Oh,Venice, Mi Manchi

Underneath day’s azure eyes,
Ocean’s nursling, Venice, lies—
A peopled labyrinth of walls,
Amphitrite’s destined halls,
Which her hoary sire now paves
With his blue and beaming waves.

—from P.B. Shelley’s “View from the Euganean Hills”

I’ve been dreaming about Venice off and on for the last several weeks (in between dreams about houses missing an outside wall, pun-offs with Bob Wood—not as funny as it sounds, btw—or reading books with weird languages in them).  It’s almost strange how Venice has crystallized into this mythic place in my mind—and I want so much to go back there, and enjoy it in a way I didn’t enjoy it two years ago.  Like I really want to get lost there for maybe 3 weeks—but this time, I’d have my phone and a good map and I’d be on my own time table, and so it would be a controlled “lost”—I could explore at my will, and learn the city at my own pace, and see all the art (that I didn’t see before), and find interesting little alleys (that I didn’t have to map in my notebook so I could find my way back out of them), and visit the churches and the gardens and the other islands and the shopping districts (that I had to skip).  I just didn’t have that time before.

(To wit:  think about how the first day I was there was a complete wash, stranded as I was in the airport; the second day, I stayed in bed trying to recover from the emotional trauma of first day as well as from jet lag, and I was completely money-less except for maybe like €3 [which I spent on 2 cans of ambrosia of the gods Lemon Fanta] because I needed to find a bank—so that was 2 days out of 6 down.  And then of course I was there for work, and I was on someone else’s schedule.)

By the end of that week, I was finally getting a feel for the city, and could make my way around with some autonomy—and then, hello, I had to leave.  But it was in those last couple of days that I fell in love with Venice and realized that there’s a Venice book in me (right?  all the writers who’ve been to Venice—Shakespeare, Henry James, the Romantics, plus gobs of others—fall in love with the city and thinks there’s a book in them about it), but I really need to get back in that milieu and absorb the rhythms and sounds and textures of the place to be able to write it.  Or at least to write it with some authenticity, with the flavor of presence, and not just the hazy taste of memory.

I want to experience some of the touristy things—like take a gondola ride or visit the Peggy Guggenheim museum—and drink Aperol in every bar, and walk until I’m so tired all I can do is stumble upon little out-of-the way cafes and write for a couple of hours before I’m ready to walk back home.  That would be my dream:  to go back there (not in high summer—maybe, February, when it’s cold and rainy, the off-season for cruise ships—such weather would not deter my enthusiasm at all) and write and write and write and eat and drink and write.  There’s a reason that staying in Venice was an expected stop on the Grand Tour for like centuries—because it’s a capital of culture (yes, yes, dead, white, male, upper class, Eurocentric culture—spare me the lecture), and putting yourself in that space, away from your home space, gives you a different perspective on the world.  Maybe not a big difference in perspective—it’s still Western, it still has wi-fi—but it certainly influences your thought patterns.  It’s certainly also influenced my writing—and I keep coming back to writing those little prose poem/ memoir hybrid pieces (like the one I was nominated for a Pushcart for).  I have a number of them.  I think there are more inside me though.  Another trip to Venice would coax them out, I bet… (Haha.)

Speaking of things (roundabout) Venetian, I have to go to AWP’s annual chaos of a conference at the end of the month in Los Angeles as part of my new duties for The Atlanta Review.  I do not look forward to the conference; it’s gargantuan, spread out over multiple hotels, full of 50,000 writers (and that’s not my usual hyperbole) rushing to panels and readings (and apparently, I’m reading too—so great, now I have to figure out what the hell to read)—but I hope that I can get out to Venice Beach (or Santa Monica) for a little bit of time.  I need to see the ocean up close and personal, because it’s been a while (at least 14 years since I’ve seen the Pacific).  And Venice Beach, for all the times I’ve visited, always amuses me.  It’s quirky and endearing and strange, and I dig that.  Again, like so much of my time in L.A. in past, I will be sans auto, so not sure how I’ll get out there.  And a $60 taxi ride wouldn’t be my first choice for transportation, much as I’d like to go… But I’ll figure that out when I get there.  Who knows, maybe I’ll write a few Venice Beach poems.  That could be interesting.

As for Venice, Italy, I’ll get back there some day.  My book will still be waiting for me to write it.

grand canal image 06.24.14

A picture I took, maybe of the Grand Canal (I can’t remember), June 24, 2014.

Contests, & Waiting, & Rejections, Oh My

What does it take to get a book of poetry published in this country?  I wish I could write a blog where I list out all the steps a person needs to follow to help ensure success in this process.  These are the things I would mention:

  1. Write a book of poetry.
  2. Get friends to read it and make suggestions for revision.
  3. Edit and polish the hell out of it.
  4. Send it out to publishers.
  5. Get published.
  6. Become the latest darling of the poetry world.
  7. Repeat for Books 2, 3, 4…

Except, it hasn’t worked that way.  Well, I mean, I’ve got Steps 1-4 down pat.  I’ve sent out my manuscript (at this point) 42 times (which as you know is the answer to life, the universe, and everything), so you would think that perhaps the universe will come calling for me pretty soon.  (And to be fair, after a hiatus of several blues-ridden months where all I was getting was rejections, I’ve sent it out 10 places in the last month, 5 of which are contests. I guess you could say I’m feeling hopeful again—so technically speaking, it’s only received 32 rejections.)

And I get rejection is part of the gig.  Your manuscript has to find the right person who loves, loves, loves your writing, someone who will pass it along to the next reader, who also needs to love, love, love it.  And so on.  And contests aren’t the best way to ensure that your manuscript finds a loving audience, because readers simply don’t have the time to invest—particularly if your book is a little odd. (Which I fully admit mine is.)  Readers barely have time to invest even if the poetry they read is something they expect and understand. I know this.  On an intellectual level, I know this.  Everyone is getting rejected (well, except for one person).  Most contests report that they’ve had anywhere from 600-1000 entries.  Lots of people are getting told to take their manuscript and go bite the big wienie.  I get it.  I just wish that the process didn’t suck so hard.

I have a writer friend who told me that he knew someone for whom it took 70 times before her book won a contest and got published.  70 times.  Considering that most contests only award $1000 and run $25 a pop to submit, that times 70 contests comes out to $1750, meaning the contest cycle put her $750 into the hole.  (I don’t even want to think about how much into the hole I am.)  (Not that anyone goes into poetry to earn a living.)  (Honestly, what kind of business model is this, where the poet has to take it on the chin, nose, or other body part to get her work into the world?)

Of course, railing about it here is not going to change the status quo.  For whatever reason (because hardly anyone reads poetry anymore and contests are one of the only ways that publishers can make any money), this is how the process goes if one wants to be published by a reputable press and hopefully receive accolades for it.  And I buy into the system (literally and figuratively), which makes me complicit, and I have to be ok with that.   I am ok with that. Because, hey, who doesn’t want to win the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award and spend 6 weeks lounging around and poeming in Italy plus get their book published and sent out to everyone who is on the rolls of the AAP?  If you won that, the $35 fee you invested (for me $70, since this is my second time around) when you submitted your manuscript would be hella worth it.

I could just wish I knew what the magic number of submission times for my book  to get published would be.  Because that would so alleviate my anxiety.  Like, let’s say the Goddess of Publication were to come down from On High and whisper one night when I’m asleep:  64 times, JC!   Then I would know that I only have 22 more rejections to go.  That would be great.  I could send them out all on one day and get it all done, knowing that soon I’d hear the good news.  Ah well.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I haven’t been working on Hecate Applebough.  I was thinking about why this is, and it’s a combination of factors—the weirdo exhaustion, a preponderance of tennis matches in the evening when I would normally write, and a renewed vigor about writing poems.  But actually, those aren’t the biggest reasons.  I think the biggest reason is because I’m waiting to get notes back about the first book…and so I’m kind of feeling like I don’t want to write any more on the 3rd book in case there are repeated mistakes in the 1st one that I could prevent myself from writing in the 3rd book if I just knew to avoid them.

That’s certainly a true enough statement.  Avoiding mistakes if they’re preventable is always preferable to making a bunch more and having to go back and fix them.  But if I’m honest, another thing making writing the 3rd one a pain right now is I’ve dug myself into plot hole and I really don’t know how to get Cate out of it.  When I sit down at the computer and see that last chapter., I’m like, “Bleah” and then I get up and do something else.  It’s the first time since starting to write this series that I’ve just felt like I’ve lost control over the story and over Cate’s life.

And so in your endless wisdom, you might say, just throw out that chapter and start fresh.  And that’s really good, practical advice.  But the thing is, I don’t know what to replace it with.  I don’t know how I can make it better.  I have a blind spot right now.  So I kind of thought it might be ok to just set Hecate aside for a little while, and focus on writing poems and sending them out.  Maybe when I get the notes on the 1st book, it will help me see the 3rd one with a fresh eye too.  (There is no pressure on the person reading the book right now to hurry up and make those notes… I need some down time from Cate, so it’s totally ok.  Take as long as you need.  Srsly.)

And maybe this weekend, I’ll get a bee in my bonnet and suddenly figure out how to proceed with Hecate.  Or maybe I’ll write three more poems.  When it comes to my writing, it’s always just a mystery what will happen.  I kind of like it that way.

And, as a total non sequitur, please enjoy a photo of Jenny, who has been keeping me company:

2016-03-09 20.05.25

Big News in My Writing World (But Not a Manuscript Acceptance, Let’s Not Get Crazy)

It’s chilly—44 degrees out, and blustery.  There are few leaves on the trees, but they rattle as the wind blows, and somehow the weather is fooling me into believing it’s October.  I want to believe Halloween is right around the corner…because it would mean that November was right around the corner too, and that would mean it’s time for another NaNoWriMo.

I’ve been missing the energy of NaNoWriMo.  I’m still in the early stages of Hecate Applebough 3 (still untitled), and part of my lack of progress has to do with a weirdo persistent migrainey exhaustion I’ve been suffering for the last month (and which my Mom has nagged me about going to see a doctor for—ugh), and also not feeling that compulsion to write every day those 1,667 words because I have nowhere to chart the progress, no pep-talk e-mails from the NaNo people coming every few days encouraging me.  It’s just me now, and it’s harder to write, without the community.

But, a couple of days ago, a fortuitous tweet put me on to an app called Writeometer, which exists only for Android (sorry iPhone folks) and which gamifies the writing process, kind of the way NaNo does—you can set a daily/ monthly/ word goal, use its timer, enter your daily word count, and get reminders about writing, and you can earn “guavas.”  I don’t know all tricks of the app yet, so I’m not sure what earning the guavas can do for you, but I’m sure I’ll find out as I become more familiar with the app.  I’m looking forward to using it—I need the motivation.  So I’ll let you know how it goes.  (If any of my Five Readers have tried the app, I’d be curious to know what you think about it—but I suspect most of you are Apple users.)

Other than working on Hecate, I’ve produced a few short pieces lately—a few honest-and-for-true prose poems—one of them came out so well that I’ve “given” it to Hecate, and shoehorned it into the second book…although if I can get it published on its own, I will—and a few bits of flash that I want desperately to be prose poems, but I knew they aren’t.

Prose poems have a certain surreal quality—and so does my flash, except that the surrealism of prose poems is its own little thing.  When I try to do surreal flash, it just comes out as nutty.  Like maybe I’m trying too hard.  But hey, two pieces of just such flash were accepted by a journal on Monday, so I guess nutty works too.  In general, I just have a little “heart on” for prose poems, because they’re hard to do well, and because I think, in my mind, I still privilege poetry over prose as being Important and Worthwhile… while fiction just seems like something you do for cash.  (Not that I have received any cash for ANY bit of fiction I’ve produced—not ever—but you take my meaning, I’m sure.)  And of course, even as I write that, I know that’s a false dichotomy—but there it is.  The poet’s bias against fiction writers.  Hmm.

How’s this for burying the lede?  In other news, now that Dan Veach is passing the editorial reigns of The Atlanta Review over to Karen Head, she has asked me (WHAT????) to serve as the managing editor.  OMG OMG OMG.  This is an amazing opportunity, and I can’t wait to sit down with her and discuss all the ins-and-outs, and really sink my teeth into this project.  Reading some brand-new poems (that aren’t mine—haha) that are searching for a home is exciting.  It’s been a long time since I did any work on a literary journal, and The Atlanta Review is a Big Deal—this isn’t any dinky fly-by-night online journal, this is prize-winning print journal with an international following.  The work that Dan Veach has done on the journal (founding it and running it) is amazing and impressive, and I’m so thrilled that I get to be involved…and so grateful to Karen for asking me to assist her.  Read Collin Kelley’s article in Atlanta INtown, about the transition of editorship to Karen, because it’s interesting and offers some history about the journal.  (As my first order of business as managing editor, I propose we update the website!)

What else is there to share?  I’m still working on reading those three books of poems I mentioned in my last blog post—I got a little distracted by my manga habit, and my weirdo exhaustion that makes me want to fall asleep at 6 p.m.—but I hope to finish them this weekend (in and around the 85,000 tennis matches I’ve scheduled).  And, I’ve gotten yet another rejection on my poetry manuscript, but I sent it out to two more places, and I’m crossing my fingers. At some point, SOMEONE is going to want it, right?  Maybe I need to “attach a few more zeros” onto the contest fees I send off… maybe bribery would work?  (You never know!)

Time to Get Reading

In my push to work on Hecate Applebough 1, 2, & 3, my poetry has been getting somewhat short shrift.  True, Cate is a poet, so I include some of “her” poems in the text, but as for my own (“real”) poems, I’ve hit a dry patch, which tells me I need to begin a Reading Phase.  (Either that, or I need to win a trip back to Venice, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.)  Reading poetry is helpful on so many levels—among other things, it exposes you to new ways of looking at the world, it offers creative connections with language, and it reveals beauty and anguish and sudden bursts of weirdness.  But more importantly, it lets me escape the dolor of my own head.  I mean, honestly, that thing is like a coffin.  I need outside influence in the worst way.

But what to read?  I have plenty of books on my shelves that I’ve either never cracked, or I read long ago and forgot what it’s them.  (Also, as an aside, “long ago” could mean as recently as a year ago—I have a piss poor memory for poetry, which is kind of pathetic for someone who counts herself a poet.)  There are new books of poems out every day, some of them by acquaintances that I need to buy at some point—all of them equally good, I’m sure, but I think I’m going to choose some “free” ones—and by free, I mean, ones off my shelf.

(Closes eyes and chooses)…And here are the first three winners of my Random Poetry Picking Sweepstakes:

  • Mohja Kahf’s E-mails from Scheherazad (UP Florida, 2003)
  • Molly Peacock’s Original Love (Norton, 1995)
  • Evie Shockley’s A Half-Red Sea (Carolina Wren Press, 2006)

My goal, then, is to read these books in the next few days and be amazed by their words, and maybe after that I’ll read a few more, etc., etc., and maybe after that I’ll be ready to start a Writing Phase again.  I might even include some mini-reviews next week.

I do read journals off and on (especially when I’m in a Submitting Phase), but sometimes, I find what passes for poetry in them unintelligible.  Like, I just have no idea what the person is trying to communicate.  I don’t believe it’s because my brain has certainly turned into marshmallow—I think there’s just a real movement to putting words together for no damn reason other than to see if editors will be fooled into thinking that word-bag poems mean something.  Now, not every journal, and not every poem, obviously.  But it seems to happen more frequently than not.  Recently I read a few poems in a journal (that will remain nameless, but suffice it to say it’s Big and Impressive) that I was considering submitting to, and once I read the kind of poems they’ve published lately, I was very certain that what I write would fall directly into the round pile.

(I’m not talking about The New Yorker though, in case you’re curious what Big and Impressive Journal I mean.  For at least the last 20 years, they publish the shit poems of brand-name poets.  I’m saying it out loud, right here.  The New Yorker prints the absolute worst poems I’ve ever read.  And if this claim on my part means that they will never publish any of my poems, far far into the future, when I am myself finally a brand-name poet, then so be it.  Their poems are the pits, and honestly they should be ashamed of themselves that they can’t pick better ones.)

(Does that sound like sour, jealous grapes?  It’s not.  I know getting published in The New Yorker is a big benchmark for a poet, but I think I hold with Groucho Marx here:  I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.  So, sayonara New Yorker.)

Anyway, in my distaste for The New Yorker, I’ve meandered from my point (it happens, forgive me)… which is this:  it will be good to get back to reading quality writing (instead of what I have been reading, which is fun [manga], but not particularly conducive to inspiring my poetic side).

And if you have any poetry book suggestions that are current and wow, leave them in the comments.  I might go on a buying spree soon.  Goddess bless Amazon Prime.

Seriously, JC, They Make Pills for This

My novel went on a “first date” yesterday.  Metaphorically speaking.

What I mean is, it is in the process of being “courted” by a potential future editor, which is to say, my Brilliant Fiction Writer Friend™ (whom I’ve mentioned before in this blog), who, despite not being a fan of YA, has graciously, and generously, and kind of insanely agreed to read my NaNoWriMo novel Hecate Applebough because he believes in me as a serious writer (even a serious writer of fluff), and sight unseen is willing to work with me to revise it and maybe make it into something good (or good-ish).

I must admit I am in the absolute worst dither of insecurities about my writing ever.  Like I’m back in my first creative writing class when I’m 20 years old, and so shy about what I’ve written that I really fear—not just that what I wrote is crappy (because that is surely a given)—but that I will have a) inflicted my mental crappiness/ drivel on another person; b) wasted someone’s already limited amount of leisure reading by forcing them to read something appalling (and deeply flawed on all levels); c) imposed on someone’s friendship, even when they offered, even when they are doing their best to wear me down to make me agree to continuing this part of the writing process (and I am deathly afraid of imposing on people, like pathologically so); and d) allowed someone to discover proof  that I’m not nearly as hilarious and awesome as I think I am.  (Perhaps that last fear on the list sounds trivial or frivolous, but I assure you, it’s a deeply-seated fear.)

It’s really a weird place to be in—like I believe in my ability as a poet.  I might be having a shitty time convincing contest editors that my volume of poems is fantastic, the next best thing, blah blah, and they need to publish it already, goddammit, but I don’t doubt in any fiber of my being that I’m a poet.  When I think “JC,” I think “poet.”  These ideas fit in my head together, like synonyms.  And sure, it makes sense—you think about all this time that I’ve worked on writing poetry, that I earned that Ph.D. in poetry—I mean, if I didn’t see myself as a poet after the time I’ve invested in it, that would be a huge (and annoying) problem. (And would make having to pay back student loans even more of an insult.)

Except, I don’t want to be just a poet.  I have more words in my head than that.  I’m not saying I believe BFWF that I’m a “novelist” either (just by virtue of having written 1.99 “novels”), but limiting myself to one version of “who I am as a writer” doesn’t fit me any more either.  Of course, in terms of writing fiction—well, I still feel like I’m still 20 years old, with zero experience—but there’s an expansiveness that’s been coming the last few years, a real desire to try something new, and to tell stories that take more than a page.

That narrative bent in my writing and my voice is there—and let’s be honest, the poetry world does not appreciate narrative as a form.  So, I need to use forms that narrative work in… which is why I wrote Hecate Applebough, which is why I also write these memoir-y vignettes that seem to find homes in little journals too.  Hmm.

But getting back to the possibility of having a real reader/ editor:  I was asked if I want to be worn down.  That’s a hard question to answer.  Like, realistically, who wouldn’t want a person you admire who is brilliant and has critical and practical expertise and proclaims a genuine wish to help you succeed to be the one who reads your book and helps you edit and revise it—the two hardest parts of writing?  You’d have to be an idiot to turn that down—particularly when there is so little return in it for them.

(But to be fair, my idiocy is well-documented.)

As I’m thinking about this and talking myself in-and-out of this amazing opportunity that has shown up in my life like a late Christmas gift, I realize my fear isn’t anything like worry that I’m a “fraud” as writer.  I don’t question I’m a writer, per se.  Because there’s so much that goes into writing beyond the actual writing of whatever the piece is, you have to believe that you’re a writer deep down in your heart because if you don’t believe it, then what is the point of doing this really lonely, difficult  (and often barely rewarding) work?  Once a piece of writing is released into the world (and that’s after the writer has spent her time polishing her poem or story until it gleams) you can’t control the people who read it.  If your submission (or your “novel”) shows up on a day that the editors/ grad students working on a journal are on the rag, or hungover, or pissed off at their bosses, or they hate anything that smacks of genre or narrative poetry or they just read a great bird poem right before they picked your bird poem up from the pile and so can’t imagine any bird poem after the one they just read as measuring up (or whatever), your writing, no matter how good it is, won’t go beyond the first pass.  It might not even go beyond the first lines. (I say this as a person who has participated on the grad student side of the journal publication process.)

There’s so much luck involved in a person’s work entering the wider world by being published. And forget about the accolades.  You have to believe you’re a writer—because the odds are so stacked against you that your work will ever resonate with anyone and find a home in their journal or on their upcoming publications list.

So it’s not a matter of lacking faith in myself as a writer (in the generic sense) that is the stumbling block with my sharing Hecate Applebough—the fear emerges from the realization of just how drafty the first draft is—and sharing a piece of my writing with someone that is 98% imperfect terrifies the fuck out of me.

Because when I share my poems with people, they only see them after—typically—the poem has gone through 8-10 drafts already.  Like my writing group?  I show them poems that are, to my mind, already mostly good.  Poems after I meet with them may go through another 5-10 drafts, but when the writing group sees them initially, they don’t see the first draft.  They see something I’m not ashamed to show.

First drafts are unfit to be seen by anyone.  And Hecate Applebough is a first draft.  I mean, it’s prettier than a first draft, in that I’ve line-edited it, I’ve changed some words here and there, or added a few scenes to smooth over some plot holes.  But the aggregate is still first drafty.  (It’s so drafty, it needs to wear a coat.)  And sharing imperfection with someone, even someone as committed to helping me as BFWF is (someone who expects imperfection, moreover, so I’m not going to shock them), even someone who is my friend, is just one of my worst anxieties.  It just seems so wrong—so contrary to my process.  So naked.

And I guess I either need to get over myself and stop being so crippled by self-doubt and all this blather and take the opportunity because when the Universe wraps it in a bow, how stupid do you have to be to say no?  Or I just need to STFU about this book and move on to the next thing and be satisfied with sabotaging myself (again) and learn to enjoy obscurity and blown chances.

(Ugh.  When I put it like that, suddenly I think I must be pretty foolish to have spent 1400 words to realize I planned to say “Yes” all along.)

P.S.  I know BFWF will have read this post (being one of my Five Faithful Readers). And BFWF will think “I knew it.”  But I’m pretty sure, recognizing the kind of headcase I am, that I will change my mind at least 58 more times.  Possibly more. So certainty tonight may shift back over into uncertainty many more times before I actually hand a copy of the book over.  Fair warning.

P.S. #2  BFWF should in no way feel compelled to comment or to cheer me on. (This post is not a plea for more convincing.)  Sometimes I blog just to take the edge off my neuroses.

Final Report on NaNoWriMo 2015

Have you missed me?

I got so engrossed with writing the NaNoWriMo novel in November and the sequel (still in progress) in December, and the of course the holidays intervened, that I took a break from my blog.   This was my thinking:  I can either write 1,000 words on my blog, or I can put that 1,000 words towards my novels’ daily word counts, and the novels won out.  But here, enjoy some metrics about the actual novel I wrote in November.

Novel Facts…

Title:  The Life & Times of Hecate Applebough, Teenage Poet
Words:  79,142
Page Count:  281 (double-spaced)
Certified NaNoWriMo Winner:  Yes
Genre:  YA high school romance-ish
Plotline:  Hecate (“Cate”) Applebough attends a school for wealthy, gifted students while developing her interests in writing and poetry.  She also attends events at an afternoon club and becomes friends with its members.
Timeframe of Plot:  August 22nd-December 25th
Setting:  Fictional town of Lytton, Maryland
My Favorite Character Besides Cate:  A toss-up between her Mom and Professor Khaniff
Character I’m in love with:  Alaunius

Novel Statistics:  Number of…

Times the Main Character (Cate) is Named: 184  (But this is somewhat disingenuous, as the book is written in first person.  I tried to do a search on the number of times “I” was mentioned, but it listed all the I’s in the book, to the tune of 23,744 times.)
Times other Salon characters are named:  Alaunius/Lonny:  472; Val/Malik:  463; Finian:  147; Felix:  133;  Arwyn:  93; Dhruv:  68
Times Mom/ Maggie is named:  369
Times Professor Khaniff is named:  30
Poems Cate “writes”: 4  (There are references to others, but I only include 4 poems in the actual text.)
Poems others “write”:  5
Times the words “Poetry” or “Poem” appear:  176
Texts from all characters:  111
Times the word “Text” appears:  96
Times the fictional manga title A Moon for Autumn appears: 10
Times the fictional character Takehiko from A Moon for Autumn is named:  23
People who have read this book besides me:  2 (1 for sure, 1 I’m not 100% about, but I gave it to her to read.)

The Sequel, You Ask?

The sequel is currently title-less… I really could just slap “Volume 2” on it, but I don’t love the original title so much that I want to repeat it (and frankly, the original title is subject to change, anyway).  On the other hand, I don’t want to adopt the format of Indiana Jones and the… or Harry Potter and the… either.

Or if I do follow that pattern, I guess the title will be something along the lines of Hecate Applebough and the Fucked Up Men in Her Life which I don’t think anyone would naturally gravitate towards if they saw the book for sale in Barnes & Noble.  (Despite it being an accurate title to describe Cate’s life as it appears in the sequel.  And let’s be real, that would probably be an apt title for the first one too… Hmm.)

Speaking of the sequel, it’s making me lose the will to live.  I’m really having to work to write it.  It’s like the first one wrote itself, like it was buried somewhere in my psyche, and just needed an excuse to be expressed on the page.  But LaToHATP ended on a cliffhanger so of course I had to write the sequel…which is going sooooo sloooowly.  I mean the first book covered four months; I’m only in February in the second book. (Still.) Granted, I’m at February 26th, but really, I’m 215 pages in (currently 66,702 words), and she’s only lived 2 months since the original book? Come on.  And somehow I have to resolve this story in the next 14,000 words?  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

I don’t think it’s necessarily slow in terms of plot, I just think that there are so many characters making demands on me, that it’s really hard to progress.  Also, it’s really hard to write in first person.  Like, there are so many things going on in the background that Cate can’t know, and it’s really restrictive to me as a writer, and that annoys me.  (But to be fair, I’d probably complain if I wrote in third-person too.  But if I did write in third-person, at least I could let the audience know things that would be helpful to know in terms of backstory.  But alas, I cannot.)

2015 was a pretty good writing year for me over all.  Back when I decided to challenge myself with NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t even sure I could write 50,000 words in a month, and in 2 months plus a week, I’ve managed to write 145,844 words, which is amazing.  Add that onto all of the publications I had in 2015 (10, across genres, plus several more accepted, and a Pushcart Prize nomination), and I have to count it as my most successful year of writing yet, and I’m proud of that.

Of course, if I plan to do anything with LaToHATP, that will require a hella lot of work, and while I’m working on the sequel (and sadly, one assumes the sequel to the sequel, because I can’t fix Cate’s life in the remaining 14,000 words, there’s just no way in hell), I can’t think about revising.

Plus…revising fiction is really hard, and I’m not good at it.  Like revising a poem?  I got that down to a science.  But since fiction is basically a mysterious genre to me, I don’t know how to revise my own work.  I mean, I can tell other people how to revise (hence, why I teach fiction in my creative writing class), but I seem to have blinders on when it comes to my own work.  I just have no idea where to go.  And, frankly, no idea whom to ask for help.  Well, ok, I have an idea of whom to ask, but I feel like it would bleed him dry, and I couldn’t possibly ask him. Unless I had $100 lying around I could slip him for the pain and agita… Anyway.

Still, I’m not gonna worry about revision for a little while.  I need to worry about resolving Cate’s life and then I can get back to writing poems full time.

At least, that’s the plan.

Sharing Good News Doesn’t Make You a Braggart

I am a minimizer. That is to say: I don’t brag about myself or my accomplishments even when I should. In fact, sometimes I forget to tell people about them, or I mention good news in an offhand way, as if it’s of no consequence—and in this world where branding is a thing, you can’t be a minimizer.

I have writing friends who frankly tweet, post, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever, when they blow their fricken noses. That doesn’t appeal to me. I might make a quick tweet or a quick FB post, and it will get a few favorites or “likes,” and then it moves quickly out of the spotlight as I post more interesting things on my feeds, mainly pictures of my cats. And so, in choosing not to promote the hell out of myself—or even just the heck out of myself—I can’t really enjoy the accolades that I’m due because no one really takes notice.

Case in point. In my FB post about being named a finalist in the Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize, I should have been self-laudatory ad nauseam and really took time to savor that moment—I should have appreciated that it was a kind of milestone—that it meant that people outside of my little coterie of friends on FB and IRL recognized some worth in my manuscript. In my poetry—in the thing that is so central to my core self that it’s my identity. So what did I write on Sept. 19th about it? I quote:

“Just found out that my manuscript was a finalist in the Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize….but it didn’t win. Bummer.”

REALLY? That’s what I write? How about something like this?

“I just found out the great news that my poetry manuscript made it as far as finalist in the Hilary Gravendyk Poetry Prize!”

Look at the rhetorical differences between both of those posts—the lousy original and the one I should have written. Isn’t the second one a comment that deserves a lot of response? Of course it is—because it focuses on the positive, exciting aspect of even getting to the finalist stage. In my response, I minimized its significance right out of mattering to everyone… including myself.

How are people going to expect awesomeness from me if I don’t show off when something awesome happens? In my general (pathological?) desire to be wallflowery and invisible, this honor basically went unremarked. I mean, forgodsake, only one of my close writing friends even “liked” that post. It makes me wonder if the rest even know about it? And how would they know? I didn’t tell them. I should have let them take joy in my success—and it would have let me take some extra joy in it. But no.

Or what of the Pushcart Prize Nomination I received on Oct. 10th? This is an amazing recognition for me—yes, it’s a nomination, but just consider what it represents, that Glassworks thought mine was one of the best pieces they’d published all year. That is a Big Deal—or it should be. And here’s what I had to say about it on social media—talk about dinky—

“I would like to thank Glassworks Journal for nominating my piece ‘Camminare a Venezia: a Poemoir’ for a Pushcart Prize!”

This time not one of my close writing friends “liked” the post. Maybe they didn’t see it. Or maybe they don’t care about Pushcart Prizes; maybe they think writing prizes are bullshit, and nominations aren’t even noteworthy. But maybe they would have, if I had taken the time to tell them personally. (Or maybe not.)

This post is not to badmouth friends who weren’t more fulsome and forthcoming about praising me for my writing achievements. Whether something gets 9 “likes” or 90, that’s not how I should measure my worth. I know this.

This post is really designed more as a reminder to myself to be joyful in my writing successes, because they are fleeting and they don’t come often. By my not fully enjoying being a finalist in the manuscript contest or in learning about the Pushcart nomination (and preening or boasting even a little bit) I’ve robbed myself of some happy moments, and cheated my friends the opportunity to be happy for me too.  I need to do better about that.

P.S.: I took an unintentional hiatus from my Wednesday posts; October has been rife with disruption (bad and good), starting with the insanity that is semester scheduling for Spring; then my office flooded and I was office-homeless for more than a week; and my Mom came for a week, etc. So writing was a bit low-priority. I hope you, my Five Faithful, didn’t miss me too much.

DBF Post-Post Mortems

I mentioned a few blog posts ago that I decided to forego reading any poems from my manuscript at the Decatur Book Festival, because it’s really hard to excerpt pieces from a narrative–let’s be honest, the book is a verse novel, and so many of the poems are interdependent (except maybe the Moon Poems in it), that even reading sevearal in narrative-arc-order wouldn’t make much sense. How do you get invested in characters without hearing the WHOLE THING?  I don’t think it’s possible. (I suppose, if I ever get it published, I will really have to figure out how to present the poems in a way that makes sense for poetry readings.  But that’s just not an issue right now, so it’s clearly on the back burner.)

Anyway, at DBF, I read a handful of prose poems as I planned to.  I’ve been writing a number of them in the last year or so, along with the pieces of flash fiction and flash nonfiction.  (Actually, writing the prose poems might have been the catalyst for getting serious about fiction and nonfiction, now that I think about it.)

I’m not sure why prose poems are resonating with me so much–when I read them, I respond to their “quirky sensibility,” and the fact that they tend often towards absurdity and repetition (as well as the other things we expect in poetry, like sound and image and metaphor), and I like when I can write with a little bit of abandon, and try to tap into writing on the lighter (nuttier?) side.  Maybe that’s just my state of mind in the last year or so!  I’ve certainly gone out of my way to read a lot of prose poetry this past year, and I like what happens when I try writing it.

As promised…the Set List!  (You can find links to many of these on my Online Poems & Writing Page.)

  1. Nocturne
  2. This Is Not a Poem About a Blank Page
  3. Oceanic
  4. Weed ’em and Reap
  5. How to Mend a Broken Heart
  6. When the Wolf Bit Off the Fingers of My Left Hand
  7. Prosecco
  8. Piccioni
  9. Chiuso

Regarding readings, I was once described (by someone with excellent poetic delivery) as being a “diffident wise-ass,” and told that my performance tended to be sly and snarky between my poems, undercutting the presentation of the poems themselves.  I personally don’t mind being considered a diffident wise-ass–despite the fact that a body could argue that the definitions of both words would seem to cancel each other out–because it’s an accurate critique of my whole personality, and anyway, I’m nothing if not a contradiction.

But since he said that to me, I’ve tried to give  my poems the gravitas they deserve, and not be so snarky in my delivery.  I think I mostly succeeded this past Saturday at the DBF, but I’m sure I said a few snarky asides.  No one’s perfect…and anyway, I can’t help myself.  No one would recognize me if I was perfectly serious.

Finally…as for the photos… well, I forgot to bring my camera and had to settle with using the phone, and I often  get blurry pics on it.  I apologize to the photo subjects, who are all much more beautiful than they appear here!

Here are Tammy Foster Brewer, Robert Lee Brewer, and Andrea Jurjević (and Bob Wood in the foreground of Andrea’s photo).

Tammy Photo 1  Robert Photo 1  Andrea Photo 1

Here are Kodac Harrison, Dan Veach, and Rupert Fike (listening to Andrea’s poetry with rapt attention).

Kodac Photo 1  Dan Veach Photo 1  Rupert Fike Photo 1

Last, but not least, may I present “Still Life with Bob’s Hand.”  😉  Here he’s guarding his stack of copies of The Awkward Poses of Others, which, if you haven’t read, get thee to Amazon immediately and purchase a copy–especially if you like movies and art and ekphrastic poetry.

Bob's hand photo 1

And with that, I’ve no more to say about the Decatur Book Festival.  Until next September, that is.

DBF Post Mortems

I’m not sorry the Decatur Book Fest has been put to bed for another year.  There, I’ve said it—excoriate me all you will, but after nearly ten years of participating in the Local Poet’s Stage, there’s really nothing new and energizing about it.  It epitomizes the term de rigueur.  Been there, done that, got the poetry chapbook.

Don’t get me wrong—I truly like listening to my fellow poets—I thought Tammy Foster Brewer’s work was especially good this time—and I know I have her book around here someplace and I really need to re-read it.  Of course I enjoyed Robert Lee Brewer’s work too (I laughed out loud at the “Love Song of Lt. Commander Data”) and also Andrea Jurjević’s poetry—I like to hear them as writers and experience them as readers, which is why I always corral them for the 10 o’clock hour.  I find something new every time I listen to them—and that’s great.  And it’s amazing to listen to so many Atlanta poets just in general.  There’s a wealth of poetry here, and we can all thank Kodac Harrison’s work with the Local Poet’s Stage for bringing it to such a lively audience.

I always want to stick around for the entire day, but it’s complicated by an uncooperative body.  I did stay for the 11 o’clock hour, a medley of poets including Dan Veach and Karen Paul Holmes and Kodac (who, being a spoken-word/ performance poet recited both of his poems to the delight of the audience).  One poet who read with whom I wasn’t familiar at all was Christopher Martin, who seemed like a good ol’ Georgia boy, but he had a real narrative sense to writing, which I always respond to.  (I wish I had thought to buy one of his books.  For once I was carrying cash.)

I started to linger for the 12 o’clock hour (with the goal of staying through at least 2 p.m., so I could hear Karen and Bob)… except suddenly I was feeling anxious and light-headed, and that spoon-scooping-out-my-eye pain (indicating an oncoming migraine) hit me, and I knew I had to leave.

After all these years, the post-DBF reading-migraine makes me think it’s like some kind of psychosomatic response…I know for sure I’ve gotten one the last 4 years I’ve done this.  I don’t know what to attribute the migraine to—if it’s the venue, being outside on the patio, exposed to street noise (and let’s not forget Java Monkey has shitty coffee, though their frosted mint lemonade is terrific, I discovered), or if it’s the heat the longer the day gets (that’s always an issue, though the morning started cool enough), or if it’s just all the people who eventually fill in around me and I get antsy and hemmed in (actually, I’m almost sure that’s a main reason)—but SOMETHING kicks in, and makes me all Decatur Book Fest grrr-y/ angsty, and I have to GET OUT.

The problem with that DBF migraine is I missed a lot of local poets I’d have loved to hear.  Of course, Collin and Karen are giving a reading on Sept. 30th (which, assuming I don’t have a tennis match on that day, I plan to attend), so missing them this past Saturday is less egregious than missing, say, Christine Swint, whom I generally only see at DBF.  (And who I was so sorry to miss this time, because I’m sure she read poems that had to do with her Camino journey, and those I really wanted to hear.)

I suppose I should have taken a prophylactic Imitrex to head off the inevitable migraine (I get migraines ALOT, and I generally carry Imitrex with me just in case), but I didn’t think about it, and thus, just as all my friends were up to read, I had to go. But what can you do?

As far as my own reading went, I think it was fine.  About eight people were in the audience when I went on—mostly friends of Tammy’s—though my former supervisor and now dear friend Shannon Dobranski showed up just to hear me (I know it was just to hear me, because she left right after I left the stage), and I can’t tell you how touched I was.  It was so unexpected to see her in the audience, and it meant a lot that she showed up because at least I had someone to read to who wasn’t just there waiting in the queue to read after me.  And Bob showed up half-way through, too, when before, he emailed that he wouldn’t be coming, so that was a nice surprise.  I’m used to reading to an imaginary audience, so to have two friends there was two more than I’ve had before, and it was nice.

I’ll post the set list tomorrow, as well as some photos, as promised.  I feel a lie-down calling to me now.

Getting Ready for the Decatur Book Festival

This weekend is the Decatur Book Festival, the “largest independent book festival in the country,” going on ten years strong.  I have read at nearly all of them on the Local Poets Stage, which is located in the Java Monkey coffee house, and I am reading again this Saturday at 10 a.m.

That early there’s not much of a crowd.  I’ve heard that Maureen Seaton and Denise Duhamel are also reading at the same time (their program is Caprice:  Collected, Uncollected, and New Collaborations, being held in the First United Methodist Church), so I doubt that there will be anyone in the audience for me.  I don’t mind so much for myself—after all, I’ve heard my own poems often enough, but I’m sorry for the three people I’ve lined up for this time slot:  Tammy Foster Brewer, Robert Lee Brewer, and Andrea Jurjević, excellent poets, all, who deserve a good audience.

(It must be said, I wouldn’t mind hearing Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton either—but alas, I cannot.)

Because I am a tangential member of the group that puts the Local Poets Stage together, I have historically chosen the 10 a.m. slot to “get it over with.” Generally speaking, it’s disgustingly hot out, overcrowded, and crammed with people trying to persuade you to buy their books—and the most persistent of sales pitches seem to come from the self-published.  (I know, that’s terrible of me to say.) The height of summer is also not the best time to crowd 50,000 people into Decatur Square (about 3 city blocks or so), so usually I read my poems, M.C. my hour, and hightail it the hell out of Decatur.

This year, though, I’ll stay at the festival at least a few more hours, although I might go wandering, because Karen’s hour isn’t until 1 p.m., when Emily Schulten, Bob, and Karen’s friend (and mentor from University of Tennessee) Marilyn Kallet will be reading, and afterward, Karen is throwing a little soiree for Marilyn.  So, I’ll stick around for all of that.  Of course, a lot of good people are reading on the Local Poets stage—people I always like hearing, like Christine Swint, Collin Kelley, Julie Bloemeke, Lisa Annette Alexander, Cleo Creech, Megan Volpert, Rupert Fike, Kodac Harrison, and Theresa Davis—but they’re all reading in the afternoon, and I just can’t give up my entire Saturday for them, sad to say… not on Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah of Summer.

Anyway, I’ve picked out the poems I think I’ll read, and will make a set list afterward so you can see.  I could read poems from my manuscript, but honestly, it’s hard to pull out pieces from a narrative and have them make sense—and certainly, in 10-12 minutes of reading, it’s even harder to see a common thread—so instead, I’ll be reading a bunch of prose poems.  I’m looking forward to it—I’ve never read them to an audience (at least, I don’t think I have) though many of them have been published (or will be soon).  So that might be fun.

Well, I haven’t much more to say on this subject, though I will report back on Saturday (or Sunday).  There might even be pictures.