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.