October 23, 2017 § 24 Comments
by Margarita Gokun Silver
I don’t have to be the one to tell you that you are invisible. You know it yourself. Store clerks pay no attention to you, doctors ignore your symptoms, and your children never call as often as they should. But that invisibility cloak will seem like a common cold in comparison to the arthritis when you start looking for an agent – or a publisher – for your memoir. Unless you are a celebrity or a certain former Presidential candidate, you’ll be overlooked, laughed at, and rejected. Since I know first hand what it’s like to be dismissed by agents and snubbed by what they always refer to as “market”, I’m here to give you a few pointers you can use when looking for your own representation.
- For Pete’s sake, don’t write about your life. No one cares. Even if you survived the insides of a volcano, traversed the Sahara dessert on foot without any water, or climbed Mount Everest in one day – no one will give a damn. Instead, go the library or a bookstore and look for memoirs written by men. Then Google their sales figures and write the same thing. Because if a men’s memoir made a lot of money, you may stand at least a chance to be considered.
- If your name dates you to a decade when your potential agent’s parents (or grandparents) were born, change it. Go for something more current, something that says 21stcentury. Google all the wave-making millennials and borrow one of their names. If that doesn’t work – take a name that sounds like a man’s name. This, at least, should get you in the door.
- Do something ridiculous. Dress as if you are thirty (scandalous!), eat dinner at 8pm instead of at your usual, early-bird time, or date a few men or women who could be your grandchildren. Document all that on Instagram and Snapchat (forget Facebook – that’s for grannies). When you accumulate a platform – a fancy term for voyeurs – of five or six digits, send your memoir to an agent.
- Go work for the Trump administration. I know, I know. But art requires sacrifice, right? Hold your nose and ride the scandals until your name is out there. Then ride it some more. With luck, you can maybe help Mueller and sell your memoir in one swoop.
- If all else fails, do what Trump himself did. Attach yourself to Putin. Insist that he was your real father – considering all the plastic surgery the guy’s had he could’ve easily fathered the Beatles. Or claim he was your lover when you, as a young’un, climbed the Berlin Wall and got arrested by dashing Vladimir on the other side. The wild, Communist-inspired sex you had that day became the experience you never forgot and the little Vladimir, oops Johnathan, you had given birth to nine months later looks exactly like his Daddy (minus the botox). If Putin’s name retails you at least a quarter of the number of newspapers it now sells, you’ll have a bestseller on your hands.
One of these should work. Trust me, I know. I haven’t tried any of them and I’m having the hardest time selling my memoir.
Margarita Gokun Silver is a writer living in Madrid, Spain. Her essays on the topic of her memoir have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Guardian, and O: The Oprah Magazine, among others. She hopes that her agent is there, somewhere (and maybe even a reader of this blog).
July 7, 2017 § 4 Comments
By Eunice Tiptree
With workshops all morning, afternoon talks, and readings every evening, the eighty writers attending the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop in Gambier, Ohio, had little time for the terror of the blank page, no time to wallow in self-doubt. The Kenyon summer classes are “generative,” meaning that participants are asked to sprout new work each day over seven days, from prompts designed to jar you out of your comfort zone, producing “seedlings” that grow into full works over the months that follow.
But it was mid-week, and my group, the eleven tired souls gathered around the workshop table in Rebecca McClanahan’s literary nonfiction section, were starting to flag. As someone who has attended the Kenyon Workshop since 2004, I well knew the signs. Our group needed a boost.
As it turns out, Rebecca’s assignment provided the vehicle. Her instructions were to “Choose a non-literary text, pattern, or template from commerce, art, music, contemporary culture . . . Then, either employ that pattern as a shaping device, or incorporate the pattern into your piece in some way.”
Taking a walk in the afternoon on the bike path by the small Kokosing River winding below campus, my mind sifting and rejecting ideas, I felt trapped in my own doldrums. Then as if a gift from a cloud-free afternoon and the swirling water of the river, the perfect template appeared to inspire my fellow writers. We needed to hear a speech, and not just any speech, a speech in the style of Winston Churchill:
Speech to the Kenyon Writer’s Workshop Upon the Occasion of the Midweek Writing Doldrums
I say to those who joined this workshop, we have before us an opponent of the most testing kind, our fatigue and self-doubts. We have before us many, many long hours before this workshop ends. You ask, what is our aim? I can say it: It is to write, by day and night, with all our might with all the strength that God can give us; to write against the monstrous effects of fatigue and burn-out never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human frailty. I can say to this workshop, to all those who have joined us in this struggle, “We have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their best, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defeat the storm of incoherent and shapeless language, and to outlive the menace of the blank page, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.
At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of this workshop. That is the will of the Kenyon Review family. We participants and instructors, linked together in our cause and in our need, will defend to the death the cause of writing, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of our strength.
Even though large tracts of our minds and many old and famous tropes have fallen or may fall, we shall not flag or fail.
We shall go to the end; we shall write in the halls and cottages.
We shall write with growing confidence and growing strength; we shall defend our craft whatever the cost may be.
We shall write on Middle Path.
We shall write in the fields and in the streets
We shall write in the hills.
We shall never surrender our talents, until, in God’s good time, our growing capabilities stride forth to produce polished and complete drafts.
Eunice Tiptree transitioned from fiction to literary nonfiction at about the same time she began transitioning from male to female in 2010. Her essays have appeared in Brevity, Crack the Spine, Weave, and elsewhere. She has also published poetry in Straylight, Rock and Sling, and Inscape Magazine. Before transitioning, she was a journalist specializing on the space program. She currently is putting the finishing touches on a memoir of her transition, three years in the making.
June 21, 2017 § 3 Comments
Sara Goudarzi shares her decidedly brilliant application letter:
Dear Tonawanda Writers Conference application committee,
I’d like to be considered for a writing fellowship to attend the 17th annual TWC this summer. I’m currently polishing my novel, which I’ve been working on for as long as your conference has been running, maybe longer. That’s just one example of how dedicated I am to my craft.
My literary speculative crime novel tells the story of a suburban man searching for his missing wife. Soon he realizes that he’s hunting for more than just his partner but also for their pet hamster that’s gone rogue. As he journeys through the subway stations of New York City looking for the fetid rodent, he comes across his wife’s hooker sister (who in a twist turns out to be the protagonist’s aunt) and saves her from playing the ukulele in a boho dress for money at Union Square. In the process of journeying through a hidden underworld he collides with a psychic cat and an orange-haired thief out to kill him and embezzle money from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Will Josh be able to use his time traveling superpowers to find Fluffenuget, save his marriage and avoid the downfall of the nation’s economy?
I think your committee has the vision to understand the uniqueness of my narrative written in the style of Raymond Carver—with whom, according to ancestry.com, I share two percent DNA and whose third cousin’s grandson I hung out with and chatted craft for a couple of days—unlike all those “literary” agents who are ignoring me. They’ll be sorry, believe me. Especially when I land that seven-figure book deal and M. Night Shyamalan turns Marmota Annals into a movie.
Giving me this scholarship could, actually will, put your conference on the literary map (let’s face it, you’re not exactly Bread Loaf). And if you don’t, you’ll be haunted by guilt for all your days after I win all the literary prizes. This is Pulitzer, Man Booker material. All I need is someone to realize it and to help me with edits, which you can do. In fact, I’ll be happy to just email the opening 450 or so pages to you for some light revision, maybe some structural work and you’ll see, it’ll blow you away like the kite in The Kite Runner—see what I did there? That’s the kind of clever wordplay you’ll find in my MS.
So please consider giving me the fellowship and don’t be like all those dumbasses that passed on signing The Beatles. Marmota Annals could be your I Want to Hold Your Hand.
Sara Goudarzi is a Brooklyn writer and editor. Born in Tehran, she was raised in Iran, Kenya and the U.S. Her writing has appeared in National Geographic News, The Christian Science Monitor, Scientific American, Taos Journal of Poetry and Art, The Adirondack Review, The Globe and Mail and Drunken Boat and featured in an upcoming poetry anthology. Sara is the author of Amazing Animals and four other titles from Scholastic Inc. She recently completed her first novel and is at work on a second.
June 7, 2017 § 25 Comments
That Writer. Every writing group or class has one. The person who talks more than everyone else combined. Who comes in stoned, or just high on life. Who interrupts the teacher we’ve all paid big bucks/gone through a tedious application process to hear. Who comments as if they themselves are the teacher. Who says things like “Well, you know what Flannery O’Connor said” as if we all know exactly what Flannery O’Conner said, and it wasn’t “Nobody cares, shut up.”
Look around the table. Do you see That Writer? No no, don’t point—Instead, draw a smiley face expressing pain and show it to the writer next to you by turning your notebook on the table.
If you can clearly identify That Writer, I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do. Practice your expressive smileys, and how to say “could you unpack that a little more?” with respectful seriousness for the days you haven’t done the assignment and are trying to run out the clock (That Writer has their usefulness!).
Wait—what? You don’t see That Writer? Oh dear. Ask yourself these questions:
Do you carry a bag of pens? Do you rummage in this bag more than once per class?
Have you ever cut your nails in class, you know, just that once when you had a bad hangnail and it was under the table and really quiet, not at all like it might be additional punctuation in the story of whoever was reading out loud at the time?
Does your jewelry make a delightful collection of wooden and metallic sounds?
Have you ever entered the room prior to class to find a previously arrived fellow-writer typing vigorously, earbuds in, and signaled that you need their attention? When they remove one earbud and say “yes?” in a sharpish tone, have you then courteously let them know you just need to use the printer and will that be OK? Did you then sing quietly to yourself while printing?
Have you written a chapbook of poetry, not self-published by any means but issued by the small independent press you own that has published several of your chapbooks and those of two other writers? Would you like to give a copy of that chapbook to every member of the class, and a few days later discuss it over coffee?
Do you often have a different interpretation of the work being discussed, possibly rooted in Freudian theory or any psychology named after a dead Slav?
Do you make sounds that people think indicate you are about to speak, but you are in fact just signaling agreement or a blocked sinus?
Have you ever started a comment with, “Well, this may be a little far afield, but this just puts me in mind of Wittgenstein, when he says…” and ended that comment four hundred words later with “does anyone else get that?” Were you discussing a humorous parenting memoir?
Have you come to a class where the guideline is five pages and indicated that your twelve pages of 1.5-spaced, 10-point sans-serif is “really a pretty quick read”? Is there an explicit sex scene on page 9? Does it have anal? Do you need to discuss how anal sex symbolically represents your relationship with the patriarchy/your creative muse/your mother?
Look at the body language of the person on your right: is that writer scooted to the extreme other edge of their chair, tilting toward the teacher as far as possible without falling off? Are you sure the chair-legs are uneven?
Have you ever said, “I know we’re not really workshopping today but perhaps we could just talk through my pages sentence-by-sentence?”
Are you disturbed by the number of questions you’re answering yes to? Are you just trying to help? Have you noticed other writers angling their notebooks towards each other, scribbling what can only be pictographs of the deep emotional reaction they can barely contain in response to your work? All is not lost!
First, take your pages for today’s reading. When you get to page six, rip it off and any following pages and throw them in the recycle bin. Trust that your lengthy story summary prior to reading will cover it. If there are any chapbooks in your bag, remove them. Have you smoked pot yet today? Skip it. If that horse is already out of the barn, maybe consider taking a sick day and coming to class next week instead. Or smoking later today, especially if it’s a 10AM class. Now remove your jewelry. Select a single pen and one additional backup pen, leaving your pen-bag aside. Check your manicure. Once in class, open your writing notebook. Every time you think of something to say, write it down. Make a tick mark by anything you thought that anyone else says. Now you don’t have to say it. Of every five remaining un-ticked comments, speak one of them. Then bask in your Buddha-like silence and smile wisely.
And don’t ever quote Wittgenstein again.
April 12, 2017 § 41 Comments
By Shawna Kenney
First thought, best thought; revise, revise, revise. Write first thing in the morning when the mind is alert; write at night and never while sober. Do it alone, in an office with the door closed, surrounded by books; write in coffee shops, surrounded by stimulating characters and conversation. Use traditional quotation marks and capitalization Unless You Are a ‘Genius.’ Journal in longhand; always type fast. Sentences longer than three or four lines are unacceptable and tedious, unless you are William Faulkner, William Beckett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jamaica Kincaid, Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez, David Foster Wallace or one of those other people who can get away with it. Short is good.
Write with an ideal reader in mind; fuck the audience. Never show anyone an early draft; find a workshop for feedback. Write to please everyone; quit workshop and hire an editor. Take classes to improve; don’t go to college—you’ll lose your voice. Don’t send work out until it’s ready; submit early and often—it’ll never be perfect. Find a guru. Trust yourself. Kill your darlings. Study the masters and steal their attributes, but never plagiarize—even from yourself.
Don’t write a memoir until you’re ninety; write a memoir while you’re young and events are still fresh; write many memoirs. Write about what’s eating you; eat while you write, or write on an empty stomach. When writing nonfiction, recreate scenes you don’t fully remember; only use facts and information that is verifiable. Show your family your work; never share what you’ve written with those you’ve written about—you are the ultimate authority on your life.
Get a big desk. Keep a notebook in your pocket. Write for two consecutive hours each day. Sneak writing in on 15-minute breaks. Take long naps. Get up early and write before everyone else is awake; stay up late and write when everyone is in bed. Write on napkins, grocery receipts, scrap paper, on your phone or computer, or only in a Moleskin. Write in pen. Always write in pencil first. Special writing software makes you more organized and gets you published faster. Write to get paid. Never expect money for your writing. Value your skills and charge what you’re worth. People who write for money are hacks. People who make money writing are lucky. Say this writing mantra every day: I am my own mantra. Never call yourself a writer until someone else does. Feel free to call yourself a writer, as long as you are writing. Fiction is thinly-veiled memoir. Memoir is mostly fiction. Poetry is useless. Poets are crazy blessed saints. Deep down, we all want to be poets.
Make an outline, then tear up the map and feel your way through. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t get there. All art is a process of discovery. Write what you know. Write to figure out what you don’t know. Write for your dead mother, your sweet pup, your unborn baby, or the ancestors you never knew. Write for yourself. Don’t write unless you can write the right way. Just write.
Shawna Kenney is the author of I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, editor of the anthology Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers and co-author of the forthcoming Live at the Safari Club: A History of Punk in the Nation’s Capital. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Playboy, Ms., and Creative Nonfiction, among others.
April 5, 2017 § 21 Comments
By Pete Candler
Last week I received a very odd email from a notable Quarterly Magazine, in which the new Executive Director pre-warned me that I would soon receive a rejection notice for a submission I made to the journal over two years ago, which submission I withdrew in December. Here is my response:
My name is XXXXX…
…and I am writing you as the new Executive Director at XXXXX Quarterly.
Hey, congratulations! So is this your first email as Executive Director? I’m sure it’s going to be great!
I know it’s been quite some time since you’ve received word from us about your Quarterly submission…
Oh, that! I was starting to wonder about you guys. I assumed you went belly-up, or maybe there was a grease fire or something. That was—what? —December 2014? Thanks for assuming I’m still alive at this point, though!
…and I want to apologize for that. Our staff is quite small and…
No, don’t sweat it! I am sure y’all have been insanely busy—
…the Quarterly was on a long (too long!) hiatus.
A long hiatus, huh? Where’d you go? Mar-a-Lago? I hear that place is kind of hard to stay away from. And with a hiatus program like that, can I come work for you? Because I really like not working with as few other people as possible.
I am excited to announce that we sent our 49th issue to press…
Forty-ninth! Wow, congrats, y’all! Are you still writing each one out by hand?
…and subscribers will receive their copy in the next six weeks.
That is so great. I am so happy for them!
We’ll also reopen our submissions very, very soon!
[whistling “When the Saints Go Marching In”]
Please note that you will soon receive a rejection notice for your former submission.
Oh. Well that’s a new one. Never had a pre-rejection notice before. That’s so sweet. Most journals only let you down you one time. But you’ve given me the opportunity to experience rejection twice! You guys—always bucking convention!
To be honest, it’s been so long since I submitted the thing you’re referring to that I’m not even sure what you’re referring to. I’m not even the same person I was when I sent that to you. I have had another kid since then. But don’t worry about it—I don’t think I sent you a birth announcement.
Oh, and by the by—I withdrew the submission after two years. I’m sorry if I was a little hasty! The kid is talking now, though!
We highly encourage you to resubmit in April if you are still interested.
Why wouldn’t I be interested? I’ve waited this long, what’s a few more years of my life?
One thing, though: could I give you the contact information for my attorney, in the event that I am deceased by the time I hear back from you if I decide to resubmit? She is handling all of my posthumous publications.
Please do expect a wait time of 4-6 weeks while we get back up to speed.
4-6 weeks? Did you mean to type “weeks”? Is that lunar weeks? Or like Book of Genesis weeks?
Thank you so much for your interest in XXXX Quarterly! I hope to hear more from you soon.
You bet! But just in case you don’t, rest assured that my silence is in no way an indication of merit or interest in the journal.
Oh hey! That was fast. I was just in the middle of writing you too! Two years of absolute silence from you all and then two emails in twenty-one minutes! I’m starting to feel a special bond with you, XXXXX.
Because so many have already asked…
… please allow me to clarify: The impending rejection is merely an administrative necessity to re-open submissions and allow those still interested to submit again (or submit a newer piece) in April.
Well why didn’t you just say so? Not that I understand the term “administrative necessity,” me being an artist and all. But do continue!
It is in no way an indication of merit or interest in the piece.
Uh huh. I liked it better when you were bucking convention and pre-breaking up with me. But this line sounds familiar.
I do apologize if that was unclear. Please feel free to ask more questions. We’re deeply interested in reading your work!
How deep is your love?
Pete Candler’s scholarly and creative work has been rejected by a wide range of some of the finest and most illustrious journals in the land, including Modern Theology, Poetry, and The New Yorker, which once returned an unsolicited manuscript (circa 1997) submission with no note or letter but with a simple but thorough slash through the pages. Candler lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where he writes fiction and essays. He is currently preparing a manuscript for rejection by The Atlantic. His twitter handle: @tweetcandler
February 6, 2017 § 26 Comments
From Nina Gaby
May I call you DJ? This here is just a little thank you note.
First off, thanks for getting me back in the pool. Last time I was this depressed, DJ, was right after Reagan’s election. I’d just stopped drinking. I was all sorts of bloated and baggy-eyed and wow, if I didn’t just swim my way out of that depression and addiction! I was gorgeous! Not a “10” but I bet you’d have looked twice at me, all artsy and zaftig1. I’m older now and have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and shoulder stuff and can’t really swim, but I’m in the pool again. I strap on one of those belts and jog back and forth, back and forth, just thinking about you.
And who knew pink was my color? I never wear hats. But that march, well, a whole new me.
In a way, DJ, you may also be giving me more job security than I can even handle, though that’s certainly a bit of a mixed blessing. You see, I’m an addictions specialist and psychiatric nurse practitioner, so “good for business” does not necessarily mean good. Of course, if you and your buds decide to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, I’ll need the continued income for my own medical expenses.
Or bail, as the case may be.
Big shout-out dude for signing that anti-immigrant executive order exactly on Holocaust Remembrance Day, though you did somehow forget to mention the Jews. We felt a little left out. Thanks to you, though, I made a special trip to Michael’s Crafts to get a few squares of yellow felt so I could make Jewish Stars (Like sheriff’s badges! You remember!), but then the thought of wearing them prematurely seemed too radical even for me.
Speaking of that, what’s up with Ivanka and her shoulders? When I lived in Israel and went sleeveless through the religious quarter they threw bricks at me. I love that Ivanka got permission to drive home from Inauguration even though it was past nightfall on Erev Shabbat. Maybe one of the things you can do to prove that you really love the Jews is insist no one schedule important events on Saturdays. With a stroke of the pen I bet you can just do that. The thought of it makes me feel pretty darn important. And popular.
And last but not least DJ, let’s not forget social media. I’m no dexterous Twitter genius like you are with those cute little fingers of yours, but I know my way around Facebook and because of you I have so many more friends! I even belong to a book group, the first I’ve ever been invited to, and we are reading a book and it’s about you. Thanks again.
I get a lot more “likes” on my posts than I used to, on all my resistance action plans and silly little memes. How about the clown with the orange hair climbing out of that quaint barn? I stopped on my way to work to snap that. So inspired!
And you know what? I’m writing like a little motherfucker, excuse the language. Because of you I’m getting essays accepted and my fat little fingers just can’t stay off the keyboard.
Well I’ve got postcards to write, and I don’t want to take up any more of your limited reading time. Just wanted to reach out and be that change I want to see in the world.2
In synergy3, NG
1 Zaftig (Yiddish) Means plumply succulent and juicy, womanly. Just the way you like us. Being from NYC I probably didn’t need to define that.
2 From a quote by M. Gandhi, (1869-1948) Indian pacifist who was assassinated by an extremist who did not like Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims, among other things.
3 When everything just seems to come together like magic.
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner. She is the editor of Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women published by She Writes Press in 2015. Most recently her creative nonfiction is appearing in Diagram, Proximity, Mslexia, Entropy Magazine, the new Seal Press anthology, How Does That Make You Feel? Confessions from Both Sides of the Couch, among other collections. Gaby is a runner-up in the Quarter-After-Eight short prose contest, and has work coming out in Rock and Sling and the anthology A Second Blooming. She infrequently blogs at www.ninagaby.com. Her sculptural porcelain is in the National Collection of the Renwick at the Smithsonian, and Arizona State University’s permanent collection. She exhibits her mixed media book art in venues in Vermont where she lives and works in a very old house across from the longest floating bridge east of the Mississippi. Politically active on social media, Gaby worries a great deal about algorithms.