Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
Archives for April 2014
I stumbled this week. I broke my own golden rule: I replied to a rejection. I’ve even written about not replying to rejections, and then I got the email at work, and I tried to make myself think it through, but . . . ugh. It was a terrible conflation of my job reaching new loathsome lows, no sleep to deal with it, and then this email.
And the thing is: it wasn’t a bad rejection. It was, in fact, a kind, personal rejection. It was sincere and well-intentioned . . . but let me explain.
I have been chugging through my query list, a few out every so many weeks, and, well, I’m doing okay in terms of requests for more material but I also know what several agents have told me: this book might not get picked up, period. It’s not-YA, the market is saturated, everyone has similar projects on their lists. And each time I’ve been told this I have just bowed my head and pushed on. Because this book chose me, it’s got three years of my life in it and I’m still twiddling with it while I get ready to tackle its sequel. It is what it is.
I saw this agent’s website, though, and I had a good feeling. Things about her background, her education, the kinds of stories she was looking for . . . it felt possible, in a way that not every name on my big list feels.
The rejection made it clear that my instinct was right: it was a near-miss, a difficult decision. She said nice things about my writing and the book. And then she finished by saying she was certain it would soon find a home, if it hadn’t already.
It was the last line that did it. Because I’m totting up rejections well into the double figures now; because I’ve been at this for months and will probably be at it for the rest of the year and who knows what will happen then; because I am struggling. I knew it would be a struggle but there’s a world of difference between looking ahead to the struggle and being immersed in the struggle. I should have felt buoyed by her words; instead I felt wounded, inadvertently mocked, and I replied with some passive-aggressive sh*t poorly veiled as a thank-you.
So Ms. Agent, if you are out there: I apologize. I would do so in an email but I’ve abused that line of communication, I don’t want to impose further. It was unprofessional and, I hope, atypical. I am sorry.
And starting next week, no more checking email at work. 🙁
Rhonda Parrish, the wonderful editor of both Fae and Niteblade, has tagged me in a blog hop on process. Which is rather fortuitous, as I happen to love thinking and talking about process; I find the more aware I am of my own process, the more I am able to hone it and direct it. Writer, know thyself!
So without further ado:
1) What am I working on?
I’ve got three projects on the go right now:
–fine-tuning Talassio, my first novel, and making notes for its sequel (I wrote a draft some time ago, but it needs restructuring due to characters in Talassio deciding to do their own thing)
–a novelette tentatively called “Little Men with Knives”
–a novelette which I can only describe as “the olives and lemons thing”
There are several other short stories in various stages of writing, but I am studiously ignoring them . . . I am trying to break myself of a lifelong habit of tackling too many projects at once. So right now there’s the novel and its projected trilogy, and then there’s a story or two I can work on when I’m sick of the novel and its projected trilogy. It’s all I can manage at the moment.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Hrmm. I don’t really have an answer for that, so I’ll try a different approach. Two of the reader responses I most often get are that my work is literary and my work is slow-paced.
I love slow fiction. I love lush detail and poetic language and fleshed-out inner lives, I like being able to linger in a moment. The stories I love are ones that utterly subsume me, not just with plot but with world-building, complex characters, philosophy and concepts woven in to the fabric of the story—what I think of as capital-S Story, a kind of all-encompassing empathetic act that pays as much attention to where, who, and why as what happens next.
I don’t think my work has yet reached the level of Story, but it’s what I’m striving for. Lately, though, it seems that the more I push my work in that direction, the more difficult it becomes to sell: “genre” magazines reject me for being too “literary,” yet “literary” magazines reject me for writing “speculative” fiction. It’s a frustrating position to be in—and yet when the acceptances do come, they are far more satisfying.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Like many others, I write the kinds of stories I want to read. I have favorite subjects that I have been revisiting for, oh, can I say decades now? The body, culture shock, systems of power and knowledge, the many forms love can take . . . But I also write out of anger: writing is a way to make my anger productive. Recently I was looking over the last few stories I’ve written, and I realized they share a common theme: women in lousy situations trying to seize/subvert power in order to gain control of their lives.
I don’t think I’m quite done with that theme.
4) How does my writing process work?
I try to write every day. On work-free days I get up, brew a cup of tea and feed the cats, and sit down at the computer, where I spend about half an hour looking at email etc. while I sort of submerge; once I start writing I try to keep at it for at least three or four hours. If I’m feeling blocked, I use Freedom and bribes to keep myself going, and I remind myself of rule #1: when it comes to getting the words out, anything is better than nothing.
When I’m going in to the office I bring pages to edit on the train and at lunch, or I do crits, or catch up on research for the novel. I’ve learned not to try writing fiction on office days; instead I write journal entries at night to clear my head out enough to sleep.
I used to be very precious about my writing—only when it moved me, late at night, just the right kind of music on, etc. It took me a long time to learn that if I really want to do this, I need to just write, as often as I can. Editing can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but it can’t do anything with a blank page.
Thank you, Rhonda, for giving me the opportunity to natter on! Please do check out the other Fae contributors that she tagged. I will be reading them all, and probably learning a few things as well!