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.

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