Thursday, July 12, 2018

Unscheduled Leaps

I drafted this post in October of 2017. I was too much of a fraidy-cat to post it then, but as I continue to mull and feel things about leaving my job at the end of March (when will I stop feeling things about it? nngh), it begins to seem like posting this is important. So I edited it a little and here it is.

--

There's a lot to tell you about the last three months of non-blogging. A lot of things I did and saw that I want to record and analyze. I read Our Mutual Friend and it put me off reading for about a month; I wrote the beginning of a very hard thing, and keep finding more of it squirting out around my edges; I had some experiences with ...mmmteachingkindof and I really really loved them. I went to Santa Fe and regained my center, the feeling of what makes me me.

But here's the main thing: I'm proverbially riding off into the sunset from my job.

Git along, li'l rexy

Sort of. I'm not leaving my job entirely, and I'm not withdrawing from it soon. I'm planning on working for the law firm I work for essentially forever, or for as long as they'll have me, but I'm cutting about 3/4 of my hours gradually over the next four months. [This turned out not to be feasible, in a way that's still disappointing. That job is gone for good.]

I don't have other plans for money right now. I don't have another job, and I don't have other opportunities on the table - aside from those I've applied for, which has little to do with getting them. But I'm sinking, losing ground creatively and just-general-life-ly, and it's because I spend 7:00 am to 8:00 am every morning driving all of 15 miles to get to work, and then I spend most of my afternoon hours sprawled on my couch or in front of my computer decompressing from the experience of work. I may be a hopeless wimp in terms of how most people do modern American life, but that's irrelevant; what's relevant is this way isn't working for me.

It wasn't any fun to realize I needed to do this, and it took me a year between realization and action. A YEAR. I don't know what would've happened if I'd leapt earlier, but I didn't, I'm leaping now, and here's what happens next.


  • I'm teaching a sentence workshop on November 11 for San Fernando Valley-area writers. 
  • I'm running a monthly writing group that's growing in interesting ways. 
  • I'm volunteering at CSUN, working with students on the literary magazine. 
  • I'm in the early stages of partnering with [redacted]. 
  • I'm applying for proofreading and copy editing jobs, even weird ones. 
  • I'm long-distance-volunteering at [redacted] to mentor young writers. 
  • I'm querying agents with my writing craft book and my urban fantasy book. 
  • I'm querying small presses with the other two manuscripts: the secret project and an essay collection. 
  • I'm making zines of my littler work. 
[I can't believe it, but almost none of this worked out. 
  • The sentence workshop was terrif and I want to do another one, but I still suck at promotions & marketing and can't afford to pay anyone to do it for me. If I'm going to teach workshops, something has to happen to draw strangers into them rather than just friends: a book, a partnership, a marketing campaign, something. I don't know how to make this happen other than what I'm already doing. 
  • The monthly writing group has dissolved because it was an astounding amount of emotional effort and people kept blowing it off. When I stopped sending emails about the group early this spring, no one spoke up to say they missed it. 
  • Volunteering worked out great in terms of enjoying myself, but did not net the main effect I was doing it for. 
  • Partnering broke even, but that's about it. 
  • I'm not applying for those jobs anymore - no time, with my writing schedule. 
  • The mentoring thing totally blew up for reasons not of my making. 
  • Still querying but nothing has happened. 
  • Making the one zine was a good idea but has netted almost nothing practical (interest from a publisher, etc). I'm trying to decide whether I should attempt something bigger for my next one, still handmade but with a press instead of a printer, but it's too overwhelming to think about with all else going on.] 
All of this is stuff I can do. I know I am weak at marketing myself, but I'm strong at distributing my energy to a variety of points. Like a seed strewer instead of a seed planter. I'm also strong at my passion, so I'm leaning into volunteering for what I enjoy, instead of waiting and hoping for something paid + passionate to cross my path. Yeah, I hope the volunteering will lead to a job somehow, but the volunteering is adding to my life in itself.

I have other ideas. And I have essays and books to write. And I have piles and piles of other people's books to read. It's all too much to do while holding down a decent job, so the job had to go [this was the main truth I avoided facing for too long, and now that I have, it's so much better] ...or at least to morph. I was scared to ask, but I did, and it turned out okay. 

So here I go. Leaping. 

High hopes for a soft landing
If you want to help, subscribe to my newsletter, tell someone else about my blog or my newsletter, or share links to my work. You can also spread the word about me locally, if you live in LA. If you want to partner with me to teach workshops in your area, I might be down for that.

If you don't want to help, cool. Not everyone has to love me. 

Pictured: me when excited to see someone

(Truth is, the gifs I got when I searched "cat leaping" and "dog leaping"
were so amazing I couldn't stick with just one.) 

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Networking Story (with Parentheticals)

What a month it's shaping up to be. Six of my reviews will appear in four publications, plus there are six more that could appear this month, plus a super-fun listicle I can't wait for you to read. I've attracted a lot of wonderful books to myself in the recent past, even if some of them are very long. The past week has not been especially productive, but I think I was burned out. I read 21 books in June. That number includes a couple of 40-page chapbooks and a couple poetry books, but still. That's a lot.

In another week I'm going on vacation and I'm taking both work books and fun books with me. I decided my trip-out plane book will be The Grip of It, which I really should've read last winter when duncan recommended it, but now it's finally on my coffee table. Can't wait.

Today I want to tell you a story. I constructed it with fictional names and titles to make it clear, but still anonymous.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sawdust in My Gas Tank

I did not ask my therapist this week if her other patients are being as strongly emotionally affected by domestic news events as I am. Did not, but wanted to. I retreat deeper into my creative life and further away from what's out there, and I feel ever guiltier about it. I know myself well enough to know there isn't another choice, and that what I really think, it's not a good idea to spread it around. I was wrong about Melania, I think - not all the way wrong but mistaken about her willingness to be used politically - so it's probably best not to use my brain on such things. I'm okay being wrong; I'm not okay being in a state of hyperalert despair all the time.

can't sleep, CNN'll eat me

That said, the news from the creative side is largely good. I'm relieved to be running slightly ahead of schedule on books for review - have read all the July and August releases in the pile, have reviewed almost everything with a deadline, am working on reading and placing September and October releases now. With two exceptions, one of which is 450 pages and already out, one of which is 530 pages and due in August. So I'll be okay, but I can't exactly relax.

I wrote a tripartite essay that I've been prevaricating about since January, so I feel great that it's done (though not without whining). I'm waffling on whether to try and write another one before July 5. There's a deadline that day that suits the essay very neatly, but I really don't know if I can put it together in a week.

A crème de la crème publication expressed interest in a pitch but is taking an anxiety-inducing amount of time to get back to me about the finished piece. A publication that's a big goal of mine for essays accepted a review pitch. (Subtopic: I feel weird about saying in bios and pitches that my work has appeared somewhere when it's a review, and the pub is best-known for a specific genre. Especially a genre in which I write. But it's technically true.) A publication that's almost as big a goal of mine accepted a regular pitch and I'm deeply afraid I'll fuck it up. Two! two! editors responded to my pitches saying they'd read my reviews. My response was this tweet:


And for the past couple of weeks I've been participating (very badly) in the #1000wordsofsummer project, where Jami Attenberg writes us a note of support every day and we hold each other up on Twitter. I thought this project might, at least for a couple of weeks, get me to work more consistently, instead of the way I do it now, where some days I write morning and afternoon, some days I read in the morning and write in the afternoon, and some days I read both morning and afternoon and don't write at all. And it isn't predictable or dependent on a schedule, it's just what seems like the right thing to do that day. I also hoped that I'd be writing purely creative stuff for all of the daily pages, preferably all on the same project.

None of which happened! I didn't write every day, I "cheated" by writing reviews on some of the days (it's way easier to make myself write reviews than creative work), and I varied what I worked on, depending largely on fancy. I think this might've been my last major attempt to train myself to write every day. My one half has tried to teach my other half that I'm untrainable in this regard many, many times. Maybe this time my other half will goddamn listen.

But I did finish that essay during the two weeks, and wrote something fun about Celine Dion. It was a helpful exercise to participate even as much as I did, much more so than not doing it and being petulant and snotty about it, which is what I always do when NaNoWriMo comes around.

Out in the world:

This month's Books I Hate (and Also Some I Like) was with Eileen G'Sell, whom I admire a lot for her astounding fashion game as well as her skill with words. Check it out.

I reviewed my mentor Dr. Haake's book for Anomaly. I filed this review in late 2017, but delays on one side and then another have pushed it to now. I think it was worth the wait.

I reviewed a fascinating thriller for LARB, The Captives, by an author who can boast a gap of 20+ years between her first book and her second. The gap reminds me of Tillie Olsen, but the book sure doesn't. It's an extremely good thriller and I'd love to mail you the ARC if you want it.

Monday, June 18, 2018

KBO

Some months ago I listened to a five-year-old interview from the Longform podcast. I believe that a lot has changed at Longform since October 2013, which was when the interview was conducted, and I'm certain that a lot has changed in the life of the subject, Elizabeth Wurtzel. So I can't really guarantee anything about how this interview went, or could be interpreted, except for what I got out of it.

Wurtzel is a tricky figure. She ripped the lid off mental illness with Prozac Nation, made it a topic that was no longer taboo (even if it's still not as easily discussed as it could be), and then she did a whole lot of drugs, wrote some weird books, and behaved really weirdly on the public stage. She seems like she's a difficult person, generally, and that her solipsism has been nurtured in an unfortunate, almost pathological way by her early fame. As a writer she is not someone to rely upon, or even admire, but I believe she's always going to be someone to watch.

I listened to this interview because Prozac Nation meant a lot to me when I was in my late teens and early 20s, and I wanted to know what she'd sound like. She sounds weird, is the answer. She self-contradicted a lot, and when called on it, used slippery rhetoric and arrogance to elude admitting she was mistaken. She redirected or restarted her sentences more often than not. She said some generally insulting things and threw her weight around inordinately.

Nevertheless, there's a certain quote from this interview that I've been mulling over since I listened to it. Which was when I still had a day job, so, like, in March or before. I can't stop thinking about it.
E: I also did not stop bugging people. I mean, people don't know how to do that anymore. They think that you can get things done with a text message. You can't get things done with a text message.

Q: What does bugging people mean to you?

E: It means asking people if you can do something until they say yes. I mean, you just have to ask until they say yes. 
The context had to do with how to get opportunities as a writer. She emphasized that you have to beat doors down and be insistent and annoying before you get the kinds of opportunities you want.

I've pitched reviews to a certain editor at a prominent publication at least a dozen times. Probably closer to two dozen. When I was about to give up on his publication a couple of months ago, he wrote back, with the email subtext of a heavy sigh, to tell me that he'd ask his colleague if they had anything for me. He never got back to me with an assignment, but even that email was proof that being persistent was closer to the answer than giving up was. I mean, you do risk being annoying enough for an editor to block you or ignore you or continue turning you down forever. But as soon as I think in that direction, I think about this Wurtzel quote.

To break it out a little further: a) Giving up is not going to get me closer to a yes from that editor, or any other. That's a guarantee. No one who gave up has reached the top of any mountain. b) Every editor interview I've ever read that talks about the submitting styles of men and women says that generally, men keep trying forever, while women give up after some variable amount of rejection. Considering that, men are statistically more likely to get published. That's not a VIDA thing, that's a pure numbers thing. Men try more, so they succeed more. The person who keeps trying is statistically more likely to get up the mountain. c) It's possible that being too annoying is going to get me no further than giving up. But I don't know that.

That means, if only in percentage, not even considering what feeds the soul, there is less harm in being persistent than there is in giving up.

So I'm going to be persistent. I'm going to keep pitching that damn editor, asking him if he has anything for me, bugging him, until he says yes. I got a third rejection from a women's mag the other day that said "please keep pitching me." Early last week I got a nibble on a pitch at a super-snooty publication, and that guy didn't write me back after I sent the full article, so you better believe I'm gonna ask him about it early this week. If he didn't like it, I'm going to try it somewhere else, and somewhere else, and somewhere else. Until it lands or becomes irrelevant, I'm going to keep trying it.

So thanks, Elizabeth Wurtzel, for giving me the words to whisper to myself every day, staring at the inbox. Just keep bugging them until they say yes.


Somewhat related: I got started on writing 1,000 words every day on Friday. I really wish this had not started on a Friday, but it did, so I got going. I picked up where I'd left off on the Citizen Kane essay and I have a pretty good trajectory for what's going in next. I'm a bit worried that the ideas won't all hang together once I'm done drafting - more so than I have been on a trifecta essay thus far - but it's early yet to be judging.

My ARC pile is juicy right now, and everything is decently far off, so I'm happy. Full measures of good and bad in the past week in terms of writing news.

Out in the world:

VERY IMPORTANTLY: I wrote a long, wacko essay about Sean Penn and Amanda McKittrick Ros, and the Millions very gracefully accepted it. I am sharing this piece everywhere, persistently, annoyingly. I love and am proud of it and perhaps I'll tell you why in another post sometime. Though I did already write this about it.

I interviewed Kelly Sundberg for TRUE. Her memoir, Goodbye, Sweet Girl, is a stunning piece of craft with an amazingly confident voice for a first book. Grab it before it becomes the next Wild and you're mad you didn't get in on it early.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Scraps from an Off Week

Let us say that this week included multiple self-inflicted setbacks. One of them involved fire. Not a metaphor.

Onward: I signed up for this cool thing Jami Attenberg is doing where we're all together supposed to write 1,000 words per day every day for two weeks in late June. You can sign up for it yourself here. I signed up with the idea of knocking out a substantial chunk of the Casablanca novel, but now I'm not sure. I have a lot of little projects I'd like to get done. My plan from last week to write an essay every day this week didn't pan out; see the short paragraph above. Maybe next week I'll do the little stuff to make way for something bigger.

I don't usually get upset about celebrity deaths, but losing Anthony Bourdain leaves a big hole in culture shaped exactly like himself and no one else. We'll be sorting out his legacy on gastronomy, travel, encountering the Other, and a smattering of other cultural matters for a long time. It'd be nice to've had him around to help us sift through all that.

I've got a music memoir on my ARC pile, so I pitched a handful of prominent music mags this week. They got back to me lightning fast - all with passes, but friendly and encouraging and unbelievably speedy ones. Part of me wishes I'd followed my college-era bliss and become a music journalist after all. I'm sure there are downsides to that profession, but at the moment I can't think of any.

Some days I want to stop doing this altogether, particularly when the reasons I do it are so esoteric. Higgs once assigned us a paragraph about why we write, to be handed in the following week. It took me longer to do it than assignments of many, many pages. And then he forgot to ask for it, so we never handed it in. For me it's not as simple as self-expression or leaving something behind or ego; elements of all that, sure, but it's more about communication - the hope that someone is out there reading, needing me to write exactly what I've written for her brain to hum in just the way she likes. Still, the confirmation that I'm communicating with people who want that hum is rare, and the sense that I'm sliding down into a muddy pool hole filled with dead bodies is frequent.





I cannot more highly recommend Ghost City Press's summer microchapbook series. I've been getting it in my email for two weeks now and YOWZA. It's free. Sign up. Start every day (through September!) with cutting-edge contemporary poetry.

Out in the world:

I reviewed a wonderful novel, a lovely deep-dive novel-type novel, for the Arts Fuse. It's about these two badass Surrealist artists who went on to spread propaganda against the Nazis at great risk to themselves. I loved it. And I think I'm going to read the rest of Rupert Thomson's work, now, too.

I also reviewed a hard-to-pin-down book of cultural criticism for Cleaver. It will interest a really small slice of the population, I think, but it was worth reading.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Hobby Without a Horse

Even though the oppressiveness of a San Fernando Valley summer is nigh, I'm really happy it's June. May was terrific, full of good fortune and joy, but for whatever reason it felt LOOOONNNNGGG. June is exciting for at least two of the bylines that'll appear. One in particular.

Matt asked me the other day how often a piece gets published that I'm genuinely proud of. I told him it was something like one in 20, which feels like a really low estimate, but one in 10 isn't right either. I put a list of them on my website under "Favorites," but the reasons I am proud vary. Some have to do with me being able to write about something I am particularly passionate about, or something that I feel like I have knowledge of that few others do. The piece I wrote about Encircling, for instance; I don't know that a lot of people, no matter what kind of reader they are, have read all the multivolume books I've read, or would draw the same conclusions about them that I do. That makes the piece fairly uniquely mine. (It also makes its appeal pretty limited - how many people care about an obscure Norwegian literary trilogy? - but I can live with that.) The June byline I'm excited about regards one of my favorite hobby-horses, and it makes me burst with pride that other people are going to read about me riding it. Even if only a few others care.

hobby meets horse

Ideas are flowing but I'm feeling less excited about them, because it's starting to seem like I won't have time or interest enough to execute them all. During my freakout a while back I asked Lucas if he thought I should take a few days away somewhere (same place I went last April, I thought maybe) just to write, to wring all the ideas out of my head and then see which ones were viable. He said he didn't think so, in part because I have all day now alone in my apartment to write, and clearly the ideas aren't motivating me enough to put them down.

Here's the thing, though. The piece I'm so happy about coming out in mid-June - I sent twelve pitches on that piece, and no one wanted it. But I knew it was a good idea, so I wrote it. The accepting editor called the finished piece "epic." Certainly I think I'm at my best in full form instead of when pitching, but also, for some pieces, the execution is simply better than the idea. A handful of my pitches have gotten nibbles but nos, and I am just as sure as I am for this June piece that they're good ideas. I think I ought to just write them and see what happens. But getting a pile of rejections on the pitch is discouraging enough to kill a piece's appeal in my mind.

My review deadlines are pretty far out at this time, though. Maybe I should spend next week just writing, putting short essays down, one after another.

There's one essay that I really have to write, because it does have a deadline, but I don't remember if it's July or it was April, and maybe the kind person who set the deadline wasn't interested enough in my work to tell me when the deadline passed, and I'm too scared to look at the email to find out for sure. I wanted to finish it by the end of May but that didn't happen. (Hire me! I'm not paralyzed by deadlines at all!)

Otherwise, as hinted above, I'm slowing my pace a little bit on reviewing. The pile of books is getting further out, datewise, and shorter. I'm sneaking in books for my own pleasure instead of reading only for review. Last night I started reading Samuel Beckett's Molloy, and even though that sounds hard, I found it kind of soothing, the rhythm of it and the simplicity of the words. Between January 1 and May 31 I read 57 books. Counting them up helped me realize that it's okay to feel a little fried.

Pitches are landing fairly well, but I am 0/7 on residencies/fellowships/contests this year. And those are just the ones that've been announced. I alternate years for when I feel optimistic and when I feel fed up on residencies/fellowships/contests, so in 2019 I won't apply for flippin' anything because to hell with you and your application fees. And then in 2020 I'll be like "but maybe..." and Hedgebrook will get my money yet again.

Out in the world: 

I reviewed MEM, by Bethany C. Morrow, for Locus. I think this book is going to be part of school curricula in the future, so get in on it now. It's great. 

May's Books I Hate (and Also Some I Like) interview was with Sassafras Lowrey, a fascinating writer. 

An interview with me about my short story "C-a-l-l-a-s" went up at Luna Station Quarterly. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Deluded / Inexperienced / Just Really Bad

Last night, after over a week of trying, I finally finished Sean Penn's atrocious debut novel, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. It's so terrible that I am numb with horror. As I explained to Matt, my state of mind recalls how I felt watching the first episode of Cop Rock: overwhelmed with the amount of work that had gone into this lotto-ball-tumbler of bad ideas, feeling stricken, astonished, that no one considered how bad, how really really bad, it all was.

If this is the first time you've heard of Cop Rock, it is (rather amazingly) just what it says on the tin: a police drama with many musical numbers per episode. I didn't believe the person who first told me this, but I promise it's true. This is my favorite number

You might already know about me that I am an outright connoisseur of bad film. I love it. I love what it reveals about good film. Plus, occasionally I come upon films that are basically outsider art, delightful in their lack of adherence to conventional cinema--even if the results are (for most people) unwatchable. Bad writing is a slightly different situation. The reason I was reading Sean Penn's book at all is related to some very bad turn-of-the-century writing I'm familiar with, and a feature I'm writing about that similarity. (Stay tuned.) But I learned from my flirtation with that writer of old that bad writing is, for whatever reason, not as easy in the intake process as bad film is.

A lot of people who make bad art are either inexperienced or deluded. A filmmaker like James Nguyen (deluded) sincerely believes he's making good films, because, for whatever reason, he can't see the divide between his camerawork and Hitchcock's. He can't hear that his bad, echoey, overclocked sound is different than the crisp sound of the average dialogue scene in a commercial motion picture. Students I've met who write badly (inexperienced) have not read or written enough to encounter and understand some of the pitfalls of bad prose. They think that certain kinds of metatextual writing are fun and new (when in fact they are neither) because they don't understand what makes that particular metatext cringey and gimmicky instead of profound.

But I can offer no quarter to the makers of Cop Rock. They were highly experienced crafters of television. They had seen and made enough TV to be neither inexperienced nor deluded. And yet, what they made was so bad, a spectacular collision of dumb ideas. That was the root of the stunned sensation I felt during the first episode: I cannot explain this away with my usual analyses of bad art. They went into this with their eyes open and the product is still terrible.

That's close to how I feel about Sean Penn's book. I know that this person has read a lot of books and has done a lot of thinking. And this book is garbage. It's got as many bad ideas as Cop Rock but it adds "lazy" to the pile, which I find unforgivable in a writer. And I don't know how it happened this way. I'm no longer surprised that bad books get published with big money, because I have come to understand how that happens, even for people who have not a sliver of the name recognition Penn has. But I simply can't fathom that this lies behind a man who, for his many faults, never comes across as underprepared or undereducated when I see him at work.

(To be clear, I think Penn should've been cleared off the table decades ago when he was violent toward reporters and allegedly violent toward Madonna; I think he is hilariously pretentious; I don't think his choice of roles is especially interesting across time, except as demonstrations of Hi, Mom, I'm Acting; but I respect that he's particularly good at his job in a crowded field of middle-aged white male actors.)

The above may have been nothing but outtakes from the essay I'm going to write about this awful book. Or early exercises for a novella-length essay I want to write about bad movies. But I am unhorsed about the unfathomable badness of Bob Honey and had to let it out somewhere. Toward the end, I had to sit in the room where Matt was gaming to read it, because I didn't want to read it alone.

Out in the world:

Something hysterical (hysteria in this sense being composed of equal parts fun + anxiety) on Medium. It's no fun to have your favorite stress purchase be suddenly a source of stress.

A tiny memoir piece I wrote appears in issue 5 of Beacon Quarterly, a Portland-based, design-focused (?) magazine. I'm not sure I understand the magazine really at all, but I'm pleased that my words are in it. I saw a PDF, and they treated me well. What I wrote, "Five Stories, Collated," was designated as poetry, which isn't quite right but it's fine if they/you want to read it that way. In a few months, the issue will be free to view digitally, and I'll link to it again then.

My work appears in Tiferet's current issue (spring/summer 2018). It's a "tif," a short piece on the theme of transformation, and I feel it's not of the same weight and caliber as the full-length contributions in this really fine magazine. But I loved writing it - it's an idea I'd wanted to put out in the world for a long time - and I'm proud it's in print. Here's a link to buy a digital copy of the issue, should you desire to.

I reviewed a remarkable book, The Underneath, by Melanie Finn, for sinkhole. I liked working with them a lot - they turned down something weird of mine but assigned me this book instead, and all went well - and I'm already reading a second book for review for them. This book, though. It gave me the opportunity to dig deep about my opinions of New England and its darker side, and I'm grateful.

And I reviewed a writing reference anthology, Credo, for Craft Literary. I did my best to give it a mixed but not unkind review. The book means well, but it's got filler.

I've filed multiple other reviews and a couple of interviews, all soon to come. May ain't over yet.

Monday, May 14, 2018

In My Wildest Dreams

Over the weekend, my goal was to write three book reviews. I'm staring down a May 20 deadline for four separate reviews, one of which I've already filed, plus two soft deadlines for today (Monday). I really hate working close to deadline; I know it motivates some people, but it just makes me crazy, and I produce poor work. I wanted to get more than half of the five remaining reviews out of the way this weekend, rather than sweating next week. And I did: I wrote three reviews, meeting the soft deadlines and a second May 20 deadline, and I finished reading the third May 20 book. Which leaves me with six days to review that book and read and review the last one. Doable.

I was feeling good about blamming through these responsibilities--even though filing one review got me an assignment for another one, on a fairly short timeline--and I went into the living room to re-sort the book piles everywhere. There's a pile for no-deadline books, a pile for read-but-not-reviewed books, a pile for reviewed-and-waiting-for-edits books, and a few small piles of send-to-friends books. I neatened these, and an epiphany hit me like a train.

That first paragraph? With the six deadlines and the process of meeting them? That's my life now. It's what I do every day: read, review, pitch, write. I have a spreadsheet with all the ARCs I've requested, received, or been assigned, with slots for whether I've read it, pitched it, etc. When I file the review, I gray out the title, and when the review gets published, I delete the row and enter the book on the next sheet, where I have slots for social media promotion and informing the publisher and etc. This is how I stay sane, this spreadsheet, its tidiness keeping me from terror.

self-portrait with two left hands

The epiphany: this is the life I dreamed of when I was a little girl. Other kids dreamed of being astronauts or ballerinas, but I wanted to be a librarian. I wanted to be around books all day long, every day, forever. As an adult, I learned, to my enormous disappointment, that being a librarian is less about books than it is about customer service (thank you, Withdrawn). I decided to be a writer instead, making my life about books I create instead of books created by others.

At the moment, most of what I write about is books. When I look around my apartment, all I see is books. Yeah, it stresses me out and makes me sad that so many of them are going unread while I read assigned books I'm less excited about, but still: being surrounded by books, and thinking about books all day long, was my fantasy life as a child, and now it is my actual life.

(This life has come about through a series of unlikely and wholly unplanned events. I feel the need to point out and emphasize this, because more and more people are talking to me about my publications IRL and I'm flattered and pleased, but I don't know what to say to them. I feel like a hapless cheater: it just...happened.)

The point is, I haven't really looked around at my book-stuffed life with WhatDoesThisMean-O-Vision until yesterday. And I feel grateful, positively awash in gratitude. Yet I also feel overwhelmed. I don't want to stop writing about books, but I do want to slow down. A little insistent voice is telling me that this pace isn't sustainable. And of course I'm getting paid for less than half of what I'm writing. It's a better average than before, but I'd like to convert the work I'm doing with books into work that will pay well, and that will lead somewhere.

Because over the weekend, I got news that a meaningful boost I hoped I'd get as a reviewer is not coming to me. That boost had a trajectory that made sense, that looked like a natural next step. But no. At least for the next year, that boost isn't mine. So I'm floundering a little bit on my trajectory, unsure whether I'm actually sitting in a catapult or just a swingset, swooping back and forth in the same non-progressive arcs over the sand.

more positive self-portrait, except for the cat, because I'm allergic
(books and cats always seem to go together in culture, but I REMAIN ALLERGIC)

Out in the world:

I wrote about the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama for the Big Smoke. I wrote this, revised it a few times, and then held on to it, trying to sort out whether it wouldn't be better if I shut up and let non-white voices say everything possible about this museum. I also didn't really want to call out my family; there's complexity there. I talked it over with a few friends and my editor, and ultimately it went forward, and I've gotten some compliments on it (from white people, admittedly). No one has showed up at my literal or digital door to punch me and call me a racist, so I guess that means it wasn't a terrible move to publish it.

I reviewed a pile of interesting books recently.
  • So Lucky, Nicola Griffith, for The Arts Fuse. I've never read a book this streamlined, this angry--a book that feels like a pistol shot between the eyes, no more, no less. Nevertheless, it's not white-heat writing; it's multilayered and meticulous. Get into it. Particularly if you have chronic illness, or have a loved one with same. 
  • Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Deer Woman, an anthology, for ANMLY. I loved both of these books, but I particularly loved Trail of Lightning. It was so well-assembled, so full of heart and wit, and I fell stupidly in love with the main character. She reminded me of my own Berra Thorntree, so much so that I queried Roanhorse's agent. Didn't even get a request for a partial. Oh, well. 
  • Belly Up, Rita Bullwinkel, for LARB. I greatly admired this book but didn't like it. (You might; I suspect it's going to be acclaimed elsewhere.) I will watch this writer with eagerness and interest, in the hope that I can write her an unalloyed positive review someday. 
  • Stormwarning, Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir, for the Women's Review of Books. This is actually a profile more than a review, and I am owed approximately half of the credit for the final product. My editor was amazing. The book is amazing, too (say it with me: feminist Icelandic poetry); buy it here. Alas, this profile only appears in the magazine, but you can buy a PDF of the magazine at this link

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Framed Narnia Map

In March, I submitted a short piece to a contest, the substance of which was writing about a precious possession. I didn't win, so here's the piece.  :)

--

Multiple maps of Narnia exist. The best one was drawn by Pauline Baynes in 1972, sixteen years after the final Chronicle was published. Some years later, Scholastic produced poster-sized versions of Baynes's map as promotions. I found one on eBay, creased down the middle for all time due to wonky, cheap lamination that also keeps the poster from lying flat. I paid something absurd for it, $100 or $150 for a poster that was once a free book advertisement. After the poster arrived, I spent a few hundred dollars more to have it framed in spiral-decorated hardwood with fancy UV-protection glass. It has hung on my wall ever since.

When we moved apartments, I asked my husband to put the framed Narnia map in his car and transport it himself instead of allowing the movers to pack it. When I assembled an earthquake plan, I thought about what I would save, and the framed Narnia map was at the top of the list. When fires raged near my home in late 2017, I thought of the things I would be sad to sift through ashes and see destroyed, and of all I own, the framed Narnia map made me the saddest.

I do this, I feel this way, because I consider the framed Narnia map irreplaceable. Irreplaceable: cannot be re-bought, re-made, re-owned: this is the only one I have access to, probably ever. I treasure it not just for this reason, but because I treasure Narnia, the place depicted in the map that lies under that expensive glass. It's the place where I felt like home, as a child, when my literal home shifted so often. Ten different bedrooms by high school, but Narnia was inside all of them--the blue-carpeted bedroom, the beige-carpeted bedroom, the black-carpeted bedroom. The paneled walls and the painted ones. Only Narnia never changed.

And now Narnia lives on my wall, a cheap, irreplaceable poster depicting all the places I believe in more fundamentally than heaven. The Lone Islands. Cair Paravel. Archenland. The books are troubling in the 21st century, the racism and the colonialism and the apologia. I do not care. Narnia is a home more precious to me than the four walls and roof that meet my hierarchy of needs. Pauline Baynes has drawn the map of my heart.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Mule Philosophy

It's May! It's May! No more April! The stress of April is over! *ssssnnnniiffff* Ahhh, fresh clean May stress. Like warm laundry. Or pollen. *sneezes*

The pile of books for reading/reviewing continues to menace me. It's a good pile, with splendid talent and great variation in it. It's just real, real tall.

I finished an emotionally difficult essay the other week. It was one of my tripartite essays, like "The Girl on the Bike," and this one dealt with my father and Apocalypse Now. I sent it to my mentor and she showed me spots where I could expand it, and I kinda said nah, and she said, well, I'm just looking for stuff to critique about it because it seems finished. So I sent it out. I've had this essay on my back for a really long time; the idea's been around for at least two years, and I started the draft in mid-2017, but the emotional prod has been there since high school. Really, really glad to have it out of my cells.

As for what's next, well. I experienced a minor implosion about two weeks ago trying to sort out what's going on with my potential projects. Thank God my friend Lucas (who's going to win all the poetry prizes one day; get in on him now) agreed to listen to me while I raved for a while about what was in my head. He helped me sort through the ideas and figure out a strategy for knocking them down. Part of that strategy was making a list of everything on my plate, and when I recited it to a couple of friends later they just stood there with their mouths open. More than a dozen essays of varying complexity; more than a dozen book reviews. Two books in progress; four books shopping.


Having new ideas is not the problem. Having the time to write and read is no longer the problem. Having the focus and wherewithal to do justice to the ideas on paper is the problem.

Also, I learned that it's not just that I'm a delicate, whiny flower when it comes to writing every day. If I write every day (if it's on different projects, not a binge on one project), the quality goes down sharply by the middle of the second week. I banged out a bunch of reviews and a few short essays in mid-April to meet some deadlines, but on one essay I had to break for two and a half days before I could write it well. My sentences turned to mush. So it's not just preference. People who insist that daily pages are the only way to write are flat wrong. 

The only thing that's working for me right now is imagining myself a mule: plod, plod, plod, one hoof at a time. This book in the morning, that review in the afternoon. This research in the morning, those pitches in the afternoon. Don't think about next week, just think about the next hoof on the ground. I am a natural long-term planner, but in grad school I learned how to live one day at a time, one item on the to-do list at a time, one bite of whale at a time, in order not to lose my damn mind from the stress of everything I had to do by the end of the semester. It was a major adjustment. And one of the best lessons of my adult life, so far.

At this time, though, the inundation of review work and the occasional picked-up pitch for normal nonfiction essays means that the lyric essays and the novel are falling by the wayside. Immediate deadlines aren't abating at all; in fact, they're increasing. Which is bad. The big drawback of the mule philosophy: long-term projects wither.

I think this will resolve as I get further away from my day job, and as my reviewing settles down and stops depending so heavily on pitching. (The latter, for the record, works like this: the more I land pitches, the more editors want to work with me again, which means that I have to work less hard to land the next book pitch--or I just get books assigned to me. Researching and pitching is enough work that taking it out of the equation lessens my workload greatly.) I realized not long ago that April was a month of recovery for me--from the unfortunate way the day job ended, from the major transition I coordinated at the day job before I left (which caused me such stress that I dreamed about work constantly), from the continued forcing of my square self into the round hole of an office job for three and a half years.

It sounds ridiculous that I'd have to recover from a perfectly normal job that I once loved, but once I applied the idea of recovery, a bunch of my behavior and limitations made sense, so I can't really deny it. Toward the end of April I started being able to spend most of the day working instead of about half of it resting, and I started being able to do normal chores without world-shaking dread. It hasn't been that way since last fall. I don't feel all the way healed, but I feel better.

It helps that I am happy every day. 

Out in the world: 

I reviewed Allison Coffelt's tiny book about Haiti, Maps Are Lines We Draw, for Brevity. It was terrific. I always love working with Brevity, too.

I couldn't make this article work in a longer form for any publications I had in mind, so I put it on Medium. It's about a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but it's also really deep, about life and stuff like that.

I'm in this issue of Beacon Quarterly, but I don't know what my contribution looks like because I haven't gotten a copy yet.

I interviewed Neil Snowdon, who is totally wonderful, for Books I Hate. He gave it an enormous amount of time and thought; his insights there about horror are beyond the beyond.

After I read Ty Burr's fantastic book about the history of celebrity, Gods Like Us, I wrote a sort of review/endorsement of it essentially for fun, because I wanted the topic of his book (star studies) to be more widely known. This was years ago. It was too formal to post here and too short/casual to turn into something scholarly. I kind of desultorily looked for a place for it, and this week, it found a home: PopMatters. Burr himself retweeted it, generously.

Oh, that reminds me: I'm on Twitter now. I'd love for you to follow me, but just so you know, for now I'm using it for promotion rather than as a personal outlet. The latter is what Facebook is for. 

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 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.