Monday, August 27, 2012

Eulogy for my dog.

More than a month ago I had to put down my dog Tango. My husband and I lived with him for 9 years and in the end he suffered from extreme separation anxiety. This was my first experience of this kind of loss and grief and the first time I have had to euthanize a pet. I am still struggling to come to terms with it, and I'm sure there will be many pieces of writing that will eventually bring me to find my peace. Here is the first.


After you realize that no drug, no technology, no person,
can save the one you care for;
in the moment you accept
there is no help against this sickness, you are no superhero,
and there will be no rescue
from the responsibility of this day,
a day when suffering is measured by the drop
and a reckoning of bare rational scales will not balance--
and--Love defects.

It’s like a second-hand coat: tattered, worn--
shaped by a dear life of memories--
that has stains you'd rather not think about--
that is frayed at the edges with too many strings you know not to pull--
that is familiar--
instead, Turns.
Reveals magician sleeves
and the tucked-away secret now held with purpose:
this cold solution, this sharpest point.
Love crosses the battle line
to ally with forces clamoring for death.

It's a whip-lash,
and it will leave you raw.
A small creature skinned of its
Twitching to feel the world suddenly inside-out.
Here, a keen tooth scrapes along everything soft in you,
hunting it down with dreadful skill.

Be prepared: you may wish you were never tender.
You may imagine yourself, alone,
the only member of a bruised planet.
Or you may find the courage
to hold this hard truth to the center of your chest, where,
unprotected, you will feel the utter warmth,
powering the heart of the final breath given.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A couple marks for non-rejection

I am celebrating minor victories now after a line of rejections. First, I found out I won second place in the County Fair for the first chapter of a SF/F novel contest. I am delighted that the Fair has a literary arts category and rather pleased that I have earned a ribbon. Mine was an urban upbringing, and I have never won anything in the Fair before. I'm happy that I received two free tickets to the Fair and I can go listen to a SF/F panel, author interviews, and compete in Extreme Bobbing for Apples. Now that's a full weekend!

The second minor victory is that I heard back from On The Premises, an online literary magazine. My story "Effervescent" has made it to the next round in their latest contest. Of 318 entries, they selected 10 for the final round. This means I will get a detailed critique of my story. It also means that in a week I might find out I won some money and publication--they pay semi-pro and pro rates. So this could be the first piece of writing I've had published in a decade. I am really excited. I quite like the magazine, too. You should go read some of their back issues because they have a great premise. ;-) (

Along the novel front, things are going really well. I have been steeped in restructuring narratives for the last month or so, but it has really been paying off. On my wall in my office I have a six foot long section of poster board with a universal Aristotelian story line pinned with some wool yarn. Along the line I have now locked in the position of several major scenes, represented by post-it notes. It's funny, the first version of my novel was a wild rush of 25K words in one weekend. All the ideas splattered out messy, creative, and vast because it was pure story and character, not scenes. Then the second version was the beginning of writing the particular scenes to tell the story, and that became very much dictated by this happens, then this happens, then this happens next. Now I am really doing some deliberate structuring. Thinking about theme, thinking about how my two narratives will play off one another, evaluating the perspective the scene is told from, and making sure one scene flows to the next raising questions or tensions. Now I kinda feel like I am managing data. Still generating scenes, but also doing a lot of big picture thought work. It's not always visible work but it is work. So much of writing is like that though. And writers need to have significant intrinsic motivation in order to succeed.

Motivation is something I have been thinking about lately. I have received some extrinsic motivation. The pretty red ribbon, a check, bragging rights--these are all extrinsic motivators. I remember way back when I though of being an English teacher I had to take a class on Education Psychology and we learned about motivating students. Turns out the teacher who hands out candy when students do their work often does motivational damage. One day the teacher runs out of candy and the student no longer receives an expected reward and is less motivated to do their homework. Also, what does candy have to do with homework anyway? A student who comes up with her own reasons for doing her homework, ones that don't depend on external factors, will consistently do her work and learn.

I had a really great conversation last week (a week and a half ago?) with my writing group about of all things, faith. I'm an atheist so I automatically grow slightly uncomfortable using that word after years of philosophy class debates where it was the most frustrating aspect of conversations with theists. But life is full of little ironies and I keep coming back to the notion that writing--being alone in a room with a blank paper or screen--is an act that requires a certain amount of faith. I have a quote next to my computer that reads, "Some things you have to believe in order to see." That is writing. It always starts with nothing and an author believes in her ideas, in her abilities, and because she believes, she can work. And when she works she makes something that was not there before. Writers make something from nothing. That's one of the coolest aspects of writing. There was a time when each of the most influential books I love simply did not exist. They never would have existed if the writer hadn't believed that he or she could write.

So the long and short of it is that I am delighted to find some external recognition. I was happy to post to Facebook about my visible successes with my writing. I will gladly pin my Fair ribbon to the wall in my office. These are external rewards and I value them. But far more valuable to me is that ultimately I write for myself. I write because I want to make something from nothing. I want to tell a good story that entertains and maybe sometimes informs, that has reader impact. And I never want to forget that for me, the parts of my writing that aren't visible to others are the most challenging and rewarding. And where the magic happens. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

More thriving on rejection

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Howard Thurman said that.

Lately, in addition to working on my novel, I've been sending out short stories to professional markets. The rejections have been coming in, marching in impersonal forms. Funny how encouraging it then feels when someone takes the time to send me a personal rejection. I got one of those yesterday and it felt like a margarita on a hot day. Refreshing and fortifying. And I may have a less-than-sober, clear-headed, admiration for the Editor now. Oh well.

The truth is, this whole putting my work out there thing is a little intimidating sometimes. I have moments when I feel vulnerable, like I've gone to high school without my clothes on, or farted in front of someone I wanted to impress. I'm still learning and my mistakes are written down for all to read. But the more I expose myself, the more likely I am to learn from my readers about my mistakes. So I'm trying to have patience with myself and lean into the discomfort. And though I struggle sometimes, it does make me feel optimistic about my ability to grow and become a better writer.

Plus, it means I feel very alive.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Getting encouraged by rejection

I got my rejection from Clarion West today. And I find it encouraging--in both the language they used and in the fact that the process of applying helped me take a big step forward in getting my work out there. I've had measurable growth as a writer in these last six months or so. I'm on the right track. My confidence in my abilities is solid. I am really excited by what I'm working on and what I hope to achieve.

I would have loved to go to Clarion West and workshop with other serious writers. But since space was limited, I really appreciate that they said "no" in such a positive manner. It reaffirms that they would be really cool to work with.

I'm still improving on my own though: that means that next year my application will be even better. I know I'm looking forward to seeing what I'll be able to imagine and create. FutureMe is even more awesome as a writer. Professional. Dedicated. Daring. Ready to learn and experiment as much as possible so she can keep growing. I totally believe in that woman--she rocks.

So I can find gratitude, even in rejection.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Workshop Wednesday

I had a wonderful day today workshopping some writing with my writer's group. It was lovely to see them again and we had a special birthday lunch to celebrate L.'s birthday two days ago. And we workshopped three pieces and then I laid out my plot for my novel and received some great feedback. It was something of a revelation to just talk plot and structure with other writers. It seems like in all my college career and in all the previous writing groups I've been to--there's not enough open dialogue about how to tell a story. Especially on the scope of a novel.

It was such an inspiring and energizing meeting that later when I got home and found an email rejection from Clarion San Diego, it was far easier to shrug it off. Oh well, I have novel plot decisions to make and revisions to write. No time to mope really.

I love the work I submitted to Clarion. It was my best work. I stand behind that. I want to do more of that quality work. And sure being admitted to Clarion would have helped improve my writing, but I'll figure it out on my own too. And maybe the independent path is the more rewarding one.

Eh. 10 days until I hear back from Clarion West. If they don't accept me either, I'm going to have to plan some seriously awesome stuff to do during those 6 weeks. Like a Yosemite trip for rock climbing and writing. And Worldcon. And my own serious burn on producing the first complete draft of my MS. I'm excited by all those prospects.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

This is rivoting.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I have been working like crazy lately on short fiction, preparing my application to the Clarion Workshop. But I've been meaning to gather awe-inspiring poets for more than a month. So creating this was a worthy distraction. Who are your favorite poets?

Really Good Poets:
Andrea Gibson: Probably my favorite poet (as much as I have one). Here's some crazy wonderful love poetry that makes me love her:
An awesome political poem:
Real optimism:
Who wouldn't fall in love with her?

Sarah Kay: She gave an excellent TED talk about poetry then performed two great poems:
Cute and Clever: Awesome poem about friendship:

Saul Williams (I don't always get his poems but this one is brilliant):

Talor Mali-- this is a classic poem:

tanya davis: she writes true.

Buddy Wakefield: original and powerful:

Gary Soto. Just one of my favorite poems ever.