Friday, April 20, 2018

From Me to You: Hard Truths

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

Elmore Leonard 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Never To-Done

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

Regularly scheduled programming:

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

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

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

bangin' out those to-dos

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

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

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

Out in the world:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to get back to reading. Agh.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

LA Astronomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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