Friday, May 24, 2013

The work

I'm living this novel. I'm drowning in the novel. I'm so deep that I'm unable to fully engage in life without thinking about what I need to change, how to refine, where to expand. This is surreal and special, a sort of space that comes so fleetingly with short stories that it sometimes feels over as soon as it begins.

I'm beginning to see how a novelist finds a rhythm and how reasonable it is to finish a longer work with the luxury of time. But novelists, I'm all the more in awe of your ability to keep track of so much, to not get sidetracked. This is glorious but tough.

It seems the perfect time to do this, like the cards are falling into place. My husband is in Japan, so far away and I miss him so much but his absence leaves quiet. My classwork is over, grades are in. And though I plan to hang out with friends this weekend, to actually relax, I have lots of alone, quiet time to look forward to. I'm rereading one of my favorite books, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, and I'm writing, writing, writing.

I'm 42 pages into the revisions. It's humid in Texas, and I'm taking muggy, slow walks with my dog. I'm returning to the page. I'm not watching TV. I'm not spending too much time surfing the Internet or tinkering with shorter stories. The plan is to channel the focus I had at the Vermont Studio Center; I wish I could return, but it's not realistic for me to keep my job and go to a residency every few months, so I'm taking advantage of the quiet and making my own, at-home residency. At least for a few days.

Since I'm drowning in novel, I won't post much more here today. I will say that I hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. My undying gratitude, respect and admiration for those who died in service as well as all those who served and serve. My support and love to those who are hurting in Oklahoma. If you're interested in donating to help those whose lives have been upset, I'm sure there are many places to do so, but here's a link: Red Cross Disaster Relief 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The call

This week has been surprising and exhausting.

Along with work, it's finals week (I'm taking a break from grading to write this now), and I've been plagued by migraines. More, I've been on a sort of emotional roller coaster regarding my writing career.

Around the beginning of the year, I resolved to start looking for an agent. Well, I haven't. I researched one and one only, and I sent her a short query, but that was as far as it got. I stopped thinking about it and began to find my comfort again in publishing short work online.

Then it happened. This week, an agent contacted me through my website. She said that after reading "Don't Tease the Elephants" in Monkeybicycle, she found my contact information online and would love to converse. The first thing I did was Google her and her agency. I thought I'd heard of the agency, but I wasn't sure. The agent is legit and the agency is well established. So, I guess you could say, I got the call. The thing is, I didn't see it coming and did not feel prepared.

In order to prepare for our chat, I went online and researched, looking for articles to try and figure out what an agent's role really is and whether that would be something I'd really benefit from. (You know, all the things I said I'd do months ago.) She asked for a short sample of a longer work in the meantime as I am promoting the fact that I have a novel-in-progress. I sent a sample with disclaimers. It was near-maddening to release a small piece of a project that I was not yet planning to send to anyone.

The thing is, I have dreamed of getting this call (which was really an email initially), but when it happened I was caught off-guard. I wanted to be more prepared for our first conversation, but I also didn't want to squander the opportunity to connect. I read numerous interviews with agents and found that many times agents will approach authors instead of responding to queries (strong argument for publishing online) because there are just so many queries that they can't possibly answer them all. I found quite a few sites that suggested questions to ask (the sites I found most helpful are listed below). Armed with these questions, I asked the agent how hands-on she was, how often she spoke with her clients, and whether there was a market for short story collections (I have a full collection almost ready to go, but a novel that could still use some TLC). I asked her what attracted her to my work and how she would categorize it as she shopped it. I told her I was nervous about the sample I sent her, and that I felt far  more comfortable with my short story collection; but, she seemed to want the novel. She said the novel would be a good place to begin. I thought, Nooooooo.... but then I thought again, and I agree. Story collections are a tough major-market sell. And also, I might want to place my own collection in more of an indie market so long as I do it smartly. We'll see. My mind is open to the possibility.

The call was very efficient and, honestly, a bit anticlimactic. She offered some background on her agency, the authors the agency represents and how foreign rights are handled. What I realized is that the agent's role varies greatly from agency to agency. For instance, some agents are far more hands-on than others; some handle foreign rights themselves; some like to speak with their authors monthly, whereas others prefer to see in-progress work weekly. The conversation was enlightening.

After the call, I told friends. A few friends were congratulatory, telling me I deserved it; others told me to be careful and to ensure she has my best interest in mind and would best present my work. Some asked if the agent charges fees. (No.) Some asked whether she'd represent me or the book or the career. Good question. I appreciate all the support. What I've come to realize is that the process is not as easy or straightforward as I thought. It's a business relationship that must develop. There are no guarantees.

I'm excited, and I'm really motivated to get a hundred pages of my novel really polished by the end of the month (as promised). But, I'm also keeping my feet on the ground here. I've made some mistakes in the literary game. But, for my sanity's sake, I refuse to dwell. I am looking ahead, and I believe that if this is supposed to happen, it will. I believe that for everyone. Work, work, work, work, work, work, and work some more. Eventually, if you work hard enough and keep your mind open, something will happen.

All that to say, again, I've been an emotional wreck. I've been very happy, and I've felt very naked. I've felt both supported and not. It's an interesting outcome, and it's really enlightening. I suppose I can only focus on the positive, get those hundred pages set, and be honest with myself as our correspondence continues.

In other news, I have an experimental piece in ARDOR entitled After the Gazebo. It was wonderful working with the staff there, and I'm really proud of the piece because the way it's told is very difficult (for me) to pull off. If you go to the link, also, you can PDF the pages. I read the whole magazine that way. There's beautiful photography and truly provocative work in those pages.

Here are the sites that helped me to prepare for my first agent call. If you're looking yourself, or think you might get the call one day, save yourself some emotional upset and read these ahead of time:

What to Ask an Agent? 
Questions to ask an agent offering representation
Fiction Addiction
Query Tracker

Hopefully, I'll have an update the last week of the month. My writing career has been transparent, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Writing is hard work. Instead of trying to create the facade that I'm flawless and incredibly talented, I'd rather let everyone know that I'm flaw-filled and have very little talent. The thing is, I work my ass off because I love to write, and I love to tell stories. Whatever happens, it's an interesting ride, and I'll keep putting in work.

"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, May 11, 2013

On the art of seeing

I'm going to ramble a bit.

I've been thinking a lot about perspective this week. One of the most interesting things about life, a thing to tease out in any narrative fiction, is how varied perspective can be. Take a simple issue, look at it through different eyes, look at it when you're older, look at it from the perspective of the very rich or the very poor, look at it as though it will immediately impact your life, and then look at it from a safe distance. Perspective does not change a thing, but it redefines the thing.

I've been thinking about that a lot for a few reasons. 1. A person I feel a certain way about seems to have left a completely opposite impression on another, and in a conversation that even mentions said person, there is an obvious clashing of perspective. 2. A person I know is offended that comedy would even broach catastrophe, whereas an effort of comedy to heal those victims of catastrophe is offering help in the form of humor. 3. A food tastes so incredibly satisfying, and when I was younger it would have made my stomach turn.

It seems like such a simplistic issue, but I think finding art in all this, in life and everything it has to offer, means an ability to question perspective. That's really all I have on a personal note this week. And I need to find a way to incorporate some strong examples in my lecture on perspective for my summer class.

In writing news, I have a new story out about a woman, a sort of busybody whose aim is to make anyone she comes into contact with smile. People seem to like this one. Here's a link: The Suit

And with that, I'm currently trying to decide whether I should go see Mud or Gatsby before I finish my grading today. Last week of class! If I'm incredibly blown away or repelled by my movie choice, I might post tomorrow.

Otherwise, Happy Mother's Day and a happy week!

Friday, May 3, 2013


May is time to celebrate mothers, toast on Cinco de Mayo and eat too much guacamole, enjoy the change of season, cookout (Maybe. I mean, what's with this weather? It's 40 degrees in S. Texas!), and honor men and women who died in service on Memorial day. May is about celebration and memory. I welcome it.

For me, May means that class will come to an end (bitter-sweet), the weather will begin to get Texas hot (maybe), and I will clean and organize my closets and drawers (scary).

The month was brought in well writing-wise. I was told that my story Getting There, which originally appeared in PANK, was nominated for and received finalist status in the 13th Glass Woman Prize. I love this competition, because a.) It recognizes the value of women writers (thank you, Beate) and b.) it's not the kind of competition you enter and pay a fee for, it's about the work that you've put out into the world. So, I'm honored. Please read all the stories here. A direct link to the slightly revised version of Getting There that won, go here.

In other writing news, I have work forthcoming in ARDOR and Burrow Press Review. Both journals have been amazing to work with, and I am very excited to move forward with the pieces (both of which are coming this month!). The story in ARDOR is quite different for me. It's haunting and strange, and if I remember when I post the link to the issue, I will tell you the story behind the story's creation. This story is equally as haunting.

In reading news, I finished The Reluctant Fundamentalist only to then purchase in on audio because when books are that good, that's what I do. The Audible recording as great, almost as good as reading the book.

The amazingly generous Kathy Fish sent me a pre-release copy of her collection Together We Can Bury It, which I have not yet finished because I don't want the thing to end. I read the last story first, then read the first story, then opened to a random story... this is how I read short story collections so that I forget how many stories I have left. It's silly, but it's my bedtime book, and I really, truly love it. The short shorts I read a few at a time, the longer ones I savor.  

In other news, I am exhausted! Seriously. I'm suffering from serious exhaustion. This weekend is about R&R. I might not even get online (yeah right).

So. To celebrating mothers and cleaning our closets! To relaxing and reading good fiction! Have a beautiful start to your May.

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