Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- January 12, 2018 Edition

> Charles Simic, at the New York Review of Books, pays homage to "The Poet's Pencil" (and that would be a non-metaphorical pencil).

> The Authors Guild wants writers to know that a Senate floor vote is now assured on a bill to reverse the FCC's recent repeal of Net Neutrality. If you haven't made your voice heard, do so now, before the anticipated vote on Monday, 1/15.

> If you're anything like me, your book buying reach extends way beyond your book reading grasp. And Jessica Stillman, at Inc. (plus a whole bunch of people she interviewed), say that's okay; in fact, it's a good thing.

> Jane Friedman looks back at the book publishing issues that shaped 2017.

> Finally, watching this video/song parody both calmed and worried me, as I'm currently asking bookstores and libraries to host me when my book publishes this spring. Forget that Waldenbooks has been gone for eons; author Parnell Hall nails the angst (and, if you're smart, good humor) that accompanies author appearances. 

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/CreativeCommons


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Short Story About Getting Published on Longreads, and Why the Timing is Perfect for a Memoir Author-in-Waiting

I'm proud to say I have a new work of nonfiction just published at the wonderful Longreads, home to such a vast range of compelling journalism, essays, and narratives.

"What To Do With a Man Who Has a Story, and A Gun" is something different for me. Though I've written before about past loves, to write this story the way it needed to be told forced me into areas I rarely go on the page: sex, my own youth-fueled dangerous behaviors, and the politics of class and wealth I learned as a privileged young person.

I hesitated at first to send this piece out on submission, worried about what reactions it might bring from those more used to me writing about milder, more "acceptable" life passages. 

Then I put on my grown up writer woman pants and hurled it into the editorial cosmos. It landed at the perfect place, where editor Sari Botton gave it that slight extra push it needed to truly shine.

Once I knew it was going to run, I asked my kids not to read it, and warned my husband (Frank, who is that rare, blessed nonfiction writer's spouse who never tells me what personal stuff I can't write about) to read with caution because he might not like knowing this particular story.

As it turned out, Frank read it and with his usual mix of candor and enthusiastic support, said he was intrigued to know more about who I was in the eight years between when he and I first met (when I was 15), and when we circled back to one another in our mid-20s. I don't know if our sons have read it (how effective is it anyway to put something off limits?), but I think by now these adult children (of 19 and 24) can handle knowing their mother is a flesh-and-blood flawed human who learns from her experiences. And maybe they'll learn something from the story I tell about trusting too soon, conflating sex with love, and ignoring one's intuition.

Some friends and relatives were a little bit shocked and surprised that I told this story. A few, I suspect, are appalled. That's okay. It is, perhaps, a good practice run.

In four months, my memoir will be published and many people (well, I hope many!) will be reading about other parts of my personal life: about what I did with grief; my adult relationship with my parents; what it was like to grow up where and how I did; and how family dynamics, siblings, and other relatives shaped my experiences. And certainly some who read that book -- strangers and perhaps even people I know and care about -- will not like everything it has to say. 

And I'll need my grown up writer woman pants, pulled up and in place. 



Friday, December 29, 2017

Top 20 Most-Read Blog Posts of 2017 on Lisa Romeo Writes

As another blogging year ends, I'm grateful to have continued to connect with other writers and readers, and for the many intelligent, interesting, generous guest contributors who have shared their wisdom and experiences. (And while I now have a newly launched, full website, the blog will continue.)

Which brings me to the top 20 most-read blog posts of 2017, which I'm happy to say include several guest posts from writers I've been lucky to host. 

In case you missed a few the first time around, now's a great time to catch up.  Especially number 14, which suggests a terrific thing for writers to do before 2018 begins!  (Friday Fridge Clean-Out posts are not listed.)

1. Guest Blogger Melanie Brooks on: Writing Your Story, and Crying if you Want (or Need) To

2. Memoir Cover: First Peek (Happy Birthday, Dad)

3.  Memoir Book Report – Part III: The Pitch Session that Changed Everything (even though it was "unsuccessful")

4. Memoir Book Report, Part V: Weathering the Query & Manuscript Submission Cycle, from Confusion to Contact to Contract

5. Being Ethel to a BFF's Lucy Yields one Personal Essay after Another

6. Memoir Book Report: Process, Production, Path to Publication – Part I: Sign, Wait, Hope, Think, Revise

7. I Resolve to...Read. And read and read and read and read

8. What I Heard and Learned at the AWP Writers Conference

9. Guest Blogger David Galef on: One Solution to a Lot in a Little Space -- The Flash Vignette

10. Read-Along. Like a Ride-Along. But with books.

11. Memoir Book Report -- Part IV: Title Roulette

12. Guest Blogger Martha Moffett on Writing Submissions and the Race to the Bottom: The Rejection Club

13. Of Paper, Files, Age and Advice

14. What's on Your Writer's *I Did It List* for 2017?

15.  Guest Blogger Pam Lobley on How She Wrote a Parenting Book Without Really Meaning To

16. Writer Fights AWP Siren. AWP Wins. Notes on a Last Minute Writers Conference Trip.

17. Memoir Book Report: Part II -- Final Manuscript Revisions

18. Guest Blogger Marjorie Simmins on Memoir, Starry Night Memories, and What She Learned from a Workshop Student

19. Home from Hippocamp with a Bunch of Thoughts about Writers Conferences

20. Guest Blogger Judy Mollen Walters on Creating Fictional Worlds From What We Know




Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What's on Your Writer's *I Did It List* for 2017?

Here on the blog, in 2010, I first shared something I’d been doing privately for years: the “I Did It List”—looking back and noting what I’d accomplished in those quickly disappearing twelve months, even if it wasn’t what I’d set out to do. I’d been making a personal “I Did It List” since my kids were small, since I was sure I hadn’t done a single motherhood thing right all year. The list assured me otherwise.

At some point, I began to make an “I Did It List” for my writing life. The idea was—still is!—to pause and take note of all the small things, big things, and in-between things I could say I finished, learned, tried, succeeded at, explored, completed, was challenged by, overcame, and took part in over the year.

By design, the list is not (only) about what got published or where, what I earned, what job or gig I nailed. It’s wider, and deeper, or in some cases, shallower than that. An “I Did It List” for writers, I’ve always sensed, has to include and acknowledge so many other things that happen across an entire year, stuff that counts. The things we do—sometimes without our even stopping to realize it—that keep us growing, learning, and developing as writers.

I write my "I Did It List" without reference to the list of intended goals from the previous January. This kind of list-making isn’t about accountability or productivity, but about acknowledgement and recognizing what makes a writing life year in broader terms.

Since that first post, I’ve been asking my blog readers to consider privately writing their own “I Did It Lists” and many folks have let me know that it was an eye-opening, gratifying experience. Some have shared their lists publicly (though that’s not a criteria or even the point). I I love the wild range of items various writers have listed. Here’s a small sample:

 . began researching more publication markets and then kept track of submissions 
. finally stopped putting two spaces after sentences
. tried a new genre
. was a beta reader for a friend’s manuscript
. organized a writers group because none existed nearby
. read lots more than usual
. started, and sustained, a new early morning writing routine
. saved up and finally went to that conference
. published first (poem, short story, reported feature)
. cleared a spot for a writing corner
. took a writing class online
. taught a free writing class to senior citizens
. submitted beyond the comfort zone
. wrote and placed first book review
. found a social media home and began promoting work in a way that felt good
. filled out that MFA application
. ripped up that MFA application
. got re-started and kept in motion on a big writing project that had been stalled
. tried new software 

As writers, we are too quick to dismiss our small(er) accomplishments, the small steps or steady strides that carry us forward toward larger goals. Especially at this time of year, we may be tempted to focus on what we didn’t finish, didn’t get done, didn’t accomplish—and then shoot straight to a new must-do list for the coming year, one that too often smacks of recrimination.

First, let’s pause to look back and take note of the ways we’ve already begun moving in the direction of our dreams. The list is a way of noticing ourselves as do-ers.

A writer’s “I Did It List” is a clear reminder that there isn’t just one goal, one imperative, one project or avenue of development, or only one fun and enriching writerly thing to accomplish. My past lists remind me of what brought me fulfillment, of the new creative people who came into my life, and how I added to my skills, confidence, and understanding of why I write after all. 

So, here’s your invitation to write your own “I Did It List”. Find fifteen quiet minutes before January 1, 2018, grab a piece of lovely paper and your favorite pen, or open an inviting new blank page on your screen, or find the ideal place in your bullet journal. 

Write across the top, My Writer’s I Did It List, 2017. Go ahead. Take the pause. Pat yourself on the back. You can even get started by listing just one “I Did It List” item in comments here, so we can have a collective “We Did It List”!

While you’re at it, or after you’ve done your own list, I’d love if you would share a link to this post, and encourage your other creative friends to make their own “I Did It List”.

Cheers!


 Images: Red pen - Flickr/CreativeCommons-Phing.; Woman writing - Flickr/CreativeCommons-RoryMacLeod;  list-maker - free clip art.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- December 8, 2017 Edition

> Do you love "Best books of 2017" lists? Then check out this compilation of ALL the lists, conveniently linked. Largehearted Boy has got you covered. (Fair warning -- you need time for this list of lists!)

> If you missed it, here's video coverage from the National Book Awards. (via NPR)

> Staying with NPR for a moment, have you checked out their Books Concierge app? Especially this guide to their pick of top books for 2017.

> One of my pet editing peeves is telling, then showing; or showing, then telling; or (horrors!), telling, showing, and then telling again. Allison K. Williams has a cure for that, and related ailments, over at the Brevity Blog.

> I had fun sending in my own 13-word love story, when the New York Times' Modern Love column put out a call for them earlier this fall (to celebrate 13 years of ML). Mine didn't get selected, but these did.

> Aminatta Forna, in the New York Review of Books, tells of the seemingly unending fallout from publishing a family memoir.

> Finally, I'm pleased to be included in Booksie's new list, Top 100 Writing Sites 2017, especially since I'm sharing the honors with so many bloggers and websites I respect.


Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Memoir Book Report, Part V: Weathering the Query & Manuscript Submission Cycle, from Confusion to Contact to Contract

Fifth in a series, following Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss, from manuscript to published book (University of Nevada Press, May 1, 2018). Find the rest of the series here.

Once I got a publication date, other writers began to ask: How long did the submission process take? What was it like? How did you find your publisher?

The short, pithy answers: Eleven months. Hell. Not the way I thought.

That’s handy shorthand, but hardly helpful. Here’s the longer story, the one from which you might glean some helpful hints.

I first thought I might have a book percolating in 2012, when I realized that many of the essays I was getting published, might add up to…something. Quite a few were connected thematically around my father’s death, and I thought if I wrote a few more, voila -- linked essay collection. (Can I over-emphasize how common this thinking is among essayists—and how often wrong-headed?) I tried to get that one published but eventually realized it had to be transformed into a more traditional memoir. (In a future post I’ll detail the essays-to-memoir process, so let’s skip ahead to April 2016, when I had a polished memoir manuscript.)

I am a fan of traditional independent and boutique literary presses and university presses, many of which accept non-agented submissions. I had already been compiling a spreadsheet of such publishers, organized first by those I most desired (because they’d published books I admired), and those that seemed most logical (given the book’s thematic elements). 

I noted any special submission calls, possible connection/recommendation, contests and open/closed submission periods, and finally, but not incidentally, any hunches I had. Next—because I so love a spreadsheet—I cross-referenced what each required initially, usually some combination of query letter, synopsis, proposal, sample chapters, the entire manuscript, marketing plan, author bio.

From April through January, I marched down my list, garnering both lightning-fast rejections as well as several requests for chapters, and a few for the whole manuscript. Result: slower rejections. Sure, some were personal, from editors who seemed genuinely to have read and thought carefully about the work.

Still, no is no.

Over those 10 months, I scratched some publishers off my list—they shuttered operations or their lists shrunk; some seemed less likely candidates after more careful study; sometimes I simply decided they wouldn’t want my book for some random reason which now seems silly. At the same time, the list grew as I discovered new-to-me publishers. What is it that we say about hope springing?

Along the way, I tinkered with the idea of seeking an agent—mostly because the advice of a book coach I’d consulted two years before, still resonated: there was nothing to lose and quite possibly something enormous to gain. About once a week, I spent time researching agents I might query—sometime. A small list emerged, tucked into another spreadsheet.

By the end of January, my energy was flagging, but I realized I had not made enough effort querying university presses. I had at least a dozen on my list I’d be thrilled to be published by. They all wanted a full proposal or some combination of the elements of a proposal, and while I’d written one, I kept tinkering, never sure it was right. Finally, I started sending it out.

By mid-February the full manuscript was under review at two boutique publishers, a more commercial press, and one university press. I’d gotten to this stage before—and then heard no. And sent out more queries, sample chapters, hopes.

That’s when I glanced out my window late one dark, cold Thursday afternoon, and noticed the snow. So much snow. A big storm coating New England to Virginia. Suddenly all the Facebook posts I’d seen from writers cancelling trips to theAWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Washington, D.C, made sense.

I hadn’t planned on going. But suddenly I had a thought: all those cancellations must mean the conference headquarters hotel would have a lot of available rooms. I was only a four-hour drive from D.C., and my four-wheel-drive SUV—and I, who once lived in Syracuse—could easily handle the lingering snow in the forecast.

By 5 a.m. the next morning, I was on the New Jersey Turnpike, heading south.

Typically, when I go to a conference, I have an agenda—connect with this editor, meet that publisher, make IRL friends with Facebook writer buddies, take notes at Famous Writer’s presentation, go to Other Famous Writer’s reading. Network. Pitch. Buy discounted journals. Get books signed. I’m usually exhausted even before I put on my nametag.

As I drove, I realized I had no plan—and that felt great. I had not studied the schedule, didn’t know who would be in the exhibit hall, who was reading where or when. My only agenda was to find friends, drop in at panels that seemed promising, maybe wander the book fair.

Ah, the book fair: a cavernous space (about three football fields?) where hundreds of tables beckoned, where friendly literary folks were promoting, selling, and giving away journals and books, touting other writing conferences, offering free trials of software, sharing the virtues of MFA programs, reading series, residencies.

I spent most of my book fair time happily meandering, spontaneously connecting in person with journal and anthology editors who’d published my work, finding new things to read, tossing swag into my tote.

At some point, I realized some publishers and university presses still on my list were there. I noticed that since I wasn’t in I-Must-Complete-My-Agenda mode, my usually nervous chatter disappeared. Instead of trying to sell myself, and by extension, my manuscript, I was only making new friends in the writing world.

Several asked me to send the manuscript when I got home. Others said it wasn’t right for them. Somehow, I had the same reaction to both outcomes: okay! I simply continued wending my may through the exhibit hall.

Finally, in the last 20 minutes of the final day, vendors were packing up their booths—and my tote was swelling because they were handing out free books so as not to incur return shipping costs. I noticed a man packing up, a welcoming smile on his face. We began chatting, about how much our feet hurt. About the conference. He asked something—I can’t remember what—and I began to tell him about my manuscript. In my mind, we were just having a conversation. Two tired writing world comrades at the end of an exhausting weekend.

At some point though, when I mentioned that the story takes place partly in New Jersey, and partly in Las Vegas, he pointed to the banner above his head: University of Nevada Press. Nevada, you know, home to Las Vegas.

Justin Race, director of UNV Press, introduced himself, and invited me to send him the first few chapters when I got home. He liked what he read, and asked for the full manuscript. By March 22, I had an offer. Two hours later, one of the other publishers who had the full manuscript phoned to make an offer too.

I realize that this part of the story makes it all sound so easy—bump into someone at a conference and the rest is publishing kismet. I assure you, nothing about bringing this memoir to that point was easy.

The thing is, I was ready. The manuscript had been revised and revised and polished. I’d researched and prepared query/submission materials. My spreadsheet tells the plodding, painstaking backstory of those 11 months (and before that, the submission process of the book’s previous incarnation).

What happens when you’ve been hearing no for a long time and in one afternoon, you hear yes—twice? After the elation, I mean? You get confused, that’s what. You wish you had an agent after all…

I’ll pick up from there in the next Memoir Book Report post, sharing how, over the next week, I found an agent, weighed offers, and said—yes!



Images: Snow-Flickr/CreativeCommons-JimThePhotographer. All others, royalty-free clip-art.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Guest Blogger Stephanie Urdang on the Differences between Writing Her Own Memoir, and Writing Someone Else’s Memoir

Occasionally a writer I meet at a conference (or online) confides that it’s hard to find other writers where they live. I have no idea what that might be like: the part of northern New Jersey where I live might be dubbed Writerville. Stephanie Urdang lives here too, though she was born in Cape Town, South Africa. Her memoir, Mapping My Way Home: Activism, Nostalgia, and the Downfall of Apartheid South Africa will be published this month. She is also the author of two books on Africa, including And Still They Dance: Women, War, and the Struggle for Change in Mozambique. Stephanie is currently working on a book with a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide (forthcoming in spring 2019).

Please welcome Stephanie Urdang

It took me about ten years – but who’s counting – to complete my memoir, Mapping My Way Home. It is taking me about one year to write a book with a survivor of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, who was eleven at the time.
            The first book is my story, my history, my memories. It charts the events on the international stage -- in which I was a participant or close observer -- that contributed to the end of apartheid. In the process of writing it, sub-themes raised their heads and demanded space as leit-motifs: the sense of home, the nagging of nostalgia, the concept of exile, all interlinked.

            The second book is Gustave Mukurarinda’s harrowing but courageous story. It is his story, his history, his memories. I am writing it in close collaboration, in the mode of creative nonfiction. We are co-authors.   I am the writer. But he is the storyteller.

            My memoir was my first sortie into creative nonfiction. It was a learning curve. I had to tap into a more literary style of writing, freeing myself to explore more evocative and lyrical ways to bring a scene to life, to describe a context. I had to rein in my tendency toward streams of consciousness that sent my narrative veering off course; I had to subdue, no exorcise, an inner voice that would exclaim “Who the f*#k I am to write about my life!”.  I had to learn to scale the inevitable writer’s blocks that told me I was incapable of doing justice to this project.  And I had to allow myself to relish, in the moment, the highs when my writing was flowing and it felt right.

Writing my own memoir provided basic tools for writing the Rwanda book, which is still in draft.  But writing a memoir in collaboration is a very different undertaking, although some of what I had practiced in my own memoir could be applied: forgoing my first-instinct journalistic style and adopt a more literary style;  thinking more intentionally about craft;  taking a critical scene remembered in just a few snippets, and fleshing it out, completing with dialogue; transforming an often fabulous but too lengthy anecdote or scene and trimming it to size so that it doesn’t dominate.

            Writing in collaboration is another learning curve entirely. From it I can tease out a few lessons that for me were “musts”.

The need for trust. Without mutual trust and respect the collaboration will founder. In our case, trust began some ten years ago. I had established a small US-based NGO, Rwanda Gift for Life, that partnered with African Rights, in Kigali. The project supported women who had been raped during the genocide and were living with AIDS. Gustave was on the staff of African Rights and acted as my interpreter when I visited Rwanda. We spent many days together. Later, he stayed at my New Jersey home for a few weeks on his way to Canada where he now lives. Once we began working together, I could appreciate that more than friendship was needed. Without a deep sense of mutual trust, a writing project such as ours could not move forward. There are times when this trust is tested. When he doesn’t approve of the way I am casting a scene, when he thinks the narrative is veering in the wrong direction, we are able to discuss, and where necessary, come to a compromise. We move on, knowing that the next glitch will be met with the same mutual respect, the same trust.

            Need for clarity about scope.  There should be as few surprises as possible. We made our expectations clear from the beginning, including the audience, the writing process, the deadlines. Before I began to record his story, we talked about the nature of creative nonfiction, how my intent was to produce a narrative that reads like fiction. We agreed the book would target a young adult readership, while also appealing to adults. Based on this understanding, and our lengthy interviews, I drafted three sample chapters. Gustave liked how I was conveying his story, how I was portraying his voice. Only after this did we feel confident moving forward. We agreed on the publisher’s terms and both signed the contract. We could begin in earnest.

            Accept that this is not the writer’s story.  Even with the best of intentions, it’s too easy to get carried away, and begin to think that the book is the writer’s alone, given the thought and hard work that goes into drafting it. I had to be careful not to imprint myself onto the story, and to stay true to Gustave’s voice. Ultimately every word is to be approved by him, it is his story, his family’s story, not mine.
            Accept criticism without defensiveness.  There were times when, as a westerner, even though I grew up in South Africa, even though I have written widely and for decades on Africa, I discovered that I was not as sensitive to Rwandan culture as I would have presumed. I made assumptions, or used language that caused him discomfort. I tended to pride myself that I wouldn’t fall into such traps. I did. He pointed them out politely when he deserved to be annoyed.

For example, cows are central to Rwandan culture. They are revered. I described Gustave’s father’s herd as containing Jerseys, Friesians, and “skinny African” cows. I recalled seeing cows that were, well, skinny. But this is no benign, neutral term. It was an insult. It reflects western bias. I apologized when he pointed it out. I was able to laugh at myself; he was able to laugh at me. Another similar lesson: I created dialogue between his brother and mother that was inappropriate to Rwandan culture where children were expected to be polite and respectful of adults and not assume to join in adult conversation unless invited. When he points out the error of my ways, all I feel is relief. It allows me to feel safer in my role as writer of his story, knowing that I will be challenged when I don’t get it right. This too reflects trust.

            Figuring out structure.   Structure can be a real challenge for memoir writers.  There is a life-time of material to draw on, so much that seems vital, but in the end really isn’t, that getting the flow and arc can be daunting. There is a deep emotional connection. But writing someone else’s story means the writer comes to the project from a distance and can discern the narrative’s scaffolding earlier on.  In my case, this process began soon after Gustave’s stories poured out during our many hours of skype interviews and I became energized by the twists and turns of this action-packed narrative. The story pulls me along without me being stuck trying to see the wood for the trees.  And so I am less encumbered to push the story forward, even as sometimes it brings me to tears.

            I have come to see, that when a memoir is written in collaboration, the story teller is the one to give birth. The writer is the midwife.  
           
Note: If you too are local to Writerville, you can catch Stephanie at Watchung Booksellers (Montclair) onThursday evening, Nov. 30, at 7 pm, and further afield, and at Powerhouse (Brooklyn), on Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 7 pm.

Stephanie would be delighted to answer any reader questions left in the comments over the next week or so. She’d also love to give one of my blog readers a signed copy of her book. Enter by leaving a comment by Sunday, Dec. 3. [Must have a U.S. postal shipping address.]

Connect with Stephanie at her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- November 17, 2017 Edition

> Looking for traditional, independent"memoir-friendly" small presses? Check out this list (and other helpful writer resources) at Jodi Sh Doff's website.

> At The Writer magazine, Beth Ann Fennelly (whose new book, Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs, is on my TBR list), has on-point tips for writing the micro-memoir.

> Fascinating behind-the-scenes video and interview on book cover design.

> Each year writer Clifford Garstang does an exhaustive ranking of literary magazines, based solely on Pushcart Prize stats. The newest is here.

> Dina Honour, at Cleaver Magazine, makes a case for writing through "girl-colored glasses."  

> Does your writing (and maybe the way you think about what you're writing) sometimes seem as if it's tilted? Looking at things sideways? Well, yay you -- so says Paul Crenshaw over at North American Review.

Have a great weekend! 

Image:  Flickr/CreativeCommons

Monday, November 13, 2017

Writing in the Discomfort Zone -- A New Essay in The Nervous Breakdown

A lot of writers have a particular writing discomfort zone. For me, it's when I'm trying to write on topics that I feel shaky about, issues that I wonder: do I have the right, the authority, to write about this? Or, that? It's when I seriously ask myself if writing about a particularly vexing experience or situation is territory I want to wade out into, and once there, will I even know what to do?

Then, one of two things happen: I either scribble a few lines in a notebook or start a draft on the computer, but walk away before I even really get started. I decide, this is not my topic, and writing about it is not something I feel confident about. Sometimes though, I plunge ahead: draft and write and revise and edit the darned thing. But then I often sit on it until either the moment passes and I'm fairly sure no publication would be interested anyway--or, I polish it up, swallow that rock in my throat, and hit send.

That's what happened with my most recently published essay, "Unspoken Words that Begin with N (even when they don't)" which found a home at The Nervous Breakdown. Perhaps what propelled me to write and finish (and publish) this time lies in the title itself: things unspoken must be discussed, must be aired, acknowledged and examined. 

The imprinted, ugly words some of us heard as children, when we were being formed   --connected to race, words that illustrate racist thought and action even in places we don't want to admit it existed--do lodge in our core, and crawl back out, unbidden, years or decades later. I thought that was worth discussing, in 2017, in America.

After I sent the piece in, I was fortunate to have good editorial feedback and guidance from TNB editors Chelsey Clammer and Bernard Grant. I love it when I get that kind of collaboration, and I was especially grateful for it on this piece, because even after submitting, I still had one foot firmly planted in the writing discomfort zone. 

We worked back and forth to be sure that the nuance was clear, that as narrator I was exposing flaws without asking for sympathy, and that the piece asked readers to think, not simply nod in agreement. I admit, I had some nervous moments during editing, worrying that the writing stood up to seriousness of the subject matter, that I wasn't being self-indulgent or whiny on the page. I wanted to add something to the conversation about what we carry around from childhood, not simply bemoan it.

At some point, I remembered something one of my writing mentors had once told me: If we only write what's comfortable, what's the point? And, this from another: The only time anything good happens on the page in nonfiction, is when we write outside our comfort zone.

I hope you will read the essay in full, here. And I welcome your thoughts on writing in your own personal discomfort zone.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Guest Blogger Martha Moffett on Writing Submissions and the Race to the Bottom: The Rejection Club

Some writers that I like very much I’m just not able to stay in steady contact with, but I’m always happy when we cross paths. Like Martha Moffett, a New Jersey writer I like to talk to anytime we’re in the same room. Martha was born at the end of a dirt road in St. Clair County, Alabama, worked in book and magazine publishing in New York City, and has written for Cosmopolitan, New York Magazine, and British Heritage. She’s also worked as a librarian, and is now a freelance editor and ghostwriter. Her novels include The Common Garden and Dead Rock Singer. She’s also the recipient of fellowships from the Florida State Council on the Arts individual fellowships, and Yaddo.

Please welcome Martha Moffett

My plan, this past summer, was to work on one story and get it polished and ready for rejection by Alaska Quarterly, One Story, and Glimmer Train, some of my favorite journals. 

That’s an inside joke for “The Rejection Club,” four writers who decided to send out work at a fast clip and to keep score and compare notes.  The winner (loser) with the most rejections was assigned to treat the rest of us to a bottle of wine in our favorite pub at the end of a year.

I had traditionally sent out one story to one journal and waited for a response. Sometimes it was months in coming. Sometimes it never came. We had two thoughts about the general wisdom of this: If they don’t respond promptly, they aren’t interested. Or, if they keep your work a long time, they are seriously considering it. We weren’t convinced of either but knew that at this rate, months became years and the work waited patiently in my computer. My three writer friends followed more or less the same routine.

But after Kim Liao’s article “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” circulated on the Internet in June of 2016, we rethought our position. In addition to increasing our submissions, I said, “Let’s make it a competition. Who can get the most rejections fastest?”

That same summer, it was on my calendar to take a workshop with Lisa Romeo at The Writers’ Circle called Submission Strategy. Lisa’s spreadsheet was a revelation to me. I began to keep better records of what I sent, where I sent it, the date, the outcome—rejections, yes, but as Lisa also said, record any feedback you get.

The four of us had a backlog of unpublished work. We’d met in a workshop where one of us was finishing a novel set in New York City and Italy; another was working on a crime novel; the third member’s novel was about an American family and how it changed over two generations; and I was bringing my chapters of a novella to workshop to be picked over for the problems of consistency, tone, and point of view. In addition, we all had stories, essays, short-shorts, and other bits and pieces in reserve.

We proceeded to build our attack. We met and exchanged literary journals, to improve our knowledge of what they printed and what the editors liked. I came home with an armload of Ploughshares, which I had never read despite its reputation, and I passed out copies of Chattahoochee Review, where I’d been lucky in the past. I had a lot of back issues of One Story for the taking. I picked up Gulf Coast, New Letters, and Bellingham Review.

We also exchanged lists of journals looking for submissions or running contests. One member subscribes to Literistic, a good source. I subscribe to Practicing Writing, Erika Dreifus’s daily blog, for the Monday list, and her monthly newsletter The Practicing Writer.  We also consulted Publishing . . . and other Forms of Insanity. And of course, Poets & Writers is available to all of us, magazine or online, a great guide and vetted by P&W—no rip-offs there.

We started our first round of submissions, and soon our emails were reading like this:

I got two rejections in a week. I’m surging ahead!
Do you know how many editors have “loved” this story but rejected it anyway?
Five agents have decided not to represent my novel.
I’m getting rejections from journals I don’t even remember submitting to!
Your submission was read with interest.” (But WAS it?)

We sometimes got the same standard rejection letter from different journals. And we discovered favorite tropes:

“Although your story was not selected, it does not mean it was without merit.”

And our current favorite:
          
“We were blown away by the quality of this year’s contest submissions . . . “

But we learned a lot. First, to take any word of encouragement as an invitation: “We liked your long story but there was no room for it in this issue.” Or, better, “Try us again.” A personal note from an editor in an email that showed she’d read and thought about our work, or a scribbled note in pencil on a standard postal rejection was to us fit for framing.

We got better at matching our work to certain journals. We now send out work in batches, not one solitary story bearing our only hopes for publication. Our common effort has lessened the pain of rejection—and has given us many laughs. We’re ready to start a new wave of stories flying in all directions, electronically and by snail mail.

In her article, Kim Liao writes that early on, a friend once told her, “Shoot for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances too.”

We in The Rejection Club know it’s going to work.

In fact, it has already worked! A few days ago, I received news that I had won the Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for The Novella, sponsored by Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society and selected by the author Stewart O'Nan. I know my writing friends will soon follow with their acceptances.  And that bottle of wine is waiting.


You can connect with Martha at her website  or her blog