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!)
OH MY DARLING is officially available for pre-sale! Jeez, that feels exciting to say! Of course it’s all been building toward this, but thinking about my little Clementine as a real book, out there in the world, for people to purchase…! It’s like having an attack of the vapors, exactly the attack is MY LIFE.
I can’t say much about the process, because this is my first real book and I have little to compare it to, but it’s been pretty awesome. The folks at Black Lawrence have been pretty great to us, and I’m glad that that’s where Clementine has found her home.
In other news, I recently submitted my third piece of writing to a project attached to Roxane Gay. Never fear, my record remains intact: she still wants nothing to do with me or my writing. Which is fine! All is well in the universe! She is a very kind reject-er, at least, and it gives something to aim for…someday…
Recently I read two comics, which is outside of my usual scope, but they came with a Story Bundle. The first, Will You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed? by Liz Prince, is a collection of very sweet, very short little relationship scenes. It felt very familiar, and I enjoyed it very much. The second, Buffalo Speedway by Yehudi Mercado, follows a group of pizza delivery boys through an incredibly wild night, and what wild night would be complete without death, explosions, sabotage, sex and personal discovery. My husband delivered pizzas in college, and confirmed that the experiences of those characters were exactly true to life. Who knew!
In September, I finished Clementine. I said to my writing group, “I think I’m done. I think this is the final draft.” And they said, “excellent! Put her out into the world!” So I did.
Out of the 3 chapbook contests I entered, I already know I didn’t win one of them. Another had its deadline extended till the spring, so it’ll be spring/summer before I hear anything. But the third one – the magical, wonderful third one – released its list of finalists and semifinalists over the weekend.
Yup, my baby, my girl, my second chapbook, OH MY DARLING, is in the running!
I am of course beyond excited – BEYOND excited – and I feel a little light-headed just thinking about it. I love this project, my group and my readers have loved this project, I even landed a scholarship to a conference last year off a section of Clementine, but it’s nice to get some outside gratification too. From a publisher no less! A publisher who could be my publisher!
All right, I have to stop. I’m getting too worked up. Anyway, I should find out in the next week or so. Fingers crossed!
(3 posts in 2013 already! Look at me go! As with every other year, I told myself I would be more active here in 2013. So far, I seem to be keeping to that promise. LUCKY YOU!)
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…!