NaNoWriMo-ing It Up

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's that time of year again, kids! NaNoWriMo!

This NaNoWriMo badge incorporates all of my favorite things: computers, books, paper, travel...sunny places. 
I'm super excited that I get to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year because it's been awhile since I've even been able to attempt it. For whatever reason, the founders of NaNoWriMo chose November as the month dedicated to all things novel, which also happens to be one of the worst possible months for a grad student to try churning out 50,000 words of coherent prose. When I was taking classes, November was the time of research and seminar-paper writing. Last November I was done with coursework, but I was frantically memorizing names, dates, and theoretical terms; using my best detective skills to find info on little-known texts I hadn't had time to read (oops); and racking up frequent-buyer points at Starbuck's as I prepared to take my PhD comprehensive exams. On top of that, I had to fly to Pittsburgh and present a paper at a conference, and then there's that whole holiday thing, where, if you are like most college students, you find yourself taking off to visit the fam for a few days. So add up all of that + all of the normal teaching/work demands + the fact that November only has 30 days, and November quickly becomes the worst possible time of year in which to try to write a novel. 

But this year is different. Yes, November is still busy. I'm headed to New York in a couple of weekends, and then down to Huntsville to the in-laws for five days at Thanksgiving, plus working/teaching full-time, but I'm at the point in my studies when I can put my dissertation on hold for a month and just work on my novel. Maybe that isn't the most responsible thing for a struggling dissertation writer to do, but it darn sure makes me happy.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of flying south to attend the second annual Auburn Writers Conference, founded by the amazing Chantel Acevedo, and it was just the kind of writing pick-me-up I needed to remember what I really want to do with my life and that I need to make writing more of a priority in my life. I met so many great authors (including the hilarious Joshilyn Jackson and the delightful Victoria Schwab), sat in on some wonderful workshops, and had my writing bucket filled to the brim. I returned to Pennsylvania feeling happier and more complete than I had in months. I don't want to lose that feeling. I want to act on all of the resolutions I made to myself when I was sitting in those workshops, and NaNoWriMo is where I'm going to start. 

A few days after the conference, Chantel released her new YA novel, Song of the Red Cloak (which you should buy immediately!), which she composed during NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. It wasn't the first time she'd attempted NaNoWriMo, but it was the first time she finished it (you can read the story of how she wrote Song here), proving that if you have the right story, 50,000 words isn't as impossible as it sounds. This year, I think I've found the right story. For the next month, I've written "Write 1667 words" at the top of each day's agenda. I've got my pencils sharpened (and my laptop charged), the new Florence + the Machine album downloaded, and a stockpile of orange-cinnamon tea. 

Bring on November 1.


Weekend at Disney, and a ROW80 Update

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Only a little more than a week in, and I'm already failing at my goal of writing everyday. Last Thursday I left for a weekend in Orlando to take care of wedding business and spend some time at the Disney parks, and I didn't write anything during those four days. I did do a lot of thinking about my WIPs, though--seven hours in a car by yourself will do that to you. Awhile back I wrote about getting seduced by a Sexy New Idea (SNI) and temporarily abandoning the YA novel I was working on, but I'm pleased to say that thanks to those two ridiculously long car rides, the novel and I are back on very good terms. I was able to think through a couple of scenes I was stuck on, and it feels good to be working on it again. I did manage to write the past two days, so I'm not going to be too hard on myself for not writing over the weekend.

The weekend at Disney was a nice break from work, and I'm getting really excited about the wedding. I know a lot of people probably think T and I are crazy for getting married at Disney World, but I'm feeling really good about the decision after meeting with our wedding planner. Basically, we wanted a destination wedding that we could have in December and that wouldn't be too far for our family and friends to travel to, and we wanted someone else to do most of the work for us, and Disney is definitely meeting all of those objectives. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a "princessy" girl, so this isn't going to be some Cinderella's coach, fairy tale-styled wedding. We're aiming for simple and elegant, with lots of fun surprises for our guests, and after our planning session I'm finally feeling like we just might pull it off.

On Friday we spent the day with our wedding planner, Michelle, and meeting with the florists and chef, and we accomplished so much in just one day. I was a bit nervous about how the day would go, but everyone was so friendly, accommodating, and professional that I felt perfectly at ease. We got to sample cakes and build a custom cake from the bottom up, play with floral designs, and tour the Wedding Pavilion and Narcoossee's, where we are having the reception. They are both right on the Seven Seas Lagoon and surrounded by windows, so everywhere you look you see light and water. Airy, beautiful, and exactly what I wanted. We also got to go back into the kitchen at the Grand Floridian for a special menu tasting, which was fun and exciting. On the marquee that had "Welcome Lacy and Thomas," and they had a formal dining room table set up right in the middle of the kitchen with our custom menus lying on the plates. Chef Corey prepared each of our dishes and talked with us about different ways he could adjust them to our palates, but they were all so wonderful we didn't need anything changed. At the end as a thank you gift he gave us each a block of Himalayan sea salt, which I'm really excited about trying in recipes.

That evening we went to Epcot to look at some of the places we are getting photos taken (primarily in France, Italy, Morocco, and the UK), and to see the space where we are having our dessert party (UK Lochside). We watched Illuminations from there, and it truly is a spectacular spot. I can't wait to share it with our guests, especially the ones who haven't been to Epcot before (like my grandmother). On Saturday we went to Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom, and we got to end the day with Wishes, which is always the perfect end to a vacation. The whole weekend reminded me of why I love Disney and what fun it will be to experience it with my closest friends and family. Despite how overwhelmed I've been at work this week (and expect to be for the next two weeks), I'm feeling really good about life right now and really looking forward to the future.

The Wedding Pavilion, where we are having our ceremony
In the Grand Floridian kitchen, our names on the marquee


A slow but solid start

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I almost forgot today was a ROW80 update, but thankfully I wrote it down in my planner, which I just pulled out for the first time today. (It's been one of those days.) So far I'm meeting my goal of writing everyday, although I must admit that I haven't written that much. Yesterday I added a paragraph to my WIP--only a couple hundred words, but's a start. Considering I hadn't even opened the file in a couple of weeks, a new paragraph feels pretty amazing right now.

In part, I have to thank the Fourth of July for inspiring that paragraph. Because I'm so overwhelmed with work right now, at the last minute Monday evening I decided not to go to my town's Fourth of July celebration. Instead, I decided I would work until 9:00 p.m. and then treat myself to the fireworks display and the newest episode of Weeds. The fireworks were shot off from the ball fields just down the street from my house, so when I heard the first explosion at 9:00, I paused Weeds and went outside and sat on my front steps. Up and down my street, people abandoned backyard barbecues and house parties to gather with their friends and families and watch the twenty minute spectacle. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who was watching the fireworks alone, which may sound depressing, but was actually a blessing in disguise. The fireworks were absolutely amazing, probably the best show I've seen outside of the Magic Kingdom, colorful and creative and perfectly choreographed. And it was exactly the inspiration I needed to write that paragraph yesterday.

My novel opens with the protagonist on a beach by herself watching a similar display, one also representative of independence and freedom, so watching the fireworks Monday night really put me in the right frame of mind to rewrite that scene. In fact, I was rewriting it in my head the entire time I was sitting outside watching the fireworks, and afterwards I went inside and sketched out the basics of the scene. (Okay, I watched Weeds first--but it did get written, so that's all that matters.)

So I'm two for two so far this week. The rest of this week will be a bit trickier because I'm going to Orlando for the weekend, but I'm taking my pocket-sized notebook with me so I can scribble lines and phrases while I'm waiting in line to ride Space Mountain or something. And I plan on seeing fireworks at least twice this weekend, so maybe I'll even work on the opening scene some more. (And have much more to say during Sunday's update!)

Hope you're all having a productive writing week as well!


ROW80: I promise to do better this time

Friday, July 1, 2011

My first attempt at ROW80 was, if not a total failure, pretty close to it. I struggled to reach my goals for the first month or so, and then, in the midst of finals and with my London sojourn looming on the horizon, I just gave up entirely. I'm not proud of this, but I also don't regret it. I don't think I would have enjoyed myself nearly as much in London if I'd been constantly worried about meeting word counts and checking off a to-do list, and I really needed that month to regroup and heal my dysfunctional relationship with my dissertation. Now the dissertation and I are very much in love again, I've come to terms with the fact that I cannot afford to  run away and live in London forever, and I've learned that my ROW80 goals last time were a little ridiculous, at least for my first time.

This time around I've promised myself that I will Do Better, that I will make it all the way to the end, so I've set a single, more manageable goal:
I will write everyday. 

That's right. Starting Monday, July 4, for the next 80 days I will write every single day. Here's the great thing, though, and the reason I might actually accomplish this goal: I'm not giving myself a target word or page limit. I'm not restricting what kind of writing I do everyday. Whether I write four pages on my dissertation, twelve words on my novel, or a two-paragraph blog post, it all counts. As long as I get into the habit of writing everyday, I've decided it doesn't matter what kind of writing I'm doing.

I've got some help this time around as well. I've got several Very Important writing deadlines coming up that have been established by the powers that be (i.e. the dissertation director and the editor publishing one of my articles). For those days I'm feeling blocked, I can exercise my writing muscles in Julianna Baggott's virtual boot camp, which sounds both fun and super productive. And I'm moving to Pennsylvania and won't be teaching for awhile, which should give me more writing time.

So no excuses. I can do this, and you can, too. If you want to join the coolest writing challenge out there, the only one that lets you set the goals, then you should sign up for ROW80, too.


A Day at Flannery O'Connor's House

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tomorrow is the first day of my summer class, so I thought I'd better squeeze in one more blog post before the craziness ensues. This is the first time I've taught a five-week mini-semester, so it is going to be a challenge to cram a 15-week class into 5 weeks. The class meets five days a week for an hour and a half, so that's going to present its own challenges. I haven't taught five days a week since I taught middle/high school, and I've never taught classes that were that long. Despite my reservations about this teaching schedule, though, I'm looking forward to this class. I'm teaching World Lit II for the first time in a year and a half, so I'm actually getting to teach writers and texts I'm somewhat knowledgeable about!

Because of the abbreviated nature of the term, I decided to teach a class devoted entirely to the short story, and I'm really excited about my syllabus. Over the next five weeks I'll get to share (and rediscover) my love for Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Flannery O'Connor, Katherine Mansfield, Jorge Luis Borges, Kate Chopin, and Edwidge Danticat, among others. Because this is a "world" literature class, I couldn't include all of the Anglo-American writers I wanted (including Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, and Jhumpa Lahiri), but I am getting to teach a wide variety of international authors I've never taught before-- Hanan Al-Shaykh, Can Xue, Bessie Head, and Ben Okri, just to name a few.  I'm also having my students do group projects on current trends in short fiction, and they will be presenting on topics like microfiction, flash fiction, and online journals. My ideas for the project are still developing, so if you have any topics you think I should include, please let me know!

The final reason that I'm excited about this class is that it will be my last one for awhile. That's right, you heard it here first! (Or maybe not, if you talk to me in person regularly....) I finally broke the Big News to my dissertation director this week: I will not be returning to Auburn in the fall. I'm not dropping out of school; I've just decided to "dissertate" from afar. So at the beginning of August I'm moving to Pennsylvania, where my fiance lives, and the plan is to take at least a year off from teaching.

This is a break that I really need. The past few semesters I feel like I've just been skating by, doing the bare minimum, and at times I've resented how much time I've had to dedicate to prepping and grading over doing my own research or writing. This is mostly my fault (there were semesters when I was teaching four or five classes split between two institutions), but it's also in part because I've spent the past year teaching only World Lit I, a class I tried to enjoy but got over really quickly. I was talking with another instructor the only day and was shocked to hear that during annual review he told the program coordinator that he refused to add any more women to his syllabus because that would require teaching works he had not studied before, and he could not devote the time to researching and prepping new texts. This shocked me especially because when I first taught World Lit I, I was teaching nothing BUT texts I'd never been taught or even read before: The Ramayana, Egyptian love poetry, Wu Chengen's Monkey, Lysistrata, Dante's Inferno, etc.

Every semester this is what I do. I teach almost entirely new texts, in part because I see teaching as an excuse to read things I otherwise might never push myself to read. But I know I'm also burning myself out with all the extra prepping and researching. I don't ever want to become the kind of teacher who refuses to teach new texts, so I think I need this time to reevaluate who I am as a teacher, who I want to be, and how I can sanely be that person when I have so many other obligations to meet. I also think I need the time to miss teaching, something I have done in the past but haven't done in a looooong time.

On a happier note, since today is officially the last day of summer for me, my brother and I decided to take one last little trip this weekend--we drove to Milledgeville, Georgia, to see Flannery O'Connor's house and grave. We are both big O'Connor fans, so it was nice to share the experience with someone else who has read most of her stories and novels.

O'Connor lived at Andalusia, her family's farm, for the last thirteen years of her short (39 year) life, and she wrote many of her most famous stories while living there. We were the only two visitors there, and we had free-reign to walk around the house (the unrestricted areas, at least) and the grounds. The house itself is fairly unassuming. It isn't some grand plantation house, but a modest white two-story with a screened-in front porch. The grounds surrounding it, including the pond, barn, and several out buildings, are not particularly impressive or memorable. I think the most inspiring part of the house was how uninspiring it was. Being at Andalusia really helped me to see that if you have a rich imagination, you don't need to live in Paris or New York or some other inspiring place to write honest, creative stories. Although O'Connor spent a few years in Iowa attending the Iowa Writer's Workshop, as well as time at Yaddo and in New York and Connecticut, the majority of her life was spent in the town of Milledgeville and living on that farm. Despite this "limitation," she used her background and experiences in the rural South to create stories and characters that have long out-lived her.

I've always been reluctant to write about the South, about the people and places where I grew up, but I think it's time I start digging into them a bit deeper, mining my memories and experiences for their story potential. I think, in many ways, that's what my stories have been missing, that moment of truth and authenticity that can only come from sharing a lived experience. Maybe it's time I start "writing what I know," as opposed to "writing what I've learned."

Me on the famous front steps of the O'Connor house
Flannery O'Connor's bedroom at Andalusia
O'Connor dining room
One of the peacocks on the farm. There were around 50 of them when Flannery lived here.
Barn and Milk House at Andalusia
O'Connor's grave at Memory Hill Cemetary


Learning to Live

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I've been back from my Great London Adventure for a few days now, and it's amazing how quickly things return to normal. Within hours after arriving back in the States, I was already feeling as if I'd never left, just as within hours after arriving in London, I felt as if I'd never lived (or belonged) anywhere else. Today I'm working on my summer syllabus, proofreading the latest issue of The Scriblerian, and reviewing a fellow contributor's essay for a collection on travel/tourism coming out next year. Tomorrow I have a list of wedding-related errands to run (including picking up my dress, which came in three months early!) and paperwork to complete. In other words, things here are just as I left them at the beginning of May. Part of me might even be tempted to believe the whole trip was a dream if it weren't for the little mementos I come across throughout the day: my British Library reader card tucked into a pocket of my backpack; a receipt from Sainbury's folded in my wallet; a Bath train ticket being used as a bookmark; an open bag of Haribo Hari gummies in my purse; the last two lemon macaroons chilling in the fridge. Despite these reminders, it is still hard for me to believe that a week ago I was at Versailles, fighting the palace crowds; wandering through the endless gardens; lying in the grass by the Grand Canal, eating tomato pizza and scoops of pistachio and mango gelato; and peeking through the dust-coated windows of Marie Antoinette's Hamlet.

The Queen's Hamlet has always been my favorite place at Versailles, and one of my favorite places in the Paris region.  I've often heard it spoken of snidely, as the place where Marie Antoinette went to play farm girl, to pretend peasantry when palace life got to be too much for her--an idyllic charade that made the French populace even angrier and more resentful of the royals during the Revolutionary period.  But when I'm at the Hamlet, I tend to see it the way I think good ole Marie did--as a perfect escape, a breath of fresh air when the rest of the world gets to be too imposing, chaotic...noisy.

The first time I visited the Hamlet was in 2005.  I'd spent the previous seven days running around Paris, dragging my friends through museum after museum, hopping from Metro line to Metro line, climbing staircase after staircase to take in wide, sweeping views of cityscape--concrete, plaster, asphalt, and brick stretching all the way to the horizon. Yes, there were occasional patches of green, and every once in awhile we'd stop to rest our feet by the fountain pool in Luxumbourg Gardens or bask in the sunlight on the Sacre Coeur steps, but even then, the city was always breathing, panting all around us.  There was nowhere we could go to escape the sounds of city life: the car horns, squealing bus brakes, non-stop chatter in more languages than I could recognize.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a city girl at heart. I love the speed and energy of city life, the constant movement, the surge of adrenaline I feel every time I run to catch a train or cross a busy intersection or fight my way through a crowded plaza. I need the chaos in order to, occasionally, appreciate the calm, the quiet, the peace of green spaces. And that's exactly what I found at the Queen's Hamlet--calm, quiet, peace--all things I didn't know I missed or was looking for until I had them. And then I never wanted to leave.

Visiting the Queen's Hamlet is now the thing I look forward to most at Versailles--it's the perfect escape after fighting the palace hoards to see the thrones or Marie Antoinette's bed chamber or the Hall of Mirrors.  It feels so remote, tucked away in its little corner of the estate, acres of fields and pastures and streams and lake. It's still a working farm, with donkeys, sheep, goats, cows, and the fattest rabbits I've ever seen.  And even though I had to share the experience with a much larger crowd of people than I had previously (everywhere I went this trip felt more crowded than before), I still felt a sense of calmness descend over me when my eyes first swept over the hills and saw the moulin.  It's the same feeling I get every time I see one of Monet's Nympheas, the feeling that compels me whenever I'm in New York/Paris/London/San Francisco, and feeling stressed or tired or overwhelmed, to go to the Met/l'Orangerie/Tate Modern/Legion of Honor and sit in front of one of Monet's numerous water lily paintings, focusing only on the swirling pools of blue, green, and purple oil and tuning out everything else. In those moments, the city is silenced, the chaos stilled, and nothing exists for me except Monet's thick, broad strokes and the soothing colors of his palette. This is the feeling I get when I return to the Hamlet.

Having so many other tourists around this time had an interesting effect, though. It actually pushed me closer to the buildings, forced me off the approved paths and into the little nooks and hideaways Marie Antoinette once sought. All of the main buildings at Versailles are open to the public--the palace, Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon--except those at the Hamlet. These are all closed up, emptied of their furniture and decorations, of any sign that someone once lived in them. And yet, they feel more alive than any other royal residence. Although all of the other buildings are full of original furnishings, artwork, drapes, and even table settings, it is difficult for me to imagine people (namely, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI) actually eating at those tables or sleeping in those beds or sitting in those salons, entertaining company. The furniture looks too perfect, too staged, too much like what I've seen in a dozen other museums.

In the past, I've also had a difficult time imagining M.A. (it's okay if I call her that, right?) at the Hamlet, but this time--peeking through the unwashed windowpanes of her house into empty rooms, seeing the late afternoon sunlight slanting across the unswept black-and-white-tiled floor--for the first time, I could see her there. I looked straight through the house (there are windows on the front and back, and it's only one room wide) and saw what she saw--the tranquil oasis she had built. The grassy hills and grazing cows and blooming waterlilies on the pond. The open verandas and giant flowerpots and vines of flowers creeping up outdoor staircases. The way the light refracted off the green water. Unlike all of the amply furnished palace rooms I'd passed through that day, this barren room spoke to me and said, Someone lived here. Someone's skirt swept along this floor. Someone pressed her face to this glass and admired this view. Someone lived here.

Sometimes I think I get it all wrong when it comes to "living." I tend to think that if I'm not filling up my hours and days with activity, if I'm not doing something, then I'm not living. As if collecting experiences and stories as if they're Girl Scout badges is what life is all about. But maybe Marie Antoinette had it right. Sometimes in order to appreciate that kind of living, we have to take a step away, have to stop moving altogether. We have to press the pause button on our busy lives and embrace the stillness. We have to empty our minds of all thought and just feel the sun on our faces, the breeze on our skin. Breathe deep breaths of cool, honeysuckle-tinged air. Just live.


A Typical London Sunday

Friday, June 3, 2011

It's Friday, the end of my third week here in London, and it's all coming to an end much too quickly.  I have just one more week here, and then I'll be headed back to Alabama. It's a bit difficult to even comprehend going back right now. The heat must be unbearable. (Until Wednesday, the weather here was crisp and cool, and the past few days the temperature has been hovering around the low 70s).  I have absolutely no idea what's going on back home--I haven't kept up with the news or any television programming--but I assume if anything truly important happened, Facebook would have let me know.  It's been so very nice to be almost completely cut off from all of that (by choice), to be fully immersed in my work and life here. I will admit that I'm beginning to feel burned out, though--just a little. I've had a frustrating few days research-wise, and that makes it hard to clear my mind and keep going. I'm also beginning to realize just how much I have left to do, and how there is no way I can get through all of it in the time I have left. I'm trying to let that go, though, and just enjoy the remaining week.

I'm not even going to try to summarize all that I've been doing since my last new post a couple of weeks ago, so instead, I will just show you how I spent last Sunday. (Pictures, except the last, are in no particular order.)

Late afternoon sunlight on St. Martin-in-the-Fields--view from the front of the National Gallery.

@ Tate Britain:  The Lady of Shalott and Ophelia on the same wall. My inner Anne of Green Gables-loving, ten-year-old self could have died of happiness.
@ Tate Britain: I just really loved the fierceness of this Leighton sculpture.  Oh, and Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose behind it. 

Springtime @ St. Paul's

Got to Harrod's after closing, so decided to take a meandering walk home, and ended up here: St. Simon Zelotes.

Sunday crowds at Buckingham Palace.

Where the Londoners go to unwind--St. James' Park on a sunny, lazy Sunday.

And I finished my day with some Indian food and Facebook, looking out over the lovely, quiet courtyard of my  OLD flat. But that's a story for another day. :-)


Old London Posts (cont.)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Friday, 20 May 2011
The last few days have been crazy busy with research. We spent all day Tuesday and Wednesday at the National Archives. Tuesday Jamie and I took the other girls to our favorite pub, The Hourglass, which we went to after work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It’s so nice to feel like we are actually working here, not just being tourists.

Thursday and Friday were spent at the London Metropolitan Archives. We had a fabulous tour behind the scenes by Claire, and she also introduced us to Jeremy in maps and images and Tim in conservation. Really fascinating stuff. Pretty sure I should have been a conservationist or archivist, though I’m not sure how you get those jobs.

PB took us all to dinner at the Admiral Codrington last night (Thursday), which was really good. Today Jamie and I hung back to see if we could get the room situation straightened out, and the good news is that we get to move May 31st to a new flat! Then we spent the rest of the day at the LMA. I had some amazing finds there, including an 1890s photo album from a family in India. I’m trying to figure out who they are right now. I would post pictures from it (because they are awesome), but they are copyright protected so I can’t put them online. :-(

After we left the LMA, Jamie, Cassie, and I went down to Trafalgar Square, ate at the Bear and Staff, and spent the evening at the National Gallery, which doesn’t close until 9 pm on Fridays. Tomorrow is another full day of work at the British Library, which I’m actually really excited about—because I’m a nerd over here doing nerdy things. :-)

The National Archives at Kew
Stacks behind the scenes at the LMA.
Tim, a conservationist at the LMA, showing us a book that has been burned to a brick.
Trafalgar Square from the front of the National Gallery.
Sunday, 22 May 2011

The weekend is over, and tomorrow it’s back to the BL for another fun day of research. (And I’m not being sarcastic.) Yesterday was our first day at the BL, and I have to say I was extremely happy and made some great and super useful finds. It’s been awhile since I’ve been really happy about doing research, so this trip was exactly what I needed to get back in the dissertation-writing mindset.

I spent most of the day transcribing this children’s book a mother wrote for her daughter growing up in India. In the dedication she says that the British children’s books didn’t really suit her daughter because they were all about experiences and places and things she was unfamiliar with, so she thought her daughter should have a book that reflected experiences she could relate to. The BL has the only two copies of the book that have survived (and both of them are on reserve for me!) and I think only one other person in the world has written about it (albeit briefly), so I think there’s a lot of original stuff I can say about it.

My nerdiest moment had to be when I was given the BL’s three copies of Eliza Fay’s Original Letters from India, a text I’ve been working on for over a year.  The BL has two copies of the 1821 edition and the only surviving copy of the 1817 first edition left in the world—the very copy E.M. Forster used when he did the 1925 edition of Fay’s book. I *might* have gotten a bit misty eyed when I opened that cover and saw 1817 written at the bottom. It’s a book I’ve been wanting to see for so very long.

Last night Jamie and I had dinner again at our favorite local pub, The Hourglass, and then we went out for drinks with Kellye and Cassie at the Queen’s Head, another local pub that also happens to be the oldest gay bar in Chelsea -AND- it happened to be karaoke night. It had a much older clientele (we had to be the youngest people there by 20 years), but listening to old gay men sing standards, show tunes, and classic songs was certainly entertaining (and most of them could really sing!), and Kellye and Cassie also performed a rousing version of a Cher song. :-)

Today we took to the bus to Covent Garden, wandered around a bit and listened to a string quartet and an opera singer, then went to the Globe to see As You Like It—a really fantastic production, I might add. Then Kellye, Sam, Cassie, and I went to the Tate Modern for the rest of the evening. We tried to go back to The Hourglass for dinner, but they don’t serve dinner on Sundays, so we just got pre-packaged Indian food from our local Sainbury’s, and it was actually quite amazing. Tomorrow it’s back to the BL, and then we are seeing Sheridan’s School for Scandal tomorrow night.

Covent Garden
St. Paul's
The Globe


From Blogger to Tumblr and back again

I fully intended to use Tumblr to record all of my doings while I'm here in London, but alas, it did  not work as planned. Internet access was spotty for awhile, and I found myself updating every two or three days instead of everyday, and then I realized how wonky the Tumblr formatting is if you try to upload pics AND say anything substantial about them. (How dare I.)  So I'm returning to the blog. First, in case you didn't see the few Tumblr posts I did, I'm going to repost them on here, then I'll add new posts, with exciting new pictures and reflections on my time spent in London. I'm exactly two weeks in right now, exactly half-way through my program here, which is incredibly exciting (because of how much I've learned and done) and incredibly sad (because I'm having an amazing time here and don't want to leave anytime soon--or maybe ever.  I'll say more about all of that in a little while, but, until then, here is the first of the Tumblr posts:

16 May 2011
Monday began with a tour of Guildhall Library. This is the old library; far fancier than the one in current usage. After combing through some of the library treasures, we had lunch in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral and then went on a walking tour of the Old City, including stops at Smithfield Market, St. Bartholomew’s Church, the Roman Wall ruins, Wesley Chapel, and Bunhill Fields cemetery, where Defoe is memorialized and Blake is buried.

Old Guildhall Library

After the walking tour Monday, Jamie and I had to go back to Nell Gwynn House to get some room issues straightened out. (Still not done yet, though. Grrrr.) Then, while everyone else was still holed up at the Guildhall Library, we went for a walk through Chelsea (our neighborhood) and Knightsbridge, passed Royal Albert Hall, and ended up walking through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Where we saw the Peter Pan statue. And ducks! And baby swans!!!

Royal Albert Hall
Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Gardens
The most awesome duck ever.
Baby swans!!!
More to come...


London Calling

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's been awhile since my last blog, so it seems I am failing on several fronts right now. Although I've been trying to keep up with my ROW80 goals, I haven't been blogging updates the last couple of weeks. And I haven't been doing all that great a job at meeting my goals. I kept telling myself, "Next update. You'll blog next update," but then the next Sunday or Wednesday would come and go, and I still hadn't updated. I could make a million excuses for this (end-of-semester grading, research projects, getting ready for London, huge family issues and the disaster that has been my personal life these past two weeks), but the truth is I simply let other things distract me from my writing and my goals. This last week has been a special kind of hell (The second circle perhaps? I sort of feel like I'm being beat by a cold, dark wind....), and I'm sitting here at Logan Airport right now, feeling unprepared in every way for the month ahead of me.

I know I'm going to have a great time in London. I know that. I know that I'm extremely fortunate to have been given this opportunity, to be able to do my dissertation research in the most amazing lab imaginable, the libraries and archives of Great Britain. But part of me hates that I have to leave right now, when my family life is in chaos and I have not yet mentally or emotionally transitioned to the idea that I will be in a foreign country for the next month and communication with people here will be limited. Another part of me is glad to be escaping the drama.

If you want to follow my journey, I've started a Tumblr account specifically for the posting of pictures and short anecdotes about my trip. You can find it here. The plan is to post something everyday, even if it's just a picture or a quote I discovered. Despite my best intentions, I've realized that if I tell myself I'll blog about my trips, it rarely happens, and this is one experience that I want to ensure I don't forget. Posting a picture a day seems better than not posting anything at all.

I'll also be reading your blogs and checking in sporadically, and hopefully doing a little bit of writing. This past week of family drama, while terrible for me emotionally, has actually fueled a lot of great ideas in my writing. I've had a couple of breakthroughs with The Novel thanks to it, so I guess something good came out of all of it. It certainly didn't feel like it at the time, but I'm sure I will emerge from this experience a stronger, more independent person, and that's never a bad thing in my book.

My flight is boarding soon, but I'll try to post an update after I get all settled in tomorrow. Until then, adios, and hope you're all enjoying your summer.


Tornadoes, and sirens, and hail--Oh, my!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's been a pretty crazy day here in Alabama, which I'm sure you're aware of if you've been watching the news. Major tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. At least 58 dead. One of my former students from back when I taught high school is currently missing after her apartment complex was hit, so please keep Loryn Brown in your thoughts. I'm terrible when it comes to keeping up with weather forecasts (I basically just look outside and dress according to the current conditions), so I've been depending on my Facebook friends all day to keep me posted. Some of them have suffered damage to their homes or spent hours hunkered down in a basement, bathtub, or, in a couple of cases, city hall, and the worst hasn't even hit where I live yet. The first rains began falling just a couple of hours ago, and we're expecting the worst part of the storm to hit here in the next few hours. The lights have flickered a few times, it's thundering right now, and the sirens went off once, but I know this is only just the beginning, so I'm not going to bed anytime soon. Luckily, classes ended yesterday and tomorrow is a dead day, so I don't have to get up especially early.

In ROW80-related news, I posted my weekly writing blog yesterday. It's on the importance of setting to fiction and includes a report and pictures from my recent trip to Forks, Washington. Check it out here if you're interested. My book-of-the-week is Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement, and I'll post a review of it this weekend after I finish it. Because I encouraged everyone to do some setting-related exercises in yesterday's blog, I decided I better take my own advice, and I've been doing some fun world-building for The Novel. I'm terrible at any kind of drawing, but I always enjoy making floor plans, street grids, maps, stuff like that when I'm world-building, so I'm working on some of that kind of stuff right now. It helps to see how different places in the story relate to one another spatially. I'm thinking of doing a (much shorter) follow-up to the setting post soon and including some of the floor plans I've drawn.

Hope everyone else is having a good week. Stay safe, and happy writing!


On the importance of setting (Forks, Washington Edition)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Like many children, when I was in elementary school I learned the five basic elements of fiction: setting, characters, plot, theme, and conflict. In every English class I've taken (or taught) since then, I've spent considerable time discussing plot and character development and analyzing themes and sources of conflict, but for some reason setting almost always gets neglected. Perhaps because setting so often gets dismissed as "description" (all those paragraphs describing rooms, building exteriors, tropical sunsets, rainstorms), we feel like there is less to talk about when it comes to setting. Take The Tempest, for example. How interesting is it to talk about Prospero's island, about which we have only a few competing descriptions, when you can talk about the colonization of the island and the enslavement of Caliban, the representation of slavery and savagery, Gonzalo's idea of utopia, the development of Prospero's character, and the role of the Miranda/Ferdinand love plot. Even the structure of the play makes for more interesting discussion than setting, right?

I use The Tempest as an example only because it was the last text I taught in my World Lit I class this semester. And although we did talk about how the setting of the play might have been portrayed on stage (How does one create a deadly tempest and shipwreck on the early seventeenth-century stage?), we didn't give a lot of thought to the choice of setting itself or the importance of the descriptions. We discussed all the topics I've listed above, and we talked about what we can infer about the individual characters based on how they describe the island, but we didn't talk about the setting alone. That, of course, was a failure on my part, but I don't think I'm the only teacher who neglects setting more frequently than I focus on it. And that is something I mean to correct, not only in my teaching, but also in my writing.

Think about it. How important is setting to your favorite stories and novels? Essential, if your favorites are anything like mine. For me, what makes a story stand above the rest is something I abstractly think of as "color." And that color typically comes not from any particular type of character or plot line, but from setting. Alice in Wonderland. The Catcher in the Rye. The God of Small Things. Midnight's Children. The Blind Assassin. The Forgotten Garden. Harry Potter. In all my years of reading, these are some of the stories that I've loved the most, and for many different reasons. I love the clever wit and absurdity of Alice, the angst and voice of Catcher, the beautiful language and artful structure of TGST, the magical realism and postmodernity of MC, the structure and framework of Assassin, the mixture of history and fairy tale in FG, and the suspense and creative attention to detail in Harry Potter. Many of these stories have something in common (TGST and MC are both by Indian authors, Assassin and FG both incorporate a novel within the novel), but for the most part they are all very different kinds of stories. So what unites them? What makes them stand out above the thousands and thousands of other books I've read?

Setting. All of these stories are set in worlds that are so carefully crafted, so artfully drawn, that I become completely immersed in them. They are created in such a way that I have trouble reconciling the knowledge that I've never actually been to Wonderland; to Kerala, India; to Cornwall; to Hogwarts--because in my imagination, (which often feels just as real and maybe even more real than reality), I have been to all of these places. And when I was growing up, that's all I really wanted out of a story--to escape to a different place, to become a part of a world outside my own.

Last month, as part of my Great Pacific Northwest Tour, I found myself in Forks, Washington. Yes, that Forks, Washington, of Twilight-fame. It wasn't that I intentionally went to see the town that Twilight made famous, but passing through Forks is unavoidable if you are traveling Hwy. 101 around Olympic National Park. And Hwy. 101 is the only way around the park. So about an hour and a half after leaving Seattle and crossing over to the Olympic peninsula on the Kingston/Edmond ferry, we drove through Port Angeles, also of Twilight fame, and it looked nothing like I imagined. Granted, my mental image of Port Angeles had been influenced more by its movie representation than its book representation, but still... I was disappointed.

After taking about two thousand pictures of Lake Crescent and taking three thousand more of the rain forest on the hike to Marymere Falls, we arrived in Forks around 1:00--lunch time. Of course, we stopped to take the obligatory picture in front of the town welcome sign, which would have felt really dorky only there were other people doing it and the town has made a place for people to pull off the road to do this, so it's obviously encouraged.

There aren't a lot of places to eat in Forks (no fast food places or chains), so we ended up at Forks Coffee Shop, which is basically a stand-alone diner at the end of the downtown strip. The main strip has been overrun with stores selling Twilight memorabilia and tours, which made me simultaneously sad and happy for the people of Forks. I'm sure they get really tired of Twilight mania (and trust me, half the people I saw that day were vacationing Twihards--some were really obvious, but we made a game out of guessing who were the Twihards, locals, and regular hikers/vacationers), but it's also got to be doing wonders for the local economy. And judging from what I saw of the town, I'm sure they need the economic boost. (With our current economy, don't we all?)

After an unexceptional lunch, we went across the street to Forks Outfitters, a combination outdoor supply store, clothing store, and grocery store--think a more woodsy, small town version of Wal-Mart. This is where we got sucked into at least a half-hour's worth of shopping for Twihard family and friends, buying Forks hoodies and magnets and water bottles. (Now I kind of wish I'd gotten myself a magnet, but at the time I was feeling far too superior to the Twihards to make the purchase. Silly me.)

We had some time when we finished shopping, so I decided we might as well make this a full-fledged Twi-vaganza and go down to La Push, see if we could spot Jacob Black. ;-) The people of La Push have really embraced this whole Twilight phenomenon, so we were greeted upon entering the reservation with this sign:

And then we passed Jacob Black's house, which was so eerily like his house in the book and movie:

There was a shed/garage on the other side of the house like the one Jacob repairs the motorcycles in, and the house's genius owners leaned "Jacob's" motorcycle against the mailbox. I have no idea if Stephenie Meyer saw this house before she wrote what Jacob's house looked like, but whether she did or not, it was so strange to see the house brought to life in this way, to see it exactly as I imagined it but out in the "real world." 

As we continued toward La Push, the landscape became less recognizable because it's really suffered from the logging industry.  Whole sections of forest and hillsides have been completely cleared, so the landscape looks far bleaker and emptier than it's portrayed in the books and movies. (Stephenie Meyer commented on this herself after her first trip to Forks, after at least the first book had been written.) 

My whole point in going to La Push, though, was to see the beach, which isn't something you can just drive to. We arrived at the Third Beach trailhead first, but it was a bit longer than I wanted to hike (we were still planning on hiking in the Hoh Rain Forest and seeing Ruby Beach that afternoon before driving back to Seattle that night), so we drove to the Second Beach trailhead instead. After an extremely muddy hike, we finally arrived at the beach and found ourselves with just a handful of Twihards and backpackers.

The beaches in the Olympic Peninsula are so different from any I've ever seen before: covered in driftwood, surrounded by islands of rock and pine-topped cliffs. But it was here that I finally felt like I had entered the Twilight realm.

After we left La Push and Forks and ventured south to the Hoh Rain Forest, which looks every bit like the forests from Twilight, I started to think more about what I had seen and to appreciate Meyer's choice of setting even more. Critics have questioned how such an ordinary, plain girl (Bella) could attract so much attention from the local boys. But that day I understood. I understood why any sort of change, any new person, would have made such a difference in that small, dreary town. (Meyer says this herself, but once you see Forks, you believe it.) I understood why a girl like Bella would become obsessed with someone like Edward Cullen, why she would also be drawn to the rocky shores of La Push. I could feel how oppressive it must feel to be a teenager in Forks, to be so isolated from everything. I grew up in a small town, hating every minute of it and longing for adventure, for escape, and Forks is so much more isolated than even where I grew up. (Remember: One road in, one road out.) I felt that isolation, that desperation, when I was reading the books, but after touring Forks, I felt like I understood it on another level.  

I tell you this anecdote to emphasize the importance of setting. What would Twilight be without Forks? What would The Catcher in the Rye be without New York? What would Wuthering Heights be without the English moors, or Pride & Prejudice be without the countryside? They wouldn't be nearly as good. So maybe we should start talking about setting a little more, in what we read and in what we write. Maybe it's time to recognize that setting isn't a second class citizen to plot and characterization, but it's just as important, and maybe in some cases (dare I say it?) even more important. So tonight, instead of writing another character sketch or revising your novel outline, draw a floor plan or a map. Sketch a building. Look at pictures of the place you're writing about (or similar to the place you are inventing). Work on making your descriptions more precise, creative, colorful. Your readers will thank you for it.

Olympic National Park--rain forest trail to Marymere Falls.


Room with a View

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Unfortunately, I haven't gotten any writing done this weekend--one, because I've been grading World Lit papers that I have to give back to my students Tuesday, and two, because I've been obsessively reading Emma Donoghue's Booker-short-listed novel Room all weekend.

I'll admit that before I began reading this novel, I was a bit skeptical. Even though it appeared on tons of "Best of..." lists last year, I didn't think I would enjoy it very much. First of all, I'm not a big fan of captivity narratives, especially ones involving rape. The premise of the novel--a kidnapped woman is entrapped in a room for seven years and repeatedly raped over the course of that time, birthing a son who is her only companion--sounds far drearier than the book Donoghue writes, in part because the story is not told from the woman's point of view, but from the point of view of her five-year-old son.  The resulting book isn't so much a captivity narrative as it is a touching story of growing up completely shut out from the rest of the world, of beginning to understand "reality," of exploring the mother-child relationship in this most traumatic of circumstances.

What drew me to the novel, then, was the very question it raised about the nature of reality, about the consequence of waking someone to the knowledge that there is a whole world outside their own experiences that they never knew existed. It's a question I'm very interested in in my own writing and especially in the novel I'm currently working on--and in some way, a question I'm exploring in every story I write.  ***Slight Spoilers*** For Jack, Donoghue's narrator in Room, Room is all he knows.  His only companions are his mother and his friends, Bed, Meltedy Spoon, Rug, Wardrobe, etc. For him, there are only two realities, what's "real" (what's in the room) and what's TV (what's fantasy or imaginary). His awakening to the knowledge that what's TV is also what's real, that the children on TV, the police cars and firetrucks, are also real, is skillfully and poignantly rendered.  Donoghue deserves all the accolades she's getting.

I'll admit that for the first 10% of the novel, I still wasn't sure if I was going to like the book.  The narrating voice is a five-year-old's, and although I usually like adult novels told from this sort of alternative point of view, I wasn't sure if I bought Jack's voice at first. I've spent considerable time with two- to four-year-old boys these past few years (mostly friends' children and my fiancĂ©'s two totally awesome, genius nephews), and when I tried to imagine any of them speaking the way Jack did, I couldn't. He simultaneously seemed verbally inferior and superior to every child I knew that age. At times, he thought in a highly developed way, but then he'd also mess up conjugating simple verbs or reordering sentences in a way I felt he should have mastered much earlier, especially considering how much time his mother spends teaching him vocabulary and reading. As I read more and got to know Jack better, though, I realized how judgmental that was. I realized Jack's quirks were not some failure on the writer's part, but were in fact part of what made him special, the same way that all kids have certain things that it takes them longer to master than it takes others. His turning every object into a proper noun (Room, Rug, Remote), which initially grated, eventually became endearing and understandable. I loved every character in this book (other than Old Nick, the kidnapper), probably more because of their flaws. They all felt so extremely real to me, so elegantly and insightfully drawn.  The dialogue (and more importantly, what's not being said) was so well done, so subtle, nuanced, honest, believable. And I have to say the last few pages, when I was wondering how in the world the story was going to end, were handled so beautifully, so brilliantly, so perfectly.

So if you're looking for a new novel to check out, and nothing I've said so far has turned you off, you should definitely pick up Room. If you want to read a little bit more about it first, I suggest this article.

One last thing about the author: one of the main reasons I wanted to read this book was because Donoghue is also an academic, although I don't think she's a "practicing" one right now. (Meaning, she isn't a professor at a university, and I don't think she's currently doing academic research or writing.)  She holds a Ph.D. in eighteenth-century literature, which is also my field, and on more than one occasion I've been doing research and needed to cite an article or book she or her partner, Chris Roulston, an associate professor in women's studies, wrote. So I felt like I had this whole other connection to her before I ever read Room, and I was really curious to see what kind of fiction writer she was. And she didn't disappoint. I will definitely check out her other novels now.

I hope you guys had a more productive writing weekend than I did. Even if I didn't write a single word, though, I'm feeling inspired and got to read a book I loved, so the weekend wasn't a total waste. :-)


Everything is Better with Tea

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I fully intended to make up for my missed Sunday post by writing an extra-long post today, to talk about hitting (and missing) last week's goals and to review my most recent book-of-the-week, Kirsten Hubbard's Like Mandarin, but the fact is I'm tired. Exhausted even. Wedding planning is taking over my life, even though I feel like I've gotten so little accomplished. I spent all day Saturday dress shopping with my mom, aunt, cousin, and sister, and although I now have an excellent idea of what kinds of dresses I don't like, I'm no closer to finding "the one." The good news is that I've booked my venues and officiant, and I'm signing the contract with my photographer this week, but the bad news is I have to go wedding dress shopping again next week. :-(  (The good news is I'm going with one of my best friends/college roommate, though, and I haven't seen her in awhile, so yay for reunions!)

On top of all the wedding drama, the end of the semester is close at hand, and I spent the last two days conferencing with students. Conferencing always takes a lot out of me, even when I'm really engaged with my students' projects, and I've come home the past two days just wanting to crash into bed and sleep the evening away. So instead of boring you with a recap of last week's ROWing and talking about all the writing I haven't done lately, I'm going to leave you today with a promise of posts to look forward to between now and the next ROW80 check-in:

  • A review of Emma Donoghue's Room
  • A review of the Winter 2011 issue of Southern Humanities Review (my journal/magazine pick-of-the-week)
  • A post on the importance of setting to fiction, with bonus pictures from my recent trip to Forks, Washington. No, I didn't go there because of Twilight, but I did see lots of Twilight-related places (that's unavoidable; it's a small town), so if you're interested in that sort of thing, stay tuned. 
That, along with my writing goals, should be enough to keep me very busy between now and Sunday. Oh, and then there are the sixty World Lit papers I have to grade this weekend. :-P  A very busy weekend, indeed.

For now, though, I'm going to curl up on the couch with my Kindle and my cup of cinnamon-orange tea. A little escapism is always good for the (exhausted) soul.


ROWing 2.2

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Week two of ROW80 is going much better than week one, for sure. I've already posted my weekly writing-related blog post. (It's on rejection and has already sparked some interesting discussion on Facebook.) I'm more than half-way through my book for the week (Kirsten Hubbard's Like Mandarin), and I've already submitted one of my stories five places this week. I'm making (slow) progress revising one of the short stories from my master's thesis into a piece of flash fiction.  Boiling a ten-page story down to less than 750 words certainly is a challenge, but it's been fun, and I'm hoping to finish it up this weekend so I can start sending it out next week.

I'm not sure how much progress I'll make on my other goals this week because I'm going to visit my parents for the weekend. (And going wedding dress shopping! Oh, the horror! The horror!) Their home internet is always iffy, so I hope to be able to post my Sunday ROW80 update, but if I can't, I'll be working hard to give you a good update next week.

It seems like a lot of you draw as much of your writing inspiration from music as I do, so I'll leave you today with a couple of songs I've been playing on loop when writing a big scene in The Novel--Florence + the Machine's "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" and "Cosmic Love." Hope you're all having a fantastic, super-productive week!


Rejecting Rejection

When I was thirteen, I submitted my first story for publication. After months of reading about cover letters, SASEs, and proper manuscript formatting, I finally polished my letter, printed a clean copy of my short story, bought the proper envelopes, and paid $0.78 to send my baby to the New York offices of Seventeen. Now, of course, I understand how crazy it was for a thirteen-year-old to submit a story to Seventeen, but at the time I didn't know much about publishing and Seventeen was one of the few places I knew of that published YA short stories. I'm sure you can guess what happened next.

A few months later, I got my first rejection letter. At the time I remember thinking how cold the letter was, how impersonal. Not only was there nothing about me or my story in the letter (a simple "Dear Lacy, Thanks for sending 'A New Pain'" would have sufficed), but it wasn't even properly signed. Despite the fact that I'd gone to the trouble to find the appropriate editor's name and address my cover letter to her, the rejection letter was merely signed "Fiction Editor."

A few weeks ago when I was visiting my parents, I dug that old envelope and rejection letter out of the stack of papers my mother has been begging me to recycle for years. Yes, I kept it. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never intentionally thrown away a rejection, and I've gotten quite a few over the years. Because I've made more of an effort to publish recently, that number has swelled in the past few months. And the more rejections I read, the more I appreciate the simple dismissal I received years ago from the unnamed fiction editor at Seventeen.

Here is the Seventeen rejection, verbatim:

Thank you for your interest in seventeen.  We're always happy to consider fiction submissions.

Your manuscript has received thoughtful consideration. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite suit our editorial needs.

Again, thanks for thinking of us.

-Fiction Editor 

Aside from the lack of salutation and the anonymous signature, this, to me, is a perfect rejection letter. When I get rejections like this now, they barely faze me. I read them, write "no" and the date under the story title on my little tracking chart, and promptly forget about them. I've developed a pretty thick skin, and these kinds of rejections don't make much of an impression anymore. But occasionally, I still get rejections that prick, that sting, that I cannot dismiss as simply as I can dismiss the one from Seventeen.  For all you editors out there who don't want to discourage writers from ever submitting to (or reading) your journal again, here are a couple of things not to do in a rejection letter:

  1. Don't imply that the story sucked.  I recently got a rejection that said they would not be publishing one of my stories.  Then it said, "Not to say this story is 'bad' by any means, just not what we’re looking for." Okay, I know what the editor was probably going for here, but seriously... it isn't "bad"? I can't help but see that line and interpret it, "this isn't 'bad,' but it certainly isn't 'good' either." Ouch. I know I'm probably reading too much into that, but there's gotta be a better way to tell someone her story isn't right for your journal without implying that her story sucked. (Oh, right, there is. Seventeen showed us that.)
  2. Take the time to say something more than "Thanks, but no thanks." Seriously, it's a form rejection. At least make it sound like you took the time to read what I wrote. One recent rejection simply read, "We're passing on your story, but thanks for sending it." Another said, "We appreciate the opportunity to read your work, but we will not be publishing it." Another said, "Thank you for the submission. We're going to pass." The thing is, I got some of these rejections months ago, but they still stung just enough that when I went to find these examples I knew exactly which rejections to look up. And now when I think of these journals, this is what I think about. It's not that I take form rejection personally, it's just that I like to know that the journals I read and admire are kind to the writers that submit to them.
  3. Don't call people by their full names. When I get a rejection that reads, "Dear LACY MARSCHALK, Thank you for sending us RANDOM SHORT STORY," do you know what I assume? That the online submission application or some sort of software filled in my name and the story name, that the editor didn't even take the time to send the rejection him- or herself. I know editors are busy. I understand that they have hundreds and in some cases thousands of rejections to send, but could they at least use a program that makes my name and title appear in the same font as everything else, or that just uses the writer's first name instead of full name? At least pretend that they wrote this little form note just for me?
And that's all I'm asking for really. I'm not asking for personal responses. I understand how overwhelmed editors are. I know how many submissions they get. I've been in their position. All I'm asking for is a little courtesy. I'm not looking for encouragement; I just don't want discouragement (of the "this isn't 'bad,' per se" variety).

That being said, I have to say that I've gotten some fantastically encouraging rejections lately, the kind that are almost as good as acceptances. About one of my stories, Crazyhorse said, "Ultimately, the manuscript was not selected for publication, but we want you to know that we very much enjoyed reading your work. The manuscript was one of the best we've read recently. It was difficult to say no. We hope you will send us another manuscript to consider soon. Since we enjoyed this one, we hope to read more and to give your next manuscript our highest consideration." And about the same story, Mid-American Review said, "Although we have decided not to accept it for publication, we wanted to let you know that we read it with more than the casual amount of interest, that there is much to admire in your writing. We hope that you will send more work our way soon." For all I know, Crazyhorse and Mid-American say that in every rejection letter, but even if they do, I don't care. When I received those rejections, I felt special, like my writing mattered, like even if they didn't want my story, someone would. Those rejections didn't sting one bit; instead, they inspired me--to keep writing, to keep submitting, to keep growing, to get better.

Wouldn't it be nice if all rejections could be like that?


Reading, Writing, ROWing--Week 1

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The first week of my first ROW 80 is over, and I have to say that even though I didn't meet all of my goals, I'm still calling the week a success.  I certainly accomplished more this week than I would have done without my ROW 80 goals, and that's the point, right?

This week I only met my target word count on one of my three assigned writing days, but I still made progress on my novel, so I'm not going to beat myself up about that too much.  I did manage to submit a story to five journals this week and to read one of my writing magazines--the March/April issue of Writer's Digest.  I'll admit I didn't read the magazine cover-to-cover--there were a few articles that aren't of any use to me right now because I don't do freelance work--but what I did read was informative and helpful. I also learned that I shouldn't read a magazine like WD in one sitting, just to meet some sort of weekly goal. In order for the articles to be helpful, I need to give myself time to absorb what I read in an article and even put some of the suggestions into practice before I read the next one. So this coming week I will try to put this "revised" goal into practice. In the mean time, here are a few fun things or insightful ideas I thought I'd share from this month's WD:

Fun thing #1: Oh, look!  It's Alice and the Cheshire Cat.  But that's not all--it's a poster with the entire text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland printed on it!  Pretty awesome, right? And Postertext has tons of these kinds of posters of classic works to choose from, everything from Peter Pan to Crime and Punishment.

Fun thing #2: T-shirts emblazoned with the covers of classic books from Out of Print Clothing.  I really want this Great Gatsby shirt for women.

Insightful Idea: In the "Exercise Your Pen" column this month, Barbara Baig stresses that we should get to know books we are reading on a more imaginative level, "reading for pictures."  Her advice? "When you find a passage that creates powerful images, try to figure out how the writer did that. What kinds of sensory details did he or she use? In what order? Write an imitation of the passage. What do you learn that you might apply to your own work?"  I think this is a fantastic idea, and one that would certainly help me in my own writing. I know sensory details in particular are sometimes lacking in my stories, and I have to make a conscious effort to include them sometimes, so it will be an interesting challenge for me to focus on descriptions both in the novels I read and in my own writing.

Finally, this week for my book/review of the week, I read Beth Revis's Across the Universe, a YA dystopian/sci fi/romance/mystery novel.  I really enjoyed it, for a variety of reasons.  Dystopian novels are big right now, but Revis's novel is very different from all the others I've read recently.  First, it's set on a spaceship, Godspeed, hundreds of years from now, and one of the protagonists is Amy, a teenage girl from Earth who's been cryogenically frozen but is awoken fifty years too early.  The story is told in alternating chapters by Amy and Elder, the future leader of the ship, which I actually really enjoyed.  I'm not usually a huge fan of novels that switch back and forth between two first-person POVs, but I thought Revis did it really well. I enjoyed both characters' perspectives, and both felt necessary to the storyline.

Although the cover of the book suggests that this is a romance, the love story isn't emphasized as much as in a lot of other YA novels, and this is really more of a mystery novel than anything else. This truly is a "whodunit"-type novel, although it is a bit predictable and even the final twist was something that had been nagging me for awhile, so it perhaps wasn't as shocking as it was supposed to be. Overall, though, I really enjoyed the book and the characters. The novel is supposed to be the first in a trilogy, and it will be really interesting to see where Revis takes the story. The novel actually wraps up far more cleanly than most of the first-in-a-series novels I've read lately (I'm thinking of Matched and Delirium, in particular), and I thought the book could easily stand on its own. So in conclusion, it's definitely a novel worth checking out if you're a fan of the dystopian genre or spaceships in general, and if you don't feel like investing your time or patience in a series right now, with Across the Universe you don't really have to.


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