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.
Tomorrow is the big day, the huge day, the day: Oh My Darling officially becomes a published, real, book in the world. Words like “excited” or “proud” seem so small that they almost have no meaning, but they’re all I’ve got. I’m so excited. I’m so proud. To think that Clementine might step out of my brain and into the life of someone else – maybe, dare I hope, even one or two someones who don’t know me personally – makes me feel a little dizzy and sick and feverish.
Work on the novel is…ongoing. It continues to be complete garbage, but at least I am writing it. That’s not nothing, I guess. Lately I think everything sucks – my characters, my ideas, my plot. In my darkest moments, I’d like to scrap the whole thing, close up shop on this dumb Being A Writer idea and find some other way to torture myself. Stubbornness keeps me going. I think maybe this is the melodramatic, self-indulgent first novel that I need to get out of my system and the next one or two or ten will be better. Maybe this is just a hill I need to drag myself up and over, and then I can get on with writing something that will end up being not-bad. This is where I find comfort in my “rocks fall, everyone dies” moments.
All is not darkness, however. My husband recently got a new job in a different area of Seattle, which means we’ve swapped who takes the bus to work and who drives. Finding myself with a full hour alone in the car each day, I decided to download a voice recorder app and dictate chapters during my commute. I’ve got a full week under my belt – plus Saturday morning, on my way to run an errand, look how committed I am! – and I have to say, I feel like it’s a stroke a genius. I’m a very fast typist, but speaking is even faster – in that hour, I can spew out 4,000 words. All of them pure muck and bullshit, of course, but words nonetheless. After work I transcribe what I’ve talked to myself about in the car, make little tweaks or edits or notes to myself, and add it to my word count for the week. So far the system seems to be working. Maybe I’ve discovered a routine…
Recently I’ve finished We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. I enjoyed both: I gobbled up We Were Liars in two sittings, savored Men Explain Things to Me throughout the week. An unreliable narrator is hard to pull off, and I didn’t guess Lockhart’s twist ending. Solnit’s essays were not what I had been expecting – not bad, of course, but I thought it would be more of a personal narrative, and didn’t get that. Likely that’s my own fault as a reader, but my impression on finishing the book was that I haven’t read enough Woolf.
I’m a student again! What a wild and wonderful world! I’ve got two classes under my belt, so I’m pretty much an expert at this whole novel-writing thing.
I kid, of course. What I’m finding – what I’m remembering – is that writing is hard. Thinking about writing, or telling people I’m a Writer, is so much easier than actually sitting down and doing it. I suppose I’d forgotten that, since I’ve had such a long hiatus from putting in any work. I would like to be one of those magical writers who sits down at her computer and taps out a thousand words of genius before breakfast, but the harsh reality is that I’m not. One of the first things we read in class was Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” essay, and let me tell you without exaggeration: mine is garbage.
The class also highlights how little effort I put into my MFA. I think, as a 22-year-old, fresh out of college, I was just not prepared to put in the kind of work that I needed to do. I’m not saying I wish I hadn’t done it – I did learn a lot, I did graduate as a better writer and wouldn’t trade for anything the friends I made and experiences I had in my time there – but I could have gotten so much more out of it, if I’d worked harder. Look at me, barely thirty years old and having all these grown-up revelations!
It wasn’t until after grad school – and an editor pointed it out to me in a rejection letter, of course – that I had my biggest, most necessary light bulb moment: I was a good writer, but not a good storyteller. And what is one without the other, really?
So here I am. Slogging, reading, outlining, working my ass off, trying to undo six years (and then some) of laziness, of letting myself off the hook, of not making writing part of my routine. Working, most of all, to define what shape I want my life to take. I know it involves writing, I hope it involves publishing – and in the meantime, holy cow, I am finally starting, just barely starting, to head in that direction.
Recently I finished two amazing books, both of which made me want to accost everyone I came into contact with, to wave the books in their faces and say, “Tell me you have read this! Go read this right now! I’LL WAIT.”
The first was Marisa Silver’s Mary Coin, which blew my socks off on just about every page. The writing is masterful, the characters are full and vibrant, the story is heartbreaking and wonderful. I loved every second. The second was Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You – and again: masterful, heartbreaking, wonderful. I can’t emphasize enough how much I loved both of these novels.
In a few days, I’ll turn thirty. I’m excited for it – from what I hear, it’s a great decade, and though my twenties weren’t entirely miserable, I’m happy to leave them behind and walk boldly in the direction of my future. Well, in the direction, anyway. Boldly…ah, we’ll work on that.
I have a clear memory of being a college student and filling out some kind of survey where I stated my goal of publishing two books by my thirtieth birthday. I’ll miss that deadline just slightly – Oh My Darling officially publishes three weeks after my birthday – but still, I’m calling that a goal achieved. So what’s the next one?
I have another clear memory of being in grad school. For my publishing class, I had to interview several editors and publishers, and one of them told me that, in his experience, 75% of MFA graduates never write again after they graduate. At the time, I thought that was ridiculous. That will never be me, I scoffed. I’m a Writer, I said. That will never happen, I really and truly believed.
Except for Oh My Darling – and really, only because of Clementine, who was a character I loved right away, and became immediately, irrevocably obsessed with – I’ve written very, very little since I completed my MFA six years ago. In that time I’ve submitted almost nothing and published less. If I wasn’t exactly writing nothing, I certainly wasn’t living up to the MFA hopes and dreams I’d had for myself.
So next up for me is going back to school, in a matter of speaking. Soon I begin a weekly class at Hugo House where I’ll get down to the hard, messy business of drafting a novel. Maybe, if I work very hard, by my fortieth birthday, I’ll have finished it…
Recently I read three novels about three very different women: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, Lifeline by Rainbow Rowell. Elizabeth is Missing was gorgeously written – a slow, twisty unfolding, and what a great cast of characters – but makes me terrified to grow old. The Lifeboat and Lifeline were interesting to me, in terms of featuring characters who aren’t super “likable.” Rogan’s heroine is not your typical brave, bold mover and shaker – she wants approval, she wants to follow the rules, she looks to others to lead. By the end of Rowell’s novel, of course I wanted the protagonist and her husband to reconcile and end up together – it makes for a very satisfying story. But I also wasn’t sure I understood why they did. Admittedly, I’m a very-newlywed, and we haven’t had to deal with any Big Shit in our relationship / marriage. Still, if I said to my husband, “Here is what I need out of our relationship,” and he said to me, “I love you, but I can’t make any promises and I’m probably not going to try very hard,” I would have to do some real thinking about whether or not to continue that relationship. I don’t know that I would. (Hats off to Rowell, obviously – look how invested I am in the characters, even after the novel’s ended!)
I had a date night with my husband recently. We went to a restaurant we’d never been to, in a part of town we rarely visit. There was a house jazz band playing and the general din of many people gathered in one space. Our table was tucked off to the side, and obviously I’m biased but even so my husband seemed at the center of it all, the light and the noise gathered in a halo around him. We ate and drank and batted our eyelashes at each other. I am so lucky, I thought. I am so happy.
People love to ask me, “How’s married life?” And the truth is: it’s wonderful. It’s also exactly like unmarried life, except we have shiny new rings and new titles (and tax privileges). I married my best friend, the person I most want to talk to about anything and everything, the person whose face lights up even my worst days. How’s married life? Amazing. I am so lucky. I am so happy.
We’ve been in Seattle about a year and a half now, and we’re still getting to know the city. I like the slower paced, West coast vibe of this city. I like all the awkward, passionate weirdos we keep encountering around town. I love living in the shadow of mountains and smelling salt water on the air.
But Pittsburgh was home to me for ten years. So many of my formative moments happened there, happy and not. I can trace my history on the map there. I find little pockets of homesickness in unexpected places. The accent. The architecture. The skyline. I miss my friends. I miss being a few hours’ drive from my family.
So here we are, feeling out a new city, making a new community for ourselves, making a go at it. I know people move to new places all the time, leave everything behind to make a new life for themselves – but . I’m not glad we left, but I’m glad we took a chance and decided to try Seattle on for size. I’m glad most of all for my incredible co-pilot, who is home to me no matter our address.
Recently I finished Blindness by Jose Saramago – what a novel! Disturbing and haunting and beautiful and sad, just my cup of tea. I’d seen the movie with Julianne Moore ages and ages ago, but had never actually read the book for some reason. I’m sure it’s lovely in the original Spanish, but alas I don’t think I’m up for it. Another one for the “someday” list…
After a long hiatus, I’m reviving the blog.
It’s been almost two years since I last wrote here, and plenty has happened in that time. We picked up stakes and headed west, to Seattle. We got married. Clementine, darling Clementine, inches ever closer to publication.
2015 will be different around here, busier, more like an active blog. It’s not a resolution, it’s a commitment – and, as one of my MFA professors told me so long ago – a good exercise in making a writing schedule and sticking to it.
So, many many wasted years later, I finally take his advice.
I’m 28! Do I seem older, wiser? More mature? Should I start saying it like ma-tour instead of ma-chure? Maybe I’ll save that for 29…
Yes, the rumors of my increasing age are all true. Thanks very much to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs for throwing me a big party in Boston – sorry I wasn’t able to make it again this year, guys. Also you’re a week late, but it’s the thought that counts. In related news I’ve decided 28 will be The Year I Fight Off Scurvy, so I have committed myself to eating lots of citrus. My fingernails have gone a bit orange but I feel strong and mighty.
In case you forgot to get me something, no worries, I will absolutely accept Beverly Cleary’s childhood home as a belated b-day gift. Look how adorable:
So adorable! And who doesn’t want to live in Portland? Of course everyone wants to live in Portland. I bet if I’d been raised in Portland instead of NJ, I’d be a much cooler and more successful artist. Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad!
Off to eat oranges until the pain subsides…