Spent fall break revising and submitting new work, in between job applications and eating Pilgrims. I feel caught between. Projects, places, books. Only a week before I head to AZ to visit with family and friends, so any new routine I start will be disrupted. Bah! The spring semester will be here before I can sneeze, though. I’m teaching and/or TA’ing the entire survey of British Literature between now and July. This fills me with deep joy, knowing that I’ll be rereading novels/stories/poems/essays I adore for at least the next seven months. I have no idea what full canon immersion will do to my writing, but my breakthrough/first publication (Brevity) happened during the last semester I TA’d a literature survey course, so I’ll be writing like a mad thing and hoping for osmosis.
On the publication front, I’ve had a piece accepted at Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. The magazine is a beautiful, serious upstart (less than a year old), and their editors are all poets. Full of admiration for the weird and wonderful fabulism they selected for issue one. They picked up the title story from my collection, an oddball nighttime logic flashfic — acceptance received on Thanksgiving Day, too. Something to be thankful for (the list is long).
Happy Thanksgiving/fall break to you. Have an articulated hand turkey.
Friend, critic, and fellow fiction writer M. Shelly Connor has returned to the blogosphere with a post on American Horror Story: Coven and fat shaming. Check it.
The other project that’s been keeping me busy:
This past week, myself and a pile of writer-friends launched this.
I’m absurdly proud of it. I was mostly working on the prose side of things (although the poetry is absolutely excellent). Liner notes: I’m very happy we’re part of Davis Schneiderman’s [SIC] project, which pushes on the utility and bounds of copyright law. Nicole Walker is a mentor and friend, and her microessays are playful critiques of the ascendancy of flash-everything. Jared Sexton’s story ends on an arresting image that critiques the “white dude has marriage problems” brand of literary fiction. And Jen Phillis’s criticism engages with both the aesthetics and politics of contemporary poetry to conclude that: “Art, for Bedient and Goldsmith, only has meaning or value once it becomes part of the world. For art to count as art, they believe, the audience must respond to it. That is, they believe that the poem—whether a conceptual poem or a poem of affect—is ultimately defined by the audience, not the poet….In other words, both Bedient and Goldsmith define meaning as if it were a property of the body or of a community of consumers. As such, they cannot simultaneously believe that the art of poetry is an autonomous aesthetic activity. If that’s the case, we can go ahead and do without poems altogether, can’t we?”
Why aren’t you reading the rest already?
Art by Kelda Martensen.
[Post originally written in September. This is the purest evidence of how thoroughly this semester's gotten away from me.]
So many happy things to announce that I don’t know where to begin. I won a prize! The complete story will appear in an anthology out from Mixer Publishing this year. I am particularly pleased because I very much like Paul Tremblay’s work, as well as the post-genre aesthetic that Mixer cultivates. 1.
Also, my work will be appearing in the September/October joint issue of Matter. I’ll post a link as soon as it goes live. 2.
Last night I went to a book launch party 3., and the weekend before I went to see Neko case. It’s been (much like this post) one thing after another. I’ve completed one round of physical therapy and am nearly through a second round; I’ve changed pretty much all of my writing routines so as to better protect my body 4. It seems to be working: I’m back to writing and revising consistently, on top of teaching (which is always a joy) 5. I have no idea where I’ll be or what’s I’ll be doing in the next few years, but I love when I get to do now, and maybe that’s enough? 6.
1. This really was thrilling. After exchanging a series of giddy emails, I wound up going out for coffee with one of the editors, Rebekah, and we had a fabulous conversation about the state of creative nonfiction, affirmative culture, and the backstory of how she and Steven Owen started up Mixer. They are good people. I’ll likely be giving a reading at AWP Seattle as part of a Mixer lineup. Can’t wait.
2. This piece has been out for a while now, and I’m terribly happy it found such a good home. Thank you to Virginia, Glenn, and Michelle for curating such an excellent and thought-provoking journal.
3. My friend and colleague Laura Krughoff’s book, My Brother’s Name, came out in September, and she’s been book touring like a mad thing. The book itself is brilliant. From a writeup that I posted over on Facebook: “The two POV characters are the caretakers of a schizophrenic, and the book explores how their lives are shaped by him, for good sometimes, but ultimately mostly for ill. He’s never given a POV of his own. Which is to say, I found the book to be extremely emotionally accurate to my experience. I was a well-intentioned but clueless wannabee caretaker of someone whose mental illness was far beyond my powers to help. I probably made things much much worse, actually. The book’s mostly about what it means to have your identity shaped by a desire to caretake someone who’s desperately ill. It spoke to my experience, and I’m grateful it exists.”
4. I completed two months of physical therapy and now have a rigid routine involving wrist braces, icing, painkillers, and timed breaks. The pain is mostly managed now, and I’m back to writing consistently. Three new stories drafted this semester (two of them already run through Luis Urrea’s workshop), plus revisions to older work. I’m relieved that the new routine seems to be working, and I’m slowly ramping back up to my pre-cubital tunnel rate of production.
5. I’m teaching a fiction workshop, and I’m in love. My students are phenomenal: hyper-engaged, thoughtful, willing to take risks, but also (and perhaps most importantly) able to offer kind criticism to one another. I’ve been putting more time in to my teaching than is probably reasonable, but who knows when I’ll get to teach fiction again? I’m going to savor every second.
6. I’m on the academic job market, which is a time-consuming endeavor, nevermind the paralyzing fear of the unknown that comes with it. My writing life has never been anything but a cobbled-together combination of hopes, dreams, fears, a barely livable wage, and a troughful of elbow grease. This process is just more of same.
“I’ve been reluctant to produce much of a net footprint (blog/comment-fielding/interviews, etc.) bc I’m paralytically aware of what good intentions can devolve into on the web, a space, like every other cultural space capital permits and maintains, that’s characterized by brevity and disposability and by the reaction-attributes that accompany brevity and disposability: speed, loudness and, often, aggression, contempt, caricature, branding, etc. It’s not that I don’t think mutual regard and atelic inquiry can happen in the thereless there, they do, but not often enough and not thoroughly enough for me to see it as a peculiarly exciting public space for thinking about poetry with others. And it’s hard for me to risk thought about poetry with such uncertainty about fellowship.”
–Geoffrey G. O’Brien
I spent the past two weeks taking an honest-to-goodness vacation. When I was 11, we had a foreign exchange student from Germany live with us for a year. Well, she’s getting married this month, and although I couldn’t make the wedding, I was able to visit her so as to meet her husband-to-be and two adorable children. She’s living in Zürich now, so we spent our days by the lake or walking the town, and on the last day did a short hike in the mountains. Then I met up with my parents in Amsterdam, home of the house-hook:
When I was 16, we lived there, and I made friends with another student at the Dutch high school I attended. Judith was also getting married this month, and we arrived in Amsterdam just in time to attend her wedding. I visited the Stedelijk Museum and the Rijksmuseum, ate delicious Indonesian food, and spent time with great friends while failing to remember much Dutch beyond “alstublieft.” It’s been a very long time since I took an actual vacation, especially one where I wasn’t still working most days. Given the state of my wrists, though, it seemed like an opportune time to give myself a real break.
Wrists are feeling a bit better after many days away from the computer, and I’m happy to be back in Chicago where my dictation software lives. No travel plans from now until the MMLA conference in November, hooray! After months of much travel, I’m looking forward to the semester starting (I’m teaching a fiction class and a science-fiction themed composition class) so I can settle in to my usual routine. James is thousands of words ahead of me. Must catch up!
Two pieces of happy news: I had a panel picked up for this year’s AWP in Seattle, WA: “Give Me Your Vampires, Your Fae, Your Bulbous Alien Masses Yearning to Be Free: Teaching Genre in the Creative Writing Classroom.” It will feature Rachel Swirsky, Cat Rambo, Nick Mamatas, and Rahul Kanakia. Our panel description:
“Realist and experimental fiction writers often express nervousness about allowing their undergraduates to submit fantasy and science fiction to workshop. Some go so far as to ban such work outright, a tactic that can defuse young writers’ enthusiasm. Join writers whose work has appeared in both literary and genre publications as they discuss how a successful undergraduate workshop can include teaching serious genre fiction.”
I owe an enormous thanks to Rahul, without whom the panel wouldn’t have happened. I’m very excited to discuss genre pedagogy with such a stellar group of writers, and the range of perspectives should make for a very interesting conversation. If you are planning to attend AWP, I hope you’ll stop by!
The second piece of happy news: after Clarion, the first major goal for many (most?) alums is qualifying for SFWA. A bunch of my classmates have already done this; I’d hoped to pull it off within a year of finishing Clarion. That didn’t happen, but I can’t whine too much, since apparently my reprint sale to Prime Books counts as a third qualifying sale (thanks to Alisa Alering for pointing this out). I finally emailed Kate Baker at SFWA to check on my eligibility, and lo, I was indeed eligible. Filled out the paperwork today and am now waiting to hear back. One more life goal I can cross off the list.
Both of these things have been added to my resume, just in time for job application season to begin. Couldn’t have come at a better time.
Regular blogging is taking a serious hit thanks to ongoing health problems. I sincerely apologize if I’ve been out of contact in real life. After several weeks of painkillers and lifestyle changes, I’m irked to report no change to my pain levels. A combination of stretching and massage have done the most good, but the relief doesn’t last and is negated by even the most minimal handwriting, typing, or Internet scrolling.
Things I’m supposed to be doing right now on top of teaching my summer writing course: building two classes I’m scheduled to teach in the fall, both of which I’m very excited about (some of this is already done). Drafting a chapbook of interlinked stories I’ve had planned out for ages. Finishing a downdraft of the novel I just outlined at the CSSF workshop. Drafting materials for my upcoming attempt at the job market (some of this is already done). Keeping up with my usual slate of reading, which includes reading books for future reviews, reading novels/stories to look for formal attributes I can steal for my own work, reading crit and theory as the yen strikes, and reading friends’ work for critique. What do all these things have in common? I desperately want and/or need to do them, and they all require me to use my wounded limbs. Classic plaint of the repetitive-strain injured.
In theory, I should be hearing from a doctor on Monday to get a referral to a specialist. I’m working toward a solution as quickly as I can. I’ve also quit drinking, with the exception of a few going away parties for a close friend who’s moving to Montana in a week to take an academic position. After that, I think I really am done with booze. I took two weeks off from drinking out of fear for my liver while I was taking such high doses of Motrin. My mood stabilized dramatically, which was a shocking revelation given the pressure I’m currently feeling, between health problems and the impending job market. I’m not sure I can handle a daily intake of depressants until this phase of my life is behind me — and even then, I’m not sure I want to be able to handle it anymore.
People keep asking me for advice about writing, and academia, and getting into programs, and I think I may need to take a page from the Rahul Kanakia playbook and refuse to dispense such advice going forward, for two reasons: 1) I love the work I get to do and my brilliant friends and students, but there’s nothing long-term sustainable about my current situation, making me feel like a hypocrite-pontificator whenever I try to explain the vagaries of academia and publication, and 2) Dragon works, but it’s time-consuming (a blog post that used to take me 10 minutes now takes the over an hour; multiply that by every story or essay I write, every review, every critique, every email) and I’m barely able to stay on top of my current commitments. Which is to say, I’ve met some wonderful people and had some fantastic conversations as a result of this blog, but I may need to do more of that type of socializing in person at conventions and conferences, rather than by email, at least until I get faster at Dragon.
I’ve been reading Cat Valente’s recent long posts about weight loss and health in context of self-care. The past two years have been a lesson my body is determined to teach me that self-care is nonnegotiable. I’m finally starting to learn that lesson, but I did a lot of damage playing hard in my 20s. No regrets, but the damage-doing? Ends now.
In happy news, I have a piece coming out in The Collagist in a matter of days. My friend and colleague Virginia Konchan curated a collection of essays on heroines and monstrosity for the issue, and my essay/story hybrid, “On the Psyche Ward,” is included in it. I’ll put up a link when the issue’s live. This is also the first piece that I wrote and revised primarily in Dragon. Things that are less fun than they sound on the box: learning a new software while under deadline. I was ultimately pleased with how the piece came out, however, and very pleased when Matt Bell accepted it.
And now I’m off to the gym to do no arm exercises whatsoever.
I went to see the doctor today, and the news is positive. My situation is not dire; I’m nowhere near the point of surgery, and it’s likely that some affordable interventions will seriously improve my pain levels while typing. It is indeed a repetitive strain injury, something called cubital tunnel syndrome, which is causing pain in my elbow and pinky finger. The ulnar nerve in my right arm is inflamed, and I’m on an intensive anti-inflammatory regimen for the next week. Hopefully I’ll see some improvement pretty quickly.
In the meantime, I’m back at the gym (spin class and ab work) and trying to solidify a routine after many months of travel related disruption. Less drinking, more healthy eating, etc. Humorously, I spent much of my dissertation leave trying to get my exercise and health routines in order, and the ab class I’ve been attending since January features long plank holds that likely as not have exacerbated my elbow pain infinitely more than the crazy 5000 word writing days I’ve been pulling. Good behavior bites me in the ass.
In other good news, I just received confirmation today that I will be teaching a summer enrichment composition workshop over the next five weeks, starting Monday. I’m very excited, and although I’m loath to lose the writing time, I do love teaching, especially to motivated students.
The summer novel workshop was Clarion all over again. I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially to science fiction and fantasy writers who’ve already survived the boot camp that is Clarion and who are struggling to make the transition from short fiction to novel writing. The workshop is structured on a collaborative model that harnesses the power of nine brains to poke holes in the neat and tidy outline you’ve made of your book. I suppose I could have written this novel without the workshop, but it would’ve taken me a dozen drafts to achieve a book shaped object, if I’d ever have gotten there. After the workshop, if I can just draft the book based on the outline I hammered out over the past two weeks, I will have saved myself years of rewriting. It’s difficult to describe the process; suffice to say, if you are at all a social person, this workshop will harness that sociability in service to your novel, in the best way possible. I left with wonderful friends whose brains I trust to push my work to places where I’ve been afraid to tread.
No new publications to announce, just a pile of rejections, although mostly kind personals. I do feel like my writing has reached a new level this year, in that I’m seeing more publications and more personals. I’m very hopeful that the CSSF workshop will produce a similar exponential leap in my writing as did Clarion.
Thanks to all of you who posted kind comments on this blog, or sent me consoling emails, or typed up my outline in the second week of workshop to save me pain (Becky, I’m looking at you). I’m thrilled that there appears to be many ways to mediate my pain and prevent long-term problems, and I’m excited to get back to the writing routine I put on hold when all this nerve nonsense began.
In sum, for those of you about to embark on a dissertation leave or novel project, I strongly encourage you not to abuse your bodies. This could have been much, much worse had I let it go. Instead, I now have 1000 words of my novel drafted in Dragon, a bucket of Motrin to consume, summer teaching, and a sliver of hope. It’s not precisely the summer I’d had planned, but I’ll take it.
This post has been a long time in coming. The reason I have been away from my blog for so long is that I appear to have developed a repetitive strain injury. I haven’t wanted to use my hands for writing blog posts when I can barely use them for writing stories. Why am I wasting these words on a blog post, then? I got a copy of Dragon dictation on an education discount and it runs (barely, sub optimally) on my laptop. It’s better than nothing.
The good news is, I managed to complete my submission for novel workshop. The bad news is, I hurt myself pretty badly in doing so. My right Pinkie no longer bends very well, and it hurts when I use it to type anything. I’ ve been using this bizarre, contorted typing method involving using my index finger to do the work of my wounded Pinkie finger, and that’ s making my wrist hurt, and I pretty much feel like I can’ t win.
This is a whole lot of whining. At least technology like Dragon exists, and once I learn how to use it a bit more effectively, I’m hopeful that will change my life. I’m only 31; my body shouldn’t be breaking this badly just yet. I’m a little concerned about what the technology change is going to mean process wise for my writing, but it’s not like I have much choice in the matter. I’m still planning on attending the novel workshop, but my critiques will be shorter and I’m unlikely to be marking up pages with my usual thoroughness. Hopefully my Clarionmates will vouch for me that I’ m typically a conscientious critiquer; I hate how everything has become just a little bit more difficult, difficult enough to make everything I do sub par.
Add to this that I have two new course preparations for the fall semester, one of which is a class taught partly online, and I’m absolutely terrified that I won’t be able to get everything done thanks to this injury. I’ve made an appointment to see a doctor, but the likeliest scenario is repetitive strain, in which case all I can do is not use it. I’m a writer, a graduate student, and teacher; telling me not to type, to not use my hands, is like telling a fish not to swim.
Apparently my similes are crappier on Dragon. Apologies. I can’t predict how the next few months will look. There’s a chance I’ll be blogging more as I learn how to use this software; there’s a chance I’ll be blogging less, because if it winds up being usable for my writing, I’ll still be trying to balance writing blog posts with writing stories. Still, the fact I’m able to write this blog post gives me hope. Interesting fact: Dragon can still understand what you’re saying through pathetic tears of frustration. Also it thinks the sound of a person blowing her nose is the letter I.
If I’m late returning an email or behind on a deadline, please know I’ m terribly sorry and that I’ m trying to get my feet (or at least my hands) underneath me after what has been, given that it’s still my dissertation leave, a devastating setback.
Enough whining. I’m going to try writing a story on this thing, and then we’ll know exactly how screwed I am. Although if it goes anything like writing this blog post, I’m going to be okay. Turtle slow, but okay. Sigh.
I have ten days remaining to get my submission together for the novel workshop. It’s coming along in fits and starts, always less quickly than I’d hoped, and with more screaming and gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair. That said, when it’s good, it’s very very good. Not the words themselves (those are still awful and messy and new) but the falling into trance-state where your fingers can barely keep up with the story your mind wants to tell — keep going faster faster more more! And then three hours have gone by and your butt’s numb and it’s time to get up and stretch and pace and plot the next bit. Like that. Sometimes it’s hell, and other times it’s the perfect drug, and all you can do is show up at your desk at the appointed time and hope.
I’ll blog the process after it’s done, when I can see it (the novel, the process) clearly. Both are still fragile and unformed, not yet ready for scrutiny.
Mad drafting (and an unfortunate bout of illness) has kept me away from social networking, and will probably continue to do so, possibly until after novel workshop, although knowing me I’ll start blogging once the workshop itself starts up. My fellow novel-workshop-goers all seem smart and kind and well-published, and I’m looking forward to spending two weeks of wrist-breaking labor with them.
Below, my schedule for Wiscon. I’m excited and terrified and I have an insane amount of prepwork to do in too little time.
The Author Is Dead, The Author Is Among Us
Michael Marc Levy, Bessy Gokey, Jeanne Griggs, Eileen Gunn, Brooke Wonders
Sat, 10:00–11:15 am, Conference 4
The “Death of the Author” school of literary criticism holds that the intentions and biographical experiences of the author should not be considered when analyzing and critiquing creative works, that the impressions and interpretations of readers matter more than the intentions of the writer. But, on the Internet, the author is not only very much alive, but may be only a click and a comment away. How do we reconcile this argument against authorial privilege within a community where the author is often a participant in the critical conversation? Can we talk about the author being dead, even as the author sits among us?
Beyond the Genre v. Literary Debate
Richard Chwedyk, Ben Burgis, Jeanne Griggs, Michael Marc Levy, Brooke Wonders
Sat. 1-2:25pm Room 629
Arthur Krystal of The New Yorker harps on the “limitations” of genre fiction; Lev Grossman insists in Time Magazine that literary fiction is a genre just like any other genre, and that lots of genre fiction is actually very good by any literary standard. People, is there a way to make this debate less frigging boring? Let’s talk about what those apparently polar opposites, pulp fiction and literary modernism, might have in common; about what it takes for critics to read genre fiction well; and about the class issue that looms over this topic but hasn’t made its way into either The New Yorker or Time.
Steal Like an Artist
SN Arly, Kater Cheek, Alexander Erin, Michael Underwood, Brooke Wonders
Sat. 4-5pm, Conference 4
In March 2011 Austin Kleon posted a concise presentation on artists and ideas on his blog. The central focus was that there are no truly new ideas, just new and different (and sometimes not so new and different) mashups of old ideas or combinations of existing things. How do you steal like an artist? What’s safe or okay to steal? When is something not safe, off limits or even illegal to steal? How does this make fiction more realistic or believable? When taking ideas or elements from cultures other than your own, what’s okay to use and at what point does it cross the line into unacceptable cultural appropriation?
Also, a new publication to announce! My short-story “Memoir” will appear in Wreckage of Reason II, an anthology of experimental women’s writing, out in 2014. I am tremendously pleased this story has found a home. It was one of my Clarion application stories, so it has a soft spot in my heart, since it won me seventeen lovely writer-friends plus James.
And finally, my story, “The Entomologist’s Three Ballgowns,” which I read at Wit Rabbit back in September of 2012 (the day after Worldcon ended. I was SO tired), will go live as part of Electric Velocipede 26 on May 2. The cover teaser is out, and it’s going to be gorgeous. I’ll once again be appearing alongside E. Catherine Tobler, whose work I adore. I feel like I’m following her around the web.
Sheesh, news piles up when I’m away from the blog for too long. Happy springtime, Chicago! And now, back under a rock with me.