Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Squintable Qualities

In case you're part of a different mailing/social media list than the other stuff I propagate, you should know that I'm teaching an online course in book reviewing at Barrelhouse in just under two weeks. We've got a few spots left, and I'd like to fill it to capacity. Asynchronous (the deadlines are weekly, so whether you're in Missouri or Timbuktu, it's of no moment), and $135 including the cost of a book from Nouvella.

boooooooooooooooks

Also, my website now features a press kit for Ceremonials, including a one-sheet (press release) and other info. I'm starting to put together tour dates, and those'll be up there too when I have them.

My vacation a couple of weeks ago gave me some real breathing room, and some time to work on two of the three remaining essays for the collection I'm determined to finish before the end of 2019. At first I worked on the Last Tango in Paris essay, but it was sloggy. Imagine a child who doesn't want to leave the house or car or Target toy aisle kind of whiningly dragging her limbs and fingers to do what her parent has urged her to do, and that's kind of how it was.

After getting permission from Marissa to set it down and try something else, I wrote pages and pages on Mildred Pierce instead. This essay has exploded into something way bigger than I expected. I might have to cut some entire threads away, or write something longer than I've written before in this mode. It's a big mess. I love it, and mentally, it's both all I want to do and a terrifying spectre of work to come.

Just now wrote several hundred messy words about the way vacation dragged up my conflicted feelings about book reviewing and the position I've found myself in here in September of 2019, five months away from my first book publication and so piled up with work for minimal/no pay that I can't see over the top of it. The conflict is about being good at something that has only helped me to be the kind of writer I want to be in this sidewinding, indirect way, and that may not be helping me do that at all anymore. About editors liking the thing I do as a kickstand more than they like the thing that is the bicycle. None of those words drew meaningful conclusions, so I hid them somewhere else.

Worry is so heavy.

I took a writing workshop on vacation, a very low-key one, and one of the discussions got involved enough that I sent my Singin' in the Rain essay to the rest of the group as "this is what I meant about The Lifespan of a Fact." The instructor, whom I really liked and who I think liked me, said she enjoyed the essay a lot. I told her it had collected nineteen rejections. She said "Wow. Really? That's a surprise." That soothed me, as I'm close to despairing of that one. I know it's good. No one wants it.

It's so strange how blessings have come to me in the last few years. I put out wishes and gratitude and work into the universe, and what I get back is always just to the left of what I thought I was seeking. And it turns out fine. I can't put most of the examples in writing, but here's one: I'm friends with a bunch of head editors at small presses at this point, and they've all helped me enormously, but their help hasn't been specific to getting any of my books published. Like, I thought that'd be the favor I'd want from a small press editor, to accept my manuscript, but no, they grant me other favors instead. It's terrific, but also why are we doing it this way, life?! I'm grateful for the blessings but unable to unravel what their squintable qualities mean, nor how to plan around and beyond them.

Or my editorship at Barrelhouse, which has evolved into a hefty bullet point on my CV, and it was utterly random how that happened and how it progressed into teaching an online course for them. But this I can say: none of it would have happened if I hadn't pushed. If I hadn't said I want this, may I have it? to the people who could give it to me.

So if there is a lesson from this extremely confusing period of my life, it's "ask for what you want." You may not get it, but you are far less likely to get it if you don't ask.

Also, here's a truth: I am so grateful that I heard a thousand times no about book publication for as long as I did. All around me, I'm seeing authors fah-reeeeeeking ouuuuut about their first book, from pre-pub terror to post-pub obsessing about reviews and sales hiccups. I still have plenty of time to participate in these behaviors, of course, and I'm not saying I'm so far above it all that I'll never melt down about a mean review. But the deeper I've dug into literature and publishing and magazines and rejection, the cooler a head I've been able to keep about it all, and the more I've been able to strategize about what I want out of book publication (in short: legs, not blitz). The dozens of reviews I've promoted over the last couple of years have taught me how to promote stuff, when to start and stop, how much is too much, and not to cringe when tooting my own horn.

Often I'm frustrated that X measure of success couldn't have happened two or five years ago, instead of now. But two or five years ago, I did not have the emotional stability about my work to cope with a book coming into the world. I can see exactly how I would have behaved from observing the people who, I can tell, were not ready. I never thought I'd be glad that my first book waited so long before arriving - sometimes I have been carved from a single block of impatience about this - but I'm telling you, it's so much better for my soul that it's happening now.

Speaking of good for my soul, today's a horse barn volunteer day. I missed the horses on vacation. I missed the smells of them, the happy weariness of my body after four hours with them. I'm trying to learn their body language from this book, but it's so complicated, and conflicts with human body language so much, that it's slow going. I don't know where this current involvement with horses is headed, but if all it remains is mucking stalls and currying twice a week, I'm on board.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Drop, Pull Back

A while ago I attended a group meeting with people I didn't know very well. The dynamics of the group were extremely weird; one person was very dominant (not abusively/obnoxiously so, just...alpha), and the others kind of automatically succumbed. As a versatile, I tend to consciously lean bottom when I'm around dominant people, rather than trying to compete with them. Competing with tops - particularly tops who aren't aware of how domineering they are - doesn't go well in groups. If I put my head down and let them lead, they are happier and more group stuff gets accomplished. If no one in the group is interested in leading, I'll go top. How much I let my inner leader out depends on the dynamic and the context.

Anyhow, when this dominant guy interacted with me directly, I alternated between direct answers and answers that would lead in a circle back to him, rather than to me. I kept a fence between the vulnerable parts of my personality and the questions he asked. Sometimes he needled, and I smiled and misdirected. I usually do this with people I straight-up dislike, rather than people who are harmless but not that easygoing, and I dislike so few people that my skills are rusty. I can't quite explain why I felt the need to protect myself around him, but that's what my instincts told me to do.

One of the favored books of my library is The Secret Language of Birthdays, a reference book that's a unique mix between astrology and big data. The authors have assembled a kind of composite horoscope for every birthday in the year based on the average traits of famous people born on that day. I love this book. It's often right, although not perfect (my husband's horoscope is 100% wrong), and I love reading people their birthday pages and asking them what they think. Mine is bang on.


When I got home from this group meeting, I went straight to the birthday book. I was thinking about a particular passage in my birthday horoscope that I hadn't understood very well:
October 13 people can be very elusive when necessary. Those who wish to use an October 13 person to elicit information or appropriate knowledge may find that after having had their interview or conversation they have learned precious little, if anything at all; what they grasped was but smoke and mirrors. 
Yep. That's exactly how I acted in that group. Deliberately elusive, instead of throwing it all out on the clothesline.

I could write for a while about how I developed the judgment to elude rather than expose. Mostly it was due to a terrible human being I met soon after college, whom I trusted, and who turned out to be just a little bit of a sociopath. He used a personal mistake of mine to make me homeless, for example, when it was really none of his business. A couple of years later, I took the time to analyze how he wormed his way into my confidence, and the warning signs I could have understood better. Since then, my trust has had layers and subtleties, rather than diffusing out to whoever. I'm not a private person at all - good luck blackmailing me, truly - but letting people understand how I think, what I want? That's a whole different ball game.

After I reread that passage in the birthday book I went on and reread the rest of my horoscope. I read it often, to remind me who I am when I get stuck in surface identities or other people's expectations. Different aspects of the horoscope have become more and less important over time. This time, the "advice" section stuck out so strongly it might as well have been red and blinking:

You must learn to relax. 
Take frequent vacations or at least rest periods where you do absolutely nothing. 

Lately, the shoulder pain that plagued me in early 2017 has returned. I spent hundreds of dollars and loads of time on physical therapy then, before I figured out that the problem was simply my posture. Between my heavy, slippery-strapped purse (right shoulder) and my sleeping posture (left side), I unconsciously jack my left shoulder forward all the time so that the muscles in my back stretch and warp and eventually start to hurt. Dozens (hundreds?) of times a day, I consciously relax those muscles, drop the shoulder and pull it back. Drop, pull back. Drop, pull back. The pain varies every day depending on my activities and how successful I am at remembering to do this, but lately it's been very bad, such that I'm using a silver-bullet pain relief potion I've been hoarding for almost a decade (it's discontinued) just to make sitting up bearable. Matt tapes me some mornings, which helps but isn't a great solution; my muscles just pull harder against the tape.

You must learn to relax. 

I didn't know that relaxing was something I had to learn, rather than something I could just do. Or, perhaps I didn't understand that relaxing was something I had to learn.

This morning I went for a walk. I left behind my phone, which I rarely do anymore when I go out to run or walk. I wanted to feel some fucking peace and quiet. But my mind yammered at me so loudly. I'm going out of town on Saturday and I can't stop worrying about that: about my lodging arrangements there, what I'll miss here in terms of freelance work, the growing pile of books for when I get back, the work that's in limbo right now, the creative work I want to do there, whether I'll have the materials I need, missing friends, seeing friends, flights and timing, what I'll fit into my suitcase, money stuff, a weird job idea, Ceremonials arrangements, ya ya ya ya ya. Woes both practical and existential, so many of them I could barely see.

I felt exhausted. Not physically but mentally. Just from thinking. I'd barely been awake for an hour. I tried both a mantra and a song to clear my head but neither worked.

I stopped at a shady spot and sat down on the curb. Drop, pull back. You must learn to relax. A calm, continuous breeze blew. I felt frail, like a vase so thinly forged you can see light through it. My brain kept motoring, so I tried not to resist it, but instead to observe tiny, obvious things: the shadows of leaves on the pavement, the temperature, the breeze, any birds. Drop, pull back. Distantly, I heard the peacocks that this family a few blocks away keep in their backyard. Their calls carry extremely well, but it's still largely a matter of wind direction whether I can hear them on my walks. I concentrated on nothing else but hearing those peacocks. The call was so far away that straining to hear it blocked out a lot of other mental endeavor.

Suddenly the breeze felt good. Suddenly I was able to close my eyes. Suddenly I could stop worrying, for a second, about half of the things on my mind. It was like putting that potion on my back: the problem wasn't gone, but the pain was, for a little bit.

You must learn to relax. 

How do I relax? How do I learn how to do that? How do I know the difference between relaxing and manically performing leisure activities, which translates in reality to performing coping strategies for stress rather than enjoying actual down time? How does my either/or personality find space for actual relaxation in a given week, instead of long stretches of work hard/sleep hard?

Drop, pull back. Drop, pull back.

The good news is that the place I'm going on Saturday is the only place I've ever been where I feel truly relaxed and yet not lazy. I can sit in one place for hours, pass up opportunities in order to stare out the window without feeling guilty about it, take walks going nowhere for no reason. In the rest of my life I feel the need for a purpose almost every waking moment, but not there. Purpose evaporates easily as soon as I set foot there.

--

I should tell you promotional news about Ceremonials and the other stuff that's been published this month. Preorders are open and good stuff is happening. But I can't bring myself to open up those doors in my head again before I finish this off and publish it.

I must learn to relax.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Chocolate Broccoli

I came to the blog because I wanted to write freely.  - HDT, paraphrased

This week probably evens out to neutral if I weigh it all together. Totally rotten stuff happened, annoying stuff happened, strong accomplishments happened, connecting with others happened. I didn't leave the house much, but when I did, I went to a reading and met someone cool.

I'm nervous about August 15, because a bunch of bills are due and a handful of deadlines are happening. I've got work due for the Washington Post and the Women's Review of Books and the books have not arrived at my house yet. I was supposed to have been working on a website recently, but I feel in over my head about it, and I need to put together the materials for a class I'm going to teach in September, but I've just been trying to meet review deadlines. Really I need to go back to using my Excel spreadsheet, with all the books & their release dates & deadlines, but it grew so tiresome to update that I am relying on post-it notes, which isn't working. Organization shall set me free, I know it. But staring at the pile of ARCs in terror is quicker.

My schedule for the year included writing a hybrid essay in July, and I didn't. It's about Last Tango in Paris, which I rewatched early in the month (or in June maybe?), and which, as I said on Facebook, I found very different than when I first watched it, when I was, oh, twenty. Part of this is life experience, but another part is watching so many movies in between and finding that Bertolucci, while he knows better where to put the camera than plenty of other directors, is not the all-time genius I thought he was. Others have done better, even if they didn't get Brando.

It's misogynistic, natch, but I found the misogyny the least interesting thing about the film, and certainly the least curious. Poor characterization, a sort of exuberant attempt at metatext, and unexpected inconsistencies leaped out at me a lot more than the fact that the woman of the pair is usually naked and the man is usually clothed, that he's a weird obsessive creep and she's I think actually a teenager?, and of course The Butter Scene. It's all so run-of-the-mill. Men are trash. I am Jill's utter lack of surprise.

Anyway, the essay is about the uses of the body, and in that way it only glances at Last Tango, so it shouldn't have been such a chore to write that I failed to sit down to it for thirty-one days. But I did. And now it's August and I've got to gear up to write about Mildred Pierce, which I've been looking forward to since last year. Can't decide whether to try and squeeze out two essays in the next six weeks or leave Last Tango for later. Scarf down the broccoli with my eyes shut so I can enjoy the mousse? Or just eat the dang mousse and put the broccoli in the fridge?

Image result for broccoli dessert
Or both at once, if you're an UTTER WEIRDO

My bylines are getting better and better, and my emails are getting answered more often, and I'm proud of that. But - and this is something I learned in high school, and continue to relearn every freaking year - the better one does, the more in demand one becomes, until one's responsibilities crush one like a steamroller crushes a cartoon character. I feel flat. I'm tired enough from assignments and successful pitches that I don't have the energy to pitch books I haven't placed. The backlog grows, and my deadlines loom, and I feel proud but also very tired. I want to get off. I want to stop. I want a week where I'm not exhausted either by work or by guilt for not doing work. Which, truly, are equivalent burdens.

Part of the problem with this profession is the timeline of it all. My non-review work has been rejected a bunch lately, which means it's time to find more markets to send it out to. If I don't do that now, then my lag time, while I wait for responses, will be much longer later, and I won't have anything useful to do with that time. It's like missing a round when you're round singing (eg "Row Row Row Your Boat"): it messes up the pattern down the line.

[This is part of why I haven't found it easy to slow down reviewing, because I worry that if I say no now, I won't have anything at all to write about later. Plus, the timeline for press publicity varies wildly from one book to the next. Sometimes I get info for a book next month that looks amazing, so I don't want to turn it down; sometimes I get info for a book in six months that just looks okay, but my schedule is open for then, so I don't want to turn it down. This is how I end up with two dozen books on my desk.]

The timing issues at the moment are a) researching more markets for the hybrid stuff that keeps getting rejected and b) the sense that I need to query agents. I did some research recently on who might want to see my essay collection. It'd probably be wise to query them now, so when they get back to me in a few months I'll have more completed essays to send them, and hopefully the essays I sent out on submission a few months ago will have gotten accepted.

See how it all fits together? It's obnoxious, having to plan like this, especially when the people you're planning for and around are often bad planners, or at the very least unpredictable.

Oh and: I'm now the sole reviews editor at Barrelhouse. That's great, for a variety of reasons, but it's...more. More work, more prestige, more worry.

In just two weeks I'm going on a kind of vacation, but freelancers out there know that vacation is a trap and a lie, even more so than in a reliably scheduled profession. I'm going to try and schedule out my time this month so as to treat the week like a vacation (I'm planning to write the Mildred Pierce essay that week, so it won't really be a break, but it will be a break from reviews & pitches & editing).

Before I leave, there's a lot to do. I placed a portfolio of eight reviews for September books, so I don't have to worry about pitching them all, but I should probably read at least half of them this month. That placement leaves me with two August books I still have to place and...four? reviews I've placed that I have to write (let's see: Steinberg, Skibsrud, Earley...okay, three), plus three books for Locus. I've settled in to reviewing three books per month for Locus, and I LOVE it, it's some of my most unpredictable and thus wonderful monthly reading, but it's a thing semi-permanently on the list.

Damn. Writing all that out. I guess I do do a lot. Maybe that's why I stopped using the Excel spreadsheet: it's horrible to see the traffic and not know what to do to thin it out.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Splat

In this new normal of full-time freelance, every month is weirder than the last. Some months are triumphant, some are jam-packed, some are slow, some are remarkably painful. June was a strange month, when I should have read more and done less meaningless stuff, and July has been intense and, most recently, very bad. Sunday saw the definite end of a hope I'd been nursing for just about a year, something career and creativity related that I hoped would be meaningful to more people than just me. But it fell totally flat, ptt, like missing a step off your porch and going splat into your front walk.

Ow.

I had a smaller disappointment a few days prior that I can't get out of my head. It's a writing-related struggle, exactly the kind of thing that I want to share here, but can't, because you will all think I'm a jerk, and besides I don't want to turn this particular rejection into Writing Material. It's causing me to feel both blue and panicky, and I don't know quite how to negotiate those in tandem.

But I shall rally. I got an email this morning asking if I consented to one of my reviews being translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil, and I was like ¿¿okay?? because it's the kind of thing that's exciting and terrific but that I never ever would have imagined, neither on the yay or nay scale, in no way would I have imagined it as something someone would ask me about, for any reason, ever. But it's nice. I'm happy the review caught someone's eye. In Brazil.

I worked well last week. Many blurbs are in for Ceremonials, all lovely.

Like this one, which is so generous it makes me dizzy. 

I'm churning out reviews at speed, even ones I should have checked the release calendar before writing, oops. I agreed to set up a website for a writer group I belong to and the Wordpress setup is really different for Bluehost than for GoDaddy, and I feel in over my head, but I'll figure it out. The book pile is not getting shorter despite gentle no-thankses to multiple publicists. I just want to help all of them! All the writers, all the books! They all seem worthwhile.

I've had a blog post in mind for weeks, but haven't put it together, because I have been writing for money or deadline instead. That's part of why I haven't been here in a while. Also, I feel like many of my insights have been milked right out of me at this point. This is my 548th post on this blog, and I've written as much as I can about how I've gotten where I am. I know there's plenty more to say, and that there ever will be, but for a while now this hasn't been the first place I think of to say it.

Still and ever I'm trying to figure out what to say here, when it's no longer a steam valve, when it's no longer a default for work that can't go anyplace else, when the politics of the writing world make me shut my mouth a lot more than I did two years ago. I want to tell you backstories of the work I publish, but some of them are too simple to be useful ("they assigned me to interview her, and I did") or too complicated to be interesting to anyone but me ("in fifth grade I was standing in the lunch line when...").

Part of Sunday being a bad day was making a list of things that made me angry, in the hope that I'd purge them. Instead I walked around with them clanging in me for the next few hours. I haven't tried a lot of the standard methods for managing my emotions (journaling, rituals, screaming into a pillow); it's mostly just analysis, tumbling things around in my head until I figure them out and calm down. And sometimes exercise. Or cleaning. I hate cleaning so when I'm mad is the only time cleaning works out for me. On Sunday I just ran over and over the list (there were 23 items), getting madder and madder and not knowing how to let any of them go.

A few of the things on that list resolved, but others have stuck around and are still making me angry. That's how my to-do lists are, too. I accomplish dozens of things every week (due credit), but the things that stick around are amorphous enough to possibly have no solution.

I'll tell you something that made me mixed-mad: reading Axiomatic, by Maria Tumarkin. I landed a review of that book someplace! exciting! and it pissed me off to read, because it's the barest, most exacting nonfiction I've ever read, shaving down every unnecessary word until it's pure meaning, clipping along at an exhilarating, exhausting pace. It's the kind of writing my tenth-grade English teacher told me to stop doing because I was moving too fast for anyone except myself, skipping from point A to point H and not helping my reader come along to all the letters in between. I trained myself out of writing this way, and I don't know how Tumarkin learned to do it in a way that's acceptable to other people. I hate her, and I want to read every single word she's ever written. She makes all of us who write mixed-form nonfiction look bad, even if we're doing different things than she is.

Anyway. Here's some stuff I wrote recently that I'm proud of.

An essay about David Shields and Erica Garza that I hoped would get more attention than it did. I guess I put it off too long. "This is the burden of women who write: we are constitutionally incapable of assuming that our worldview is general, is the default, because we absorb evidence every day, from all corners of culture, that it isn’t."

A short piece about Nick Drake on the 50th anniversary of his debut album. If I'd told college-age me that someone would pay her to write something adulatory and off the top of her head about Nick Drake, she would've dissolved into joy. I would've tried my best not to say "but there's a lot of baggage that goes along with this awesomeness - -"

Thursday, June 27, 2019

My Back Burner

I haven't updated my website since May. Plenty of reviews and articles have appeared, but I've let that aspect of self-promotion slide. I'm a little bit sick of the sound of my own voice (the sight of my own words?), so that's part of the reason, but it's also just a chore entailing minimal reward.

This week I've been writing little stray-thoughts posts on Facebook attached to pictures of flowers I take on my morning walks. Matt has been working 60-80 hours per week recently, so partly I'm releasing the flotsam I'd otherwise tell him over dinner. I also want to publicly reinforce the drilled-down experience of being alive in the world, with flowers and music and food and quirky encounters, at a time when I'm overwhelmed by the world's larger ugliness.



I've also been using this week to clear off my back burner. Because I didn't have many firm deadlines from June through late July, I couldn't figure out how to set work-ahead priorities. I got paralyzed by everything due in September and ended up not being able to work at all. Finally, last weekend, I made a list of the things I'd been meaning to do for months or years: a comparison essay between two February books that I pitched but no one wanted; an interview of more than an hour I needed to transcribe; an article I pitched that the editor wanted, but didn't have time for immediately, so "whenever" was the deadline; a phenomenal book about Vertigo I wanted to read but needed to pay real attention to. It seemed like about a week of work, and I had one week left in June that I couldn't settle on a use for. So I put those two hands together, and now it's Thursday and I'm done with 2/3 of that stuff. Much of it is homeless as of yet, but at least it's getting done, making room for more.

Depending on how you look at it, I either started or got into a fight this week in the literary world. It hasn't been a pleasant experience, and it may have burned a bridge or two. (The worst stuff is happening in private groups.) I wish it hadn't gone down the way it did, but differing opinions are inevitable. And I can't make people look into my heart and see my intentions when all I have is words.

I got two really dumb rejections this week. One I actually laughed aloud at, and the other gave me the impulse to write back and say, "You misunderstood my pitch." (Of course I did not.) Onward.

I also got a pair of really heartening acceptances. One will let me write about a phenomenal book for an outlet I always love writing for, and the other will let me make a little money at something I've been wanting to do for a couple of years.

Two well-paying magazines are stringing me along. A handful more aren't writing me back.

And I spent my first few hours volunteering at RideOn, an equine therapy organization just a few blocks from my house. I scooped poop and curried horses and (incorrectly) cleaned saddles. It was a fantastic experience and I hope to do it a couple of times a week from here on. The manual labor was almost enjoyable because horses were nearby. Maybe the secret to cleaning my kitchen is getting a pony to keep near the sink?

The week of promotion for "After Gardens" is over at last; the final gesture was a short guest post about my weird revision process. I learned A LOT. The main thing I learned is that the ecosystem of book blogging is not one I want to be involved in again. Not because it inherently sucks, but because it sucks real, real bad for me. I don't get my first royalty statement until August, but I'll be biting my nails until then to see if all that promo worked.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Plan Vaguely

Last week I worked intensively on my next hybrid essay, a study of the 1975 film Jeanne Dielman. I'm nearly finished. It's less hybrid than the pattern has been so far, as I didn't have any ideas for a thread of fiction to weave in. Instead, I integrated quotes from Cixous, repetitive thoughts, and, if I'm lucky enough to find a graphic designer to help me, a few diagrams. The only titles I've come up with are either lame or obvious, so I'm hoping a good one comes along soon. I wanted to submit it to True Story, because I thought it might wind up long enough (>5,000 wds), but it did not. So who knows.

It's good to be almost finished with this one. Dielman is the most sophisticated film I've written about for this collection so far, the least mainstream. I worried about how that would impact my writing about it, but it seems to have come out okay. Also, the more of these I write, the less it seems like a fluke that I'm writing them, and the more it feels like a collection. That's a big relief.

Three more to write this year. Next is Last Tango in Paris, which I'm not really looking forward to seeing again, but which makes a point I've never seen another film make. I hope to finish that one before the end of July. In August I've arranged to spend a week away, in a nurturing creative environment, and I want to draft the one about Mildred Pierce there. (I was also thinking about starting on a bigger project involving Plan 9 from Outer Space during that week, but I applied for a couple of residencies with the Plan 9 project so maybe I should leave it alone for now.) The final hybrid essay will be on The Misfits, and my calendar says "fall" for that.

I didn't want to give myself really tough deadlines in case some other project or job became a huge, unexpected time-suck. There's nothing worse, for me, than setting a goal and not meeting it. Doing that makes me feel worthless - a whole different thing than just reworking a calendar. I can make writing plans a few months in advance, but beyond that I try to plan vaguely, then sharpen up my intentions when the time comes. If the next two essays go really well, I might end up finishing the Misfits essay in September, but I'm not ruling out being in-progress on it by the time December comes.

I also wrote a handful of other things, articles I didn't expect to write and a couple of reviews. And I read a bunch of books and sent a bunch of pitches and shot my mouth off on Twitter, resulting in more opportunities, for some reason. I'll never understand this. It's like how, in Mass Effect, rude-ass Shepard is treated exactly the same as kind-hearted Shepard. Why. People should be nicer to nicer people, shouldn't they?

I continue to count down the days until my little women's fiction story, "After Gardens," releases from the Wild Rose Press. You can preorder it on Amazon here. Eight more days!


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesdays, for Some Reason

When I was in high school and college I was a gigantic musichead. I read Rolling Stone cover to cover; I spent thousands of dollars on CDs; I connected dots between dozens of artists based on producers and studio musicians like Nellee Hooper and Justin Meldal-Johnsen. I knew that Calvin Johnson was the other guy on the cover of Beck's One Foot in the Grave. I could keep going.

It took at least a year for me to recognize patterns in the industry. For instance, that most indie records came out in the fall and that all records were released on Tuesdays. I still don't know why this is. My wild guess is that it's left over from obsolete logistics that meant physical shipments arrived on Mondays (or, if they were late, Tuesdays) and the staff needed time to unpack the boxes and stock the album. But maybe not, maybe it's related to statistics about when people buy things.

Picking up patterns in the book world has taken me a shorter time, but I am not distracted by as many things now as I was then. When books come out in the calendar year is often related to their subject matter; uplifting books come out in the summer and serious books come out in the winter. July is a total dead zone. And books, like albums, usually come out on Tuesdays.

Today is Tuesday. And a shocking number of highly anticipated books are coming out on this one day: Sarah Gailey's Magic for Liars, Kristen Arnett's Mostly Dead Things, Ocean Vuong's debut novel, the latest novels from Elizabeth Gilbert and Neal Stephenson, on and on and on. My Twitter feed is sparking and spitting fire. I don't know why the Big Five picked today to dump so many big-deal books. I'm guessing it's the same reason they barely release anything in July - this is the last week to get book dollaz before people start going on vacation and...stop...buying books?

I mean, they know their business (I think) but it seems like, if no one is dropping good stuff in July, maybe be the press that drops something good in July, and the book will do way better than if you put it out at the same time as four other debuts that have been hyped for the past two or six months. This is how March has gradually become a decent month to release films. It used to be a dumping ground for failed Oscar bids, but starting in the late 00s, studios started putting better-than-average summer releases out in March, and now there's plenty of good stuff to see during that month. It seems like the book business could do this too.

Maybe not; maybe they've tried that and it doesn't work. But for the remoras of the publishing industry, like me, a huge dump of buzzy books on one day and then nothing for two months is super unhelpful and frustrating. It means we fight to cover the most popular books in a timely way and then, for weeks, have nothing to do (or get paid for).

All this would be a lot easier if book coverage weren't obsessed with reviewing books at the moment they come out. But it is. I wish that would loosen, because reading a book is a different project than watching a film, and keeping up is so, so, so much harder. But boundaries between the theater market and the home video market have blurred in a way not really repeatable in the book world, so it might be hopeless.

My friend Jen Pastiloff's book also releases today. I haven't said much about it on social media & etc. because Jen does not need help from me; she has a street team, and celebrities like Pink and Patton Oswalt have been hyping her book. But she's a magical person, and her book is as loving and true as she is. It's, well, a great summer read.

There'll be another Tuesday next week, another batch of books coming out from various presses and places. But I suspect most people will still be reading this week's stuff. How good can a book be if it's already forgotten by the time the next week's book comes out?

my to-read/review pile, mostly fall releases