Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ruby & Purple

Last week was challenging and then all right, with great variability, and the best of my attention was spent on productivity. I read and pitched and wrote and read some more. I started a fight on the internet, and it was helpful for plenty of people but quite deleterious for me. Multiple reviews went live after a couple of dry weeks. I had a piece published that took a lot of research and time to assemble, and it kind of vanished without a ripple, which bums me out. A silly Twitter thread I did on Mansfield Park got more attention. Also, I finished up the fourth in Laurie J. Marks's Elemental Logic series, a tetralogy of books that has been one of the purest pleasures of my year. The first draft of my review was 1,300 words, and I could have gone on and on and on after that.

I had a lot to think about and process after the last couple of weeks, and that might be why this week has been snoozy and unproductive. I have a pile of ideas to write about, and no motivation whatsoever to write them. Some of this feels like perfectionism, some of it overwhelm. Luckily, there's always reading to do when I can't seem to write.

Last night my brain gave me yet another idea I don't necessarily have the time for: an essay that breaks down the 1977 film Ruby, which is truly awful, but which I love, and which is a failure that I suspect has an interesting and/or sad story behind it. My guess is that Ruby once had a good screenplay; excavating its layers shows that, most probably, someone came in to "enhance" it with zeitgeist elements and screwed it up. There's cliche, genuinely compelling drama, cheesy Exorcist imitation, unique combinations of genre elements, and deeply stupid horror scenes. It's a very both/and movie, the kind of bad art that fascinates me bottomlessly.

This is bad art idea #3, after essays on Plan 9 and Death Bed, so it's starting to seem more likely that I have a book about bad art in me - less a hope than a likelihood. I wish I could pursue it now, instead of pursuing all the other crap I want to/have to write first, but it's probably better to let it marinate anyway. In the meantime, if you're interested, Ruby is on YouTube, and a less grainy version is available with a Rifftrax track attached, the existence of which I think I'll use in the essay.

Of note, I'm writing this on my tiny purple laptop, which I bought after dragging my too-heavy-for-airport-walking laptop to Iceland, and which in terms of processing power and etc is worth about what I paid for it ($200), but which has the major advantage of being purple. I know I'm not the only person who is suckered by aesthetics when making purchases. Purple and dip-dye are the two most reliable ways to make me buy something.

In a little less than a month, a short story I wrote will go on sale as a standalone ebook at the Wild Rose Press. It's priced at only $0.99, so if you'd like to support me, I hope you'll pick it up. I'll have more news about that, promotional links and whatnot, soon.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Less Yes

This week I pulled waaaaay back on what I expected to accomplish. I focused on physical health and nourishment, and I read books: one dumb book, one okay book, and one extraordinary book. Maybe this balances out the sheer production of last week, the two essays I wrote, and maybe it balances out the week's astrology and the emotional upheaval I felt. And pulling back worked - I feel grounded and comfortable now, where I felt messy and ridiculous on Monday. But it's time to go back to producing: promises to keep, miles to go. Three reviews this week. An essay I pitched and now have to draft. Interview questions, a press release.

One thing I produced this week was a fairly good try at a book proposal. It's the second one I've written, and it required different resources than the first. This one is for a book that I have a better idea about, but the earlier one had lots more facts and figures I could leverage. I assembled this one based on a conversation at AWP, and I have no idea what'll happen with it. Maybe nothing.

The pile of books I have to read and review is not actually so bad right now. Sheer volume-wise, that is; the timing of them sucks, as it's five books on one release day, four books on another, nothing for a month, etc. I've started saying no a little bit, but more often I've just stopped saying yes. That's a weird distinction, but it's real: people offering things specifically to me happens a lot less often than people tossing opportunity in the air and seeing who grabs it. In the last month I've hung back instead of grabbing. I don't know exactly what's up this month, while I wait for the results of a few lines I threw out and plan for the events I'm organizing my summer and fall around. It seems smarter to wait a bit before saying yes more than I have.

I have been watching an awful lot of movies lately. Few of them have been extraordinary. A lot of them have been nice (Dumplin) or useful additions to a body of knowledge (Dressed to Kill, Inferno) or fun (Ant-Man and the Wasp). But nothing has really surprised me, or deviated from the middle 50%.

I also heaved a big sigh and dove into Werner Herzog's oeuvre. He's a mind I'm very interested in, from what I have heard and read about/by him, but until now I haven't put my money where my mouth is. So now I'm doing that, actually watching his films. Something about his timing and camerawork is stark and alien, like Cronenberg, but even more sterile. I like it.

Switching back to movies has been pleasant. It's an odd truth about me: I'm on much more solid ground thinking and working with movies than with literature. This doesn't make sense, because I'm a writer and a book critic, professionally. But no matter how many books I read, I still feel more comfortable in film. There's an innate ease to the way my brain processes the film, how wholly I feel I've absorbed it, while I feel like there's always more to process in a book, and usually I've only touched my subjective experience of it.

This week has been very light on social media for me. I don't know if it will last, but every time I opened the apps, I felt strangely hollow. Like how you feel half an hour after eating too many Cheetos. It's not real food, and your body knows it. I hope this sensation isn't temporary, as I've been wanting for years for social media to loosen its grip on me.

Next week I'll be reading the fourth and final book in Laurie J. Marks's Elemental Logic series, and I'm so sorry to be finishing the series. It's some of the best saga-type fantasy I've ever read, and one of the best novelistic projects. The books are so rich and thick and fully developed that I feel like I've lived a whole life, reading them, or even more than one.

Image result for elemental logic
My friend Kathleen drew new covers for the tetralogy, which is how I heard of it in the first place.

No big conclusions for now. Still it moves.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Interacting with the Material World

You might have seen it on social media, but KERNPUNKT revealed the cover art for my book. It looks like this:

Art by Mariana MagaƱa

It's so much prettier even than I imagined. I love it.

Managing the book release in early stages has reminded me a lot of wedding planning. A great deal can be done a long time in advance, but a lot of what must happen has to wait for the right moment to be planned. Calendaring and lists are essential. I was born to do that kind of work.

There's a bunch of other stuff going on, too. A long story I wrote, "After Gardens," known on this blog as "the hot springs story," is going up for sale at the Wild Rose Press as a standalone ebook in mid-June. This press has been supportive and helpful all throughout the process of turning "After Gardens" into a commercial ebook, and I'm very happy it found a home there. However, the way this ebook requires promotion is completely different than the way Ceremonials does. Different audience, different kind of press, different goals, different approach. It's like switching alphabets. For this reason, I've been dragging my feet on promoting "After Gardens," but I need to get going on it.

Less striking, but just right for the content 

It's being sold as women's fiction, which is about right. (For the record, it's hard to find markets for short stories that qualify as women's fiction. Both readers & publishers prefer that genre in book length.) I hope it does well for the press, of course, but I feel weirdly indifferent to this project. Submitting to TWRP was my last shot with this story before I trunked it permanently, so I'd nearly severed my investment in it when it was accepted. Of course I'm very happy they accepted it and are selling it, and I'll do my best to promote it, but it feels like someone else's work, and that makes it more of a chore and less of a pleasure to promote.

A few weeks ago I put together a schedule for writing the remaining hybrid film essays I have to write for the collection I'm assembling. I gave myself ample time to write them in order to be finished by the end of 2019. At the time, April still had some days left in it, so I set a goal to finish something else nagging at me that isn't part of this project, a partially written essay about abandoned places, before May began. I succeeded (and the process of writing it was fraught, so hooray, go me, I did something hard), sort of. I thought I had a three-strand braided essay, but what I actually had was one lyric two-strand essay and a separate, much more straightforward single essay. When I was finished with both, I knew the lyric one was missing something, but I submitted it to an urgent opportunity before figuring out the missing bit. (This is a rookie mistake and I'm ashamed of making it. Oh, well; I'll fix it and send it out elsewhere, when it's actually ready.) Mostly I'm pleased that I met the goal of finishing those two pieces, which have been dormant for over a year, waiting for me to put butt in chair and finish them.

There are three main threads in my creative work right now: a) books, b) hybrid film essays, and c) everything else. What I wrote at the end of April falls under c), but now that it's done, I have to return to b). The one I scheduled myself to write in May is a little obnoxious, as it relates to Jeanne Dielman, a static three-hour film mostly about a woman doing domestic chores, but I knew I needed to get it out of the way before I went wild writing about Mildred Pierce.

Earlier this spring, I bought a handmade creativity candle. I wanted, on the first day of May, to burn it and do a tarot reading to restart/redirect my creativity. I've written easily 100,000 words of book reviews in the past 18 months. That's great, but considering that volume of work, I think I need a genuine ritual to direct energy into the collection I want to finish, which requires more intuition and less brain than reviews.

I didn't succeed in that goal. May has come in strange. I feel like I need more time to think, and then I get bored and anxious inside my own head. I'm sleeping thickly, with upsetting, disruptive dreams. My emotions are labile, slippery. [private circumstance], in a way I haven't been since my early 20s, and I have no idea what that's about. Literally all of this could be stress, the unbearable stress of freelancing, built up over time, refusing to come to an actual head but bubbling ceaselessly under a thin and all-too-permeable layer of self-control.

I'm writing this here instead of somewhere private because it's all of a piece, the emotions and the creativity and the stress and the book(s) coming out and what I'm accomplishing and failing to accomplish. For me there's no separation between succeeding at writing that lyric essay - which I think is one of the more meaningful things I've written, if not really one of the best - and failing to do the laundry today. At the end of a given day, the measure of it is how much I have interacted with the material world instead of shutting it out. That's the only mark of success or failure I have to go on right now.

I worry that this sounds too bleak. I'm sorry. I feel weird right now. There's a big deadline coming up in about two weeks, so I could use that as an excuse, but of course there'll be more coming after that and after that; if it's an excuse, it's a permanent one. Seeing Avengers: Endgame yesterday overclocked my emotional state in a way I can't explain at all, since I don't have a lot invested in the MCU, and I'm still recovering from that, which is embarrassing to admit but absolutely true. Ceremonials being a real thing that's coming, all five of my desired blurbers agreeing to review the MS, people jumping in to offer their influence to help me and the book, is exhilarating, but also a brand-new experience that I don't seem to be integrating easily. I landed a fascinating opportunity this summer, but it'll drain my financial resources instead of adding to them, which is a very unkind cut at the moment. Etc. All the great stuff is as overwhelming and stressful as the less-great stuff, and often they seem to be entwined.

At least I cleaned the apartment over the weekend. Looking at the clutter was getting to me, and now it's a lot better.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

An Honest Post

There's a lot going on in my writing world - perhaps too much for me to organize my thoughts into one place. I feel like I haven't written an honest post here in a really long time. As the number of people who pay attention to my work grows, I find I'm holding my tongue more and more. I didn't think I'd ever want to do that, but that's where I am. Here's some honesty, though not about everything I have to say.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 3/17/19-3/23/19

Last Sunday I took the entire day off. I did answer one email related to Barrelhouse, but otherwise, I did no work. I sat on the couch. I watched the Lorena Bobbitt docuseries and then about half of the first season of The OA. I vaped a little, midday, which I never do. (With good reason; my brain stayed foggy well into the evening.) It was a great idea; I felt tons fresher on Monday.

The rest of the week was a little less awesome than Monday. Coping mechanisms kicked in, because I'm stressed out about the near future, and I did a lot of coping instead of working.

On Tuesday I leave for Portland, setting into motion two and a half weeks of utter madness. I think I'm ready. I've done almost all the work ahead of time that I conceivably can do; I'm well-stocked with business cards; our taxes are done. Off we go.

Disclaimer: I'm including selected names of pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them entirely. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

Camp review
Rice review
"After Gardens" edits

A Dog Between Us
Choke Box 

Dazed (2) (rejected)
Film journals x4 (responded x1)
Millions (responded)


Various publicists

Barrelhouse stuff
[secret thing] for many hours
Assemble Wurth and Choundas interviews
Promote Wurth review

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 3/10/19-3/16/19

I'm running out of time to get work done before AWP + the trip I'm taking the week after AWP. So I feel pressured as heck to bang out reviews and get them in. Pressure does not amount to motivation; in fact, it sort of opposes it, in my personality. Also, the correspondence was completely out of control this week.

Disclaimer: I'm including selected names of pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them entirely. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

"After Gardens" edits
Ceremonials edits
Eerkens review
Cora Burns review
Notes for Banshee, Naked reviews

Gather the Fortunes
Moon of the Crusted Snow

Rolling Stone
ASAP (responded)
Film Comment
Heavy Feather (responded)
Birth Movies Death
London Magazine
Masters Review

Erika / George / Kate


Lots of Barrelhouse work
Literary submissions x3
Promote Bird King review
Attend/present at writers' meeting

Monday, March 11, 2019

Four Directions, No Rest

You guys, I am tired. I am really, really tired. Here is the career thing I'm wrestling with on this restless, overcast Monday: I am working in four different directions, and they require totally different kinds of engagement.

Direction 1. Growing my reach, meeting prestige goals. I think this is...professionalization? Trying to get my work into bigger, better-paying, more prestigious publications. Reaching outward for as many opportunities as possible. This is an exhausting direction, made up of hundreds of small moves: emails, check-in emails, calendaring follow-ups, research, networking, sending the same pitch to four or five places and then following up on them all, etc.

Direction 2. Pay. Placing my work in publications that pay money. There's a lot of overlap here with Direction 1. But it's additionally tiring to consider whether to keep pitching Publication X, even though I've never heard back from them and our artistic interests only align in a few places, simply because they pay so well.

Direction 3. Artistic and community fulfillment. Do I get to write what I want to write? Do I get to support a small press or a first-time author? This goal almost always contradicts Directions 1 and 2, though the degree of contrast varies.

Direction 4. Maintain links and relationships with pubs and people I've been working with happily. Keep saying yes to editors and publications with whom I work well, keep sending reviews to publications that will treat them right. It's more difficult than I ever imagined to do Direction 4 and Direction 1 at the same time.

Keeping track of all four of these and how they interact is so hard that, today, I'm thinking about temporarily ditching Directions 1 and 2, just like, never mind, fuck it, I'll keep writing $25 and $50 reviews for the sites that pay me and post my stuff promptly (even though they savage the hell out of my style) (in opposite ways), I'll keep writing for the two magazines that don't change a word I write even though the pieces rarely or never appear online, I'll stop pitching [redacted], fuck it fuck it fuck it it's too much. (And then, no fooling, [redacted] wrote me back this morning asking for more pitches.)

There's also the problem of all of this applying to book criticism AND to my other work, which, by the way, I still can't figure out how to get back to. I've had a bunch of rejections for my hybrid essays in the recent past, which means it's time to send out the work to the next round of pubs. I'm out of immediate ideas for pubs to submit to, so it's time for research. But research is the last thing I want to do right now. It's obnoxious to find pubs that want hybrid essays, particularly when they're as long as mine, and you guys, I am tired.

(Plus there's this weird little Jaws thing that I thought someone would snap up fairly easily but no luck yet and I have no idea who to submit it to next because no one seems to be getting what I'm doing there and I think it's hilarious and why does no one else think so?)

Related image
Pictured: me and my workload 

(And man, I'm really discouraged about a non-hybrid film essay I wrote, which has been given the curse of "I'm sure you'll have no trouble placing this elsewhere" - NEVER TRUE, y'all. If you're an editor, never, ever say that in a rejection, because the reason it's not right for you is the same reason it won't be right for anyone else. You all love it and say so, which is nice, but not one of you will publish it. This is the third or fourth time this exact thing has happened to my work. BOLLOCKS on "I'm sure you'll have no trouble placing this elsewhere.")

Point is, I am having this moment where I want to stop striving and just tread water for a bit. Here's a concrete example: I wrote an assigned review, but the finished product didn't work for the publication. The pub gave me leave to send the finished product elsewhere, no hard feelings. So I did that, but got a no on the first round, and I'm feeling like, oh, what's the point, do I really want to keep trying to place this review when the work I like best (writing) is now done and the work I like least (placement) is still before me? I know the review is quality, but I want to just trunk it because of the time and effort involved in placing it.

For just a few weeks, I want to stop pitching. I want to stop answering publicists' emails. I want to stop querying. I want to feel like I'm really absorbing the books I'm reading and reviewing, instead of reading them only just deeply enough. But Directions 1 and 2 are the work that keeps the pump primed; without it, I would dehydrate. Without it, momentum vanishes. I have April and May books that need placement, and it's not too early to start on June and July books. If I wait to pitch those, I won't place them, or at least I won't place them well.


The usual disclaimer applies: I am not a coal miner. Writing is not, realistically, that hard. But working and/or thinking about work seven days a week is hard for a non-workaholic personality, no matter what kind of work it is.