I mentioned a while back that “The Saltwater Twin,” the first chapter of my book, is included in this year’s Best American Nonrequired Reading. Well, it’s in bookstores now and you can go out and get one for yourself!
They sent me a contributor’s copy, but I couldn’t wait. I had to go out and get one the day it came out earlier this month. I tried to act nonchalant at the bookstore, but wound up telling the cashier I was in the book. Oy. I will never be one of the cool kids. Continue reading Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014
I can write about years in a paragraph, but the years took years to pass. –Dorothy Allison
You may have noticed I’ve been absent a minute. That’s because I really wanted the next time I posted to be able to say—
Pop the bubbly, kids, I’ve finished my manuscript!
The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures is ready for the next stage in its journey to a bookshelves, beach bags and bedside tables. Next steps are to hear back from a small cadre of readers who’ve generously offered to give me their impressions and then letters letters letters to agents. Though I haven’t printed the manuscript in its entirety, I’ve been doing the screen equivalent of picking it up and hefting it in my hands by opening the document and scrolling through. It’s clocking in at seventeen chapters, three hundred eighty four pages.
I just read Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett’s memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy. She describes standing on her first novel the day she finished the manuscript to see how much taller it made her. I do feel taller. Very important allies and friends Jordan “Pittsburgh Road Trip” LaSalle and Lindsay “Self-appointed Biggest Fan” Porter helped me celebrate with an enormous pasta dinner.
Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself. —Saint Francis de Sales
I’ve often felt like a late bloomer. Not as a kid—I learned to read at age three, and that saw me through for a while, impressing grownups and whatnot. But now I’m grown up myself, I sometimes feel like it’s taking an impossibly long time to get there. I’m not 100% certain I know what there even is. Not fame and fortune. Weeell, maybe a teensy bit of fortune. Maybe a laurel or two. At a minimum, I really, really hope I can quit waiting tables before I’m half a century old. I don’t know if it’s because academic achievement came so easily when I was young or if it’s because our culture is infatuated with youth and early success, but for some time now I’ve had to ignore this refrain that ticks through my head like a very nasty white rabbit: too late, too late, too late. I’m much happier when I forget about time altogether and just settle in to the work at hand.
I subscribe to a “weekly interestingness digest” from a really cool site called brain pickings. This weekend it included a letter from Charles Bukowski to the editor of Black Sparrow Press who offered him $100 a month to quit his post office job and write full time. Bukowski was 49. Seventeen years later, he wrote a thank you: Continue reading Late Bloomers
I’ve been thinking it’s time for an excerpt. This is from a chapter called “Law of the Jungle.” It was published last year in The Chattahoochee Review. I suppose it’s not surprising that there is a fair bit of animalia in a book called The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures, but this chapter, in particular, investigates some of my fascination with the four-legged world.
Now this is the Law of the Jungle—
as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
– Rudyard Kipling
They’d been tucked between the electric hued running shoes and the prim ballet flats: a pair of Coach wedge sandals the color of cognac. They were almost seventy percent off. And they were leather—which is why I shouldn’t have tried them on in the first place and why I’d been carrying them around for a good quarter of an hour trying to make up my mind whether to take them back to the shoe department or up to the register and accept that I was a hypocrite. Continue reading Law of the Jungle
Sand dunes are in my recent past and my near future! I had a lovely sojourn on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this month, and last week I was invited to the Calumet Artist Residencyon the southernmost shore of Lake Michigan for two weeks—from the end of August through Labor Day weekend. It’s in Miller Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Nelson Algren bought a cottage there in 1950 with the proceeds from selling the film rights for his novel The Man With a Golden Arm. Supposedly, Simone de Beauvoir created a bit of stir by sunbathing naked in his yard. Continue reading Sand, Simone de Beauvoir and a Secondhand Sea
I make lists. I’m soothed, in particular, by the kind where you eventually get to cross things out or check them off. But I make other kinds of lists, too. Lists are containers; they are maps, taxonomies, blueprints. As a kid, I listed ways to make money, things I wanted to have when I grew up, things I needed to pack for vacation, boys I liked, books I liked, songs I liked.
I like writing that’s based on lists. I liked the litanies we said in church when I was a kid—Heart of Jesus, Lamb of God, pray for us. Nowadays I often used list-based writing in teaching.
I am waiting for my case to come up and I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder and I am waiting for someone to really discover America and wail and I am waiting for the discovery of a new symbolic western frontier and I am waiting for the American Eagle to really spread its wings and straighten up and fly right…Continue reading A Taxonomy of Couches: Listmaking in Writing and Life
Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language. —Henry James
Even though the official start to summer is solstice on the 21st and even though I like the idea of kicking things off with a nice pagan ritual and bonfire, the real onset of summer feels like the last day of school. And it’s here! My fourth graders at Morton performed their superhero stories, we said goodbye and now it’s onward ho to long days, leisurely dog walks and summer adventures. Here are a few things I’m excited about this summer:
1. Writing, writing, writing.
I’ve got two essays that are a hair’s breadth from being ready and four that still need a fair amount of elbow grease. Then, at last, I can start querying agents.
One of the essays I’m working on is called “Sweet Tooth.” At this stage it’s essentially a collection of notes on the topic of having a sweet tooth and sweetness in general. As an initial step, I decided to try to catalog my history in sweets, remembering things like— Continue reading 7 Things I’m Looking Forward to This Summer
I was thinking this week about all the books I’ve read over the course of writing The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures. Some I read primarily for research, others to immerse myself in the genre of personal narrative and memoir. I wouldn’t say all of these are suitable beach reads—some are what my friend Marie would call kind of “intense.” (Marie calls lots of things intense, including certain movies and giving birth.) Nonetheless, here, in no particular order, are some selections from my Saltwater reading list.
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Jonathan Gottschall
From the dust jacket:
Humans live in landscapes of make believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives… Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.
“The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen
Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above.
If you haven’t read this, you really should. It’s a perfect, creepy and utterly disturbing and magical fairy tale that has been analyzed and dissected in fascinating ways by feminists and other smarty pants scholars.
Lonely: A Memoir, Emily White
The feelings of isolation that accompany loneliness are entirely different from the more sated and creative feelings that accompany solitude, and it’s entirely reasonable to feel lonely and yet still feel as though you need some time to yourself.
A thoughtful investigation into a hard to quantify and describe state.
The Book of Deadly Animals, Gordon Grice
In which I learned this word: anthropophagy—the eating of humans and in which the author discusses humans’ peculiar belief that we have a special place at the top of the food chain. (We really don’t.) We are, however, far more proficient at killing human beings than any other animal on the planet. Continue reading Summer Reading
So right about now, this book I’m writing is feeling a little bit like that mean kid who holds something like your notebook or your hat just out of reach while you jump at it over and over, thinking this time you’re going to grab hold and not let go. I’m feeling kind of blue about the fact that I’m not done. (Side note: If you are feeling kind of blue, listening to Kind of Blue may actually help, especially “Blue in Green.”) My self-imposed deadline of the end of March has come and gone, but I’m still not done. Every essay I plan to include has at least been started, but I’m still not done. Since beginning this journey, I’ve written fifty posts for this blog, I’ve published excerpts from my manuscript in Creative Nonfiction and The Chattahoochee Review and have one forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, I’ve read selections from it at several story nights in Chicago and I have one more slightly thrilling book-related announcement I’m not at liberty to make yet. I’ve learned a lot, I’m a better writer than I was when I started—
But. I’m. Still. Not. Done.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a writing conference in Poets and Writers that sounded kind of dreamy. It takes place at the Algonquin Hotel (among other spots) in Manhattan, surrounded by the ghosts of writers past; they only accept a handful of writers—and they hook you up with literary agents cherry picked to be a good fit for your particular manuscript. And though it costs beaucoup dollars, which I don’t currently have on hand, I applied anyway in case they had financial aid or scholarships or something like that. Continue reading Some Advice on Writing and Life
Hello, friends. I’ve been invited to do another blog Q&A, the #mywritingprocess blog tour. The last one was fun, and I really like the idea behind this one, which is to delve into each writer’s process.
I was tagged by Shauna Hambrick Jones, a writer whom I met at the Creative Nonfiction writing conference I attended last May in Pittsburgh. Shauna and I were assigned to the same workshop, after which we went for drinks and talked about grad school, business cards and other items of interest. Check out Shauna’s contribution to the blog tour at mentalshenanigans.com, in which she discusses kaleidoscopes, red wine, her memoir-in-progress, learning to blog and—on a serious note—how Freedom Industries’ recent spill of toxic chemicals into the West Virginia water supply have impacted her family and her work.