Monthly Archives: September 2006

assigned

Hey here’s a first for me:  a good friend of mine convinced me to submit an idea to an anthology.  I normally do not submit to “theme” issues or anthologies or any other writing venues in which I am limited to certain subject matter.  I don’t write well under that kind of pressure (at least wrt my essay or creative writing).

But–why not?  It’s time to expand my writing horizons.   As in most of my writing ventures, I begin with, “What the heck, right?  Why not?”

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why literary journals?

One of my writing peers in my MFA program once said in workshop, “I try to read those literary journals but I just can’t get into them. Why would I subscribe to one of them? I mean, I know I want to get published in them, but why would I subscribe?”

Ahem. It was a very honest statement on her part, altogether too revealing of the plight of literary journals. I was horrified to hear what she said, and as an avid reader and subscriber of literary journals I raised my hand to respond. But our professor beat us to the punch.

Our professor went onto say that as writers we really should subscribe to and support literary journals. They do a great service to the writing community–they discover new writers, for one. And how would they survive to do such things without our support? They run on a shoestring budget and should be rewarded for their altruism with plenty of subscriptions (which sadly isn’t true–so many writers who are published in these journals probably don’t subscribe, either).

So as writers, do you subscribe to a literary journal? I urge you to subscribe to at least one. It helps you to keep your pulse on new writing, helps YOU to discover new writers, and gives you access to short stories by some great established writers (I mean, there is just some good reading in these journals!). Also, you would be contributing to a healthy publishing/writing ecosystem (do you REALLY want a future where only Big Publishing Houses exist?).

I also thought I’d list my favorite literary journals, in the vein of Susan’s post on her favorites. If you want to start reading them, maybe this will be a springboard:

  • ZYZZYVA. Irreverent and risk-taking work, I think. Editor Howard Junker (who has a blog calledZYZZYVA Speaks) reads every submission. They respond QUICKLY to submissions!
  • A Public Space. Former editor of the Paris Review, Bridgid Hughes’ new magazine. The first issue was sparkling and great. The second issue is now out and pretty interesting too (though it’s clear she put more energy and starpower into the first). They take online submissions!
  • AGNI. Boston University’s literary mag.
  • Tin House
  • Zoetrope: All-Story. I hear their editor is wonderful and attentive.
  • The Paris Review. The Grandaddy of them all.
  • One Story. You get one story every three weeks, a wholly different model than the other literary journals. I kind of like this model. The magazine itself is very threadbare and looks like a high school student produced it on her own, but the stories are good. They accept online submissions.

Anyone else got recommendations? I would also recommend Glimmertrain, even though I don’t subscribe to them. I rather like the little author profiles at the back (pictures for each author with anecdotes. Kinda cool). I also used to subscribe to the Bellevue Literary Review, but I can only read so much of medical literature (my own limitations, not the magazine’s). I also got the vibe that a lot of the pieces are written BY doctors, and wanted more diversity.

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libido

my fifteen pound male dog who has shown no previous semblance of desire now masturbates incessantly. it’s like he woke up and said “i want to get off!”

he rolls over on his back and tries to pull my hand towards his “lipstick.” he sidles over my foot and humps my foot. i’m trying to get away from him. his little face looks so sad and rejected. but i am not into bestiality and even though my little dog “loves” me i must refuse.

but i must ask.  where does this desire come from?

does it come from the same place an idea comes from?  where wonder resides?

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narny nar!

I am going to play hooky tomorrow. I am sick with exhaustion and stress and I’m not going to class. I have never ditched a class in all my time in my MFA program..but I am doing it.

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Fortunate

“How,” said one of my high school classmates, “did YOU get HIM?” She rolled her eyes.

Bitch! I was beginning to regret my decision to go to my high school reunion. Why did I think that things would be different? I was thirty pounds overweight and wearing this weird St. John gold cowl-neck sweater dress that made me feel like a gilded lima bean. My mother-in-law had bought me the dress, along with the gold pumps. I was wearing a girdle that dug into my waist and was creating a muffin top through my dress. So now I was a lima bean with a crease down the middle.

I don’t remember what I said in response (since I can’t remember, probably something lame and polite). This exchange happened five years and thirty pounds ago. But I remember THAT comment.

I get THAT comment a lot. “You’re so lucky to be married to HIM!” Ugh. UGH. UGGGGH!

My husband is an amazing man. He is amazing to me because he is a good person. He is amazing to me for things that don’t get listed in a job interview. He is amazing to others for his accomplishments and potential for future achievement. I am married to someone that people admire and people assume I admire him in the same way I do. It’s impossible for me to adore him in the same way–I adore him MORE than really anyone else.

The thing is, he deserves this admiration, but…not at my expense. “How did you find him?” people inevitably ask.

*sigh*
You mean, “How did we meet?” Ah yes, they say. How did you meet? And so then I will tell the sweet story with the Meet Cute and everything. Suddenly our relationship gets tons of credibility because I met him in college before all the “achievements.” We are…a partnership in their eyes. Not that it matters what they think, but at least I’m not annoyed anymore.

But there are days my self confidence fails me. And I wonder if I am the person some people think I am: a spectator in my husband’s life. Those are the days when my novel feels like ten years off, or story after story isn’t going well, or well, when my own writing puts me to sleep. What IS it that I DO?! I ask myself.

Oh yes, and it’s what the people ask me, too, “What do YOU do?”

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snooze test

last weekend, i decided to cut a chapter out of my novel after it succeeded in putting me to sleep 3 times in a row in one afternoon.

just now, i tried to read a short story i wrote that same weekend…and IT is putting me to sleep.  oh boy!

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catalogue of ideas

there’s just a shitload of ideas around me, and i collect them. don’t have time to write a story about this or that, but i’ll jot the idea down–because who wants to run out of ideas? i write the ideas down on my hand, write them in a little notebook, and i email the ideas to myself a LOT (subject header: STORY IDEA BLAH BLAH).

i really really try NOT to blog them, or share them. i feel like then i really have released them to the universe, and that they are no longer my own thoughts.

ann lamott, in bird by bird says she jots down ideas on index cards and then files them away. i tried doing that for a little while but that was just too much work. emailing the story ideas as the subject header works a LOT better. with one click of a button on my mail client, i can sort through them alphabetically or by date of idea inception!

but there are a lot of story ideas i haven’t used. maybe i ought to be generous to the Muse and share one of them…maybe as a writing prompt? i’ll see, maybe if you’re interested?

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peering out from the nest

I realize that these days most of my posts are centering around my writing.  Maybe that’s where my dark thoughts reside.  I certainly have a bit of anxiety revolving around my writing, as any good writer does.  To be entirely comfortable with writing is an eerie feeling–is it easy because it’s good?  Or is it easy because it’s bad?  Unfortunately, most of the time easy means it’s bad.

I’m heading into my final semester in my MFA program.  I’ll be booted out of the nest soon, supposedly with wings enough to fly.  Every year I go through a review of my writing program thus far, and what I want to accomplish in the semester ahead.  How do I get myself pumped up?  What are my short-term goals?  Long-term goals?  Have they changed at all?  What do I need now to survive and thrive?  What parts of myself are still tender?  How can I keep those parts still tender?

Every year I ponder my own writing, my stance as a writer, and question myself.  And then I proceed.  This year, I’m finding it more difficult to get myself revved up.  On the outside, I’m sure I look hyped, because I am The Kind of Chick Who Always Wants To Look Like She Has Her Shit Together.  But really, I’m finding myself a little bit on the edge these days.  This has nothing to do with my self-belief (it wavers yes, but it holds steady) or my desire to write (it holds steady too), but more of my sense of direction.

My novel has suffered from this directional wobble, too.  (Or is it that the wobble of my novel has me suffering as a writer)?

It comes as at interesting time.  My thesis has to be turned in within a couple of months.  A “perfect” manuscript, due to my thesis director and reader, for review.  This thesis is really my last opportunity in the MFA program to work under the tutelage of mentors.

And what I’m a bit frustrated about is this:  where ARE my mentors?

I’m going to do a bit more reaching out to them.  I found they were much more present last year–what was I doing differently?  Here I am, in the MFA program, where I am supposed to be supported (and really, I am in turn supporting them with my student tuition) and nurtured, and where are they?  Have I been churned out of the machine already?

I had a fantasy that I would keep in touch with my mentors in the MFA program, maybe even become friends with them.  I feel silly for even thinking that now.

I’m rethinking my scaffolding process for when I go out into the wild blue yonder.  What will I need for myself?  How will I go about getting those tools?  And still, how will I keep myself tender in the process so that I do not lose my heart?

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music writing list

I have my rituals when I write. A cup of tea or decaf coffee, and a little cookie, pastry, or toast with butter and jam to keep me company. Comfy pants, comfy shirt. No brasierre. Sometimes on chilly days, a blue and green plaid flannel robe that I’ve had for nearly fifteen years. Often no makeup.

Writing is about getting myself into a totally comfortable, unguarded zone. This requires ritual and often, some low grade self-hypnosis via music. I like to listen to music with headphones on. Something about the headphones muffles out other background noise.

For many years, I could ONLY write with MY music writing playlist. It is about 50 songs long, playing out to over 4 hours. I would hit play, and keep writing until the last song on the list played. That was a nice routine. I like moody, melodic music. Think moody like the songs on “Grey’s Anatomy,” think melodic like Moby or moody like Sugur Ros. This music is somewhat different than the music I like to listen to in the car or with friends.

In lieu of that playlist, I’ll write to Mozart’s Requiem. Mozart’s Requiem is really good with short story writing.

While I’m at it–what do you listen to while you write?  (Have we just created a new meme)?

What is my “writing playlist?” Here it is:

  1. Continue reading

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oh back to my old tricks

Oh, but here I am, feeling so sheepish after my last post on the ironically titled “writing friendships.” I feel so slimy talking about “other” people here in unflattering terms–is this what writing in anonymity affords me? Cowardice? I’m disgusted. Bleah.

What will I use this grand old space of writing under a pseudonym for?  What BRAVE (and not cowardiced) things will I say?  What HONEST things will I say?  Of course, then again–if I can only be truthful and brave in the places where my identity is clear…well, I guess that’s not all bad either.  It’s an experiment to compare what I write here versus the blog with my real name on it.

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writing friendships

This is not a positive sort of post–my apologies. Most of the time, I feel inspired about my writing and you will see those posts about “believing in yourself.” I like writing those, I like the idea of people reading those. But these past couple of weeks? I’ve been wrapped in some self-doubt. I hate self-doubt, but it’s not going to go away if I ignore it either. And since I don’t want it to show up in my writing–it’s going to show up here.

The self-doubt is going to show up with some legal of negativity. Maybe this isn’t too comfortable to read, but maybe there’s an ounce of truth in it.

These days, my life is school, work, writing, and my family (and more specific than that: my husband, for I pitifully neglect my parents and brother). I have become a horrible friend as my dedication to writing has increased.

Those who suffer the most are my “non-writing” friends, even though many times they are the inspiration for so may ideas and stories. When I am obsessing about my writing most of the time, it’s hard for me to make room for anything else. Bleah.

So that leaves me with writing friends as the core of my social life. This is a precarious center. I can talk about my novel, about the craft of writing, share resources–but how easy it to really be friends as writers? (And before I begin to explore this question, I want to CLEARLY state that I am blessed with a few excellent, wonderful, loyal, kind, and intelligent writer friends who lie outside of this questioning).

But for the most part–what kind of precarious center have I placed at the center of my social circle? The “writing pie” is not very big, writers are scrambling for any piece they can get. The investment is high, the returns are low. The criteria are mostly subjective. The heart is vulnerable. The writers are jealous and competitive of each other.

I have many writing acquaintances who I do not bother to ask for help anymore. I know they won’t provide help (or if they do, they will provide JUST ENOUGH to avoid judgment). Cocktail party banter could be more meaningful.

Then there are the offers for help. “Oh, I have a friend who is a writer at such and such magazine, you should submit your story there!” said a friend.

“Oh really?” I ask. I take her up on her offer. Weeks go by, no answer. “What did your friend say?”

My friend emails back, “Oh, sorry. My friend is totally competitive and didn’t give out my info, she gets like that.” Of course. I feel jerked around, naively surprised. Why was I even surprised, after all this time? I ended finding my own leads.

A friend loves to ask me to read her manuscripts. I’ve read quite a few of hers–and I would not count except that she does not read many of mine. Somehow, there’s been a convenient excuse to not read my stories. Once she did read a story of mine and she said she’d give me the feedback “soon.” It never came.  I’m trying to not read too much into that.
These are benign examples. Worse are the people who give patronizing feedback, intention being to NOT help the writer get any better, but to appease them. I could go on, but now I’m starting to feel more bummed out, and I’ve got to stop!

I’m not perfect either. I get busy, and can’t get back to all my friends or to every manucript, but I apologize profusely and I’ve become a lot better at setting boundaries and expectations with these things.  I get jealous too, even though I HATE that side of me. Shouldn’t I just focus on my own work and get on with it?

So what’s left? Hole up? Don’t make any more writing friends? Make more friends outside of writing? Catch up with my old friends? Get some balance into my life?

Or of course, there’s the old adage: count your blessings!

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apocalyptic writing feedback

I got workshopped today. It was okay. Kind of what I expected, with some helpful suggestions. And the instructor pointed out one of my horrible writing tics/habits that I have yet to overcome (my tendency to overstate –to which she asked, “I’m taking it that you’re making this a YA (young adult) novel?”–I replied, “NO. You’re horrifying me with that comment though!”). But I had to know these things–it was all good and useful.

But one student came up to me afterwards and said “What you did with your narration and how you overstate things reminded me of Dan Brown’s writing.”

*blink*

You know, Dan Brown as in the author of the insipid “DaVinci Code.” Dan Brown, as in the modern example of horrible writing. She said THAT, after our conversation a couple weeks ago on exactly the same topic–of how I abhorred Dan Brown and think he’s the worst writer known writer out there. So I can’t say she didn’t know how this would affect me.
I’m never going to forget THAT feedback EVER.

In hindsight I wish I had said, with the same smile she had on her face, “You know, you LOOK like a nice person….!”

But instead all I did was squirm and say “I can’t believe you said that–that…that that is so rude!”

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