It’s official, real and true: Clementine – I mean, OH MY DARLING – exists in the world as a real book. I opened the box from the printer and had a very, “oh I know you!” moment looking at her fresh, shining cover. You always hear people say that about having a baby, and I guess it’s true for books (for me). She has zero perfect fingers and zero perfect toes and is overall perfection and I am in love with her. In time we will have to have a party, several parties, but for the moment I’ve been carrying a copy around with me everywhere I go and making everyone look at it. Have you seen her? Isn’t she beautiful?
In But What’s Next? news, my excellent Hugo House class is over and I’m trying to decide what to take next out of the many good Spring 2015 class options on offer. I wrote more than 38,000 words during the five weeks of class, and I have almost a full, utterly terrible first draft. (My husband hates it when I talked about how bad my novel is, because he believes in me and supports this mad writer dream – but, sorry love, it really does suck right now. It’s supposed to!) I have a beginning and an ending and a chunk of the middle, which is where I’ll need to focus in order to finish the damn thing. My deadline for finishing is June 1, and I’m saying it here because everything one reads on the internet is true. I’ll be done with the first draft by June 1. Really.
Later this week I head east – a bit – for AWP in Minneapolis. It’s my first AWP, which seems ridiculous; yet another perk of MFA studenthood I didn’t take advantage of when I could (should) have. I think I was always too broke or couldn’t get the time off work (that old chestnut) – at any rate, I’ve never been, and what better year to go than this year! I’ve been spending a lot of time with the catalog of readings and lectures and discussions about craft, so like any good earnest nerd I will be showing up bright and early on Thursday with my schedule for every day of the conference already completely determined, a fresh notebook and a dozen new pens in my bag. I had a hard time narrowing down my choices to one per session, and I’m excited about what I’ve got: women writing sex, women writing the West, Alaskan poets and novelists, the dirt on national park residencies, tips on research, and on and on. I’m packing a bag and bringing a second empty bag to fill with books – perhaps they’re being hyperbolic, but that’s the advice I always hear about AWP.
If you’ll be in Minneapolis, you can find me in a few places:
- Thursday, April 9: Black Lawrence Press reading at Kieran’s Pub, 7:30 – 10:30 pm (open to the public)
- Friday, April 10: Chatham University reception and alumni / faculty reading (I believe you have to be a conference attendee to get in)
- Saturday, April 11: Signing books at the Black Lawrence table in the book fair, 2 – 3 pm
Recently I finished Wilderness by Lance Heller – another PNW-set book by a PNW author that I purchased at an independent PNW book store. Look at me go! I am living the lifestyle, surely! More importantly, go read this book. It’s everything I love in a novel: shifting timelines and points of view, place so well developed you can smell the salt in the air, a great cast of characters. A man and his dog. Don’t misunderstand me, the story and everything the characters endure are absolutely, gut-twistingly devastating. But it’s beautiful, too – so, so beautiful. I’m tempted to immediately read it again.
Clementine, Clementine, Clementine! She is still not finished. I think part of me doesn’t want to finish – because then I’d have to stop spending time with her. Also part of me (a big, big part) is lazy. I have no discipline in my life. I’m working on that. I think I need to start punishing and rewarding myself, sticks and carrots as they say. But I’m even lazy about feeling bad about how lazy I am.
So AWP happened! As in every year past, I did not attend. Maybe next year? Boston? My book was there and I hear it sold pretty well, so that’s exciting. A little store in Houston, Texas, is going to have some copies for sale. I ran out of copies, but once I get some they’ll be for sale in Pittsburgh, too. Just like a real book! How about that.
I turned another year older recently. I like being 27 so far. I have a really good feeling about this year. It’s going to be great. I’m going to learn how to be discipline and I’m going to attend AWP (even though I have a sneaking suspicion that I will hate it, introvert and all) and I’m going to get a better job and I’m going to get more tattoos and I’m going to move someplace awesome and I’m going to find a great publisher for Clementine and it’s all just going to be great. Probably some of that will happen and some of it will not and other things I do not expect will happen or seem to happen and then crash and burn. Exciting to find out which!
Lately I’ve been feeling a bit claustrophobic. I spend too much of my time in a cubicle, being bored and questioning why I am where I am and what can be done about it. I need to get away for a while, just be by myself somewhere. What I’d like to do is skip out to lake for a month of sun and water and woods and solitude, but this cube-lifestyle doesn’t really allow for that. I’ll have to settle for a long weekend, somewhere. How did I get here? How can I leave?
I’ve been reading some excellent things lately. I picked up Andee Hochman’s collection Anatomies at the Winter Getaway in January, but didn’t get around to reading it until a few weeks ago. It’s a lovely collection. Heart-wrenching and beautiful and just…meaty. I loved it. Also Jim Shepard’s One Story offering – “The World to Come.” Did you read it? You need to. And then read it again, trust me. I love Jim Shepard and I love historical short stories. It’s a quiet story but also a screamer. I don’t know. I’m too starstruck to talk coherently about it.
Aside from those, I’ve had my nose buried in the Song of Ice and Fire series. You know, Game of Thrones and the rest. I’m close to finishing the most recent book, A Dance With Dragons. Just in time for season 2 of the series! Can’t wait! These books are horrifying and scary and funny and sexy and exciting, and also infuriating sometimes and boring sometimes, but more often than not they feel worth the thousands and thousands of pages it has taken me to get to this point. Which is STILL not the end-end. I’ll have to wait another decade for that. (In other hefty series news, the next Gabaldon comes out this fall, so says my mom! OH YES. I AM SO READY.)
This is a thing I read today, Rebecca Sherm interviewing Wells Tower:
That’s such a good way to think of it — you start with some tiny moment, and then make it matter.
Yeah, and I think that is the important thing in revision — looking at the draft and figuring out what is important. If it is the characters, then have you chosen the right program of incident to subject these characters to? Or if you feel like you have a really great plot, have you chosen the right people, the right point of view? What’s really the emotional goal in the story?
The rest is here. Wells Tower is one of those writers I’ve been aware of for a long time, but have never gotten around to reading. Looks like I’ll have to make some time for him.
My lone 2011 submission is still languishing in limbo. It’s been 3 months, probably safe to assume that’s a rejection. I should probably get my shit together if I plan to take this year by storm. Although, really, all I have to do is send two stories out and I’ve blown last year out of the water. But no! No! This year I make it happen. This year I buckle down and focus. This year…!
Been a while! I know! I know. I can’t even say I’ve been busy, exactly. There have been things going on, but mostly I am lazy and also avoiding myself. I feel like there are too many screens in my life. I don’t want to blog, I want to look at someone’s face. I want human contact. Or animal contact, though Josie doesn’t care what I have to say and Seb gives me these looks like, lady you are beyond helping. Also how about we go outside and poop now?
(I’ve been trying to teach Seb some bad habits, because he’s old and he should have a little fun. I keep trying to get him to snuggle up next to me on the big Sac, but he won’t. The closest he’ll get is leaning really hard in my direction and breathing his hot dog breath on me. One time I lifted up his enormous paw and put it on the Sac, hoping his body would follow, but then Joe told me to knock it off. It’s a work in progress. I’ll teach this old dog some new goddamn tricks if it kills me.)
Moving in chronological order, we go back to 2011. I am the laziest blogger ever.
In October I started keeping track of the books I was reading so I could, like, look back once and month and reflect on what I’d read. Or something. Obviously that didn’t happen, but I have a couple months’ worth of records to review.
From October 8, 2011 to December 22, 2011 I read 21 books. Well, 1 of those was a lit journal (Beecher’s) and two were One Story issues, but the rest were books. A bunch were romances and a bunch were for my sci-fi book club, but some were self-selected. Hands down the best one I read was Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, although I also read We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver) and that was pretty intense and sad and wonderful. But Lemon Cake…oh man. This book! I literally wept when I finished it. I need to read it again, over and over, forever.
I submitted one short piece of fiction at the end of 2011 and haven’t heard back about it yet. It’s one of those stories that skews dangerously close to being nonfiction so I feel even more anxious about it than usual.
Just before Christmas I found out I’d been awarded the Jan-Ai Scholarship to attend the Poetry & Prose Winter Getaway near Atlantic City. It was exciting not only because I got to go to a writers’ retreat for FREE but also because I used some of Clementine as my writing sample. I hear good things about this project from my workshop group, but this was the first time someone who doesn’t know me or the project or my intentions thought it was good (worth awarding me a scholarship!). Validation is awesome, I don’t mind saying it.
The retreat was pretty great. It’s been too long since I spent that much time in the company of writers. I was in a workshop group with some very interesting people, led by Richard Weems. We did a lot of laughing and I also got some really good feedback on my stuff. I bought Richard’s collection Anything He Wants and even though I don’t “know” him, not really, I kept reading it and thinking, “this is so Richard.”
I got to hear Stephen Dunn read and he signed a book for me. He signed everyone else’s “Best, Stephen Dunn,” or something like that, but mine says, “All my best wishes, Stephen Dunn.” I keep the book next to my bed and sometimes I read a few poems before I go to sleep. Is that too corny to admit?
A couple of weeks after the retreat, I had my first public reading in foreverrrrrrrrrr with The New Yinzer and it was pretty great. I read a Clementine arc to a fantastic reception (validation yay!) with two other very talented writers, though all three of us had totally different vibes going on. I felt like an asshole because I was so nervous and my stupid voice was shaking (PULL IT TOGETHER, SELF), but I guess that will only get better with practice. Practice and sustained drinking.
I GOT COPIES OF MY BOOK AND SHE IS BEAUTIFUL AND AMAZING AND THE STORIES ARE SO GOOD AND, HOT DAMN, STAMPED BOOKS IS AMAZING AND EVERYTHING THEY DO IS FANTASTIC AND EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK IS PERFECT AND WONDERFUL AND I WANT TO HOARD ALL MY COPIES INSTEAD OF SELLING ANY.
I sold 3 at the reading and traded another! So my girl is out there, in the world. She’s going to be at AWP! I am not, but she is. Big Women, Big Girls. Stamped Books. Check it out.
(I love it when people ask me what my book is about and I say, “fat people,” and then they change the subject. But “fat people” isn’t quite right. The experience of a fat body, maybe. Fatness. The stories are about what every story is about – longing, self discovery, identity, relationships, the choices people make when navigating a life – they just happen to be centered mostly around people who are fat. They are not about dieting. Fuck that noise.)
So far in 2012, I have finished 13 books. One of those books was A Game of Thrones, which I read in 5 days. I’m not usually a fan of fantasy-type books, but I’ve become a bit obsessed. Book 2 is waiting for me at the library.
I also read Dave Cullen’s Columbine (fucking incredible) and a novel called Ice Fields by Thomas Wharton that I picked up at the book swap at the retreat. I really, really enjoyed it but was dismayed to find out that Thomas Wharton hasn’t written much else. One YA novel, according to the Carnegie Library catalog. Thomas Wharton! Please write more!
I also read Jason Jordan’s novella The Dying Horse. No big deal, but Jason and I were in the MFA together and I workshopped a bit of this novella in class once. So. You’re welcome, literary community. Jason is one of those writers who I feel like has his Shit Together and is constantly blogging and writing and publishing and being cool and making me feel bad about myself. When I grow up, I want to be Jason Jordan, luxurious beard and all.
I guess that’s it?
Clementine is coming along. I am chugging my way through her arcs, bit by bit. For better or for worse, I’ve become very attached to her. I already changed one ending so that she comes out on top. I need to watch out – the Clementine story is inherently sad. She can’t win every time. But I love her. I want her to be happy. I know, I know, “kill your darlings.” I will. I do. But sometimes… Sometimes I just want to be her champion and protect her from harm.
Mark Twain declares interview “pure twaddle.”
(I had this attraction to old, curmudgeonly men. Not a sexual thing, but a very special fondness. Jim Harrison makes my heart race. Mark Twain hits all my buttons. I work for a guy who gives them both a run for their money and I adore him unceasingly.)
Dear Sugar unveiled!!! (also the first Dear Sugar was revealed to have been Steve Almond. I have both met Steve Almond in meatspace and written to Dear Sugar Steve Almond. He gave me great advice. I waffled a while and then I took his advice and it was the right thing to do. Thanks, Steve Almond.)
Library in Utah lends “human books” (this is too awesome, stop it)
Back when I was a happy-go-lucky MFA student with no cares in the world and no idea how horrible it would be to graduate and leave the MFA community – however infuriating it was at times – behind, a member of my thesis board suggested that I take up blogging. Of course I was already blogging, lonesome egomaniac that I am, but he really encouraged me to keep it up. Good for discipline! Keep yourself sharp!
I don’t remember how much I followed his advice (sharp!) and I’m too lazy to go check (discipline!), but I’m sure it wasn’t a lot back then and it’s not much now. In my defense, I have been writing a fair bit elsewhere. Also in my defense, so what?
I came across this blog post recently (ish) and it struck a chord with me:
I have a very controversial opinion that has made me somewhat unpopular among my writer friends and it is this: if you don’t subscribe to at least five lit journals while you’re trying to get published in lit journals, then you’re a literary parasite.
— Wendy Wimmer, Why writers are parasites… (emphasis original)
So, on the one hand, I take real exception to her flippancy regarding reasons why writers don’t, in her opinion, support the journals they submit to. Some of us are not typing away on Mac Books. Some of us do not have a $4 hipster latte budget. Some of us receive food stamps. You know? Maybe Wendy is doing awesome and her life is great – good for her! – but her asshole attitude really bugs me. Maybe it’s not her opinion that makes her unpopular, maybe it’s the jerky way she makes people who are poor feel like shit for being poor. (And aren’t writers supposed to be ridiculously, stupidly poor? Isn’t this the lifestyle?)
On the other hand – oh my god, am I a parasite? I mean, I read things online, but is that enough? Am I one of the spoiled, unsupportive, entitled writers she’s talking about? I don’t want to be a parasite! Wendy, forgive me!
Now I’m being flip, but it did spur me to look at all of the calls for submissions I’d tagged as possibilities and look into what subscriptions cost. It’s possible this grew into an Excel spreadsheet. That’s how I roll! There are, of course, more journals I want to subscribe to than I can afford, but Christmas is coming…
I got my first rejection of 2011! Actually my only rejection of 2011. For the only story I submitted in 2011. Writing a lot, editing a bit, submitting almost not at all. Anyway, Fairy Tale Review will not be taking my story, but I did get a very, very nice rejection out of it. This is the second time I’ve gotten a warm rejection of this story – “The Wild Boy,” one of my heavily reworked Thesis stories – from a journal I like, so hopefully that’s a good sign. It’s a completely different beast from the one that appeared in my collection. A better beast.
We’ll see where he ends up. Maybe 2012 is my year?
The last great book I read was Serena, by Ron Rash. I’d read another of his novels, Saints at the River, and liked it but didn’t love it. Serena I loved. I loved the way Rash evokes place, and the way Serena goes from a little odd to discomfiting to whole-heartedly evil. I loved the language of the book. It was a great read.
My book should be coming out soon! Soon! Eventually! When it does I will throw a huge party celebrating myself and the whole world is invited. My mom bought, like, 10 copies and I assume she’s going to pass them out to the relatives and, oh boy, won’t they all be surprised to find that one story is non-stop sex, dirty graphic sex, start to finish? My dad, I think, will not be able to read this book. I think it will be like that summer when I wore a bathing suit top that was perhaps a bit low-cut and he refused to look in my direction. Sorry, Dad. Maybe let’s skip this one? Maybe let’s have a vanilla ice cream cone? Maybe let’s say I’m still a virgin, I have never so much as thought about kissing a boy?
I’m working on a new piece! A long piece. My ultimate goal is chapbook. FICTION CHAPBOOK. Why are there so few little presses who will take on fiction manuscripts? Where’s the love? How come poets get to have all the fun? I am determined to conquer this market and show everyone the error of their ways. Fiction chapbook revolution!
Anyway, this new piece. I’m pretty excited about it. Preliminary readings by other people have been really positive. Somehow I tripped into this workshop group that is intensely uplifting and supportive and insightful. It’s split between poems and prose in our little group, and I have to say getting feedback from poets is really awesome. We’re maybe not so different, all of us writers.
In December, I’ll have been out of the MFA program for two years. Two years! You know I could have taken up to six years to finish and I did it in 2.5? Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I wish I could go back in time and smack myself. Ooh, I would give myself such a talking-to!
“Young lady, go to your room! And don’t come out except to write or go to class or get a book from the library or meet interesting people! I mean it!”
Hindsight, 20/20, etc.