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. 


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


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


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


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) 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Mostly Bullet Points, Some Filler

First, in case you missed it:
Three more reviews have been accepted but not run; a fourth has been accepted but not yet written; a fifth has been written but not yet accepted. I like books.

Also, I put up a six-word story on Medium the other day.

It seems like book reviews and reading therefor are all that's kept me from sleeping through the days I have off. The world is hard to bear right now (fires, literal and figurative) and I am tired and processing the last of jet lag and fighting off viruses from all sides. I'm writing largely on deadline instead of writing ahead, and the time I don't spend on deadline is spent reading and pitching. (The one is lovely and the other is exhausting.)

To keep me honest, here's a list of projects I need to work on for the rest of December and in the year ahead. It's a long list because I'm so behind on everything except reviews. This is about half stuff I should've been working on since summer; some of it is definitely for 2018's spring or even summer, not now; some of it is new to me as of fall 2017 but I should've started on it by now.

  • Essay involving Gayle's book
  • Zine (written)
  • Essay about Five Million Years to Earth (solicited)
  • Essay about a film that never was (solicited)
  • Bits and pieces story for the Cupboard (not solicited) 
  • Celebrity story for Enumerate (not solicited)
  • Casablanca novel
  • Conceptual novel 
  • Essay about blurry love
  • Medium story about YA
  • Medium story about eating disorder
  • Essay about Apocalypse Now
  • Essay about Jeanne Dielman
  • Essay about Last Tango in Paris
  • Collaborative thing with Higgs (part done) 
  • Outline for Plan 9 novella
  • Outlines for two workshops (happening by March)
  • Book reviews: nine (9) for now, more next year, surely
  • Endless, self-renewing pitches and queries and proposals and submittals for essays, stories, book reviews, craft book, Highbinder, secret project, whatever else I finish
  • Put together writing about the following topics:
  1. The tree where I left the blue stone
  2. Visit to Santa Fe and all I saw
  3. The Salton Sea and the St. Andrews Cathedral
  4. Trip to Oregon and the fires there
  5. Meow Wolf
  • Interviews with
  1. Duncan
  2. Samantha
  3. Tomas
  4. People who haven't gotten back to me
  5. Whoever else says yes, later
Damn, that is a long list. No wonder I'm stressed out.

Maybe this is a moment for me to reiterate how I work. Once I get going, I am a fast writer, and according to an external observer I'm a very fast reader (though I don't tend to think so). I can turn around a read and review for a book in about a week. When I'm writing other stuff, I need several months (how many of them depends on the project) to get my thoughts together, but once they are together I can write an essay in just a few sittings. For example, "The Girl on the Bike" came together very quickly, in two drafts a couple weeks apart, but I'd been thinking about the stuff in it for years. I wrote Highbinder (93,000 words) in I think five or six months, where I know many (most?) writers take years to write books.

So even though this list looks really goddamn long, even to me, it'll take me probably a month to write, finish, or execute half of the stuff on it. Which I should really just do, in most cases, instead of sleeping and avoiding it because finishing is scary. The other stuff is longer-term, or I haven't even come up with what to write for it yet, but that's the nature of my profession: some projects cook along in the background, like beans, while others get sauteed and eaten rapidly.

Did I say finishing is scary?

I do this thing where I get hung up immediately before the finish line on a task and then dawdle and stall before doing the rest of it. This is true in all areas of life: cooking & cleaning, my day job, writing projects, reading books, correspondence, research, shopping, thank-you notes, et cetera. Like, I'll get through 47 pages of entering my attorneys' billing slips and then my brain tells me to take a break and eat something and maybe nap before doing the last three. Three pages! After I've been working two and a half hours on the first 47! Whyyyyyy do you do that, brain?

Maybe "scary" is why. If I finish, I won't know what to do with myself. I'll have to start a new task that might not go as smoothly as the almost-done one is going (since it's almost done, after all) and then I'll have to work harder (or be more anxious) and if I sit in this almost-done moment for as long as possible, I won't feel anxious or guilty or frustrated.


This may be an explanation, but there's no excuse for letting my to-do list get as far out of hand as the above is. Get to work, Coldiron. Butt in seat. No solitaire. No YouTube. Get that zine printed up. Update your website. Write a list. Write a pitch. Just do what you gotta.

(secret confession: I get a bit turned on when dudes do that hand-mouth gesture.)