Thursday, December 27, 2018

Books I Read in 2018

This is probably the most intense year of reading I've had since I was a book-addicted kid. The total is 150-160 (inexact because of chapbooks and books I didn't finish), or just about three per week. I consider that an awful lot of books for one year.

I was dissatisfied at the lack of year variation in my book diet - it was almost all new releases, very few older books - and that I didn't successfully read a Big Book. I read several books that were ~450 pages, but none of them were classics, even by my very loose standards.

Here's 2017's version of this post, and I think it's worthwhile to repeat the first paragraph of that post:
It's possible that I'm doing this to show off, I'll come out with that up front. But if I can try to step back and use myself as an example: as a writer, you should be prepared to read a LOT. Voraciously and omnivorously. Poetry, nonfiction, avant-garde, pulp, scholarship, everything. Read it all and then get back to me if you still want to be a writer.
The ^ marks a book that I did not read for review, interview, or another kind of research. (There were a lot fewer of them than books I did read for review/research.) The * marks a book I didn't finish.

The bolded books were my favorite books of the year. Very subjective. Others I read were more skillfully written, or more fun, or more memorable, or easier to recommend to readers who are not me. But the bolded ones were the books that ensorcelled me, the ones that made me want to keep reading late into the night or tiptoe out to read them early in the morning.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Weekly To-Do, 12/16/18 - 12/22/18

Not much to say about this week. I read a lot, and Musalaheen was one of the best books I read all year. (I've kept up with a list of all the books I read this year, which I'll post here soon. It's...long.)

In case you missed the conversation on Facebook, I'm doing a multi-book project involving the phrase "horse latitudes," so this week's reading involved a few of those. Two were poetry, and one was a novel. Many more to come. This mystery will be solved within a few weeks, I promise.

Disclaimer: I'm including selected names of pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them entirely. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

Locus roundup
Lost Gods review
Blog post
Last Woman Standing review
Unmarriageable review

Lost Gods
Frail Sister
Stranger in the Pen
Horse Latitudes books (3)
Tides of the Titans 

TCS to Psych Today
Feature to K (responded)
Sissy to WaPo
Op-ed to LAT (rejected)
TCS to Folks
Sissy to NPR

LARB (accepted I think?)

Emails w/ WD publicist
Emails, texts w/ Malhotra

Promote Ariana Grande piece
Promote podcast appearance
Promote TBS list
Promote Egan review
Promote Nemett review
Update website
Submit to contest

Thursday, December 20, 2018

See Me Now?

I am so tired of year-end roundups of books that I could start screaming and never stop, like that guy who cracks in Real Genius.

Seriously. I had no idea how many of them there were until this year, when paying attention to them is kind of part of my job, but now I feel like I'm drowning in them. And what good do they do? So often they're just composed of all the same books I heard about ad nauseam this year. I wish all the best to the authors of these books, really I do, but if I read one more article that gushes over The Incendiaries, The Third Hotel, and The Great Believers, I'm going to, well,

I could write a very long list of things I learned this year as a writer. I think I picked up about 100 bylines, based on inexact estimates, and that's a lot to learn from. I got into too many arguments, and I made some wonderful connections, and I alienated a nonzero number of people, unfortunately. I went to book parties and I joined Twitter and I wrote for outlets I've been wanting to write for since I was in my mid-twenties. I felt lucky and cursed, miserable and exhilarated. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But there's just one thing I want to write about today: using the first person in book reviews.

I've never believed that subjectivity in the majority of writing types is a bad thing. The only places to preserve objectivity are textbooks or journalism: areas where the meretricious struts of objectivity are necessary or the infrastructure crumbles. For nearly everything else, I find it pretty important to remember the existence, the bias, the shades and emotions of the genuine human being who's composing the words you're reading. Hi, here I am.

In my reviews, I turn to the first person when I want to offer my subjective experience of reading the book. Again, I see nothing wrong with this. When I read poetry and have a hard time with it, I want you to know that. I hope my first-person truth-telling will make other readers who have a hard time with poetry feel less alone, and help them choose to forge on with reading poetry anyway (because if a reviewer has a hard time with it, what do you have to be discouraged about?). A few of my editors, though, have flagged my dips into the first person and asked me to remove them. It took time and guidance for me to understand why instead of getting defensive.

A great example of why came from a review that was just published yesterday, of Adam Nemett's We Can Save Us All. In the second paragraph, the finished review reads:
David, the main narrator, is a bit of a misstep; in his ordinariness and insecurity, he is inadequate to the task of anchoring this wild, funny book. 
While my original draft read:
David, the main narrator, is a bit of a misstep; in his ordinariness and insecurity, I found him inadequate to the task of anchoring this wild, funny book. 
In my draft, I wrote this judgment in the first person because I'm not sure that every reader will find David inadequate. It felt harsh to indicate that. I'm a critic, but I'm one reader, and I'm willing to bet that readers who resemble David more than I do will find him more adequate than I did. And his ordinariness and insecurity are part of the point; I think it's still way too big a book for such a schlub to be the center of, but I do see why Nemett did it that way. The point is, I felt like I was opening myself to more hostility by using definite language (here's how it is) than by using subjective language (here's how I found it). I think I'm right but I'm willing to be wrong, and I don't want to stamp out other readers' points of view. The first person demonstrates that efficiently.

My editor pointed out that subjectivity weakens the certainty of the passage, and thus of the review in general. It's like using seems instead of is: weaseling out of saying what you really mean. This is true. It just is. Without definite statements instead of "I think/I feel" statements, criticism has no air of authority. Thus, first person should be used sparingly, or not at all, if the critic is going to maintain her authority as a critic.

But I am dubious about saying that any single critic's opinion is the only way to receive a given book. As one of my teachers said, if everyone in the room has the same thing to say about a book, it's a dead piece of literature. So to say that how I received the book is how I received the book, rather than how the book definitively is, feels more correct, kinder, fairer.

And I know I don't know everything about reading, writing, or reviewing. Without some subjectivity, I start to sound like a know-it-all, or a snob, or worse.

Still. My editors are right. Criticism is messy and unconvincing with too much subjectivity. I keep seeking the right balance of I and you, of critic and reader, with some author thrown in there, too. Without that balance, criticism feels either too limp or too steely. I am a good enough reader to suss out what an author is doing most of the time, but I don't want to lose track of the flawed and biased person who's reading, or start proclaiming myself the Great and Powerful Oz of book critics. That's not in anyone's best interests, not readers nor writers. Nor me.

For more subjective opinions, see below.

Out in the world:

I reviewed Anne Boyer's bring-you-to-your-knees essay collection A Handbook of Disappointed Fate for the Los Angeles Review. It's too, too good. And this review is very subjective, but hopefully in an authoritative way.

For Locus, I reviewed the third book in B. Catling's well-received Vorrh trilogy. I read all 1,400 pages of this trilogy in a week, and I know the overload involved there is not the only reason I fucking hated the books. I was on pins and needles the last couple of months waiting for this review to go on the website, because I am so proud of pointing out the sick colonialism and the dark, hideous horrors of these books. If you haven't read one of my reviews in a while, read this one.

I reviewed a short novel that seemed to come and go quickly despite being a lyrical wonder, Alyson Hagy's Scribe, for the Carolina Quarterly. The editor there is super nice and we're going to be working together at least a couple more times in the coming months.

I did a breathless three-minute review of a second PANK chapbook, Stacy Austin Egan's You Could Stop It Here, which was very good, for Pleiades. I hugely enjoy this format.

I feel bad about giving a net negative review to Hollywood vs. the Author, a collection of essays about writers in Hollywood, because it's the first book I've reviewed for Rare Bird and I really like the people at that press and the work they're doing. But the book had obvious flaws. What are you gonna do?

Also for Book and Film Globe, I wrote a snarktastic piece about the video for Ariana Grande's "Thank U, Next," which pissed me off. My take pissed off some other people. Oh, well. My editor at that site is assigning me almost everything I pitch, so there will be much more to come there.

Finally, I wrote an essay about writing without pay that I posted (...behind a paywall) at Medium. If you find it interesting, I'd appreciate a share.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Weekly To-Do, 12/09/18 - 12/15/18

This week was a complete shitshow. A lot of things happened all at once, some of them merely eventful and others emotionally messy. I drove to LAX and back for a 15-minute appointment. I had an internal biopsy. I spent two days on planes. Etc. Which meant that I didn't get as much done as I hoped to this week. I'm nearly done with a long book I had hoped to finish yesterday, but didn't, and I planned to write at least two reviews, but I mostly slept instead. Oh, well. Next week should be better.

I'm starting to think about a vacation in January or February, like...just...taking a few days not to do this. One of my recent intentions was to take one weekend day each week not to work at all: not to send emails, think about my schedule, research, read for review, or write. It's been over a month since I thought that up and I still haven't managed it. (Which means I've worked at least a little bit every single day for months.) I'd like to spend some time with horses, letting the hours pass slowly. I'd like to stand in the desert and look at the wind moving the sand. I'd like to recalibrate.

Fingers crossed.

Disclaimer: I'm including selected names of pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them entirely. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

Revisions to Nuuk review
Ariana Grande piece
Notes for Locus roundup

The Collected Schizophrenias

EA to Locus
Books I Hate queries (2)

R&RG (answered)

Emails from Nathaniel
Emails w/ Sarah, Stephanie
Emails w/ George
Emails w/ Caroline

Publish & promote Medium piece 
Submit literary pieces (3)
KR contract
Review Booth galley
NBCC survey
Promote Catling review

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Weekly To-Do, 12/02/18 - 12/08/18

This week I did a theoretically dumb thing: I complained publicly about rejections. The Twitter thread begins -

- and goes on to explain why these rejections are so frustrating. I'm usually able not to take them personally, but this thread explains why I can't seem to this time.

If anyone thought the thread made me look like a jerk, they didn't say so. I got a bunch of support from friends, and interest in reading the MS from newish friends and even from a press. Bitching and whining about rejections is a boring rookie move, but I am beyond frustrated about the gap between the feedback I've gotten about this MS and the interest shown in it.

Anyway. Aside from that, it was a busy week; four reviews appeared, I wrote four more, and I had a variety of applications and administrative stuff to assemble. Plus all the good news, which is maybe even more stressful than bad news.

As before (I didn't think it would hurt to include this disclaimer in every post): I'm including selected names of pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them entirely. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

Review of Schwartz
Nervously edit freelance article
Blog post
Revisions on Five Plots review (minimal)
Revisions on Harun review
Review of Moskovich
Review of Gaar
Review of Narrator

World Domination
Something Like Breathing 

Multiple to B&FG (mostly accepted)
GAITR to Pitchfork

Guardian (accepted)
BOMB (accepted!!!!!!!)
Chronicle (rejected)
Rain Taxi (responded)

Emails w/ Aly
Messages w/ Ron
Emails w/ Neal
Emails w/ Locus
Emails w/ Geoff

Promote Asim review
CALYX acceptance & corresp
Promote Boyer review
Update website
Apply for Balakian award
Promote Schwartz review
Promote Scribe review
Locus year-end business
Submit finished review to KR 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

From Noon Until Noon Again

Yesterday I was feeling very blue. It was the kind of blue I knew would pass, but that didn't make me feel less worthless in the moment. This sensation was the result of a variety of things.

I got a handful of rejections all together that were more hurtful than the norm. One was one of those where they don't even send you an email, you just find out when they send the list of winners in the newsletter. I understand that organizations can't be all things to all people, but ugh, what a sucky way to learn that I didn't get picked. I also got two rejections from agents, one of whom I'm pretty sure didn't read my query all the way through based on their reply. My pitches and follow-ups for the past week have mostly not been answered. I didn't get a side job I hoped I'd get. The reading & reviewing - in reality, I've been very productive lately, but it feels like digging at the side of a sand pile. It doesn't look like there's actual progress, or that there ever will be.

Personally: Two friendship-related disappointments hit me in the course of a couple of days. I'm doing a whirlwind east-coast trip this weekend and don't have anything to wear. I signed Matt and myself up for both PreCheck and Global Entry without realizing that we don't need both, and Global Entry is useless for the reason I wanted it, which makes me feel like the management skills on which I pride myself have failed me. The end of the semester is coming and it feels like I fucked up, mostly, instead of helping, at CSUN. I can't manage money at all, not one little bit. Really truly. Can't.

Over the weekend, I went to a few junk shops in Ventura and bought some materials for collaging. I found the most amazing things! Vintage catalogs, magazines, paper doll sets, curious books, even a couple of woodcuts. Back in September, I resolved to make a visual collage at least once every six weeks. I love to collage, even if it's not an art form that I know how to do (like I know how to write). It's a sincere and powerful artistic release for me. But my resolution involved using real materials to collage rather than just catalogs and junk mail, which is how I've been doing it up till now. I expressed it to myself as "put some skin in the game," which means cutting and pasting things that have objective value, materials that once meant something to someone, rather than items that are worthless or easy to reproduce.

I was thinking about Anne Carson's book Nox, which includes collages of family photographs and letters, materials that surely were precious but that she cut up and pasted over and re-made as materials for her art. I couldn't decide if it was...wasteful? a loss? something she'd regret?, but I also found it daring. As I looked at more collage artists' work, I began to wonder if collaging was worthwhile at all unless you collaged something of value. Maybe it depends on what you're trying to do as a collagist.

In any event, I felt sure that I wasn't going to do satisfying work as a collagist, whether I want to make work that others see or not, unless I used materials that intrigued me instead of trash. So I bought some in Ventura over the weekend.

Problem was, when I got home and spread all the materials on the floor to show Matt, they were all so interesting that I was overwhelmed. I didn't know where to start. What if I fucked up, and wasted the materials that I'd spent money on? What if I was wrong about the book I wanted to chop up and use as background? What if I had to throw out real photos from the 1960s? It upset me, because my creativity wanted to be brave, but my heart did not.

All of this was swirling around in me yesterday, Monday. Why couldn't I do anything right? Why was everything so wrong? All my best plans led to flinching and fucking up at the last minute, or to gatekeepers reminding me that, nope, my work isn't that interesting.

At therapy, the plot thickened, in a way that I really can't talk about here.


This morning, I woke up and felt better, mostly because, as I said at the top of this post, my blues were a passing thing. Why-am-I-so-worthless is a refrain that comes and goes in me all the time, but only occasionally can I not just wave it away like a mosquito. Most of the stuff above, this morning's light reminded me, is either not important or it's fixable. The rejections are what they are; being a writer is learning to see rejection as neutral instead of negative. Sometimes they hurt and it takes time to get over them. That's okay, too.

Then, today, a couple of downright exciting acceptances came through, some of them from places I'd despaired over re: their lack of response just 24 hours earlier. (Also some rejections, which felt neutral instead of painful.) My Asim review got some good feedback and mentions. I heard from a friend I've missed for a week or two.

Most importantly, I went for a walk. I wanted to think about the review I need to write before I go to bed tonight, and what I was going to say in it, but instead I found this song banging along with the rhythm of my steps. For some reason, it reminded me of the picture I liked most out of the material I bought in Ventura. I imagined the song title typed in Courier below the picture, all caps, with a period.

The two hands laced together and I had it: a series of collages about songs that get stuck in my head. That was what I needed: a theme! I needed something to collage around. And now I have it.

I'm not saying that all you need to feel better is for things to start going your way. That'd be too easy, and also wrong. It's fortunate that I got a handful of good news on a day when I needed it, but that's just business, just freelancing. What made me feel solidly better was figuring out a direction for my collages. Doing that made me feel like my future as a creative person was not hopeless, which was a much bigger, more amorphous, more deadly feeling than a bunch of disappointing "no"s.

And that figuring-out was just a matter of waiting until my brain made a connection between one thing and another. Not panicking when the answer didn't come right away. Not forcing myself to sit down with scissors and glue. Having patience with the trawler teeth of my mind, feeling sure that they'd dig up answers for me. And...yep, they did.

Sit through your blues and see what's on the other side. You are not worthless. Be patient and true. I'm telling you, but I'm also telling myself.

Out in the world:

This piece about Mystery Science Theater 3000's reboot. I could have written a piece twice this length. I have so much to say about the show. But for now I said this. Got both fantastic, sparkly private feedback and bad public feedback about it.

I interviewed Daisy Johnson, who was nominated for the Booker Prize this year. She was separated from me by a wall of publicists, in terms of our contact with each other, but through it, she seemed lovely. Her book, Everything Under, was surprising. For those who are curious about how I got to interview a Booker Prize nominee: the Rumpus asked me to. I have no helpful secrets for how to make something like that happen.

I reviewed Jabari Asim's terrific book We Can't Breathe for Brevity. I really, really recommend this book. It's short, it's beautifully written, and it's a supremely helpful primer for entrenched racial problems in America.

I reviewed a book I really did not like for the Arts Fuse. The author's international reputation tends to indicate I am wrong about it, but I challenge you to read the book and then get back to me about how. I even have a copy, if you want it.

Pleiades published a three-minute review I wrote of Maya Sonenberg's chapbook for PANK. I wrote another one for another PANK chapbook that's forthcoming.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Weekly To-Do, 11/25/18 - 12/01/18

I discovered something interesting this week. For whatever reason, I had a hard time concentrating on reading or writing, and I thought that meant I was working an inadequate amount. In fact, no; this list shows that I just did a lot of other work than the obvious kind. Lots of correspondence, pitching, and miscellaneous upkeep. My question then becomes a chicken-and-egg one: whether I did the other work first, such that I had no mental room for the reading/review work, or whether, when I realized I wasn't concentrating properly, I compensated.

Who knows? My own ability to work or not work is mysterious to me.

As before (I didn't think it would hurt to include this disclaimer in every post): I'm including selected names of pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them entirely. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

Finish MST3K article
Review of Korneliussen
Review of Harun
Revise Nemett review

Hollywood vs. the Author
Last Woman Standing

WD to B&FG, R&RG (semi-accepted)
HvA to B&FG (accepted)
CS to Chron
SLB to Guardian
Dual essay, HL article to sinkhole (semi-accepted)
S to IM

Shields publicist (answered)
Pierce College (answered)
Washington Post

Emails w/ Shields
Emails w/ Guardian ed
Emails w/ Futurepoem
Emails w/ Cameron
Emails w/ Madison
Check in with mentee
Texts, emails w/ SH
Email Amy 

Promote Xue review
Submit "American Smile" x2
Submit "You Must Know"
Update Duotrope with rejections/acceptance
Contracts for LAR, TWRP, B&FG
Compose & send out newsletter
Request UTP books
Submit "Authority"
Submit "Jaws"
Promote MST3K piece
Request Wurth galley
Order business cards
Accept [secret thing]
Submit "Authority"
Twitter stuff for MST piece and Establishment piece

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Weekly To-Do, 11/15 - 11/24

Week three of my to-do list. I took the opportunity of the holiday to change the pattern of the days the list covers. The list below starts last Thursday and runs through Saturday evening, and future lists will go from Sundays to Saturdays.

As before (I didn't think it would hurt to include this disclaimer in every post): I'm including selected names of pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them entirely. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

Blog post
Review of Love in the New Millennium
Review of G
Notes on Korneliussen

LAR (answered)
Agent LH
Barrelhouse x2 (answered)

LWS to BUST (accepted)
Sissy to Advocate
Ceremonials to KW
Ceremonials to ST
CS to Bitch

Love in the New Millennium

Email Graywolf publicist
Email NBCC
Emails w/ LD
Email PANK publicist
Email Futurepoem about G
Emails w/ Locus eds
Email Tor publicity
Emails from GC, WD publicists
Email WRB x2

Promote Biss review
Promote Lubchansky interview
Promote Johnson interview
Promote Sonenberg review
Website updates
Check Pleiades, Locus for reviews
Edits on Scribe review
Edits on Nemett review
Research on TLM
Edits on Love review
End-of-year Locus business
Read mentee's work, make notes
Update Duotrope with rejections
Submit "What We Left in the Caf" x4

Next week I'm planning to do a little less. December is going to be plenty full, but I worked steadily enough through most of November that this last week of it is shaping up to be calmer than usual. Yay.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

November Poem

Every year or so I write a poem. I expect nothing from them, because I don't know a damn thing about the process of making poetry and so have no idea whether what I write is any good. But here's the one I wrote this week. I thought it was appropriate for the November holiday.


Bird Woman

having done no
research at all on
the subject, I
often think of
Sacagawea, alone with
a passel of white men for
mile after mile of
total wilderness, whether
they passed her around
as men do, whether
she was untouchable, too
to spoil like the land
they crashed through,
searching for the sea mile
after mile, her steps
quiet on the earth, along
for the journey, another
item on the manifest, whether
she hovers
above the ghosts of
trees she sheltered them under,
gone now, above
the mini-mall, her skin
untouched or not, whether
she helped them, whether
they helped themselves

Saturday, November 17, 2018


One summer I lived with my mother in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For a period of that summer, she left town, left me alone in her apartment. I was nineteen years old. I neglected to take the trash out for several days, because the trash can sat in a pantry and didn't noticeably smell, and I wasn't amassing enough garbage to need to take it out. There was food in there. The next time I threw something away, I found that maggots had infested the plastic waste bag. They looked like moving grains of rice. I was disgusted, and then deeply ashamed. The shame burned my face as I took out the trash, hosed out the bin, sprayed Lysol, put the bin back in the pantry. I never told her.


That same summer, I worked at a rundown movie theater. I started out in concessions, and then I was trained up to tickets and eventually projection. (Which I loved. Projecting movies was one of the most remarkable collisions of cerebral passion and tactile pleasure I've ever known. I didn't get to splice very often, but sometimes I did. I stole a metal reel that was broken and unusable, and I hung it on my wall, over the TV, for years.) But when I was still downstairs, I learned that the concessions booth was inhabited by mice. We never saw teethmarks on any food containers, and we never found droppings. But at the end of the night, cleaning up, we invariably saw small gray blurs darting from corner to corner. They were unmistakable, even if not fully visible. The leadership of the theater chose not to act on the mice. They didn't do any harm, didn't interfere with the stock. We thought they probably ate the popcorn we dropped and that was it. Plus, it was a rundown theater, one of the least busy in town. I imagine it has since closed.


In high school, my bedroom was in the basement of a ranch house in Maryland. The finished part of the basement was separated, by thin walls and thin doors, from an unfinished portion. Boxes occupied it. So did crickets. Dozens or possibly hundreds of shiny black crickets, noisy and quick. Sometimes they made their way into the finished part, a.k.a. my bedroom, and I'd find them, antennae twitching, on the beige carpet, or on the linoleum glued to the cold concrete of the bathroom. Trembling, sneaking up, yelping when they moved, I would trap them under water glasses and leave them there to suffocate. It would take a couple of days. At first I tried to shift them onto pieces of paper or cardboard and release them outside, but they'd just return to the basement, and on more than one occasion, a cricket leapt inside the glass, scaring me, and I dropped it. The unpredictable movement of the crickets was more frightening than I can communicate. They terrified me, to the point where I lost sleep worrying about them. To this day I am afraid of crickets. Not spiders, not beetles, but crickets.


Sometime in August of 2016, I found a baby cockroach in my kitchen sink. It was the first of several. I am a poor housekeeper, but not that poor; it was part of a general downward trend in the quality of that kitchen, and generally, the living experience in that apartment. I was less disgusted than I was disappointed: this place, too, was subject to pests. I tried to keep it safe, but I should have known that was impossible. I contacted the management company and they came and sprayed, but the roach incidents increased, coming closer together in time, the roaches bigger and bolder, and about a month later we moved out. It was the last kick out the door we needed from that complex, which was awful, but which gave me a whole lot of writing material. Including this.


Part of the reason I hate the holidays - the seven weeks from mid-November to the beginning of January - is the energy in the air whenever I'm outside my home. The general public is emotionally raw, whether they're nervous or angry or joyful or something else. Everyone is excited in some way, like a molecule is excited: quivering under the influence of an energetic force. Their emotions are large and exposed. It's extreme. I hate it.

At the end of last week and the beginning of this week, as you may know, major fires erupted in my area. By the grace of the Santa Anas, we never had to evacuate, but we had a couple of scary days; one of the fires was only a mile or two away. On the third day, the winds died down and our air quality declined, so we went to Lowe's to see if we could get some filtration masks and potentially a purifier, if we could find one of reasonable price and functionality. Within a few minutes of going in the store, I felt mean and angry. I snapped at Matt and got so impatient that I walked away from him when he wanted my help. I was tired and unsettled and just mad. And as soon as we got back in the car, I felt better (and regretful).

It was the people, I realized. The stress of the fires caused people to buzz with such bad energy that it turned me into Mr. Hyde.

We went home. We went out again a couple of days later and the very same thing happened. I felt rude and short-tempered and mad at the whole damn world. "I'm not going out again," I told Matt after we got back in the car. "Not until this is over." He nodded fervently.

I can't hide from the world forever. And I can't perceive human beings as pests. These two sentences are almost perfectly opposed and both true.

I tell people fairly often that part of what I love about working at home is that when I do go out again, the world seems nice. I greet people happily instead of seeing them as obstacles. Slow clerks are worth my sympathy. Bad drivers are cute. The more I'm out and around people, the more they seem like they're in my way, instead of going their own way.

One year, I hope, I'll be monied and isolated enough to stay home for the entire seven-week period of the holidays. At that point, the only thing I'll have to worry about is crickets.

Out in the world:

For sinkhole, I reviewed Eula Biss's Notes from No Man's Land, which was rereleased in a ten-year anniversary edition by Graywolf. In the process of reviewing this book, I wrote about whiteness in America at perhaps unwelcome length. I hope you read it anyway.

I reviewed a fascinating book, Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’eke Tinsley, for the Houston Chronicle. Almost everything I have to say about the book is in the review; almost everything I have to say about placing the review is unsayable. The Chron was great to me. Very sharp, very nice people there.

For Western Humanities Review, which is working to beef up their critical section, I reviewed The Making Sense of Things by George Choundas. This was one of a really small number of books by straight white men I've read or reviewed this year, and so far it's the only one that didn't make me roll my eyes at least once because patriarchy. I'm glad I broke my rule for it, and I give it my highest recommendation.

For Books I Hate, I interviewed Matt Lubchansky. I've been a fan of theirs for a long long time and I was really happy to add them to the roster. They're totally right about The Canon.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Weekly To-Do, 11/8 - 11/14

Week two of my to-do list. This was equally useful this week - some patterns persisted, others didn't. I'm sorry if it bugs you.

As before (I didn't think it would hurt to include this disclaimer in every post): I'm including selected names of pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them all. This week I anonymized a couple of them. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

Articles about freelancing (2)
Review of What Should Be Wild
Review of Empire of Sand
MST article (draft)
Review of We Can't Breathe

Books I Hate subject KW
Barrelhouse (answered)
PitchWars reader (answered)
Houston Chronicle (answered)
OL Books

Freelance article 1 to Medium
MST article to BAFG (accepted)
Catch, Release to KR
Books I Hate to KH (answered)
G to A
Pop Feminism piece

Last Night in Nuuk
Catch, Release

Scribe rejection
Submit Scribe elsewhere (accepted)
Email to Shields publicist
Emails w/ TWRP
Emails from Locus
Freelance article 2 to FF

Edits on Choundas review
Edits on Scribe review
Edits on Surge review
Edits on Biss review
Edits on "After Gardens"
Check LAR, Locus, Pleiades daily for filed reviews
Promote Choundas review
Promote Tinsley review
Agent research
Author chatter on Twitter
Website updates

I forgot to note down one item from last week: Write & record snippet for friend's podcast. I wish I'd finished at least one other book, but it was a stressful week with the fires. I did a surprising amount of writing.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Weekly To-Do, 11/1 - 11/8

As promised in my last post, here's the initial round of What I Did This Week As A Freelancer. Feel free to email me questions if you have them. To preempt at least one question, this is one week's stuff: Thursday morning, November 1, to Wednesday night, November 7. The categories aren't in any particular order, except maybe in the clarity of their definitions.

This is only writing-related stuff. During this week I also made plans for a film screening at CSUN, bought flights to AWP and Iceland, voted, took the occasional shower, etc. I had included work I did for the Northridge Review on this list, but I took it off. It's part of my life but not concretely part of my freelance agenda.

Very important: I'm including the names of all the pubs and books because making this list would be ten times harder, and therefore not worth the effort, to anonymize them all. Any of the acceptances could fall through at any time. By naming them, I am not badmouthing the publications who rejected or didn't reply. This is data, not trash-talk or promotion.

This was an extremely helpful exercise. I think I'll keep doing it until I or you get tired of it.

Review of Beyonce in Formation
Review of Five Plots
Review of Notes from No Man's Land
Review of We Can Save Us All 
Blog post

Guesthouse (answered)
Prairie Schooner (answered)
Houston Chronicle x2 (accepted)
Sinkhole (answered)
Washington Post x2
Sewanee Review (answered)
VIDA (answered)
io9 (rejected)
SyFy Wire
The Outline

Thirty-Seven to 3:AM (accepted)
Five Plots to Rain Taxi (accepted)

What Should Be Wild
We Can't Breathe
Empire of Sand 

Emails w/ mentoring program supervisor, mentee
Email to potential editor-employer
Emails w/ UTP publicist
Email w/ Gatsby's Child publicist
Emails w/ Shields 
Emails w/ TLS re: Virtuoso
Misc networking emails 

Completed Lubchansky interview
Tax paperwork to Chronicle
Promoted TLS piece
Misc social media (interacting w/ writers, presses, etc.)
Edits on Surge review
Accepted assignment from Arts Fuse
Attended literary event in DTLA
Checked LAR & Locus daily for filed reviews
Updated Duotrope after rejection (through Submittable)

Questions? Comments? Get in touch. :)

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Book Arbiter

Suspicious fish is suspicious

I'd like to caption the above with "every book critic ever" 

I've been meaning for a while to write about this essay, "The Movie Assassin," which got a fair amount of attention when it came out at the end of September. I've read widely varied reactions to this article, from total angry dismissal to "I feel seen." I loved it, found it worth reading repeatedly, considered what it meant to me in multiple dimensions, still am not sure that I've written, below, everything I have to say and think about it.

The main thing the essay made me want to repeat is how important I find it not to go with the flow of the crowd when writing criticism. 27-year-old Sarah didn't like The English Patient perhaps for immature reasons, but twenty years later, she has the language to express what's wrong with it, and in my view it's the same thing that's wrong with a lot of prestige pictures: it's not good just because a preponderance of influential people say it is.
Everyone had agreed to care about this thing, to call it good, to give it nine Academy Awards. But it was just a piece of shit sprinkled with glitter that everyone, including me, agreed to call gold.
Opinions like this (that The English Patient is bad) are difficult to defend. They make people mad who are deeply invested in everyone agreeing on what's gold and what isn't. They can be easily dismissed because they're fringe, because the rest of the crowd disagrees. They are problematic for people who are easily occupied or entertained by essentially mediocre art.

Which is most people, in fact - and I don't say that with any insult in my heart. Mediocre art needs an audience and the audience needs mediocre art. Sometimes I need to watch Easy A instead of Wild Strawberries. But I know that most people are going to like Easy A more than Wild Strawberries, because the latter is much harder to like, and is reaching out to a narrower shred of the audience.
The moment now strikes me as so incredibly East Coast—this notion of consensus—which I would later run away from, and then, in a strange way, miss.
All this background is important when writing criticism, I believe. It's the reason that, even though I understand a hell of a lot more about movies than I understand about books, I don't want to write film reviews (anymore; I used to want it more than anything). It's why I don't like talking with friends about movies, for the most part. If someone asks me what I think of this or that, I don't want to tell them, because the answer will likely make the person's mouth turn down or their brow furrow. American film of the 2010s generally isn't that good, because the camerawork is pedestrian and the screenplays are impossibly safe and the characters are circumscribed and technology makes them aesthetically lazy. I see these flaws, just for starters, in virtually every movie. If you ask me if I saw a given movie, I would so much rather say no than yes, because no continues the conversation, and yes is likely to kill it.

I would be a miserable sod as a film critic, not because I don't like movies (I adore them), and not because I want to be a killjoy (I prefer to cheer for people's art), but because I know too much about movies to be anything but cynical about contemporary American film.
Every time I thought about the fact that other people all over the city were reading it, I would shake my head and try to think about something else. When I walked by the theater and saw people in line to see it, I felt sick.
The review for which I felt this go-with-the-flow problem most keenly was for Belly Up, which I reviewed on assignment for LARB in May. I knew, from the hype it was getting and various indications in the text, that it was likely to be a big hit critically. I knew I couldn't fake a good opinion of it, and I thought I was way too early in my critical career to be doing that, anyway. So I told the truth and said that, even though the book was compact and well-executed, I found it chilly and distant, that there was no human spark in the stories.

And I felt bad about it for weeks. I didn't want the author to think I was being mean for no reason. I didn't want to negatively impact her career or readers' opinions of her book. I didn't want my review to be the reason she sold even one fewer copy of her book. But I was assigned to review the book and I had to do it truthfully.
If you write thousands of sentences that have absolutely nothing to do with what you think or feel those sentences are still what you will become. You can turn yourself into another person. I turned myself into another person.
I had a different crisis in reviewing CoDex 1962. It was the standard-issue who-do-I-think-I-am crisis, the one where this book has been lauded all over the world and it's a twenty-year achievement by an acknowledged young master of literature, and I'm a little baby critic who didn't really think the trilogy was a trilogy so much as it was three books pushed together, and the last one was maybe a little hastily written? to finish a trilogy the writer had lost enthusiasm for or moved creatively away from?, so I wrote a lot of weasel words like seems and I think, but my editor would have none of that. He said I praised the book enough in other paragraphs that I could ding it a few times without sounding like a jerk. I wasn't necessarily worried about sounding like a jerk; I was worried about sounding like I didn't know what I was talking about.

But I'm fairly sure I do. Just because every critic in the world was falling all over themselves to love CoDex 1962 didn't mean I ought to ignore my reservations about it. I didn't trick LARB into accepting that review (it was another assignment, in fact). They wanted my words. I had to offer them truthfully.
It was the best thing I’d ever written.
I think the error comes in believing that because other people are reading and/or purchasing your criticism, you are automatically correct in any given opinion. That because I write book criticism, I am The Book Arbiter, that I know for good and all what people should enjoy and what they shouldn't. I don't believe that, because I don't believe "should" is how audience enjoyment works. My opinion of 2010s cinema is not correct for the vast majority of moviegoers alive today. It would be irresponsible of me to write that opinion down as reasonable criticism, even if I do think I'm right. I'm a critic, and proud of my work as a critic, but I'm not an arbiter. I don't believe any single critic is, or should be.

The audience is the only arbiter that matters.

It took Sarah Miller twenty years to reaffirm her opinion of The English Patient. It's interesting to me that this was the book/movie she chose to make her point, because my opinion of the source book is extremely unusual for a heavy reader: I can't stand it. If given the opportunity, I would bow out of reviewing it, because I don't understand what it's doing well enough to form a reasonable or useful opinion on it. This happened to me earlier in the year with Sarah Vap's Viability, to which I had the opposite reaction. I loved it, but didn't understand at all. After a few months of trying to write the review I apologized and tapped out. Embarrassing, but better than lying.
I knew there were people who made money saying things they thought were actually true, or important, but I figured I wasn’t good enough to do that, because otherwise, people wouldn’t keep asking me to write stupid stuff.
Of the movie The English Patient I don't have much of an opinion, except that I liked it more than the book. Maybe Sarah's right, and it's a pretentious, very pretty piece of fluff. It wouldn't be the first time I thought that about a well-lauded film. 


Some sad stuff has happened this week. My husband's uncle (his mother's sister's husband) has passed away after a short illness. We subsequently had to cancel a family get-together for this weekend that we'd all been looking forward to. Plus, the week in public life has been very cruel.

But there's plenty of good news in my life (and I'll bet in yours too). My review of Tommy Orange's nominated-for-everything There There appeared in the Times! Literary! Supplement! on November 2. Here's a link, but it's behind a subscription wall. Also, I went to a cool event over the weekend and met some new and interesting L.A. book people.

I wanted to let you know, those of you who get my blog posts via email, that the traffic might increase unpleasantly soon. I am doing a project to track all the work I do on a weekly basis as a freelancer, and the best place I know to record all that tracking is here, on my blog. I'll post that progress until someone yells at me to stop or it's no longer useful. Until then --

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Disorganization Is Not Sexy

I have got to get my job under control.

"Job" and "life" feel pretty interchangeable at this point, but of course they're not. I can lean on others for help with my life. Last night I called my husband from an event in Santa Monica and asked him to make dinner, so I and my guest would be able to eat almost as soon as we got home, and although I felt bad because there was the briefest pause and I knew he'd been at work all day and I was asking him to work some more and he was clearly not really up for it, he did it, because we are married and that's what the spouse does, they help, even when they don't really want to. But for my job I'm stuck with me. Matt can't review books for me, he can't follow up on pitches for me, and he can't apply for awards and grants for me (regrettably).

I had a houseguest for the past several days who has been doing full-time creative freelancing for a lot longer than I have. She is also naturally more organized than I am. She gave me a whole lot of ideas and pointers, some of which I'm going to implement right away (divide work into three categories) and some of which won't adapt to me (visual project planning) (she is an artist, and I can't draw a decent freehand rectangle). While she was here, we visited a heavenly stationery store in Highland Park, and I bought a huge, beautiful project planner, with all kinds of room for whatever I need to keep track of. I haven't figured out exactly how I'm going to use it yet, and I don't want to muck it up with false starts.

In the meantime I'm going back to my old Panda Planner, which I loved for several months, but which doesn't have enough room in its monthly calendar for my purposes. My deadlines are based in months rather than weeks or days (something I learned along the way), and I need the space to plot them out, which little monthly squares don't give me. Since my next three weeks are going to be tightly plotted, though, I'm going to use the Panda unconventionally to set things in order.

The first dramatic step I've taken is to archive everything in my email box before January 1 of 2018. I am a keeper, not a thrower-awayer, so I had 4,000 emails in one mailbox and 5,000 in another. Now that's down to under 1,000 each. I'd like to take it down further, archiving & deleting everything unnecessary, so I can do the "inbox zero" practice that thrower-awayers generally do. The follow-ups are too time-consuming at the moment, and could be much better if I could get a system going.

Yes, I did this to myself. No, I'm not complaining. Not really. I told an editor the other day that I'm running around with my hair on fire, and that's true, but complaining? I love my work. I love my life. I wish there were a bit less of it, is all.

In this week's big news, I will have a review in the Times Literary Supplement this week, and I bought this novelty pillow:

I'll leave it to you to decide which is more impressive.

Out in the world (it's been a minute since I did this):

I extracted a piece of my thesis-project memoir, named it "Boundin'", and reworked it (with editorial help) for Nailed. If you haven't known me for long, or if you happen to have a grumpy opinion about my financial privilege or emotional stability, I recommend you read it. My life was not always so.

I interviewed Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post for sinkhole. We talked through an intermediary, so I didn't get a sense of his personality via email like I usually do, but via his answers he seems like a good, smart, friendly guy.

I interviewed Litsa Dremousis for Books I Hate. She, on the other hand, demonstrated a wealth of personality, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I reviewed a book of short stories from Bolivia, Sleeping Dragons by Magela Baudoin, for Cleaver. I liked the book. Very economic prose.

I reviewed Sybil Baker's novel While You Were Gone for the Heavy Feather Review. Both Sybil's team and HVR were great to work with and I hope to do so again.

I reviewed The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn, a beautiful book, for Locus. This came out in print in the...August? issue, I think, and is just now on the website. It's accompanied by a bitchy little take on a book I really disliked, Moon Brow, by Shahriar Mandanipour.

More to come, including Rain Taxi and, oh, did I mention the TLS?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Close Reading

This week, a piece I wrote appeared in the Establishment. I'm so proud and happy, because that means:

Two to go. 

I've been wanting to write this essay, in one form or another, for years. I hate the book Stoner. Bottomlessly. I hate it for its mediocrity, for its use of the tired cycle of noncommunication --> bad relationships (which is constantly mined for comedy and tragedy alike), and for its prejudices, which are evidently invisible to readers who want to love characters who love literature. I was grateful for the opportunity to disseminate my annoyance to a wider audience.

But I want to reiterate that I got no complaint with the execution of the biography. I'm sorry to be casting shade on a decent biographer.

The original version of the essay I handed in was much longer than what was published. I wrote some paragraphs of evidence-gathering from the biography and close reading of the novel, which I include below for your amusement, in case you're a literary nerd like me. I wanted the opportunity to prove that Williams is a mediocre writer at greater length than I had to play with in the published version. They're essentially out of context, but if you've read the essay, you can follow along.

One sentence that I wish my editor hadn't advised me to cut, which is not part of the close reading, but is a more general critique on white male criticism: "Perhaps if I didn’t read every book with the underlying question of do I exist in this narrative?, I wouldn’t notice the substandard roles women tend to play, either." That's the question under everything I read, and it's a profoundly important question at this cultural moment - not just for me, a white woman, but for anyone who's not a cis straight white male.

There's more news from me, but it can wait till next week. Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Never Yell Help Unless You Really Need Help

The past handful of days has been kind of bonkers and I am not handling it well. I'm behind on almost everything: reviews, interviews, reading, pitching, volunteering, editing, applications, my personal life. The only thing I'm up-to-date on is publicity via social media. Which probably isn't a good thing.

Here is the news:
  • sinkhole, in their generosity, has put me on their masthead as contributing books editor. I wrote a special bio just for them.
  • I found out that my name and review are quoted in the paperback for Red Clocks.
  • My piece on Medium has racked up 20,000 views.
  • I wrote an op-ed of sorts about the Stephen Elliott situation, and it got me a flurry of messages and shares and conversation. This is the first time I've been in the vanguard of thinkpieces about a cultural issue instead of tagging along behind.
  • My friend Ryan mentioned me in his podcast, the Coolness Chronicles.
  • A close family member has been impacted by Hurricane Michael and I am worried. 
Here is the further explication of that news:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Week On

I'm gradually learning that I do best at this freelancing thing when I work week-on, week-off. Like, last week I wrote one or two reviews every day, knocking out a massive pile of assigned galleys. But this week I can't bring myself to write anything, and I'm reading, sleeping, and tending to other responsibilities instead. This schedule seems unworkable in a field where deadlines don't happen on a biweekly basis, but my brain gets quite mulish if I push it. And there are professions that run week-on, week-off, so it's not unheard of.

It would be nice if my brain was more cooperative. I'm reminded of when I started teaching yoga, and I figured out that a profession which relies almost entirely upon the consistency and strength of one's body, which is a changeable, inconsistent actor even when one is young, is a taxing, stressful profession. It's a different thing than a profession which requires your body to be present; you can come to work at an office job with a twingey knee and virtually nothing will be different. As a yoga teacher with a twingey knee, everything is different. This goes for athletes, too, and dancers, and people who otherwise employ their bodies for 90-100% of the work of their profession. You live in your primary workplace all the time, and the livelihood that your body represents gives you a strange relationship with the flesh you inhabit.

Now that I'm in a profession that uses my brain as entirely as teaching yoga used my body - a profession where I can't go to work and pretend to be interested for half the day but am really just marking time, where I have to truly think for every minute of the time I'm doing my job - I feel similarly stressed and taxed, and hadn't acknowledged it until, well, right now.

I think that's why a schedule is shaking out, almost involuntarily, where I'm doing that 90-100% thinking work only half the time I'm alive. Otherwise, I might collapse. Perhaps saying that my brain is uncooperative is wrong; its resistance could be keeping me from becoming a pile of unthinking goo.

All that said, this has been a pretty interesting week for me as a writer. Two reviews on which I worked unusually hard went live, along with a few other less labor-intensive pieces. An article I previously wrote as a blog post was featured on Medium, and the soil it turned over had all kinds of horrible creatures living in it. If you're not a member of Medium, I think you may not be able to see the comments left on the piece by members? Or something? Trust me, though - it isn't fun. (For a sample, see the comment on my previous blog post.) The negative feedback characterizes me as everything from "misandrist" to "borderline psychotic." One guy tried to convince me that I needed to see my own teenage experience in terms of the feelings of the boy I was with. Mmhmm. The positive feedback was nice to hear, though.

As for the hard-work reviews:

I wrote a review of Tana French's latest novel, The Witch Elm. I used the review as an occasion to write about a cultural/feminist theory I named the Lucky Loop. I made three charts to accompany the article. The Mantle ran two of them, and this is the third:

French's novel illuminates all the issues I pulled out in this piece, so it's not so much me coming up with these ideas as packaging them, but I'm proud of doing that, anyway. The charts were surprisingly fun to make.

I'm a Tana French superfan, so the argument exists that I might have spent the entire last year working insanely hard to build a portfolio as a book reviewer just so I could get her book earlier than its release date, for free. I can neither confirm nor deny this argument.

I also wrote a detailed review of Shelley Jackson's first novel in years, Riddance, the subtitle of which is The Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers and Hearing-Mouth Children. The rest of the book is as elaborate as the subtitle. Opinions have varied widely on it; Publishers Weekly starred it, while Kirkus called it tedious. I loved the book, but I predict a lot of people will buy it because it sounds cool and then will never finish it.

Otherwise out in the world:

I reviewed a remarkable anthology, So Many Islands, for sinkhole. I doubt I ever would have read a sentence of writing from most of these people if not for this anthology, and some of the island nations from which the writers hail I'd never heard of. If you're a traveler and/or you like anthologies, pick this one up; it's good.

I did a kind of book profile, including some quotes from the author, of Barbara Barrow's The Quelling for an interesting website called the Inquisitive Mind, or In-Mind, run by a very nice pair of PhDs. I found it via Googling magazines similar to Psychology Today (PT did not respond to my pitch). I thought that profiling the book for an audience interested in psychology would do better for the book than a regular review. It was an extremely readable book with wild conflicts, and I'm watching the author with interest.

And I wrote a regular review of Donald Quist's first story collection, For Other Ghosts, for the Arts Fuse. This is the third-to-last story collection I plan to review for quite a while. It was very good! I'm just not the right reviewer for short stories.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Natural Causes

There's a dead fly on my monitor stand. It's been there for weeks. I think I haven't moved it out of some morbid urge, well-buried in most circumstances, to be aware of dead things, of the brevity of life - particularly for a fly, which lives a few days at best.

Despite this dead fly I can't bring myself to remove, I don't like taxidermied animals. I went in a shop once that was full of desiccated lizards, pinned insects, frozen furred creatures. I don't know how this shop was categorized in the retail world, because the only thing that bound all of its wares was death. A friend came with me. She is an artist and I think that she was not squeamish because she saw so many of the things in there as useful references.

I was squeamish. I saw life, flattened out and lost for butterfly after butterfly. The furs hanging on the wall once quivered above warm flesh. I did not like being in there. Uneasiness hovered like a greasy wad of dark matter in my gut.

We project peace onto our dead, when, most probably, what is there is nothing. Does a fly have a soul to be at peace? It's a husk, there on my stand, a carapace, decaying dryly. A cheap life, I think, but it meets the scientific definition of life. And who's to say that life genuinely lies along a spectrum of value? Flies are better at flying than humans are, even if we're better at thinking. Probably.

Maybe the fly reminds me that my existence is small, too, and I ought to write faster. Maybe I'm vaguely worried that if I try to remove it the fly will disintegrate and bits of it will get caught in the wire mesh of my monitor stand. Then there will be a mess, when at present there is an assembled carapace. (The fly must have died of natural causes, because I did not kill it.)

Or maybe I'm a very lazy housekeeper and I'm coming up with high-minded reasons why my attention drifts to this dead fly when I'm sitting at my desk, writing, and the real reason is that the time is long past for me to slide it onto a piece of paper and drop it into the trash, and it embarrasses me that I haven't done this yet.

I don't know.

by Karl Addison

Out in the world:

I worked extremely hard on a review for LARB of Sjón's three-novel trilogy CoDex 1962. It was not an easy book to review, given the wide differences between the literary tradition I understand and the one Sjón is working from; in addition, there was just...a lot going on with the book. I was profoundly uncomfortable saying even the mildest bad things about it, because it's been so revered across the world. But my editor supported me, and it's important to me to speak as I find, as a critic. If I don't, I oughtn't be a critic.

[Sidebar: this book + Stormwarning has engendered for me a strange little specialty in criticism of Icelandic literature. I have two more Icelandic books on my desk for review, and I've requested one more. A happy, if unexpected, development.]

I reviewed Amy Pence's hybrid poetry collection [It] Incandescent for the Bind, an outlet that's quietly doing terrific and unusual work. The review I wrote is itself a hybrid piece, and I'm very satisfied with it. I liked Pence's work so much that I also interviewed her for Books I Hate.

Bits and pieces of my interview with Alice Hatcher didn't make it into the final version, but I still wanted to get them out there, so I posted them on Medium as "outtakes."

One bit of ego inflation I want to share. Last week I was browsing the internet for information on when the third installment of the Encircling trilogy would finally come out in English, and I discovered that, when you click on the second book's page at Graywolf, my words, from my review, are blasted above the book's summary in huge letters. My heart flipped over when I saw that.

There's good stuff coming in October; I've filed seven reviews in the past couple of weeks, so once those get through editing they'll start rolling out. Also, a piece for the Establishment is coming soon, and it has outtakes I'll probably post here. I'm incredibly excited about that one. I hope you'll like it, too.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What Boys Are Made Of

This essay was featured on Medium on October 4. Click here to read the Medium version, and to put a bit of money in my pocket by doing so. 

Every night this week I've had nightmares and insomnia. Insomnia, eh, I've been sleeping badly for twenty-five years. But constant nightmares is new. Last night I dreamed that I was in a small town and some men catcalled me, so I lured them with promises of sex into a basement where co-conspirators waited to chain them, chop them up, and sell their meat and bones to local butchers. I didn't exactly want this to happen, but I didn't exactly not want it to.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

My Week in Backstory

Hi, here's a post that's backstory on the things that went live this week. It's helping me procrastinate on two essays I'm scared to write. Yay! 

Queen Mob's Teahouse published an essay I assembled from the work of five different writers: me, Lucas Mann, David Shields, David Foster Wallace, and Kate Durbin. This piece started out as a book review of Mann's book, Captive Audience, a memoir on reality TV, but I got really, really carried away. I took angry notes in the margins of his book and when I started typing quotes from him into the Word doc I had set up for the review, I couldn't stop. Somewhere in there I realized I needed help if I was going to critique the book as thoroughly as I wanted to. So it became a collage. Shields, from whose 1996 book I took some of my material, also blurbed Mann's book positively. 

Although the book did make me angry, it also baffled me - so far was it from the values I live within that I sometimes had to stop and squint to make sense of what Mann had written. If he was putting on a more-filtered-than-usual writer's persona for the book, rather than telling the unvarnished truth, the whole thing would make more sense - but it didn't read that way to me. It read as honest, if bizarre. 

I don't feel perfectly good about taking aim at a fellow writer this way, but the book felt that irresponsible to me, was that infuriating. I still don't understand how an examined, educated life can reasonably include reality TV, which exploits and exposes and never enlightens, and I don't understand how Mann can reasonably write what strives to be a memoir of an examined life and not acknowledge the other side of what he's endorsing. 

Also this week, the Rumpus published an interview I conducted with Elissa Washuta in which I talked about some things I rarely talk about - why I never cry, for example - and some things I talk about constantly - women's glossies, for example. I emailed Washuta initially because I've been wanting to have a conversation with her since I read My Body Is a Book of Rules, which I didn't fully understand but which I knew was important. She mentioned on Twitter some months ago that she was looking for promotion for Starvation Mode when it came out in paperback. 

When I reached out to her, I had no idea where I was going to send the resulting interview. Once we were both working on the interview, I pitched a few places (pies in the sky, mostly), but they either ignored me or turned me down. Time grew short, so I reached out to the Rumpus, with whom I have kind of a flexible, friendly relationship. I didn't know that Elissa had previously been on staff at the Rumpus, so I wasn't exactly reaching new audiences with her words by placing it there, which makes me feel bad, that I couldn't put it someplace that would help her more (and stupid for not researching this). I cherish the Rumpus and what it does, of course - I owe a great deal of my current reputation and workload to what it and its editors have given me, and the chances they've taken on me, and I will never stop pointing that out - but it would have brought me (and Elissa too, I think) a new line on the CV to appear in BOMB instead. 

Anyway. All possible credit to Elissa and Monet P. Thomas, the new Rumpus interviews editor, for helping this interview to be something special. Which I think it is. 

Also also this week, Submittable put one of my reviews in its newsletter. I had no idea this would happen until I opened the newsletter, and I was shocked to find my own words there. 

I read this newsletter closely every week, and it gives me all kinds of great leads and information, so I am honored and very pleased. Here's the review they're referring to, of Night Moves, by Jessica Hopper. I loved the book, even if it put the song of the same name into my head intermittently for months. University of Texas Press is doing remarkable work, very little like the average scholarship-oriented university press, and I recommend keeping an eye on them as you would a regular indie press. 

In other news - and I'm kind of burying the lede, if you live in LA - I'm reading this Saturday at the Poetic Research Bureau, a terrific little place in Chinatown, with two artists who are much fancier than I am. Here's the Facebook event if you want to RSVP. I am genuinely thrilled and I hope to see you there. I'll bring chapbooks. I owe this good fortune to Kate Durbin and to this t-shirt made of V.C. Andrews book covers. No foolin'. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Constant Everything

WOW THERE IS SO MUCH NEWS but it's not time to tell you it all yet. I've been out of the office on and off for two weeks, traveling and learning and doing all kinds of fun things, and in the meantime a bunch of fun stuff I wrote has been released and the ARCs have been piling up.

not actually all of them

I am finally listening to Lucas and my husband about the book thing and I really am going to start stopping reviewing any month now. The problem now is I keep saying yes to books that add to my existing oeuvre in some way (for example, picked up two Icelandic novels following the Icelandic book of poetry and the Icelandic novel I reviewed), that are by authors of color or women, or that are fun, quirky genre fiction no one else wants to review for one specific magazine (staring at two long novels like this right now). There are so many more books in those categories than I believed possible, so I keep saying yes to them because surely there can't be many more Icelandic novels in translation that editors really want me to write about? (Turns out, yes, there can.) I'm still oddly unbooked (ha HA) between mid-November and January, but maybe that's an opportunity for me to relax on it.

I've stopped asking for galleys of books out prior to January. This is a step forward.

I want to blog for you about a couple of specific topics (release/looking away from the horse, driving in California/landscapes of belonging), but I have some other things to tell you about in the meantime. They are out in the world things, but they're more thoughtful than the usual litany of announcements.

1. Quite at random, Medium picked up and featured my story about "the new normal of retail" - indeed, they renamed it that - and I'm so glad they did. I'm astonished at the bump they gave, how positively it's affected my numbers on Medium and spreading out to other social media. If you're reading this because you read that story, well, hi and thanks. If you're from Medium, reading this, I'd really like some more information on how to get this kind of bump on other stories. I mean, text me at 3 AM if you'd like. The piece got thousands of views, which is thousands more views than any story I've ever done.

2. Today, Memoir Mixtapes released its new issue, "Guilty Pleasures," and my piece about Celine Dion, "If You Whisper Like That," is the closer. This is the first catered thing I've written in a long time (i.e. a thing I wrote specifically in response to a call for themed submissions), and I had a blast writing it. I hope you have as much fun reading it. I also want to point out how incredible the Memoir Mixtapes project is, how useful it is to wrap memoir around music. It makes the memories easier to write and shape, and the connection with readers stronger. I hope the editors keep publishing this magazine forever.

3. I interviewed Alice Hatcher, debut author of The Wonder that Was Ours, for the Masters Review. I couldn't place a review of this book, for whatever reason, but I was not willing to give up on promoting it to the world somehow. It was a book that I couldn't stop thinking about for weeks, one of the most interesting books I've read this year, and not being able to review it was super annoying. I also wanted, very much, to give Alice the opportunity to speak about the race issues swirling between her and her material. I felt concerned, when I read it, that many readers (progressive readers who mean well) would dismiss the book out of hand as inauthentic and co-opt-y. I knew from reading that it was not those things. Getting out ahead of this accusation with an on-record interview felt like the right thing to do, and I was very happy to do it.

4. I was featured on! I really was! The piece is a little more commercial and plain than the kind of thing I normally write (especially with the added section titles), but it's about something I did with tarot cards on New Year's Day which I really wanted to explain in detail. I'm not always this kind of person, this horoscopey taroty person, but sometimes I am, and here's the proof. Also, I'm telling you, every one of the monthly cards has been correct. September is the King of Wands, and I'm scared to death of what it could mean. There's a couple of personal projects that could explode into merriment and success, but I don't want to assume and be greedy. I'm so excited that my name is on, though. I don't know why; it just feels really special. Also, I got to commission/pay/promote a friend for the graphics.

5. In the next week or so, an interview I conducted and an experimental essay I wrote will go live. The interview is pretty amazing, but if its flavor is cookies and cream, the essay is salmon-pickle-pistachio. It takes on an established writer with a degree from Iowa, and it quotes a few popular writers at enormous length. I'm worried about pushback, and/or that no one will read it. I'm worried that I've said some stuff I can't take back or contextualize. At the same time, I'm really proud of the piece; it garnered a handwritten rejection from Conjunctions before it landed where it did.

I've learned that being away from routine as a freelance writer is a WHOLE DIFFERENT BALLGAME from being away from routine as a regular worker, or even a copy-editor-from-home. I'm troubled enough by everything on my to-do list that I'm kind of procrastinating finishing this blog post, because then I'll have to start on tasks. A friend said about freelancing that she stopped doing it in part because she was "tired of the everything." Yes. That is exactly it. The constant, neverending everything.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Best Rejection I Ever Got

This morning I set out to write a post to sum up a conversation Matt and I had this week about why the most unusual character in a given universe is obligated to be the narrator of the story. Why not tell the story of the Death Star from the perspective of a random Imperial officer, for instance? But as I wrote I got hopelessly tangled, and I do not have the concentration to untangle it all today.

Tomorrow I leave for a weekend away, and as soon as I return I'm leaving again for a week away. The destinations are different, and I have two fully equipped sets of anxiety about the trips. Yay.

So instead I'll tell a story I meant to tell some weeks back. One of my planned tripartite film essays is about Last Tango in Paris, a film I don't particularly love but which gave me an incredible epiphany when I was about 20. There's this wonderful film site, Bright Wall/Dark Room, which publishes long, thoughtful, specific, intelligent essays about film and media. The site put out a call a while ago for a themed issue on "Body." This is the precise theme around which I had loosely assembled my ideas for the Last Tango essay; it was the focus of my epiphany.

I was pretty slammed at the time, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to match a tripartite essay with a market and themed issue that coincided with it. So I emailed the editor to say hi, I'm Kat, I write weirdo essays about film, I really want to work with you, I have this idea but no time to execute it, how strict is your deadline for this themed issue? I included links to the tripartite essays I'd previously published, in the hope that the editor would see how neatly my work matched with his site.

He wrote me back promptly, and I hope I'm not misinterpreting his email to say he seemed as excited about working with me as I was about working with him. However, he said, the deadline is moot. After he and the other editors at BW/DR found out about Bertolucci's treatment of Maria Schneider during the filming of Last Tango, they decided never to feature an essay about that film on the site. They didn't want to break that rule even for a promising and/or feminist essay. He said he was sorry about it, but would love to see other work from me in the future.

I was overcome. What a refreshing, ethical, transparent, reasonable rejection. What a splendid perspective! What a fantastic team of editors. Whatta mag.


I legitimately bounced up and down in my chair. And I wrote back as effusively as possible to say thank you all for being goddamn human beings and of COURSE I'm not upset to get turned down for that reason. And let me figure out a way to work with you soon.

The following month I pitched another idea, which the editor showed interest in, and which I have since failed to write timely. Way to go, Kat; sabotage a relationship before it's a relationship. I really do mean to write it, but my discipline bucket is totally empty at the moment.

Two of the books I reviewed at the beginning of August seem to have taken all the air out of me. I've blogged about them before, but I'm still kinda blaming them for my inertia during these last couple of weeks. I haven't read any books this week, and I think it's because of the page count of those others. Also, I was disappointed in both books (in very different quantities), and usually it takes me a bit to get going again on reading after a couple of books I don't like.

Plus, as I told a client in the process of explaining why I completely failed to meet a self-imposed deadline this week, I conducted a handful of interviews this month that I wasn't expecting to, upping my workload. I think I've mentioned this before, so forgive me, but I don't understand why I've started getting requests to interview authors (sometimes completely out of the blue). My mentor Chris was entirely right to say that doing an interview series would help me a lot in terms of contact with authors and general circulation in the literary world, but I don't think interviewing is a particularly strong skill of mine. I'm grateful for the work and the confidence, and I'm also a bit baffled. Does it seem like I'm good at interviewing? Does this appearance of competence merely come from being a good reader?

As literally everything else successful this year has come, for me?

Out in the world:

I reviewed a book by Dawn Raffel with fascinating implications - The Strange Case of Dr. Couney - for the Mantle. I'm planning to work with them some more in the future. Very nice editor and wonderfully thoughtful site. The book is well worth checking out, and if it seems like it might even be a little interesting to you, grab it.

For this month's Books I Hate, I interviewed Kelcey Parker Ervick, the author of one of the finest hybrid texts I've ever read. She was lovely enough that the parenthetical part of the interview was really the primary one.

I reviewed a novel, Summer Cannibals, for the Arts Fuse. I liked the book, but my reviewer side had to be honest about its flaws. I'm looking forward to more work from this author - she writes extremely well.

And I reviewed a pretty difficult memoir, A Certain Loneliness, for River Teeth. I'm excited about appearing in River Teeth, where I've tried my essays a bunch to no avail, and I'm pleased to be able to give this book some attention. As with the other two books above, it's a flawed piece of work, but well worth reading. This book, like Dr. Couney, has more important qualities than whether it's perfectly crafted or not.