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.

Writing and Dithering

The second Hecate Applebough book (sans title, at the mo), grueling though it was to write, is completed, and I feel a sense of accomplishment about that.  It took longer to write, probably because I wasn’t on the high of NaNoWriMo, and of course, Christmas and New Year’s and the beginning of a new semester intervened, and there’s just a lot of things you have to get done at the end of the year, making writing another novel difficult.  (That sounds so pretentious right, “another novel.”  Gag me.)  I still have to tweak a couple of scenes before I will be satisfied with it as a first draft.  (Although of course no one is satisfied with first drafts, but you know what I mean.).  And I might have to seriously reconsider some other scenes which I know why I wrote them the way I did, but I don’t love them, and they need fixing.

But I knew I had to get Hecate Applebough 2 done so I could start the third one, which I’ve done in the last few days—and somehow I have a good feeling about this one.  Like I’m going to try to make it much more lighthearted, more comic.  I think that was my problem with the second one—it was like a goddamned angstfest—NOBODY was happy in the entire book.  I kept just making everyone miserable—like, it was a contest with myself:  how much can I screw with Cate’s life?  Just how twisted can I make her relationships?  Can I make some of the minor characters sad?  Yes?  Great!  And kind of what I wound up doing was making myself miserable in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, while I’m my own worst critic, and by the very nature of breathing, I assume everything I write is utter and total crap, there are “moments of possibility” in it, but the moments of pure dreck outweigh the possibilities of goodness.  I keep thinking, if I were Cate, and that was my life, I would probably swear off men forever and become a hermit.  The men in her life really are just fucked up—I wasn’t totally being funny when I joked about naming the second book Hecate Applebough and the Fucked Up Men in Her Life, because they are just such drama queens and so needy and complicated.  Honestly, I don’t know Cate stands me.  She must think I’m a total bitch to keep putting her in these stupid, angsty situations with men who don’t know what they want.

Which is why, as I said in a recent tweet, I need to let this book mellow.  Because it’s very raw, and it’s very overemotional—not like melodrama, but yeah, kind of sudsy at points.  I need that time away so I can come back to it fresh.  And maybe with some distance I can figure out what I really wanted to do with that second book and see if I can’t get it more there than it is right now.  (Of course, it will need substantial revision—I just want it to be a good first draft that will make revision be something hard but worthwhile instead of painful just to get to ok-ish-ness.)

And writing the third one will help me a lot because I am determined to make it fun.  Cate needs a break from constantly having her life explode in her face—and I need a break from that too.  I suppose, all fiction authors are either consciously or unconsciously trying to work out the crap of their own lives, and it manifests in the lives of their characters.  I know that I’m working through some issues—that sort of became obvious in the second book, because Cate is always thwarted, she always thinks things are settling down and then, hello, some tragedy or another happens and she’s back down in the sewer trying to dig her way out.  And that’s kind of how I feel my life is.  Of course, I don’t have two hot guys vying for my affections, so I can’t relate to her on that level (alas and alack—that might be a fun problem to have!), but that’s just a mask for the angsty things going on my life, I think. (So personal life spoiler alert:  I have problems and bad things are happening.  And who suffers?  Cate.)

Anyway, not to give away too much about the plot, but the third book already is starting with the comic premise that Cate, Val, and Lonny are all going to visit her Dad in Nebraska for Spring Break.  Book 3 starts on the airplane and I had a good time writing Val and Lonny sniping at each other and Cate just rolling her eyes, and now they’re in Nebraska and she’s dealing with her stepmother and her infant brother, and the change of scenery, away from Sunderson Academy and the Study Salon, is doing me a lot of good.  I’m really hoping that I can sustain the humor because Cate deserves a little happiness after what I’ve put her through.  But on the other hand, it wouldn’t be Cate’s life if it were charmed.  So I have to figure out how much I can torture her and still keep the majority of the book breezy.

In other news, I admit that I’m still vacillating back and forth whether to share Book 1 with Brilliant Fiction Writing Friend.  He’s super persuasive, with his metaphorical chisel that chips away at my protests (plus his company is awesome).  My insecurity, however, is equally persuasive—pugnacious, even (which means it usually wins out when I have these “what if” wars in my head).  But he said something to me the other day that—guilted isn’t the right word—tipped the balance in his favor a little more, let’s say—something about making editing a part of his professional development, and that my book would help him work on those skills.  And frankly, when he pitches it like that, and I can see letting him read HA1 not as an opportunity to deprive him of time he could be writing, were he so inclined, but as opportunity for him to grow in a way he’s interested in growing, well, how can I turn that down?  That would just be mean of me.  And of course, if he didn’t have my book to read, he has other people whom he could help, so it’s not like he’ll languish if I said no (and really meant it).  So, why not let him help me, right?  But…blah blah blah.  Shut up, JC. (Can’t you for once just accept good fortune?)  (Not easily.) (OMG OMG OMG, I realize, I write this blog the same way Cate writes her diary—I’m such a headcase.) (Please send help.)

Anyway, apropos of nothing, please enjoy a picture of sleepy TimToms, who has been keeping me company today as I’ve been writing.

2016-01-30 16.28.27

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.

Report on NaNoWriMo, Week 3

I unearthed a folder of—I guess you’d call it juvenilia—a bunch of poems and stories that I started writing when I took my first creative writing class in college.  I had high hopes of mining this old (crappy) work for stuff I could appropriate as material for my two main characters in my NaNo, both of whom are poets.  I was thinking that the style I had when I was much younger might be appropriate to two teenagers, new-ish to writing, the way I was when I wrote it.  But the fact is, my juvenilia is godawful.  (Well, the poems are.  The stories don’t suck that bad—probably because they are SF, and I used to read a lot of quality SF, so I had good influences impacting my writing.)

But the poems?  Holy Cow.

And yet, I bet when I was much younger I probably thought my writing was awesome.  Like sometimes, as I’m flipping through this folder, I’m so clever in my word play, I’m OBNOXIOUS AF.  I was trying to find one of the poems that I could reproduce here to demonstrate how deliciously bad I was, but I actually am too embarrassed to show any of that stuff.

If I had any sense, I’d burn it all.

Ok, well, here’s a “This is Just to Say” parody I wrote, which is a little funny and not so appalling that I’ll have to hang my head in shame for sharing it:

Wm. Carlos Wms.-esque

This is just to tell you

that the plums
you ate were
actually
small grenades
which I was
saving
for when your
mother comes

Forgive me
that was mean
you’re so dead
and so cold

(Though I would probably line it a little differently now.)

Anyway, all of this is by way of saying, I’m still plugging away at my novel, although it’s dreadfully long-winded, and not making the progress I’d like it to be making—not in the sense of words, because I’ve got more than plenty of them.   But rather, since it’s framed as a diary, and I envisioned that I would be encapsulating the entire school year in it, I’m kind of annoyed that I’m not further along than November.  (When I started the book with August.)  I don’t think it’s boring (but then do authors ever really think their own writing is boring?)—though a good beta reader would probably strike out whole diary entries as being immaterial to the plot. (Which it probably needs.)

I also keep reminding myself that the upper end word count of a YA novel is 69,999 words, and I should just remember this isn’t a Victorian novel where publishers paid by the word.  But whatever—I can’t worry about that, when what I really need to think about is keeping on and figuring out how I’m going to resolve Cate’s life.

Also—since I think it’s a romance, who is Cate going to end up with?  Is it Val or is it Lonny? Or is it a dark horse, like Finian?  (Or is Finian actually gay?)  I like all these guys in her life for different reasons—and she likes them all too.

Which actually just reminds me how much of a bad fiction writer I really am.  Because maybe Cate is really just me—or what I could have been like if I were cool in high school—and maybe these guys are really just fantasy guys I imagined—the Mary Sue factor is pretty damn high.

And maybe that’s something I’ve realized about writing a novel—I mean, I knew it was hard, but what’s really hard is divorcing my brain, and my thinking, and even my writing patterns (which, I’m sure you’ve noticed in these blogs tends to be parenthetical and interrupting).

In a little flash fiction piece, of only say, 500-600 words, I feel like my writing can be so much more imaginative, and so much more not me.  Initially, I thought my novel was going to be “so not me” too—I might even have used that term in an earlier blog—and yet as I go back over it, I think, well, the stuff in this book may not have actually happened, but I’m still, somehow, writing my life.  Cate sounds like me.  Like she’s a 40 year old…stuck in a 15 year old’s body.

That just may be bad writing at its finest.

But I’m not discouraged, because I like Cate.  I like her Mom.  I like her teachers, especially Professor Khaniff.  I like Val and Finian, and I’m pretty sure I’m totally in love with Lonny the way Cate is.  Even if he’s kind of a dumbass.  Because he is a sensitive writer who has the grand vision, who won’t be defeated on the macro scale even if he pouts on the micro scale when things go wrong.  He’s…ebullient.  Which is so alien to me, and so very beautiful.

Anyway, there are still 12 days in the month to go.  I have no doubt that I will get my 50,000 words—and probably a lot more, since I plan to write like a fiend over Thanksgiving.  (When I’m not cooking a feast.)

I hope any of my Five Loyal Readers, if you too are doing NaNoWriMo, that you are experiencing good success, and that your characters continue to delight you, the way mine are.

Report on NaNoWriMo, Week 2

At nearly 19,000 words, I feel like I am making great progress on my “novel,” and I’ve been thinking about what to do when I actually finish it.  Of course, we all have grand designs about writing the next Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (a book I loved when I read it a couple of years ago because it was funny and it was set at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and which I recently found out originated as a NaNoWriMo novel).  I know, deep down, however, that I won’t be writing the Next Big Thing.

What is more likely is this:  I plan to revise my book and get some feedback (I have a couple of people who have agreed to read it once it’s done–they must have a masochistic streak), and then, I think (unless they rave about it, and encourage me to MASSIVELY revise and think of publications, which also ain’t likely), I’m going to release on Amazon for 99 cents.

For 99 cents, I’ve read some pretty damn decent books.  I mean, I wouldn’t pay more than 99 cents for them, but for a couple of books (that had an interesting premise and characters who sounded reasonable), 99 cents was money well spent.  I have every confidence that my book is certainly worth 99 cents.

So… that’s what I’m thinking, at least this week.

Anyway, I’ll have more to say soon–but I was really busy with grading and with tennis tonight, I haven’t had a chance to write, and I’d like to get some words knocked away if I could.  (But first I really need a shower… I have some serious tennis funk going on.)

(I know you really needed to know that.) (xo)

Report on NaNoWriMo, Week 1

I’m just going to say it:  so far, NaNoWriMo is going great for me.  I’m doing everything wrong, everything I remind my students, ad nauseam, not to do—I’m telling more than showing, cheaping out on sensory description, failing to use character tags as effectively as I could, lollygagging (emphasis on gagging, I expect) with my dialogue, using adverbs a little more heavy-handedly than I ought.  And it’s FUCKING AMAZING  how much you can get written when you just don’t worry about MAKING ART.

I’m having a GREAT time.  I love every damn flawed word I write.  It’s so much fun to just focus on plot and vomit words down on the page—and to know that I can delay the revision process till much later, if I want.  Or not at all.  There’s a heady freedom knowing that there’s no stakes attached to this “novel.” I don’t agonize over the words the way I do when I’m writing poems, or even my “real” stories—here, I’m just racking up the word count.  If I can’t think of a more elegant word for when my character feels emotionally bankrupt and friendless and dorky, she just says she feels “crappy.”  And I’m totally ok with that.

Why?  Partly because she’s a teenager, and teenagers are not particularly known for their emotional depth and elegance in articulating the way they feel.  Partly because I know that this “novel” is an exercise in stamina and persistence.  And partly because I know that even if I write the lousiest, lamest, most derivative novel this November, that’s ok.  Because it’s practice writing.  It’s making me sit down every day and prioritize my writing over everything else.  And face it, that’s what we writers need to do.

And you know what else?  I would love my friends to read this novel when it’s done—because it’s cool in its way—and its aesthetic is so not me (at least I don’t think so) that it would be interesting to see what my friends think.  The way sharing writing with friends used to be—something you did for fun (instead of something you did because you’re concerned with publication)… Geez, when you have no expectations about publishing, you’re crazy free—like going to Kroger in a skimpy tank top and no bra when you’re a 46DD kind of free.

Something else I like about this novel is that it’s definitely not like most young adult fiction that seems determined to be depressing, dystopic, and dysfunctional.  This is about a girl at a new high school who likes to write poetry and who finds a guy at the school who like to write it too.  Sure, there’s bound to be heartbreak, but no one is going to be shooting people with arrows and trying to stay alive so your district can eat a little better the next year.  My characters are basically happy.  How’s that for innovative?

I think, honestly, overall, there are some good ideas in my story, and I actually kind of love my main character and her relationship with her Mom—they have an amazing rapport, and I like writing them together.  (Maybe I’m Mary-Sue-ing the hell out of them… somehow I have no problem with that. ) Actually I like all my characters.  None of them has disappointed me, and I don’t expect them to. They’re just cool people I’d love to hang out with… that’s what fiction should do, right?  Make you fall in love with the characters and want to Netflix and chill with them?

As I think about it, maybe there’s some real potential in this book that it could become something awesome at some point (with massive revision, let’s not kid ourselves—it desperately needs the artist’s/ critic’s eye leveled against it, and all of its blemishes to be smoothed away with the writer’s equivalent of Clearasil).  But again, if it doesn’t go anywhere, that’s ok too.

The main point is, it’s fun.  And I feel like there hasn’t been a lot of fun in my writing this past year.  I’ve definitely had some whimsy, but not out-and-out fun.

It’s fun to break the rules.  I possess such a serious attitude towards writing in general—I’m so concerned with making art, and creating something that will resonate with Important Readers (like editors and other academic creative writers and journal-reading types), that, frankly, it’s kind of constipating, artistically-speaking.

This novel, in contrast, is the Dulcolax approach to writing.  Anything can happen.  Characters can do stupid shit and say the unexpected thing—and I can worry about making it work later. I’m going to go on those writing tangents—I can be a little more plot driven and not obsess about creating these finely-wrought (overwrought?) characters who gnash their teeth in their sensitivity.  Sometimes my characters have whole paragraphs of dialogue that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  OMG, the dialogue doesn’t drive the story forward!  Oh, the horror!  You know what I say to that?  So what.

And my characters laugh and smile a lot.  And they gaze at each other intently.  Yeah, I know:   I really need to expand their action repertoire.  They need to do more than laugh and smile and gaze intently at each other. They need to “inhabit their space.” (I tell my students that all the time about characters in their stories and plays—make them physical beings, block their movements, blah blah blah.) I know I need to move their asses around more effectively and get them from place to place with a bit more style.

But not right now I don’t.  And why is that?  Because it’s my novel, and I can.

Even with the “minor” setback of the exploding Coke Zero that decimated the motherboard in my desktop computer yesterday and the possible permanent loss of 1200 words (and potentially everything else I’ve ever written—though I’m really trying hard to have faith that my data is safe and not freak out and imagine the worst, as is my nature to do), hasn’t really fazed me.  In fact, it’s not even a real loss… it’s like I’ve “temporarily misplaced” 1200 words—sure, they comprised a few really good scenes with some funny dialogue—but hell, if the scenes are gone for good,  there’s more where that came from. Because I feel like the Mount Vesuvius of language—there’s just so much inside of me oozing out everywhere—even if I actually really have lost those 1200 words, that ain’t no big thing.

To have this experience in my writing life is remarkable and wonderful and really weird for me.  It makes me wonder what I could accomplish in other areas of my life if I just gave in to the fun and didn’t care about being proper and appropriate and sensible and practical—maybe I would be as grandiose and giddy as I feel now.

We’ll see how I feel next week—maybe by then NaNoWriMo will get harder, maybe I won’t feel so Mount Vesuvi-esque with my language… But as of today, I have logged 6899 official words so far—which technically counts the 1200 I lost, if I’m remembering correctly, but since there’s still a chance my data is safe, I’m counting them.

And if they’re really gone, like I said, it’s ok, I’ll just write more to catch up.