What “Being On Book Tour” Means

Well.

Hi there. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. Things have been a little cockadoodle, as they say in the dark hinterlands of my brain.

I have had an amazing few months. But that also means I have been neglecting this blog, which is really sad, because I really like this blog, this talking to you. Sure, I keep a diary. But somehow, work feels different when you know it’s being read by others, doesn’t it? Also, a lot has happened, and while none of it has changed much in my status quo, it is still worthy stuff to be sharing.

I have been on Book Tour. Many people have been asking How That Feels. Here is how it feels:

  • Before you go: “I have to leave the house again? For how long, this time? OH OK FINE.
  • During the events: This [reading/workshop/panel/event] is the best thing ever! I want to do this forever!
  • After the events: …What just happened?

Yeah. That’s pretty much what it feels like. But here’s what it really is:

  • Staying with friends, in their spaces. Taking that in; feeling the pieces of the puzzles–click, clack, flippity–that are your friends fall together, because you have been where they live, walked where they walked, had tea and coffee from their kitchen appliances.
  • Passing on all the knowledge you’ve amassed up until now; watching folks get excited about their own projects.
  • Exploring towns and cities you’ve always wanted to spend more time in, even if it’s freakishly fast-moving time.
  • Seeing friends you might not otherwise get to see, even those you haven’t seen in a decade or more.
  • Seeing friends you only, until now, knew online. Realizing the pleasant fizzzzz that is an online friendship gelling into something tangible–a hug! a shared interest in good liquor and food!
  • Meeting new writers you never heard of; discovering work from writers you never knew; hearing them read from their own works and walking away feeling ever so much wealthier for it.
  • Meeting booksellers. Getting to thank them in person for the work they do to forward literature.

So yeah. That’s what being on book tour is like. And that’s why I’ve been gone. But I’ll be back here more frequently, I promise. I have missed you guys. So here are some photos, as a thank you for sticking with me, along with some links. And you can sign up for my brand-spanking-new newsletter here. It’ll go out once a month and cover what I’ve been reading, some things I saw that you might be interested in, and maybe even some embarrassing photos of my drawings. :) (More likely it’ll have some writerly tips and tricks, and some other brain flotsam like upcoming events and locations.)

Okay! The photos!

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Not A Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu now lives at the Lopez Bookshop. I was invited to appear there in conversation with my good friend Iris Graville.

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Signing books! So much fun when surrounded by an amazingly curated selection like they have at Lopez Bookshop!

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In Seattle, I got to read at the incredible Looseleaf Reading Series, along with four other really talented writers and the amazing musician Ramona Shore. Here, my talented friend, Whidbey Island MFA classmate, and Looseleaf co-founder Samantha Updegrave introduces us, along with Looseleaf co-founder Suzanne Warren. (A tremendous shout-out here to my friend Roz, without whom I am reasonably sure only a fraction of this PNW traveling would have been possible.)

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This is Iris’ dog Buddy. <3.

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Writers leave notes for each other.

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Sunrise, from the front window of the house we rent while on Whidbey Island.

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The Kenton Library, in Portland, OR, where I hosted a workshop on memoir smack-dab in the middle of the day, and then followed with drinks with a friend I’d only ever known on the Interweb. What a treat! My friend Haley Isleib, a children’s/young adult writer and screenwriter, invited me to teach here. Friends are awesome.

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Mt. Hood, Oregon–from the Fruit Loop. Fruit Loop! Not a breakfast cereal. Hosted by my friend Jo, from HIGH SCHOOL! Eeee!

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Llama llama ding dong, on the Fruit Loop. (Not just fruit, obviously.)

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In New York, I was honored to appear alongside Jen Baker (creator and moderator of Minorities in Publishing), Hasanthika Sirisena, and Leland Cheuk in a panel at the amazing Word Up Community Bookstore in Washington Heights. Y’all, you need to go to this incredible space. Tremendous thanks to Hasanthinka for setting this event up!

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In Chicago, I was in conversation with Alexandra Salomon, producer for WBEZ’s WorldView at Chicago’s wonderful Women and Children First Bookstore. I’m privileged to call her my friend and proud to count her among my peeps.

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And these people. These people saw my novel in its very first draft. They are Tabitha Olsen and Nancy Stevenson, members of my Chicago critique group and talented writers themselves. You can buy Nancy’s book for middle-graders, about a code-cracking, plucky heroine, here. It’s called “Capitol Code,” and it is every page worth a read.

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I miss you, Chicago.

 

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In wonderful Decatur, Michigan, I was hosted by my fast-talking, speedy-thinking friend, Ami Hendrickson. If you’re in need of a writing coach, Ami can help. We had amazing conversations and have wonderful synergy, and I was so happy to visit her and learn from her. Here she is, teaching her class on narrative.

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St. Joseph’s, Michigan, where I visited with Listen to Your Mother host Kim Jorgenson Gane, was a wonderful town to hang out in. I will visit again, St. Joe’s. Get ready.

IMG_4524And the whole shebang kicked off with a trip to Skokie, Illinois, to teach a workshop on memoir at the Skokie Public Library. Folks, public libraries are IT. Go. Visit. Support.

Okay. That’s it. More soon. I promise. In the meantime, don’t forget: The Newsletter!

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

An Open Letter to My Gym’s Howler Monkey Guy

Dear Howler Monkey Guy,

You are not working hard enough. I know this because you are bouncing up and down in the saddle of your spin bike like a problematic Jack in the Box. You have zero resistance on your wheel.

Half the time you are standing up due to some misguided notion that you are firming up your glutes or whatever by doing so.

(You are still pedaling too fast, even as you are standing up.)

You are annoying and distracting. Now I know how Monica Seles’s opponents felt on the tennis court. Yes, I just compared you to a girl in a very short skirt. (Somehow I know this will annoy you to no end.)

But at least Monica Seles was consistent: she grunted every time she hit the ball. (Plus, she is way more bad-ass than you will ever be.)

But you! You are surprising, and not in a good way. You make the howler-monkey noise if you like the song; when you feel yourself moved by the amount you are sweating; if you like the way you look in the big wall mirror; if you feel the sweat stain you are producing on the front of your shirt looks particularly like something you like…I don’t know. I don’t live in your brain, thank god.

howler-monkey

If you were working as hard as I am, you would not have enough energy or breath to Howler-Monkey. I know this.

I spend all of my time trying to outride you, but I can’t, because we are in spin class, and our bicycles are stationary.

So I moved from where you can startle me when you whoop, although I liked that position there. It was right in front of the mirror, so I could see the way my right knee tracks a little bit to the side when I ride, and correct it. I could keep my eye on my shoulders and ensure they are level, belying only small movements, every potential movement channeled right into my chicken calves.

But you were too close to me there, in a direct sonar line right behind me. I imagine your WOO! drills right into my medulla oblongata, or whatever part of my brain it is at the base of my skull, which must also be the part that makes all the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.

WOO!

Also, even though you are directly behind me so I do not have to look at your face when you WOO!, I still have to see you bobbing, weaving, bouncing all over the fucking place. I see glimpses of you, multiples of you, every pedal stroke, and it’s like this disappearing/appearing you is more stressful than the regular old you would be if I just had to stare at you all the time.

But the WOO!s are loud. They are SO loud from here. So I move.

I was wrong. Although this corner of the class is right by the very loud rotating fan they have on the ceiling to provide some kind of breeze, and thus is very very loud and sometimes drowns out your WOO!s, I can see all of you now, all the time, because there is sometimes no one between my line of sight in the mirror and you.

From here you look like a factory-discard bobble-head doll: “Oh, no. No, no, This prototype will never do. It moves so much it will scare small children. Throw it out. Put it in a dark room where no one will ever find it.” They dim the lights in spin class, but not enough, by a long shot.

If Howler-Monkey guy were to imagine himself a bobblehead

If Howler-Monkey guy were to imagine himself a bobblehead

Ah! Today you have shaved your normal porn-star mustache, so I can see the split second your lips start to purse and you start to blow out and argh argh argh, because there it is. WOO! The noise comes out of your pursed hairless lips, and all I can think of a literal asshole, blowing wind.

WOO!

Anyway. In this corner you are less noisy. But you are just as disruptive, and not in an uber/AirBnB kind of way. You just are annoying.

Real cyclists, by the way, do not ride the way you do. We do not bob and weave. We funnel all of our energy to our legs, from our neck down, as much as we can. Our shoulders are rock-steady. If we bobbed and wove like you did, we would be all over the road so fast.

We also do not WOO!

But you are not a real cyclist. You have probably never taken your bike outside. Do you even have a bike?

I think it is not a coincidence that, after every class with you, I do something like looking up a triathlon or a group ride or something.

There on the open road, the thinking probably goes, from my damaged medulla oblongata, I would not have to deal with you. If you did start to WOO!, I could just ride faster.

On the open road, I know, the wind rushes past my ears so fast that I can hardly hear my husband or friends calling to me.

I can hardly hear the gentle beeps of the cars wanting to pass, not that we hear them that often. Going downhill on a swooping mountain road, we are faster than they are. And on the uphills, I have only enough energy to contemplate my whistling lungs, my heartbeat pounding in my ear; the midges gathering around the sweat on my nose.

If I am in the foothills, on the trail, I hear nothing but birds, since I am usually alone. I pay close attention to where my front wheel is tracking, what the terrain looks like; can I make this short steep climb?

Cars hardly need to beep anyway, because I am a good cyclist. I take periodic glances over my shoulder.

On the open road, or trail, I am strong and fast and I am frustrated only by my lack of strength, or endurance. On the open road, if I hear something that annoys me, I can outride it. Him. Her. Sometimes, the stray dog, nipping at my heels.

On the open road I can see the end of the hill. The scenery distracts with its variety. My mind does not roam, though, to how annoyed I am, because you need to pay attention to the tiniest things on the open road, on the mountain trail.

How I wish I were there now!

Why am I not there now? Why do I let you torture me?

If I go to spin class in my eyeglasses and not my contacts, I have to take off my eyeglasses, so I don’t sweat all over them. And in this darker corner of the room, I can choose not to see as much.

In my refection in the mirror I can barely see my lips, stretched in a gasping grin, trying to ride out the effort. I wheeze through my teeth and try to outride your WOO!

The instructor says, like he always does, Relax your shoulders. Relax your face. This is not running.

If it were, I would outrun you, Howler Monkey Guy.

On the open road I would not grimace when you WOO. We are not even in the same universe, Howler Monkey Guy.

In the reflection of the gym mirror, in this darker corner to which I have moved to escape you, I can also hardly see my age spots, especially the huge one of my cheek. These age spots sit right over my cheekbones, the ones I’ve been been praised for all my life. In this dark corner, they are less prominent.

Put on sunscreen, says the doc. I tried that; SPF50 all the time.

“Let’s try bleaching cream,” said that doc. Tried that, too.

My husband says my spots are lightening up. But whenever I get out of the pool, I feel I can see a noticeable difference…I can see it—them—the ugliest blotches I have ever seen on any face, dark, stain-like, on my countenance.

I find it hard to look at pictures now, of myself in my 20s and all the way through my mid-30s, when the spots were not yet there.

I got the big one—well, it appeared, anyway, after a stint in the Philippines with the disaster relief agency I love so much. Close to the equator. Working all day. Not enough sunscreen in the world.

Sometimes, in my wildest, darkest dreams, I think I’d rather lose a finger, a toe, instead of having these stains on my face.

Sometimes, I like awake at night, thinking to myself, if I am this stained at 41, how will I look at 60? 75?

This is a losing proposition. This is just as bad as trying to outride you, Howler Monkey Guy, in a classroom of spin bikes.

Why am I here?

I am here because one can swim in the dark, at night, and one can run in the dark.

One cannot ride one’s bike in the dark, not where I like to go.

So one will tolerate you, won’t one, just to be close to one’s bicycle. One will collapse over one’s useless, unsteerable handlebars, time after time, effort after effort, deflated by your stabbing, animal yelps.

WOO!

One’s husband will tell one that one has GOT to get over it.

If one could get over this massive age spot on one’s face, this would not even be a problem. One would be outside, on the open road, where she truly wants to be.

outside

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A Real Wookie of a Father’s Day

I went to a high-school graduation the other week.

Bonita High School Graduation

Bonita High School Graduation

The crowd was amped. The parents never stopped looking for their children, and when they picked them out among the sea of green or white gowns, there was frantic waving, shouting, and something uniquely American: the “Wooo!” that is the hallmark of any excited person living in these United States.

Woo! It took me ages to learn how to do this, with varying levels of success. The first time I tried it, I adopted the Julia Roberts version, the one where she’s at the polo fields in “Pretty Woman”? In that spotted brown dress with the big, big hat? “Woof! Woof! Woof!”

I had to try, you see, because the Woo! had not made its way into our family. Certainly it never came out of a woman’s mouth. Men, in my family, express approval with stern nods, compressed lips, vaguely approving eyebrows, I think. No one ever smiled. Certainly no one ever whooped. So I had to work on it, make it sound casual, make it sound like I really meant it.

But here in America, we whoop. We whoop at everything. We whoop at goals; we whoop when people get married. We whoop when we have managed to land a Cheeto into our moths after tossing it into the air. We whoop when we have manage to get on-board a flight at the last minute.

I know this, because after many, many years of practicing, I have developed a passable “Wooo!” and I deploy it at will. With impunity, whenever I damn well feel like it. Sometimes I think I might even Wooo! more than I high-five. (At best, it’s a close call.)

Now that I am 41, I can “Wooo!” with the best of them.

Anyway. I digress. When it was my turn to graduate high school, like five thousand years ago, I was kind of…trembling. Not from excitement. No, I was worried that when I crossed the stage, there would be crickets. I wasn’t especially popular; I had fought with all of my best friends during school at one time or another, and I knew my parents wouldn’t make a peep. I didn’t have any visiting family, either, not that they would make a peep. Sure enough, they didn’t.

But I was lucky; apparently I did have friends, and they whooped for me, even if the size of whooping was smaller than it had been for our homecoming queen or princesses, or that girl who was so nice that everyone liked her even if her accomplishments were questionable and she missed all the college application deadlines by accident.

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may have dreamed this. But I think, months later, my parents commented on how enthusiastic Americans were, how happy they were. How awesome it was to hear all the noise, how joyful these parents were for such a small accomplishment as graduating high school. What, after all, is there to be proud of? Almost everyone graduates from high school.

I think I may have smiled weakly.

Anyway. Maybe it wasn’t by coincidence that, not long later, at a baseball game, with my brother and I yelling at the players and me occasionally get poked in the leg by my Ma, who was not excited at all to hear her daughter yelling, “You suck!”* at a random player on the field, my dad got up and did the wave. And out of his mouth came a noise that made me freeze solid. It was a cross between a cow in some kind of pain, although it sounded like it wasn’t actually sure if it was in pain, and Chewbacca. “Uuuhhhhhh! Whuuuuuuuh!”

I stared. My dad was  cheering. He was working on it, just like I was working on my Woof.

Four years later, I graduated from college. First, I heard my brother. “THAT’S MY SISTER!” and that was awesome, but then, everyone already knew my brother is capable of generating awesome. Then, the dying-cow-choking-Wookie noise. “Uuuhhhhhh! Whuuuuuuuh!”

My dad, cheering for me.

Never was a sound so welcome, ever.

Here’s to the dads. The ones who buck everything they know, everything they think they know, just to make a kid feel special.

*I no longer do this. The PollyAnna in me says “Everyone is trying their best on that field.” And then, “Oh, look, hot dogs.”

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Snippets

It has been what feels like an obscenely long time since I’ve blogged.

In the meantime, my book had its birthday and we had ten days’ worth of houseguests, and then I went to Seoul to participate in the Rotary International Convention on behalf of ShelterBox, and then I had a most extraordinary time being carted around South Korea, talking about writing and publishing with interested parties all around.

Truly, I lead a charmed life.

On the last day of lectures, a grueling 4 hours of talking broken up by a pleasant hour-long lunch, I got a note from one of the attendees in the audience. Having evidence of the work we did together outside of Instagrammable, social media fodder in my hands, a tiny little craft-paper envelope with precise writing on it, still warm from her hands, is such a present. I, too, may take to carrying around little cards, the better to thank people in tangible fashion, on the fly. How much we can learn from each other!

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Over my three days with the Embassy, I met some other characters, people I’ll forever be grateful with for making it so obvious that sharing what I’ve learned with others is bound to be a most gratifying existence.

The Old Storyteller: He comes to many of the American Corner Daegu’s events. He speaks pretty spot-on English and has stories he wants to pass on, but he’s 85 and wanted to know what I would tell someone like him, someone who’s tried to write but can’t seem to do it. Time is short, he says. “When should I quit trying?”

The Anxious Girl: “You said we should write every day. Well, I draw every day. Is that okay?” Later, meeting me one-on-one, her hands shook as she tried to turn to a page in her notebook. I mis-stepped, asked if she wanted an autograph, like her classmates, but no, she wanted to show me her drawings, and boy! Were they something! Reptile claws over a planet overgrown with trees and scrub and vines; silhouetted people standing at the hearts of planets, trees rising out through their heads…Yes, yes, write every day, but geez, don’t stop doing these, ever.

The Concerned Citizens: “I wanted to know if you consider yourself a feminist.” And “You say we should fight the efficient fight when it comes to unfairness in the workplace. What is the best way for writers to do this?” And, “As a writer, do you think Donald Trump is exercising free speech?”

The Enthusiastic One: “You’re my very first author ever.”

The Worrier: “I think I carry around so much of what people say in critiques. How do you know what to take and what not to take?”

The Interpreter: Did you know that, during simultaneous interpretation, interpreters have to switch out every ten or fifteen minutes? It’s that grueling.

The Single Girl: My handler over the three days in Korea was this amazing young woman who has no plans of getting married and no plans for kids. She’s truly a career woman, a person who’s constantly curious, always living, it seems, whether that take the form of hiking up Seoul’s beautiful hills or scouting locations for visitors like me or enjoying whatever it is she’s eating. I wish we could have spent more time together.

The Veteran: “Could you sign this for me? I want to show our young people what we can do with our creativity. And I want to show them what we Orientals [sic] can do when we go abroad.”*

What a terrific three days. How lucky I am!

*No, I’m not offended. It’s a dated phrase, and the guy was near 80.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Talking to People Who Talk to You Like You’re an Idiot

A long, long time ago–1997?–I was walking down Broadway on my way to work. At 8th street, I encountered a very angry woman in front of a science-fair-type posterboard covered in pictures of suffering domestic animals. They were horrible, and compelling, and I was young and easily swayed, and curious.

This woman (short, aggressively blond hair; long black overcoat over a T-shirt with the sleeves rolled and pushed up; jeans) was yelling:

“Animal RIGHTS!”

I can still hear her voice in my head, all these years later, Janis-Joplin, smoke-and-whiskey frayed: “Animal RIGHTS! Animal RIGHTS!” She was trying to get everyone to sign a petition.

At the time I worked for a nature magazine of some repute. What I learned there made it obvious to me that I shouldn’t sign anything unless I knew for sure what I was signing. But I didn’t know much about these extreme animal rights groups, so I approached her to learn more.

I can’t remember exactly what I asked her. Probably something like, “Can you tell me more about what this is about?”

She immediately shot back, “I don’t have time to explain it to you,” and went on shouting, right in my ear, since I was close enough to ask her a question. “Animal RIGHTS!”

Animal RIGHTS lady was like this. Only a lot scarier.

Animal RIGHTS lady was like this. Only a lot scarier.

Fast forward, yesterday morning. My friend Jamie gets a comment on a blog post she wrote about themes in writing. I won’t reproduce the full comment here, because it is so very, very tiresome. It is a couple hundred words and involves Dante, Aristotle, praxis, and lumps novelists and contract writers with “and such” and sets us apart from “true writers and artists.”

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Jamie posted this blowhard jerkface dimwit obfuscating badger  guy’s comment to a braintrust we’re both involved in, with a call for help: How do I respond to this guy? The answers she got from our co-hort were, nearly unanimously, thus: Ignore him. You don’t have time to spend on this jerk. There were accusations of mansplaining, which were spot-on.

Me? I spewed a bunch of eff-bombs, did the requisite pushups, and then went for a walk with my Fuzz. Seeing Jamie, an educated, sensitive, generous whip-smart writer of her own credentials, getting schooled by this guy–THIS GUY THIS GUY THIS POOPTACULAR–was beyond the pale.

(I have been mansplained to, and I have done my own mansplaining. It’s not uniquely a male problem, although it does seem to happen a lot in one direction.)

In the end, I wrote to Jamie, “I’d reply to him in public, telling him everything that’s wrong. If we’re lucky, we might have converted a wanker asshat into just an asshat.” Jamie was much more elegant. She thanked him for his reply and said she’d try to reply in full later. She did the right thing, I believe.

More broadly, I’m thinking that there is enough anger in this world. I’m thinking that, if the woman on the corner of 8th and Broadway had taken the time to educate me, instead of brushing me off and making me feel like an ignoramus, I’d have walked away better educated, knowing more, at least maybe understanding why she was so passionate about this issue. And maybe I’d have cared to find out more.

Fervently hoping that Mr. Dusty-Library-for-Brains disappears into a deep pit of…uh, dusty library books isn’t going to actually make that happen. Screaming the same slogan over and over again at people you can’t be bothered to educate, I think, isn’t that far from just ignoring someone, and the issue, and losing out on a chance to help them see another side.

In fact, I’m reminded of the way my father once described the arguments he heard between me and my mom [paraphrased, obviously]: “It’s like the two of you are wearing suits of armor, okay? Big medieval things. And you’re just whaling away at each other with those big weapons–those big spiky balls. It’s a lot of noise. And no real progress on either side.”

Some arguments sound like this. CRASH BANG with no resolution. pix paul lewis (Nth Wales tel 07836 797910) Tom Mitchelson....Full contact Medieval fighting at Ludlow Castle Shropshire.

Some arguments sound like this. CRASH BANG with no resolution. pix paul lewis (Nth Wales tel 07836 797910) Tom Mitchelson….Full contact Medieval fighting at Ludlow Castle Shropshire.

I don’t hold out much hope that Dingleberries McRealWriter will actually take what Jamie eventually has to say on board. But at least she can say she tried, which at least allows for some possibility of that thing we call Hope. For discourse, for civilised conversation, for a world where we can read things and comment thoughtfully on them and then have further conversations that we can all learn from. That is something Angry Animal RIGHTS lady will never have.

Some days, though, we are just too damn tired to deal. That’s okay, too.

NB: Holy buckets: tracked down a story about ANIMAL RIGHTS lady. I guess, if you were just out to scam people, that’d be a reason for brushing off anyone who asked.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Biography of some blue jeans

Adopted ca 2006 from a consignment store in Chicago, on Southport.

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Meant to be “dressier” jeans due to original darker wash and stiffer denim.

Heritage: “Made in the United States,” likely one of the last pairs of Luckys to carry that distinction.

Worn: everywhere, from dive bars to wine bars to bicycle seats to ferry seats to porch stoops.

Worn: any time, from first thing in the day to late, late at night and into the early morning and then into the next day again.

Worn: with polo shirts, button-down shirts; T-shirts; sweaters. Flip flops; heels; boots; flats; bare feet; sneakers of all stripes and spots.

First tear: down around the cuffs, from scuffing along in flip flops.

First wear: Front right pocket, top edge, from rooting for change and keys.

Most obnoxious tragic flaw: zipper placket hopelessly crunched to the side, so as to expose brass of zipper. Sigh.

Second visible wear: Zipper placket, from constant tugging back into place.

Second and third tears: Knees

Fourth and fifth tears: Thighs

Sixth, inexcusable, mysterious tear: Crotch.

Diagnosis of sixth tear: consistent right-leg-over-left-leg crossing, and accompanying, inevitable slide down the seat.

Legacy: Mournfulness. Where will I find another pair?

Do you have a favorite item you’d write a biography for? Tell me in the comments below. 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Brain Flotsam from the past

Early this morning, while I was walking the dog, a kid on a bike with a loaded-down backpack rode by on the way to school. It recalled for me the sense I had on my own bike, riding the very same road, on the way to the high school a mile down the road.

I never felt rushed, I remember that. I remember feeling free, and like I knew I was going to get there. (I felt the same thing walking, but I usually walked home with a friend. And I do remember also the little frisson I got when some guy friend pulled up in either a black Mustang or a Jeep and asked if I wanted a lift (those were the two best, in my experience). What a thrill, to be part of this landscape. How cool it was, to be in a scene I’d seen so many times before on television. The stuff of dreams, I tell you.

Place can often shake loose so many memories. It's worth having a wander in your old haunts.

Place can often shake loose so many memories. It’s worth having a wander through your old haunts.

Last week I was with a friend at my high school track. We were doing laps. Laps upon laps, terrifically painful rotations from a workout from my coach (triathlon, not high school). Afterwards, we took a walk through campus. I was surprised to feel how many memories just being in those places shook loose. The students with the formaldehyde cats; the argument I had with a guy who was running for class secretary, or something like that, against me (he won); the place I was confronted about losing a book a fellow student had just loaned me–I’ll never forget the hurt look on his face.

And then, recently, I’ve been remembering some things my brother said to me when he was older, about some things that happened when we were very very young:

  • “You know when you guys used to put the french fries in my burger so I’d eat the burger first? Well, I always knew what you were doing.”
  • “Hey. I always knew those weren’t Scooby Snacks.”
  • “Remember when you were cutting my hair with the clippers? And then you went, ‘Oops!’ and walked away? Yeah.”

What places shake loose memories for you? Tell me in the comments below.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

How I landed my publisher

…Or, I obsess over my spreadsheets.

I’m sure every writer writes a post like this. But every writer’s experience is different, and every writer’s publishing experience might be different, so I wanted to add my voice to the mix. Plus, this Friday I am teaching a workshop on publishing at my alma mater, so this is a good lead-in.

Oh, hey there, final product of years of work, or something!

Oh, hey there, final product of years of work, or something!

Here is my road to official pub date (May 6!), by the numbers:

  • Months spent querying, in total: 21
  • Agents queried: 85
  • Agents who didn’t reply at all: 20
  • Eventual offers of representation: 1
  • Small/indie presses queried: 21
  • Offers of publication (2.5; one wanted a rewrite that would have sucked the life out of the thing, in my opinion)
  • Heavy revisions: 2
  • Folks involved in the final, pre-offer, big revision (includes one top-notch agent; one publisher; one acquisitions editor): 7
  • Months between final revision and offer of publication: 4.5
  • Months between offer of publication (contract signed) and actual publication: 11

Here is my road to official pub date by mistakes I made/things I did:

When I started querying I felt I had worked so hard on this manuscript that I decided I was going to be bull-nosed about it. Much of the constructive feedback I received from agents I binned, for no good reason. A lot of this was stuff I couldn’t do anything about, like “I didn’t connect with the voice,” or “I’m not a fan of epistolary novels.” But some of it was very concrete, actionable stuff. Lesson learned: Keep every personal rejection. You will use what you learned, what they said, later in your writing career.

When I got a form rejection from an agent who had shown great personal connection in a previous correspondence, I followed up. It had been sent by accident and he had constructive, useful things to say. Lesson, with caveat: If you feel very strongly about something, I think it’s okay to follow up. But be smart about this. Don’t rant, obviously. And really ask yourself if it’s the right thing to do. 

I didn’t pay attention to conventional wisdom about novel length. Mine was too short by about 6,000 words. I joke about the day a top agent asked me to add 6,000 words (“Oh, sure, I’ll do that while I’m pooping”), but it is an agent’s job to sell books, and your job to write them. It was my great privilege to have had this feedback. And it made my work way, way stronger. Lesson learned: Some conventional stuff you can ignore–“Oh! Everyone’s writing YA now! You should write that!”–but some stuff you should be paying attention to. 

I didn’t make this my full-time job. I know for most of us, this is an impossibility. But I could have easily spent at least two hours a day querying, or at least working on my connections in the industry. And I didn’t. Sometimes, whole weeks went by where I didn’t query. Lesson learned: If you really want to make this a part of your life, get on it. 

I did my research. And I leveraged the crap out of my community. Every single guest lecturer I met at the MFA program I graduated from (the ones that made sense, anyway); every single friend I’d ever talked words with–they all played a critical part in the making of this book, from introductions to agents to how to Make Things Better. I’d have never been able to do this if I existed in a vacuum. Lesson learned: Literary community isn’t a buzzphrase. It’s a living, breathing, thing, and you should contribute to it and then gain from it. 

I included the fact that my manuscript was on offer in my bio. Every time I wrote something for someone, I asked them to mention it. This led me to experience one of the greatest possible moments in a writer’s life, ever, even including publication: Some random bigwig agent wrote to me to say she’d read my essay and loved it, and needed to see my novel. Lesson learned: Er. Sometimes pipe dreams actually happen? Yes? Yes. 

There is so much more I could say about this. But I don’t want to give up the bulk of our lecture on Friday. :)

And P.S. You can buy my book here and here. And visit my awesome publisher here.

 

 

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A tiny little rant

Generally, it’d be time for a Brain Flotsam post. But today all I can think of are two radio advertising spots I heard early this morning as I drove my poor hound to have a fractured tooth extracted. (I am sure this added to my consternation.) They were so insidious that they have colored everything I have done so far today.

The first was a spot from Jimmy John’s sandwiches, starring their “fast talker,” who I guess is hired because he’s fast enough to mirror their speedy delivery. The guy delivers to a dog house, where there’s a guy who’s been relegated to…uh, the dog house, by his wife. And, oh, it’s funny because “Thank goodness she can’t throw a lamp that far.” The spot ends with the sound of a shattering lamp.

The second was a spot from Hooters, starring a girl who happens to win the NCAA March Madness bracket because she’s picked all the winners according to how cute their mascots are.

These two commercials pissed me off for three reasons:

  • They’re doing nothing to sell the product. You want me to be a customer? Show me how good your product is.
  • They use dried-out, idiotic, never-were-true stereotypes of any girl or woman I’ve ever known.
  • They aired back to back, in one of the most expensive time slots of the day.

Like, OMG, aren’t girls FUNNY? They don’t know anything about basketball, so they have to pick the winners according to their FUZZY ANIMALS. Angry women are hilarious! I love it when they hysterically banish their husbands to “doghouses” and throw things out of doors or windows to show their displeasure!

Look, here’s the scoop, okay? I don’t care about spectator sports. I like to go to them so I can be with my friends. Some sports I truly enjoy the beauty of: I like baseball for its chess-like strategy; I like basketball for its eerie silence; I like hockey for…I don’t know why I like hockey. But I’m not about to play the sports version of Dungeons and Dragons if I’m laying real money down on the game, and frankly, I’m much more interested in sports I can actually participate in, and not on a fantasy level.

 

I could go on and on here, about why these spots are so wrong, but really the point is two-fold: Advertisers, if you’re going to shell out good money, be smart about it. Don’t buy asshole copy. That’s just sheer laziness.

And the other half of the point? Well, that should be obvious: I am so. damn. tired. of hearing these same tired tropes over and over. It’s 2016. Women do more than scream and flail when a monster crosses the screen; we’re more likely than not to pull off our sensible heels and poke its eyes out, or just use our perfectly manicured thumbs. Worried about “the doghouse” when we’re mad at you? Don’t worry; we’ll probably just leave and go to the bar so you can sit there by yourself and think about what you’ve done, and then ignore you for the rest of the night.

These things–these commercials–have to go away. I find them idiotic and offensive, both to my intelligence as a consumer and as a woman.

I had to get that off my chest. Somehow, I don’t feel better. And oh, look, I just smashed a gnat into my keyboard. Awesome.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

I’m Passionate About…Professional Loafing

A little while ago I wrote a post for the great people over at WriteByNight.net about maintaining “balance” in a writer’s life. So much of what we do as writers is grey area: “drinks with friends” could just as easily be work-drinks, since you’re probably going to spend some time moaning about your writing anyway; seeing a movie, you might suddenly find yourself thinking about just how that plot twist happened…even something as mundane as going for a walk might turn into a short story. It’s easy to work all the time.

photo: Michael Regan/Getty

Balancing a writerly life can sometimes feel like this. Photo of Gabby Douglas: Michael Regan/Getty

So I advocated exactly the opposite of balance. Let yourself fall off the wagon, I said, for an hour a day, or a whole day every week. Just slack off, do nothing, watch reruns of old TV shows (I’m working my way through “Quantum Leap” right now, in fact). I said it would refresh your head, and thus, provide the balance we so desperately seek.

I have a lot of thoughts about the way we work today. We’re in this age where so many people say to just-graduated college students, “Find something you’re passionate about, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Part of that is true: You really will never work a day in your life if you love what you do. You’ll feel like the hours zip by if you’re working on something you’re really passionate about. I’m lucky: I feel like this a lot. But I have a big beef with that sentiment: A lot of people never discover what it is they’re passionate about. Then they spend a lot of time casting for what it is they love to do, rather than practicing it.

I have advice for them, and it might seem backwards: Find something you’re willing to work at, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. That’s what you’re passionate about. That’s what you get up in the middle of the night for.

Me? I’m passionate, it turns out, about slacking off. Let’s have a look. Here is a list of the things I like to do and have regularly indulged in over the past month:

  • Eating nuclear colored, complex foods with unpronounceable ingredients. (Why, this morning I had a Cadbury Egg for breakfast.)
  • Chatting with my friends, ad nauseum, either via letters, Gchat, facebook chat, or anything else.
  • Reading the Internet. Blog posts, news digests, web comics, anything. (This morning I read an article about diversity in publishing and one about the disappearance of Richard Simmons before 6 AM.)
  • Messing around outside, mooning at the trees and the sky.

Let’s be realistic: Obviously I never graduated from high school. I’m still eating Cheetos, passing notes, reading like a magpie collects shiny bits, and playing in the dirt.

Me. At the beginning of my slacker career.

Me. At the beginning of my slacker career.

But I’ve had to work at it. It’d be disingenuous to say I have this terrible urge to Be Responsible, or whatever, all the time, but it is true that took me a long time to figure out just what kind of slacking off works for me. You gotta be intentional about this kind of thing, you know.

(I should note that I wasn’t deprived, or anything, as a child.)

(N.B. At a certain point in time I had this overwhelming urge to figure out how to become a professional loafer. But even that was inspired by something I read.)

Reading this book helped me to clarify my goals.

Reading this book helped me to clarify my goals.

I think this mastery of loafing makes me a better person. It makes me a better writer, a better worker, a better friend. Is that weird?

I can’t be bothered to think too hard about it. Quantum Leap awaits.

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.