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.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 1/20/19 - 1/26/19

This week I felt utterly overwhelmed. The amount of work I've taken on is unreasonable, and a few things that are genuinely important have fallen by the wayside (applying for a residency, [secret thing]). I sat down with my book pile, my spreadsheet, and my husband on Saturday to figure out what to do, and although it felt a lot like me rambling and Matt sitting there with a listening-but-feeling-slightly-superfluous look on his face, it helped a bit. I have a short list of what to do next, I eliminated a couple of items from the pile, and I feel okay about February.

Then, later in the day, I secured a gig that is still secret, but is goddamn amazing, and calls for significant additional work and time. It would have been the wrong move not to leap at it, but the bare fact of leaping at it when I'm already overloaded is frankly illogical.

I really had no idea that going freelance and leaning into book criticism would turn out like this, and it's so hard to describe what I mean by "like this." I've had more/faster success (by my own metrics) than I imagined, but the path has been so chaotic that "path" doesn't really apply to the experience. Even Wonderland had a visible, followable trail through the weird woods.

If I consciously thought about what lay ahead, I believed I'd teach workshops once every two months or so, write a book review every now and then, find an agent or a press for one of the two saleable books, and publish hybrid film essays regularly, like every few months. Instead I wrote for, published 10 book reviews in one month, wrote twice for the most prestigious book criticism outlet in Britain, and [secret thing] [it's really weird, something I never even considered I'd do]. I have taught no workshops, gotten no nibbles from agents, and published no hybrid essays, though not for lack of trying. And I somehow made friends with the head of Dzanc, a publicist from the University of Texas, and Neal Pollack.

Does that get across how chaotic and contra expectations it's been? I mean,

So. I spent a lot of time this week feeling overwhelmed rather than working, but I also had a small medical procedure and some unrelated emotional turmoil. Coping mechanisms (rewatching Rifftrax and playing very stupid phone games) intervened. I did pitch a lot, but I didn't meet reading or writing goals. The above might've been good as a separate blog post, I guess, but only after yesterday's flail session with Matt did I feel coherent about it, so in it goes with the to-do list.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 1/13/19 - 1/19/19

This week started out strong in terms of writing and finished strong in terms of reading. I couldn't bring myself to rewrite a piece I was told (rightly) to rewrite, and that stopped up the writing pretty effectively, so I read instead. Given how many books have to go through my brain in the next 11 days, that's OK. I was glutted with promo work this week, and consequent correspondence, because a bunch of books in my orbit all dropped on the same day (Tuesday).

I got two big pieces of good news this week, and I made a really hard decision. Lots of incidental stuff is falling to the wayside, emails I need to send and people I want to see. Next week is going to be stressful for un-work-related reasons, so before that happens, I'm trying to remember all the things I've forgotten, with middling success.

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.

Horse Latitudes draft
Dyer review
Smoke & Summons review, revise
Edits on Wang review x2
Edits on Malhotra review
Blog post

What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth
Horse Latitudes
Fire Logic 
Go Ahead in the Rain
The Western Wind

TUG to Hyperallergic (answered)
Galley request, Costalegre (+)
Galley request, The Ash Family (+)
Galley request, The Undying 

Call to EHS
Agent LH
Graywolf publicist (answered)

Emails w/ Nora
Emails w/ ST publicist
Email to RH publicist
Emails w/ Renee
Emails w/ Morris
Messages re: Austen reprint
Emails to UHP, PDP
Emails w/ Locus
Check in with Arts Fuse
Pitch from publicist

Promote reviews (5) 
Update website
Abstract & bio for SGVWW
WaPo paperwork
Submit to AWP thing


Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Surprise in Gray

O, Gentle Reader, hello. I'm feeling a smidge vulnerable right now. There's a stomach bug in my house and I'm helpless against it; when I lose sleep I turn into a slow, uncertain version of myself; I have multiple drafts of blog posts that I can't decide the time is right to write, and the clogginess of them makes me anxious; the remote control in my bedroom has been cosmetically damaged with wintergreen essential oil, which I don't even know what to do about; the pile of books I have to read in January is not getting any smaller, but it's because editors are saying yes to my pitches, so I can't complain.

I cried this week. (I cry about once a year.) I'm having a medical procedure I don't want next week, with anesthesia, and I'm dreading the helpless feeling I'll have afterward. On Tuesday I was able to run longer than ten minutes without wheezing and giving up. I wrote a version of an article I've worked an inordinate number of hours on since early December, and per my editor I have to rewrite it, and although I think he's right, I'm balking, despite the ticking clock, because of despair at having to redo. I am strongly motivated by not having to redo things. Part of why I don't play video games.

SIX things I wrote were published this week. As I said elsewhere, I'm grateful for the riches, but risking overexposure is a problem I never thought I'd have and don't know what to do with.

Also, I feel overwhelmed at the spring books I have yet to place. Lots of cool titles in March and April that I have pitched, had no response, and haven't managed to pitch again. I'll probably end up scrambling to place them less than a month out, which I hate, but that pile of books I have to finish in the next fourteen days...! Pitching takes a short time but lots of energy; reading takes lots of time but little energy (and is much nicer). I'm overly insistent on landing this one book in this one specific place, and it's stupid of me because I could just write it up for a different place and be done, but the editor asked for phone calls, and I've left him two voice mails and he hasn't called me back, and why would you do contact that way? Unless you want freelancers to be mad at you?

At the end of March I go to AWP and then immediately to Iceland, which is very exciting but it keeps getting closer and I have no coherent plan and haven't lost any weight or gotten my chipped tooth fixed, and last AWP it was fine because I had no one to impress and mostly loved ones to meet, but this time the stakes are much higher based on the "let's meet up!" emails and messages I've been exchanging for the past six months, and I don't know what to do, and I dreamed about Iceland last night, and it was scary and clean and efficient and everyone was bundled in attractive cold-weather gear and speaking in lovely textured consonants and I felt very American.

The bugged of stomach is tossing a bit in bed and I should really go ask if he needs anything. The pile of books isn't shortening and I should really go read. January is running out and I should really arrange an interview and rewrite that article and write another review.

DESPITE ALL THIS, I feel happy. It's been raining for four days here, which sounds awful, but it's actually lovely, like a surprise in gray. When you have months on end of stalwart sunshine, not a cloud in sight from one season to another, rain can be a delight. And I'm hugely blessed by all the publication, and a particular pitch-yes I received this week, which hasn't really sunk in yet because it's so meaningful. Can't wait to tell you about it.

Out in the world:

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 1/6/19 - 1/12/19

Fairly representative week. I wish I'd written a couple more reviews. Next week is going to have so much promotion that I know I'll have a hard time getting things done.

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.

Dual memoir review
Wang review
Edits on other dual review
Edits on Stenson review x2
Draft Roupenian review

Smoke & Summons
Gatsby's Child
Horse Latitudes books (3)
You Know You Want This

Highbinder agent query (rejected)
Serpent's Tail query (sort of)
Shields to New Republic (responded!)
Hygiene thing to The Loop
EHS email/call

JTG (answered)
BWDR (answered)

Emails w/ UW publicist
Emails w/ Madison, Eric
Emails w/ Meg
Locus business
Emails w/ Dahlia
Emails w/ Renee
Emails w/ Sophia

Promote Narrator review
[secret thing]
Promote other dual review
Promote Virtuoso review
Answer private client questions
Submit hunger story x2
Social media stuff
Update website

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Weekly To-Do, 12/22/18 - 1/5/19

This post represents the past two weeks of work. The week of Christmas was marvelously quiet - I didn't write a single review - so I combined it with the week of New Year's, which was a little busier. I took some time off during these weeks, but also, Matt was off work, so we spent more time together than usual.

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.

Oraefi review, edits
Something Like Breathing review, edits
Thirty-Seven review
Callbacks/Frail Sister review
Edits on G review
Edits on Virtuoso review

Horse Latitudes books (5)

Interview request to DB (accepted)
Query to CW
Interview to NPR
Multiple to TLS (responded)
Multiple to Pleiades (responded)

R&RG (answered)
A/V (answered)
Guardian (answered)
Bust (answered)

Review request from Neal (accepted)
Galley request (resolved)
Locus administrative stuff
Graywolf emails on interview
Publicist emails (multiple)
TWRP emails

Blog posts, promotion thereof
Rejections (3)
Full MS pass for private client
Mentoring stuff
NetGalley stuff
[secret thing]
Contest entry
Promote G review

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Resolute, 2018 Edition

Every year, I post last year's New Year's resolutions with a short analysis of how well I think I succeeded at them, and then I post this year's. So, here are last year's (in greater detail here):

1. Hustle. Success, possibly too much. I got really damn busy as a writer, and I'm proud of it. I wouldn't have traded my overwhelm for being underworked, but I wish I could have figured out how to feel less stressed about all the work I took on. I did get it all done, and almost all of it was on time, so the stress...did me no good? Or was it the prod at my back? I don't know. The hustle worked, is the point; I think it's the main reason I am where I am as a writer at the beginning of 2019.

2. Keep to my own rhythms. Success. I slept more in the past eight months than I think I did in the prior three years. I'm still trying to sort out acceptance of this, feeling no shame about napping most days. It took years to accept that I need eight to nine hours of sleep per night instead of less, so I'm not expecting that acceptance of my own rhythms will be easy.

3. Fight fear. This resolution was a mistake. I don't need to fight fear; I need to let fear in, feel it, and move on. At that I did pretty well, but no better or worse than last year. I'm calling it a no-foul draw.

4. Plan better on a small scale. Success. I worked out a daily schedule for myself, and it kept me afloat when the looseness of freelancing threatened to drown me with excess time.

5. Give myself credit for hard work. Success. Matt helped me with this, telling me over and over how much I deserved credit for hard work. But something else that helped me was making to-do lists, but not throwing them away, and instead reviewing the finished items later. This had the effect of showing me, with hard evidence, the plentiful work that I'd done, instead of my mean ol' memory saying I didn't really do much.

6. Let go, let go, let go. Success, on balance, although I failed a lot. A very difficult, very necessary resolution for this year, much more so than I had imagined. I let go of my day job painfully, over a long period of time, but at present I have some peace about it - even if I still have bad dreams sometimes. I let go of expectations a bunch, and it made certain disappointments much easier. This resolution came to pass in exactly the right year, but it's a lesson I'll carry with me.

7. Take better care of my body and my home. Fail. I did better with flossing, but I am still the poorest housekeeper on this earth, and I exercised way less than in prior years.

8. Avoid travel. A draw. I didn't travel much, but a couple of trips were necessary, and I didn't die. This was sort of a dumb resolution, because I always want to avoid travel if possible. I think it came out of the unfortunate travels I had in the fall of '16 rather than anything real I needed to shift in my life.

This year I had a hard time thinking of resolutions. Not because I didn't feel there was anything about me that needed changing (we all need tune-ups), but because I'm deeply content. In such a state of mind, it's hard to think of what I want to change. Also, a lot of the stuff that ties me up in knots internally has been resolved by prior resolutions. Which is the point of resolutions, so it's nice that they're working, but it also leaves me with less to do in the future.

Anyway, I did come up with a few.

1. Rethink productive. There's always a little voice in my head that nags at me to be productive in a given day. Do laundry. Clear the coffee table. Organize your calendar. Marinate that pork roast. Read a book. Write something. It's hard to ignore this voice even if I've spent days on end being productive and want/need to spend a day resting. And it's part of how I failed to take a day off for multiple weeks at a clip this fall and winter. High productivity is nice, but burnout is not, and I'm quite nearsighted about the latter so I need to build in rest time.

I think there's got to be a way to redefine "be productive" for myself so that the voice stays quiet but I don't descend into sloth. I don't know what it is, but that's why it's a "rethink" resolution.

2. Lean into a hobby or two. When I did finally find the time to take a day off, I didn't know what to do with myself. Many of the things I would normally have done (hiking, museums) were not practicable, but some of the other things I might have done on past days off (reading, writing) had evolved into the stuff I needed time off from doing. An unexpected consequence of making avocation into vocation. That means I need to work out at least one hobby that I can do on my days off. Right now that hobby is phone games, which is a trashy hobby. I'd prefer to cross-stitch or do a puzzle.

3. Bring collage and horses into my life. Maybe collage is one of the hobbies I should pursue. I need to do it! I need to make it a regular part of my creative life. I've been thinking about it since September, and still haven't done it. I also need to bring horses more distinctly into my life in 2019. Being around them during Labor Day showed me how much happier and calmer I am when I spend time with them. I don't know how I'm going to do this, because incorporating horses into one's life is not necessarily an easy thing, but I must not keep putting it off.

4. Be smart about yes and no. I said yes to too many reviews in the spring and summer, but I didn't think I was in a position to say no to any of them. Now I'm starting to worry I said no too much in the winter, because my workload beyond March is so light I might have time to get back to writing my book (GASP). The timing of yes and no when it comes to reviewing is complicated because of lead times and editorial ghosting, but I can still try to be savvy about yes and no, rather than blundering into too much or too little work.

This is a hard thing to get right. Only trial and error will get me there, so I have to practice self-forgiveness if I mess it up. Which is also a good thing to work on in 2019.

5. Be aware of the networking vs. friendship, promotion vs. information percentage. Particularly in a year when I'm going to AWP, I'd like to be more cognizant about how loudly I'm self-promoting, and how much that sounds like annoying kazoo sounds as opposed to useful information offered to people who want to know how my writing is faring out in the world.

Similarly, I've made a lot of wonderful connections in the writing world this year. I'd like to call some of these people friends, but I'd be happy to slot others in the category of "networking contacts," meaning I don't have to comment on all their tweets. Some of these connections are about half and half, I think, friendship vs. networking (like, I'd probably hug them at AWP, but wouldn't be offended if I didn't get a birthday note from them). I think it's best not to be naive about these connections, though, and comprehend that even if I do like X Publicist as a human being, she probably likes me as a reviewer.

This resolution is advising general awareness, rather than naivete, of what I'm up to as a networker and self-promoter. I don't want to be slide into the mode of hustling all the time, but I also don't want to invest the softest parts of myself into what turn out to be professional relationships.

6. Teach. This might be more of a goal than a resolution, but I'd really like this to be the year I get a classroom full of minds to play with. It might come as a surprise to those of you I've told that I don't plan to teach, but I still don't plan to make teaching my primary job. One class per semester is about all I want.

7. Travel. Ha! Surprise reversal! I'm making this a resolution so that I will ENJOY the travel I do this year. Portland, Iceland, and possibly New York and Australia (!) are all on my list for next year. Plus a family trip with no destination in mind yet. So I damn well better change my attitude about hating travel, even if just for one year.

I don't know how we got to 2019, but here we are. Happy New Year, friends. I hope you stay here with me; I'd miss you if you decided to find another year to inhabit.