A new leaf

I’ve been gone a long time. Tri-state visit to the East Coast: MD, PA, & NY. I learned that a backyard in Brooklyn on a Saturday night can seem like a quiet Pennsylvania town, but there’s still sugarcane for sale 6 blocks away.

It was turkey hatching season in PA and it seemed like everyday we scared out a turkey, fifty feed ahead jerking down the path like a robot jogger. One day there was a cracked turkey egg, all speckled brown and leaky embryo.

I had some bad writing news (rejection) and some good writing news (scholarship). The rejection hit me pretty hard. I took the dog out for a walk up the mountain, and among the gnats and ferns, thought it was probably really stupid of me to ever have thought I could write anything and I would probably write and write for my whole life and still just be an embarrassing, boring mess. Rejection still feels the same, but I recover quicker. 24 hours instead of 6 months.

Being away from home is a good time to plan your wholesome new life. I plan to go back to Fang-Fang. I plan to read more short stories. I plan to be a better person, have a cleaner house, be kinder to the leper cat (Squeaky, you know who you are), work less, write more, eat fewer chocolate chips straight out of the 10-pound Sam’s Club bag, and pull the weeds in my garden.

It’s a long drive from Indiana to Central PA. I am thankful for audiobooks and vegetable roll sushi from the Kroger in Athens, OH.

What do these 3 books have in common?


For starters, they all have covers that I am embarrassed that anyone would see me walking around with. Maybe not the Raven so much, but that loopy red yarn ‘love’ that echoes the nauseating ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ and the wholesome mother (in nurturing Earth Tones) embracing her cretinous kid (also in a The-Kids-At-School-May-Spit-At-Me-But-At-Least-My-Mommy-Loves-Me palette of contemporary greige).

But what they really have in common is a great big FAIL that only I can see. At home I have this bookshelf. Okay, maybe two bookshelves. And that pile on top of the recycling. At my library, you can check books out indefinitely, so I’ve had some of these books 2 or 3 years. I promised myself that I would start reading them, and I’ve been pretty good about it. But I also promised myself that I would not, would NOT, check out a single other book from the Lenient Library until I had read and returned every last one. Guess where these 3 books came from?

These are (probably) not good books. I would never pay money for these books. But I was meeting someone at the library today and was 10 minutes early. So I maybe just kind of sort of wandered to have a look at the ‘New Arrivals’ section, and half a sentence browsed here and a page turned there and why not take them home. It’s hard to have shopper’s remorse about things that are free.  I console myself that 2 of them are short story collections, so I can read one story from each, feel virtuous (hello Try Something New mini-challenge), and return them with a clear conscience.

Doing It Again

Revision is something I struggle with. For years, I didn’t know what it meant. I thought it was some sort of advanced authorial copyediting, where I leaned back and admired the matchless sheen of my prose and gave the 100-watt corners an extra buff with the word-chamois to bring them up to 110.

That wasn’t revision, that was narcissism. It was also kind of boring. Real revision – taking apart your story, your characters, your presumptions, your plots, your locations, your motivations piece-by-piece, can be exhilarating.

It’s also – for me, at least – a miserable, tooth-gnashing, soul-destroying self-flagellation. In life, I’m a hard-core pessimist. But in first drafts, I’m sunshine pollyanna. I absolutely believe that I can write anything I like, that the good stuff comes from the uninterrupted, unmediated unconcious, and that I, as writing manuals are so fond of instructing, “can always fix it later.”

Good advice. Except they never mention just how hard that fix is. Maybe there’s some zen koan secret to it, where if I would just give up and stop struggling, stop fixating on my original inspiration, stop believing that the finished product should have a passing relation to why I wanted to write the story in the first place, I would be writing better stories.

I have been helped, psychologically, by watching some writer friends go through the same thing. Seeing their work taken down 19 or 20 pegs in critique, and seeing them come back with a whole new manuscript, re-thought, re-considered, and re-written. The act of watching it happen in someone else somehow makes it more possible. Because I know in the end my problem with revision is not about craft: it’s about fear.

As Karen Outen says in this article from Glimmer Train, “The general fear of revision is, of course, simply our fear that what we want from our stories cannot be achieved.” She’s 100% right. And while I think I’m a long way from the “joyful” she’s talking about, every little bit helps.

Any of you other writers want to comment on your feelings about revision? I would really love to hear how it works for someone else. I even understand that there are some people/loonies out there who claim to love revision, and say it’s their favorite part of the process.

Fast Forward

Wow. Busy week. 

And a train wreck in my head. When I sat down to look at the bloated (16,000 words and not finished) 2-year old story that I promised myself would be my next housekeeping project, I realized:

a) It was way worse than I remembered
b) I didn’t want to do that much work on something that wasn’t a novel

So, time to get back on that novel wagon….but which one? I thought I’d have another few weeks to decide, and now my stomach hurts. It’s not that I don’t fully intend to complete both, but choosing one means shutting the door on the other for a long time. Once I’m committed, I’ll be fine, but I feel like if I make the wrong choice, I’ll always be looking back over my shoulder.

This explains everything

Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another.” [read the rest here]

Or read Matt Ruff’s awesome Set This House in Order. Sometimes I really wish I had a Maledicta.

Step One

Start blog.

I’m taking a break from writing this month; because of visitors, because of Scotland, because of oh-my-god-how-am-I-going-to-fix-all-of-that, because summer is ending and I know I’m not going to cope, just like I don’t cope every year. So it seems like a good time to spend some words here, which I’ve been meaning to do. Because, you know, it would be a good idea. Preparing for the future, and all that.