Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I've Run Out of Other Cheeks and There's No Room Left on the High Road.

In the nine years this blog has been going, I've tried to keep it upbeat, tried not to complain (too much or too often), or waste time or yours with petty grievances. Not today.

So there's a writer/editor who put out a call for submissions for an anthology about 18 months ago. (Let me say first, and as my readers, you likely already know: I have VERY thick skin, and roll with rejections every day.) I thought carefully about the stated theme of the anthology, and I submitted a pitch for an essay very much on-topic that also addressed an aspect of the subject matter that wasn't likely to be over-represented.

You never know with these things. I've been on the YES end of a cold anthology essay pitch many times, and I've also been on the NO end many times. You pitch (or submit), and you hope. You know it's a crapshoot. If it's a NO, you (or at least I) regroup and decide: whether to pitch the editor something else; to write the original essay anyway and find another market for it; or figure I tried, maybe this anthology is just not for me. And you walk away a little disappointed, but not particularly bruised. It's the way things go.

But in the meantime, you wait for a response, and you hope. If you're me, you start notes for the proposed essay anyway. Maybe you begin writing a brain dump draft. Because, why not?

This writer/editor's negative reply came back in less than two hours, and included all of the following:

1. The idea was "obviously outside the range of what I want." (It wasn't outside the topic at all, though it would address a little-discussed but important aspect. Okay, she didn't want to go outside that box, got it. But then shouldn't the original guidelines have noted that all ideas had to be on-the-nose? Or was she just lying about the reason for rejection, because she went on to inform me that...)

2. Even if she were inclined to like the idea, she would need someone other than ME to write it because I don't have enough "audience drawing power." (Guess she didn't like my social media numbers. Or I didn't fit into some idea of the kind of top drawer writers she wanted in the book. This seemed like the kind of opinion she ought to have kept to herself, especially as it wasn't a stated criteria. Yet if she wanted only top writers, who not solicit them directly instead of putting out a public call? Also, she's not exactly a household name herself, even in writing circles.)

3. That under no circumstances should I contact her again with another idea for this same anthology; I had my one shot already. (Wow. Didn't realize I was dealing with a royal personage who had granted me the honor of a one-time-only email audience.)

4. That under no circumstance should I give out her email address to other writers because she was already inundated with pitches. (Then why did she post it on a public website in the first place?)

It stung, it felt in part personal and mean-spirited, and in part wholly unprofessional. But I shook it off. That's what you do, right?

I also wrote the essay anyway, and it has since been published in a venue I like by an editor who treated me well. So I guess I "won" in some odd way. Still.

The anthology will be published soon, and via email, via Facebook private message, via Twitter private message, and via newsletter (which I'd sworn I'd opted out of), I've been asked to: sign up for an automated social media support campaign; write a book review; request a local bookshop to stock it; LIKE the book's Facebook page; support a giveaway; and otherwise support the book's release. (Gee, guess my reach is okay after all!).

I know the right response is no response, that the right thing to do is to do nothing, to say nothing. And so that's what I will do to "support" the book. Nothing. I will also not ever reveal this person's identity, or the name of the book.

I have been in this "business" for 30-plus years, and some days I get so freaking God awful tired of that damned high road.

That is all.

Images: All Flickr/CreativeCommons. High Road - Tim Roach/aka atoach; Red Flag-TerryJohnston.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- May 27, 2016 Edition

A big bunch of links to last you through the long weekend. Enjoy!

> Richard Russo and Jenny Boylan team up in a Studio 360 podcast, on "Plot Twists in Books--and Life," and I can't think of a better writer-friend combo to tackle this topic.

> From the front lines (or front office, anyway) of the O.Henry Prize Stories, Kelly Luce reports, in Electric Literature, on "12 Things I Noticed While Reading Every Short Story Published in 2014-15 (or, Extremely Long Titles That Are Complete Sentences Are Still Very Much a Thing)" 

> Authors, need help coordinating book promo events? Check out Have Book Will Travel, which is "connecting authors with reading series and venues."

> On Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29, you can listen in on, and ask questions, during a select few live sessions at the Creative Nonfiction Magazine Writers Conference including "Write This Way: How to Find and Develop a Niche in Your Writing" moderated by Keysha Whitaker, with Shannon Reed, Jason Bittel, and Christina Marusic; and "Ask an Editor Panel," moderated by Ellen Ayoob, with Hattie Fletcher, Geeta Kothari, and Jessica Bylander.

> The new app Litsy aims to be a place to "share and discover your favorite books with your favorite people." At Book Riot, Brenna Clarke Gray characterizes it "as if Instagram and Goodreads had a beautiful, perfect baby."

> Looking for more places to find good links for writers? Try this "Afterthoughts" newsletter from Chantel Hamilton.

> New Pages is now doing Lit Mag Reviews. (Correction: STILL doing reviews! Don't know why I thought they were a new feature at the New Pages site. I stand corrected. Still excited to know of this resource.)

> In Britain at least, The Guardian reports that paper books are outselling ebooks.

> At the Los Angeles Review, Corey Ginsberg weighs in with some rules about rejection for writers--and for editors, too.

> Finally, earlier this week, I had a horrible, no-good, very bad Monday of rejections--four in my inbox before lunch! The next morning I found Kathleen Siddell's great funny/not-funny piece, "How to Face an Inbox of Rejection" on the Brevity blog. Bravo.

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/CreativeCommons - Billie Grace Ward / wwward0

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Memoir Excerpt: Flash Nonfiction at Litbreak

Among my latest published online works is the short nonfiction piece, "Searching for Silvio," which appeared at Litbreak a couple of weeks ago. 

It's a tale about the odd things we do when someone we care about asks us to; about how, if we're honest, we do one thing but we are all the time really doing something else entirely; and about the unusual and unexpected ways grief and memory find their way into almost everything. It's also about bonds between siblings, the lifelong desire to be loved, and the gift of quirky and sometimes bothersome relatives.

Here's a small excerpt:

"First, I recruit Lenore, my best friend of 45 years, who loved my father, knows all about his dippy relatives. We canvass the hangouts, asking counter clerks and old geezers if they know my uncle, and some do, but no one has seen him in days. They call us doll and honey and give us buttered rolls and donuts. At the Hot Grill, I order a frankie-all-the-way-one. But we don’t find Silvio."

Monday, May 23, 2016

School's Out, Writing and Editing is In. But First: Clean up that room!

When the academic year ends, along with most of my teaching commitments, I like to (well, maybe not like to, but need to) sort out the piles that accumulate everywhere--on my office floor and shelves, atop the filing cabinets, on the plastic bins (the ones I keep promising myself to move to the attic), and all across my writing table. (I don't have a desk; when I redid my home office a few years ago, I bought a "seats six" dining room table instead so I'd always have a gloriously deep, wide, and clear surface. Deep and wide, yes. Clear -- not so much.)

The de-cluttering marks a mental divide almost more than a physical one. I need to tackle the summer months' client editorial projects and my own writing, with a sense of order, and for me that means clear surfaces, less detritus, and a visual sense of calm and organization. 

I'm just two hours in on the blast-and-clear task, and already I'm tired. There's a strong (Kondo-esque?) temptation to simply toss every single sticky note, piece of paper, file folder, envelope, book, magazine, and business card into one big garbage bag. But there's also the knowledge that I've been keeping all of it for a reason. And I have. 

I've uncovered the very-messy-but-promising drafts of nine possible new short essays (part of the summer writing); two books  I want to read for background (and which I almost ordered again last week) for a long essay still in the maybe-I'll-write-it-maybe-I-won't stage; the card of someone who could be helpful; and countless pages and scraps I've torn from magazines and newspapers that I wanted around for all kinds of reasons. Now the information is finding its way into the (electronic or paper) files of the appropriate projecst.

Among the scraps is a quote from an NPR interview with the author of a memoir near the top of my to-be-read pile. 

Here's writer and editor Roger Angell, 
age 95:

"Writing is hard for everybody, and I mistrust writers who find it easy. And it's still hard for me after all these years, but that's probably a good sign that it is."

I'll be diving into his memoir, This Old Man: All in Pieces, soon (the New Yorker essay of the same name was stunning). 

And I'll keep clearing the space to think, to write. Until I'm 95, I hope.

Images:  Messy office - mine; Writer at desk - Flickr/Creative Commons - Drew Coffman

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MFA Graduation Reading: Eight Years Later, Standing in Very Different Shoes

Some (not all) faculty, and all graduating students, Bay Path MFA 2016
Early this month, the seven writers who make up the first graduating class of the Bay Path University MFA program in which I teach, gathered on campus in Longmeadow, Massachusetts for a reading and celebration. 

When I got the email two months earlier, inviting faculty, it took me less than a minute to reply yes. What's a three hour drive compared to an in-real-life event of that importance? Yes. Yes. And, yes!

For an all-online MFA program, still in its toddlerhood, having those newly minted MFA students—as well as a handful of other students whose programs are still in progress—plus seven faculty members (who could make the trip), the program director, tech and program support staff, dean, and college president, all in the same room (the university's library, of course), was wildly wonderful. 
For me, the day brought memories of completing my own MFA eight years ago. Standing in different shoes this time—watching and listening to writers whose MFA journey I helped mentor—was an especially fulfilling and humbling experience. It helped me understand better why my own MFA graduating class's mentors were once shedding tears.
As I listened to the students read, I kept thinking what a privilege it is to have witnessed, and helped nurture, their transformation from excited new MFA students whose work held so much promise, to far more skilled, more confident, more interesting writers, who are delivering on that promise many times over.
It was my lucky good fortune to introduce two of the student readers. As I delivered the introductions, I was far more nervous than I ever am reading my own work in public. The occasion felt weighty, as if I had been entrusted with a job of great import, and would have only one chance to do it right. It was also very clear to me that it was not at all about me. 
realized that hardly anything equates to the feeling of telling a roomful of eagerly waiting people just how lucky they are—because they are about to hear something special, created and so carefully polished, by someone they care about.
While I was writing those brief introductions, I found myself constantly in mind of something Richard Hoffman, a faculty member of the Stonecoast MFA program, once said to me, on the eve of my own graduation: that it was time for me to cease being his student and be welcomed into the literary world as his colleague.
I have new colleagues now. Lucky me.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- May 13, 2016 Edition

>The new issue of Brevity is live, and with it, a craft essay from Amye Archer on objectivity in memoir, including this wise tip about what happens when we revise and revise to uncover the full story, not just our own (perhaps angry) version: "With each retelling of the story, we pull the lens further and further away from our scene, until the full landscape of our lives – both sides of the story – become visible to the reader."

> I was incensed but not the tiniest bit surprised when a publisher more or less admitted, that a writer's -- no let's be clear, a female writer's -- facial appearance and weight negatively affect offers and advances. At The Toast, Mallory Ortberg breaks it down. (Bottom line: beware if you're "hard to look at.")

>At LitHub, Danielle Dutton has some words"On Terrible Writing Advice from Famous Writers." 

>Sorry to see that hybrid publisher Booktrope has closed shop.

>The fabulously helpful Trish Hopkinson offers useful advice, resources, and submission options for previously published work.

> I've, mentioned Poetry Has Value here before, and now I've discovered (thanks, Erika Dreifus), The Whole Megillah, where writer Barbara Krasner is sharing her submission/rejection/payment/investment stats for multiple genres. (And she's inviting other writers to join her in sharing their own stats.

>Finally, a tip I often give about successfully placing short, personal essays--especially those keyed to a timely season or event--is to zig when others zag. That's what I did last week, when the ultra-sentimental Mother's Day pieces were piling up, and I thought RoleReboot might like my very different idea about that holiday.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, May 9, 2016

When an Essay Idea Simmers...and Then Moves to the Front Burner

For about two years, I knew I wanted to write something about the day my family and I tried to take my aging mother to see a play in New York City, and things didn't go as expected. I knew it was about: Mom, thwarted plans, a bit of sadness or regret….and, well, something else I couldn't quite name.

So the idea/itch resided where so many similar ones do – in my notebook, in the farthest back of my brain, maybe a little bit inside my heart and—in limbo. So many of the essays and short memoir pieces I write start there. Some spend more time there than others. Some end there too.

Unless, or until, something happens.

In this case, it was a theme call I noticed for a planned essay anthology, about "the theater" that jolted me into action. Suddenly I realized, while my story was about all of those things I mentioned above, what it was truly about was my mother's relationship to the act of going to Broadway plays, what that meant for me, and her bittersweet quest to see just one more.

While the piece I eventually wrote wasn't accepted for that anthology, "Jersey Nights on Broadway," found a lovely home this past winter at a wonderful site that features quirky, sad, funny, unusual, and everyday true stories about New York City.

If you've ever stopped to consider how something a parent began for you at a young age has threaded through both of your lives, you might like to read it over at Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. Here's a tiny excerpt: 
…When my mother aged, and even after she lost my father after 59 years of marriage, and her visits dwindled, and she found it hard to walk too far, she still asked, "What's good on Broadway?" Around 2009, on a springtime visit, she wanted to see Jersey Boys, and told me to buy good seats for us all – Frank, me, and our sons, then about 16 and 12….
 What do you do with your embryonic story ideas while they take their time growing into something?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers - May 6, 2016 Edition

>It may not be all of them, but this list of literary venues that pay writers, at The Review Review, is a good start.

> Bookfox's annual "Ranking of Literary Nonfiction Markets," based on which journals and magazines are recognized by Best American Essays, is always illuminating--and useful, if you're planning submissions strategy.

> Gay Talese may not feel inspired, but most writers and avid readers will be, by this New York magazine post listing "
The Queens of Nonfiction: 56 Women Journalists Everyone Should Read".

> Elizabeth S. Craig tweets dozens of links to good posts about the writing craft and periodically compiles them, like this list

> As so many of the nonfiction pieces over there are, here is a beautifully written essay by Robyn Russell, at The Rumpus. That is all.

> Useful tips, at the start of any feedback/workshop situation, on how to accept, evaluate, use, and learn from comments, advice, and suggestions on your work.

>Finally, while you may think you have gotten every kind of rejection a writer could get, 
check out this over at The Reject Pile, and also note the transparency of the guidelines at the Journal of Universal Rejection.

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

From Lemons to Lemonade, with Writing, Loss, and a Speeding Car in Between

Winter and early spring have been a chaotic few months, bitter and a little hard to take. It began with knee surgery for my husband, followed a few weeks later by the loss of his much-loved father, with whom he worked, side by side, for nearly 40 years. 

Then, about three months of  recurrent illnesses (and tests and a bit of surgery) for me, and finally--as if my family wasn't already feeling like we'd gotten hit by a speeding vehicle, an actual speeding vehicle turned a quarter of my husband's  brick and concrete warehouse into a drive-thru. (Fortunately, hubby was 20 feet away from the crashed wall--though 20 seconds before he was right behind it.) Seeing your husband bowed first by loss and then by the physical destruction of the place where he and his father built their business, is something I don't yet have words for.

Yes, life goes on. As life went on the last few months, I kept writing, because--well, that's what we writers do, right? We write. Nonfiction writers especially write about what's swirling through our lives, buffeting us with emotions and situations we'd rather avoid, or don't understand, or find confusing, stressful, emotionally demanding. We write, not sure why some days, or where any of it may lead.

What I've been scribbling over the winter of discontent may or may not ever amount to anything. Right now all those hand written pages are just pages, just notes and half-simmered thoughts and ideas of what may make a good essay--one day. For now, it's just marinating. Another day, I'll peek under the lid and see what the stew holds, maybe ladle out something that looks or smells promising.

Meanwhile, the writing life went on, goes on...

~ The academic semester is ending, and later this week, I'm heading to the campus of Bay Path University in Massachusetts to see our first creative nonfiction MFA class graduate--and meet most of my online students for the first time, as they read from the creative work I've witnessed them conceive, craft and revise and rewrite, for the past two years. 

~ My fingers are crossed that a 2017 AWP panel proposal will be accepted. 

~ Fall courses are penciled in.

~ The rejections arrive, are duly noted. And the essays and short memoir pieces and pitches go out again.

~ An essay close to my heart has been accepted by a print journal I admire (with a fall publication date).

~ I've sent off a rewritten memoir manuscript--this time a more traditional linear narrative (transformed from a linked essay collection). Will YOU cross your fingers for me on that one?

Meanwhile, it's spring (though the continuing cold weather in New Jersey suggests otherwise). The crappy winter is in the rear view mirror. Summer is ahead. And, lemonade.


Images: Flickr/Creative Commons -- Lemons (BobBertholf); Lemonade (LaurenAllik-Floating/Vibes)