"Make no mistake, my friend, your pointless life will end, but before you go, can you look at the truth? You have a lovely singing voice."

-Morrissey, "Sing Your Life"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The countdown to AWP is upon us. We’re heading off first thing Wednesday morning and will be in Chicago until next Sunday. I’m excited, though for different reasons than last year. Last year was my first ever AWP—just the idea of going, of being in the same place at the same time as all those other writers, of having so many interesting events to attend, was thrilling.

This year is going to be a very different experience. For one thing, I’ve got baby in tow and don’t know how many events I’ll actually be able to attend, or how many I’ll have to leave early because Ama’s getting bored and talkative. When I originally registered, my main intent was to spend some time wandering around the book fair—by far my favorite thing about AWP last year (well, not counting reconnecting with old friends). After I’d already registered, I found out that the book fair is free and open to the public on the last day of the conference—doh! I could have just gone, kicked around Chicago with Amalie, and then checked out the book fair for free on Saturday. Ah well.

Since I did register, though, I do plan on at least trying to attend some events. I’ve been reading The Blind Assassin this past week (and falling in love, hard, with Margaret Atwood) and would really like to attend Atwood’s keynote address. There are also some panel discussions whose topics sound really interesting.

But I know, with a five-and-a-half-month-old in my charge and daddy Damien working the New Ohio Review table for half the day, every day, I’ll be at the whims of Amalie’s moods (and feeding and napping schedule—if you can call it a schedule . . .). And that’s fine. Because AWP feels different for me this year not just because I’ll have a baby this time. It’s different, too, because I’ve been through it once before, and while I had a ton of fun, the magic has sort of gone out of it already.  

I know I’m not going to meet an agent in an elevator, suddenly become charming and outgoing, pitch my novel to him/her, and land myself a book deal (I didn’t even have the guts to sign up for a scheduled pitch session with an agent last year). And I know that at my book signing, I’ll be lucky to sell any copies to people I don’t already know—and since the people I know have already bought their copies, I’ll be lucky to sell any at all this year. And I know that, while I like the idea of all these people with shared interests and goals congregating together and sharing this thing with each other, there’s something overwhelming about seeing 10,000 writers together all at once and realizing that they’re all competing for the same publications and the same jobs—it really hammers home your chances: slim, at best.

But like I said, I’m excited, nonetheless. I got some Christmas money that I have yet to spend, so I plan on really letting myself loose on the book fair this year. And I’m looking forward to a fun vacation with Amalie. And I’m going to see some old friends just like last year (I’m really excited about seeing fellow UAF MFAer Jenni Moody!). And I’m definitely looking forward to my off-site reading. I like doing readings, oddly enough (odd, because I’m shy and introverted, and because readings tend to be a sort of dismal affair, where hardly anyone shows up, and of those few, maybe one buys a copy of the book, if you’re lucky), and this reading should be especially good, since several people have already committed to attend.  

Oh AWP, for me, you’ve changed. But that’s okay. I still love you, all the same.

(Don’t forget to check back next week, when my March interview series kicks off with an interview with self-published author Ken Brosky.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I’ve been busy, busy, busy this week trying to catch up on grading in preparation for AWP, at which, by the way, I’ll be doing an off-site reading (Friday, March 2nd at 6:00 PM at The Hideout in Chicago) and will probably be doing a book signing at the book fair (date and time TBA). Maybe I’ll see you there?

Anyway, I’ve just got a quick post, then, this week, to drum up some anticipation (I hope) for the interview series I’ll be posting on my blog during the entire month of March. I’ve learned a lot about the publication game through these interviews, which detail four very different writers’ very different experiences publishing their books.

The schedule for this interview series is as follows:

Sunday, March 4th: Ken Brosky, a self-published author who has implemented some interesting and successful strategies to market his short story collection, The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachmann (and other stories).

Sunday, March 11th: Kelly Kathleen Ferguson, whose memoir, My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself, was published through a small press (Press 53) and has been selling phenomenally well in the few months since it’s been out.

Sunday, March 18th: Kathryn Nuernberger, author of the award winning poetry collection Rag & Bone, which was published through Elixir Press after winning the press’s Antivenom prize.

Sunday, March 25th: J. T. Dutton, who published her two novels, Freaked and Stranded, through HarperTeen. Dutton, needless to say, secured an agent prior to signing contracts with such a major publishing house.

I hope you’ll check these interviews out, and please, if you know any fellow writers who might be interested, point them in my blog’s direction during the month of March.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I talked last week about how I’ve been easing my way back into the writing game these past few weeks. I’m doing things kind of differently, at least for now as I get used to integrating writing back into my life. I used to be a very goal-oriented writer, believing that goals are what keep us going in life. I still think this is somewhat true, and I know that I never would have written and polished two book-length manuscripts while I was in my MFA program (and published one of them shortly after graduating) if it weren’t for the goals I was setting for myself each month.

But for now I’m leaving the world of goals behind. I have to. My life is too unpredictable, too uncontrollable right now with a five-month-old baby. Some days, it’s hard just to keep up with my teaching duties; writing, unfortunately, has to be pushed to the back burner for a little while. Amalie and the overall sanity of my family unit come first, teaching, second (because it’s my job, after all). Writing, then, is a luxury that I long for but can only indulge in sometimes, on the rare occasion when Amalie doesn’t insist on napping on my lap. (Every now and again, I go ahead and write while she’s sleeping on me . . . as, in fact, I’m doing right at this moment writing this blog. But trust me, it’s very difficult to type with only one hand free, the other supporting the body of your heavier-every-day child. My mind works much, much faster than the fingers on only one hand can.)

In some ways, though, I think this experience has replenished some of the magic in writing that had been lost from years of training myself to write almost every day. For a while, writing was like eating, or like personal hygiene: just one of the things you do almost automatically. And that was nice. But. When something is as automatic to you as brushing your teeth, it can sometimes lose some of its power, some of its ability to bring pleasure.

Don’t believe me? Try eating your favorite candy bar every day—hell, have two a day, maybe three. You’ll find very quickly that you stop enjoying it. It just becomes this thing you do. You might crave it, feel lousy if you don’t have one, but it doesn’t taste as good as it used to when it was a now-and-again, special kind of treat. (A side note: the same is probably true for you of soda, in reverse. Most people drink a lot of soda, so much that I think they cease to really taste it. I have some Sprite or Sierra Mist about once a year, and that once a year it tastes so, so good. If I make the mistake of trying it again a week later, it tastes less good. If I have another one, say, a week after that, I don’t like it at all. I can only have it about once a year if I want to experience that amazing, refreshing, delicious taste.)

Anyway, now that writing is this thing I badly want to do but can only do sometimes, I’m reminded how very, very much I love it. How good it feels when a story comes together. How exciting it is to read something I’ve slaved over and know that it is exactly as I want it to be.

In many ways, this is like taking several steps back in my progression as a writer. This is where I was, I don’t know, maybe ten years ago: writing only some of the time and being distracted with other things. But those “other things,” right now, are more important than my little scribbles. My baby is more important to me than anything I’ve ever written—there would be something seriously wrong with me if I didn’t feel that way. And I can’t help feeling like pausing a bit to rekindle my passion for writing is exactly what I should be doing now, anyway.

So. Instead of time goals, and, in fact, instead of keeping track of my writing time at all, for now, I’m just keeping track of the days. Which days I wrote, if even for only a few minutes, and which days I didn’t. I’m hoping that this will take away the guilt I feel when I add up the time I spent writing each month. The guilt is not helping. The guilt is not helping at all. I need writing to be associated with good feelings. The joy of getting lost in my own imagination. The thrill of learning about the world around me. I want to write because I want to write, not because I’ll get down on myself if I don’t.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

For the past month, I’ve been slowly warming my writing muscles back up again. I had tried to push myself with an insanely easy goal during winter break, and then I promptly gave up after repeatedly not meeting the goal during the very first week of break. For the month of January, then, which was also my first month teaching two classes since having the baby (though they’re both still online), I decided to just sit back and see what would happen. I obviously wasn’t ready yet to set goals. I did, however, have things I wanted to be working on, and not just in that “I really ought to be writing” sort of way; in that more magical, exciting way, where story ideas and sentences to accompany them dance through your head when you’re doing even the most mundane tasks: washing the dishes, taking a shower, rocking your baby to sleep.

So without even making any effort to push myself back into it, I opened the writing file on my computer and started sifting through my drafts. I was pleasantly surprised to remember that I did, in fact, write several drafts of new stories last year. I have the tendency to feel like I’ve hardly written at all since my book came out, but it isn’t really true. I haven’t revised many drafts to the point of being ready to send around, but I actually did write quite a lot of new stuff last year. 

So I got back to work revising a few of those drafts. I had Damien read a couple of them, and some other people read a third (which Damien had already read). I’m now hungrily revising—and maybe, just maybe almost ready to start sending out—the most promising of the new stories I wrote last year. There are still others that I’ll probably get around to tinkering with later, and a few that I moved to my “Failed Attempts” file (what a strangely good feeling it is sometimes to definitively say, “I will not waste any more time on this story.”).

Up next, I want to get working on a new idea I had recently that I think might develop into a novel. Maybe it’ll just be a novella. I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. I do feel like I should be pushing myself to try working on longer pieces. I’m a bit hesitant about novel writing these days—my experience trying (and failing) to publish the novel I wrote as my MFA thesis left me both disappointed and feeling very shaky about my abilities as a novelist. I’ve read, then revised, then reread the damn thing who knows how many times. The fact that every time I read it, I think it’s publishable makes me wonder if the problem is, in fact, my own ability to recognize what a good novel should and should not be.  

I’ve had enough success publishing short stories that I sometimes wonder if I’m not just one of those writers—there are many, and many of them are very good—who just is and always will be a short story writer. Period. But sometimes I have these ideas, ideas that I don’t think could fit into the space of a short story. So even though I’m tentative and maybe a bit afraid, I’m going to start working on this new idea, and if it ends up developing into a full novel (gulp), well then. So be it.