“Stranger on the Porch” is now available at Every Day Fiction. If you have a few minutes, please read and leave a comment at the site. It’s less than 1000 words so it goes fast! Thanks to all of you who are a constant support, no names lest I forget someone really important! You all know who you are!
All I want to do is complain about my lethargy but I’m sick of doing it. So I’m going to take a couple minutes to just riff and see what happens. Don’t read if you can’t stand getting inside someone else’s frustrated mind.
First: The novel. Did a little yesterday but not enough. Felt lost and confused and wondered if I will ever finish this. Flashes of my first “revised” novel kept creeping up on me. Two in the drawer. No!!! But how do I actually make myself do it? I started a to-do list. I put on it Don’t Get Organized because I seem to want to do the opposite of what I should do. Why is that?
I hate wait to hear from places. Haven’t heard from Flash Fiction On-line regarding “Dani-Girl’s Guide to Getting Everything Right.” Reread it. Like it a lot but maybe I don’t have enough distance yet, though I did send it to them 8-weeks ago today. In my world, usually the longer something is kept, the more likely they like it, but maybe not. There are no rules in writing…but lots of crying. I’m also waiting for “Monsoon” to come out in Quality Women’s Fiction. Wrote to the editor there yesterday too and she said it was “in the mail.” But I am confused about this publication. Their website never changes, never shows a magazine cover, and I don’t understand what she means. My understand is that it would come out in PDF, but I guess I’ll just wait and see. The editor is very encouraging and helpful. I like her, I’m just confused. So those two stories are distracting me when what I should be doing is moving on.
Listing Lisa and The Roughening are both sitting on the stove, simmering, with occasion bubbles. I keep thinking I have the answers to each stories problems but then I lose it. I have to go back today to my Ron Carlson write a story in a day today but call it FINISH a story in a day.
Maybe my problem is self-consciousness. As soon as a story begins to sound good before I finish it, I attach all kinds of extra baggage to it. Will this story be the one that really makes it? Can I ever write a really good story again? What if I can make myself do this any more? And then I kind of freeze up. Can someone be embarrassed in the privacy of her own home, at her own desk, with no one standing over her shoulder? Or is really fear? Fear of failure? Or fear of success?
I’ve had a few people ask me if I was afraid to succeed and I think the answer is yes. Growing up my comfort zone was keeping a low profile, not making any stir, either good or bad. I didn’t like attention. Of course, secretly I WANTED attention, positive attention, but was scared to death of the negative kind. Is this what haunts me? Frankly I’m sick of thinking about it.
And I’ve been sick of thinking about it for a while, yet I keep coming back to it. I hate this tendency. Why can’t I just put my butt in the chair and stay there until I’m done?
I know that part of what I have to do is not take myself so seriously. Stop thinking about how if I could only write one piece with real merit I could die happy. But that real merit for me is like something so far away, I can’t even see it wink. I’m thinking To Kill a Mockingbird, Tess of the D’Urbevilles , Tale of Two Cities. Now you know why someone always dies in my stories!
Okay. Enough. I feel slightly better and now I’m going to open Listing Lisa and give her a run for her money. She and her husband have got to face-off. I can’t skip over it. I have to do it. Go.
It’s summer and toodling through various writing sites this week, I remembered that August kicks off “Submission Season,” the time when college literary types head back to school and brace for the mudslide of submissions coming their way. This might be a literal description at the University of Iowa after the flooding this past year, but hopefully the Hawkeyes will return to freshly scrubbed floors, gleaming walls, and no dead fish hiding in the school server.
August means it’s time for writers to polish their pieces one more time, buy 9X12 envelopes, and a slew of postage. I’m ready, but scared. I’ve got a lot to do, but I absolutely must send out. It’s the only way to get oneself read. So I too must brace myself.
A writer friend reminded me last week that for her, July is the beginning of a new writing season. July because for Sharon and me, as well as Jim, Ellen, and the rest of my old Iowa Summer Writing Festival buds that’s the month we used to meet in Iowa City to attend workshops, drink Blue Moon, and work up a sweat (literally) at keyboards only to have our butts frozen off at the EPB.
I hope it happened this year. I hope they all went. I did not. Haven’t for the last two years and have to admit this year, I really missed it. Maybe it was the pictures of the campus underwater my sister sent me triggering my angst. Or maybe it was just realizing that I’m so out of touch now, me in California and my “Iowa” friends scattered over the country: Sharon in Galesburg, Jim in Chicago, Ellen in St. Louis. I also miss Elizabeth, Lisa, and Enza. We had good times. But that was then and this is now. And now means getting writing, get submitting!
This DRIVE to SUBMIT has paid off. I started two years ago with the goal of 100 rejections. Yes. I know. That’s weird. But for me if my goal is called a DRIVE to PUBLISH, it’s too easy to get disheartened, so I changed the language. What that did for me was gave me something I had power over. No one can stop me from writing something, sticking it in an envelope, and sending it out. That’s in my power. Also in my power is the make that submission the best piece I can.
With those goals, I’ve had actual PUBLISHING success. Not big success. The editors from Tin House and McSweeneys (actually McSweeney’s owes me a rejection, but since I can barely navigate their site, it’s okay) are not pounding down my door yet, YET, but enough success to keep me striving and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s the necessity for persistence. Persistence has over the last two years gotten me three pieces in print, three publications on line with two other pieces accepted, one coming out in August at Women’s Quality Fiction and another in the fall at EDF. So now I’m into my third submission season and I’ve got to make the best of it. (Yes, Jane, I hear you. The novel. THE NOVEL!)
MY heart still hip-hops into my throat when I open my Yahoo account and see on the
“From” line of an email, the words “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
It’s the line that appears when they are sending a rejection, an acceptance…or actually maybe a rewrite. Any which way, I always take a moment before I open it. If I prayed, I guess you’d say that’s what I’m doing. Luckily for me, they like my “Stranger on the Porch” bit and are going to publish it sometime in the future. Hooray!
This is actually a piece I’ve adapted from my novel. As I’ve said before, I’ve been struggling to keep the seat of my pants in the chair. When I’m doing one thing, I’m often distracted by another. In this case, the idea of writing a 1000 words has so much more appeal than rewriting 80,000 words. But I have resisted the lure of flash so far this month even though titles and ideas on how to make those titles work assault me at the sink, in the shower, on my walks. Then one day–mid-anguish/temptation–I had a revelation.
Since I use a dramatic arc in each chapter by opening with conflict, torturing my character, and finally having her take some action–the same dramatic arc that I use for a story as a whole–I wondered if I could cadge something from the novel to satisfy my need to send off a submission to EDF and thereby not get totally out of the world of my novel characters. Write flash but have it benefit the novel too. Maybe chapter 1?
I took a look. Yep the arc was there, but I’d have to whittle it down to fit the 1000 word criterion. Wow. An amazing thing happened during this process.
Because I wanted to flash the chapter, I brought to it a much more critical eye, and suddenly realized how much better it was turning out. The whole experience reinforced my belief that parameters create in a writer the ability to dig deep and come up with something better than if there are no parameters.
What happens in this first chapter of my novel is not straight forward, and I’ve often changed it, edited it, played with it. But this time I knew I had to achieve more clarity for it to stand on its own as flash. The images became sharper, the character more interesting. Whittling worked again. What an incredible lesson I keep learning over and over.
Now my hope is that people like it. That it stands on its own. I hope it’s as good for you guys as it was for me.
I don’t think I officially have A.D.D, but I often feel as if I do. I’m constantly wanting to start something new, to pull something surprising out of my brain, and see what it will develop into. And this is actually a good thing, especially when I’m beginning a new project, but unfortunately all those flashes of inspiration seem to strike me when I’m trying to settle down and do the drudge work of editing.
Did I say “drudge work.” I can’t believe I typed that. I love to edit and have professed for years that if I can only get past that initial draft, I know I can craft something that works. There is something magical about reading one’s own words aloud and realizing, hmmm, that doesn’t work quite right. What about this? What about that? A cliche? Let me see if I can just spin that a little to the left. So what is going on here?
It’s the novel. That multi-drafted cyper-folder with its “fits and starts” (there you go: cliche. I’ll catch it later. Hmm maybe not), calling and repelling me all at the same time.
I made a vow this year that this was going to be it. I would get that dang book into the kind of shape that would allow me to start my agent search. But with me, as soon as I vow, I procrastinate. It titillates me to make a commitment and then renege. I actually feel that titillation in my body. Ooh, make a promise and break it? Why? I think there’s a tiny part of me that is ready for the looney bin. Or maybe its latent teen rebellion, the one I never had.
I do get things done. I did vow when I quit my job that I would build my writing portfolio and I’ve done that. And my skills have become sharper, my ability to see what works and doesn’t work more accurate. So yes. I am making progress with the portfolio goal. But I did vow when I quit my job that I would also finish the novel and market it and that is still the flamingo around my neck.
I don’t know what it is about writing a book that is so darn hard, but part of it for me is that it activates my interest in everything else. Since I committed to finishing the book, I have helped remodel the back of my house, taken up jewelry making, dabbled in polymer clay, and PMC, and painting, as well as supersized my exercise program. These “hobbies” have been so much fun and I’m eating up all the new awarenesses that these interests bring to me. But. I sit down at the keyboard and think…hmmm, just an hour with all that color behind me on the work table might give me just the bump I need.
But I know that I must do the book first. Before the bump. Because if I can just remember that the writing offers its own bump, I could make progress.
I need to stay focused. I need to stop farting around, but I don’t know how many times I need to say this to actually DO it. Today. I will work on the book before I touch a pair of pliers or open a tube of paint. TWO HOURS MINIMUM. I need to borrow Marley’s chains.
I’ve been ‘tagged,’ whatever that means, by Alan Beard, author of Taking Doreen Out of the Sky. The editor of the great ‘Short Review’ Tania Hershman tagged Alan to answer some questions and Alan, in turn, tagged me. Here I go with more info than you ever wanted!
1) What were you doing ten years ago?
1998? I was walking everywhere and very fit because I let my son use my car to get he and his sister to school. It was a good thing. What I remember about it is that being without a car, time slowed down. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. I remember I wrote every morning. I’d had no success in placing any piece anywhere, but I hosted a writing group every Thursday (maybe it was Wednesday) around my dining room table.
2) What 5 Things are on your to-do list today?
**Work on the novel. I’ve listed the chapter numbers on scratch paper and as I edit each one I cross it out. Just started this process for the millioneth time a couple days ago. I’m on Chapter 6 and determined to get to the end this time.
**Walk at 8:30, this weird cross-country ski thing (on the streets of SoPas) I do now every Monday and Friday with Estelle and her band of acolytes.
**Go to lunch with my mom-in-law and some far-flung cousins in from Oklahoma.
**Welcome my husband back from London. I have missed him!
3) What would you do with a billion dollars?
Revamp the education system in the United States. Encourage the culture to elevate the position of “teacher” to the status of JDs, MBAs, and MDs. All those kids who go to law school because they have no idea what they want to do would go to hard to get into grad schools to learn how to really teach and to develop new and effective strategies. I know. The teaching to teach and the strategies happens, but if a country cannot lure its brightest citizens to the profession, then the profession needs to be put on a par with those that do lure. What is that lure? Money, yes, but also cache, status, and satisfaction in actually contributing to society.
5) List the places you have lived.
Louisiana, Iowa, California, in my head.
6) List the jobs you have had
Parks and rec, retail sales, counter person at Rusty’s Roast Beef, as well as store manager, district manager, buyer, and teacher. Did I say wife and mom and mistress of Risuli and Cinder?
7) List the people you’d like to know more about.
Not so much “know about” but rather to go to lunch with: Joyce Carol Oates, Carol Shields (alas), Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, W. Somerset Maugham, Pablo Picasso, Abigail Adams, Jane Addams, Helen Keller, and Joshua from “So you think you can dance.”
BTW, the numbering isn’t mine though I probably messed it up somewhere!