Thursday, October 3, 2013

Upcoming Readings

I will continue to update the list of upcoming readings as I confirm with new venues. In the mean time, if you would like me to come read, meet with a class, or visit your book club, let me know and we'll see what we can work out. I would love to come!

Oct 11 7:00 PM Utah Humanities Book Fest Reading with Alyson Hagy and Stephen Tuttle at The King's English, Salt Lake City, UT (Advanced copies of  Borrowed Horses will be available for sale!)

Oct 16 1:00 PM Ladies Literary Society Reading and Q&A with Janine Joseph, Ogden, UT.

Nov 7 4:30 PM Class visit: Practicum in Publishing at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Moorhead, MN.

Nov 7 6:45 PM Book Launch! Minnesota State University Moorhead, Moorhead, MN.

Nov 8 9:00 AM Reading for Equine Sciences department, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND

Nov 14 2:00 PM Weber State Faculty Reading with Mario Chard in Elizabeth Hall room 229, Ogden, UT

Nov 19 (late morning) Reading at Utah Valley University, Orem, UT

Nov 19 2:30 PM Class Visit at Utah Valley University, Orem, UT

Dec 4 7:00 PM City Arts Reading Series at the Salt Lake City Main Library (210 East 400 South) in the 4th Floor Auditorium, Salt Lake City, UT

Dec 12 7:00 PM Reading at Helicon, Utah State University, Logan, UT

Jan 16 3:30 PM Reading at University of Utah, LNCO 3850, Salt Lake City, UT

Feb 28 4:30 PM AWP Off-Site Reading, Caffe Ladro, Seattle, WA 

Mar 27 TBA Reading and class visits, Dixie State University, St. George, UT

Monday, September 16, 2013

New Agent! New Book!

Good news, y'all! I've just signed with a new agent! The hunt is over, and I'm very proud to say I am represented by Kathleen Nishimoto at William Morris Endeavor. Now, onto the next round of revisions on New Brighton--which will definitely be retitled (but what??) as I revise. Finding the right agent is absolutely exhausting, but I'm so happy to have Kathleen on my publication team.

It's less than a month until the birthday of my first book, Borrowed Horses. I'm 90% excited and 10% terrified. After so many years of relentless revising, it's strange to have it out of my hands, to know that I can't change it any more. I'm way too aware of all the things I wanted to make better--which I suppose is only natural when you've been flaw-hunting for nine-plus years. I'm trying to forget that, though and, instead, remember all the things that I'm proud of. I really hope you all like the book and that you fall in love with Joannie Edson and Zephyr and Timothy every bit as much as I did.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Blog hiatus

I need to focus my energy on finishing revisions on my second novel and finding an agent to represent it. I'll see you all on the flip side.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Another Borrowed Horse

I Facebook-friended the writer Luis Alberto Urrea this morning, whose book The Hummingbird's Daughter I loved and highly recommend. (I've just put the follow-up, Queen of America, on my wishlist.) The unexpected benefit of friending Urrea? He posts awesome horse art. I owe today's borrowed horse to him.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why I Can't and Can Live My Dreams Through Fiction

My lifelong dream, the goal for which I've long yearned and pined, has always been to eat like a teenage boy and not gain weight. Unfortunately, I was not born that way. I have never been able to look at a pumpkin pie without imagining what it would be like to eat the whole thing at one sitting, just me, the pie, a fork, and good dollop of whipped cream.

Alas, it is not to be. As much as I love food, I've always had to cut myself off before things get out of hand... and then run several miles to try to work off whatever damage I did before the cut off. Even still, I'm still more soft than lean.

According to the common wisdom, it should be a blessing that I can write my fantasies, that I can live them vicariously through my invented characters. But I'm working right now to write a fourteen year old male speaker, and I gotta say, if I'm doing this right, if I'm fully imagining my character and his experience, all it does is make me hungry.

There's a metaphor there somewhere. Something about artistic hunger. Something about striving. Something about intensifying unfulfillable desire through language.

Lately, I've been wanting to buy some work by Jess Walter, whose story in the latest Best American Short Stories absolutely blew me away. I feel like this is a writer I always should have known. He's from Spokane, for goodness sake! How could I have not always been reading his work? I want to start making up for that right now, but MAN. Where to start? I'm scrolling through his novels, and the dude has been prolific.

Staring at the list of his books has made me hungry in a different way. Hungry to write, to revise, to finish and start again. That, at least, is a hunger I can satisfy by writing. May we all stay hungry, my friends.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Little More On the Business of Writing (with just a little touch of Franco rant)

I wanted to say a few more words about "New Yorker Rejects Itself."

Shortly after The Review Review's story on the New Yorker rejecting one of its own previously published stories, Slate published this rebuttal, in which David Haglund argues that big journals have no time to respond to plagiarism with anything more than a form rejection. Thus, he suggests the journals recognized the piece from the start. Unfortunately, he offers no evidence to support this assertion.

My own experience (one year of working as a graduate assistant at the Georgia Review) contradicts Haglund's argument. The editors were as time crunched as any, yet they treated plagiarism with the utmost seriousness. They would definitely have contacted the author of a plagiarized submission had they recognized it--and would have told that author never to darken their door again. And I'm not just guessing that this is the case. While working there, I found a story that had lifted a line from a story I knew. I brought it to the associate editor's attention and watched the result first hand. What's interesting is that the Haglund does not seem to have asked the editors at the New Yorker what policies they have and follow regarding plagiarism. He only speculates.

Though Haglund's defense is based on speculation, I do think the New Yorker's rejection of a New Yorker story is defensible on different, more modest grounds. Every journal has its own style and space limitations. Just because a piece suited the taste of one editor at one magazine, no law states it must naturally suit all other editors' tastes as well. One New Yorker slush reader may have loved the story in the past and passed it up the chain. Another didn't. Or they did but this time, the story was up against unusually stiff competition and didn't make the cut. That hurts, but I understand that those decisions are part of the business.

What's less defensible and also sadly true is this: literary fiction magazines must sell copies to stay in business. Why else would Esquire publish this bit of dross by James Franco? Or Ploughshares for that matter? Why else would Graywolf accept his collection? Franco may not be a talented writer, but his name will sell copies. I won't launch into my full Franco rant, but this is where I get conflicted because, generally, yes, I feel optimistic about the business. I feel that if we strive and try long enough, we can make it. I wasn't simply blowing smoke when I wrote last week's post. But Franco still stares me in the face, contradicting that faith.

Here's what I don't know: will Franco sell enough copies to allow Graywolf to take a chance on an unknown writer? Will his name work like a carbon offset? Will Graywolf purge itself of the pollution of his poetry by taking on more projects from the kind of writers it has long been respected for--namely, the little known literary talent? Did Esquire and Ploughshares bring other writers, more talented but less known, into public awareness because they were in the same issue as his piece?

And I'm asking sincerely, because I do want to stay optimistic. And also because it fits with my experience with editors so far--including the many who've rejected me--which is that they care passionately about words and art and have suffered many years of low paychecks and long days to give that art a forum. I know that optimism tends to be read as naivete or, worse, stupidity, but the questions we face as writers are too easily written off with cynicism. It's equally simple-minded to be passively jaded or actively angry because of one instance of rejection. There is no one kind of editor or journal or publisher--and thank God for that. Every day, people sit down to their work at small presses and magazines and attend to their business with the same passion with which I sit down to my own work.  
The truth is, I have no idea what goes on in the New Yorker's editorial office. I hope and suspect they still are driven by passion, but I don't know firsthand, and it's fruitless to speculate. And you know what? At the end of the day, fretting over what they do or don't publish only distracts me from my own part of the writing business, the humble business of sitting my bottom in a chair, placing my hands on the keyboard, and writing.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why I Should Not Have a "Career" (and why I do)

I've seen a lot of gloom and doom lately about the state of the literary publications market. Last week, for example, The Review Review published a story aptly titled "New Yorker Rejects Itself" in which the author takes a lesser known New Yorker story, replaces the author's name with an invented one, and submits it for publication there and several other highly regarded journals. At each one, it is rejected.

My friend Jeff Newberry (author of Brackish) saw the article and said it reminded him of this piece from, in which a novelist resubmits his own best-selling novel (name & title changed) to his own publishing house's slush pile, only to have it rejected.

Both articles seemed to confirm what so many of us feel in our darkest hours. It was the old Catch-22. Namely, that the odds are impossibly stacked against us, that one can't get published without a name and one can't get a name without publishing.

In the face of such stories, it's easy to give up hope. As painful as writing is, why keep doing it if there's no chance it will reach an audience outside ourselves? Why did we sign on for this? Where is that bottle of Bourbon?

I've been there. Sometimes, I admit, I still feel that way. I talked to an author last summer whose first short story collection is garnering huge praise everywhere (major awards and prizes, full color spreads in popular magazines, etc, etc), who told me that she had never had her work in the slush pile. A few years ago, her MFA director had told a highly reputed literary magazine's editor-in-chief to look at her work, which he did. That editor published her story, and her career was off and running. Sometimes, editors asked her to send to them directly. Sometimes, friends put her work in their hands. Either way, her stories skipped the slush pile altogether.

The thing is, I know that kind of treatment doesn't happen unless you have incredible talent, and, knowing that, I wanted to be happy for her. This writer struck me as a thoroughly cool person. As fellow strivers, shouldn't we all be cheering each other on?

Instead, I felt the cold gut punch of jealousy. There was no one in my life who had that kind of clout, no one willing to stick his neck out that way for me. I was doomed.

I got over it. She is talented and amazing. I don't want to be a bitter, jealous person. I want to cheer her on sincerely because she, too, is a writer, and even if publication might have come a little easier in the end, the words never do. She got her reputation because she sat down to the keyboard like all the rest of us and wrestled phrases and images into the magical spell that is all good short fiction. She worked--and that's something none of us should take lightly.

What's more, I've come to see it as much role as a writer much differently. I'm not a person who's ever known people in high places. My role, instead, is to claw and scratch my way through the backdoor of the publication world. And I have. I've gotten pieces in journals I'm incredibly proud to be in (Ninth Letter, Quarterly West, Versal, etc)--places whose editors were willing to take a chance on a girl they'd never heard of just because they liked her words. My first novel is coming out from New Rivers Press in October--the same press that published Charles Baxter, one of my all time favorite writers--for the same reason. Somehow, over time, my work has begun to find an audience.

I'm going to be honest: back in those undergrad days, my writing did not stood out above that of my peers. I had no discernible talent. By the time I began my Master's degree, I recognized how poor my own writing was compared to my peers. I spent the next six years struggling to be better. Slowly, my work was starting to get acceptance letters.

What I have going for me isn't untrained ability, and it certainly isn't "connections." What I have is perseverance and a willingness to learn. What I have going for me is a world in which editors do care and do want to find new voices. What I have going for me is a writing community of people who support each other, even when things look bleak. And you know what? It's enough.