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 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…
Gulf Coast’s blog has a great bit of advice/pep talking for submitting one’s work. (Oh! How timely!)
Submit so that your work might be worked on by dedicated editors, dedicated editors who might respond generously and ingeniously with ideas that can teach you about your work.
Submit so that readers might read your work alongside the work of other writers.
Submit so that your work might be in conversation with the work of other writers.
Submit, above all, so that you might be productively humbled by rejection.
Submit, above all, so that you might be productively humbled by acceptance.
I am going to try to stick some extra padding on my delicate writer skin, ovary up and submit some things. I might take the month of March to prepare myself. (It’s my birthday month! Nobody wants to be rejected during their birthday month!)
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…!
Aw maaaaaaaaaaan. I want Roald Dahl stamps! Stupid Royal Mail and their cool stuff. Stupid USPS. *kicks rocks*
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.
My boyfriend Joe and I watched an awesome new TV show last night called Spartacus: Blood and Sand. And by “awesome,” I mean, “terrible.” And by “new,” I mean, “basically a rip-off of every other like-minded TV show or movie that’s come before it.”
Don’t get me wrong: this happens all the time and I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. I wrote a story that I thought was awesome and original and it turns out Jhumpa Lahiri beat me to it. She wrote almost the exact same story, years before I did, and won a whole bunch of prizes for the collection it appeared in. Like that one, you know, the big one? Oh yeah. The Pulitzer. Whatever.
So, OK, I’m certainly not going to go up against a Pulitzer prize winning literary superstar now that I know my story is just like hers, but the guys behind Spartacus: Ass and Titties probably didn’t realize they were so blatantly copying other sources. I mean, honestly, who actually saw 300? Barely a blip in the collective consciousness. And Gladiator? Short-lived arthouse flick! HBO’s Rome? Least popular TV show ever.
If they were even aware of the similarities, I’m sure they figured only a handful of fanatical movie-lovers like myself would have seen them all and be capable of putting the pieces together and recognizing the guiding forces behind Spartacus: Hairy and Greasy.
(Perhaps the most horrifying postscript to my annoyance is that Spartacus: Been There and Done That has already been renewed for a Season 2 based on how “ground-breaking” and “original” it is. Yikes.)
This isn’t to say that certain tried-and-true plots can’t work again and again. I love to tell the story of the bus driver who told me to rethink my life as a writer because “all the stories have been told,” both because it’s funny and because it’s sort of true. You’d be hard-pressed to find a story (or movie, or TV show) that wasn’t some kind of variant of any other. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of entirely watchable/readable stuff out there; it’s the way the story is told that separates it from the next, makes it new and exciting.
In the case of Spartacus: Long Togas and Man Bikinis, however, there’s little to nothing that sets it apart from its predecessors. Instead, it takes what Rome did (period costumes and sets, political intrigue, living history), what 300 did (slow-mo blood spatter, comic book styling) and what Gladiator did (uh…gladiators) and does it worse. Much worse. Much, much worse. Even the supposedly on-location filming (in New Zealand, of course) looks shoddy and fake, like the trees and rocks are just painted on a sheet and strung in front of a camera.
Even the copious amount of cunnilingus – if two instances can be called “copious” – fails to thrill me. Look, Spartacus: Shits and Giggles, I know you’re only doing it so the ladiez will think you’re pushing boundaries of TV sexuality (yaaaaaaawn), but let’s be real. Nobody’s fooled. Besides, porn has cornered that market – with better writing and more authentic sets.
I didn’t expect cinematic genius from this show, but I thought it would at least be terrible in a fun way. Instead it’s terrible in a way that makes me wish I’d chosen to spend that hour doing something else, like watching Gladiator. Or writing a TV script, since it looks like any hack with a DVD player can pull it off.