Wednesday, March 28, 2018


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.