We are living in an era of screen addiction and capitalist pornography. As a species, we are squandering the exalted gifts of consciousness, losing our capacity to pay attention, to imagine the suffering of others. You are a part of all this. It involves you. This is the hard labor we’re trying to perform: convincing strangers to translate our specks of ink into stories capable of generating rescue.

–Steve Almond, This Won’t Take but a Minute, Honey

I’m pretty sure the only way to get a copy of this book is to pay Steve Almond cash for it. So my advice is to track him down immediately. You won’t be sorry. 

I love my work with a love that is frantic and perverted, as an ascetic loves the hair shirt that scratches his belly. Sometimes, when I am empty, when words don’t come, when I find I haven’t written a single sentence after scribbling whole pages, bogged down in a swamp of despair, hating myself and blaming myself for this demented pride that makes me pant after a chimera. A quarter of an hour later, everything has changed; my heart is pounding with joy.

–Gustave Flaubert

Diane Freund

Lately, I’ve been thinking about one of my first mentors, Diane Freund (pronounced Friend), who died of brain cancer in 2010. And I guess I want other people to think about her, too. So, here she is.

Diane Freund

My dear friend, Robbie, introduced us at a small writing conference in Southeast Arizona, where Diane was a frequent presenter. I wasn’t actually attending the full conference that year. I’d had a baby the week before and had slipped away for an hour or so to hear Diane speak.

Later, she agreed to work with me on my novel, offering what turned out to be two years of invaluable critique and encouragement. Her own first novel, Four Corners—the frightening, beautifully-written story of a young girl’s life after her mother is admitted to a mental hospital—won the Pirate’s Alley/Falkner Prize but was ultimately overshadowed by the events of September 11, 2001, four days prior to the book’s publication.

Still, Four Corners eventually aided her in receiving an NEA fellowship. When I wrote to offer congratulations, she gave me this:

This was the third time over the course of six years that I’d applied. When I was denied the grant in 2005, it came on the same day that I was diagnosed with cancer, so it seemed especially hard to receive that news. Now I realize that it wouldn’t have been a good time. I was sick and heart sick. This is just to say that I know how hard it is to be passed over, but you must persist against all odds. I am certain that with your incredible talent, you’ll one day be recognized for your achievements, that the stars will align just so, over your house.

During our first interaction, moments after we’d only just met, she gave me a book—a guide to writing poetry. A gift. She made me feel important. Special; of course, this was her true gift—she made everyone feel special.

At her memorial service, a familiar gathering inside a Bisbee restaurant, I looked around at her friends: a group of poets and artists and activists, each one hunted out from beneath the rocks of this remote small-town cluster in the desert. Diane’s power was drawing out beauty from every well.

*To donate to the Diane E. Freund Memorial Writing Celebration Fund—offering financial assistance to writers unable to afford the referenced writing conference—click here and specify Diane’s name in the donation scholarship space.

AWP 2013, or, Any Excuse to Get Back to Boston

Outside Porter Station on my way to AWP.

A week filled with blizzards, books, and the best kind of friends!

storytime

Just discovered Barnes & Noble’s Online Storytime—popular children’s books read by authors and celebrities. Someone make this thing into an app, stat!

“I didn’t become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn’t until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.”
– Junot Diaz

FREE writing workshops for el paso-area teens!

Just a little something I’m involved in…Spread the word, El Paso!

writing space

Steve Adams on the importance of location:

“Finding an environment where one can consistently tap into a creative state is no small matter. It’s the ground level of establishing a regular practice, and a regular practice is how large works get written. Nothing happens, or will happen to you as a writer until you find a way to bring pages upon pages, both good and bad, into existence.”

Read the full article at Glimmer Train here. And while you’re in the neighborhood, check out their Short Story Award for New Writers!

“This is what I believe in, what I trust will ultimately distinguish those who want to write and publish from those who do write and publish: work.”
–Bret Anthony Johnston

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
–Mary Oliver

The above comes from the poem “The Summer Day,” which I read at The Library of Congress’ site Poetry 180: a poem a day for American high schools. Sometimes I really do love the world.

unknown

unknown girl and her dog

My grandma is a historian. She collects the past in the forms of photos and china dolls and stories. She’s written three books about her ancestors. People give her artifacts. They know she’ll keep them safe. They rely on her inability to throw away anything old.

I plucked the above photo from a pile of unmarked photos my grandma was offering up. A miscellaneous pile. Unmarked and untraceable. She doesn’t know who this girl is. I don’t either, obviously, but I think about her often. How she lived an entire life that has been forgotten with time. Not because the world is cruel necessarily, but because it’s persistent. Because if you don’t write them down, your stories don’t exist. This is why I write. The stories in my brain, the stories in my life: I want them to persist in the persistence.

my christmas loot

rejection

Rejection slips crowded my inbox this December. You know, the ones that read something like:

Dear Submitter,

Thank you for the opportunity to read your work. Unfortunately, it does not meet the needs of our magazine at this time.

And you’re ugly.

Regards,

The Lit Mag of Your Dreams

Probably editorial teams were anxious to clear away their work before the holidays and logically I understand that. It’s just that getting two or three rejections a day was slightly dampening my Christmas spirit. Still, if you’re not getting rejected, you’re not working. Isn’t that how the saying goes? I read about a poet who actually made a goal to get 100 rejections in 2012. That way, she could feel like she was winning even when she was losing. But she failed: only 95 rejections in 2012. Which is actually a win, I guess.

Anyway, here’s to the coming wins of 2013!

2012 favorites

I’ve been making lists of the books I read since I started reading books. It’s a bit of an obsession. Like a photo album, I like to peruse what I’ve read years past and reminisce. Also, it gives me an inflated sense of accomplishment. So what if I did nothing truly noteworthy last year?? Look at all these books I read! Thanks to GoodReads—that beautiful encourager of book-list junkies—I realized a few days ago that I’d read 32 books in 2012. And that if I hustled, I could make it 33 by the new year. I just so happened to turn 33 a few weeks ago and so obviously took this as a sign. 33 books the year I turned 33 is a great omen going into 2013, wouldn’t you say?

I’m happy to report that I met my goal around 8pm (then proceeded to raise a teacup of Martinelli’s in an early toast to the new year with my kids, directly followed by a dream-light techno dance party in our living room. Yeah. That’s how we do it around here). Here’s the best of my 2012 reading. Ten books I most adored.

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. You can read a more thorough description of this book’s new standard-setting awesomeness here. Let me just say that reading this will probably ruin most other contemporary books for you. Because they just won’t compare.

2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. You know how people are always throwing around the word “genius” in their descriptions of artists? Well, I’m not one of those people. That said, Woolf is a true and unabashed genius and I count the reading of this book as a life experience.

3. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to Present by Gail Collins. The prose here reads more like a novel than a history text. If you’re looking for a sweeping view of modern feminist history (which I felt like I’d been looking for for a decade or so), look no further.

4. God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant.  God set down in the world of couch-buying, dog-walking and beauty school attendance. Okay. So these are poems intended for YA. But each is witty and lovely and surprising and perfect.

5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. A must-read soul crusher, folks. Talk about unsung authors. Yates is at the top of that list for me. Also, if you possibly can, you must also read his short story Oh, Joseph, I’m So Tired. Because it’s brilliant.

6. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Another heart breaker. Well-researched, compassionate journalism. I’ve got a serious soft spot for the plight of defected North Koreans. 

7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m a painfully slow reader. But I read this book in a day. Beautiful prose. Hideous (but compelling!) subject matter. It’s the end of the world, after all. McCarthy has hit some kind of authorial nirvana. Both writing and story here soar in unconscious perfection.

8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This would have been so life-saving to have read in my twenties. C’est la vie. I’ll just have to pass it on to my own daughters at the appropriately poignant moment in their lives.

9. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. We are all loathe to admit it, but Oprah got a few things right.

10. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro. Last but not least; this book is not an afterthought. It’s more of a given. It’s the Munro book I happened to have read this year. And any book by Munro is bound to blow one’s mind.

Cheers to good books! What were your favorites of 2012?

cool kids

Whenever I hear writers talk about their kids, I go into immediate complex mode. They reminisce about the summer their 14-year old read nothing but Faulkner. Or laugh about the time their 5-year old embarrassed them with an audible yawn during their dissertation presentation. Or complain about how quickly their toddler goes through kale.

And I’m like: What if my kids fall into the Twilight-crowd equivalent once they learn how to read?! And: your 5-year old sat through your dissertation?!?!  And: Kale? Really?! I hate you.

Then I take a deep breath. Because, as I’m always telling my own 5-year old, this is not a competition. My kids are awesome. As long as I keep feeding them and taking them to the library and hanging their artwork on the fridge, they’ll stumble into their own brand of Faulkner summers.

And when they do, I’ll obviously be on hand to brag about it.

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