Loved all of the other readers in the Why There Are Words reading last night: William Brewer's heart-wrenching poems about the epidemic of opioid addiction in W. Virginia, Erika Mailman's recreation of Lizzie Borden's story by way of her Irish maid, Elizabeth Rosner's nonfictional exploration of inherited trauma, Brittany Perham's playful poems about relationships, Mary Volmer's historical novel about self-reliant women after the Civil War. So good of Peg Alford Pursell to host the reading amid the heartbreak of the ongoing fires (when she and Cass have been evacuated from their home and are still uncertain about its fate). It was a smaller group than usual, but intimate and appreciative. I think we were all aware of how special it was, coming together in a time like this.
Today Steve and I both have headaches, probably from the air in Sausalito, which is worse than the East Bay, where the air is gray and hazy, and you can't escape the smell of smoke.
Can't seem to stay away from the computer. As ever, mesmerized by Trump's debacles (how imminent is nuclear war, can he really destroy the entire health care system himself?), the unfolding disaster in Puerto Rico, and now the progress of the fires, where the new evacuation areas are, where to send contributions of what kind (so far we've just sent money, but there are various organizations accepting supplies). Also checking in online because the new issue of Midway Journal is supposed to come out today, with my flash "Zig Zag" and news of the contest that I won. And b(OINK) should be coming out too, today or soon.
Off to Litquake tonight in San Francisco, and to Lit Crawl tomorrow night in San Francisco, where Steve's reading a piece about two poet friends of his in Fresno who both died of cancer: Ernesto Trejo and Omar Salinas. I'm so glad they'll be remembered through Steve's work.
I’ve been sitting on this information, ready to burst. I won a major flash contest!!!! My crazy flash “Zig Zag” won first place in the “1000 Below: Flash Prose and Poetry Contest” at MIDWAY JOURNAL. The judge was the audacious and infamous experimental writer Michael Martone (which is what attracted me to the contest to begin with). The prize is $500 (!!!!) and “Zig Zag” will be published in their next issue, coming out in a week. I loved writing this zig-zagging flash, but I wasn’t sure I’d even find anyone to publish it, much less someone who would pay me for it.
Here's something Michael Martone said in an interview about his own work: “I am a writer who, I think, likes to celebrate chance and accident and happenstance. No plan. I think of revision as not so much working drafts of the one story but that each new story is another draft of the one story I wanted to write. I liked to think that I write ‘trying’ fiction, that my essays, ‘essay.’ Everything I write is an attempt at getting at the something I am attempting to get at. I like collage for that reason. I can write a fiction, say. Made up of 24 sections of prose, and by cutting and pasting I can get many different permutations from the same piece of writing, gain different effects of juxtaposition in the changing composition. I don’t think I write, or read for that matter, with an idea of an ideal out there. I am not much for finding the best word, or the best order. I am more for all words in every order at once and all at once. I think this desire to plan, to have things come together in what is assumed to be the perfect way, the best way, is wrong for me. In that sense the metaphor of the workshop—asking if a piece ‘works’—makes no sense to me. Everything ‘works’ in its own way. When I am finished with that one arrangement, I am on to the next one.”
I hadn’t read that before I wrote “Zig Zag,” but it fits my feelings about the piece and also the fact that it was the largely unrevised version of my flash that won the contest. I took it through a number of versions myself, then shared the piece with a couple of trusted flash fiction writers whom I share work with online and tweaked it a bit, but I didn’t have time to workshop the flash with my usual (really great) writing group in San Francisco before the contest deadline. So this is not the revised version I came up with after group. Even in that revised version, I resisted a lot of perfectly reasonable questions that my group members came up with (Tell us about the characters. Tell us who murdered whom. Tell us what happened. Develop background. Explain more. I don’t get it.), because I knew I didn’t want to answer them or follow advice this time. In my mind’s eye, I saw an aerial view of a guy zig-zagging across a cornfield. That’s what I was trying to get at. It seemed to work in its own way. (I fully expect that a lot of readers won’t like it, but that’s okay.)
I'm becoming philosophical about yesterday's mixed review of The Missing Girl too (really one paragraph of the review, maybe just one line). I didn't write to an agenda (though I have plenty of feminist agendas outside of my creative writing), and I was anticipating an objection to the voicelessness of the girls in the stories, and here it is. A magazine called Glassworks contacted me last week to say they want to conduct an interview (over a period of months) about The Missing Girl, specifically women's issues. I'll have a chance to talk about that, and it's a valid and interesting point.
Weirdly, my teaching intersects with my writing life this week. I just taught Melville's "Bartleby" and "Billy Budd" yesterday, and I'm teaching "Benito Cereno" next week. In all three the victims are largely voiceless, martyrs written out of their histories. That's part of the point of the stories.
I'll post the link to "Zig Zag" when I have it. Maybe take a picture of the check! I was amazed to receive $500 for the chapbook. Winning $500 for a flash that's about 500 words is even more amazing. (Of course I don't want to add up how much I've spent on contests, because that would take the fun away.)
Good reading at Vesuvio last night in North Beach (yes! San Francisco Litquake is underway!), curated by Alia Volz and including Olga Zilberbourg (both friends). Was pleased to see Jon Roemer of Outpost 19 Books again, as the reading centered on Outpost 19's California anthology Golden State. A time to celebrate and mourn California, with wildfires raging and no end in sight. Peg Alford Pursell, curator of the Why There Are Words reading, where I'll be reading tomorrow night (Studio 333, 333 Caledonia St, Sausalito, 7pm), had to evacuate her house but is back home again. So many Californians north of San Francisco haven't been so lucky. There have been many heartbreaking disasters lately, all over the country and the world, but this one is very close to home.
p.s. The fires are still raging, unpredictable and uncontained. Depending on the winds, Peg tells me, she may have to evacuate again later today.
First, a mixed review of The Missing Girl in the East Bay Review.
But I also had very short pieces accepted in two newish flash magazines where all of the cool flash writers are hanging out: b(OINK) (where I've got a really short micro on an alcoholic blackout) and Lost Balloon (where I've got a really short micro about my first betrayal by a boyfriend—discovered when we were on a motorcycle trip from Germany to Morocco with three other people). The first is coming out in a week. Not sure about the second.
Should I quote the review? There are definitely good parts. But the bad parts make me catch my breath. I'll let you look it up if you want to.
Can the past few weeks get any better? My chapbook THE MISSING GIRL just came out from Black Lawrence Press (yay!). I got a Notable Listing for my essay “A Eulogy, Despite” in BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2017 (yay!). And now my essay “Long Distance” is out in the newest issue of UNDER THE GUM TREE (yay!), a beautiful digital and print magazine combining art, photography, and creative nonfiction.
This is my second appearance in UNDER THE GUM TREE, which has published so many wonderful authors, including Brenda Miller, Steve Almond, Penny Guisinger, Laurie Easter, Renée D'Aoust, Ira Sukrungruang, and my husband Steve, whom they nominated for a Pushcart last year for his essay “Spiritual Direction” in the October 2016 issue. Steve’s been in a couple of their readings (one online), was profiled in their Meet the Author series here, and just did a podcast with them that will be released soon. I’ll be in their sixth anniversary reading in Sacramento on October 21.
A relatively young magazine, they have already racked up five Notables in BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS; all of their essays are a pleasure to read.
Here’s the teaser excerpt from UNDER THE GUM TREE, with links for purchasing the digital or print issue.
Many thanks to editors Janna Marlies Maron, Robin Black, and Kate Asche!
(When I say this was a banner month, that doesn't mean I haven't had a lot of rejections, daily it seems. Two particularly harsh, a few that were particularly disappointing, and one fairly amazing because the editor rejected my micros but praised my recent microflash in WIGLEAF and said she'd ordered my chapbook!)
An exciting month. I'm starting to wonder how I'll do so many readings and manage my teaching job at the same time. I'll be reading creative nonfiction in Sacramento, flash from the new chapbook in Sausalito and San Rafael, probably both in Hayward:
Why There Are Words Reading Series
Thursday, October 12, 7pm
Studio 333, 333 Caledonia St., Sausalito
Faculty Writers Book Launch
Wednesday, October 18, 7pm
Biella Room, University Library, Cal State East Bay, Hayward
Under the Gum Tree Sixth Anniversary Reading
Saturday, October 21, 6pm
Sol Collective, 2574 21st St., Sacramento
Reading with Peg Alford Pursell
Wednesday, October 25, 7pm (?)
Rebound Bookstore, 1611 4th St., San Rafael
Litquake and Litcrawl are happening right in the middle of this (the week of October 8, October 14), when lots of friends are reading (including Steve on October 14). It will be the month of readings. On November 1 we're flying to Ithaca, where Steve is receiving an award at Cornell and doing another reading.