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

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.

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.

Now Trending in the Poetry World, the Poetry Project Book (Is It #PoetryProjectBook Yet?)

Coming up with an idea for a Wednesday Post has eluded me today.  I don’t feel well (a lurking migraine I think), and so consequently, my brain is a little foggy.  What gems can I impart on writing when I mostly just want to be in bed with the covers pulled over my head?  Maybe I need to forget gems and just be happy with bits of flint and granite.

Anyway, I read an article on the AWP website, Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s “The Poetry Project Book:  a Marriage of Heart and Mind” which discusses a trend she’s noticed in poetry books lately to be “obsessed” with an idea to the point that all of the poems within the book focus on a single guiding image or kind of form.  She argues that poets are writing these books because it offers the beauty of constraint while allowing a kind of “arc” to appear in a book of poetry that doesn’t normally appear in books where poems are about all manner of subjects—where the poems are true “collections” that demonstrate a breadth of a poet’s writing across time.

This trend appears more frequent in MFA theses, she notes, which are then (not surprisingly) flooding the contest market.  I think this approach to writing poetry changes the expectations of a poetry book. We want a book to be “about” something–not just be a collection of poems.  Of course, there are plenty of books that are more traditional in their collection-ness—these aren’t going anywhere—but I’ve even noticed just in reading some journal guidelines lately that ask for poems on related subjects.

So it’s no wonder, if journals are looking for related poems, that writers are writing entire books focused on a single issue.  I’m trying to think of books I’ve read lately—one was entirely focused on Persephone, one was focused on birds, another was illness and cancer—if you write 50+ poems on the same topic, it does make it easier to understand a book, to see where the author is going with her words.  Just this morning, Benjamin Dodds sent me a packet of poems to read from the verse novel he’s working on (I won’t give the topic away, don’t worry, Benjamin), and when the poems are all related it does lend a kind of urgency to them that might be missing when they’re all focused on different subject matter. The connection makes them more compelling—and I think that’s what Hoffman was arguing.

She also mentions that these poetry project books can fail spectacularly.  Can you just imagine if you read a collection and each poem centered on something tedious… like a motorcycle?  Sure, there’s cohesion, but who gives a fuck?

So I guess in that “marriage of heart and mind” that Hoffman discusses, an author has to balance her obsession with a topic that can reach a wider audience. I have to admit, when Hoffman referenced Nicky Beer’s The Octopus Game, which came out earlier this year from Carnegie Mellon, a book of poems that’s all about octopi, I thought, Oh, yeah, I would totally read that.  Who doesn’t like octopi? I like octopi.  I think they’re kind of cool.  I think a book full of octopus poems could totally work—Hoffman thinks Beer has plenty of relevant and urgent things to say in those poems.  I might actually buy that book from Amazon–in fact I’ve put it in my cart…  Whereas, if someone came out with a poetry project on motorcycles, I’d probably fall asleep before I could turn the first page.

This poetry project topic interests me in general because as I’ve said on a few occasions, I need a “hook” for my writing—something to get excited about.  Something to really go into detail with a kind of obsessive delight.  That focusing element that would at least help me get past that moment of inertia where I’m all, “I don’t know what to write about.  I have nothing to say.  Let me go look at cat pictures on tumblr.”

I feel as if I had a “obsession” like that, it might actually make writing easier.  It gives you something to rally around.  When I got back from Venice last year, I wrote seven poems about it.  I wish I could back to Venice because if ever a place was an inspiration, Venice is it.  I know I could write 50+ poems about Venice—but I need longer than a week to be there.  A month might do it.  Maybe two.  But that’s not happening any time soon.

So all of this is by way of saying that I like the poetry project approach to writing books.  It makes sense to me.  I’ve been thinking that it’s time I put together another chapbook.  But then I look at all my poems (particularly the published ones) and I don’t see any cohesive thread—I don’t see how they create an arc, how they work together.  And that is deadly when it comes to creating a collection—deadly because it’s hard to do, and deadly because potential publishers don’t know what to do with them lately, or so it seems.

Anyway, I know I’m a little all over the place today.  I’m sorry about that.  Go read Hoffman’s article–it’s interesting.  And if any of my five readers have a suggestion of topics for me to get excited about and write 50+ poems, please let me know.  That would be extremely cool of you.

Queen of Analog

I am a huge proponent of index cards.  I have been tracking my submissions to journals and contests on alphabetized index cards for years.  Some years, there are fewer cards in the box than others (though last year and this year, there are a ton).  I like that I can thumb through them, find what I’m looking for, and move on.  I like their tactile quality, that I can hold them and smell their papery-ness, that I have tangible proof at all times that I am working on publishing.

I keep my pack of cards with me in my purse or bag—I sometimes joke, à la Gollum, that the cards are “My Precious.”  They are precious to me, like a talisman or a charm, and I don’t like to be far from them.  It sounds a little wacky, but then, writers are by definition, wacky folk, so I don’t let my little partiality to (I won’t say “obsession with”) the cards bother me.

The red plastic case that holds them has the space for about 120 3x5s.  Inside, there’s a tab for Sent, Rejected, Accepted.  When I’m feeling like I need a boost, I just look through the cards and tell myself, “JC, you are working it.”  Seeing the Sent and Accepted piles is naturally pleasing (and self-affirming), but I even like the Rejected tab, because after I look for some new journals, I will mine the cards in there for submissions that I can send somewhere else.  And I don’t have to think about what pieces go with what, because the submission groupings have already been created—I’m just reusing the card with new journal title on the top.  Easy peasy.

But this is all by way of saying, that in February, I bit the bullet and got a Duotrope subscription, due in part to a young writer friend who mentioned that he was going to subscribe in order to take his writing more seriously, and that getting a subscription to Duotrope was one way he could feel “professional” about the work.  I thought about that and could see his point.  For myself, I wondered if I could justify the expense; after all, I already subscribed to Allison Joseph’s CRWROPPS list in Yahoo Groups, and got a weekly digest from the New Pages website.  So did I really need a Duotrope subscription?  It turns out, I did.

Now, let me be very clear, that I am in no way shilling for Duotrope—they haven’t promised me a free subscription for next year if I tout all their great qualities or anything.  But I like Duotrope for a number of reasons (and not just for the submission tracker element): I like to see the Response List—it’s quite illuminating about the journal process because people who subscribe are really serious about entering this data.  So you’ll see, for instance, one day, BOAAT will have accepted one person’s work, and there will be 15 rejections, or 32Poems will have accepted one or two pieces, and there’s a ton of rejections.  What it helps to do, in my mind, is to let me see the reality of the journal process—I’m not the only one getting rejections here.  It helps to see that other people’s work also is rejected—not from a “ha ha haha ha” schadenfreude perspective, but more like a “we’re all in this together” perspective.

The other thing about Duotrope that I like is that it is constantly updating when markets are open or closed as well as listing new markets that are available.  Having an academic background (and having worked as a reader on Prairie Schooner back in the day), you kind of have a sense that a lot of journals at university presses take the summer off.  But other journals have different submission cycles, so Duotrope is handy in that they let you know when these cycles are happening.

And finally, Duotrope offers metrics for lots of stuff—because people take a few minutes to record data about their submissions, I have an idea about how long it takes some markets to respond.  I’ll give you an example.  Last May (of 2014!!), I submitted poems to a journal and I just never heard from them–until I queried them in December and said, hey, what’s the deal?  I was told by a very harried editor that this was a Name Brand Journal, and they were Very Busy, and I just needed to wait.  And so I did.  Wait, wait, wait.  I finally got a rejection from them on June 10th—a 384 day wait, according to Duotrope.  The average response time for this market is 155 days; the longest reported was 401 days.  I wouldn’t know that, except that Duotrope offers that data.

Now, it’s probably obvious that I’ve become a fan of Duotrope.  I record my submissions and responses there; I look up new markets (and have had some acceptances directly because I found them on Duotrope)… but I still keep my cards.  Because they’re mine.  Because they’re easy to hold onto and easy to maintain, and I don’t need a computer to check on them.  I can keep My Precious with me at all times, and remind myself when I need to, that I’m doing what I can to get my writing out into the world.

Sometimes, You Just Need New Eyes

It’s amazing how freeing not writing with your writing-group-as-your-audience-in-mind can be.

My writing group hasn’t been the most productively space lately for me–and for the rest of us, meetings intervene, people are too busy blah blah blah–and I think all of us are struggling with the Zodiac as a writing prompt.  I know it’s killing me–I just can’t think of anything good to say about the constellations or what they stand for.  Bless them, the other three in my group have rallied, and have done some interesting things with the various Signs, but so far, I really haven’t liked what I’ve produced.  (Well, to be fair, I liked my Pisces poem, but the others not so much.)  I’m not sure why I don’t find the Zodiac as inspirational or compelling as it could be–except that (and I’ve mentioned this in previous posts) that I feel like I need something connective to write about–in other words, I need a theme.  The Zodiac could be a good theme, but so far, I’m not moved.

Which brings me back to the first line of this post.  Because I’m not writing with my writing group as my audience, I’m writing some interesting stuff.  Not poems–I think I’m not in a poetic mood lately–but creative nonfiction.  Maybe I’m feeling a little confessional lately–and I feel like I can be that way in nonfiction because I know that the three other people in my writing group are only interested in poetry so they’re not going to be reading these nonfiction pieces.  Somehow I am shy about writing about personal (emotional) things in my poems because they are the first audience who sees what I write–and when I’ve brought them poems about relationships or “my inner self” (gag me, that sounds so pretentious) in the past, I’ve felt like they haven’t responded well.  I may be too invested in pleasing my writing group to be real with them.

But my nonfiction–which so far has an audience of one (me)–is about pleasing me.  I  just completed  a 20 page essay about a previous (and for the most part secret) relationship in my grad school past.  In the class that I’m teaching this semester, about women’s contemporary spiritual memoir, one of the assignments my students have to complete is a spiritual memoir of their own.  And in reading the books with students, wherein these women express their “real” selves, and explore their relationship with their Deities of choice as it impacts on their lives as women, I felt inspired to write a kind of spiritual memoir of my own–one that looks at a relationship about two people whose different religious backgrounds wind up driving them apart.

I know that I need some outside eyes to read it, and to offer me some direction, because I’m aware of some narrative flaws and have concerns about how I represent the religion of one of the characters in the memoir. But those outside eyes, whomever they may belong to, won’t be my writing group. My writing group knows me–or thinks it does–too well, and I need interested but personally uninvested critique.  I’m not sure where I will find a new audience–but there is someone I know, though not well, a writer, whom I’ve approached to give me some insight into how I might develop this essay more fully.  He is going out-of-town, but has agreed to meet with me when he gets back.  And in the interim, I’ll continue to work on it, and shape it.  I think it can be publishable at some future date, and I’m at a point in my life where maybe I’m ok with sharing more of my true self with others.  We’ll see.

I also just wrote another essay, though a shorter one, in which I discuss how my manuscript came to be (the one that I’ve sent to 21 publishers and have so far received 3 rejections for) in relation to a book I’ve just read, Theresa Senato Edwards’ Voices Through Skin, which among other things examines an extremely abusive marriage.  Of course you can never say that the author is definitively the speaker of the poems, but I feel there is certainly an element of autobiography in what Edwards is writing.  In writing my essay, I recognize something about where my manuscript comes from–I really don’t think I had put it together before now, though:  the relationship violence and rape that one of my characters experiences is really a reflection of the relationship violence and rape that I suffered in my own past.  And the way in which the character deals with her sister’s rapist is all about empowerment and justice–the same empowerment and justice that can only come from surviving something horrible.

I’ve never really discussed the abusive relationship I experienced.  I spent years in depression and self-loathing for it; I took cocktails upon cocktails of prescription drugs to dull the pain and more therapy than any three people put together.  Coupled with the depression one endures just from being in grad school, it’s a damn wonder I’m still alive.  I’ve told a few people that I was in this relationship, but always with minimal detail, and it’s not something that you can easily drop into conversation.  In fact, I lost a few friends because they couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just “get over” that relationship.  I’m sure they needed to protect themselves–but I’m also just as sure that they wanted to silence my pain.  Because if I, a reasonably intelligent and educated woman, could fall into a relationship like this, so could they.  And who wants to admit that they are just as vulnerable to being belittled and hit and raped, merely because they are women?

Anyhow in some way, although my book is nothing about me, JC, I think it probably evolved as an imaginative response to the very real horrors of my life.  I’ve written this book years later after that abusive relationship, of course, but you can never escape your past.  Writing this essay where I look at relationship violence and Edwards’ book and my own is really kind of freeing.  At some point in my life, I might write some creative nonfiction about that abusive relationship exclusively.  Or I might not.  Ten-ish years ago is a long time, and sometimes ghosts need to remain ghosts.  But we’ll see.  It helps that if I choose to write about that relationship in detail I don’t have to rely on my writing group for critique or affirmation.  They are just not interested in that kind of writing.

And there are others–out there, somewhere–who are.  And I will find them, and maybe find a new writing group to help me explore the creative non-fiction me as it emerges.

I Need a Hit

I’m jonesing–yes, jonesing–for an acceptance.  For the last few months, it seems like I was getting an acceptance every other week or so, and it’s been 15 days since my last acceptance (a piece of flash non-fiction).  True, it’s been only 3 days since a rejection, and really, I should be grateful for that, because it means that even if the journal didn’t like what I sent them, at least they read it.  That should count for something, right?

Let’s be honest–the “hit” I want… is for someone to tell me they want to publish my book.  And that it will be a great hit with the publishing world.  That it will get a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, a National Book Award, Georgia Book of the Year Award, and various other accolades that proves that all the time I spent working on it wasn’t time wasted.  It’s hard waiting to hear back from book contests.  I want to know NOW.

So while I’m waiting more or less reasonably patiently about the book, I feel like every journal I have stuff out at should just agree to publish my work to make my wait more tolerable.  What do you think?  Seems fair, right?  😉

And again, I hope your writing and publishing are going well.  (I know we writers are all in this together.)

 

Keeping Track

I haven’t been a publishing machine in the months since last I wrote.  That said, I have been writing and sending my work out with the rigor that I should have been applying myself yea these many years.

To wit:

  • Submitted my book manuscript to 18 contests (so far, 3 rejections)
  • Submitted poetry to 14 journals (so far, 7 rejections)
  • Submitted an application to a fellowship
  • Submitted a play to a journal
  • Submitted creative nonfiction to 3 journals (one journal took a story 2 days after I submitted it!)
  • Submitted flash/ fiction to 5 journals

Every time I open up Submittable and I see all my active submissions, I feel a little self-impressed.  Which is not the worst thing.  I need all the encouragement I can get, because the last few rejections have really bummed me out.  (Especially the one I got on Friday which just infuriated me… unfortunately I can’t go into it because there’s no way to be anonymous regarding the journal and say what I REALLY want to say about them.)

What I really need to do is to get some quiet time and try writing something unusual, something hybridy, maybe.  What that would be, I couldn’t say.  Maybe tomorrow…

Anyway, I’m reveling in my dedication.  And I didn’t post this so that I could be all “look at me, look at me,” but just to remind myself that I can make writing a priority, and that it’s good for me.  And, to have a record of it, for when I’m feeling kind of down about my writing successes, or I reach a dry spell.

I hope all of you are having good luck in your writing too.

Why Having Your Mom Read Your Work Is a Bad Idea

So last night, my Mom tells me that she finished reading my manuscript. Here I’m thinking that she’s about to launch into a litany of Mom-like praise.  No.  This is how the conversation went (and apologies for any spoilers… please don’t let that stop you from buying my book when it eventually comes out):

Mom:  I couldn’t believe that ending.  I kept reading and saying Oh, my God!  Oh, my God!

JC:  What do you mean?

Mom:  I had no idea!  I didn’t see it coming! Oh, my God!

JC:  What do you mean, you didn’t see it coming?  She talks about revenge!  She’s plotting!

Mom:  But killing him, for breaking her sister’s heart?

JC:  No, Mom, she kills him because he raped her sister!  That’s why she’s getting revenge!  And he killed her other sister!  He ran her over in his car!

Mom:  He did?  He raped her sister?  I didn’t see that.  And he killed the other sister?  I mean I knew she died…

JC:  Did you read this book?  The rape is not explicit–it happens “off stage,” but he admits it to his friend…

Mom:  I guess I’m just too pedestrian. [Whatever the hell that means.]  Guess I’ll have to read it again and look for the clues.

JC [trying to sound gentle]:  I’m sorry it upset you. [Look for the clues???  How could you miss them?]

Mom:  Of course I’m upset!  She cut him open!  She chopped him up!  I had no idea!  You should have given me a synopsis before I read this book.  It was too graphic!

JC [a little petulantly]:  But you knew she was going to get revenge…

Mom:  Yes, but I thought it was going to be a spell.

JC:  Well, it was a spell.   She poisons him after she does a spell.  And anyway, he was dead before she chopped him up.

Mom:  I just don’t read things like this… I mean you know these things happen, but I don’t read about them!…Before I share it with [a mutual friend] I’m going to have to warn her. She won’t expect it–it will upset her.

JC:  [Good grief.]  Ok, Mom.

I am somewhat bemused by this conversation–it’s kind of funny, but it’s also a little hard to take.  I mean, if you pay attention at all, there are plenty of signs that the main character is just biding her time (à la Hamlet) until she’s ready to exact revenge on the bad guy.  Ok, so maybe the dismemberment was a little over the top, but at the same time, I tried to write it bloodless–that is to say, very matter-of-fact, very much like reporting what was happening (as opposed to poetic editorializing) to demonstrate how clear-headed she was in carrying out her revenge.  Like I could have been gruesomely graphic, but I tried to be restrained. (As an aside, let me say, one of my writing group members thought I should rewrite this section to make it more trance-like, as if she were doing this murder in a dreamlike state.  But that would never have worked, a) because I don’t write in fragments, and b) that is not how this character acts.  She’s completely within her faculties–which I think makes the scene more chilling, because she’s perfectly clear-headed in the process.  She’s not some kind of psycho-killer.  But I digress.)

The point is, of course, that audience matters.  Clearly, some Moms aren’t the audience for books that examine instances of violence.  My Mom despises violence–she runs out of the room, for example, when something scary or possibly bloody is about to happen on the TV.  And while I think that’s an extreme reaction, I suppose, knowing this about her, I should have expected a reaction like this one.  I should have expected it, but I didn’t–so I didn’t think to “warn” her about the murder–although, I also think if she had been reading more carefully, she would have realized what was going to happen.  For heaven’s sakes, that particular part is called “Blood Will Have Blood.”  Like duh, what did you think was going to happen in something that quotes from Macbeth??

Mom was also upset, I think, because there are no repercussions (at least, in this book–and no, that’s an oblique comment promising a sequel, by the way) for the murder.  The character does, in fact, “get away with it.”  And I’m ok with that.  I think my Mom’s sense of justice doesn’t like that she escapes her actions with no downfall, or at least, no real commentary about it.

But I’m not interested in the main character’s punishment–I don’t think she’s unjustified in her actions–and human “justice” is not what this book is about, anyway.  It’s about supernatural justice–not divine justice, make no mistake–she does invoke the Sign of the Goat/ the Dark Mother, after all.  And also, this is not a Greek tragedy.  Apologies to Aristotle, but it’s not hamartia for her to kill him who needs killing.  And anyway, if you kill without your soul, you can kill in “good conscience,” because in fact, no soul equals no conscience to be damaged.

Poor Mom.  She said, “I never knew I’d have a daughter who could write like something like that.”  Oh, if you only knew.

If I Were Virgil Suárez

My poet friends used to joke that if you wanted to get your poetry published, all you had to do was put Cuban-American poet Virgil Suárez’s name on your submission.  For a while, it seemed like no matter what literary journal you picked up, there would at least one poem by him included–and it didn’t matter what the journal was–it could be a nothing-in-particular start-up journal, or it could be the Prairie Schooner.    I also heard–though I can’t substantiate it–that he had this scary complicated system for submitting his works… and gasp, he simultaneously submitted (back when that wasn’t a thing). The point was, he was very good at placing his work.

I don’t know what Virgil Suárez has been doing lately poetry-wise (his last book of poems came out in 2005)–but according to his Florida State University webpage, he’s just published a book called The Soviet Circus Comes to Havana and Other Stories (C & R Press, 2014) ($15.95 on Amazon)–so, at least I’m not competing for space in journals because of him.

But I am competing for space in journals… and losing, based on the two rejections I received today.  One rejection said that they didn’t “love the piece enough” to send it on to the next level of discussion; the other one praised the “ambition” of the work, but then stabbed me in the heart with the criticism that they found my work “too prosy.”  That just struck me as wrong.  My writing tends to be narrative, but it’s in no way “too prosy.”  I know from prosy–after all, I see student creative writing all the time–talk about prosy!  But of course, journal editors are human, and humans are subjective.  I wasn’t overly bothered by the rejections–submitting is a game to me at this point.

Not that I in any way mean that I don’t take the submission process seriously–I do.  I do research on the journals I submit–I generally try to read them before I send them my work.  But I guess as a writer you just get to the point where it’s all just a game–trying to figure out what certain people will like based on what they showcase in their journals.  If I were the Virgil Suárez of the past, that machine of publishing, I might just send my work everywhere, scatter-shot, and hope something sticks.  I might have a hugely complicated Excel file that lists every journal everywhere, and I might cross-list all the poems that I’ve simultaneously submitted–perhaps the same batch of poems for 15 different journals, and have 80 such batches sent out at once.

But that is gamifying the publication process way to much for the likes of me–that’s a little like playing all the numbers in the lottery.  It might work–and maybe if I were that mono-focused, I could do that and be published far and wide in any number of start-ups and well-established journals.  But on the other hand, my very analog system–I put all my submissions on index cards filed alphabetically by journal–seems to work for me.  I can manage that.  I feel good about my process of reading submission calls, reading the journals whose calls interest me, and submitting my work to them.

It may not net me a lot of pubs, but it feels like an accomplishment when I see all my index cards, even the ones that fall under the “Rejected” tab, as today’s two rejections now do.