This is sometimes what I try to write about.
Here's more about Liz and her Roaring Girl Productions.
This is sometimes what I try to write about.
Here's more about Liz and her Roaring Girl Productions.
The Writers' Alliance of Gainesville has asked me to speak at their next meeting. I'll be talking about writing residencies, colonies, and retreats. For sure, there'll be information on how to apply, who gets in, what happens there, how great the food is at Yaddo, and how cool the beehives are at ACA, but as I've been preparing what to say, something else has become clear. Mostly, what happens when I apply for a residency is that I'm rejected. Over and over again. For years and years. From so many places. Why the heck did I, do I, keep trying? It's made me think about the process of applying and how much that process, even when it ends in rejection, has changed who I am as a writer. Now, that's something that seems worth talking about.
Here's a link to the Alliance of Artists Communities, a good resource for anyone interested in finding out more.
Today about three hours into the the four hours of Study Hall, I squirmed around in my writing bed and made squealy noises under my breath. There was a novel being written in the next room. I didn't want to disturb its progress, but I had to express the "yippee" moment that happens when you smack down a period on the last sentence of an essay. And in this case, an essay I've been working on, often in despair, for six months.
I am certainly not going to read it over for awhile. The way it wanders all over the place, the possible muddiness of that middle section - I'm not thinking about that. Whatever I find, what I do know is that there's a there there. Over these months, I was never sure. Let's party.
I feel like Sally Fields at the Oscars - "She picked me. She really picked me." Yep, in February I take my dog to her home away from home (where she is allowed to lick cereal bowls and sleep under the sheets) and then drive over to New Smyrna Beach for a three week residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts with Carolyn Forché.
And no, I haven't, abracadabra, presto, alacazam, transformed into a poet. The residency will mix up poets and memoirists. This is going to be fun.
As part of a "blog hop" I was tagged by the writer Sally Bellerose. (Have you read her novelThe Girl's Club?) So, now I'll answer the same questions she did about a work in progress. And at the bottom of the post, I've linked to Libby Ware, who's the next Wednesday author on this "hop." Okay, let's go.
What is the working title of the book? Titles, sheesh. I'm so bad with titles. But this is a collection of personal essays and some of their individual titles are "Rolling in the Mud," "A Certain Loneliness," "I Am Here, in this Morning Light," "The Last Period," "Horror in the Okefenokee," "Poster Children," and "The Wild and Wooly Waccasassa."
Where did the idea come from for the book? I'd always thought of myself as a fiction writer since I always had a novel going. From time to time, I'd intersperse the novel writing with a short story or personal essay and these essays, more than anything else, kept getting published. So I'd write more of them. And more would get published. At this point six of them are out there (or about to be out there) in journals that include New Letters, The North American Review, Arts & Letters, and The Alaska Quarterly Review. The anthologies First Person Queer and Something to Declare: Good Lesbian Travel Writing printed a few more. The word count of all these essays combined is becoming book-length respectable. When I started judging book covers from the perspective of what I'd want for mine, that's when I knew I was working towards a collection.
What genre does your book fall under? So on the flyleaf, under the ISBN, the Library of Congress subject listing would be, in no particular order – Personal Memoir, Disability, Lesbian, Nature Essays.
Which actors you choose to play your characters in the movie
rendition? The natural world of Florida would be one of the main characters, and I'm the other "main character" so I'm not thinking the film rights are going to get snatched. But since you asked, for the younger me's, I'm sure there are all sorts of up and coming braces and crutches and wheelchair-using actors that would do a great job. For the old me, I'd want Linda Hunt for sure. Oh, oh, oh – I can so hear her as the voiceover throughout the movie.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? This collection is the love-child of Lucy Jane Bledsoe's The Ice Cave and Kenny Fries' The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory.
What is the longer synopsis of your book? As a disabled baby, child, teenager, and a young and now aging adult, my life has flourished within a world of uncertain tomorrows. I've negotiated my way through the mud and sand of Florida and felt a permeability between my body and these environments whose survival is dependent upon the extremes of flood, drought, and fire. In response, I'm working on a series of essays that layer together my travels with the particular journey of my own body. Now, all sorts of people with all sorts of disabilities write all sorts of things, but I've noticed that there are some common characteristics, and one of them is that we almost never leave the body out of our writing. The physical cannot be ignored. The challenge in an essay is to write about the details of the body and the ways it moves through the world—the tiresome frustrations, the slapstick moments, the grand triumphs—but wind them within the long history of humans and our relationships to the earth.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an
agency? I'll for sure send some queries out to agents, but I'll also be submitting to university and independent presses.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your
manuscript? My first essay ever was published by Common Lives/Lesbian Lives in the eighties, and I scribbled a yellow pad draft of the latest yesterday.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? I've already mentioned the collections by Kenny Fries and Lucy Jane Bledsoe, but I'd have to add Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams and all of Jack Rudloe's books. And there was this moment, after I'd finished that last brilliant, poetic chapter of Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, that I just knew I wanted to be a serious writer. And the language in Jackie Kay's Red Dust Road - I always hope for a smidgen of something like that in my work.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? There are alligators.
New Letters accepted one of my essays. So today, while I'm giving thanks for turkey and pie, I'll add an appreciation of all the people, from editors to interns, who create literary journals. In a small town in Florida, in an old wood house shaded by live oaks, I prop up on my writing bed and work on a piece until I think it might be ready. (I'm often wrong.) And then I launch it out into the world. Thanks to journals like New Letters, it sometimes doesn't sink.
But now I'm trying something new - a plot with twists and turns and action scenes and dramatic chapter endings. Well, it's not John le Carre but it's as structured as I've ever done.
I blithely wrote the first 30,000 words just pounding out scenes on the keyboard not worrying about how things fit together, character names, logic, anything like that. But now I can't move forward. I have to make the plot work. Dang. Plots are hard.
Last year I was a panelist at the Other Words Conference in St. Augustine, and one of my favorite events was a non-fiction workshop with Ira Sukrungruang. This year, the Florida Literary Arts Coalition, who puts on the event, has set up advanced workshops - fiction, poetry, non-fiction - on Sunday, November 11th. They are now four hours long and can be taken separately from the conference itself.
I am so going. I'll put the essay aside, and instead, take a sideways approach by being around other writers where I will, as I always do, learn something new.
It just arrived in the mail - my author's copy of a new anthology from Jane's Stories Press Foundation. Included is my short story, "The Chassahowitzka," and there's work by Pat Spears - one of my dearest writer friends. It's a thrill to be together with her and all these other fine poets and prose writers in a collection that "creates a space for women from all over the world to speak in their own rhythms." Big thanks to the editors Glenda Bailey-Mershon, Linda Mowry, and Shobha Sharma.
I wouldn't be surprised if, in the next few months, all of us Florida based contributors have a reading. But get your own copy now. Here's a link.
Here's Sue Austin in her propeller-driven underwater wheelchair. If I ever should have a book of personal essays published - which would require a whole long series things to happen beginning with me actually writing more essays - this is my current choice of book cover. Everyone imagines the design of their not even yet written books, right?
The fall submission season is upon us. In Florida we're still deep into summertime with lovely long hours of sunlight, mosquitoes, hurricane warnings, and a thick heat that makes my shoulders happy. In my writing room, however, it's time to compose that list of which journals want what and when and how they want it and with what word count. It's been a lollapalooza of a writing summer so I have three essays and a short story finished. Hah! Like that's ever true. But they are ready to send out for their first round of rejections. I love this moment.
Damn friends. I hadn't even left Yaddo and they were wanting to set up dates with me—for dinner, to hear my new work, to show me what they'd been doing, and how did I want my frig restocked and when could they deliver a welcome home pie. It freaked me out. I'd had six weeks of pretty much no scheduled anything and now people wanted me to ink things in all over my beautifully blank calendar. I set my jaw and put everyone off. I tried not to be surly. I had a stubborn plan to wall off the hard-earned, precious silence inside me for as long as was possible.
At some point on the train ride home something changed about all this. I spent hours looking out the window which meant looking at my own shadowed reflection. I thought of how Yaddo had taught me not only how to catch bats, bet on horses, and play Bananagrams, but also that when I work deep into my writing, there is something there. This is such a relief. Not that I don't still, everyday, worry that I don't know how, never knew how to write. But now, in some quiet chamber of my mind, I see a writer's reflection.
And when palm trees and sand roads began to blur by the train window, I missed my friends in Gainesville – that whole raucous, supportive, pushy, so important to my writing bunch of them. Not only that, the whole making new friends thing worked so well at Yaddo, that I've decided to try it at home. So right now, I'm inking in dinner dates, dog play dates, lunch visits, and still, I'm writing most every day. It's not the same and I still yearn for my next time of extended immersion, but this life I have, it works.
There are going to be problems. Like when I show up at my dining room table at 6:30 on the dot and there's no dinner waiting. And who the heck is going to do my dishes while they tell me about their weekend relaxing on the lake? And ask me how my writing day went and expect me to have accomplished something? I've so appreciated the physical break from daily life - my arm muscles have especially benefited. But now I'll have to start cooking and cleaning and talking to myself - again.
And I've developed an aversion to making plans. I like all the white space on my calendar, and I'm going to keep the quiet in my head going for as long as I can.
A week from today I start my trek home to Gainesville. (Little Dog, Loved Ones, Farmer's Market - I miss you.) According to my list labeled "The Plan," today is the day to look back at the essays I wrote when I first arrived (What was it-a year ago?) and then set aside. After yet another breakfast that has been prepared, served, and cleaned up after for me (Thank you, Yaddo staff, thank you), I'll go see how they percolated (or festered) during the past month and start in on revisions (or rend my garments in despair). Wish me luck.
Decent drafts of two new essays, major revisions of two short stories and another essay, the finishing (perhaps, who ever knows),sentence-level touches on two other essays, daily attention paid to a novel, and a mucky, thrilling, mess of notes that may some day become something—these are the results of the first twelve days of Yaddo. And I still have a month to go. I'm pretty sure this is going to be the best decade ever.
Well, I've got to go. I could leave you thinking its because some new scene is pulling at me, that I can't bear to be away from "my work," but really it's breakfast time. And it's Sunday, which means pancakes and bacon. Gotta get there on time—all those artists, film makers, composers, and especially us writers will be lining up.
P.S. I miss The Little Dog.
Here's something for all of us no-book-published-yet writers. You know how we imagine being interviewed? Don't deny it. I, in the midst of a plot doldrum, will veer off into a full-blown, mouthing the words enactment of that glorious day when Diane Rhem and I are chatting on the radio. She's asking me insightful questions (about this book that in real life I haven't written yet) and I'm answering them with a dazzling articulateness (so unlikely in real life). Off-air she says wants to be my friend and shall we go for coffee. Sigh.
Hey, it could happen. And here's a great training video. It's Tayari Jones' TV interview about her just-released-in-paperback novel Silver Sparrow. Now, this is how it's done - genuine, informative, and gracious.
Bridges and Borders is the Jane's fourth anthology. (And I'll be included!) It's almost ready to go, but they could use a last bit of cash. Here's their Kickstarter site. Donate because Jane's Stories has done so many years of worthy, much needed work to promote women's writing . Donate because the sultry-voiced Glenda in the video below tells you to. (Really, doesn't her voice make you want to purr.) And donate because you'll end up getting to read all these stories.
Were you at this weekend's unveiling of the latest Bacopa? If not, you missed something quite grand. Each year the Writers Alliance of Gainesville's Editorial Team produces Bacopa: A Literary Review, and it is fast gaining a reputation for excellence. Last year's volume was well-reviewed in New Pages ("Strong first lines. That's the enviable trait . . . ") The 2012 issue is also beautifully produced and chock-full of talented writers.
WAG has monthly meetings and this one was given over to a celebration of the newest issue. The editors shared selections from an international array of authors and local contributors like Stephanie Seguin, Mary Bast, Bruce Hoch, Mary Bridgman, and Tad Karmazyn read to us. We responded with the deserved celebratory applause.
Afterwards I tried to go tell each and every one of the editors what a good job they'd done, but I missed a few. So Denise Ahlberg, Jani Sherrard, Pranada Comtois, Gen Aris, Kaye Linden, Dorothy Staley, and Eldon Turner - thank you.
In case you were wondering, Beall's Outlet Store has a fine selection of writing mumus. I just brought some home and all the chicken/head cut off pacing the house and scribbling lists in the kitchen, by the TV, at my bedside anxiety is gone. I'm set. I'm ready. The mumus and that stack of yellow pads already in a suitcase - that's all I need.
Well, I should probably also pack some jeans and shirts and refills for my pens and the transfer bar for the tub and that little pillow that fits into my lower back and bras since I may never relax enough to wander over for the communal breakfast in just a mu-mu. And earrings. And a power strip. And printer ink. And a flashlight because it's important to always have a flashlight, don't you think? And there's more. The list beside the computer is the longest.