Friday, April 20, 2018

From Me to You: Hard Truths

In the same week, I gave a presentation at CSUN about how to submit your work, and I got into a conversation in an online group for writers about what to expect when you're submitting your work. Both of these situations made me realize that I've left something important out of the From Me to You series: hard truths. That is, the parts of the writing life that just suck and are painful to internalize, and that you can either learn about on your own over many annoying years, or that you can listen to crusty old me about today.

Elmore Leonard 


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Never To-Done

First: sorry for the short notice: if you are in or around Cal State Northridge on Saturday, come see me give a presentation about a conceptual novel I assembled and am trying to place. I'm on at 12:10 in the Tujunga Room. More details here.

Regularly scheduled programming:

As I continue to publish things, by the grace of accepting editors, I pile up more and more behind-the-scenes stories. In the past month, I wrote a review while whacked and thinned out on Sudafed; I wrote a review where it got so ugly between me and the editor that I don't know if it'll ever see print, even though I was commissioned to write it; and I pitched an unwritten review on April 9 at 6 PM and sent back final changes on April 11 at 9 AM. (I'd worked with him before, but still.) I feel like these tales are interesting and worthwhile to writers who are new to their endeavors, but I doubt they're interesting to experienced writers, and I can't really tell them indiscriminately without wrecking editorial relationships or making authors mad. What author would want to know that I reviewed them on Sudafed?

There's other stuff I have to say, too. I'm mentally assembling a From Me to You column about hard truths. It will not be as much fun as the above stories, but, well. That's the point of hard truths.

For the past week I've been trying to catch up on my work enough to take it easy for a few days. I wrote three reviews in three days, and then spent most of a day finishing the draft of a very difficult hybrid essay I've been working on since last fall. I also wrote a short factish essay that has a deadline in, like, June, but I wanted to get it off my plate, and an even shorter essay that I thought would be something, but isn't, and will likely end up on Medium sometime soon.

bangin' out those to-dos

By the end of all that I wasn't sure whether I even knew how to string a clause together. Switching from one register to another was exhausting. I don't know how you "daily pages" people do it; I am a binge personality through and through.

But I did catch up pretty okay. I've got two books to read and review plus four more to review that are time-sensitive, but almost everything else is June or later. It'll be nice to read a little more slowly.

(I kept editing that to add more of the books I'd forgotten that were due for May. There's actually another to read and review that comes out in May, but I'm feeling doubtful that pitch will get picked up, so I'm not rushing to read it. The to-do list is never to-done.)

Out in the world:

Oh I forgot to tell you I WAS IN THE MFING GUARDIAN. This one's got some behind-the-scenes to it, too, but the result is what matters. I reviewed Leni Zumas's Red Clocks in brief, and it was half persistence and half luck that made it happen. Truly.

I wrote a piece of criticism that is partly a review of Carl Frode Tiller's wonderful Encircling trilogy and partly a meditation on long books generally. This one mattered a lot to me, particularly because I placed it in LARB, which I thought I'd have to wait a lot longer to write for. It's a little...thick, but I'm proud of it. I wrote like hell to make it happen.

Fairly awkwardly: an erotica story I wrote long ago was published in a Portland local magazine, Exotic. Here are links to page one and page two (it's a two-page story); to see it in context, click here for a PDF of the entire issue, but be warned: it is 75% advertisements with full nudity. Like my story, it's not quite porn, but I think it's close enough for a court of law. The editor did some edits without my permission, including condensing two words into the dreaded "Alright". grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

For TRUE, I reviewed Jessica Friedmann's Things That Helpeda book so exquisite it kept popping my jaw open when I read it. Stunning writing.

I reviewed Tyler Wetherall's memoir No Way Home for Arts Fuse. It didn't blow my mind, but I liked it. Cracking story and rich emotional journey.

Finally, I wrote an opinion piece about Melania Trump for The Big Smoke. I have an insane level of fear about this piece being in the world, the worst of which was realized when a friend of a friend called it entitled white feminist fragility. Naturally, I don't think it's those things, but I comprehend that I'm calling for neutrality on a figure whom many people could never see as neutral. That's where I'm at, and I can't confer my privilege to everyone.

Now to get back to reading. Agh.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

LA Astronomy

This morning I went for a hike. I can officially call it a hike, not a walk; I had my hiking shoes on and I went up high. I saw quail (which toddle hilariously) and places where water used to be. I smelled sweet tangy pine brush and wild sage and the homey-to-me odor of horseshit. I heard those birds that sound like their batteries are running out and an unidentified whining machine that, although I hiked to get away from it, helped lead me home when I took the wrong path.

I'm reading a book that I kind of threw up my hands and decided to read. My stack for reviewing is really high, but I've been reading nothing but books for review for at least six weeks and I am tired of taking notes. So two days ago I picked up one that I've been wanting to read since last spring and knew would go fast: Excavation, by Wendy C. Ortiz. It's harrowing, because of its subject matter, but it's also wonderful.

One of the most interesting things for me about this book is that it takes place largely in the San Fernando Valley, which is where I live. I adore the valley, but I understand well why people don't set books there. It's kind of like setting a sci-fi book on Io instead of Jupiter. Jupiter looms, huge and fascinating and irresistible. Io is where people who like peace and quiet, people who don't like to be watched, would want to live, but Jupiter is where the exciting, worth-reading-about people live. Plus, the valley has changed so significantly in such a short time; the development from unpopulated orange groves to dense suburb has taken less than a generation. I think it'd be hard to set a book here unless you grew up here. You'd be constantly explaining what stage the valley was in at the time.

It was hazy this morning, which is a real weather condition here rather than a temporary description. I hiked higher than I ever have in this park, went further on the trail than I thought I could without breakfast, and took some panoramic pictures and sent them to Matt. Thankfully, I did not get Creed's "Higher" in my head. Until just now.

On the way back I saw Lassen Street, spearing out from the park into the sprawl. It shone under the early sun. Because of the haze, the street looked like it went on forever, the horizon faded to white like a matte painting. (Such comparisons are inevitable in the suburb orbiting stormy Jupiter.)

does not do justice to the scene, but at least offers an idea of what I'm talking about

I thought of Wendy's book, thought of her writing about Van Nuys, the 101, Woodman, Lankershim. "He sighed, turned left on Ventura, and we headed towards the west Valley, which always felt far from home." She is writing about 1987, when there still would have been orange groves here. I think. My apartment was built sometime in the 80s - I can tell by the tile counters in the kitchen - but I think this development would've been isolated, a new opportunity for daring investors.

Wendy still lives in LA, but she lives in Jupiter, not Io. I don't blame her. I'm happier here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Hands/Tongue/Fingers/Whatever

Years ago, my mother hinted to me that I would hit a problem with which I've recently been struggling. She told me that blogging seemed to her like a bad idea, because if she were to do it, she would be giving away her work. She believes (and has evidence) that she deserves to be paid for that work, so doing it for free seemed unwise. And it's not like she'd be blogging about something and selling something else; the work she'd do to blog is the exact same work she does for pay.

I didn't disagree with my mother's assessment. I simply saw the issue differently. Blogging is, or was at the time, a different kind of effort for me than the writing for which I think I deserve payment. It's often a release valve for the stresses or unused ideas generated by the other kind of writing.

Our conversation poked at essentially the same problem over which journalists and other kinds of writers have been tussling for years, as the internet drops our compensation to HILARIOUS new lows. Do I want to be paid $25 for a piece of writing for which I would have been paid $300 twenty years ago? What if I reach a whole lot more readers? What if writing the piece is significantly easier because I can do research from my desk? What if they can find another, less experienced writer to do work that is 95% as good for $25, or for free? And so forth.

The way I see it, we are in a difficult transitional period for media generally and written media particularly. In the future, there'll be a model that resembles the journalism models of the 20th century hardly at all, but it will be much less cutthroat and inequitable than what we have now. I haven't the foggiest idea what it will look like. At present, we're stuck with this crap, where I work for eight hours reading/writing/revising and get $25, or nothing. It's bad, and it may not change in my lifetime. But that is how transitions work. Someone paid $4,000 for an unbearably shitty cell phone in 1985. A lot of someones, in fact.

Anyway. As avenues continue to open to my writing, I begin to wonder how I can maximize the time I spend on the written word. When I had something to say about a book in 2016, I said it here. Now, I will pitch a review of that book somewhere, and eventually it'll land. If I want to write about the five best writing craft books I know that no one ever seems to mention in my writers' groups, I won't put that information here anymore. I'll try and pitch it to a writing-related website. Preferably one that pays. (I am getting friendly & encouraging brush-offs from big-name online magazines, now, instead of nothing. Next step: rocket car.)


All this means that the number of topics I can only pontificate about here, in this space, is shrinking. Suddenly, it seems like any of my thoughts can be expanded and pitched anywhere. (Why not? People write incredibly silly things for money online. My writers' groups tell me that.) What I'm trying to sort out is how to keep this space vital to you and useful to me while also writing my thoughts for profit in other places.

I had a slight shock not long ago, when an editor who was looking over my clips to determine whether I could write a book review for her brought up a post I'd written, one where I mentioned that a book I was reading for review had become a slog. She did not want to read a pitch for that book. (Who would?) So that means I need to be more careful about how I write about my work as a writer here, and that kind of ties my hands. Tongue. Fingers. Whatever.

Is there no pleasure in blogging anymore? Of course there is. I love this space. I love rereading it, and I love directing people to it. I don't always love writing it, because I'm a bit more puzzled a lot more often about what to put here. I have a newsletter for self-promotion; this space is for self-exploration. If I get to do self-exploration elsewhere, what do I do here?

Speaking of which...Out in the world:

A short piece of mine, partially reviewing a book called Dictionary Stories, is set to appear in April's (paper) issue of Kolaj. To my surprise and delight, the editor excerpted my review on their page announcing the issue. (He also sent me absolutely no edits at all, which is a first for a book review.)

I reviewed The Natashas for the Masters Review. I really, really loved this book, and it was really, really weird.

I reviewed Tomb Song for Cleaver. This one I didn't like, but I had to make sure its good points were fully explored, and Cleaver encouraged me on the latter, so: the result.

I reviewed Animals Eat Each Other for 3:AM. I would never have had work appear in this magazine if not for reviewing a book like this, so I'm pretty happy it came along. I think the book and the mag go together quite well; it's nice when I have a sense that I'm bringing a book to the right audience.

March's Books I Hate (and Also Some I Like) subject is writer and witch Ariel Gore.

See you next time! With something!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ingratitude and Other Successes

The Thursday thing from the prior post still hasn't happened yet. Nnnghh.

A lot is going on for me. I'm stravaging along in freelancing, but I badly need a new website if I want to make a real go at that. I got turned down for a writing residency in the oddest and most encouraging way, such that I don't really know what to make of it. I spent several hours on Sunday writing a long political piece that I don't expect to be received well, but which I think will be read a lot. Lots of fear there. Also on Sunday, I got two acceptances, which were nice, but which - I can't believe I'm saying this - didn't mean a whole lot to me.

Lemme talk about that a little more. Five years ago, any acceptance would've been cause for me to buy champagne and dance about, but at this stage, some acceptances mean more than others. There's a hell of a lot more traffic going through my inbox, for one thing (pitches by the dozen, several regular submissions every month), and that means that instead of a lot of rejections and one or two acceptances, I get a metric ton of rejections and a handful of acceptances.

Plus, I'm aiming at very different targets than I used to. I've been keeping this conclusion to myself for a while, but I'm just going to say it now: trying to get literary short stories published is a horrible way to spend your time on this earth. I'll grant you that my short stories are not, on average, as good as my book reviews, which is probably part of why I've had more success with the latter than the former. But there are a few stories that I'm still trying to get out there, and the process is just so savage compared to reviewing and writing nonfiction essays. You spend months on a story, you submit it, and then you wait for six to twelve months for a publication no one aside from writers has heard of to say no. Or, if they say yes, you wait another several months to get your contributor's copy and no pay. This is normal. It could be worse.

Tom Gauld

With a review, you pitch them, and if you haven't heard from them in two weeks, the answer is probably no. You might hear from them in a couple of days, or even same-day. If they say yes, working with them to make your review better is, more often than not, fun and interesting.

The two acceptances on Sunday were for a piece of lovely smut that I wrote years ago, which has racked up so many rejections that I long ago detached from any emotional investment in it, and for a nonfiction piece, a list, written in Santa Fe last fall. I knew it was good, so I felt no surprise that it was accepted by a litmag that posts weekly lists. It'll be great to see these things in print, and for one of them I'll get a little money. But I'm waiting to hear on essays, stories, and pitches that matter a hell of a lot more to me than either of these pieces. That hierarchy has always existed, but until recently, the stuff that matters has always been a no. Now that there have been yeses for some of the stuff that matters, yeses for less important stuff don't feel as good as they used to. (Like taking ecstasy too often, I suppose.)

Which is extremely ungrateful, right? I should be happier than this for people liking my work enough to say yes. But it's kind of like when your teacher pins up your least favorite drawing and doesn't look at the other ones. Yay! (...?)

So much changes in this journeyman part of the journey. I wish I'd known. But I suspect there's no good way to tell people that they are going to feel and think differently a few years into doing something. If it could be communicated, it wouldn't be learned.

Out in the world:

My Columbine post from this blog was reprinted last week in the Big Smoke. I'm really pleased about this.

I reviewed Silver Girl for the Millions. It was a phenomenal book. At the time I read it, I'd read three or four debut novels in a row, and the different feeling of this one, which is not a debut, was a bit of a balm. Debuts seem to buzz a little bit with their own newness, and this was surer, slower.

I interviewed Natalie Singer for TRUE. I adored her book, California Calling.

A story I've been trying to place for five years or more, "C-a-l-l-a-s", came out in Luna Station Quarterly. I have many, many thoughts about this, but I think they'll have to wait for another time.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Scenes from My New Life

Reading and writing all day long, from 5 in the morning until 9 at night, with breaks for napping, eating, solitaire.

Aching to tell everyone in the world about a thing happening this Thursday (I think), but trying not to, in case it falls through. Telling probably too many people anyway. Hurry up, Thursday.

Severely alienating an editor by accident, but feeling bad only interpersonally (not professionally), because doubtful that I'll write anything that fits this market again. Joking with another editor about Buddy Christ in discussing a serious, snoot-de-la-toot review.



Looking at the month as an empty vessel which I must fill with dollars exchanged for hours of my time.

Terror. Bliss. Both straight to the vein.

Meeting one deadline after another for the end of February. Shooting out the ducks in the range, bang, bang, bang, until there is just one left. A little one, themed issue, February 28 deadline, not that important but kind of interesting. February 27: sitting in the CSUN class I'm assisting on a day when I don't really need to be there, paying no attention, writing, dashing off, a tiny short piece on the themed issue. Not even sleeping on it, just sending it in. Bang.


Feeling such relief I thought I'd flatten, like a balloon with all the air gone. I did it. I met all the deadlines. I have lost track of how many there were that I met. (Tried to research it for this post and could not even tell if it was less or greater than ten.) Drop the little interesting deadline entirely out of my thoughts, because I don't expect to hear about it for months and I dashed that thing off in like an hour and there's no money so who cares. The point is I threw my hat in the ring. February 28: receive email saying the dashed-off piece is going to be published and will I please sign this contract? Crack up so loudly and longly that my co-worker asks and I tell her the whole story.

Excitement crackling across the line when my friend tells me about her thesis and how the storm of it gathers inside her. I feel bad charging her but I am freelance now and my time is worth money. Must be worth money.

Scrolling through sent emails with no memory of all these pitches. Once, eight in a day.

Getting solicited to do an interview and write a few reviews. Realizing getting solicited to write could happen again. Feeling impostor syndrome for the first time in many years, then reminding myself that my website doesn't lie, I did write all those things. It's real.

Stefan Bucher. From here.

Piling all the galleys up and then re-sorting them, realizing okay, it's not so bad, I can do this. Holes in the calendar for June and July. Hmm.

Fixing things in my house. Mounting a shelf I've had in pieces since October. Hanging three-dimensional art with massive, rejected hooks (long story). Finally sorting out my closet (dresses on one side, cardigans on the other). Staring at my work shoes. Pitching two places with an essay about my work shoes. Changing the goddamn sheets. Six loads of laundry in four days. Box up the too-small pants. Break down the Leaning Tower of Amazon Boxes and put them in the recycling. Water the succulents. Clear the desk, throw away months-old mail, rip the perfumed pages out of old Vanity Fair issues I never wanted and recycle the rest. Out it all goes, everything I didn't need but had allowed to accumulate. Why did I let it go so far? How did I slip away, so distant from balance? Who has lived in me for the last six months? Is this her success, her backstroke toward freedom, or is it mine?

Feeling ready. My eyes different in the mirror. I am prepared to fail. Terror, bliss. Here I go.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Byline Extravaganza!

Newsy/statusy post. Deep-thinking post probably soon.

This has been an extremely difficult month, for emotional reasons that are inappropriate to describe here. As well as the flu. As well as all the deadlines and bylines and accompanying promotion. As well as missing friends because I'm too frenzied to see them or answer their texts, but being in the awful position to consider them irritations because too much on my plate. I'm excited to say so-long to February and hello to March, in which I will be exchanging good criticism for good pay at least once, and in which my heart won't be cleft so bloodily in twain.

Depicted: Beatles fans and a security guard who forgot his earplugs.
Their noise = my brain. 

In the meantime, I opened a Ko-fi. This is a small-change donation site where you can chip in $3 for my Fund To Not Get Thrown In Debtor's Prison. The idea is that you're buying me a coffee. I appreciate any generosity you toss my way, but you're certainly not obligated to contribute. I've been blogging for free since, oh God, 2006? and don't plan to stop anytime soon.

I'm hoping to assemble a long-distance writing workshop for mid-March over Google Hangouts. I don't know how I'll do this, but so many people in places other than Los Angeles have told me they want to work with me that I don't want to put off any longer trying to make that happen. If anyone has insights on how to assemble a multi-person Google Hangout, or if you want to be part of a beta test team to see if it even works, PLEASE get in touch. I'm ready for any advice/help at all.

I believe I'll do How to Get Unstuck. I have plans to teach The Unwritten Scene and The Heroine's Journey, but because the tech will be new, I thought teaching something I've taught previously would be wiser.

Out in the world (it's a lot this time, but there'll be even more in a week, which is why this post isn't deep-thinking, because I didn't want to wait any longer to have time to think deeply in fear of overloading this section even more) (wow, parenthetical much?):

My review of Kingdom of Women by Rosalie Morales Kearns. Probably the best book I read in 2017, and I am pleased beyond measure to have placed my review in VIDA. It's still a bit surreal; even though I've had a lot of bylines in the past six months, the ones that have meant something to my nerves and bones have been rarer, and this one is like that.

My review of The House of Erzulie by Kirsten Imani Kasai in the Adroit Journal. I loved this book as a reader more than I loved it as a reviewer (it was right up my personal alley, but that's not a wide alley). I tried to communicate that by not being as rapturous as I felt about it but still indicating what the intense pleasures of the novel were. If you like Gothic lit and/or melodrama, this is your book, but if you don't, you won't like this.

Books I Hate (and Also Some I Like) with SAMANTHA FUCKING IRBY. I wish this byline indicated that we had met in real life, but as the title of her book promises, that will probably never happen.

"The First Snow" was published in Storm Cellar. As my work goes, this is pretty straightforward short fiction. In my dotage I grow increasingly grumpy about short stories, whether reading or writing, and I shouldn't make predictions that are unlikely to come true, but it feels like I won't be writing another short story for a damn long time. I wrote this two+ years ago, and I haven't felt called to short fiction since. So I hope you like this one. There's a paywall, but for the PDF it's pretty low.

My review of Anca L. Szilágyi's Daughters of the Air. Locus published it in their paper magazine last month and in their online arm this month.

A personal essay on Medium in the form of a letter to my teenage self, who was anorexic. I believe in this essay, even though certain parts of it are sentimental and other parts are controversial. Over the years it's been rejected by every single place I thought would want it, including a few once-prominent mags that have since folded or lost their good reputations. That's how long I've been sitting on this thing. So up it has gone, at long last, on Medium, on the first day of 2018's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Share it, please, with #NEDAwareness. You never know who will need to hear it.

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.

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*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.