Biography of some blue jeans

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

IMG_4018

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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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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Brain Flotsam 6

Welcome to Brain Flotsam, the weekly digest of things I read, saw, or otherwise encountered that made my week more interesting. This week I saw five friends in person and got to interact with so many more in real time. What a great, packed week. And, the following:

  • One night this week I dreamed I had tried out for and made the high school cheerleading squad. We had to go to a tournament soon after. And I spent all of my time F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G O-U-T. Like, “I can’t do this! I have never been in a TOURNAMENT before!” And then part of me said, “Ridiculous. Why do you think they picked you for the squad? You have been training for this all your life! A tournament is just a bigger tryout! You can do this!” I like to think it was my conscious, slowly realizing I was dreaming, or do I like to think that? Wouldn’t I rather think that my subconscious, telling me that I can do whatever it is that’s coming my way? (NB: I have never wanted to try out for cheerleading, although I did rather envy the little pleated skirts and tiny sweaters.)
  • Sometime last week I stopped hitting “like” on facebook posts. (I borrowed the idea from this guy.) I think, honestly, it was because the introduction of the new “react” options tipped me over the edge into decision fatigue. Now I react only using comments. I think it’s made me a more thoughtful person. (Don’t laugh.)
  • A new museum! It’s of broken hearts!
  • I made this fish stew this week. It was delicious, and then I left it out on the counter after we’d had our second meal from it. Sad. Oh well.
  • The MFA program I graduated from is closing its doors this semester. I don’t have anything coherent to say about this yet, except this: I am sad that I won’t be able to give back to the community that gave me so much, now that I’ll be a published author soon. Lesson learned: contribute whenever you can. Don’t wait.
  • I am still reading Stephen King’s It. I would like it to end sometime soon, and it looks like it will. After this, I think I should read something rather less gothic. And shorter. The last time it took me this long to read something, it was Moby-Dick (chapter 18! Still no whale!) and I was on deployment in Malawi, and I never finished it.
_It_ feels about as big as this whale.

Stephen King’s _It_ feels about as big as this whale.

I think that’s it for this week. Hopefully by the next time we check in together, I will have finished reading _It_ and moved onto something comforting and fluffy. What did you see this past week? Tell me in the comments below.

P.S. My MFA program’s mascot is the orca whale. I think I won’t be able to look at Orcas for a long time without feeling a little bit sad.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Brain Flotsam 5

Welcome to brain flotsam, the weekly column where I tell you about some stuff I read, saw, or otherwise encountered.

A woman down the street from us waves with both arms when she sees us walking the dog. I like it when people wave with both arms. It seems so happy! enthusiastic! I think I may adopt this from now on.

This important opinion article, from a female firefighter, made me recall my own childhood. Apparently we tell our girls to “be careful” four times as often as we tell our boys. It’s making me check the way I think: Why do I constantly remind myself to be careful? Total situational awareness is one thing. Over-caution is another. Societally-created over-caution is yet another beast, and I’ll keep on fighting it within myself.

Last week, though, I caroomed down the Claremont Wilderness Trail on my bike with something like 10% brake functionality. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone out that day, since I’d already noticed they were soft. Hmmm.

I started re-reading Stephen King’s It recently. I’m reasonably sure I read it in high school, which is when one reads Stephen King books, after all. You guys. This book is remarkable, in aspiration and scope and sheer complexity. Six characters, all fully fleshed out by partway through; flashbacks that all totally make sense. Plus, somehow, proving to me once again that Stephen King really is a master at character above all else, the suspense of this thing lies not so much in the supernatural, but in the humanity of what is ostensibly the subplot.

It

On another note, I stopped reading a book recently, too: It’s called Look Who’s Back, and it presumes that Adolph Hitler somehow wakes up again in 2011 on a patch of grass in a Berlin park. After some bumbling around, he gets his own reality show, starts influencing people, and…and…you might be able to guess why I stopped reading it smack in the middle. *cough* Art imitating life, anyone? Still, it was entertaining for as long as I could stand it.

LookWhosBack

I also went to The Getty with my friend Jen. I hadn’t been there in ages. I like it for its collection, for the fact that it’s free, for the exhibitions it draws from its research department–and also, for the weather that sometimes slides up the hill and only up the hill, leaving the rest of LA seemingly alone. So cool.

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Plus, I read this curatorial note at an exhibit on illuminated manuscripts: “Turbans and a camel add an exotic air.” You know, as they would, unless you lived someplace where turbans and a camel were normal. Then you’d have to find some of those Hot Dog on a Stick costumes to add an exotic air with. You know?

hotdog

(photo: LasVegas.net)

Later on that night we went to an L.A. Kings’ game. There were lots of flashing lights.

I am such a dork.

That’s it for this week. See you next week!

 

 

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Brain Flotsam 4

Welcome back to Brain Flotsam, the weekly feature that touches on things I heard, read, and saw that made me go Hmmmm. Here’s what I encountered this week!

A tour of the British Isles in accents! I haven’t vetted this with my English pals yet. But I found it a very useful lesson in both accents AND *cough* geography.

I’ve decided to stop saying and writing “Best of luck.” To my ear, it sounds disingenuous, almost sarcastic–“Yeah, good luck with that“–and it nearly assumes that whatever it is the person is attempting, s/he’s going to need luck to get it done. I think “all best” is a good way to go.

I just started watching Star Trek. It feels a little bit funny, to immediately “know” that Spock is half-human; that the thing he’s doing to that guy’s neck is the Vulcan neck grip; that the guys in the red shirts are all likely to die. There’s no element of surprise or discovery for me. But still, I’m enjoying it to pieces.

I had a shock this week after reading a most undemanding book. It was called Penelope Goes to Portsmouth, and the edition I was reading had this cover on it:

PenelopePortsmouth2

I read it as light, fluffy, frisky modern lit. Like I said, it was completely undemanding work. But then I went to enter the book into Goodreads, and up popped this cover:

PenelopePortsmouth1

And suddenly I was like, o WOW. I had no idea I was reading outdated old-lady romance garbage! We are, as ever, visual creatures, aren’t we? (Capsule review: This book was really fun to read, if not predictable and not assuming a very sophisticated reader. But it was a nice, quick, one-day diversion.)

Pockets. Pockets are on my mind. Nearly all of my dresses–even the nicer ones–have pockets in them. I look for them. When I am out, I keep business cards, a small notebook and pen, lip balm, in them. And sometimes I store things in them–other people’s business cards, for instance. But pockets are also good for memories. This week I found this in the pocket of a dress I last wore in December, in England:

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It is a tiny propeller off a tiny airplane that was a toy in a Christmas cracker. It immediately sent me back, briefly, to an awesome evening with great friends. Pockets. Good for finding memories.

Tune in next week for more Brain Flotsam!

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#45daysof, or Adam Kimble in Claremont

This weekend we had visitors.

They were unexpected and joyous and dashed about our house, a little group of sleek-headed, very effective, very friendly otters. (I have established this week that otters are not naturally friendly. They are cute for the sake of survival. But that is another post.)

Well, three of them were sleek. The last, standing head and shoulders above me, was one Adam Kimble, and he was not sleek. He is bearded and bushy and grinny, all teeth and goodwill, and he is, even as we speak, running across America in an attempt to break the current Guinness World Record.

This is Adam at the Gobi March last year.

This is Adam at the Gobi March last year. (photo: Adam Kimble)

Adam is not an ultramarathoner, historically. He only came onto the scene two years ago, but since then, he’s placed in the top ten several times, and last year, he won the famed Gobi March. He’ll take 45 days to run across the U.S., and if he does it, he’ll be the the first person ever to break the GWR, besting the current record by a day and a third. (That record has stood for 36 years, and it’s been challenged a handful of times.)

Here is where we marvel at the fortitude of a guy who’s setting out to break a world record. And then we marvel at the fact that Adam will have to average 68 miles a day in order to make his preferred time. And then we think about the organizational skills of Adam’s core team of five people, who will manage everything from his nutritional intake to his social media presence.

But really, as I look back on our weekend with Team Bearded Sole, three things strike me:

1. I have cool friends. We got to hang out with Adam and his mates this weekend because Josh, one of their crew, is a friend of mine from ShelterBox. Although I’m never surprised by how awesome my friends are, I am always pleased to discover more great people because of them. Josh will be with Adam the entire trip. You can read more about him here.

2. Niceness is underrated. So many times when we meet people, we look for different things to say about them: “She’s sharp!” “What a striking look about him.” “Interesting background,” we might say. I don’t think I’ve heard someone say, for a long time, anyway, that someone they’ve just met is nice. I love nice. We should all be nicer. Team Bearded Sole is definitively, fantastically, nice peeps, from conversational skills to manners to all-around greatness to be around.

3. Forty-five days is a long-ass time. When I was training for Ironman, I thought to myself, what am I going to think about for those 16 hours they allow me on the course? And when we were training (I think Ironman is my biggest commitment yet), I always knew there would be a day off in the training schedule coming soon. I have never done anything hard for 45 days in a row.

So I’m signing up to “follow” Adam on his 45-day quest. Every day, today and for the next 44 days, I will produce a watercolor drawing of some sort. (Look for the hashtag, #45daysof, at Instagram and Twitter.)

I think Adam is after living the best life he can. He wants to inspire others to do the same. I also think that, in order to reach this best life, you sometimes have to do things that are a little bit hard, even if you naturally love to do them. So I will try my hand at this, and see what outs.

For Adam, it may be the besting of a Guinness World Record. For me, it may be a pile of 45 crap drawings. Or, it might be some gained watercolor skills. Either way, it’ll be fun.

Which, incidentally, seems to be the other part of this trek across the United States. Just in case, you know, you were wondering what it would be like to spend 45 days, doing something you love, with some close friends in an RV, mucking across a great, wide-open country.

Run, Adam, run. We’re with you.

Would you like to join me in #45daysof? Pick something you’d like to do for 45 whole days. Make it a goal. Tell me in the comments below. 

This is Adam's route. You can live-track him from his web site.

This is Adam’s route. You can live-track him from his web site.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Brain Flotsam 3

Welcome back to the weekly digest of things I saw, heard, or encountered this week that I thought you might like, too!

Check this awesome museum out: It’s the museum of endangered sound. Yes, sounds like the fax shriek, the AOL sign-in, and other things guaranteed to bring you back in time. via Stefan Bucher.

I liked these New York steps the way they were when I used to live at the top of them.

This cover, of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” from Linkin Park. What I love about this is how much the crowd gets into the song, singing along with the chorus. Some music transcends genre.

We went to visit Monterey this weekend, and checked out Heart Castle along the way. Here are some faces I noticed at the castle:

By the way, Hearst collected sarcophagi. What a weirdo. More importantly, the architect for Hearst Castle was Julia Morgan, one of the U.S.’s first female architects. Very cool.

And then we went to the aquarium. Otters. Octopuses. Lovely views of the water. And I bought this book, all about the sea. Stay tuned for a capsule review over at Tahoma Literary Review at the end of this month. sea

That’s all for this week. What did you see, encounter, hear, read?

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