Direction

Take the splintered memory of your father beating you from between your mother’s clenched teeth. If you can still hear his screams, go west. You will come to a ditch cradling a dead cat. If his neck is twisted, proceed north. If his belly burst open like a rotten orange under a motorcycle wheel, go south. You will find the rider’s bloody boot prints scuffing the Black-Eyed Susans. If you mix the pollen with loose-leaf tobacco and roll a cigarette your doppelgänger in another universe will be gifted a front row seat to the next public execution. But that is not the direction you want to go. If you ignore me and walk toward the old Civil War battlefield marked with the city’s slapdash attempts at historical editing. Your old lovers, wherever they are, will turn pale as if a nurse has taken too much life force from the abrasive latticework of a failed experiment. You will taste blood in your mouth. They will fall to the floor and you will not be there to catch them or kiss the languor from their eyes. You won’t want to. If you don’t see a dead cat, continue west as if nothing is wrong. You will eventually come to a fork in the road. Or a river. And you must either cut off all your hair or throw your clothes into the Salvation Army donation bin that washed up on the riverbank after the storm. You have to go bare in some way, your own body acting as a trembling neophyte’s compass, pointing towards the sharpest point away. If fear bites down on you so hard your ribs crack and snap against your heart, you can choose a different direction. You can run, screaming, back home or you can try to walk on water.

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Thoughts on Deadlines and Why I Can’t Meet Them

A personal accounting of one of the more complicated aspects of a self-publishing author’s life: deadlines.

Alright, here’s the deal.

I can’t meet my own deadlines.

“Oh, but because it’s your schedule you get to make the rules and you’re in charge!” (If my cats cared this is what they might say.)

No. I’m not in charge. Because the minute the second I think I can meet a deadline something happens and I can’t.

This time, for example, I wanted to self-publish a short story collection on Halloween this year. It was going to be full of creepy, speculative fiction and I was going to have an absolute fucking blast writing it.

I made the decision to do this back in August when neither Regina nor any of my faeries were being particularly talkative and I thought I needed a “fresh” project so that I would keep writing every day and still feel productive.

Can you guess what happened?

I didn’t write a damn thing. I only have 2 short stories. That is not acceptable. Because now I’m faced with two paths: 1) scramble like hell and write 4 new things now and maybe they won’t be good and maybe they won’t make sense but by G-O-D they’ll be there, some of my other responsibilities may fall to the wayside but I am determined. Or 2) scrap the deadline and let the stories happen when they happen.

I’ve tried to form thoughts about being a self-publishing person and keeping a schedule and so far, but it’s time to take a close look once again.

Back in December 2018 I published a novella called Dead Girl Moon. It was meant to be a front runner to Havoc’s Moon, which was supposed to be published in March or April of 2019. That didn’t happen. I rearranged my schedule and changed my deadlines. I wrote for April Camp Nanowrimo and July Camp Nanowrimo and the book still didn’t happen. Another other novellas happened but then it rebelled and split in two (magical literary mitosis y’all) and I ran out of brain power to edit them down and add plot filler to make them whole and not nonsensical (well…nonsense will still happen but you know what I mean).

And then I started school and my writing hit the brick wall of academia (not for the first time) and since no progress was being made I scrapped my schedule yet again. But I thought: surely I can write a short story a week still. Surely my brain can manage that much. If I have all of September and the first half of October to write one measly little short story a week I can still meet my deadline. 6 weeks=6 stories and I’ve surpassed my quota. I win!

Can you guess what happened?

I haven’t written a complete short story yet. I have 2 drafts of stories I worked on back in March and April that I didn’t finish then and haven’t finished now.

The goals are not being met.

More importantly, the writing isn’t happening.

And now I have to figure out why.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with.

1) I have to write something every day. 10 words. 100 words. A 3 word poem. 1000 words. Whatever. I have to write every day or else I go crazy.

This is different from putting your ass in the chair and turning out pages for your holy WORK IN PROGRESS every day.

This is about expression and practicing. Like meditation, do a little every day and you’ll feel better. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes, 3 minutes.

Because I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write I wasn’t writing at all. That is bad. That is harmful. That leads to insecurities like imposter syndrome and self-loathing.

So I need to write every day but I cannot compartmentalize myself and say, “Today I am going to write a poem.” Or, “Today I am going to catch up with Regina.”

When I get the urge to write or a little idea fragment pops into my head I need to stop what I’m doing and write it down even when I’m in class or talking to a friend or whatever. I need to pay attention to my inner writing voice and let the ideas flow.

If I go the rest of the year without writing Havoc’s Moon, I’ll be okay as long as I’m still writing.

2) Life shit gets in the way of writing. Family drama, Biology tests, Chemistry labs, whatever. All the things that are *gasp* more important than writing right now.

(Digression: It’s not that I want to make writing my “full-time” job or be a “professional” writer. I want writing to be THE MOST IMPORTANT in my life. I’ve had to come (by trial and error) to the realization that writing is not and never will be the most important thing in my life. It’s in the top 5 (…okay it’s #6 on the list…the cats are #5) but it’s not THE MOST important. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be dedicated or passionate about writing. There was a time when writing was the only thing that made me happy and I ate, breathed, and shat poetry. But then I changed my life, made my situation better and found things other than poetry that I could love. That’s when I thought proper time management would let me do the things I wanted to do. And when I couldn’t keep to a schedule I felt like I wasn’t dedicated enough. Especially when I was such a “strong” writer before. But those are incorrect thoughts because there’s no ONE right way to write. And people are allowed to change and evolve.)

So I need to not add writing to the list of things going “wrong.”

Writing has always been the healing factor, the savior. Not the stressor.

That means I need to get rid of deadlines completely. And schedules. And plans.

When I have a project finished, I will publish it. Beyond that I can’t plan anymore. I can’t predict when I will have time today to write let alone plan out Nanowrimo next month (which I still want to try even though I have Thanksgiving with my in-laws this year and studying for final exams).

So no schedule. No deadlines. No nothing beyond write something every day. Maybe after school or during the summer I can try to build a frame for my viscera but not right now. Right now I just need to ooze around on the table and try not to get dehydrated.

3) Grow as I writer.

But not get caught up in the world of the “side hustle” or the “authorpreneur.” That’s what got me in trouble in the first place. I would watch YouTube/AuthorTube videos of people who have fans and followers and newsletters and for some silly reason I thought, “Well, they’re successful. I need to be like them.”

No. I don’t need to be like them. Even though they’re really cool and shiny.

Writing is not my day job.

My day job was sticking people with needles. My future job will be sticking people with needles and then looking at what I pull out under a microscope. Right now my job is raking pine needles.

I will still eat if I don’t publish a book. They might not. They have to do the marketing and the newsletter writing and the promotions and all that stuff that makes my brain hurt.

I want to learn the marketing stuff because I find it interesting. I don’t want to spend hours on social media begging for people to read my books.

But when I say grow as a writer, I want to do things that make my writing better. Like with anything in academia, there’s this stigma/stereotype that once you “get” an MFA you’ve made it (and I’m going to talk a lot about all that later) or that you’ve learned all the things you possibly could about writing and you are now the best ever.

That’s not true. Some of my classmates’ writing sucked. Sometimes my writing sucks. I do my best not to show you the stuff that sucks but reading is SUBJECTIVE and you, the reader, can like or hate whatever you want. Some of my classmates who I think their writing sucks went on to get book deals. The chick who wrote 50 Shades of Grey is super rich now. Whatever.

Some of it is skill and artistry, some of it is personal preference, but the things that define what make writing “good” are not universal or quantifiable. I mean, spelling and grammar are kind of a necessity but beyond that it’s all up to the reader.

I’m going to stop getting off topic now.

What I want to make clear is: I’ve let myself get distracted by all the shiny things in the self-publishing world that are related to writing but are not writing. In my distracted state, coupled with all my other not-writing responsibilities, I’ve let my writing slip, and not just the word count. I’ve been writing shitty, unusable stuff. And that’s good because all that stuff needs to come out but I also want to get serious about writing again.

Just writing.

So I’m saying “fuck off” to everything else (except you, dear reader, you’re awesome) and only focusing on writing words. Showing up to the page and getting 10, 50, 500 words a day until I feel like I’m back on solid ground.

To anyone waiting for more of The Slaughter Chronicles: I love you and I’m sorry you have to wait longer.

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While Writing The Echo of Something Hitting

I was waking up at 4:30 a.m., cursing my alarm clock. Awake before dawn, cold, sick/hungover, I’d trudge to the bus stop with frost crunching beneath my boots to get to work. It was an hour long bus ride if the traffic was good. I used that time on the bus to read and write poetry. I earned my MFA, start to finish, on that bus. Crossing the lines, riding over the river, circling the familiar pathways.

But before the bus was the dead kitten. My anchor.

See, while I was thinking about my graduating thesis, my “masterwork” of poems I was walking to the bus stop. A rooster crowed. There was fog, there was sleet, there was ice and the wet cold soaked into my marrow. My bag was too heavy with books and not heavy enough with food. I didn’t have enough alcohol/I had too much.

There was this image in my head of this ghost-woman under the foggy streetlight but that wasn’t reality. She was orange and I thought she was my speaker, the thread that would connect everything in my collection, but she wasn’t. I don’t know where she’s gone now. Maybe she wasn’t real to begin with.

I know she wasn’t real because the poems didn’t feel real. They weren’t working. I was stuck.

And then I was walking to the bus stop and there, in the grey concrete gutter at the edge of the dark, early morning road, was the dead kitten. Nothing ate it and its body was frozen. I walked by that little broken body for a MONTH and watched it get flatter and flatter, the fur and skin seemed to be dissolving into the road, the bones were sinking, slowly, into the concrete.

It was like the road was eating the body since none of the carrion feeders would touch it. It was too cold for the insects. Most insects.

And that made me think about borders and barriers and bodies dying on the road. Animal bodies, human bodies. There are borders between countries, borders between places within countries, borders between roads and rivers, roads and houses, roads and bodies.

I began to explore those places.

And then in the spring a flash flood killed my car. My most loyal, bestest friend in the world. We’d been on so many adventures together and I cried when I had to turn him (yes, him) in to the dealership. More debt, more stress. More mistakes made with the man who is now my ex-husband. I wrote the Echo of Something Hitting because I needed to tell myself specific things about the way I was living that I could not see. Rather, my sub-conscious/my reptilian brain needed to tell me. Go look back at your old poems and see if there’s something you might have realized sooner than you thought.

I began to explore those places too. The flood and transformation. Transformation from catastrophe. (As far as catastrophes go it was a small one but the water sloshing over my boots and then the firemen pushing my car out of the road, all of them wearing grey shirts and water up to their thighs, frolicking in the water like otters. Sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to put them into the book. If any of you are reading this now, all these years later, thank you.)

There’s lots of bird imagery, lots of water imagery, lots of grey. The kitten was grey.

(I tell people my favorite color is green but I think, secretly, it is grey. Grey and the weird pink/periwinkle/grey of some ballet slippers. Is it okay to have more than one favorite color? I don’t mean to imply in any way that green is inferior. I really like green.)

I’m running out of things to say about the book. It began as a collection of poems but as I wrote about the kitten and the road and the river the borders of the poems dissolved and it became what I like to think of as a “lyric essay.”

I got my degree in Cross-Genre and Hybrid Poetry. Hybrid is where prose and lines blend and mutate like sick proteins but they’re not sick. Things unfold and knot up. Things flow freely but they also flicker and disappear. Think deep sea fish and you’re good. The Cross-Genre is not merging “romance” and “fantasy.” Where I went to school, genres were prose and poetics. Genres were how you actually wrote, not what you wrote about.

So a lyric essay, to me, is formatted like an epic poem but has zero meter, too many long pauses, random chunks of prose that float like globules of crude oil in the ocean–they’re soft, not like plastic–

Here’s an article from the Los Angeles Review of Books about lyric essays…and how they can be…banal…(awesome selling point).

The Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville says, “Writing the lyric essay offers the author a frolic in the pool of memoir, biography, poetry and personal essay mixed with a sprinkling of experimental.

What is interesting?

What is over-the-top batshit crazy?

What is self-important pontification?

Maybe it’s all those things. But I feel that poetry is WAY more than just verse and form. Poetry is more than lines and stanzas, more than meter, rhyme, and syllable counts. I guess you could say that lyric essay is the ultimate free verse but free verse is already free verse so…I’m rambling now. I should end this post.

I wanted to say all that because I want to get back into poetry. I want to start working on another poetry collection, one that’s been hanging out in my head since 2007, like dust piling up in the corners.

You can find The Echo of Something Hitting for free download on iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and several other places that give good homes to free ebooks.

The Echo of Something Hitting is a hybrid, cross-genre, lyric essay that explores the transformative journey from disaster into survival; an imagined life after death. Becoming something new within the language of roads, rivers, and storms, the text decomposes and reforms to escape the boundaries of words.

Fans of Catherynne M. Valente’s The Labyrinth and Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters will enjoy this handful of words.

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Photo by Imthaz Ahamed on Unsplash

What I Read in Grad School

Matsuo Basho: Narrow Road to the Interior, Sam Hamill translation, 1991

Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge: I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems, 2006

Frank Bidart: In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-90, 1990

Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems, 1969

Jenny Boully: THE BODY: AN ESSAY, 2007

Jenny Boully: [one love affair], 2006

Ana Božičević: Stars of the Night Commute, 2009

Rebecca Brown: Excerpts from a Family Medical Dictionary, 2005

Melissa Buzzeo: What Began Us, 2007

Anne Carson: Autobiography of Red, 1998

C. P. Calvary: The Collected Poems of C. P. Calvary: A New Translation, Aliki Barnstone translation, 2006

Paul Celan: Poems of Paul Celan, Michael Hamburger translation, 1989

Emily Dickinson: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1993

Dolores Dorantes: sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre, Jen Hofer translation, 2008

C. S. Giscombe: Giscome Road, 1998

Renee Gladman: Juice, 2000

Marilyn Hacker: Winter Numbers, 1994

Kimiko Hahn: The Narrow Road to the Interior, 2006

Christian Hawkey: Ventrakl, 2010

Langston Hughes: Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, 1990

Richard Hugo: The Triggering Town, 1979

Bhanu Kapil: Humanimal: A Project for Future Children, 2009

Bhanu Kapil: Schizophrene, 2011

Carole Maso: Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing & Moments of Desire, 2000

Eugenio Montale: Mottetti: Poems of Love, Dana Gioia translation, 1990

Pablo Neruda: Odes to Common Things, Ken Krabbenhoft translation, 1994

Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories, 1971

Frank O’Hara: Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen, 1974

Jena Osman: The Network, 2010

Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems, edited by Ted Hughes, 1981

Claudia Rankine: Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, 2004

Arthur Rimbaud: A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat, Louise Varese translation, 1945

Muriel Rukeyser: Muriel Rukeyser: Selected Poems, edited by Adrienne Rich, 2004

Sappho: Sappho: A Garland, The Poems and Fragments of Sappho, Jim Powell translation, 1993

Selah Saterstrom: The Meat and Spirit Plan, 2007

Juliana Spahr: This Connection of Everyone With Lungs, 2005

Juliana Spahr: The Transformation, 2007

Jane Sprague: The Port of Los Angeles, 2009

Gertrude Stein: Reflections on the Atomic Bomb, 1973

Wislawa Szymborska: View With a Grain of Sand, Stanislaw Baranczak and CLare Cavanagh translation, 1995

Tomas Tranströmer: the great enigma, Robin Fulton translation, 2006

Marina Tsvetayeva: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva, Elaine Feinstein translation, 1987

James Wright: Collected Poems, 1971

C. D. Wright: One With Others: a little book of her days, 2010

Movies:

All About My Mother: Pedro Almodóvar, 1999

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Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash