Ten Days in a Writerly Life

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These past few days feel almost as though I have been trying to squeeze my whole writing career into them. The ups and downs, the good stuff, the bad stuff. The writing itself.

I am writing. And that’s a good thing. No small feat when the teaching gets busy, and when the meetings run thick. Still, I slog along with the novel, nearing (I think) the end of the first full draft (that includes lots of little drafts, some chapters and pages gone over dozens of times already.) A little taste of the chapter I have just—in these past ten days—completed:

“Is it ever a good thing when your doorbell rings in the dark first hours of morning? Good news rarely comes this way, long before dawn, unexpected and unannounced. And so when Bud and Rebecca and the youngest girls heard first the chime and then the pounding and woke in the cold, powerless house, they sat up in their beds and huddled under their blankets for a minute, blinking in the gray, their breath making ghosts in the space before them.”

I am submitting. And in the past week, I have been receiving rejections. Five of them. Mostly forms. But this one that I will qualify as a “good” rejection:  “Please know, however, that we read this submission with more than the casual amount of interest; your work in some way distinguished itself from many of our other submissions.” This might be a form rejection, too, maybe just an upper tier form; if you have received this form as well, please don’t tell me. I want to believe it was meant for me and me alone. That it is specifically my work that distinguished itself. A little something to cling to.

And an acceptance and immediate publication. A little piece called “No Worries” on a site called 1000 Words. You can read it if you like.

A publication in Hypertext Magazine, one of my favorite on-line journals, in their Love Bites issue. A lot of good response to this, and I appreciate that. Here it is: There is a Light That Never Goes Out.

IMAG1457A contributor’s copy of a new text book (Culture: A Reader for Writers published by Oxford University Press) I have an essay in arrived in the mail this week.IMAG1458

 

A book club invitation where some people liked The Temple of Air, and some people hated it. The haters were the more vocal group. Ouch.

But back to the writing table I go. Why? Perhaps this: besides Philip and the cats, my writing brings me greater joy than anything else I know. Even when it disappoints me, even when it makes me ache.

To paraphrase James Dickey: a writer is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning.

Over these last ten days, there’s been rain. And a little lightning.

→As always, dear friends, thanks for reading! -PMc←

 

The Writer’s Handful with Katey Schultz

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Harrumph. Mondays. What’s to look forward to? Hey, how about a new series dedicated to brief conversations with writers of all genres, at all stages of their careers? Yes! How cool would that be? Very cool.

So welcome to THE WRITER’S HANDFUL. In this new series, a writer will answer five questions anyway they want to. The questions will stay the same each time. The writers will be different. And I will post the interviews on Mondays.

Mondays + Writers = finally something to look forward to.

Our inaugural interview is with Katey Schultz, whose brand spanking new book, Flashes of War, was just released this past weekend.

Welcome Katey!

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

Today is Sunday, April 28th and I wrote a set of custom emails to all the friends in my contacts list, Screen+shot+2013-04-24+at+11.14.04+PMannouncing the launch of my first book, Flashes of War. I didn’t do creative writing, but writing those messages felt significant for me, as I’ve been waiting to send that message for what feels like my entire life!

Incidentally, I finished the first draft of my novel in March and forced myself to put it into a drawer for 10 weeks. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done–it’s totally against my nature. But I’ve never attempted a novel before, and many writers that I know and respect (like you, Patty Ann!) have offered sage advice about allowing yourself to have distance from the work. 

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

I remember writing a play when I was about 9 or 10 years old in Montessori school–something that involved a hound dog named Charley, I believe. More than the actual writing of it, however, I remember getting to organize my friends on stage and cast them in different roles. I think we rehearsed a few times at recess and then someone had a falling out, and the whole thing was a bust. But I remember the energy of it, and how exciting it felt to try bringing something to life.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading In My Father’s Country, a memoir by Saima Wahab. In order to write my novel (the one that’s currently in a drawer), I need to research the female, Afghan, Pashtun experience. This author grew up in Afghanistan but was educated largely in the United States and has since worked as a translator and researcher in Afghanistan during our current war.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Some of the most important writerly advice I’ve received came from one of my mentors, author Claire Davis (Season of the Snake, Winter Range, Labors of the Heart). She told me to write with precision and abandon. I love the push/pull in that advice and I think it perfectly captures what I try to do on the page…to be intuitive and authentic while also being spot-on. 

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

Oh my, what a strange question! If the writing in Flashes of War were an animal, it would at times be an alligator (because it demands your attention) and other times it would be a mouse nosing through your pantry at night (because it finds a way in).

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Katey Schultz grew up in Portland, Oregon, and has lived in Western North Carolina for the past 11 years. She is a graduate of the Pacific University MFA in Writing Program and recipient of the Linda Flowers Literary Award from the North Carolina Humanities Council. Her fiction has also received recognition from River Styx, Press 53, Whispering Prairie Press, and the International Short-Short Story Prize. Schultz has received writing fellowships in 8 different states, including honored residencies through the Jentel Foundation, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and The Island Institute of Alaska. In 2013, Loyola University Maryland published Schultz’s first collection of short stories, Flashes of War, which features characters in and around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has been well-received by veterans, civilians, authors, and foreign war correspondents alike.

Flashes of War is officially released!
Flashes of War book trailer
Website: www.kateyschultz.com
Bimonthly newsletter: www.feedblitz.com/f/?Sub=21824

→Thanks to Katey Schultz for this conversation; and thanks to you, as always, for reading! -PMc←

Sheep Herding and Shrimp ~ Dennis McFadden on Earning as a Writer

As part of our on-going Conversation Among Writers “Why The Short Story?”, Dennis McFadden takes on Gina Frangello’s questions about the financial implications of a writing life.

Dennis: Man, talk about déjà vu. How many times has something like this happened to you? Standing around at the old writers’ conference cocktail party, having wormed your way into a conversation among a few faculty members, you throw in a couple of comments that aren’t too terribly far off the mark, and they all look at you appreciatively, as they might at a trained seal who’d managed to nose the ball through the hoop. Then they chatter on amongst themselves for a while until one of them asks if anyone’s tried the shrimp yet, just as you’re popping another shrimp into your mouth.

Did I mention my “traditional” career? A project manager with the New York State Department of Health? Not that I can blame Gina. Turnabout is fair play, after all. I wish I had a nickel for every time a bunch of us project managers were standing around trying to have a decent project management conversation when some writer (usually with misbegotten aspirations of someday becoming a project manager) tries to horn in. We might patronize him or her for a little while, but that gets old pretty soon, and we eventually forget he or she is even there.

So I certainly can’t blame her for not noticing me standing here, munching on the shrimp. I’ve never met her, and her rejection slips from “Other Voices” didn’t convey a lot of her personality, but I’m willing to bet she’s a nice woman. So, just to keep the conversation going, let’s take her questions one at a time and see if we can unearth any relevancy for a project manager and part-time writer.

What role, if any, does money play in your decision to write and what to write? None, now. Not much then, either. When I left college, I was branded a good writer, and I knew two things: I would probably always write, and I would probably always have a “traditional” job. My background was strictly blue-collar, I wasn’t all that far removed from my parents’ Great Depression, and I harbored a subtle but actual dread of ever being in the position of not knowing where my next meal was coming from. A career in writing was every bit as likely as a career in outer space.

Naturally (having been branded a good writer), I also harbored a distant, vague notion that someday I might meet with some writing success, perhaps even enough to be able to chuck my day job—about the same probability as perhaps winning the lottery someday. Of course taking a decade or two off from writing probably didn’t lower the already formidable odds against that ever happening. But when I finally did get around to writing again, I turned to the novel, not the story, a decision that was probably financial to some degree (relevancy, at last!). If that remote possibility were ever to occur, it wouldn’t be because of a short story I’d written, it would be because of a novel. As the wonderful writer Manette Ansay would tell me years later, “I love the short story, but it’s the novel that pays the bills.”

How has being a writer—in particular a short fiction writer—impacted your life financially? The money I’ve earned from my book and the stories I’ve published in magazines that actually pay in American dollars (Confrontation sprang for forty bucks!) might have almost covered an all-expenses-paid vacation to downtown Albany, but the writing expenses—those conferences ain’t cheap, never mind postage, envelopes, paper clips—precluded my dream vacation. So I’ve resigned myself to being content with the tax write-off.

Have you had to make sacrifices or changes? You mean besides getting up at 5:00, 5:30 every morning? Besides pissing off my wife by going to those conferences nearly every year, then having to eat bad food and read untold numbers of ungodly stories and try to come up with something nice to say about them? And having to try to talk to faculty members and hope they remember I’m in the conversation? Besides all that? Not that I’m complaining, mind you. These are the sorts of sacrifices one has to be prepared to make for the sake of one’s art, aren’t they? Nobody promised us a rose garden.

Oh, you mean financially? No.

Have you ever considered a more “traditional” career? Many years ago, as I was climbing the bureaucratic ladder, scratching and clawing my way to the middle, I was sorely tempted to just say the hell with it and become a shepherd. As a matter of fact, I went so far as to fill out the paperwork, but that was nipped in the bud when it came to light that I was allergic to wool.

But maybe that isn’t all that relevant to this particular conversation.

Do you make decent money on your writing, and if not, how do you pay the bills? As a grandchild of the Depression, I’ve never met an indecent dollar. You know the rest. If you’ve been listening.

What are the pros and cons of the writing life when considering the harsh realities of economics? I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this one, as I’m not sure mine qualifies as a “writing life,” at least in the context of the question.

But I’m willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.

The harsh realities of economics (I can remember when gas was twenty-five cents a gallon, and the snow was up to here!) mean that I have to keep my day job, so the cons would include the aforementioned early rising (hey, I’m getting older, I get sleepy) and the other sundry aforementioned sacrifices. Of course, the pros were also mentioned afore: seeing your work in print, knowing that someone else besides you is actually reading the stuff, reaping in those glorious forty dollar checks. And writing. The pure, unadulterated pleasure of it. Creating lives where none were before, watching them strut and fret, feeling the goosebumps rising…

I could go on, but I think I’ll go stand over there and munch on some shrimp.

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Stop by our View From the Keyboard series tomorrow and you’ll see Dennis McFadden’s 5:00 AM writing space and his trusty writing partner. Dennis, thank you. -PMc←