Friday, April 30, 2004

This in from the agent today:

"Good timing on your email as I was just going to give you an update. I'm having ms. copies made now and plan to get them all out next week. I'll send you a final submission list once the submission is complete.

I'm excited about this Jordan; this manuscript is really a winner. "

That resonates good with me!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

I can tell myself that I'm not nervous or anxious about the outcome of my second novel (working title: Shaky Grounds), and yet, ever since hearing from John (first name only of my agent) that he likes the book and will be preparing to submit again, I've been filled with a buzzy energy that wakes me up in the mornings. It's a vulnerable place to be, this constant waiting. Writing is 3/4 waiting, I've decided. Waiting for inspiration, waiting for language and plot and characters to connect up in a reasonable cohesion, waiting for feedback and responses to stories and novels and queries. It's maddening sometimes.

And having a "real job" as grateful as I am when some of my friends are searching for work, feels sometimes like a waste of creative energy. I feel myself rather hollowed out at work, and I don't have the leisure as I did at the television production job to borrow moments and write while there.

So here I am. And there you are. And we wait.


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Unlike the natural diary with its hidden pages and its secretive shape, perfect for tucking inside or under things, this blogging thing is way too out in the open. I have no idea which of you might be peering in right now. I have no defense if you are sniggering at my words. You are getting such a shallow glimpse of me! It's frightening. And now you are learning what a truly terrified person I really am. Heheh. I will leave you with a piece that appeared on my radio show last week, the first in a series titled "Dispatches From the Lonely Road of Writing:

Dispatch #1:
There used to be a time when all you had to do was write and some savvy editor at a publishing house would find you, huddle you under his wing and say "Kid, I'm gonna make you somebody. Stick with me." And the wide-eyed, trusting writer would begin spending even more time in front of their Underwood, being a little sloppy about punctuation and knowing that a little plot confusion or flat character development was no big deal. The editor would take care of that, would fold the writer's creases into smooth, public-worthy lines. These publishers acted like writing coaches. They took raw material and helped shape it into perfection. Editors like Gordon Lish, famous for working with Raymond Carver among others. Though later it was revealed that Lish may have actually re-written entire parts of Carver's work, not just edited.
I embarked on the long, lonely road to publishing seven years ago with visions of being ushered just like this down a special corridor to fame once somebody recognized my talent. I celebrated each small zine publication of a short story, each public reading in watering holes and cafes because surely, surely, that moment of discovery was just around the bend. I have been writing, after all, since the age of eight. And there's all that talk about how persistence pays off. I was persisting, wasn't I? I wrote a novel. I rewrote it. I sent it out for feedback. I scrapped it and rewrote it from scratch until I was sure I had it right. But how to get this precious thing out into the world? How to get it under the eyes of those who would rocket me to fame and fortune? Fate had my back. Fliers turned up at just the right time in my mailbox. A writing conference. I attended the Mendocino Writer's Conference on a scholarship. This was good. Scholarships come to those who are Worthy of Being Published right? There I met literary agents.

Let me detour for just a second: There has evolved a creature known as the literary agent. Do not be fooled into thinking this means someone who fosters literary, or even someone who believes in literature. Think more of the agents in the Matrix movies. The agent is the formal go-between, spawned to stand between writer and publisher, created to navigate the world of contracts and business-speak. It means for the writer that she need be less savvy, less worried about the fine print, but it also means, no more sloppy punctuation or haphazard plot lines. Your agent demands a finished manuscript. And publishers demand that writers have agents. It also means giving up fifteen % of all money made. The publishing world is just another commercial industry and it will not tolerate rule-breaking or bending.

So, back to the conference: there I was, Meeting Literary Agents, pitching 350 page novel in a five second breath to a hurried agent as we walked from workshop to workshop. "Sounds interesting," she said. "Send me a sample."

So of course, I sent her the requisite query letter and sample chapters. I was So Sure this would that moment. I could almost see the warm down of her wing as she stretched it open to usher me into it. We were going to be best pals. She was going to love every word that dribbled out of my pen. Fast train to publishing here I come!

Eight months later I got an apologetic rejection.

I quickly become more realistic. Tune in for more dispatches next time.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Today I participated in a reading known as the "third Sunday salon" in Healdsburg, sponsored by Chip Wendt and Martha Dwyer. The featured reader (me) reads after the open reading section in which all of Healdsburg seemed to turn out with hands raised high to read. Jeez. All of my good girl tendencies went out the door: politeness, holding a space for people to be however they need to be, treating all work as potential gold. Some of it was tedious; if not the poetry itself, the amount of time it went on for. We sat through two hours of open mike poetry (my favorite: croc man) before it was my turn to read. I ostensibly had a half hour to read in, but at the end of that length of time it felt fair to read something short. I really felt my patience wear thin. I hope I didn't dispaly outwardly how I felt inwardly, but the philosophy that everyone who turned up wanting to read, should therefore get a chance, irked me. It's precisely why I began Livewire the way I did. I wanted containment and a promise to deliver to the audience something finished, or at least, beveled around the edges.

But it's hard to be ungrateful when you've been given a chance to read. I was extra tired too because we spent the night with Jesse & Sarah last night, saw a late movie and stayed up til nearly two in the morning. But in the long run it was good. It made me feel lonely for some of my close writing buds, those people who are doing the work of a writing life, not just writing poems. Because I guess, the reality is, I've chosen to be a career writer. I plan to make a living writing, I work hard on all aspects of my writing life. It also made me feel a twinge of sadness at giving over LiveWire. I realize that there was some benefit to me in it, I got to continually surround myself with writers that I enjoy. But the payment is that I get more time to write. I get more psychic capacity in my brain all to myself.

So there you have it.


Sunday, April 11, 2004

The good news is, my agent likes the rewrite. He gave me that manna to us struggling, invisible writers: validating feedback, praise. He has high hopes about this book and wants to be strategic in his submission process as opposed to novel #1 in which he simply sent it out to a bunch at once and collected the rejections (albeit, there were some nice rejections, even a near-acceptance, but four publishers remained on the fence and never responded). I have good feelings (refer to the donut book story in my last post if you want to be reminded of my wacky belief system), different good feelings. The first good feelings last March were simply a sort of awe mingled with disbelief mingled with exhilaration that I had managed to score an agent. It was at that point I realized that I had been going about the process entirely wrong, believing that failure was the only possibility. I applied to graduate writing programs with the attitude that I would get an agent, but the agent came before school, throwing me for a loop. Still, it's been a tough year.

He gave me the mandate (okay, it was more like a gentle request) to rewrite novel #2 (Shaky Grounds is its title) and it took me nearly six months to even begin the rewrite and another four and a half to complete it. That may not sound like a lot of time, but when you're tackling a writing task, concerted effort every morning is the only way to go about it.

At any rate. First hurdle has been leapt. Leaped?


Thursday, April 08, 2004

I must tell you about my deeming significant and cosmic a sequence of very small, silly events. You will think I am one of "Those" types after this, one of those Northern California woo-wee types, but I'm willing to take the risk.

It begins with a book I read as a child and have never forgotten titled “Who Needs Donuts.” It was an illustrated book, the style like something Robert Crumb might have done if he was doing illustrations for children. Very unusual, crowded black and white drawings. It’s about a kid who leaves home in search of donuts and of course, he gets donuts and then realizes he’s lonely. For whatever reason, I have searched for this book for years, not knowing that it had gone out of print. I couldn’t exactly remember the title nor the author so naturally librarians found me very irritating. I gave up thinking to myself, "someday, I will just stumble across it. It is meant to return to me.” I don’t know why I thought this, or why it was so important. Now, move to present day. I had sent my novel off to my agent and that day I went onto Zoetrope-online as I often do, and decided to visit Maryanne Stahl’s “office” which I do from time to time. Maryanne is the author of two wonderful novels, "Forgive the Moon" and the "Opposite Shore" and she also happens to share my agent (she had him first). So there’s this odd topic having to do with salmon, which nobody has posted under. Usually I don’t read posts where no one else has responded. But it caught my attention. She had posted a comic that this guy Mark Stamaty is doing for, I think it’s the New Yorker, that is about the world of book publishing. I think it’s called Boox. And I thought to myself: wow, that looks oddly familiar in a way I can’t put my finger on. So I google the guy and lo and behold it’s my DONUT guy! Not only that, the book got such a cult following that publishers decided it ought to come back into print after 30 years. So I got chills. I can’t explain any of this, but I had this feeling that this was all an omen for the selling of my own book. The fact that it appeared in Maryanne’s office, who shares my agent, the fact that his comic was on book publishing. I KNOW how ridiculous this could seem…but that is the conclusion I drew. And I promptly ordered the book from Amazon of course.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

It is but another step forward into the unknown...but my agent called today to express that he enjoyed the manuscript I sent him and feels ready to submit it. It's amazing how many steps there are between the anxiety of wondering and the possibility of publication. I'm pulling out every visualization trick in the book. I don't know if I can even begin to share with you the way I've cosmically turned what could otherwise be insignificant events into big portents of meaning. I feel positive, I'm thinking positive. I've got little images of myself dancing on a beach in Mexico with a signed contract in my hands. This is what one has to do to bolster oneself in this exacting process.

This on the heels of yesterday where every word I have ever written looked like utter dog poop to me. I couldn't stand a single one of my stories, wondered why i bothered to write at all. It was not a good day.

I talk to him tomorrow, I hope, and will learn the details. I'm excited. I really am.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

It's official, Word by Word, the literary radio program I host and co-produce is one year old. It's hard to believe. Our inimitable program director Robin Pressman and her husband Peter Cooper opened their house to our party...oh, and what a house! It's the perfect house for a writer, or an artist, with lots of wonderful rooms and views of the hills and a big kitchen. BUT...the point is it was a blast, a real event with food and great conversation and fun. I thought to myself all night, I am so LUCKY and GRATEFUL to know these people, to be a part of the same circle with them. It was a truly wonderful night.

Tomorrow there is a good chance I will hear from the agent about the book. A friend of mine just offered to refer my work to another agent should I need it. I'm not feeling ready to jump and run yet, of course, even if he has bad feelings about novel #2. I'm feeling ready to do any changes, to really get this book up to the speed he believes is possible. I believe in it. And I'm also glad to have the work of it out of my life for the most part. There's another book that wants to come through and I want to let it.