Thursday, February 15, 2018

Two-Parter

Part One

I secretly love figure skating. A lot. I don't know anything about it technically and I can barely keep my own balance on ice, but I love watching it almost as much as I love watching Fred & Ginger dance. I haven't been watching the Winter Olympics live (ain't nobody got time for that), but I have been watching highlights on YouTube. Someone posted a video of the gold medalists in pairs skating, Germans, Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot. Here is that video.

In case NBC takes it down before you get the chance to read this, they give an astonishingly beautiful program, and then, at the very end, this happens.



The way they both collapse bears no kinship to the beauty and strength they displayed for the prior four minutes. Thank goodness she's smiling when she turns over, because in watching this loop again and again, he really does kinda drop her. But I understand why. The feat they've just performed is astonishing and they need a moment to not be using muscles. It all just runs out of them.

I love this loop, made a gif out of it, because you almost never see Olympic-level athletes surrender like this. It's wonderful. It's relief and triumph and and joy and exhaustion all wrapped into fifteen seconds.

I thought of three things simultaneously when I saw this clip. One, Annie Dillard, from The Writing Life:
I asked [a joyful painter I knew] how he came to be a painter. He said, "I liked the smell of the paint." 
Two, Cheryl Strayed, from a 2010 Dear Sugar column:
To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That’s where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep. I sobbed and I wailed and I laughed through my tears. I didn’t get up for half an hour. I was too happy and grateful to stand. 
Three, The Cutting Edge (look, shut up, it was a beloved film of my adolescence), a conversation somewhere in the middle of the film. Kate, a wealthy and driven figure skater, finds a picture of Doug, a middle-class ice hockey player, smelling the ice after the rink has been zambonied. She asks him about it, and he says he loves the smell of the ice. She says she never really thought about it.

In the same paragraph as the paint-smell thing, Dillard retells a story which I'm sure I've related on this blog, the thrust of which is that if you want to be a writer, you should probably like sentences. Which I do. Sometimes you have to take a moment to smell the ice. Let it all run out of you and lie down breathing.

I want to perform a feat before I collapse like that, but the feat might be getting through Februrary of 2018.

Part Two

Talk is easy. To-do lists are great. Time is unforgiving. From a forthcoming book, Maps Are Lines We Draw, by Allison Coffelt:
Beginnings, middles, ends: this is the stuff of stories we tell. We write our personal and political histories with order in mind, choosing what goes where. Meanwhile, the sections bleed into each other. And time makes everything into a past that informs the present. 
I don't know what to say other than that. I have a fever and I have applied for two residencies and a grant just this month and have seven deadlines yet to fulfill before the end of February and my throat hurts so bad but I'm not sick enough to be flat out on the couch with the TV on, so I'm procrastinating writing the weird thing and the awesome thing and the chore things, reading the exciting thing to do the other exciting thing, and cleaning up the damn apartment, which is beginning to resemble the verb form "strewn".

Forgive me. The tarot told me this would be a month of celebration, but I'm not feeling it - not really. My best friend is getting married at the end of the month, so maybe I should just write off the idea that it's me who gets to be celebrated. Should just be as happy as I truly am for him. Mostly I am sad, that kind of sad where you want someone to comfort you right up until you want them to go away. I honestly think I am sick now instead of in December, when everyone else was, because now I am sad and my body is like, no, this we can't weather.

Count your blessings, Kat. Only thing to report about being in the world is a bit of a doozy: a review of Tim Kreider's essay collection I Wrote This Book Because I Love You, because I love him, in Another Chicago Magazine. The editor worked so hard on this piece with me and I am grateful to her.

A handful of bylines are set to drop in the next couple of weeks, which means I really need to update my website. Not that that's making me sadder, because yay for me! bylines!, but the subsequent need to update sure is a bummer.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Interference/Interaction

First (click to embiggen):

What I hope is the first of many yoga/writing workshops I will teach with the amazing Alicia Easter. Get in touch if you're in LA and you want to come. I'd love to see you. Facebook event is here.

I'm writing this post to warm up toward writing a review I don't really want to do. The book has been getting praise from all kinds of reliable sources, and the audience for the outlet I pitched fits the book like Legos locking together. But I'm dubious about the book. I'm not sure whether what it says is worth saying. I'm not sure why the narrator is worth rooting for; not that likability is necessary, but there has to be something redeeming or at least positive about a narrating character and I'm not sure that's the case here.

This morning I quit a book I was reading for review after 50 pages. I feel super guilty, because I made a bit of a fuss about getting the book and I had a great idea for a venue that would pay me for a review, but it's an even worse fit for me than the book in the prior paragraph. It's almost Victorian in its explanatory quality, in the plainness of its style, and I kept wanting to pick up a red pen and slash through whole paragraphs.

I didn't think I could afford to be picky at this stage of my work, but walking through mud sucks.

It's okay. The stack of books I have to read/review is still 10+ tall (including commissioned reviews, the existence of which in my wee life is slightly beyond belief to me). I haven't asked for any new ARCs in some weeks because of the backlog, and because I can't keep this up; the stack of non-review books I want to read is now alarming and I really want several weeks to hole up and read for fun instead. I can't keep reviewing at the rate I have been and still continue to enjoy reading. I don't know how this conflict is going to settle out, but that is how my life has been going for the past few weeks: in a pickle and not knowing how to dill.

My new obsession is the small press The Operating System, from which I bought a quartet of chapbooks after reading the wonderful book The Science of Things Familiar by Johnny Damm. The chapbooks are terrific, small and well-made, experimental and heartfelt.

Other parts of my life are interfering with writing, or possibly writing is interfering with other parts of my life and the other parts are retaliating dramatically. 2018 did not begin well, personally. The huge Tarot spread I did on New Year's Day tells me better things are ahead in February, but I'm unsure whether I'm supposed to be taking action or not. This is why trusting stuff like Tarot is so risky: you start to wonder whether the cards are interacting with your proactive efforts, or if you're supposed to sit still and let the world work.

Out in the world:

An essay about work, which I wrote over a year ago and which kept getting rejected. I knew it was oddly shaped and unparallel to itself, but I didn't want to change it; I wanted it to wind, like a story. Gayle didn't want to change it either, which is why I'm so happy that it's on Lady/Liberty/Lit. The title is a reference to The American Way of Death, which has become obscure, I think, even though no books have come along to replace it that I'm aware of.

A Books I Hate interview with Tomas Moniz. He is a very nice man and a fine writer.

Victorian Spam columns three, four, and five.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Discomfort Is Not Its Own Reward

One of the essays I whipped out in December regarded a topic I'd been thinking about for months: how love is not always neatly boxed into one or another category, e.g. romantic love, platonic love, sibling love, etc. I wrote about my friend's not-quite-closed marriage (which is not open); about the attachment I have with another friend, who is a sister to me but whose body is a luscious part of our sisterhood; about a strange, filial/sexual/agape/physical love scene in a film I saw. The main thread of the essay was the platonic but helpless love I fell into last year with a person in my life who is unaware of that love. (Don't worry, sports fans, my marriage is sound [and closed].)

I termed all this "blurry love", and everyone I spoke to about the essay prior to writing it was enthused about the idea.

After I wrote the essay, I sent it to a small handful of people. No one gave me specific feedback. Matt read it and said it was good, but he always says that. People said they'd get back to me or just didn't respond at all. I thought it was missing something, though I wasn't sure what; I was impatient to revise it into something I was comfortable sending out. So I sent it to my monthly writing workshop group.

In doing so, I ignored a few mental warning bells. Most of the group knows the platonic-love person I refer to in the essay. And they certainly know me. There's uncomfortable stuff in the essay for sure, but that's the nature of what I'm writing about. Blurry love is uncomfortable. That's why I wrote the damn thing: to open up the discomfort of un-ordinary forms of love to discussion. I figured we were all grownups in the group, and besides, I went to great lengths in the essay to explain just how platonic was the love I describe.

A friend who has a fairly extensive friendship with the platonic-love person wrote me a few days before the group met to tell me she was not comfortable talking about the essay and she'd have to miss the meeting that week. She was perfectly kind, but it still upset me badly. I valued the friendship a hell of a lot more than the essay and I didn't want to damage it; plus, the essay felt like a failure, since no one wanted to talk about it. I worked hard on it, so that stung.

I deleted the essay from Google Docs and sent something else to the group instead. The friend and I hashed out what happened a little bit and decided to move on.

This past weekend, I finished Tim Kreider's forthcoming book of essays, and in it he ventures up to this same thesis of mine: that not all categories of love are as well-boundaried as we'd like to think they are. And, potentially, no categories of love really are, and culturally, we're calling certain what's really quite fuzzy.

In spite of Kreider, in spite of my own fervor for telling the ineffable, this essay might not be salvageable. Evidently no one, in any context, wants to talk to me about it, and that's basically insurmountable, since I know something's wrong with it that I can't see and that needs fixing. It's possible that I'm hitting a limit I've hit once or twice before: the point where discomfort is not its own reward, where the ineffable should remain ineffable so as not to make people's skin crawl at what I've written. In my mid-20s I wrote a handful of stories about men doing violence to women that attempted to comprehend the monstrous, and thus displayed it. I don't regret that work, but I (irrationally) wish to control it completely, to direct it toward people who need it and away from people whom it will hurt. That's not how creative work works, once it's in the world. This essay might be a mid-30s version of that work - teasing out a complexity that no one actually wants to read about.

It's also possible that the essay's just not that good. Not worth salvaging. That my creative feet are too big for this particular thematic tightrope. That hasn't happened to me in a while, but it does happen.

These past few weeks have held big ups and big downs. Dizzying highs, terrifying lows, and creamy middles, to quote Pater Simpson. I got in the mail a paper magazine with my name in it, and an accompanying check. Despite the plethora of online bylines and the handful of payments I've picked up in the past year, that was an unbelievable thing to hold in my hand. Then the secret project got rejected by my dream press.* A review of a book I completely adored can't find placement to save its life - I think I've hit 20 unsuccessful pitches on it - while a handful of reviews for books to which I was mostly indifferent (and one I didn't even like) have found homes in places I couldn't dream of hitting with my stories or essays. I got an acceptance for a story I'd trunked in 2014 and was only this final rejection away from trunking again. I am stressfully behind on reading, reviewing, and revising, as well as interviews, planning for the semester, planning my next solo workshop, and sleep. Also, for much of the past month I was operating under a poor medication choice that turned me into an emotional lunatic. Thank goodness the effects seem to be ebbing away now, but I'm depleted, as if I've been on a long, active travel trip. Inside my own head.

None of this excuses me from making a bad choice with the blurry love essay. But I wish that choice hadn't been part of the tapestry.


Out in the world:

First two columns of Victorian Spam: one and two.

I reviewed Mira T. Lee's Everything Here Is Beautiful for the Masters Review. I did not expect to like this book but I did.

I reviewed Anca L. Szilágyi's Daughters of the Air for Locus. It's in the print issue for January, and I don't know if it'll show up in the online issue eventually. I hope it does; it's a good review (I think) for an unusual book.

What amounts to a hot take on an article in the Guardian about depression. My rebuttal on Medium. It cost me a Facebook friend and a reasonable amount of anguish to make this argument, but I'm not sorry. Friends who have struggled with the same issues chimed in to thank me.

---
*More complex truth: I lust to be published by this press even though the style of writing they publish hasn't got much in common with what I write. I sent them the manuscript on a prayer more than a belief, so the rejection was not a surprise (one of those cases where "it's not right for us" is the whole truth), and they said nice things about the writing, but it still hurt. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Spinning Wheels/Plates

First on the agenda: I am starting a column at Occulum under the pseudonym Valkyrie 13. It's called Victorian Spam, and it will appear every Tuesday under "Ragtag" at Occulum.net. If you follow Occulum on Twitter you'll get notifications about the column every time (I think).

To tell you more would spoil the fun. Except: if you run a small press and you like what I'm doing there, get in touch with me.

Second: I'm losing track of, among my published/accepted items, what I've promoted on this blog, what I've promoted in my newsletter, what I've shared on Facebook, and what hasn't gone out into the world yet. This is a terrific problem to have, though the inherent joy there makes it no less frustrating. I'm including a list of links at the bottom of this post in case you missed anything recently, but I'm not specifically jockeying for you to read any of them. A thing you should definitely do if you're interested in all things me is subscribe to my newsletter.

Third: In truth, all the writing problems I'm having lately are good problems to have. I'm having simult sub problems, which means more than one market wants my work instead of no one wanting it. This is good in the abstract but awkward in fact. I'm having problems finding time to read everything I want to review and keeping straight for whom I'm writing reviews and from whom I've requested ARCs. This is terrific but stressful.

Fourth: I finished two long essays, made major progress on a third, and wrote easily half a dozen short essays/book reviews across the end of December. It was such a productive period that I'm feeling disappointed I haven't gotten much done yet in January. I have interviews to prepare, but I'm stuck feeling unready. There's so much planning taking place for the year ahead that I can't seem to actually do. Y'know?

Fifth: At some point I'll stop spinning my wheels like this and actually have something to say about writing, so stick around. XOXO

Out in the world:

An interview with ME on the Collagist. First time I've ever been interviewed as a writer. I had fun. I'm sorry I didn't like The Sellout.

Listish essay on the art of bad men, "Famous Men I Have Been Asked to Forgive (Abridged)," on the Offing. The editors are some large percentage responsible for what's in this piece, because what I submitted had not a single word in common with what was published. Originally, it was just about Woody Allen and was more esoteric. I rewrote it inspired by #metoo. I am hoping to do something else with what I submitted, but in the meantime this was very satisfying to write and to see in print.

Sort-of review, sort-of CNF exploration of Claudia F. Savage's Bruising Continents on Anomaly. As I write therein, I am bad at understanding and/or reviewing poetry. The review was commissioned so I couldn't bring myself to say no. When I came up with this and sent it to the editor I was worried she would be mad at me, but I was also a little panicky about what I'd do if she asked me to rewrite it into a straight review. This book was so deeply sensate that I couldn't think of how I'd talk about it in reasonable terms. Thank heavens, she liked it.

Straightforward review of Malu Halasa's Mother of All Pigs at the Los Angeles Review. Really recommend this book, even though it's hard going sometimes.

Review of my friend Claire's wonderful memoir, Imprint, at the Wisdom Daily. They asked me to write for them again, which is flattering, but I have no idea what to send them.

A six-word story on Medium. The process of finding markets for six-word stories is surprisingly difficult, so after an initial 160-day rejection, I just posted it myself.

"YA as an Impediment to Reading" on Medium. I thought this one had legs for the internet, and that most of the readers in the world would want to argue with me about it, but so far, few takers. I sent it to a few places that publish articles about education, and in reply I heard either that it was too focused on college or too focused on high school, so I threw up my hands and out it went on Medium.

Books I Hate interview with duncan b. barlow. This may be my favorite of the series so far, although one I'm preparing at the moment mentions Over the Top.

Upcoming:

Reviews of Tomb Song, Nothing Good Can Come from This, Daughters of the Air, Animals Eat Each Other, Everything Here is Beautiful, and I Wrote This Book Because I Love You. "The American Way of Work" (CNF) and "The First Snow" (fiction). Medium post about my (former) eating disorder. Many more Victorian Spam columns. Books I Hate(s) with an editor and two writers. Nervous collapse?


Monday, January 1, 2018

Resolute, 2017 Edition

Every year, I post last year's New Year's resolutions with a short analysis of how well I think I succeeded at them, and then I post this year's. So, here are last year's (in greater detail here):

1. Stay calm. A draw, I think. My equanimity grows with each passing year, and I perceive this as a less-passionate and totally preferable way to live. But I lost my cool a couple of times this year, and I lost my temper in private. I will say that the emotional aspects of my PMS worsened really badly in 2017 (like, from 2 out of 10 to 8 out of 10), and I wish I could figure out how to mitigate that.

2. Get off Facebook. No, really, I mean it. Fail. I'm going to stop making this resolution. Every time I really step away from Facebook, my emotional health improves measurably, but I miss important events in my friends' lives and my self-promotion falters. The friends and the promotion matter too much to me right now to make that trade.

3. Stay a healthy distance from smug. Success. Visibly walking the middle politically proved impossible this year, so I tried instead to keep my mouth shut to avoid hurting others. This isn't everyone's best solution, but it is mine.

4. Go toward the crazy, weird, awesome, instinctual. Big success. All of my happiest results personally and professionally came from this choice.

I've already meditated on what 2017 was like for me as a writer. 2018 will mark my seventh year keeping this blog. I don't know how that happened. I look back and all those little bits have added up to something.

I think that's the shape of a life, too.

For the last couple of years, I've had a difficult time coming up with resolutions, but man, this year's were easy.

1. Hustle. Keep up the momentum I've built as a writer in 2017. Working a little bit all the time will be better for me, better for making things happen continuously on the long line between words on the page and publication. I've begun rolling down the hill and I don't want to swerve off into one of those runaway truck ramps and come to a halt in a flurry of sand and ignominy. (Even though I've always wanted to, less metaphorically, swerve off into one of those runaway truck ramps in my car, just to see what would happen.)

2. Keep to my own rhythms. After we got back from the UK I took on the habit for a week or so of two sleeps. I went to bed at a laughable hour, like 7:30, and then woke up in the wee hours and read or wrote for a few hours, and then went back to sleep until 7 or 8. It was great. I felt well-rested, the line between sleeping and waking wasn't as intimidating as it usually is, and I got a lot done. But once the jet lag wore off, and I had to get up for work at 6 again, it wasn't feasible anymore.

I sleep a lot on the weekends, especially during the day. I used to find this pathetic, lazy, and generally an excuse to beat myself up. But now I realize that I function better (I'm more creative, friendly, relaxed, focused) when I nap at some point during the day. I am just one of those people who needs more sleep. Instead of fighting this or insisting that it makes me a sucky person, how nice if I could accept it, and use it to run my life better. There's all kinds of stuff in my life like this, rhythms of my own preference that make me better when I keep to them.

3. Fight fear. I've gotten pretty good at courage in the face of anxiety over the last few years, especially since the first Ojai workshop. I don't find myself victim to fear too often, but I do still feel it in my body on a regular basis, and that is something I can battle against. There's no reason to be afraid of asking for what I want or need, whether it's publication or more ice in my tea.

4. Plan better on a small scale. Planning down to the minute doesn't work for me. Even planning down to the hour is too granular. I get resentful and self-sabotage and nothing whatsoever gets done. But leaving things wide open (so I feel free, instead of feeling trapped) overwhelms me and makes me waste the whole day. It's a fiddly balance to strike and I think, through trial and error, I've finally gotten the process down:
  1. Decide what to do in the morning and what to do in the afternoon [on non-work days]. General goals for four-hour blocks seem right. E.g. "read particular book" in the morning and "write x, y, and z pitches" in the afternoon. 
  2. Keep the goals small, even underwhelming. 
  3. If you feel good/productive, keep going, and accomplish something unexpected (e.g. "do laundry") (because there's always laundry). 
  4. If you fail, do not do not do not yell at self. 
The last step is the most important, because yelling at myself wrecks the entire thing. I get so caught up in how much I suck that I can't keep my plans for the next block of time and I just play solitaire and eat cheese. Which makes me feel like I suck. Which takes me into the next block of time.

I'm recording this not just because I hope it helps you, but also because I need to see this strategy put down in detail in a place I can refer to all year to make myself stick to it.

5. Give myself credit for hard work. These resolutions are much nicer to myself than in past years. It's almost as if I'm learning not to be so hard on myself. Almost as if that had been the primary focus of my therapy since around 2015. Hm.

Anyway, this resolution has to do with not chalking my successes entirely up to luck, or circumstances outside my control. Luck is an integral part of success, as is privilege and talent and other things not determined by one's own will or mettle. But I believe hard work is more than half of success, and possibly a much greater proportion of greater successes. People have said about Marilyn Monroe and Tom Cruise (whatever you think of him) - and probably a number of other exceptionally famous people about whom I haven't specifically read this - that yeah, they had It, something intangible and predestined, but they also worked harder than the reporting person had ever seen anyone work. That always made me feel better about how stardom happens. Hard fucking work.

So yeah. I worked hard in 2017. Luck and privilege and talent had plenty to do with the visible results, but I think hard work had more to do with it. If you know the right people and catch the right wave of the zeitgeist, you can get mediocre books published, but they'll always be mediocre. Good books come from hard work.

6. Let go, let go, let go. A couple of weeks ago, I opened a cabinet at work and found that the computer supplies I had carefully curated (because we sometimes need oddball peripherals, and I keep them in stock so I don't have to send to China for them in a rush), some of which I had been storing in order to bring a batch to the recycling center so as not to dump rare earth metals into the landfill, had all been discarded. Poof. Gone. I almost cried. My boss has been in a slash-n-burn mood lately as we prepare to expand our office, so I understood why this happened, but I was still pretty upset that she had asked someone else - someone who hadn't been in charge of the computer supplies - to clean them out.

Later I remembered that I am winding up my employment here, moving down to two days a week and then to one by spring, and there's no reason I should be so personally upset. Even though I worked hard on this curation, it's not really up to me, nor is it a credit or deficit on my character, what this office does with its supplies. Let go, Kat. This isn't yours anymore.

It's hard. I worked hard on that cabinet, little things here and there, for two years.

7. Take better care of my body and my home. Why don't I brush and floss every night? I don't know. It's not because of the time it takes, and it's not because I don't like flossing. Why don't I go for a half-hour walk after dinner? I don't know. Because I don't remember to. Why don't I put my clothes away at night instead of tossing them over chairs and on the floor? I don't know. Doing these things right takes marginally more time than not doing them at all, and forming good habits will help me live longer and prosper more. So this year I will try to form good habits on little crap like this.

8. Avoid travel. I mean, sort of. Late 2017 had so much travel in it that right now I'd be happy to not travel again until 2019, but I'm sure that'll wear off by spring and I'll return to well-I-suppose instead of no-way-no-how.

Happy New Year, readers and friends. I was happy to know you this year. Stick around and stay strong for 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Year of the Journeyman

On December 15 I posted this picture on Facebook, with the caption "Thank you, Kristi, for making me popular."

Two friends (# s 10 and 11) were also on the list, which is nice.

Circulation-wise, Entropy is not the New Yorker, but honestly I'd prefer to be popular at Entropy.

I noted in the comments of this Facebook post that the ninth Books I Hate interview, with duncan b. barlow, was coming soon. When I counted back to realize that yes, it was the ninth, that I had coaxed nine published writers to talk to me about books they disliked, and then had published the results on a site that has well over 10,000 followers on Twitter - when I thought about how close this interview series came to never happening at all - when I realized that I'd made this idea up out of nothing and it'd become something real, something with nine notches on it and many more to come - and then when I thought about all the other belts I'd added notches to over the course of 2017 - I got overwhelmed and I had to stop thinking about it until I had more room.

Here's the room. The empty blog post window, right here.

There's this concept in publishing I didn't understand for a long time: the "emerging writer". I thought at first that this simply meant any writer, any writer at all, who was not famous, or making money with her writing, but who was trying sincerely to get published at any level. Obviously, this definition covers a lot of ground. Later I learned that "emerging" means a specific category of unfamous writers: those who are starting to get publication in larger magazines, who are starting to get attention for their writing from strangers, who have maybe gotten an MFA or a book contract or a few contest prizes, but who are not "established" writers, or people whose authority as writers is worth attention.

I am bothered that there's no category prior to "emerging" for people who have written some stuff but haven't heard "yes" enough times to fully emerge. I've spent ten years writing, but 2017 is the year I am sliding into the "emerging" category. Who was I before that? Was I still cocooned? That seems unfair; I worked hard to be a writer all that time, but "emerging" was decided by someone else (really a whole lot of someone elses), not me.

Skilled trades have different categories for "apprentice" and "journeyman", and that seems way better than the categories of "--" and "emerging". Less insulting, less vague, no aroma of futility or tautology.

Here are some aspects of my experience as a journeyman in 2017:
  • I wrote an email to an established editor asking for advice. 
  • I felt sure that my interview series was a good idea even though people told me it wasn't. 
  • I asked for galleys of forthcoming books. 
  • I applied for half a dozen full-time editorial jobs and half a dozen more unpaid jobs as columnist, editor, reviewer. I applied for half a dozen fellowships. 
  • I treated pitching and reviewing like a job. 
  • I learned to pitch anyway, even if I didn't think I had time or if I felt scared to. To treat editors like human beings instead of scary, naysaying gods. 
  • I stopped thinking it was me when they said no. 
  • I hustled like hell during the last few months of the year. I researched markets like crazy and pitched endlessly. 
  • I thought big: David Shields as subject, the Sun as market. 
As a result:
  • I got it. 
  • It was. 
  • Because of previous reviews I wrote, I got them. 
  • I didn't get any of them, not one. 
  • I got paid for some of my reviews. 
  • I landed a lot of those pitches. 
  • I considered it a combination of me and not-me when they said yes. 
  • The more I hustled, the better I did. The more I thought toward audience for nonfiction, the better I did. 
  • Most of the biggest stuff didn't come to fruition, but some of the second biggest stuff did. 
  • And, symbolically, I had too many publications in a single week to reasonably share them all on Facebook. 
I leaned on my contacts without shame. I never would've reviewed The Book of Joan, a review that on its own opened many doors for me, if a friend hadn't asked me to. About two weeks ago I recorded an insanely long interview with a writer known by many in avant-garde circles, and I have hopes of placing the result somewhere good on the strength of his name, not mine. I emailed my conceptual novel to a friend with a much more expansive knowledge of small presses than I have, and he mentioned a press I never would've known about that looks just right. I'm planning to ask a friend about manuscript review at a press that doesn't accept unsolicited submissions, but where he knows people. [redacted because the first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club], which got me most of the galleys and therefore most of the reviews I've had published. Reviews didn't come directly out of that, though - it was my pitches, endless endless pitches.

In considering my success in 2017, though, I keep coming back to the interviews. I'd had the idea for Books I Hate since late 2016, when my friend Chris asked me if I wanted to do an interview series for Entropy. I told him I didn't know anything about interviewing people and I wasn't sure I should. He coaxed me into agreeing to the series, but when I told him my idea for the theme, he seemed dubious. He was worried the interviews would be too negative. (Many of the writers I've approached turned me down because of this same anxiety.) I believed that I could figure out a way for writers to talk about books that got on their nerves that would reveal something important about the writers' personalities, and even perhaps the kind of writer they were, without just slagging on books that they thought sucked. Part of the theory of art I've been developing for half a decade now is that art we don't like influences us as much or more as art we do like, and here was my chance to show it. 

Now, nine interviews later, I still agree with myself. And even though Chris brought the ability to implement the series, the place for publication, to me, I thought up the idea and approached the authors and wrote and polished the interviews. I did that. I made that. From nothing. It emerged from me. 

Maybe that's what "emerging" means. That the work is starting to come out of its cocoon. That I feel confident enough, now, that something useful will happen when I sit down to the notebook. 


I've shared with friends that I feel uncomfortable with everything good that's happened to me in 2017 simply because it's happened in 2017. For many, this has been an abysmal year, with curtailment of rights, serious ideological schisms, little progress on infrastructure, and unjust death after unjust death from guns and drugs and fires and bombs. But I can't ignore all the good things. At least half of the total publications I list on my website happened in 2017, most of them in the latter part of the year. I got a nibble from an agent for the KUFC novel and positive feedback on my book proposal. I completed an unexpected novel, half a dozen in-depth essays and stories, and more reviews than I can even count right now. I made a writing newsletter, because I had enough news to warrant a letter for the first time. All that stuff in bullet points above, and all the stuff on my website.

It keeps accelerating. There will be workshops and publications in 2018. I hope, I wish, I grit my teeth and pray there will be a book contract (I'm circulating four manuscripts and hope to finish one, perhaps two others). There will be more teaching, and maybe there'll be teaching for money, if I'm lucky. I am uncomfortable with this kind of success, because of the year and because I am inordinately afraid of things tumbling down (what if it's been Lady Fortune instead of me being any good? what if I'm not emerging, but still just --? what if I'm getting cocky and all this is stupid small potatoes and I sound like a total idiot? what if I can't pay my student loans? what if I never get a fellowship?). But I shall stride onward, not letting up, not looking back, a journeyman on the road to Oz.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Books I Read in 2017

It's possible that I'm doing this to show off, I'll come out with that up front. But if I can try to step back and use myself as an example: as a writer, you should be prepared to read a LOT. Voraciously and omnivorously. Poetry, nonfiction, avant-garde, pulp, scholarship, everything. Read it all and then get back to me if you still want to be a writer.

The reason I am nominally doing this is because I realized I've never done it before on this blog. I keep a paper-based book journal where I write brief impressions of everything I read and I always count up my books at the end of the year, but I've never taken the time to list and organize them. This was a more-than-average year for me as a reader (for half of it I was no longer getting a master's degree for the first time in a few years). Last year I read 72 books; this year it looks like about 120. In 2017, as compared to past years, I read more extremely short books and more poetry, and I audiobooked very efficiently, so that's part of why this list is so long. Another part is how book reviewing kicked me in the flank to read more toward the end of the year.

Here is a list of most of what I read in 2017, alpha by author. The starred ones I read part of and gave up, or didn't read word for word (anthologies or similar). I stopped keeping my journal diligently in August and tried to reconstruct it all in November, but I'm positive I missed a few. 

Fiction:

Abani, Chris - The Secret History of Las Vegas*
barlow, duncan b. - The City, Awake
Bowles, Paul - The Sheltering Sky
Brandeis, Gayle - The Book of Dead Birds
Burnside, Matthew - Postludes
Butler, Octavia - Kindred
Cain, Amina - Creature
Dickens, Charles - Our Mutual Friend
Ferrante, Elena - The Days of Abandonment
Fritz, Marianne - The Weight of Things
Halasa, Malu - Mother of All Pigs
Harrison, A.S.A. - The Silent Wife
Harrison, Kathryn - Thicker than Water
Haskell, John - American Purgatorio
Haskell, John - Out of My Skin
Jones, James - From Here to Eternity
Kang, Han - The Vegetarian
Kasai, Kirsten Imani - The House of Erzulie
Karr, Mary - The Art of Memoir
Kearns, Rosalie Morales - Kingdom of Women
Leddy, Annette - Earth Still
Lee, Mira T. - Everything Here is Beautiful
Mandel, Emily St. John - Station Eleven
McCullers, Carson - The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
Metalious, Grace - Return to Peyton Place
Metalious, Grace - No Adam in Eden
Metalious, Grace - The Tight White Collar
Moshfegh, Ottessa - Eileen
Munro, Alice - Julieta
Rhys, Jean - Good Morning, Midnight
Robbins, Tom - Still Life with Woodpecker*
Ruocco, Joanna - The Week
Ruocco, Joanna - Dan
Schumacher, Julie - Dear Committee Members
Smith, Ali - How to Be Both
Szilágyi, Anca L. - Daughters of the Air
Tiller, Carl Frode - Encircling 1
Williams, John - Stoner
Yuknavitch, Lidia - The Book of Joan

Nonfiction:

Anderson, Alice - Some Bright Morning, I'll Fly Away
Brandeis, Gayle - Fruitflesh
Brandeis, Gayle - The Art of Misdiagnosis
Brooks, Louise - Lulu in Hollywood
Crawford, Christina - Mommie Dearest
Einstein, Sarah - Mot
Goldsmith, Barbara - Other Powers
Grealy, Lucy - Autobiography of a Face
Hall, Lynn K. - Caged Eyes
Hare, Robert - Without Conscience
Hollars, B.J. - In Defense of Monsters
Jacobson, Mark - The Lampshade
Klebold, Sue - A Mother's Reckoning
Lovell, Mary S. - The Sisters
MacDonald, Helen - H is for Hawk
Peckham, Joel - Body Memory
Roy, Simon - Kubrick Red
Sicherman, Claire - Imprint
Solnit, Rebecca - The Faraway Nearby
Vance, J.D. - Hillbilly Elegy
Washuta, Elissa - My Body Is a Book of Rules
Wunker, Erin - Notes from a Feminist Killjoy
Yuknavitch, Lidia et al. - The Misfit's Manifesto

Poetry:

Anderson, Alice - The Watermark
Benavides, Denise - Split
Berdeshevsky, Margo - Before the Drought
Božičević, Ana - Joy of Missing Out
Brandeis, Gayle - The Selfless Bliss of the Body
Campbell, Erik - The Corpse Pose
Carson, Anne - If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
Choi, Chiwan - The Yellow House
Firestone, Jennifer - Gates & Fields*
Forché, Carolyn - Blue Hour
Glück, Louise - A Village Life*
Hancock, Jennifer Rane - Between Hurricanes
Kaplan, Genevieve - In the ice house
Knorr, Alyse - Copper Mother
Knorr, Alyse - Annotated Glass
Lewis, Robin Coste - Voyage of the Sable Venus
Molotkov, A. - The Catalog of Broken Things
Morgan, Bill - The Art of Salvage
Myles, Eileen - I Must Be Living Twice*
Novo, Salvador - Confetti Ash
Pessin, S.E. - Thank You for Listening
Piazza, Jessica - Interrobang
Rebele-Henry, Brynne - Fleshgraphs
Savage, Claudia T. - Bruising Continents
Vuong, Ocean - Night Sky with Exit Wounds
Whittall, Zoe - The Emily Valentine Poems

Cross-genre:

Ali, Kazim - Bright Felon
Asuncion, Hossannah - Object Permanence
Cusk, Rachel - Outline
Day, Dalton - Exit, Pursued
de Vigan, Delphine - Nothing Holds Back the Night
Dorantes, Dolores - Style
Dworkin, Craig & Kenneth Goldsmith - Against Expression*
Ervick, Kelcey Parker - The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová
Friedlander, Christine - Avant Gauze
Gladman, Renee - Event Factory
Greenberg, Arielle - Locally Made Panties
H.D. - Kora and Ka*
Haake, Katharine - That Water, Those Rocks
Haake, Katharine - Assumptions We Might Make About the Postworld
Haskell, John - The Complete Ballet
Higgs, Christopher - As I Stand Living
Higgs, Christopher - The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney
Higgs, Christopher with Blake Butler & Vanessa Place - One
Ives, Lucy - The Hermit
Léger, Nathalie - Suite for Barbara Loden
Markson, David - Reader's Block
Millman, Debbie - Self-Portrait as Your Traitor
Myles, Eileen - Afterglow
Ortiz, Wendy - Hollywood Notebook
Ortiz, Wendy - Bruja
Rankine, Claudia - Don't Let Me Be Lonely
Warren, Alli - I Love It Though
Whitener, Brian - Face Down
Wright, C.D. - The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All
Zambreno, Kate - Heroines

Books I expect to finish before December 31:

Herbert, Julián - Tomb Song (update: yep)
Sebald, W.G. - The Rings of Saturn (update: yep)
Bernhard, Thomas - Correction (update: nope, it was more complex than its page count)
Fink, Joseph & Jeffrey Cranor - It Devours! (update: yep)
Update: I also finished Coulter, Kristi - Nothing Good Can Come from This and G'Sell, Eileen - Life After Rugby

Some sads: no Georgette Heyer on the list this year, and virtually no sci-fi. No Atwood. Happies: almost as much cross-genre as fiction, which is appropriate since it's what I'm trying to do as a writer. Very few Great White Males: Paul Bowles and James Jones, and Dickens, and I think that's it. (Does Bowles even count?) Jones was my Big Book this year, and I'm really glad I read him.

I plowed through all of Grace Metalious's output, and the only good book was the original Peyton Place (which I read last year). Save your strength and don't bother with the other stuff.

I also read five of Dorothy's 16 books so far. I love so much what they're doing. Their books all have an especial quality that I can't really put my finger on, something slightly alien and aggressive about the language, and it's mesmerizing.

Various people, in various contexts, have said "You must read really fast!" I don't think I do. But I don't watch television, and I commute six hours a week (was 10 hours a week for much of the year). Sinking most of that time into reading/listening instead, I do pretty well. I read about a page a minute on most print layouts, which means a 300-page book, one that really hooks me, takes...what, five hours? Closer to six, probably. That doesn't seem really fast to me.

It amazes me that I failed to finish three books of poetry, when poetry books are usually so short. But the Glück was such a snoozer I couldn't keep at it, the Firestone was doing something I totally didn't understand (but which a friend, a Dickinson expert, loved), and the Myles was a compendium of decades of her work and I was reading it to procrastinate writing a review of her memoir and so I finally gave it up after 170 pages and got down to business.

Favorites? Impossible to say. What you'll like depends on who you are, not who I am, and some of these altered the way I was writing and thinking even though I liked them less than others (Heroines, for example). By that same token, the fact that I read it does not mean I endorse it; many of these I found mediocre and some of them I roundly disliked. But I'd love to talk to you about them, anyway.

TBR shelf (partial)