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.
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!