Slight case of overwhelm.

I have been scarce about these parts and am like to get scarcer.

I’ve been accepted into this for summer 2013.  Am terribly excited and terribly terrified.  Is a tremendous amount of work needs doing between now and June 2, and pages are due to the other seven workshop members by May 15.  Given that my current process involves slamming out a fugly down draft before I can even see what I’ve got, that means an insane amount of words need to get written between now and then.  I’d prefer to nighttime logic a down draft, then outline * what I’ve actually written * instead of murdering any enthusiasm I might have for the project by overthinking it to death.

The good news is, this means that I’ll be using my dissertation leave to the utmost extent.  Can’t imagine I’ll look back at these few months and think, “only two book drafts completed?  What a slacker I was!”  I’ve heard so many stories of people going on diss leave and proceeding to watch All of Television and/or read the Entire Internet, only to turn around and wonder where the time went.  This will not be me.

Although, to be fair, I did just lose two weeks to vacation.

Arizona was too lovely.  James had never been to that part of the country, so we did all the tourist-y things: hiked West Fork in Sedona, Campbell Mesa and Buffalo Park in Flag, a bit of Bright Angel at Grand Canyon.  We tried to hike the Grandview, but the switchbacks looked like this:

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Sheet ice all the way down, so we had to turn back.  Still, I got a shot in the arm of gorgeous nature, which is the one thing I miss about the Southwest, now that home base is Chicago.  I didn’t make it to the gym much what with the perfect weather and the beckoning outdoors.  So yesterday I went down to campus and spun, and my brain felt much less death-y afterward.  Hopeful that part of my vacation-related writing malaise was 1) burnout from the insanity of February production and 2) insufficient exercise.

I did read Bettleheim, Propp, and Kim Stanley Robinsons’s 2312 (which had more aesthetic theory imbedded in it than either of the other two…if it doesn’t win the Hugo it’ll be a crime), so it wasn’t like I got nothing done.  Just less than I’d hoped (as usual).

Have had a small pile of personal rejections accrue on some of my favorite recent story drafts, so I’m feeling a bit low ebb in terms of faith in self and work, nevermind the mental clobbering that was AWP, so getting in to the workshop has been a much-needed pick-me-up in the face of Wall of Failure.  Just keep swimming, Girlwonders.  Just keep swimming.

(This post has an All Caps Thing going.  Sorry about that.)

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Belated AWP post.

Oh, AWP.  This was my third time attending, and I suppose I both prove and disprove Rahul’s theory of social spaces.  I knew a slew of people.  I’m familiar with most of the big-name panelists, and many of the up-and-comers as well.  I even had a few meetings set up with friends.  And yet instead of being sociable, I hid in my room like a shut-in, and/or silently tagged along with other people’s groups (sorry, Bryson).  I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches alone in the room.

If I’m going to go again, I need to go with a better ‘tude or a conference buddy who’s less morose than I am, because this time I walked away disillusioned.  I think it’s because my time in the PhD program is coming to an end, and the vast nothingness on the other side gets more grim with every passing year.  I don’t know what world of bright-sided-ness the majority of AWP-goers live on, but I definitely do not live there.  Twenty-five jobs v. 12K attendees.  We are approaching lottery-level luck, here.  But I’ll be playing the lottery next year, like it or not, applying for any and all jobs that I seem remotely qualified for.  I need a book, or a major award, or a gas station seeking night-shift attendants.

The good bits of AWP: coffee with Rahul and surprise guest Nick Mamatas, who speaks brilliantly even at a million miles an hour (plus with snark in spades).  I met the folks at Dzanc books and said thank you for picking up one of my pieces for Monkeybicycle.  I heard Kate Bernheimer speak, not once but twice (recently read Ketzia Gold for prospectus research, so I was interested in hearing her discuss her theoretical commitments).  Got a few good leads on new fabulist books forthcoming, so hopefully I can submit a few reviews to American Book Review over the coming months.  Wrote on my own stuff three of the four days I was at the conference.  Heard Lily Hoang and Alissa Nutting speak.  Ran in to Nicole Walker and got to briefly exchange a flurry of news.  Caught up with Brian Oliu at the Fairytale Review table.  My roommates’ panel on poetry pedagogy was remarkably practical and exercise-driven, as opposed to too many of the other pedagogy panels I attended, which were content to trade bromides.  Oh, how difficult it is to teach genre!  Cry me a river, person with a Real Job.  How about this:  I’ll teach your students, you can pay me, and then you’ll never have to teach genre again.  Problem: solved.  (Snark is catching.)  Had several fabulous conversations with Megan Milks and Tyler Mills and Brianna Noll about the recent turn to the grotesque/fairytale/the fantastic mode, and about which devices are commonly conceived as fabulist, and about how Todorovian hesitation plays in to that, and about how all of this fits (or doesn’t) into the intentionalist arguments happening in literary criticism.

The bad bits: 12K people = miasmic desperation.  The fact that despite having worked with both Dinty Moore and David Shields, they were so mobbed by MFA’ers there was no way to so much as say hi.  Creative nonfiction remains ascendant; the nonfic panels were so packed that I went to the experimental and genre fiction panels instead, where I mostly I heard the same definitional arguments regurgitated, same as the last two times I went.  Give me formalism over these fluffy accounts any day.

And now I’m in Arizona for Spring Break.   March has been devoured by travel. Can’t wait to get back into my usual writing groove in April.

I’m just gonna put this out there.

If anyone will be at AWP and wants to connect, hit me up.  Leave a comment here, poke me on Facebook, leave me a Tweet, shoot me an email (brookewonders777 at hotmail).  I have no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be up to — reconnecting with old mentors and friends, mostly.  Some panel attendance, some offsite readings.  I’m not giving a panel myself, but I’ll definitely be at Brianna Noll and Tyler Mills’ poetry panel.  Beyond that, all is fluid.

I’m trying for Zen AWP.  My first AWP I acted like it was a full-time job and ran myself into the ground paneling and meeting up with people and buzzing around the bookfair, to the point that my third day at the conference I wound up sleeping through two panels I’d very much wanted to see because I just.  Couldn’t. Wake.  Up.  Last year AWP was in Chicago, but it was held the week before my preliminary exams (whhhyyyy?).  This situation forced me to chill the eff out, and lo, I was actually able to enjoy the conference, plus I met some fantastic people: Anna Joy Springer, Alissa Nutting, Steve Tomasula, etc.  I’m hoping to stick to that model, rather than reverting to the former psychosis.

I may mass blog AWP post the conference, like I did with Worldcon.  Or not, I haven’t yet decided.  Depends how much writing I get done while I’m gone, and how many amusing anecdotes pile up.  At moment it feels like there are too many projects cluttering up my brainspace.  I actually want to keep up my daily writing while I’m there.  No idea if I can make that happen, but I plan to try.

This blogpost is brought to you by Amanda Palmer’s TED talk.  And yes, I know we all hate TED talks with their feel-good lack of crit and promulgation of error-ridden and oversimplified talking points.  But for those of you who are not hollowed-out shells of people, let this briefly make you reconsider your faith in random strangers:

But yeah.  You.  Yeah, you.  If you want to grab a cup of coffee or a drink or something, lemme know.  The whole point of conferencing is the people, not the panels.

New flash, short month.

New flash story is up at Mirror Dance!  I’m a sincere admirer of Megan Arkenberg’s work–this Lightspeed piece is particularly stunning—and I’m very happy “Never Sever” found a home in one of her magazines.  I’m in good company, too; the rest of the issue is Weird in the best way.  Shelley Bryant’s prose poem “Irruption” (also in the issue) is particularly lovely.

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In other news, February was madness.  Too short a month in which to do too many things.  But.  Major life milestone: I submitted my very first book-length manuscript, a short story collection, late last night, barely getting in under the wire for a March 1 contest deadline.  I’ve been working on the collection (discussed in the Next Big Thing post below) all month.  It will likely be my dissertation.  I sincerely doubt it will get picked up by this particular contest, as historically said contest favors straight realism, but may as well try, right?  It gave me a deadline to work toward, which is apparently a thing I need.

And now I have five new stories to submit.  (Where did they all come from?)  But oh, February was rough.

Week one of February, I knew I was close enough to a manuscript-length work that it was worth trying to complete.  I burned through three major story revisions in a week.  It felt good.  I was going to do this thing.

Week two, I knew I needed to redraft one of the weaker stories or I wasn’t going to make the page-count threshold.  But I had a solid first draft I was excited to return to, so that’d be fine.  A quick redraft to tighten the story thematically, and it could go in the manuscript.

Oh no.  No, that was a bad decision.  I wrote some absurd, hideous amount of words—6K? 8K?  A bunch of it was handwritten…—on the redraft before throwing up my hands in despair.  The story was dead and I’d wasted half the month.

It was awful.  I haven’t had a story die on me that badly in…oh, a year or so at least.  Worst possible timing, too.  I gave up making the March 1 deadline.  I slumped around the house.  I read a bunch of brilliant short stories that made me hate my work even more.

Then James gave me the raised eyebrow of shame and I started a new story with twelve days to go.  It was complete at 5K words in eight days(ish), and then I spent my few remaining days begging my (lifesaving, irreplaceable) first readers to give me speed comments (I love you people so much.  Thank you thank you thank you).   I mean, no question it was a rush job; burn drafting is NOT my favorite way to write a story.  But it’s very much the lesson of Clarion: yes, you can write this thing in a week.  It will not be the perfect flower it is in your head, but it will get written, and sometimes that’s the best you can do.

“Never Sever” coming out today is the cherry on the sundae of having survived February without Quitting Writing Entirely.

March is a chaos of travel.  I head to AWP in a few days, and then on to Arizona to visit my family.  I have another pile of deadlines incoming this month, but nothing quite so paralyzing as the stack of stories I had to complete before March 1.  I don’t know what other people do on their diss leave, but this month I wrote like a hellbeast (probably 20K words; 13K new, the rest revisions).  So that’s something.

Today, I’m going to read a novel.  Because I have earned one.  Also possibly a nap.