I Also Need a Theme

Since I finished my manuscript, I’ve been literarily adrift about what to write. It would help if I had a theme–I just can’t think of one good enough to sustain my interest.

My writing group’s current theme is the Zodiac, and I can’t tell you how uniteresting the Zodiac becomes when one has to sit down and write a poem based on what sign we’re currently in.  Part of that has to be because in general, I don’t give much thought to the Zodiac.  Maybe the Chinese Zodiac would have been a better topic–at least that’s full of animals, and writing about animals can be a good prompt.  Sure, sure, the general Zodiac has a few animals–Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Leo, maybe a few more I’m not thinking about, but those are much later in the year–well, not Pisces, that’s what we’re in right now.  But what do I have to say about a fish?  I’m not Marianne Moore.

A book of writing prompts could be useful, but I am not often happy with what I produce when I use them.  Not to mention, writing prompts generate many disparate kinds of poems without a central theme… and it’s the theme I am looking for.  After all, I have to find the next focus so I can start on the next book.  I would really prefer it doesn’t take me another four years to write one (like it took me to write this one).

Still, if any of you out there reading this have any suggestions of good writing prompt-y kinds of books, could you leave me a comment?

I Need a Hit

I’m jonesing–yes, jonesing–for an acceptance.  For the last few months, it seems like I was getting an acceptance every other week or so, and it’s been 15 days since my last acceptance (a piece of flash non-fiction).  True, it’s been only 3 days since a rejection, and really, I should be grateful for that, because it means that even if the journal didn’t like what I sent them, at least they read it.  That should count for something, right?

Let’s be honest–the “hit” I want… is for someone to tell me they want to publish my book.  And that it will be a great hit with the publishing world.  That it will get a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, a National Book Award, Georgia Book of the Year Award, and various other accolades that proves that all the time I spent working on it wasn’t time wasted.  It’s hard waiting to hear back from book contests.  I want to know NOW.

So while I’m waiting more or less reasonably patiently about the book, I feel like every journal I have stuff out at should just agree to publish my work to make my wait more tolerable.  What do you think?  Seems fair, right?  ;-)

And again, I hope your writing and publishing are going well.  (I know we writers are all in this together.)

 

Keeping Track

I haven’t been a publishing machine in the months since last I wrote.  That said, I have been writing and sending my work out with the rigor that I should have been applying myself yea these many years.

To wit:

  • Submitted my book manuscript to 18 contests (so far, 3 rejections)
  • Submitted poetry to 14 journals (so far, 7 rejections)
  • Submitted an application to a fellowship
  • Submitted a play to a journal
  • Submitted creative nonfiction to 3 journals (one journal took a story 2 days after I submitted it!)
  • Submitted flash/ fiction to 5 journals

Every time I open up Submittable and I see all my active submissions, I feel a little self-impressed.  Which is not the worst thing.  I need all the encouragement I can get, because the last few rejections have really bummed me out.  (Especially the one I got on Friday which just infuriated me… unfortunately I can’t go into it because there’s no way to be anonymous regarding the journal and say what I REALLY want to say about them.)

What I really need to do is to get some quiet time and try writing something unusual, something hybridy, maybe.  What that would be, I couldn’t say.  Maybe tomorrow…

Anyway, I’m reveling in my dedication.  And I didn’t post this so that I could be all “look at me, look at me,” but just to remind myself that I can make writing a priority, and that it’s good for me.  And, to have a record of it, for when I’m feeling kind of down about my writing successes, or I reach a dry spell.

I hope all of you are having good luck in your writing too.

Why Having Your Mom Read Your Work Is a Bad Idea

So last night, my Mom tells me that she finished reading my manuscript. Here I’m thinking that she’s about to launch into a litany of Mom-like praise.  No.  This is how the conversation went (and apologies for any spoilers… please don’t let that stop you from buying my book when it eventually comes out):

Mom:  I couldn’t believe that ending.  I kept reading and saying Oh, my God!  Oh, my God!

JC:  What do you mean?

Mom:  I had no idea!  I didn’t see it coming! Oh, my God!

JC:  What do you mean, you didn’t see it coming?  She talks about revenge!  She’s plotting!

Mom:  But killing him, for breaking her sister’s heart?

JC:  No, Mom, she kills him because he raped her sister!  That’s why she’s getting revenge!  And he killed her other sister!  He ran her over in his car!

Mom:  He did?  He raped her sister?  I didn’t see that.  And he killed the other sister?  I mean I knew she died…

JC:  Did you read this book?  The rape is not explicit–it happens “off stage,” but he admits it to his friend…

Mom:  I guess I’m just too pedestrian. [Whatever the hell that means.]  Guess I’ll have to read it again and look for the clues.

JC [trying to sound gentle]:  I’m sorry it upset you. [Look for the clues???  How could you miss them?]

Mom:  Of course I’m upset!  She cut him open!  She chopped him up!  I had no idea!  You should have given me a synopsis before I read this book.  It was too graphic!

JC [a little petulantly]:  But you knew she was going to get revenge…

Mom:  Yes, but I thought it was going to be a spell.

JC:  Well, it was a spell.   She poisons him after she does a spell.  And anyway, he was dead before she chopped him up.

Mom:  I just don’t read things like this… I mean you know these things happen, but I don’t read about them!…Before I share it with [a mutual friend] I’m going to have to warn her. She won’t expect it–it will upset her.

JC:  [Good grief.]  Ok, Mom.

I am somewhat bemused by this conversation–it’s kind of funny, but it’s also a little hard to take.  I mean, if you pay attention at all, there are plenty of signs that the main character is just biding her time (à la Hamlet) until she’s ready to exact revenge on the bad guy.  Ok, so maybe the dismemberment was a little over the top, but at the same time, I tried to write it bloodless–that is to say, very matter-of-fact, very much like reporting what was happening (as opposed to poetic editorializing) to demonstrate how clear-headed she was in carrying out her revenge.  Like I could have been gruesomely graphic, but I tried to be restrained. (As an aside, let me say, one of my writing group members thought I should rewrite this section to make it more trance-like, as if she were doing this murder in a dreamlike state.  But that would never have worked, a) because I don’t write in fragments, and b) that is not how this character acts.  She’s completely within her faculties–which I think makes the scene more chilling, because she’s perfectly clear-headed in the process.  She’s not some kind of psycho-killer.  But I digress.)

The point is, of course, that audience matters.  Clearly, some Moms aren’t the audience for books that examine instances of violence.  My Mom despises violence–she runs out of the room, for example, when something scary or possibly bloody is about to happen on the TV.  And while I think that’s an extreme reaction, I suppose, knowing this about her, I should have expected a reaction like this one.  I should have expected it, but I didn’t–so I didn’t think to “warn” her about the murder–although, I also think if she had been reading more carefully, she would have realized what was going to happen.  For heaven’s sakes, that particular part is called “Blood Will Have Blood.”  Like duh, what did you think was going to happen in something that quotes from Macbeth??

Mom was also upset, I think, because there are no repercussions (at least, in this book–and no, that’s an oblique comment promising a sequel, by the way) for the murder.  The character does, in fact, “get away with it.”  And I’m ok with that.  I think my Mom’s sense of justice doesn’t like that she escapes her actions with no downfall, or at least, no real commentary about it.

But I’m not interested in the main character’s punishment–I don’t think she’s unjustified in her actions–and human “justice” is not what this book is about, anyway.  It’s about supernatural justice–not divine justice, make no mistake–she does invoke the Sign of the Goat/ the Dark Mother, after all.  And also, this is not a Greek tragedy.  Apologies to Aristotle, but it’s not hamartia for her to kill him who needs killing.  And anyway, if you kill without your soul, you can kill in “good conscience,” because in fact, no soul equals no conscience to be damaged.

Poor Mom.  She said, “I never knew I’d have a daughter who could write like something like that.”  Oh, if you only knew.

If I Were Virgil Suárez

My poet friends used to joke that if you wanted to get your poetry published, all you had to do was put Cuban-American poet Virgil Suárez’s name on your submission.  For a while, it seemed like no matter what literary journal you picked up, there would at least one poem by him included–and it didn’t matter what the journal was–it could be a nothing-in-particular start-up journal, or it could be the Prairie Schooner.    I also heard–though I can’t substantiate it–that he had this scary complicated system for submitting his works… and gasp, he simultaneously submitted (back when that wasn’t a thing). The point was, he was very good at placing his work.

I don’t know what Virgil Suárez has been doing lately poetry-wise (his last book of poems came out in 2005)–but according to his Florida State University webpage, he’s just published a book called The Soviet Circus Comes to Havana and Other Stories (C & R Press, 2014) ($15.95 on Amazon)–so, at least I’m not competing for space in journals because of him.

But I am competing for space in journals… and losing, based on the two rejections I received today.  One rejection said that they didn’t “love the piece enough” to send it on to the next level of discussion; the other one praised the “ambition” of the work, but then stabbed me in the heart with the criticism that they found my work “too prosy.”  That just struck me as wrong.  My writing tends to be narrative, but it’s in no way “too prosy.”  I know from prosy–after all, I see student creative writing all the time–talk about prosy!  But of course, journal editors are human, and humans are subjective.  I wasn’t overly bothered by the rejections–submitting is a game to me at this point.

Not that I in any way mean that I don’t take the submission process seriously–I do.  I do research on the journals I submit–I generally try to read them before I send them my work.  But I guess as a writer you just get to the point where it’s all just a game–trying to figure out what certain people will like based on what they showcase in their journals.  If I were the Virgil Suárez of the past, that machine of publishing, I might just send my work everywhere, scatter-shot, and hope something sticks.  I might have a hugely complicated Excel file that lists every journal everywhere, and I might cross-list all the poems that I’ve simultaneously submitted–perhaps the same batch of poems for 15 different journals, and have 80 such batches sent out at once.

But that is gamifying the publication process way to much for the likes of me–that’s a little like playing all the numbers in the lottery.  It might work–and maybe if I were that mono-focused, I could do that and be published far and wide in any number of start-ups and well-established journals.  But on the other hand, my very analog system–I put all my submissions on index cards filed alphabetically by journal–seems to work for me.  I can manage that.  I feel good about my process of reading submission calls, reading the journals whose calls interest me, and submitting my work to them.

It may not net me a lot of pubs, but it feels like an accomplishment when I see all my index cards, even the ones that fall under the “Rejected” tab, as today’s two rejections now do.

 

Worrying, Whining, and Waiting, Oh My

I haven’t really said this to anyone, but since I finished my book, I’ve been feeling really edgy–and worried. Edginess is not surprising; after all, after you’ve put as much time into the book as I have, with characters that you know inside and out, now that their story is done, you don’t know what to do with yourself. How do you say goodbye, except to say it? But now, what are you supposed do you do with your time?

The worry, of course, is probably typical of anyone who’s ever finished writing a book. I’m listing all my current worries:

  1. Why won’t the people I’ve given the book to read, read it? (How dare they be busy with their own lives?)
  2. What if they’ve read it and hate it?
  3. What if they didn’t mind it, but that’s the best they could say for it?
  4. What if no one publishes it?
  5. What if someone publishes it?
  6. What if it gets published, and no one cares?
  7. What if gets published, and people say they like it, but because I always mistrust people, I don’t believe them, and I stay a curmudgeonly old crank convinced everyone secretly hates me and my writing?
  8. What if I can’t write anything else?
  9. What if I can’t write anything else?

That last worry is probably so familiar, everyone feels it.  I listed it twice because the fear is smothering me–that if I’m lucky enough to be successful, I’ll be a one hit wonder, like Harper Lee.  (Of course, if your book is To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s probably just fine to coast the rest of your life and literary career… I should be that lucky.)

I’ve just been feeling like I have no words right now.  I don’t know what to write.  I feel like there are no poems inside me.  I feel like there never will be again.  I feel like I’m in mourning.  Or maybe I’m having the writer’s equivalent of postpartum depression.

This is coming off as overly dramatic and needy, isn’t it?  You’re probably telling me to STFU.  Believe me, I tell myself the same.  You’re probably also thinking, Why don’t you wait and see what happens, and quit being such a whiny little bitch?  If no one reads/ likes/ publishes your book, so what?  You’ll live.  There’s people dying of Ebola virus, did you think of that?

(Great, Ebola.  Now I’m worrying about that too.)

The truth is, my writing group has read my book, and they like it.  I should accept that they like it.  Chris has read it and likes it.  My Mom has read a good bit of it and she likes it.  But a part of me thinks, well, they only like the book because they like me.  So they “don’t count.”  (Isn’t that some kind of ridiculous thinking?  They’re the ones who should matter the most!)

Ugh.  I’m just a big tangle of insecurities and vanity and… STFU JC Reilly.  And go to bed, while you’re at it.

Even Better than Well-Written Rejections Are Sweet Acceptances

My phone just dinged at me.  It dings at me a lot.  It tells me when I need to go to meetings or to tennis matches.  It gives me the score to football games I care nothing about; it tells me how long my trip from work to home will be; it reads my e-mails.  So whenever I hear it ding, I cringe.

But this time it dinged, and there was happy, happy news.  Again, I’m reproducing the message to share with you:

Dear JC Reilly,
     Thank you very much for your interest in Howl. We would like to congratulate you on the acceptance of all five (5) poems you submitted. Your submission was unique, creative, and we believe that our readers are going to love your publication. Please let all other literary journals simultaneously submitted to know that your work has been accepted here and please send us a brief bio to accompany your submission upon publication. Congratulations again and don’t forget to tell everyone where to find great work like yours.
Sincerely,
The Editors,
Howl
Howl took all five poems!  I don’t think any journal has ever done that for me!  I am so happy!  (There is a little bit of margin issues on the poems but I can live with it!  A pub is a pub is a pub.)  Read them here.

*Does a happy dance*