Eight weeks ago I was thrown into the deep end of a course I’d never taught before (not exactly) in a community college I’d never been to, with seven students I didn’t know. We met every Wednesday night between 6 and 8 pm, after work, hungry and tired, in an empty boardroom somewhere in the city. After the last class we all went out for farewell drinks. How many writers does it take to find a quiet bar on game night? State of Origin. North against South. Us v Them. Blue v Maroon.
Pale blue jerseys and surly barkeeps everywhere. The game projected on the sides of buildings, on high-def screens large and small. No cabs in sight. The restaurants empty. Everyone at home or at the pub, and no talking unless you’re screaming or buying a drink, or you want a punch to the throat. Except there we are in our sweaty power-suits and teacher’s drag, stories in our heads and words the only game in town.
There were five of us left. Two drop-outs (my lost American went back to LA; my Indian dreamer caught up in home and work duties), and the scruffy poet a no show. We missed him. His absurdist ramblings with a healthy disrespect for tense and time and which left an indelible image burned on the soul (a vast vaporous train station where the train never comes, a bus bisecting a desert path to nowhere). So it was just us. We found an upstairs room in a big noisy bar and got to know each other a little better. All but one of us comes from somewhere else.
Between them one publishable story, the beginning chapters of a novel and a travel memoir, and from the Ukrainian auto-didact, a vivid take on a mother-son encounter. Each with a new path carved from their hearts to their eyes and their ears and their tongues. Their fingertips telling them that the world is now a different place.
And the school offered me two more classes. Go the Blues!
A friend told me the other day that the novel she just finished was not the one she wanted to write. Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that the sound we hear as we tap, or type, or scribble? The sound of our own heartbeat, and maybe we’re panting a little, maybe even sobbing, as the words get away from us yet again, and the story runs away with our soul?
A crappy deal, whichever way you look at it.
I woke up late this morning. To bird song. And if you’ve ever woken up to birdsong in Australia, you know that it never fucking stops. It’s not like birdsong in America, which politely diminishes by mid-morning, and by noon is just a distant memory. No, over here, it’s a constant, euphoric shake rattle and squeak and tweet and screech, which by lunchtime is barely superseded by the grind of traffic on the arterial snarl and low-flying planes taking off for quieter climes. I love it. But just fucking shut up already and let me go back to sleep. It’s been a huge week. A never ending Sisyphean ass-haul up that hill, and now I’m there and it’s Friday and I’m in bed trying to working my way back into the manuscript and all I want to do is sleep and sleep and, you know what. Fuck you birds. You win. My eyes are dry and my back is broke and I can still hear the echo of that deceitful bolder, smashing itself into pieces, and over it all, your non-stop yammering, birds. You win.
I’m up. I’m writing. Tweet that.
Done and done. For now. Lucky to have readers I trust, mothers in arms and combat veterans. An adapted excerpt picked up by Spinetingler, coming out in April.
New day, new book. One and a half stories into McClanahan’s stories and I’m all fucked up. I want to say Carver’s style with Dennis Lehane’s heart but this book messes with both. I want to say the other Denis—Johnson’s—soul, but these stories just rip that to shreds. I love Denis Johnson. I’m reading Tree of Smoke at the same time as I’m reading McClanahan and a bunch of other stuff. I read Jesus’s Son on the train from Portland to San Francisco. That story, “Emergency.” Read more
I was going to write a post about this amazing cover for the novel. I was going to write a lot of posts. About Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke and the last episode of Game of Thrones. About getting ready to go home to San Francisco and then the trip and what it was like to be drinking Tequila in the Boom Boom Room with Renny from Marcus Bookstore.
But I kept running out of time. The first time I ran out of time was because I needed to be in Newtown to meet a friend at the cafe above Berkeleuw Books. We were going to mark papers together. This friend started off as a colleague at the university and now. Well, we’re friends. I was thinking while I was getting ready to meet her about how totally a life can be transformed in six years. Mine has. 2006-2007 were dead years. End of days. I had just had my ass downsized from the best job in the world writing PR copy and reviews for a cable company and it had been a nasty business. My family was then priced out of the suburbs and had to move our two kids into the city and I wanted to be in the city. But wanting to be in the city and being there were two separate things. I hated the suburbs but hating the suburbs and living in the city are two separate things. I had no community. No friends even if those friends were just moms in the play ground and the local liquor store owner. I’d dipped out of my PhD a couple of years ago to take care of my family so I lots touch with my colleagues, with the world of the mind. I was working on a novel no one was interested in. The wonderful Dr suggested that I concentrate on my writing because his company was going okay and we didn’t really need me to find another job right away so there I sat in our bedroom in the city, not writing. Not going anywhere or seeing anyone. I actually had an agent at that time who was making things worse instead of better for me by being the sort of agent who can do that. Read more
Subbed four stories this week, sold one so far. So now, everything ‘in progress’ is now outbound and I am in novel mode.
My brain can barely function. Those stories meant a lot to me, they took all I’ve got. I got nothing left. Maybe some yoga. Maybe run for a while. Something. Maybe a new pen.
And in the lull, I’ll get onto updating the site, and I’ve got some posts I’m mulling over… but now some air. The air outside this office. The dog gets it. He’s farting in agreement, yeah it stinks in here. Let’s hit the road.
Truman Capote likened the finishing of a novel to taking your child into the back yard and shooting it. As a parent, I’m intrigued by the mind that could have created that sentence. Still, I take his point. I was all but undone by the completion of my previous novel, cried for days, became physically ill. Wracked with grief for what I’d created and destroyed. But not with this one. This one felt more like letting go of a red balloon. There was that sense of loss, but also elation. I’d seen its shape from the beginning, knew from the moment I conceived it, that it wasn’t mine to keep. They never are.
Okay, let’s talk about rejections.
War wounds and badges of dishonor. I’ll see your bruised pride and raise you a broken spirit.
One of my favorite rejections to date came from an editor who knocked back my submission but told me by way of consolation that one of my colleagues—an enviable Irish wunderkind—got in instead, and how proud I must be. The editor went on to say that my story (which has since been published elsewhere) was ‘a little too dry, a little airless.’
‘She talking about your story,’ said a supportive friend, ‘or her vag?’
Read the full piece here.
250 words down and it settles in. A great calm. A sea of words to keep me afloat. I stop looking for land.