books, Just bitchin'

Literary Candy

blogtaste1Inclement weather is a bookworm’s friend.

We have an excuse to stay indoors, pull the ‘Welcome’ mat in after us, and immerse ourselves in the printed word to an extent that would make us feel guilty on a bright, sunny day. I began my annual literary hibernation over the nice, long, stormy Thanksgiving weekend.

I was looking for a holiday read. You know… the kind of thing that will be a mild diversion and can be consumed with ease, or, alternatively, be abandoned without remorse at holiday’s end. The kind of book called ‘fluff’ or ‘inconsequential’ or ‘brain-candy.’

I also wanted something more, shall we say…meaty.

blogtaste2

I selected two novels. One was authored by a Pulitzer Prize winner. The other was a joint effort by two women whose steady day-jobs are in the fashion industry. You can probably guess which was ‘fluff’ and which was ‘meaty.’

But the read was totally unexpected.

I opened the Pulitzer’s offering to be greeted by a two-page family tree. Dozens of names, some of which were only mentioned in passing throughout the course of the long, long story. I had to bookmark this reference tool and return to it every few pages, working out the relationships of characters that drifted in and out.

It was well-written. It was richly written. The gamut of characters and dialogue and situations and eras was beautifully done. Yet I felt unsatisfied at the end. It required effort to read, but for me the finely detailed portraits didn’t go anywhere. It was masterful, but it didn’t touch me.

It was a Rembrandt painting hanging behind velvet ropes. I could appreciate it, but, having looked my fill, I moved on.

Then there was the brain-candy book.

blogtaste3

I couldn’t put it down.

It accompanied me everywhere so I could devour a few pages at every opportunity: stop lights…lines at the post office…lines at the store…waiting rooms…

It contained grammatical errors. It was completely predictable. It’s characters were thinly-drawn. But it was riveting, because it left enough blank spaces for me to fill in myself and realize I knew these people!! Everyone knows these people! And I know these situations!! Everyone does!!

It was thoroughly enjoyable and when I finished it, I was sad there wasn’t a sequel. I also wondered how many agents would choose the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s work over the crowd-pleasing fluff, if they didn’t know the author’s background and the impressive accolades she’d won with previous work.

It’s a puzzle. It’s also a statement about art.

I’m grateful that Rembrandts exist and are available, but a cartoon can speak volumes, too.

So, hats-off to the majority of writers who will never pen the Great American Novel. But their less-exalted work will touch our souls.

And sometimes you just gotta have candy.

blogtaste4

Standard
poem, writing

A Goreyesque-ly Good Day

bloggorey2

The weather is savage.

Wind churns the bay into frothing whitecaps.

The waves batter against the bulkhead with force that resonates through the cottage’s foundation. Two feet of concrete seems like a flimsy barrier upon which to depend when salty droplets pepper the windows.

Leaves and pine needles fall before the gusty assault, turning into missiles that sting the flesh, scoring it with reddened welts.

You feel small and mortal and anxious before such force.

It’s the perfect start to Halloween weekend.

To make it even better, the online literary journal Goreyesque has published my poem ‘Ogre’ in their Halloween edition.

http://www.goreyesque.com/cat-jenkins

bloggorey1

Always a fan of the subtle, sublime, and unsettlingly brilliant author and artist Edward Gorey, I am honored.

Once again…

…Happy Halloween…

bloggorey3

Standard
writing

Homegrown

blogwifiles1

It’s a weird, little tale combining real estate, and stem cells.

Definitely not for everyone. But it turns out there are people out there who are as strange as I am. It’s just a matter of looking ’til you find them.

It’s also another reminder to never give up. No matter who you are or what you do, persistence pays. One of my favorite quotes from an unknown source is: “There is nothing for push and persistence like a cat’s nose.” Or in this case, a Cat’s submission process.

Flapping about in an emotive display of artistic angst can be an understandable, occasional release. It can even be fun. But when the storm has passed, pick up your flag and keep waving it.

Someone will find you.

Someone like the speculative fiction magazine, WiFiles…

http://thewifiles.com/?p=607

blogwifiles2

Standard
poem, writing

Good Friday

blogfalling1

A quickie post, because it doesn’t happen all that often.  Just frequently enough to keep a writer hanging on.

But it’s one of those moments when a thousand rejections are worth it, to know there was an acceptance waiting in the wings…

Thank you, Page and Spine Literary Magazine!

http://www.pagespineficshowcase.com/poems.html

 

 

blogfalling2

Standard
writing

Sell vs. Savor

blogsellorsavor1
Writing is a gift.

Not necessarily for the literary efforts produced, but for the satisfaction of the process itself. I believe everyone who commits to it, knows that inner groan of pleasure when brain and keystroke join in a seamless act of creation. Which brings to mind one of the writer’s quandaries.

Do you write to sell, or to savor?

As you work your way up the rejection ladder, getting more and more substantive feedback, at some point a choice will begin to materialize on the edges of your awareness. It begins to shimmer its way into existence when the rejection asks you to submit more material; when it terms your writing ‘intriguing’ or ‘exceptional’ or ‘delightful.’ BUT…(there’s always a ‘but’)…your style doesn’t blend with the publication’s. Or maybe your subject matter needs tweaking before you’ll be awarded the brass ring of being published.

You’ve been diligent about researching to whom you submit. You’ve targeted publications that seem likely to want work like yours. But with the carrot dangling before you…so, so close…you take a longer, harder look at them…and at yourself. You’re willing to edit and rewrite and do it again and again, as long as the core of the work remains true.

Do you continue to please yourself, being faithful to what springs from your soul and hope to find a compatible outlet? Or do you pull that spark of what feels like your essence out, and write what you’re told as best you can, ignoring the deep, inner voice that whispers ‘This isn’t me…it’s not what I meant…’?

There are multiple arguments for both sides. There are varying perspectives from which to view each. There is no right answer.

What there is, is ego and that selfish side of the craft that drives you to write in the first place. If these things tip the scales for you, then you’ll resist compromise and say ‘I’m being true to myself.’

If the lure of being published has the greater weight, you’ll do whatever you have to to get something in print. The satisfaction of being published will silence any voice that queries ‘Did I sell out?’

Luckily, there is also the inevitability of change, of maturation and growth. And that’s the saving grace that can lead to a place where the pleasure of savoring the process and the rush of seeing yourself in print can meet, merge, and become magical. That essential internal spark is always changing. So is your work. So is the marketplace. The longer you persist, the better your chances of finding the niche you were meant to fill.

Write for someone else, or for yourself? Sell or savor?

Do both. Strive for that magical moment of overlap.

Just don’t ever stop.

blogsellorsavor2

Standard
writing

The Workshop Conundrum

catwriting1

For me, writing has always been a solitary pursuit.

The first time editors got involved, it was a difficult adjustment. The second time, it was a torment. The third and fourth times were also disquieting, but eye-opening and educational.

The difference each time wasn’t so much in the editors as in me.

I was learning to let go; to stop clutching the sentences with which I’d fallen in love to my unpublished chest and, instead, look at them…hear them…through the fresh perspective of another person. And a person who was not a friend or family member operating under the misconception that praise and unconditional support are the same as constructive feedback.

In the end, the process of being edited and published gave me a new outlook on the value of involving others in the creative process. Don’t get me wrong. Writing is still an exercise in solitude for me. I love that about it. But, I’ve begun to open my own mind about accessing those of strangers.

I’m talking writers’ workshops. They can be extraordinary, depending on what you bring with you. Writing-wise and outlook-wise.

So I began searching my urban surroundings for likely workshop prospects.

That’s when I ran across one that had me laughing so hard it hurt. And for all the wrong reasons. Let me reiterate that this is my opinion. Only mine. I might be w-a-a-a-a-y off base. But…decide for yourselves.

The come-one-come-all cry for this particular workshop was issued by a woman who proclaimed herself the author of an astonishing number of ‘published’ books. She claimed thousands upon thousands of reviews. She brags she holds the title of being ‘one of the most popular authors.’

The first red flag popped up as I read her description of the workshop. It was a horror. Not the workshop…the description. Vocabulary, syntax, grammar, sentence and paragraph structure…all seemed to have been bypassed. Even giving handicap points for colloquialisms and artistic license, it shriveled my pelt and puckered my mouth.

Then I looked into her claims of fabulousness. She does have a great number of books out. All self-published. She garnered the claim to be one of the site’s most popular authors. It reminded me of some latter-day TV ad vaunting ‘Volume!! Volume!! Volume!!’ Put a thousand books out there and, for a brief time, you’ll probably be the most read writer on the site when compared to the author who has put up one well-thought-out publication.

Then I looked for the multitude of reviews. They were on Goodreads…not exactly professional. I didn’t delve past the first few dozen. They were cringe-worthy. More like hate mail than literary assessments. Some were very insulting. There were a few that gave lukewarm praise, but I saw none that could qualify as raves.

By now I was laughing. But the guffaws came in earnest when, in her workshop invitation, she said that writers don’t need to know grammar or spelling, because that’s what professional copy editors are for.

Oh, lord…I still feel the mirth bubbling up.

Anyone can self-publish. Anyone. And then, she’s right: literary quality doesn’t have to matter. But just try submitting something to an agent or a professional editor in the publishing industry with the attitude that someone else will clean up your mess because your work is that incredibly worth it, and…well…you’ll probably end up self-publishing a few hundred books, manipulating stats to make yourself look good, and leading workshops for writers where grammar, a vital part of your main tool…language…doesn’t matter.

Oh, God…I’m still laughing!

laughingcat

Standard
writing

Cooking Up a Story

cookingandwritingforblog1

Comparisons between creating on the keyboard, and creating in the kitchen keep popping up.

Unusual, since I’m more likely to use my oven for storage than food prep. Nonetheless…

A good chef will tell you, ‘If you can’t be proud of it, don’t serve it.’  That philosophy has been behind many a late dinner service. But the end result is that all is forgiven once the diner digs into his perfectly produced, delicious repast. He’ll likely deem the meal worth the wait.

The “If it isn’t ready, don’t offer it” philosophy becomes more problematic when applied to writing. Our hungry, hopeful patron may be the editor or publisher, but we have to contend with an intractable extra ingredient.

The deadline.

For most of us who are submitting to calls that will draw hundreds or thousands of entries, we can’t expect to deliver the goods late and justify our tardiness by pointing out how it’s worth the wait. The diner at our table won’t bother sampling. There are no extensions in our kitchen.

Getting a manuscript in on time is a perfectly legitimate, understandable expectation.

But then, you stumble across the call for submissions that stills your world because it seems tailor-made for you. Right up your alley. Posted with your name all over it…

…and it ends in an hour.

So. Do you rush to pound something out with no time for anything other than a quick proofread, and shoot it off to this perfect destination where you just know you belong?

Maybe. It’s a gamble. It’s taking a chance on leaving a bad taste in someone’s mouth. Maybe it would be wiser to let them go dinner-less.

The deadline is an ingredient in the writer’s world that can trump all the other lovely things on the plate. It looms and we are under its gun.

I don’t think chefs suffer that fate quite as stringently. But I could be wrong. After all, my oven is used for storage.

catunder gun

Standard
writing

Secrets

diarycover

I had a diary when I was a little girl.

It was a birthday present. It was pink with tiny gold fleur-de-lis marching across its leather cover in regimented rows that reminded me of button-tufting. Or ants. It had a tiny, gold lock. That could only be opened by a tinier, gold key. So that my deepest secrets might remain sacrosanct. So no one might read the horrors of which a twelve-year-old is capable.

Theft. Spiriting my big sister’s lipstick away so I could pretend I was as glamorous as she. Walking off shamelessly with the last blueberry crepe…and denying it later.

Lying. Oh, so many. From the aforementioned crepe caper, to saying school was okay when I detested its stultifying boredom and bullies, to claiming I didn’t mind that we moved so often I would never really have a peer group.

We twelve-year-olds are a hard-bitten lot. Dangerous. Skulking.

Secretive.

Hence, the diary.

It was the opposite of a blog. For my eyes only. No calculation of popularity based on ‘hits.’ The goal was to conceal, not reveal.

Cat-at-twelve still resides within. Or maybe I’ve just never progressed beyond being a precocious pre-teen with a large vocabulary born of being bookish, born of being lonely, born of moving every couple of years, born of a parent on the lam, born of bad decisions, born of another childhood that bred its own troubles.

Blogs are descendants of the diary, but their intent is the opposite. Blat out every facet of your life in hopes of being validated by being noticed. But have a care. The twelve-year-old is watching. So, no secrets revealed here. No quirks. No oddities. No tiny clues left that point to the pink, fleur-de-lis diary. Not a trace.

Really.

If I close my eyes, you can’t see her…

 

catcomputerbag

Standard
writing

The Relative Levels of Rejection, Part III

rejectstamp

We all know the form rejection is a necessary evil.

It’s impossible for an agent or editor who fields submissions numbering in the hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, to give each one a thoughtful, individual response. Hence, the form.

But the form is a widely varied species that includes some real standouts. One is the It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me rejection. It’s the equivalent of your date saying he had an ‘interesting’ evening. Not a good-night kiss. Rather, the kiss of death. You feel as though you’re being dumped at the front door after a disastrous outing. You appreciate the intention to let you down easy, but the grain of truth that wants to irritate itself into a lump, like sand in an oyster, tells you it’s NOT them. It’s definitely you.

“You create wonderful worlds. Your writing is very atmospheric. But we’re not sure how to market you…”

Yeah, well…I’m pretty sure if the work was really outstanding, they’d find a way to market it. The truth is, it’s not a matter of how to market; it’s a matter of no market. Time to step back and consider some major rewrites.

Still, there are some very nice variations on the It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me that, in my opinion, make them the Miss Popularities of the reject pageant.

“This doesn’t quite fit with us, but you show great potential.”

In other words…back to the drawing board. If this particular submission had real potential, you’d have been asked to rewrite and resubmit. But it’s a nice rejection, and, depending on your frame of mind, you can actually savor it a little, telling yourself you’re an undiscovered talent. You just need some more time to grow.

But my absolute, hands-down, scream-from-the-rooftops fave rejection of all time is the short, sweet “This isn’t right for us, but we’d be interested to see anything else you have.”

That makes it all worthwhile. It’s not acceptance. It’s still a rejection. But it offers that one ingredient without which a writer cannot continue to shout his words into the void in solitary defiance of the odds. It dangles that little thing that has the power to change your view of the world and your place in it. It can make you forge ahead with renewed vigor and determination.

It’s hope.

And it’s beautiful.

happycat

Standard