Monthly Archives: November 2006

strike 4

Yucky. This story I wrote, this story I really liked…has now been rejected by 3 literary journals and 1 contest. I never EXPECT my story to be embraced, but I always HOPE it does. (There is a difference). Today I got rejected by the venue that was MOST unrealistic yet the one I MOST HOPED for. It was a contest with a big ass prize. A longshot for most people including me.

I am being more honest with my desires these days. I am not going to poo-poo the contest. I really wanted to win, I hoped to win, even though I didn’t expect my story to win. How’s that for desperate optimism? Bleah.

There are 3 more literary journals left to respond. Then, I’ll have to regroup. Revise the story, send it out to more journals or more likely, toss it into the purgatory pile of “stories I can’t bear to look at again.”  Keep on submitting.

Yes, I do simultaneous submissions–I learned this from a publishing panel full of agents and litmag editors. Send your stories out simultaneously. Doing it in parallel (one after another) is going to take a year you’ll never get back. And unless you’re John Updike, the realistic chances of all litmags accepting you are slim. If they all accept you, or you get multiple acceptances? Well, as they say in business, that’s a “high class problem.” In other words, let’s hope for such a problem.

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post barf

so now that I’ve done my confessing, I’m remarkably back to normal. my normal being: just focus on my road, my path, myself.

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“…& A”

A few days ago, I posted about questions writers dread. How to answer them? I’ve posted some suggestions below each question. I’m not an expert at this. I’ve been known to bite my lip, take a big bite of wedding cake, and say stupid things in real life scenarios.

And, because I’m in quite a snarky mood tonight, half of these answers are probably not useful. You’re welcome.

  • So, have you been published anywhere?
    • Since your reading consists of People magazine and The Sharper Image catalogue–nowhere you’d know about. (amend, if you do write for People or The Sharper Image catalogue).
    • YES.
    • Fuck off Have YOU?
    • *peer at them suspiciously* Why do you want to know?
    • NO. *start crying*
    • How are you doing with your weight loss plan?
    • So HOW long have you been trying to have a baby?
    • When are you getting married?!
  • So, do you have a literary agent?
    • I need to finish my novel first.
    • Fending them off!
    • Fuck off Do YOU?
    • *peer at them suspiciously* Why do you want to know?
    • How are you doing with your weight loss plan?
    • So HOW long have you been trying to have a baby?!
    • When are you getting married?!
  • How long have you been working on that novel? (Once, someone asked me that question and then followed up with, “How come it takes so long? I have a friend who wrote a novel in one month! Like *snaps her fingers* THAT!”)
    • YEARS.
    • As long as you’ve been trying to have a baby!
    • As long as you’ve tried to lose those twenty five pounds!
    • When are you getting married?!
  • Is there really a point to getting an MFA? What do you DO with an MFA?
    • What I like to DO with an MFA is talk about it with people like you
    • You could teach at community college with it.
    • It’s not the piece of paper–it’s about the 2+ years you spend sitting in workshop talking about your writing!
    • WA-WA-WEE-WA! Let’s make sexytime!
    • So how long have you been trying to have a baby?!
    • How’s that weight loss coming along?
    • When are you getting married?!
  • I could write a novel.
    • Great–why DON’T you?
  • Why would you want to be a writer?
    • It’s just what I want to do. It makes me happy, it fulfills my soul, it’s my DESTINY
    • Why would you want to be an asshole?
  • So, does your husband support your hobby your writing career?
    • Yes.
    • Yes. As you know, he married this nerd who’s always attached to her laptop because that’s what you think of when you hear, “Trophy Wife!”
  • Are you going to write about me?
    • You have NOOOO IDEA, I’m thinking of my next villain right now. Yes.
    • Yah, and I bet you won’t recognize yourself when I give you a big zit on your face and give you diarrhea in my next story. Yes.
  • What do you do all day at home?
    • Masturbate to fantasies of you, is that what you want to HEAR?
    • Stare at the blank computer screen.
    • Hit the delete key a whole lot
    • Write
    • Do all the errands because “I’m home all day”
    • blog.
    • How’s that weight loss going?
    • So HOW long have you been trying to have a baby?!
  • Do you make any money?
    • Yes. Just not on writing.
    • No.
    • How much do YOU make?
  • What’s your novel about? (followed by glazed eyes–if you are really interested, this can have a very cool outcome).
    • Well, you see it’s about this guy who…
    • That’s for me to know and you to pay money to find out!
    • Only if you tell me something about YOU.
    • Can I talk about your fetus before IT’s born?
    • I’m not ready to talk about it.
  • What have you written that I would have read?
    • What paper did you push at work that would make a difference in my life?
    • *cast eyes downward and sigh* Nothing.
    • If you have to ask….
    • What question is this on your checklist of judging questions?
    • You READ?

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“Why HER?!”

I try to be the kind of writer who wants to help others succeed, especially friends. I think that, coming from the business world, I see a lot of people mentoring others and helping people move forward with their careers (despite the widespread perception that people in biz are backbiting, backstabbing cretins).  It’s inspiring, and a model I like to replicate.

Besides, I like it when my friends succeed. I think we all help each other get to the next level, somehow, like hobbits making the trek to throw the ring into the fire of Mordor.

But–I hate myself for this, but there is ONE person I HATE seeing succeed.  I hate it, I hate it.

I have thought long and hard why I burn when I see her succeed, and it’s because she’s mean, mean, mean.  Without even bringing up the topic myself, I’ve learned from others that she is mean to THEM, too.  And that THEY don’t like her either.  So I am not alone in feeling the cruelty of this person.

That is my evil thought of the day.  Thanks.

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After Dark, it’s not just screen savers

I checked checked Amazon.com, and discovered that Haruki Murakami’s book, After Dark, will be released in the U.S. in May 2007. Something to look forward to!

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my “50” favorite fiction books

I’m no book critic, but I’ve got my favorites. Here are my 46 favorite fiction books, in the order in which I remembered/thought of them. (I tried to think of 50, but I couldn’t, not in one sitting). These are not the “best novels” of all time, as I have yet to read many of those purported books. What are your favorites? (If you want to read my running log of books I’ve been reading it’s here).

1. Murakami Wind Up Bird Chronicle (also like his Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart, Kafka on the Shore, and After the Quake)
2. F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby **favorite of all time
3. The Plague (also, The Stranger) by Camus
4. Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
5. Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex
6. Victor Hugo Les Miserables
7. Madame Bovary Gustav Flaubert
8. Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis
9. John Steinbeck East of Eden
10. World According to Garp (and A Prayer for Owen Meany) by John Irving
11. Old Man and the Sea, Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway
12. Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
13. Lord of the Flies William Golding
14. Brave New World Aldous Huxley
15. Roots Alex Haley
16. The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
17. The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath
18. A Room With a View E.M. Forster
19. Watership Down by Richard Adams
20. The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
21. To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
22. Great Expectations (A Tale of Two Cities, too) Charles Dickens
23. Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country
24. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
25. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
26. A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee
27. Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
28. Wonderboys by Michael Chabon
29. Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth
30. The RedTent Anita Diamant
31. Winesberg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
32. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
33. Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen
34. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
35. Nick Hornby’s About a Boy
36. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
37. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
38. Native Son Richard Wright
39. The Twits by Roald Dahl
40. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
41. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
42. The Curious of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
43. Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
44. All the James Herriot books about being a vet in Sakatchewan
45. The Roald Dahl kid books
56. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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it’s time for lists

end of the year–time for lists!

starting with The New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year. just in time for holiday shopping and reading. (I’m definitely looking forward to spending my winter break reading non-required books!).

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secret panel

An Established Writer once confided that a certain writing award (NOT the National Book Award mentioned below) was decided by secret counsel. As in, the same people win over and over again, a delicious inner circle of writing. Was he being snide? Was this a fit of jealousy? I stared at him. “I’m serious,” the Established Writer insisted. He looked totally sincere.

Hrm. Maybe. I considered the idea of The Man in writing awards. I was surprised, but not all the way surprised: I have a deeply cynical side that takes this kind of possibility in stride. Makes sense. Everything in the world, in the end, has an influential inner circle, which is why I find that joke in the movie “Meet the Parents” so hilarious. It speaks the truth.

I do want to know who The Man the inner circle might be.

Then a timely Los Angeles Times insider-perspective article on how the National Book Award is decided came out. Written by Marianne Wiggins, one of the panel of judges for this year’s National Book Award, it provides some juicy insights into being The Man that “secret panel.” (btw, the award I mentioned above is NOT the National Book Award).

The article shows the judge’s vulnerabilities and her personal screening process:

This year, I was a judge. What that means is that between the beginning of May and the middle of August, I (and my four fellow judges) read 258 books. Each. The same 258 novels. To put that in perspective, it’s pertinent to note that outside of a Bible and a phone book, many households in the United States probably own (and read) zero works of serious fiction.

Nonfiction outnumbers fiction in new titles published each year by 4 to 1, so the nonfiction judges read twice what we did — 500 submissions. One judge remarked that she came home one day to find her children had constructed a fort out of them. In my case, I constructed an elaborate system of piles: read, unread, couldn’t get past Page 10, crap, bloated, vomitous, kill-me-now and praise God.

Then comes the bartering between the judges on the panel:

Through conference calls and e-mail, the five of us started to get a sense of one another’s tastes and personalities, and we discovered that we had more in common than not. Peter Behrens’ “The Law of Dreams” was an early favorite, as was “The Echo Maker” by Richard Powers (my hair-on-fire favorite and the eventual winner) and “White Guys” by Anthony Giardina. All of us were in favor of Roth’s “Everyman,” though we agreed it was not his strongest book (except for No. 4, who called it equal to Tolstoy). Judge No. 2 kept pressing for “The Zero” by Jess Walter. Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” made me cry but left everyone else unmoved. Judge No. 4, an admitted friend of Roth’s, had another favorite — “Only Revolutions” by Mark Danielewski, which none of the rest of us could fathom but he would not give up on. We began to know that in every conference call No. 4 would speak at length and very movingly in support of the book, and I finally said, “If Danielewski had written the novel you’re describing, he’d deserve a Nobel, but I can’t find a wormhole into that experience on the page.”

Nevertheless, he was persistent — a strategy that, in the end, paid off.

Roth gets kicked off the short list. Ultimately, the last few moves to determine the finalists for the Book Award are an interesting series of subjective moves, made under the guise of equal representation. In short, an entirely subjective choice–but are you surprised? It’s art, how do you make an entirely objective choice in this matter?

On the other hand–I find you can never really quantify effort and quality and such. I just spent the last two months conducting employee reviews–and what I’ve learned is that there is really no perfect evaluation process. Like Roth, there’s always one employee who just kicks ass, but doesn’t perform to his individual capacity this particular evaluation period. Do you reward him? Or let others have a chance? Like Pynchon, there’s always one employee who is late to turn in the form, but you allow him consideration because he’s fucking Pynchon. Then there are the up and comers, who would benefit most from recognition. So you try to recognize them, perhaps at the expensive of Roth (but is that all the way fair?).

I think the blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors, Critical Mass, where I got wind of this article in the first place, sums it well:

It seems a shame that Roth was ushered aside simply not to be insulted, but this raises a question that I think will be on a lot of prize-makers minds in years to come. As writers live and presumably work longer — though the likelihood of them writing at Roth’s level is unlikely — the question of how younger novelists will unseat the senators, as Ian McEwan has called America’s establishment voices, will grow.

Do judging committees try to read blindly for the best book? Is it even possible to do this? Do prizes exist to give new voices a chance? There aren’t really any clear answers to these questions. What to one person seems fair will seem outlandish to another. So for all the griping about how there are too many prizes, it’s good there’s a handful. That way, all the writers — be they senators or junior pages — get their chance at recognition.

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Murakami: “The best is yet to come”

An interview with Haruki Murakami in the Prague Post. Notable excerpt includes a comment by Murakami who feels his best work is yet to come.  Considering how wonderful The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (and Kafka on the Shore) are, this is something that really titillates me as a fan and reader!  In the interview, Murakami also touches on his writing process and purpose:

Each book he writes represents a journey inside himself, he says. “I’m just sketching what I saw in the darkness,” he says. “Sometimes it’s fun, [but] sometimes it’s dangerous, so I have to protect myself. That’s why I’m running every day. You have to be physically strong to survive that darkness.”

Having ditched what he calls the “irresponsibility” of his youth, Murakami says he has become more aware of the kind of literary legacy he would like to leave. “You know, I don’t have children, and that’s why I feel a responsibility to the next generation,” he says. And, in a Japan still unsure of how it should confront its wartime past, Murakami believes that fiction can be a powerful tool to educate. It was through A Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, he says, that many Japanese learned about their country’s brief war against the Soviet Union at Nomonhan on the Manchuria-Siberia border in the summer of 1939.

The older he gets, he says, the more careful he becomes about what he writes. But, relating how Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote some of his finest work right at the end of his life, Murakami is optimistic about the four or five books he thinks he can still write. “The best is yet to come,” he says, before stealing a glance out of the window at the foreboding clouds camped over the city.

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dreaded questions

The topic of dreaded questions came up in the last post on measuring artistic success; I mentioned being asked, “So have you been published anywhere?” Nova brought up a dreaded question of hers, “So do you have a literary agent?”

That got me thinking about ALL the questions that I just CANNOT stand being asked as a writer. Some of them piss me off, some of them show off the asker’s cluelessness ignorance, some of them reinforce my self doubt, some of them freaking hurt my feelings, and some of them, yes remind me of the truth. Most of them carry the message of being judged as a writer, whether the asker is trying to assess your “level of success,” or questioning your choice to be a writer, etc. Rarely are these questions asked in the name of sincere interest or curiosity.

Here are some questions that you should please not ask me, the writer, in the name of “small talk” (or maybe, EVER):

  • So, have you been published anywhere? (not as a leading question, please no–though you can ask me at some point).
  • So, do you have a literary agent?
  • How long have you been working on that novel? (Once, someone asked me that question and then followed up with, “How come it takes so long? I have a friend who wrote a novel in one month! Like *snaps her fingers* THAT!”)
  • Is there really a point to getting an MFA? What do you DO with an MFA?
  • Why would you want to be a writer?
  • So, does your husband support your hobby your writing career?
  • Are you going to write about me?
  • What do you do all day at home?
  • Do you make any money?
  • What’s your novel about? (followed by glazed eyes–if you are really interested, this can have a very cool outcome).

Those are just off the top of my head. What are yours? Next up…ways in which to ANSWER these stupid questions.

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is art a numbers game?

Once, when I was at a writing colony, one of my fellow writers (actually, a Famous Writer) asked me, “So–have you been published anywhere?”

Bleah. Publishing is not the most accurate indicator of talent, but it is the most popular indicator. That question peeves me to no end for so many reasons. Yes, I’ve been published. I answered wearily where I’d been published.

“Oh! That’s a really good journal! That’s a TOP journal!” And then this Famous Writer proceeded to pay attention to me; this all made me feel MORE uncomfortable. What would she have done if I were NOT published? What kind of shitrag would I have been in her eyes? What if I had been published in a “lesser” literary magazine? I may as well have been wearing Steve Madden/Manolo-knockoffs with an Old Navy Dress on the Oscar Awards red carpet. No?

Which brings me to the NEXT question–the question of what defines a “top literary” journal. Some may say it’s the number of accolades its writers get…though the editor of ZYZZYVA begs to differ:

All “prize” and “best” lists are corrupt in an essential way: Art is not a race, and whether you prefer apples or oranges is just a matter of taste.

If you were to chart how many of the annual “prize winners” were included at the next level (The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, The Granta Book of The American Short Story, The Best American Short Stories of the Century…), which I once did, you would find that taste is fickle and that almost none of the selections actually made the annual anthologies of the year they were first published.

It is hard to recognize new talent, when it is still new: No one was willing to publish F.X. Toole until he was 69, when he appeared in ZYZZYVA Spring ’99; this story was not selected for any of the annual anthologies, but eventually it helped inspire Million Dollar Baby.

What’s he reacting to? He’s reacting to this tally of Pushcart prize winners per literary magazine since 2001. Is it an accurate indicator of “best literary journals?” You decide.

1 Ploughshares 105
2 Paris Review 66
3 Zoetrope: All Story 62
4 Conjunctions 59
5 Southern Review 56
6 Threepenny Review 48
7 Tin House 43
8 Epoch 37
9 Ontario Review 37
10 TriQuarterly 37
11 Witness 37
12 Georgia Review 34
13 New England Review 33
14 Missouri Review 30
15 Five Points 29
16 McSweeney’s 28
17 Kenyon Review 25
18 Gettysburg Review 23
19 Chelsea 21
20 Shenandoah 21
21 StoryQuarterly 21
22 Antioch Review 20
23 Doubletake 19
24 Agni 16
25 Boulevard 16
26 Third Coast 15
27 Idaho Review 14
28 Mississippi Review 14
29 Willow Spring 13
30 Iowa Review 12
31 Oxford American 12
32 ZYZZYVA 12
33 Manoa 11
34 News from the Republic of Letters 11
35 Salmagundi 11
36 Glimmer Train 10
37 Hudson Review 10
38 New Letters 10
39 Noon 10
40 VQR 10

This list should make you think.  Why do you read literary journals?  Why do you submit to literary journals?  Who is reading literary journals?  What makes a literary journal the “best?”  Is a particular literary journal discovering new writers, or is it publishing the established canon?

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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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