The People Are Going to Rise Like the Water Upon Your Shore by Jared Yates Sexton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first started following Jared Sexton a few years ago after we both had short stories appear in the same lit mag. But, I think, looking back, it was really only a matter of time before I became interested in his work in any case. During the wild election season of 2016, Mr Sexton bubbled to the top of my social media feeds as he started live-tweeting un-sympathetic dispatches from Donald Trump rallies. These boots-on-the-ground journalistic forays painted a fascinating (if disturbing) portrait of what was really happening in Trumpland.

I followed along, riveted, as the tone of these rallies grew uglier under Sexton’s watchful eyes; I watched as his political pieces started getting picked up by increasingly prestigious outlets like The New Republic and The New York Times; I sat mesmerized as he struggled with a growing backlash from the emboldened right-wing online fringe (and it’s newly initiated non-fringe as well). I felt like we observed the whole train wreck together. Every unbelievable, exasperating, exhausting moment of it.

So, of course, when I saw that he was going to be putting out a book based on his earlier reporting and research, I was damn near first in line.

The main thing to make clear about The People Are Going to Rise is that Mr Sexton has a point of view. This is a less spectacle-based form of gonzo journalism than that popularized by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, but no less compelling. Sexton is as much a character in the book as Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He tries different things, he gets deep into discussions with people he doesn’t understand, and he injects himself into the narrative. He’s not shy about pointing out where he stands, and that means some people who fundamentally disagree with Sexton’s take that Trump is a boil on the ass of American politics (and America itself) will probably not be able to see past their “fake news” (oh, the irony) take on the book.

And that’s to their detriment. Because this book is as critical of Bernie Sanders and Bernie Bros as it is of Trump and his bewildering supporters. It pulls no punches in analyzing Hillary Clinton. And, fundamentally, this is a book where the central theme is not “Trump is bad,” but that Trump is just one symptom of a plague of rage and disenfranchisement. One stand-out moment in the book is where Sexton takes a staunch conservative stranger with him on a road trip to a Hillary Clinton rally. The person-to-person exchange characterizes the tone of what the book seems to be saying: what we have now isn’t normal, but there is a normal that doesn’t involve hatred and destruction and violence and death. To get there, Sexton seems to say, we need to close our mouths and open our ears.

This is a remarkable book. Its immediacy is breathtaking (I had no idea how much I was still stinging from the devastation of election night—less than a year ago!—until I read Sexton’s eerily reminiscent account of it), but the scope feels like it bears the weight of history. Perhaps this comes from the care put into contextualizing events, at least those which are not still outstanding (like Trump’s increasingly obvious ties to Russia, which is still breaking news regularly). Sexton’s voice is clear and engaging, the writing strong and passionate without being dogmatic. I tore through this and even though every event it recounts is still fresh in my memory I never felt it was disposable; on the contrary, it felt fresh and significant. Highly, highly recommended.

Hamilton: The Revolution
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I correctly guessed, before beginning this book, that despite the dozens and dozens of times I’d listened to the Hamilton cast album, there were sections of the dense lyrics I had missed or misheard. So, honestly, it was the libretto portion of the book—and its insider footnotes from show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda—that held the most interest for me. Being able to pick out tricky lyrical bits from rapid-fire deliveries and frenetic arrangements was a true highlight of the book. But even that paled against the delight of Manuel’s annotations, which surpassed even my high expectations. I would happily read a book in which he broke down every single lyric in the whole show.

What genuinely surprised me about the book was how moving and affecting it was, particularly in the essay sections by Jeremy McCarter. My assumption was that I’d read the libretto and footnotes, skip the essays, drop the book on my coffee table and read one or two sections every now and then when I had a minute to kill. I figured these would be either dryish, in-depth Broadway nerdgasms or, perhaps, fluffy self-congratulations about how amazing everyone involved in the production was. In fact, the essay sections are both inside baseball and fawning, but like Miranda and Hamilton itself, their earnestness and sincerity are infectious. Instead of skipping them, I devoured these pieces. I ended up reading the book cover-to-cover in about three long sessions.

The part where this all shocked me was in how deeply I let the whole book affect me. Exactly like Hamilton itself (which I still haven’t seen as a production, another testament to its inherent power as a story, a vehicle, a movement) the book worked into my heart. Discussions of creative challenges, personal struggles, opportunities, and even philosophical topics like ambition, legacy, and history have real meat and genuine soul. Of course, the already weepy song It’s Quiet Uptown comes with an absolutely heart wrenching essay that absolutely wrecked me, as I struggled through the song lyrics in a full on slobbering ugly cry. But every part of this book is top-quality and ridiculously readable.

The book is beautiful in its presentation, full of glorious photos, masterfully typeset (and yes, I do notice stuff like that), the kind of book that I don’t think works in any other format (as much as I like ebooks and audiobooks). It’s pricey, but I think totally worth it. There is no hesitation in my recommendation of this book to Hamilton fans, and I think reading this can elevate even a casual interest in the play. I’m sure there are Hamilton haters out there who would get little from this, but those are the kind of people I’m not sure I care to know enough to be recommending books to anyway.

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Trying something a bit different with this post. This was pitched and provided by Sarah Jones to be of interest to ironSoap.com readers on her subject of expertise, sleep health. If you enjoy this article, please leave a comment below and I can look into providing more guest features like this.


Many writers plunge through the depths of the nighttime darkness trying to finish writing their novel. In order to complete a word count for the day or a chapter or two, sleep often times becomes the one thing we give up as we chase our goals. But should you?

The Effects of No Sleep

Productivity and creative thinking are directly affected by sleep, or lack thereof. Our mental performance as writers is challenged by the amount of sleep we receive each day. Harvard Med has studies that show that lack of sleep stunts our creative thinking and our mental performance and quick-thinking cognitive abilities. In short, no sleep means dull and thoughtless writing.

Lack of sleep has negative effects on our creative processes as well as our mood and our health. No sleep often creates a foul mood as fatigue and sleepiness set in. During hours of sleep at night, our bodies recuperate and systems restore themselves. Not getting enough sleep challenges our health, mood, and cognitive abilities and can stunt the writing process instead of flourishing creativity.

When to Write, When to Sleep

The challenge we writers have is to make time for everything. Sleep is a must, as is carving time for writing our novel. Both can be achieved by practicing some techniques for a healthier and more restful experience.

Designate your writing times. Often times writers procrastinate and avoid writing, even if we have a novel to finish. You can either bully yourself and charge through to accomplish your writing, or listen to the passive procrastinator that doesn’t “feel” like writing today. A writer writes! Push through and treat it as a job and get that word count in so you can sleep tonight. Accomplishing daily goals in your writing will ease stress and anxiety and allow for a restful evening.

The Magic of Yoga Nidra

If you are getting a good amount of sleep at night, but still feel tired, consider trying yogic sleep. Yogic sleep or Yoga Nidra is a technique used that attains a “restorative sleep,” otherwise a sleep where you are completely relaxed and rested but are still fully aware during the process. Yogic sleep may take some practice, but once it is completed successfully, the benefits of a rested mind and body will help you finish your novel.

To try Yogic sleep, we first must engage in breathing exercises to steady our breathing and lower our heart rate and blood pressure.  The next step is to create a resolve, or attempt to manifest a factor that we wish to have in our lives such as peace or courage. The next steps involve separating the mind form the body, embrace the awareness of any feelings and emotions, and then to visualize as the process concludes. It is said that 45 minutes of this type of restorative sleep equates to approximately 3 hours of regular sleep, the benefits of sleep can be achieved in a much shorter period.

Yogic sleep is an excellent option for our bodies and minds to rest and recuperate without the hours and hours of sleep that we have avoided. Breathing exercises, organizing and planning, and getting proper exercise are also researched and proven elements that help de-stress our lives and increase productivity.

We need sleep to think, and we need our thinking to write. Shoving hours of sleepless writing into a novel will get you closer to completion, but may make for a massive editing headache. Sleep and rest increase our brain activity, which is the heart and soul of a writer’s world, so don’t stay up too late tonight, because you need your rest.


Sarah is the Editor of Sleepy Deep. Feeling the repercussions of being an irregular sleeper for far too long, she decided to do something about it. She learned why sleep is so important and how to maximize it, and is now helping others who are struggling to find their right sleep routine.

Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The central event in Big Little Lies is something that, in a different book or story, could be summarized in two or three pages of exposition. It’s a dramatic sequence, to be sure, but the trick of Liane Moriarty’s cunning novel is to tease this moment, then back away and rewind, then slowly peel back layers until the full context and complexity of the moment can be understood. Thus, when the scene finally happens, the impact of it and the shocking, fascinating, deliriously entertaining chaos of it are keenly understood and richly felt. It’s a master class on building tension.

The event in question is an unspecified tragedy that takes place at a fundraising function (a Trivia Night) for a public school in a small Australian beach town. The introduction teases the Trivia Night from a remote point of view and then backs up six months and focuses on the stories of three of the night’s key players, each of whom take turns with a deeply intimate third-person narrative style that I can only describe as arresting. As the story unfolds from these distinct points of view, Ms Moriarty takes great care to skip to just the most pertinent or character-revealing moments, and while the book is long and detailed, it has short, punchy chapters and is never, ever a slog to read. Throughout, reality-show-style confessional transcripts appear, discussing the events leading up to the Trivia Night, the night itself, and its aftermath in cleverly obscure language from the perspectives of some of the people involved.

These flashback-y transcripts are a gimmick, sure, but they’re one of the most effective gimmicks I’ve seen. The book reads like a screenplay, with sharp directorial cuts and a phenomenal sense of pacing. But don’t mistake this book for a disposable summer beach page-turner quickly forgotten once the back cover is closed. Ms Moriarty uses her ability to capture the reader’s full and suddenly ravenous attention to open the door wide for her remorselessly bladed and often downright hilarious insights. This may be one of the finest satires I’ve read since Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” and the book’s commentary about the politics of public schools, the collective hallucination of suburban existence, and the messy necessity of true friendship is so on point it pricks and draws blood. It’s scathing, laugh-out-loud funny, and absolutely horrifying all at once. There are so many insights on the inner lives of women: working mothers, single mothers, stay-at-home moms, women with supportive husbands, women in terrible marriages, directionless women, women with dark secrets, dark pasts, dark thoughts, personas, nuances, layers, contradictions, fears, truimphs. Big Little Lies’s characters are alive in ways most authors only wish they could manage and it’s all done in such an insightful, delightful manner that you don’t see it happening until it’s done.

The book is not utterly flawless. Ms Moriarty takes liberties with her three central protagonists when several of them appear on page together, hopping sometimes confusingly from viewpoint to viewpoint. She occasionally structures sentences in ways that tripped me up, and I found a bit of the transcript gimmick and a lot of the early character-introduction sequences needlessly confusing and overwhelming with lots of new names and relationships. Eventually the key names and connections did sort themselves out but there are places where a minor character reappears at a key moment and there’s a few minutes of disorientation until something re-contextualizes them. But it’s worth noting that there is another version of this novel that could have been written at twice the length wherein it might rival a Russian novel in terms of characters with their own point of view chapters. And next to the scope and skill on display everywhere else in this book, these are very minor complaints indeed.

I’ll say simply that I loved this book. I tore through the last two hundred pages at a breakneck (for me) pace, completing them in a single evening, and was thrilled to see the conclusion met every one of my sky-high expectations. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but I kind of especially want to recommend it to male readers specifically for the way it draws attention to the multifaceted ways that women view each other and themselves. After so much pop culture time spent distilling and generalizing women down to a set of simple stereotypes for the sake of “comedy” it’s so refreshing to see the real unpacking of women’s thought processes and self-aware complexities. And, it happens to result in genuine laughs that are much funnier than any of that other reductionist crap you usually see. It’s refreshing, dark, honest, hilarious, thrilling, heartfelt, and completely satisfying. Put it on your to-read list and thank me later.

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At the end of last year, we pulled into the station on a full twelve months of the 200 CCs experiment. The safest thing I can say at this point is that it’s been quite a ride and nothing like what I expected. It feels like it’s worth reflecting a bit and being as forthcoming as I’m able to be about the future of the endeavor.

What’s Past

I learned an awful lot last year as an editor. The first is that editing is richly rewarding, but also that it’s powerfully demanding. My own writing suffered in 2016 as a direct result of my work on 200 CCs. Now, that was a possibility I considered going in, but way back in December of 2015, my writing wasn’t going very well anyway so I felt good about the change of pace.
But, writing is (for me) a cyclic undertaking. By the time I felt like I was starting to get my mojo back, I was well embedded in the commitments of the 200 CCs project. The way this manifested was a total ball-drop of the zine aspect. I don’t know how many readers were enjoying the monthly issues, but once I hit the mid-point of the year (which I had been calling Volume 1), I could no longer maintain the schedule. Volume 2, Issue 1 slipped behind, then Issue 2 slipped behind that, and the collected Volume 1 edition stumbled as well. By the time it was late in September I was four issues behind and had to sort of quietly resign myself that zine editions would probably not be coming for Volume 2 at all.
Part of that slow burial behind the mounting work was a fresh output of new writing I was producing. I still liked the idea of the monthly issues, but I had the mounting sense they were redundant. The stories were already available here on the site. The tighter layout controls and guest editorials and so forth were fun and (I hope) aesthetically exciting, but it wasn’t always clear how much value those digital-only versions added.
The other factor that cannot be overlooked is that I bit off just slightly more than I could chew financially speaking. Sure, I had funding for the project as it was initially conceived: a weekly microfiction story and a few themed contests. But as the scope grew to twice a week and the contest prizes grew to accommodate the large number of wonderful entries, I had to dip past my reserves to cover costs. Given that the whole thing had zero revenue potential (and was originally just an excuse to keep fresh content on the website—paying for freshness with cash instead of time), there was no way to offset any of the expenses.
I don’t mean any of this as a complaint or an excuse. Most of the pitfalls I foresaw as possibilities and wasn’t blindsided by them. But, they do play into the future of 200 CCs as an entity and I’d be stupid to ignore or downplay their significance.

What’s Present

As much as I’ve loved having lots of great stories to post on the site and have enjoyed the increased traffic to ironsoap.com, I have to admit that none of it has made this site—ostensibly devoted to my own writing—a better place to come and find out about the writing of Paul A. Hamilton.
But a few things remain as true today as they were nearly a year ago when I cooked up this idea. One is that I still love microfiction—in particular the loose 200-ish word format that I’ve focused on. Seeing the expertise at which my contributors have displayed in wringing every last bit of pain and beauty out of those precious few sentences never ceases to thrill me.
Another is that I still crave a collaborative creative outlet where I can stretch beyond word-monkey and exercise my visual design skills, my eye for talent and execution, my photography, my editorial instincts. And lastly, I still crave the means and opportunity to pay writers for strong work that speaks to me (and hopefully others).
That all being said, I can confidently say that at this point I know I have one final trick up my sleeve for Year One of 200 CCs and beyond that any further exploration of this kind of endeavor will have to involve the following:
  • A sufficient infusion of cash to maintain the minimum semi-pro rates I’ve offered to date.
  • A separation of the microfiction stories from the ironsoap.com site.
  • A new schedule, format, or process that does not involve a nonstop cycle of twice-a-week publication (plus any other format variations).

What’s To Come

The one sure thing is that Year Two of 200 CCs won’t look like this past year. I don’t know exactly what that means, only that you shouldn’t expect twice weekly microfiction stories posted on ironsoap.com. My early visions include a lot more guest editors, zine editions first, and more like a bi-monthly schedule.
But all of it depends on that final trick I mentioned above. I’m currently putting together a 200 CCs Year One print edition, featuring (nearly) all the stories from the entire year. There will not be an ebook edition available to the public. The only way to get all these great stories in one place will be the book.
And the catch is that the proceeds will determine the funding for (or even the existence of) 200 CCs in 2017.
The experiment is pretty straightforward: if enough people buy the book to fund another year, I’ll make 200 CCs Year Two happen, in some form or another. If not, well, that’s the way it goes.
I hope it’s successful, but in a way there’s no chance that it won’t be. Even if nobody buys the book and we can’t fund future forays into 200 CCs, there will at least be a collection of last year’s wonderful experiment available, and I can’t think of a more fitting legacy to the project than that.