phillips’ “Disappearing Earth” was chosen by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of last year. It’s a novel composed of overlapping short stories about women in a remote town on Russia’s eastern coast who have been shocked by the disappearance of two young girls; each woman’s story moves the narrative ahead one month. For a year, the stories of a mother, a neighbor, a witness and a detective reveal not only how this crime has impacted these women, but also the effects of the culture around them.

Sarah M. Broom’s first book, “The Yellow House,” is a memoir that includes oral and urban history. She writes about one home in New Orleans from the 1960s to Hurricane Katrina that reveals the poor city planning, greed and indifference that brought her family home to its end. But she also weaves in 100 years of her family’s relationship to home in the broader neglected area defined by race, class and inequality. 

One of the Washington Post’s six best books, Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” tells its story in the form of a son writing a letter to his mother, even though she cannot read. Little Dog, as he is called, grew up poor in Connecticut, the son and grandson of Vietnamese immigrants who carry the trauma of the war. He struggles in his own way to fit in.


Since last reported here, former Clovis resident and Glee star, Chris Colfer, continued publishing books in his The Land of Stories series, which grew from four books up to 16 books now. The newer books include “Beyond the Kingdoms,” “An Author’s Odyssey” and “Worlds Collide.”

His latest book, published in October, is “A Tale of Magic,” the beginning of a new series in the same universe as his earlier series.  In the new series, Brystal discovers a book that shows that she can do magic. But in her world, women are not allowed to read, nor is magic legal — two strikes against her. Brystal is rescued by Madame Weatherby and enrolled in her magic academy. But when Madame goes missing, it’s up to the classmates to try to save magic and the fate of the world.

Colfer is also the author of “Stranger Than Fanfiction.” Four fans jokingly invite a young star to join them on a cross-country trip. They are shocked when he accepts. Through a series of misadventures, the friends learn that the star isn’t the perfect person they thought.

Colfer’s first book, “Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal,” is the story about a high school senior with big ambitions who blackmails his fellow students into helping him achieve his goals. It was made into a film in 2013 with Colfer writing the script and starring in the lead role. Rebel Wilson and Allison Janney were in the cast.


“Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson, tells Stevenson’s story as a young lawyer dedicated to defending those most in need. Early on, he tries to free a young man sentenced to die for a murder while evidence indicates that he is innocent. In his fight for his client, Stevenson faces political maneuvering and racism. The movie stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson.


The deadline for registering for the Las Vegas Writers Conference sponsored by the Henderson Writers Group is March 31. The conference will be held April 2-4 at the Tuscany Resort Hotel. Registration is $399 for non-members. The keynote speaker is Brenda Drake, author of “Thief of Lies.” Drake is also the master-class instructor teaching “Plot That Novel.” Details at: lasvegaswritersconference.com/2020-faculty-2


The Main Street Rag Poetry Book Contest deadline is Feb. 1. The winner receives publication, 50 copies of the book and $1,200. Runners-up will be considered for publication. Submissions must be between 52 and 88 pages. Details at: mainstreetrag.com


“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written.” — Melody Beattie (1948)