Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Squintable Qualities

In case you're part of a different mailing/social media list than the other stuff I propagate, you should know that I'm teaching an online course in book reviewing at Barrelhouse in just under two weeks. We've got a few spots left, and I'd like to fill it to capacity. Asynchronous (the deadlines are weekly, so whether you're in Missouri or Timbuktu, it's of no moment), and $135 including the cost of a book from Nouvella.

boooooooooooooooks

Also, my website now features a press kit for Ceremonials, including a one-sheet (press release) and other info. I'm starting to put together tour dates, and those'll be up there too when I have them.

My vacation a couple of weeks ago gave me some real breathing room, and some time to work on two of the three remaining essays for the collection I'm determined to finish before the end of 2019. At first I worked on the Last Tango in Paris essay, but it was sloggy. Imagine a child who doesn't want to leave the house or car or Target toy aisle kind of whiningly dragging her limbs and fingers to do what her parent has urged her to do, and that's kind of how it was.

After getting permission from Marissa to set it down and try something else, I wrote pages and pages on Mildred Pierce instead. This essay has exploded into something way bigger than I expected. I might have to cut some entire threads away, or write something longer than I've written before in this mode. It's a big mess. I love it, and mentally, it's both all I want to do and a terrifying spectre of work to come.

Just now wrote several hundred messy words about the way vacation dragged up my conflicted feelings about book reviewing and the position I've found myself in here in September of 2019, five months away from my first book publication and so piled up with work for minimal/no pay that I can't see over the top of it. The conflict is about being good at something that has only helped me to be the kind of writer I want to be in this sidewinding, indirect way, and that may not be helping me do that at all anymore. About editors liking the thing I do as a kickstand more than they like the thing that is the bicycle. None of those words drew meaningful conclusions, so I hid them somewhere else.

Worry is so heavy.

I took a writing workshop on vacation, a very low-key one, and one of the discussions got involved enough that I sent my Singin' in the Rain essay to the rest of the group as "this is what I meant about The Lifespan of a Fact." The instructor, whom I really liked and who I think liked me, said she enjoyed the essay a lot. I told her it had collected nineteen rejections. She said "Wow. Really? That's a surprise." That soothed me, as I'm close to despairing of that one. I know it's good. No one wants it.

It's so strange how blessings have come to me in the last few years. I put out wishes and gratitude and work into the universe, and what I get back is always just to the left of what I thought I was seeking. And it turns out fine. I can't put most of the examples in writing, but here's one: I'm friends with a bunch of head editors at small presses at this point, and they've all helped me enormously, but their help hasn't been specific to getting any of my books published. Like, I thought that'd be the favor I'd want from a small press editor, to accept my manuscript, but no, they grant me other favors instead. It's terrific, but also why are we doing it this way, life?! I'm grateful for the blessings but unable to unravel what their squintable qualities mean, nor how to plan around and beyond them.

Or my editorship at Barrelhouse, which has evolved into a hefty bullet point on my CV, and it was utterly random how that happened and how it progressed into teaching an online course for them. But this I can say: none of it would have happened if I hadn't pushed. If I hadn't said I want this, may I have it? to the people who could give it to me.

So if there is a lesson from this extremely confusing period of my life, it's "ask for what you want." You may not get it, but you are far less likely to get it if you don't ask.

Also, here's a truth: I am so grateful that I heard a thousand times no about book publication for as long as I did. All around me, I'm seeing authors fah-reeeeeeking ouuuuut about their first book, from pre-pub terror to post-pub obsessing about reviews and sales hiccups. I still have plenty of time to participate in these behaviors, of course, and I'm not saying I'm so far above it all that I'll never melt down about a mean review. But the deeper I've dug into literature and publishing and magazines and rejection, the cooler a head I've been able to keep about it all, and the more I've been able to strategize about what I want out of book publication (in short: legs, not blitz). The dozens of reviews I've promoted over the last couple of years have taught me how to promote stuff, when to start and stop, how much is too much, and not to cringe when tooting my own horn.

Often I'm frustrated that X measure of success couldn't have happened two or five years ago, instead of now. But two or five years ago, I did not have the emotional stability about my work to cope with a book coming into the world. I can see exactly how I would have behaved from observing the people who, I can tell, were not ready. I never thought I'd be glad that my first book waited so long before arriving - sometimes I have been carved from a single block of impatience about this - but I'm telling you, it's so much better for my soul that it's happening now.

Speaking of good for my soul, today's a horse barn volunteer day. I missed the horses on vacation. I missed the smells of them, the happy weariness of my body after four hours with them. I'm trying to learn their body language from this book, but it's so complicated, and conflicts with human body language so much, that it's slow going. I don't know where this current involvement with horses is headed, but if all it remains is mucking stalls and currying twice a week, I'm on board.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Drop, Pull Back

A while ago I attended a group meeting with people I didn't know very well. The dynamics of the group were extremely weird; one person was very dominant (not abusively/obnoxiously so, just...alpha), and the others kind of automatically succumbed. As a versatile, I tend to consciously lean bottom when I'm around dominant people, rather than trying to compete with them. Competing with tops - particularly tops who aren't aware of how domineering they are - doesn't go well in groups. If I put my head down and let them lead, they are happier and more group stuff gets accomplished. If no one in the group is interested in leading, I'll go top. How much I let my inner leader out depends on the dynamic and the context.

Anyhow, when this dominant guy interacted with me directly, I alternated between direct answers and answers that would lead in a circle back to him, rather than to me. I kept a fence between the vulnerable parts of my personality and the questions he asked. Sometimes he needled, and I smiled and misdirected. I usually do this with people I straight-up dislike, rather than people who are harmless but not that easygoing, and I dislike so few people that my skills are rusty. I can't quite explain why I felt the need to protect myself around him, but that's what my instincts told me to do.

One of the favored books of my library is The Secret Language of Birthdays, a reference book that's a unique mix between astrology and big data. The authors have assembled a kind of composite horoscope for every birthday in the year based on the average traits of famous people born on that day. I love this book. It's often right, although not perfect (my husband's horoscope is 100% wrong), and I love reading people their birthday pages and asking them what they think. Mine is bang on.


When I got home from this group meeting, I went straight to the birthday book. I was thinking about a particular passage in my birthday horoscope that I hadn't understood very well:
October 13 people can be very elusive when necessary. Those who wish to use an October 13 person to elicit information or appropriate knowledge may find that after having had their interview or conversation they have learned precious little, if anything at all; what they grasped was but smoke and mirrors. 
Yep. That's exactly how I acted in that group. Deliberately elusive, instead of throwing it all out on the clothesline.

I could write for a while about how I developed the judgment to elude rather than expose. Mostly it was due to a terrible human being I met soon after college, whom I trusted, and who turned out to be just a little bit of a sociopath. He used a personal mistake of mine to make me homeless, for example, when it was really none of his business. A couple of years later, I took the time to analyze how he wormed his way into my confidence, and the warning signs I could have understood better. Since then, my trust has had layers and subtleties, rather than diffusing out to whoever. I'm not a private person at all - good luck blackmailing me, truly - but letting people understand how I think, what I want? That's a whole different ball game.

After I reread that passage in the birthday book I went on and reread the rest of my horoscope. I read it often, to remind me who I am when I get stuck in surface identities or other people's expectations. Different aspects of the horoscope have become more and less important over time. This time, the "advice" section stuck out so strongly it might as well have been red and blinking:

You must learn to relax. 
Take frequent vacations or at least rest periods where you do absolutely nothing. 

Lately, the shoulder pain that plagued me in early 2017 has returned. I spent hundreds of dollars and loads of time on physical therapy then, before I figured out that the problem was simply my posture. Between my heavy, slippery-strapped purse (right shoulder) and my sleeping posture (left side), I unconsciously jack my left shoulder forward all the time so that the muscles in my back stretch and warp and eventually start to hurt. Dozens (hundreds?) of times a day, I consciously relax those muscles, drop the shoulder and pull it back. Drop, pull back. Drop, pull back. The pain varies every day depending on my activities and how successful I am at remembering to do this, but lately it's been very bad, such that I'm using a silver-bullet pain relief potion I've been hoarding for almost a decade (it's discontinued) just to make sitting up bearable. Matt tapes me some mornings, which helps but isn't a great solution; my muscles just pull harder against the tape.

You must learn to relax. 

I didn't know that relaxing was something I had to learn, rather than something I could just do. Or, perhaps I didn't understand that relaxing was something I had to learn.

This morning I went for a walk. I left behind my phone, which I rarely do anymore when I go out to run or walk. I wanted to feel some fucking peace and quiet. But my mind yammered at me so loudly. I'm going out of town on Saturday and I can't stop worrying about that: about my lodging arrangements there, what I'll miss here in terms of freelance work, the growing pile of books for when I get back, the work that's in limbo right now, the creative work I want to do there, whether I'll have the materials I need, missing friends, seeing friends, flights and timing, what I'll fit into my suitcase, money stuff, a weird job idea, Ceremonials arrangements, ya ya ya ya ya. Woes both practical and existential, so many of them I could barely see.

I felt exhausted. Not physically but mentally. Just from thinking. I'd barely been awake for an hour. I tried both a mantra and a song to clear my head but neither worked.

I stopped at a shady spot and sat down on the curb. Drop, pull back. You must learn to relax. A calm, continuous breeze blew. I felt frail, like a vase so thinly forged you can see light through it. My brain kept motoring, so I tried not to resist it, but instead to observe tiny, obvious things: the shadows of leaves on the pavement, the temperature, the breeze, any birds. Drop, pull back. Distantly, I heard the peacocks that this family a few blocks away keep in their backyard. Their calls carry extremely well, but it's still largely a matter of wind direction whether I can hear them on my walks. I concentrated on nothing else but hearing those peacocks. The call was so far away that straining to hear it blocked out a lot of other mental endeavor.

Suddenly the breeze felt good. Suddenly I was able to close my eyes. Suddenly I could stop worrying, for a second, about half of the things on my mind. It was like putting that potion on my back: the problem wasn't gone, but the pain was, for a little bit.

You must learn to relax. 

How do I relax? How do I learn how to do that? How do I know the difference between relaxing and manically performing leisure activities, which translates in reality to performing coping strategies for stress rather than enjoying actual down time? How does my either/or personality find space for actual relaxation in a given week, instead of long stretches of work hard/sleep hard?

Drop, pull back. Drop, pull back.

The good news is that the place I'm going on Saturday is the only place I've ever been where I feel truly relaxed and yet not lazy. I can sit in one place for hours, pass up opportunities in order to stare out the window without feeling guilty about it, take walks going nowhere for no reason. In the rest of my life I feel the need for a purpose almost every waking moment, but not there. Purpose evaporates easily as soon as I set foot there.

--

I should tell you promotional news about Ceremonials and the other stuff that's been published this month. Preorders are open and good stuff is happening. But I can't bring myself to open up those doors in my head again before I finish this off and publish it.

I must learn to relax.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Chocolate Broccoli

I came to the blog because I wanted to write freely.  - HDT, paraphrased

This week probably evens out to neutral if I weigh it all together. Totally rotten stuff happened, annoying stuff happened, strong accomplishments happened, connecting with others happened. I didn't leave the house much, but when I did, I went to a reading and met someone cool.

I'm nervous about August 15, because a bunch of bills are due and a handful of deadlines are happening. I've got work due for the Washington Post and the Women's Review of Books and the books have not arrived at my house yet. I was supposed to have been working on a website recently, but I feel in over my head about it, and I need to put together the materials for a class I'm going to teach in September, but I've just been trying to meet review deadlines. Really I need to go back to using my Excel spreadsheet, with all the books & their release dates & deadlines, but it grew so tiresome to update that I am relying on post-it notes, which isn't working. Organization shall set me free, I know it. But staring at the pile of ARCs in terror is quicker.

My schedule for the year included writing a hybrid essay in July, and I didn't. It's about Last Tango in Paris, which I rewatched early in the month (or in June maybe?), and which, as I said on Facebook, I found very different than when I first watched it, when I was, oh, twenty. Part of this is life experience, but another part is watching so many movies in between and finding that Bertolucci, while he knows better where to put the camera than plenty of other directors, is not the all-time genius I thought he was. Others have done better, even if they didn't get Brando.

It's misogynistic, natch, but I found the misogyny the least interesting thing about the film, and certainly the least curious. Poor characterization, a sort of exuberant attempt at metatext, and unexpected inconsistencies leaped out at me a lot more than the fact that the woman of the pair is usually naked and the man is usually clothed, that he's a weird obsessive creep and she's I think actually a teenager?, and of course The Butter Scene. It's all so run-of-the-mill. Men are trash. I am Jill's utter lack of surprise.

Anyway, the essay is about the uses of the body, and in that way it only glances at Last Tango, so it shouldn't have been such a chore to write that I failed to sit down to it for thirty-one days. But I did. And now it's August and I've got to gear up to write about Mildred Pierce, which I've been looking forward to since last year. Can't decide whether to try and squeeze out two essays in the next six weeks or leave Last Tango for later. Scarf down the broccoli with my eyes shut so I can enjoy the mousse? Or just eat the dang mousse and put the broccoli in the fridge?

Image result for broccoli dessert
Or both at once, if you're an UTTER WEIRDO

My bylines are getting better and better, and my emails are getting answered more often, and I'm proud of that. But - and this is something I learned in high school, and continue to relearn every freaking year - the better one does, the more in demand one becomes, until one's responsibilities crush one like a steamroller crushes a cartoon character. I feel flat. I'm tired enough from assignments and successful pitches that I don't have the energy to pitch books I haven't placed. The backlog grows, and my deadlines loom, and I feel proud but also very tired. I want to get off. I want to stop. I want a week where I'm not exhausted either by work or by guilt for not doing work. Which, truly, are equivalent burdens.

Part of the problem with this profession is the timeline of it all. My non-review work has been rejected a bunch lately, which means it's time to find more markets to send it out to. If I don't do that now, then my lag time, while I wait for responses, will be much longer later, and I won't have anything useful to do with that time. It's like missing a round when you're round singing (eg "Row Row Row Your Boat"): it messes up the pattern down the line.

[This is part of why I haven't found it easy to slow down reviewing, because I worry that if I say no now, I won't have anything at all to write about later. Plus, the timeline for press publicity varies wildly from one book to the next. Sometimes I get info for a book next month that looks amazing, so I don't want to turn it down; sometimes I get info for a book in six months that just looks okay, but my schedule is open for then, so I don't want to turn it down. This is how I end up with two dozen books on my desk.]

The timing issues at the moment are a) researching more markets for the hybrid stuff that keeps getting rejected and b) the sense that I need to query agents. I did some research recently on who might want to see my essay collection. It'd probably be wise to query them now, so when they get back to me in a few months I'll have more completed essays to send them, and hopefully the essays I sent out on submission a few months ago will have gotten accepted.

See how it all fits together? It's obnoxious, having to plan like this, especially when the people you're planning for and around are often bad planners, or at the very least unpredictable.

Oh and: I'm now the sole reviews editor at Barrelhouse. That's great, for a variety of reasons, but it's...more. More work, more prestige, more worry.

In just two weeks I'm going on a kind of vacation, but freelancers out there know that vacation is a trap and a lie, even more so than in a reliably scheduled profession. I'm going to try and schedule out my time this month so as to treat the week like a vacation (I'm planning to write the Mildred Pierce essay that week, so it won't really be a break, but it will be a break from reviews & pitches & editing).

Before I leave, there's a lot to do. I placed a portfolio of eight reviews for September books, so I don't have to worry about pitching them all, but I should probably read at least half of them this month. That placement leaves me with two August books I still have to place and...four? reviews I've placed that I have to write (let's see: Steinberg, Skibsrud, Earley...okay, three), plus three books for Locus. I've settled in to reviewing three books per month for Locus, and I LOVE it, it's some of my most unpredictable and thus wonderful monthly reading, but it's a thing semi-permanently on the list.

Damn. Writing all that out. I guess I do do a lot. Maybe that's why I stopped using the Excel spreadsheet: it's horrible to see the traffic and not know what to do to thin it out.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Splat

In this new normal of full-time freelance, every month is weirder than the last. Some months are triumphant, some are jam-packed, some are slow, some are remarkably painful. June was a strange month, when I should have read more and done less meaningless stuff, and July has been intense and, most recently, very bad. Sunday saw the definite end of a hope I'd been nursing for just about a year, something career and creativity related that I hoped would be meaningful to more people than just me. But it fell totally flat, ptt, like missing a step off your porch and going splat into your front walk.

Ow.

I had a smaller disappointment a few days prior that I can't get out of my head. It's a writing-related struggle, exactly the kind of thing that I want to share here, but can't, because you will all think I'm a jerk, and besides I don't want to turn this particular rejection into Writing Material. It's causing me to feel both blue and panicky, and I don't know quite how to negotiate those in tandem.

But I shall rally. I got an email this morning asking if I consented to one of my reviews being translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil, and I was like ¿¿okay?? because it's the kind of thing that's exciting and terrific but that I never ever would have imagined, neither on the yay or nay scale, in no way would I have imagined it as something someone would ask me about, for any reason, ever. But it's nice. I'm happy the review caught someone's eye. In Brazil.

I worked well last week. Many blurbs are in for Ceremonials, all lovely.

Like this one, which is so generous it makes me dizzy. 

I'm churning out reviews at speed, even ones I should have checked the release calendar before writing, oops. I agreed to set up a website for a writer group I belong to and the Wordpress setup is really different for Bluehost than for GoDaddy, and I feel in over my head, but I'll figure it out. The book pile is not getting shorter despite gentle no-thankses to multiple publicists. I just want to help all of them! All the writers, all the books! They all seem worthwhile.

I've had a blog post in mind for weeks, but haven't put it together, because I have been writing for money or deadline instead. That's part of why I haven't been here in a while. Also, I feel like many of my insights have been milked right out of me at this point. This is my 548th post on this blog, and I've written as much as I can about how I've gotten where I am. I know there's plenty more to say, and that there ever will be, but for a while now this hasn't been the first place I think of to say it.

Still and ever I'm trying to figure out what to say here, when it's no longer a steam valve, when it's no longer a default for work that can't go anyplace else, when the politics of the writing world make me shut my mouth a lot more than I did two years ago. I want to tell you backstories of the work I publish, but some of them are too simple to be useful ("they assigned me to interview her, and I did") or too complicated to be interesting to anyone but me ("in fifth grade I was standing in the lunch line when...").

Part of Sunday being a bad day was making a list of things that made me angry, in the hope that I'd purge them. Instead I walked around with them clanging in me for the next few hours. I haven't tried a lot of the standard methods for managing my emotions (journaling, rituals, screaming into a pillow); it's mostly just analysis, tumbling things around in my head until I figure them out and calm down. And sometimes exercise. Or cleaning. I hate cleaning so when I'm mad is the only time cleaning works out for me. On Sunday I just ran over and over the list (there were 23 items), getting madder and madder and not knowing how to let any of them go.

A few of the things on that list resolved, but others have stuck around and are still making me angry. That's how my to-do lists are, too. I accomplish dozens of things every week (due credit), but the things that stick around are amorphous enough to possibly have no solution.

I'll tell you something that made me mixed-mad: reading Axiomatic, by Maria Tumarkin. I landed a review of that book someplace! exciting! and it pissed me off to read, because it's the barest, most exacting nonfiction I've ever read, shaving down every unnecessary word until it's pure meaning, clipping along at an exhilarating, exhausting pace. It's the kind of writing my tenth-grade English teacher told me to stop doing because I was moving too fast for anyone except myself, skipping from point A to point H and not helping my reader come along to all the letters in between. I trained myself out of writing this way, and I don't know how Tumarkin learned to do it in a way that's acceptable to other people. I hate her, and I want to read every single word she's ever written. She makes all of us who write mixed-form nonfiction look bad, even if we're doing different things than she is.

Anyway. Here's some stuff I wrote recently that I'm proud of.

An essay about David Shields and Erica Garza that I hoped would get more attention than it did. I guess I put it off too long. "This is the burden of women who write: we are constitutionally incapable of assuming that our worldview is general, is the default, because we absorb evidence every day, from all corners of culture, that it isn’t."

A short piece about Nick Drake on the 50th anniversary of his debut album. If I'd told college-age me that someone would pay her to write something adulatory and off the top of her head about Nick Drake, she would've dissolved into joy. I would've tried my best not to say "but there's a lot of baggage that goes along with this awesomeness - -"

Thursday, June 27, 2019

My Back Burner

I haven't updated my website since May. Plenty of reviews and articles have appeared, but I've let that aspect of self-promotion slide. I'm a little bit sick of the sound of my own voice (the sight of my own words?), so that's part of the reason, but it's also just a chore entailing minimal reward.

This week I've been writing little stray-thoughts posts on Facebook attached to pictures of flowers I take on my morning walks. Matt has been working 60-80 hours per week recently, so partly I'm releasing the flotsam I'd otherwise tell him over dinner. I also want to publicly reinforce the drilled-down experience of being alive in the world, with flowers and music and food and quirky encounters, at a time when I'm overwhelmed by the world's larger ugliness.



I've also been using this week to clear off my back burner. Because I didn't have many firm deadlines from June through late July, I couldn't figure out how to set work-ahead priorities. I got paralyzed by everything due in September and ended up not being able to work at all. Finally, last weekend, I made a list of the things I'd been meaning to do for months or years: a comparison essay between two February books that I pitched but no one wanted; an interview of more than an hour I needed to transcribe; an article I pitched that the editor wanted, but didn't have time for immediately, so "whenever" was the deadline; a phenomenal book about Vertigo I wanted to read but needed to pay real attention to. It seemed like about a week of work, and I had one week left in June that I couldn't settle on a use for. So I put those two hands together, and now it's Thursday and I'm done with 2/3 of that stuff. Much of it is homeless as of yet, but at least it's getting done, making room for more.

Depending on how you look at it, I either started or got into a fight this week in the literary world. It hasn't been a pleasant experience, and it may have burned a bridge or two. (The worst stuff is happening in private groups.) I wish it hadn't gone down the way it did, but differing opinions are inevitable. And I can't make people look into my heart and see my intentions when all I have is words.

I got two really dumb rejections this week. One I actually laughed aloud at, and the other gave me the impulse to write back and say, "You misunderstood my pitch." (Of course I did not.) Onward.

I also got a pair of really heartening acceptances. One will let me write about a phenomenal book for an outlet I always love writing for, and the other will let me make a little money at something I've been wanting to do for a couple of years.

Two well-paying magazines are stringing me along. A handful more aren't writing me back.

And I spent my first few hours volunteering at RideOn, an equine therapy organization just a few blocks from my house. I scooped poop and curried horses and (incorrectly) cleaned saddles. It was a fantastic experience and I hope to do it a couple of times a week from here on. The manual labor was almost enjoyable because horses were nearby. Maybe the secret to cleaning my kitchen is getting a pony to keep near the sink?

The week of promotion for "After Gardens" is over at last; the final gesture was a short guest post about my weird revision process. I learned A LOT. The main thing I learned is that the ecosystem of book blogging is not one I want to be involved in again. Not because it inherently sucks, but because it sucks real, real bad for me. I don't get my first royalty statement until August, but I'll be biting my nails until then to see if all that promo worked.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Plan Vaguely

Last week I worked intensively on my next hybrid essay, a study of the 1975 film Jeanne Dielman. I'm nearly finished. It's less hybrid than the pattern has been so far, as I didn't have any ideas for a thread of fiction to weave in. Instead, I integrated quotes from Cixous, repetitive thoughts, and, if I'm lucky enough to find a graphic designer to help me, a few diagrams. The only titles I've come up with are either lame or obvious, so I'm hoping a good one comes along soon. I wanted to submit it to True Story, because I thought it might wind up long enough (>5,000 wds), but it did not. So who knows.

It's good to be almost finished with this one. Dielman is the most sophisticated film I've written about for this collection so far, the least mainstream. I worried about how that would impact my writing about it, but it seems to have come out okay. Also, the more of these I write, the less it seems like a fluke that I'm writing them, and the more it feels like a collection. That's a big relief.

Three more to write this year. Next is Last Tango in Paris, which I'm not really looking forward to seeing again, but which makes a point I've never seen another film make. I hope to finish that one before the end of July. In August I've arranged to spend a week away, in a nurturing creative environment, and I want to draft the one about Mildred Pierce there. (I was also thinking about starting on a bigger project involving Plan 9 from Outer Space during that week, but I applied for a couple of residencies with the Plan 9 project so maybe I should leave it alone for now.) The final hybrid essay will be on The Misfits, and my calendar says "fall" for that.

I didn't want to give myself really tough deadlines in case some other project or job became a huge, unexpected time-suck. There's nothing worse, for me, than setting a goal and not meeting it. Doing that makes me feel worthless - a whole different thing than just reworking a calendar. I can make writing plans a few months in advance, but beyond that I try to plan vaguely, then sharpen up my intentions when the time comes. If the next two essays go really well, I might end up finishing the Misfits essay in September, but I'm not ruling out being in-progress on it by the time December comes.

I also wrote a handful of other things, articles I didn't expect to write and a couple of reviews. And I read a bunch of books and sent a bunch of pitches and shot my mouth off on Twitter, resulting in more opportunities, for some reason. I'll never understand this. It's like how, in Mass Effect, rude-ass Shepard is treated exactly the same as kind-hearted Shepard. Why. People should be nicer to nicer people, shouldn't they?

I continue to count down the days until my little women's fiction story, "After Gardens," releases from the Wild Rose Press. You can preorder it on Amazon here. Eight more days!


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesdays, for Some Reason

When I was in high school and college I was a gigantic musichead. I read Rolling Stone cover to cover; I spent thousands of dollars on CDs; I connected dots between dozens of artists based on producers and studio musicians like Nellee Hooper and Justin Meldal-Johnsen. I knew that Calvin Johnson was the other guy on the cover of Beck's One Foot in the Grave. I could keep going.

It took at least a year for me to recognize patterns in the industry. For instance, that most indie records came out in the fall and that all records were released on Tuesdays. I still don't know why this is. My wild guess is that it's left over from obsolete logistics that meant physical shipments arrived on Mondays (or, if they were late, Tuesdays) and the staff needed time to unpack the boxes and stock the album. But maybe not, maybe it's related to statistics about when people buy things.

Picking up patterns in the book world has taken me a shorter time, but I am not distracted by as many things now as I was then. When books come out in the calendar year is often related to their subject matter; uplifting books come out in the summer and serious books come out in the winter. July is a total dead zone. And books, like albums, usually come out on Tuesdays.

Today is Tuesday. And a shocking number of highly anticipated books are coming out on this one day: Sarah Gailey's Magic for Liars, Kristen Arnett's Mostly Dead Things, Ocean Vuong's debut novel, the latest novels from Elizabeth Gilbert and Neal Stephenson, on and on and on. My Twitter feed is sparking and spitting fire. I don't know why the Big Five picked today to dump so many big-deal books. I'm guessing it's the same reason they barely release anything in July - this is the last week to get book dollaz before people start going on vacation and...stop...buying books?

I mean, they know their business (I think) but it seems like, if no one is dropping good stuff in July, maybe be the press that drops something good in July, and the book will do way better than if you put it out at the same time as four other debuts that have been hyped for the past two or six months. This is how March has gradually become a decent month to release films. It used to be a dumping ground for failed Oscar bids, but starting in the late 00s, studios started putting better-than-average summer releases out in March, and now there's plenty of good stuff to see during that month. It seems like the book business could do this too.

Maybe not; maybe they've tried that and it doesn't work. But for the remoras of the publishing industry, like me, a huge dump of buzzy books on one day and then nothing for two months is super unhelpful and frustrating. It means we fight to cover the most popular books in a timely way and then, for weeks, have nothing to do (or get paid for).

All this would be a lot easier if book coverage weren't obsessed with reviewing books at the moment they come out. But it is. I wish that would loosen, because reading a book is a different project than watching a film, and keeping up is so, so, so much harder. But boundaries between the theater market and the home video market have blurred in a way not really repeatable in the book world, so it might be hopeless.

My friend Jen Pastiloff's book also releases today. I haven't said much about it on social media & etc. because Jen does not need help from me; she has a street team, and celebrities like Pink and Patton Oswalt have been hyping her book. But she's a magical person, and her book is as loving and true as she is. It's, well, a great summer read.

There'll be another Tuesday next week, another batch of books coming out from various presses and places. But I suspect most people will still be reading this week's stuff. How good can a book be if it's already forgotten by the time the next week's book comes out?

my to-read/review pile, mostly fall releases 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ruby & Purple

Last week was challenging and then all right, with great variability, and the best of my attention was spent on productivity. I read and pitched and wrote and read some more. I started a fight on the internet, and it was helpful for plenty of people but quite deleterious for me. Multiple reviews went live after a couple of dry weeks. I had a piece published that took a lot of research and time to assemble, and it kind of vanished without a ripple, which bums me out. A silly Twitter thread I did on Mansfield Park got more attention. Also, I finished up the fourth in Laurie J. Marks's Elemental Logic series, a tetralogy of books that has been one of the purest pleasures of my year. The first draft of my review was 1,300 words, and I could have gone on and on and on after that.

I had a lot to think about and process after the last couple of weeks, and that might be why this week has been snoozy and unproductive. I have a pile of ideas to write about, and no motivation whatsoever to write them. Some of this feels like perfectionism, some of it overwhelm. Luckily, there's always reading to do when I can't seem to write.

Last night my brain gave me yet another idea I don't necessarily have the time for: an essay that breaks down the 1977 film Ruby, which is truly awful, but which I love, and which is a failure that I suspect has an interesting and/or sad story behind it. My guess is that Ruby once had a good screenplay; excavating its layers shows that, most probably, someone came in to "enhance" it with zeitgeist elements and screwed it up. There's cliche, genuinely compelling drama, cheesy Exorcist imitation, unique combinations of genre elements, and deeply stupid horror scenes. It's a very both/and movie, the kind of bad art that fascinates me bottomlessly.

This is bad art idea #3, after essays on Plan 9 and Death Bed, so it's starting to seem more likely that I have a book about bad art in me - less a hope than a likelihood. I wish I could pursue it now, instead of pursuing all the other crap I want to/have to write first, but it's probably better to let it marinate anyway. In the meantime, if you're interested, Ruby is on YouTube, and a less grainy version is available with a Rifftrax track attached, the existence of which I think I'll use in the essay.

Of note, I'm writing this on my tiny purple laptop, which I bought after dragging my too-heavy-for-airport-walking laptop to Iceland, and which in terms of processing power and etc is worth about what I paid for it ($200), but which has the major advantage of being purple. I know I'm not the only person who is suckered by aesthetics when making purchases. Purple and dip-dye are the two most reliable ways to make me buy something.


In a little less than a month, a short story I wrote will go on sale as a standalone ebook at the Wild Rose Press. It's priced at only $0.99, so if you'd like to support me, I hope you'll pick it up. I'll have more news about that, promotional links and whatnot, soon.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Less Yes

This week I pulled waaaaay back on what I expected to accomplish. I focused on physical health and nourishment, and I read books: one dumb book, one okay book, and one extraordinary book. Maybe this balances out the sheer production of last week, the two essays I wrote, and maybe it balances out the week's astrology and the emotional upheaval I felt. And pulling back worked - I feel grounded and comfortable now, where I felt messy and ridiculous on Monday. But it's time to go back to producing: promises to keep, miles to go. Three reviews this week. An essay I pitched and now have to draft. Interview questions, a press release.

One thing I produced this week was a fairly good try at a book proposal. It's the second one I've written, and it required different resources than the first. This one is for a book that I have a better idea about, but the earlier one had lots more facts and figures I could leverage. I assembled this one based on a conversation at AWP, and I have no idea what'll happen with it. Maybe nothing.

The pile of books I have to read and review is not actually so bad right now. Sheer volume-wise, that is; the timing of them sucks, as it's five books on one release day, four books on another, nothing for a month, etc. I've started saying no a little bit, but more often I've just stopped saying yes. That's a weird distinction, but it's real: people offering things specifically to me happens a lot less often than people tossing opportunity in the air and seeing who grabs it. In the last month I've hung back instead of grabbing. I don't know exactly what's up this month, while I wait for the results of a few lines I threw out and plan for the events I'm organizing my summer and fall around. It seems smarter to wait a bit before saying yes more than I have.

I have been watching an awful lot of movies lately. Few of them have been extraordinary. A lot of them have been nice (Dumplin) or useful additions to a body of knowledge (Dressed to Kill, Inferno) or fun (Ant-Man and the Wasp). But nothing has really surprised me, or deviated from the middle 50%.

I also heaved a big sigh and dove into Werner Herzog's oeuvre. He's a mind I'm very interested in, from what I have heard and read about/by him, but until now I haven't put my money where my mouth is. So now I'm doing that, actually watching his films. Something about his timing and camerawork is stark and alien, like Cronenberg, but even more sterile. I like it.

Switching back to movies has been pleasant. It's an odd truth about me: I'm on much more solid ground thinking and working with movies than with literature. This doesn't make sense, because I'm a writer and a book critic, professionally. But no matter how many books I read, I still feel more comfortable in film. There's an innate ease to the way my brain processes the film, how wholly I feel I've absorbed it, while I feel like there's always more to process in a book, and usually I've only touched my subjective experience of it.

This week has been very light on social media for me. I don't know if it will last, but every time I opened the apps, I felt strangely hollow. Like how you feel half an hour after eating too many Cheetos. It's not real food, and your body knows it. I hope this sensation isn't temporary, as I've been wanting for years for social media to loosen its grip on me.

Next week I'll be reading the fourth and final book in Laurie J. Marks's Elemental Logic series, and I'm so sorry to be finishing the series. It's some of the best saga-type fantasy I've ever read, and one of the best novelistic projects. The books are so rich and thick and fully developed that I feel like I've lived a whole life, reading them, or even more than one.

Image result for elemental logic
My friend Kathleen drew new covers for the tetralogy, which is how I heard of it in the first place.

No big conclusions for now. Still it moves.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Interacting with the Material World

You might have seen it on social media, but KERNPUNKT revealed the cover art for my book. It looks like this:

Art by Mariana Magaña

It's so much prettier even than I imagined. I love it.

Managing the book release in early stages has reminded me a lot of wedding planning. A great deal can be done a long time in advance, but a lot of what must happen has to wait for the right moment to be planned. Calendaring and lists are essential. I was born to do that kind of work.

There's a bunch of other stuff going on, too. A long story I wrote, "After Gardens," known on this blog as "the hot springs story," is going up for sale at the Wild Rose Press as a standalone ebook in mid-June. This press has been supportive and helpful all throughout the process of turning "After Gardens" into a commercial ebook, and I'm very happy it found a home there. However, the way this ebook requires promotion is completely different than the way Ceremonials does. Different audience, different kind of press, different goals, different approach. It's like switching alphabets. For this reason, I've been dragging my feet on promoting "After Gardens," but I need to get going on it.

Less striking, but just right for the content 

It's being sold as women's fiction, which is about right. (For the record, it's hard to find markets for short stories that qualify as women's fiction. Both readers & publishers prefer that genre in book length.) I hope it does well for the press, of course, but I feel weirdly indifferent to this project. Submitting to TWRP was my last shot with this story before I trunked it permanently, so I'd nearly severed my investment in it when it was accepted. Of course I'm very happy they accepted it and are selling it, and I'll do my best to promote it, but it feels like someone else's work, and that makes it more of a chore and less of a pleasure to promote.

A few weeks ago I put together a schedule for writing the remaining hybrid film essays I have to write for the collection I'm assembling. I gave myself ample time to write them in order to be finished by the end of 2019. At the time, April still had some days left in it, so I set a goal to finish something else nagging at me that isn't part of this project, a partially written essay about abandoned places, before May began. I succeeded (and the process of writing it was fraught, so hooray, go me, I did something hard), sort of. I thought I had a three-strand braided essay, but what I actually had was one lyric two-strand essay and a separate, much more straightforward single essay. When I was finished with both, I knew the lyric one was missing something, but I submitted it to an urgent opportunity before figuring out the missing bit. (This is a rookie mistake and I'm ashamed of making it. Oh, well; I'll fix it and send it out elsewhere, when it's actually ready.) Mostly I'm pleased that I met the goal of finishing those two pieces, which have been dormant for over a year, waiting for me to put butt in chair and finish them.

There are three main threads in my creative work right now: a) books, b) hybrid film essays, and c) everything else. What I wrote at the end of April falls under c), but now that it's done, I have to return to b). The one I scheduled myself to write in May is a little obnoxious, as it relates to Jeanne Dielman, a static three-hour film mostly about a woman doing domestic chores, but I knew I needed to get it out of the way before I went wild writing about Mildred Pierce.

Earlier this spring, I bought a handmade creativity candle. I wanted, on the first day of May, to burn it and do a tarot reading to restart/redirect my creativity. I've written easily 100,000 words of book reviews in the past 18 months. That's great, but considering that volume of work, I think I need a genuine ritual to direct energy into the collection I want to finish, which requires more intuition and less brain than reviews.

I didn't succeed in that goal. May has come in strange. I feel like I need more time to think, and then I get bored and anxious inside my own head. I'm sleeping thickly, with upsetting, disruptive dreams. My emotions are labile, slippery. [private circumstance], in a way I haven't been since my early 20s, and I have no idea what that's about. Literally all of this could be stress, the unbearable stress of freelancing, built up over time, refusing to come to an actual head but bubbling ceaselessly under a thin and all-too-permeable layer of self-control.

I'm writing this here instead of somewhere private because it's all of a piece, the emotions and the creativity and the stress and the book(s) coming out and what I'm accomplishing and failing to accomplish. For me there's no separation between succeeding at writing that lyric essay - which I think is one of the more meaningful things I've written, if not really one of the best - and failing to do the laundry today. At the end of a given day, the measure of it is how much I have interacted with the material world instead of shutting it out. That's the only mark of success or failure I have to go on right now.

I worry that this sounds too bleak. I'm sorry. I feel weird right now. There's a big deadline coming up in about two weeks, so I could use that as an excuse, but of course there'll be more coming after that and after that; if it's an excuse, it's a permanent one. Seeing Avengers: Endgame yesterday overclocked my emotional state in a way I can't explain at all, since I don't have a lot invested in the MCU, and I'm still recovering from that, which is embarrassing to admit but absolutely true. Ceremonials being a real thing that's coming, all five of my desired blurbers agreeing to review the MS, people jumping in to offer their influence to help me and the book, is exhilarating, but also a brand-new experience that I don't seem to be integrating easily. I landed a fascinating opportunity this summer, but it'll drain my financial resources instead of adding to them, which is a very unkind cut at the moment. Etc. All the great stuff is as overwhelming and stressful as the less-great stuff, and often they seem to be entwined.

At least I cleaned the apartment over the weekend. Looking at the clutter was getting to me, and now it's a lot better.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

An Honest Post

There's a lot going on in my writing world - perhaps too much for me to organize my thoughts into one place. I feel like I haven't written an honest post here in a really long time. As the number of people who pay attention to my work grows, I find I'm holding my tongue more and more. I didn't think I'd ever want to do that, but that's where I am. Here's some honesty, though not about everything I have to say.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 3/17/19-3/23/19

Last Sunday I took the entire day off. I did answer one email related to Barrelhouse, but otherwise, I did no work. I sat on the couch. I watched the Lorena Bobbitt docuseries and then about half of the first season of The OA. I vaped a little, midday, which I never do. (With good reason; my brain stayed foggy well into the evening.) It was a great idea; I felt tons fresher on Monday.

The rest of the week was a little less awesome than Monday. Coping mechanisms kicked in, because I'm stressed out about the near future, and I did a lot of coping instead of working.

On Tuesday I leave for Portland, setting into motion two and a half weeks of utter madness. I think I'm ready. I've done almost all the work ahead of time that I conceivably can do; I'm well-stocked with business cards; our taxes are done. Off we go.

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.

Writing:
Camp review
Rice review
"After Gardens" edits

Reading:
A Dog Between Us
Choke Box 
Comfort

Pitching/Queries:
Dazed (2) (rejected)
Film journals x4 (responded x1)
CrimeReads
Buzzfeed
Millions (responded)

Followups:
Nylon
WSJ
ASAP
HFR
Advocate

Correspondence:
Barrelhouse
Locus
Various publicists
Eve
Jennifer

Other:
Barrelhouse stuff
[secret thing] for many hours
Assemble Wurth and Choundas interviews
Promote Wurth review

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 3/10/19-3/16/19

I'm running out of time to get work done before AWP + the trip I'm taking the week after AWP. So I feel pressured as heck to bang out reviews and get them in. Pressure does not amount to motivation; in fact, it sort of opposes it, in my personality. Also, the correspondence was completely out of control this week.

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.

Writing:
"After Gardens" edits
Ceremonials edits
Eerkens review
Cora Burns review
Notes for Banshee, Naked reviews

Reading:
Banshee
Gather the Fortunes
Moon of the Crusted Snow
Naked

Pitching/Queries:
Rolling Stone
ASAP (responded)
Film Comment
Heavy Feather (responded)
Stoloff
Birth Movies Death
Nylon
London Magazine
Masters Review

Followups:
Erika / George / Kate

Correspondence:
Jesi
Blake
Barrelhouse
Neal
Eric
WSJ
Robert
Kathleen
Diane
Kate
Ben
Megan
Bethany
Noelle

Other:
Lots of Barrelhouse work
Literary submissions x3
Promote Bird King review
Attend/present at writers' meeting

Monday, March 11, 2019

Four Directions, No Rest

You guys, I am tired. I am really, really tired. Here is the career thing I'm wrestling with on this restless, overcast Monday: I am working in four different directions, and they require totally different kinds of engagement.

Direction 1. Growing my reach, meeting prestige goals. I think this is...professionalization? Trying to get my work into bigger, better-paying, more prestigious publications. Reaching outward for as many opportunities as possible. This is an exhausting direction, made up of hundreds of small moves: emails, check-in emails, calendaring follow-ups, research, networking, sending the same pitch to four or five places and then following up on them all, etc.

Direction 2. Pay. Placing my work in publications that pay money. There's a lot of overlap here with Direction 1. But it's additionally tiring to consider whether to keep pitching Publication X, even though I've never heard back from them and our artistic interests only align in a few places, simply because they pay so well.

Direction 3. Artistic and community fulfillment. Do I get to write what I want to write? Do I get to support a small press or a first-time author? This goal almost always contradicts Directions 1 and 2, though the degree of contrast varies.

Direction 4. Maintain links and relationships with pubs and people I've been working with happily. Keep saying yes to editors and publications with whom I work well, keep sending reviews to publications that will treat them right. It's more difficult than I ever imagined to do Direction 4 and Direction 1 at the same time.

Keeping track of all four of these and how they interact is so hard that, today, I'm thinking about temporarily ditching Directions 1 and 2, just like, never mind, fuck it, I'll keep writing $25 and $50 reviews for the sites that pay me and post my stuff promptly (even though they savage the hell out of my style) (in opposite ways), I'll keep writing for the two magazines that don't change a word I write even though the pieces rarely or never appear online, I'll stop pitching [redacted], fuck it fuck it fuck it it's too much. (And then, no fooling, [redacted] wrote me back this morning asking for more pitches.)

There's also the problem of all of this applying to book criticism AND to my other work, which, by the way, I still can't figure out how to get back to. I've had a bunch of rejections for my hybrid essays in the recent past, which means it's time to send out the work to the next round of pubs. I'm out of immediate ideas for pubs to submit to, so it's time for research. But research is the last thing I want to do right now. It's obnoxious to find pubs that want hybrid essays, particularly when they're as long as mine, and you guys, I am tired.

(Plus there's this weird little Jaws thing that I thought someone would snap up fairly easily but no luck yet and I have no idea who to submit it to next because no one seems to be getting what I'm doing there and I think it's hilarious and why does no one else think so?)

Related image
Pictured: me and my workload 

(And man, I'm really discouraged about a non-hybrid film essay I wrote, which has been given the curse of "I'm sure you'll have no trouble placing this elsewhere" - NEVER TRUE, y'all. If you're an editor, never, ever say that in a rejection, because the reason it's not right for you is the same reason it won't be right for anyone else. You all love it and say so, which is nice, but not one of you will publish it. This is the third or fourth time this exact thing has happened to my work. BOLLOCKS on "I'm sure you'll have no trouble placing this elsewhere.")

Point is, I am having this moment where I want to stop striving and just tread water for a bit. Here's a concrete example: I wrote an assigned review, but the finished product didn't work for the publication. The pub gave me leave to send the finished product elsewhere, no hard feelings. So I did that, but got a no on the first round, and I'm feeling like, oh, what's the point, do I really want to keep trying to place this review when the work I like best (writing) is now done and the work I like least (placement) is still before me? I know the review is quality, but I want to just trunk it because of the time and effort involved in placing it.

For just a few weeks, I want to stop pitching. I want to stop answering publicists' emails. I want to stop querying. I want to feel like I'm really absorbing the books I'm reading and reviewing, instead of reading them only just deeply enough. But Directions 1 and 2 are the work that keeps the pump primed; without it, I would dehydrate. Without it, momentum vanishes. I have April and May books that need placement, and it's not too early to start on June and July books. If I wait to pitch those, I won't place them, or at least I won't place them well.

AND YET I AM TIRED.

The usual disclaimer applies: I am not a coal miner. Writing is not, realistically, that hard. But working and/or thinking about work seven days a week is hard for a non-workaholic personality, no matter what kind of work it is.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 2/24/19-3/2/19

This week I immersed myself in JT LeRoy based on an assignment. It was not a lot of fun; LeRoy's writing is clearly good, but not to my taste, and their deception makes it tough for me to read them in an unbiased mood.

I also dealt with a pair of emotional upsets that derailed me completely on Wednesday and made the rest of the week not much fun. Maybe this is why I felt kind of at loose ends, work-wise. I see, looking at this list, that I actually did a good deal of work - especially edits and correspondence - but it doesn't feel that way. It feels like I have essentially the same pile of stuff to do and I've wasted a week not doing it.

In terms of reading, there's a particular book it's taking me forever to get through. I read the majority of it and a third of another book, so next week the read list should be longer, even though I did some of that work this week. (Also, I'll be on a plane for most of Friday so that'll be many hours of uninterrupted reading time.)

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.

Writing:
Best F(r)iends essay
"After Gardens" edits
Sissy edits x3
Revenge edits
Wurth review
Ceremonials edits
Draft Scott review

Reading:
Harold's End
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
Sarah

Pitching/Queries:
Popula (rejected)
Vulture

Followups:
Jarrold
Dahlia

Correspondence:
Gertrude
Mieke
Jesi
UMPG
Katrina Wan PR
Marvel team
David
Neal
Barrelhouse

Other:
Watch Author documentary
Submit to GCP micro-chap series
Promote Felicelli interview
Attend job fair
[secret thing]
Promote Readman review


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 2/17/19 - 2/23/19

I'm still kinda working myself to death a little bit on reviews. Everyone except my editors is trying to help me stop, with minimal success. There's a film essay I wanted to write this week, but I'm almost too nervous to start it, because I've only written reviews for so long. And because I'm so occupied with everything that has to get done before the end of March. (It's a lot.) My spreadsheets are still keeping me sane, but the different willingnesses of the spirit, flesh, and mind make productivity vary.

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.

Writing:
Edits on Revenge review
Gutter Prayer review
Edits on WW review
Tiny edit on Sissy review
Edits on Body Myth review

Reading:
Amberlough
You Who Enter Here
This Never Happened
The Conviction of Cora Burns

Pitching/Queries:
Broadly
Assay
TLS
JTL production

Followups:
Prairie Schooner
Albuquerque Journal
Brevity

Correspondence:
Barrelhouse business
Anita
Emma/Reid/Amy
Heather
Graywolf
Nathaniel
Neal

Other:
Barrelhouse
TWRP business
Kernpunkt contract (!!!!)
Promote Handbook review
Promote Gatsby's Child review
Best F(r)iends watch & notes
Seek help from everywhere on permissions thing (hours and hours of work)
Promote Western Wind review
Promote Ramadan interview
Felicelli interview
Promote Locus year in review

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Major Announcement!

Image result for good news everyone


My novella, Ceremonials, has been accepted for publication by Kernpunkt Press. I'm so happy it hurts. Since the project is tangled up with copyrighted material, it might have a different name when it comes out, but it's the same project. The editor at Kernpunkt has told me she's very enthusiastic about the book, so I have high hopes that we'll work it out.

I found out about this on Friday. As a rule, I'm very, very bad at keeping secrets, but watching promised projects go boom after I made a big deal of them in the past, and particularly the last 18 months of pitching/trying/failing/waiting, has made me better at saying nothing until the news is more secure.

The book is due out in 2020. I have 784 ideas about how to promote it, including an LA bookstore tour, an email blast to everyone I've ever reviewed for, and hooking up with a unique book club to get it in tens of thousands of hands.

Because I can't resist making this news into advice: I started work on this project in 2013. That's six years ago. I finished it in early 2016, a span which includes some long breaks due to mental health; writing time was probably a few months, all told. I spent the following three years researching, querying, and submitting to presses. The project is extremely short to be a standalone book, so that limited the presses I could find who would even be interested, and it meant I could not go through an agent. (I tried one, and his email back indicated he saw the word count and didn't even read the rest of the query, which included info about the significant built-in audience.) Some of the presses who read it said it was beautiful but wrong for them. Others sent me form rejections.

It takes a long time, y'all.

Some of the reason is that my project is weird, short and lyrical, rather than a normal novel or memoir or whatever. But mostly it just takes a long time. My friend Marissa has a beautiful, finished, easily publishable memoir that she's been querying for I don't even remember how long now, two years maybe, and it's stupid and criminal that it took until last month for her to find an agent. It takes a long time. 

I have lesser news about other things, but I'm going to let this post stand alone. Can't wait to know more, and tell you more. I've wanted to hold in my hands a book I wrote since I was in elementary school, and I don't really believe it, but that's going to happen. Next year.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 2/10/19 - 2/16/19

I successfully got up early every day this week, which means I got a lot done. Lots of good stuff went on, too - I spoke at a writer's group with decent success, I got good early feedback on a review I was scared to turn in, and I got an acceptance at a super duper outlet. Plus, on Friday, I got news so good I haven't really been able to believe it yet, and which I've got to keep private for a little while longer.

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.

Writing:
Mother Winter review
Handbook review
Sissy review
Denslow review

Reading:
Not Everyone Is Special
The Gutter Prayer
The Bird King
Getting Off

Pitching/Queries:
Southwest (rejected)
Jarrold
Woolfer (rejected)
Room (rejected)
LRB
YWEH to two NM pubs
NPR (accepted!!!!!)
Paris Review
Caroline (agent)
Walrus

Followups:
Prairie Schooner
Bitch (answered/assignment)
S&S publicist
Books I Hate folks (4)

Correspondence:
Barrelhouse business
Locus business
Galley request - Inanna (replied)
WRB assignment (yay!)

Other:
[secret thing]
[GIANT INCREDIBLE NEWS]
Submit "4 to 6"
Critical Notes submission
Promote Surge review
Promote Mother Winter review
Pleiades contract
Finish Ramadan interview
Promote Öræfi review
Attend reading
Speak at writers' group

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 2/3/19 - 2/9/19

Looking at this list, I feel like I didn't do much. I was stuck a lot this week - falling asleep repeatedly while reading a particular lengthy novel, playing phone games too much, etc. I also accomplished a pile of long-put-off personal-life things after my search for an ad hoc assistant turned up nothing. I basically lost a day doing all that, but it was still a relief to get it done.

Good news is that my review of The Collected Schizophrenias got a whole lot of attention. I think that's due to Esmé's followers, but it's still nice. And I am caught up to a reasonable point for February. And the year-in-review piece I wrote for Locus appeared in the paper magazine, with a messy but recentish picture of me. (This won't appear online, I don't think. Get the magazine: it's got not only a whole bunch of experts on the best genre fiction of the year, but a ton of statistics about books published and sold compared to prior years.)

yay

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.

Writing:
Western Wind review
Gatsby's Child review
RotT review
WDtFiYM review

Reading:
The Trouble with Men 
Mother Winter


Pitching/Queries:
MyModernMet

Followups:
Nation
Slate (rejected)
Daily Beast (rejected)
Prairie Schooner
WSJ (responded)
Pleiades (accepted)

Correspondence:
Locus business
Barrelhouse business
Rosalie
S&S publicists
TWRP business
WVU publicist
Heather
Neal

Other:
[secret thing]
Barrelhouse editing & selection
Private client answers
Deb follow-ups
WRB contract
Promote Wang review
Promote Abdurraqib review
Promote Tonic & Balm review

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Directing the Fire Hose

The biggest news in books this week is this piece about an editor and author, Dan Mallory. He is not as blatant a grifter as Anna March and not as absurd a plagiarizer as Ailey O'Toole, but he lied his face off for many years about his life and his hardships. In return, he attained bigger and bigger rewards from the ivory tower and the literary world. Eventually, he picked up a seven-figure advance for his novel and a big hunk of money for the screen rights.

Here's what pisses me off most about this article: Mallory got so many things that I myself want, audiences and editorships with people and publishers with whom I salivate to be involved, acceptance into fancy colleges that I never could have touched. He did it dishonestly, and that meant that he took on prestigious editing positions before he was 30. I'm doing it honestly and it's taking me yeeeears even to get a book published. I'm not capable of Mallory's dishonesty, so I must do it the slow way, and that annoys me in a desperate, hollow kind of way.

Talent plays a role, certainly. Mallory surely has talents as a writer and salesman that I do not, and I acknowledge that it's not an equal situation, where I definitely could've had a $2 million advance if I'd only lied once or twice. But I can't help thinking if he could pull off this shit, why can't I? 

I mean, the wages of this kind of dishonesty are eventually ruin and ridicule, and that isn't ideal. And I don't really want to be the person who got a big-deal editorship by lying my way into it. But it seems like he did genuinely good work as an editor (when he could be arsed). He needed a shortcut to get there, and he needed to lie a lot in order to not come into the office for months at a time (what the hell was he doing during all that time, by the way? GTA and cocaine?), but while there, it seems like he did strong work as a book promoter and editor. And he did come through with an actual book that seems like it sold enough to justify its gigantic advance, even if it might've been a tiiiiiiiny bit plagiarized. He needed the boost of lies to get where he wanted to be, but he seemed to succeed, mostly, once he was there.

What might a shortcut like that do for people who've done enough work to earn it but haven't gotten the breaks they needed? What makes Mallory think he deserves success enough to lie to get it? Who deserves easy success and who doesn't? I'm full of questions about this stupid guy, ballasted by irritation at the publishing industry for being this way, for giving monetary success to people who are good at marketing and midlist success to people who are good at writing.

Last night, someone with interested followers retweeted the Horse Latitudes piece, and it got a whole additional boost of attention and reshares and likes. Today, the author of a book I reviewed tweeted the piece to her significant following and hello, reshares and likes. Lately I'm writing about books and in publications that have momentum separate and apart from what I do in relationship to them. That means I have to do a lot less to make my name visible, which is nice, but weird, in terms of what I'm accustomed to.

About a year ago I decided to hustle whether I liked it or not, and that's what I've been doing, just putting my head down and hustling, even though I mostly hate it. Regular newsletters, regular blog posts, checking on pitches once a week, sharing every single review on FB and Twitter, handing out my business card to anyone who asks if I write, asking for advice about everything I don't know how to do, applying for all possible reviewing jobs, asking for masthead placement from editors I write for regularly, saying yes to weird opportunities that I don't know if I'm qualified for, emailing editors who've rejected me to say they might be interested in X piece that just went live, agreeing to review as many books as I can and worrying about time and placement later, hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling hustling.

I need to slow the pace of all this, or at least change the direction of the applied force. I never again want to be as overwhelmed as I was in January, and part of guaranteeing that is saying no instead of yes (more often and more firmly. An editor a couple of weeks ago interpreted my "I really don't think I can" as "yes!"). Part of leveraging the momentum I've given myself, and now, the momentum others are starting to give me, is directing the fire hose at my hybrid essays instead of my criticism. I never want to stop writing criticism, but I'm concerned that if I keep going with it as I have been, I won't be able to pivot toward the writing that matters to my guts. Nor will I have time (thanks, Chris).

As I wrote previously, my momentum has gotten me rewards I didn't foresee, and not (yet) the rewards I hoped for. I could've lied and said that I got an MFA from Columbia even though I got an MA at CSUN, and say that I used to slush for Conjunctions even though I used to slush for a miniature audio-stories outlet. With those lies I might've gotten further faster, with a lot less trouble and disappointment, and I might've been able to point the hose directly at the work that mattered most to me from the beginning. I could've proved myself once I was there.

But would I want something I had to lie to get?


Out in the world: 

I reviewed Esmé Weijun Wang's The Collected Schizophrenias, which I think is going to be a major book, for LARB.

I reviewed Tonic and Balm, a novel in stories by Stephanie Allen, for the Masters Review. It's out on Shade Mountain, one of my favorite presses, and it's about a nearly lost realm of entertainment: the medicine show.


This picture is completely unrelated to this post but it's hilarious and I need an image so. Click to embiggen if you don't see what's funny. In other news: I am an eighth-grade boy.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 1/27/19 - 2/2/19

This week hopped and jumped like a Mark Twain frog. I did so much stuff! I got so much good news! I rolled in under the wire on some great opportunities, and I handled a few tasks I've been putting off for a good long while. My February workload looks okay so far, but I might just be looking at physical piles rather than considering the books I've loaded onto my e-reader. Ruh-roh.

Of course, part of February is going to be preparing for AWP in March. Please get in touch if you want to see me there; I'm actually starting to make lists of booths I want to stop by and people I want to meet in person. This sounds hideously self-important and I'm sorry. But it's the truth: if you want to meet up, let me know instead of relying on fortune.

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.

Writing:
S. Allen review
GAITR review
Davis paired review
The Body Myth review
Blog post

Reading:
Labrador
Revenge of the Translator
The Silk Road
The Body Myth

Pitching/Queries:
Ramadan interview to V1B (accepted)
Ramadan interview to Fanzine (withdrawn)
ASFM to Slate, Nation
Two books to Daily Beast
AGNI (answered)
Two titles to Prairie Schooner (accepted!)

Followups:
WSJ (answered) (!)
Hyperallergic (rejected)
TWRP (answered)
TNR
Graywolf

Correspondence:
Locus business
Barrelhouse business
Sophia & her publicist
Will @DV (enthusiasm!)
Cole @TMR
Chad @BWDR
Michelle D.
Christina
Emma

Other:
Promote Books I Hate
Promote Horse Latitudes piece
Assemble & send newsletter
Promote Thirty-Seven review
Apply to Mineral School (finally)
[secret thing]
Barrelhouse editing & selection
Put together materials for workshop
Interview questions for Ramadan, Baker

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Orange and Teal

First, I must note that I'm astounded by the response to my piece about Horse Latitudes books. The traffic has been of a different character than for any other piece of mine, ever. A whole lot of interesting encounters have come out of it, including this delightful blog post by a writer I admire. I don't know what I expected in terms of response, but it wasn't this; I wrote it for my own amusement. (My editor said it was a scoop worthy of a Pulitzer, but that's his sense of humor.) Hello and thank you, anyone who's reading this after finding me through that piece.

If you haven't, please sign up for my newsletter for a chance to win all twelve of the books I read and reviewed in the piece. A runner-up will win one of my literary tote bags. I have a lot of them. It's a problem.



Second, in case the news hasn't crossed your feed yet, I am now the book reviews coeditor at Barrelhouse, along with my long-distance pal Kamil Ahsan. (He's a good dude. Send him all your Kirsten Dunst gifs.) I'm REALLY excited to be doing this job, for undisclosable reasons as well as the obvious ones. And yes, you can pitch me. Please do.

On with the show.

Yesterday I went to see both of my mentors at CSUN. (It was sheer luck that both of them had office hours on Tuesday, so thanks, office hours fairy.) It was an interesting visit, because they gave me differing but caring advice, some of which proved that they really are just two sides of the same mentor-coin.

Chris told me that although it's great that I'm doing so many reviews, and thus helping the literary community so much, I need to figure out a way to get back to my own writing. "The world needs Kat's writing," he said, a little insistently. I hung my head. I do have essays that need extraction from my brain, but when I will have time for them I do not know. That's not a good thing, according to both Chris and me, but I'm in so deep on reviews that I don't know how to fix it.

Kate told me that she's happy for my success, and asked (politely) if I was making any money yet. Not really, I said. She asked if my goal was to land a paid position as a regular reviewer, and I said sort of. I do want that, but only if it will help me publish books, and/or slow down my reading pace. She kind of shrugged, and said well, I hope you can do that, but right now you're kind of an indentured servant. You're doing the grunt work and building up credit you can use to buy your freedom, and a little plot of land of your own. That was helpful of her, and sweet.

I asked both of them for recommendations on a certain kind of dialogue that appears in literary short stories, because I'm speaking about dialogue to a group of women writers in mid-February. (You can come if you want to, as long as you're close to LA and not male-identifying. Email me for details if you'd like them.) Both of them (separately) looked at their bookshelves for a long time and eventually realized aloud that they don't really like dialogue.

This will be funny to people who know them both, because as thinkers, they couldn't be more different. Kate is a structuralist, inspired by the natural world, a Baby Boomer with a fine-tuned ability to walk in and teach for three hours off the cuff. Chris is a poststructuralist, immersed in pop and digital culture, a Gen Xer who examines his pedagogy like narcissists examine their faces. They have both helped me immeasurably, and yesterday isn't the first time I've thought of them as the orange and teal of my writing life.

In other news, the overwhelm I felt recently lasted a while, a week+, but I dug out of it this week and got a bunch of things done. I'm not completely aboveground, but I'm getting there. Lots of good news ahead, lots of good books behind. Nice to have a fresh start in February.

Out in the world:

A review of one of the best books I read last year (out of 150, mind you): Thirty-Seven, by Peter Stenson, at 3:AM.

A short, cynical piece about the PEN shortlists and money in publishing at Book & Film Globe.

Books I Hate with Morris Collins, who wrote one of the Horse Latitudes books. I really enjoyed this interview. He's a smart guy, about writing particularly.

By the way, if you're reading this and you're one of the people who's agreed to a Books I Hate interview, email me, okay? I need to sort out the next few months. I promise I'm not mad.