Sunday, May 31, 2015

Publishing, Snobbery, and Me

*This post started as a comment on Paul E Cooley's essay Snobbery and Reality, and then it kind of ran away with itself. Please, read the original essay.*

I've been a literary snob for as long as I've been reading and it got worse when I started "seriously" writing. The dream was to write an important piece of literature that would allow me to live off royalties long enough for me to write my next American Classic. Oh, and I was supposed to do all of this by 25.

Growing up a book nerd there was something special about publishing houses. They were these magical kingdoms full of people who believed in your genius and lived to spread your work throughout the lands. They were your biggest fans and they made sure you got lots of money and a pony. A pony is very important for a writer.

At least that's what they were in my head. And I held on to that part of the dream for so long that I started to lose sight of the real dream. When I was 8, sitting up all night, writing an incredibly naive novel, I wasn't doing it for financial security or prestige, I was writing because for some reason my little brain felt compelled to tell stories. As I learned more about how books were made, it made sense to focus on getting published because that was the way to get your stories to readers. It was the only way- at first. But by the time the internet became a thing, and self publishing exploded all over it, I was completely absorbed by my literary snobbery. I was a "real" writer. "Real" writers didn't need to self publish. I hadn't published anything myself but I felt superior to those that were doing it all on their own. I pitied their efforts.

I was a jackass.

It took me years to realize that though. Years to get to a place where I didn't pity self-published and small house/indie published writers, but admired them. And started to consider becoming one of them.

Now I want 2 things for my writing:

1 I want it get to readers who will love/need/appreciate it.
2 I want the possibility of making money.

The rest is just bows and ribbons.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Can I Just Quit My Job And Read All The Time? Please?

I'm standing in Barnes and Noble with a $50 gift card and a basketful of difficult decisions. Not all of us are going to make it out of here alive and I am beginning to think that I'm less likely to survive than the battered copy of the latest Barbara Kingsolver I keep vacillating about.

The one easy decision is How to Be a Heroine: Or, what I've learnedfrom reading too much. At 20% off it is roughly the same price I'd find on Amazon and well I mean, it just kind of feels like it was written FOR me.

I put FlightBehavior back on the shelf, which should give me a sense of relief but somehow only serves to make the next decision weigh more heavily on my soul. Shit's about to get real.

A $6.95 hardcover of Zadie Smith's NW is in my basket, and I decide will remain in my basket, because I want it on my bookshelf next to On Beauty (which was also a bargain shelf must buy because Zadie Smith novels are supposed to be on my bookshelf; I was an English major.) I still haven't read On Beauty but apparently that isn't enough to dissuade me in my quest of deluding myself about my literary prowess.

I am now holding an apocalyptic YA novel because that is what 30-something women actually read these days. The fact that I am more drawn to this novel than the made for grown-ups, literary fiction I was just contemplating feels a little wrong for a little while but then I read the first two pages of Grasshopper Jungle and good, honest writing is good honest writing, I don't care what demographic it's written to. I put it back though, telling myself I'll use some of the Amazon rewards points I have been hoarding like a crazy coupon lady to buy it when I'm done with the book I'm currently reading.

This month's issue of BUST also makes the cut because I haven't splurged on a magazine in a while and, like the tall black boots I am wearing that give me a thrill because they are tall and black and I can successfully zipper them over my calves, it makes me feel cooler than I actually am.

Exhausted and on the verge of a panic attack I head to the register before I can change my mind. Again.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The View From the Shore #StoryBySunday

She chews a piece of lavender gum and stares across the water, trying to remember what is on the other side. Her fingers rest in the valleys between her knuckles as she imagines that she has anybody else's hand to hold.
She had jumped into something she didn't understand, without thinking about the landing. Eyes closed, screaming at the thrill of rushing air and an unknown destination. They made love on a boat in Lake Michigan and she thought that was all she needed to know.   
She had thought they'd move to Wisconsin, eventually. He'd maybe go back to school and she'd buy a kayak that she'd learn to steer on summer days when she wasn't stuck in whatever shop she'd have to sell her soul to to cover rent and his tuition. At night, breathlessly falling into each other, she'd lay her head on his chest as he points to the ceiling and tells her where her favorite constellations are.
He was somewhere else now. Maybe he made it to Madison alone. Maybe he's still on that tiny island where they met. Maybe he's just gone in a way she doesn't know how to accept. She squeezes her fingers until they stripe pink and white. Looking at them she figures she ought to feel something.
They never should have left the blue waters of his bedspread. There was an entire world tangled up in those sheets and she couldn't remember now, why she had thought that she had wanted more. She dug down deep into herself looking for a reason. Digging until it hurt, scratching at herself until she left scars but still she could not see the truth from where she stood on the shore.
The lake looked like an ocean from here, blue that might as well go on forever because she was never going to see the other side.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dandelion Seeds #StoryBySunday

The first thing I thought, when he told me about the cancer, was "what am I going to do with all of his stuff?" Immediately I could imagine the house clean, decorated without compromise. I imagined a bathroom where the toilette seat was always down. And then I looked at him and said "Oh my God." And that was all either of us said for a very long time.

The prognosis was good. The doctor used a lot of big words I didn't understand and one that I recognized from TV. There was talk of treatment options, side effects, and expected outcomes. I think I nodded and squeezed Mike's hand at all the right moments but I really wasn't listening to anything that was being said. I was thinking, instead, about how much nicer a sectional would look in the living room and wondering how much I would get for his Redskins memorabilia on e-bay.

Mike didn't lose his hair at first but he lost a bit of that gut I had been meaning to start getting on him about and there was a moment, looking at the new, slimmer, Mike, that I thought maybe the cancer would be good for us. We'd be that couple that beat cancer with wheat grass shakes and yoga and love. And then I realized the truth.

I sat next to Mike in his cancer chair, holding his hand, watching something important drip out of him as the poison dripped in. And I thought about what my first vacation alone would be like. Driving home, Mike laid out across the backseat, sleeping, instead of the road I saw new skies, new loves, I saw decisions I only had to make for myself.

One arm dragging across my shoulders, Mike's hip pressed into mine as we walked up the steps, slow and fluid like a dance we had been practicing for in our sleep. The doctor said the treatments were working and I looked for it in his face after I helped him into bed.

He slept and I crawled carefully towards him. I ran my fingers through his hair and when some came back with me I held my fingers close to my mouth, put my lips together and blew a kiss. Watching the strands and clumps float to the carpet like dandelion seeds, I made a wish.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Night Light #StorybySunday

She lay in bed, like she did every night, staring up into emptiness, counting a steady stream of nothing until she fell asleep. If she fell asleep. Some nights this was all there was, the gentle in, out of her breathing and a frustrated 1, 2, 3, 4... until the sun started to creep in through the window.

She had lost count four times somewhere around 3,246 but her eyes were still stubbornly staring and there was not a single yawn threatening to escape from her lips. That was when she saw it, when she sat up, twisted her body around and titled her neck at a curious angle to stare at what shouldn't be there. A thin thread of light slipping in underneath her door. There were no muffled or whispered voices, no near or distance footfalls; only the light.

She tried to ignore it. She told herself to close her eyes and go back to her counting. She knew that was what she was supposed to do. Ignore the light that shouldn't be there. She tried.

The floor was cool against her bare feet as she slid out of bed and out of the room and down the hall. The house was almost entirely dark. There was a light, somewhere, that was struggling to make its way towards her but she could not make out its source. It was so faint she still could not even see her feet hitting the floor in front of her.

She walked toward the light because she couldn't think of a reason not to. If she could not make her body want to sleep than she might as well use it. Creeping through darkened corridors towards an unknown source of light was preferable to boredom. Anything was better than lying on her back staring up, unblinkingly, at an infinity of nothing. Again.

The light did not appear to be growing, nor did it diminish, it remained a constant question, a whisper she needed to lean in just a little further to hear. She kept walking. The path was clear even though she was ever unsure of what her next step should be.

She paused once; she stopped. She thought that maybe she should turn back. The girl turned around. Her feet fixing themselves in place, she twisted at the hips to get a look behind her. There was nothing there, only darkness like a wall. Even though somewhere inside her she knew that was where she had come from, she was afraid. The fear sent chills through her arms and she turned back towards the light. She didn't know where she was going or how far she had come, only that she needed to go forward until she figured it out.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

School Supplies #StorybySunday

She lines three pencils in a neat row next to a blue pen and a black pen and a thick yellow highlighter. A virgin marble notebook sits closed beside them and she lightly taps a tattoo on the black and white speckled cover.
It excites her, new pens, a completely untouched 100 sheets of wide ruled paper. Her classmates start to file in one by one and two by two and sometimes in groups that have to undo themselves in order to make it through the door. She smells change. She smells fear. It all feeds her. She smiles at the summer clean blackboard and sits taller in her chair. Soon the room is almost full and, without looking, she can feel the ring of empty seats around her. The smile doesn't waver, though it wants to.
The bell rings. Textbooks are passed down the rows like a bucket brigade. She has to stand and stretch to take a book and pass it on. Finally, when the book she takes is hers to keep, she stares at the flaws in its facade; the cracks in the corners, the scratches on the cover- some accidental, some deliberately carved. She runs her hand across the face of the book and shudders. She does not like used things.
She looks at her notebook to calm herself, at her three newly sharpened pencils with unblemished pink buds of erasers, at her pens and highlighter, all unspoiled and perfect and waiting. She looks down at herself, at the blouse and skirt and shoes and everything she put on for the first time tat morning, removing tags, taking off protective plastic packaging. Everything is clean and new. She is clean and new. She showered so many times she really ought to be.
Mr. Conroy is pacing and wringing his hands and lecturing about his love of politics and she feels a pull and she wants to be drawn in but instead she slides back ad she thinks that maybe she can slink to the floor and slip out the door and run away from all of this.
She thought she was stronger than this. She told herself that she had won. She believed it when she was alone in her bedroom with her wet hair and clean clothes, placing a marble notebook into a brand new backpack. She thought she had won, had stuffed the secret down her throat and swallowed. But the illusion only lasted when she was at home. As soon as she came back here she knew; no one has any secrets in this place.
She could see it on their faces and in the way that they turned from her. She could feel how she only existed in the corner of their eye now, something to be whispered about but never approached. She saw herself the way she knew they saw her. She saw the dirt pouring out from her skin turning everything she touched a crumbly black.
The dirt was everywhere, dripping down from under her skirt and piling up at her feet in tiny hills. It was running down the side of her face and churning in her stomach. It wasa pushing up, crawling through her, trying to escape. Her eyes were full of it; she could not blink.
She wanted to scream but bit her bottom lip to keep the breaking pieces inside. She had been here before, she knew what to do. She stared at something far away, a photograph on the classroom wall of a place she'd never been. She went there. She left her body and the dirt and screaming need behind and she just kept breathing until the bell rang.