Jane Recommends “Four Types of Creative Writing Careers” via CATAPULT

An excerpt from “Four ‘Types’ of Creative Writing ‘Careers’” by Tony Tulathimutte:

Writing literature and having a writing career are entirely separate things. A writer is an artist whose work may be informed or influenced, but never overdetermined, by the pressures of making money, publishing, and building an audience—that’s a writing career. Writing is pointless if you don’t get to write what you want, even if it’s obscure, difficult, or non-lucrative. But there’s also no reason to assume you’re not clever enough to make a career out of it too.

*

Jane says: Tony Tulathimutte offers sage advice to writers. The pearls (in my humble opinion): always get paid and only social media if you want to. As he mentions in the essay’s close, I’m working different paths—equal parts traditional and stealth, hoping to build a sustainable life freelancing. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed, fingers crossed.

Jane Reads Anything But Straight, White Men for Another Year

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” —Cicero

I love sentences, especially opening ones. I hate even numbers, love odd ones. A little late to the year-in-review game, I collected the first sentences of my 11 favorite reads of 2016.

A little background: in 2014, a year after graduating with my MFA, I read a book I had always craved, which work, school and life had kept me from: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. I moved the mass-market paperback for several years, to three different states, before opening it. I read most of it on the porch in a rocking chair, then I read another book by a woman then another and another.

Before knowing it was a thing, I wanted only books by women, and after learning about #ReadWomen, I did it on purpose, eventually incorporating LGBTQIA writers and POC. A brown woman, I have alway sought books reflecting lives like mine, but fully committing to this reading challenge has introduced me to countless worlds. A nosy writer with dreams of writing full-time in an office near my bed, I often read the writer bio, blurbs, and acknowledgements first. As I’ve heard—and said—a lot lately, good people know good people, and good books have led me to good books.

One day, I want to read Lolita and Moby Dick, but now is not that time, not even close. Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, and what I’m gaining feels immeasurable. With the amazing book lists abound (here and here and here and here), I pray for a long, healthy life of reading.

And, finally, the first sentences of my 11 favorite reads of 2016 in the order I read them:  

“1. Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color.” —Maggie Nelson, Bluets

“Niche dating sites are interesting.” —Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

“What, Mahi, you still awake?” —Kathleen Tyau, A Little Too Much Is Enough

“Serafina held the Virgen de Guadalupe curled in her palm.” —Susan Straight, Highwire Moon

“Philadelphia and Jubilee!’ August said when Hattie told him what she wanted to name their twins.” —Ayana Mathis, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

“In the body, where everything has a price, / I was a beggar.” —Ocean Vuong, Night Sky With Exit Wounds

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” —Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

“The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound.” —Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

“I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.” —Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

“My mother was waiting in front of our house when I rode up in a taxi.” —Mia Alvar, In the Country

 

What Jane Wants to Do Most at AWP 2017

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” —Anaïs Nin

2014, pre-blog, found me as a contractor without paid-time off, boobs-deep in credit card debt (seven pieces of plastic to be exact). 2015 found me unemployed on an island in the most isolated archipelago in the world. 2016 found me unemployed on the same island. Three makes a pattern. It’s 2017, my third year of the what-Jane-wants-to-do-most posts, and I’m employed (knock, knock, knock on all of the wood). I’m working for a temp agency (more on this later) in a new state (more on this later), but I’m, again, missing AWP, a conference I once-upon-a-time lived for.

After five faithful years, AWP is a stranger to me. The 5oth anniversary is in DC, where once I watched Junot Díaz, a glass of cab warming me from the inside. That has to be the biggest compliment for a writer—that a reader went offsite in the fresh air, booze abound, and returned to the sea of cardigans, spectacles, and totes for literary love.

Here’s what I will be missing this year. Please live-tweet everything, take a bookmark, yank some chocolate, buy a book and lit mag, scribble some notes, and swig some wine in the back of a conference room for me.

Wednesday

8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – 4th Annual Rock and Roll Reading. 12 writers, including Danielle Evans and Porochista Khakpour, will read song-length pieces inspired by rock-and-roll. Swoon.

Thursday

9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. – Say Yes to the Press: How Effective Small Publishers Do What They Do featuring Brent Cunningham, Juliana Spahr, Martin Riker, J. K. Fowler, and Sunyoung Lee. The stuff of my entrepreneur dreams.

4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. – Whereas, Standoff, Cinder, Rapture: Graywolf Poets featuring Jeff Shotts, Susan Stewart, David Rivard, Sjohnna McCray, and Layli Long Soldier. I have been counting the minutes to March, Whereas’ publication month, and, duh, Graywolf.

Friday

12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. – The Shape of Fiction: A Look at Structuring Novel-Length Prose featuring Christian Kiefer, Jeff Jackson, Esmé Weijun Wang, Janet Fitch, Kirstin Chen. Hello, ladies I love, ladies I have read, ladies I want to read, ladies whose organizational skills and planners I admire, ladies whose thoughts on structure I want to witness.

1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. – A Reading and Conversation with Alexander Chee and Valeria Luiselli moderated by Lisa Lucas. I’m still not over the shoes Alexander Chee wore on Late Night With Seth Meyers and his essay with the Chloë Sevigny-cameoThe Story of My Teeth is on my TBR list. Have you heard Valeria Luiselli on Between the Covers with David Naimon?

4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. – A Reading and Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates hosted by E. Ethelbert Miller. Because I’m reading Between the World and Me. Because Purple Hibiscus, because Half of a Yellow Sun, because Americanah, because We Should All Be Feminists, because Beyoncé. I haven’t read That Thing Around Your Neck just so I would have some unread Adichie in my near future.

Saturday

8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. A Reading by Rita Dove, Terrance Hayes, and Ocean Vuong with introductions by Jennifer Benka. I love Terrance Hayes and Ocean Vuong in a buy-their-book-the-second-it-publishes. And Rita Dove. Are there words? Tuesday afternoon I read her conversation with David Masciotra in Salon that sent my soul vibrating. And her words, and this reading, are a perfect end because now, more than ever, we need poems: “Poetry pulls us back into a focus of our impressions as we move through the world. These are things that are unremarked upon because they are too sensitive, or they are considered things that we experience every day, like how the air feels as you walk along on a spring day and the wind catches the hairs on your arms.”

Jane Rebels Against Her Reading List

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” —Oscar Wilde

I hate being told what to do. Even when I’m the one doing the telling: work out, save money, eat more raw things. In 2015, I finished 32 books, my personal high, and I vowed to read more in 2016. Because it felt fun, I organized a reading list, courtesy of Modern Mrs. Darcy, for the year.

Surprise—I hardly obeyed it. Obsessive, I strayed, found myself on three reading tangents: Hawai‘i writers, nonfiction, and titles featuring the word sky in them. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. The Woman Who Fell from the Sky. Stones of the Sky. Night Sky With Exit Wounds.

Because I hate failure, I edited my reading aspirations, which appear below. While I failed to imbibe the books I intended to—and it feels sacrilegious crossing beautiful titles and authors out—they remain on my ever-multiplying TBR list. I will return to them. The House of the Spirits waits for me, on hold at the library; Green Island stands on the shelf in my office; The Lover, which I bought two Thursdays ago during my first visit to Half Price Books, decorates the coffee table.

Here is how I failed last year, but—I have to tell you—failing feels a lot like success:

  • A book published this yearGreen Island by Shawna Yang Ryan Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • A book you can finish in a dayThe Lover by Marguerite Duras Hawai’i One Summer by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • A book you’ve been meaning to readThe Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Rolling the R’s by R. Zamora Linmark
  • A book recommended by your local librarian or booksellerHow to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak Balikbayan by Michelle Cruz Skinner
  • A book you should have read in schoolI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
  • A book chosen for you by a spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFFBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • A book published before the year you were bornSula by Toni Morrison To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • A book that was banned at some pointThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  • A book you previously abandonedTales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich Cherry by Mary Karr
  • A book you own but have never readMake Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
  • A book that intimidates you Bluets by Maggie Nelson
  • A book that you’ve already read at least onceLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Jane Finds Marginalia in ROLLING THE R’S

This is a book that little Jane needed. Published in 1995, why didn’t my kid hands hold it, my kid eyes read it? Judging from how much this book has been checked out (borrowed 37 times, the first due date recorded is December 14, 2004), Rolling the R’s is a book that many needed. Considering an acclaimed book like Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club, also published in 1995, has been loaned 27 times since 1999. (Note: Other than the fact that I’m returning both books today, this comparison is random. Both books are great, and deserve to be read, praised and shared.)

Roll itToday, R. Zamora Linmark’s debut novel is the most written-in library book I have had the pleasure of consuming. In “Lips,” three places are checkmarked alone:

  • “‘Do the men you go out with ever know what you really are?’ I ask.”
  • “‘Well, I always knew deep inside me that I was made to follow in Sister Eve’s footsteps, but my mother hated apples. In fact, she was allergic to them, especially mountain apples. That’s why I came out a boy instead of a princess,’ Exotica says, giving them her revised version of Creation.”
  • “‘You think my lips hide a million secrets?’ asks Edgar.”

The underlining, the stars, the dog-eared pages made me linger longer on the text. Public libraries boast at least threat of punishment for defacing its property, and the fact that a borrower, or multiple borrowers, ignored this says something, right? What’s the worst that could happen: replace the book and keep the original? (Give or take a minor non-refundable processing charge.) Mahalo!

 

What Jane Wants to Do Most at AWP 2016

“Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” —Toni Morrison

2016 entered with expectations. The Year of the Monkey and the year Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar was also the year of my first AWP appearance since graduation, lucky number seven. I imagined how this sequel would unfold in Los Angeles: me with colorful business cards, me with a freshly-printed novel manuscript in my tote, me with the pitch scribbled across my life and head and heart line.

Not again.

Three years have passed since I last attended, a literary tradition with a couple soul sisters. I registered. I saved book and cocktail money. I compiled a list of writers and lit mags to hunt. I organized a conference schedule. I arranged plans with friends, made promises.

Not again.

I failed myself in all of those ways. No business cards because I barely have a business. No novel manuscript because it’s not in a printable, shareable state, let alone queryable or pitchable.

Not again.

Even after I was content arriving as myselfa work-in-progress, empty handed but full hearted—I couldn’t even succeed at that.

Not again.

Once again, money is a thing. This time, my bank account lacks deposits, and there are student loans and weddings and a burned-out tail light. I have credit cards and a modest savings but me, understanding the current state of things, cannot part with my tiny, high-interest securities.

Not again.

This is not the worst thing to happen to me. Not. Even. Close. Not this year. Or this month. I know how quickly things can turn, so I count my blessings. I kiss Waylon. I visit the library. I continue editing. I sit in the sun. I pass on the conference.

Not again.

I hope by sharing the things my cells will miss that I can hunch among the audiences, among friends, at booths and tables in spirit.

Thursday

  • 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm – The Violence of the Page featuring Lucy Corin, Maggie Nelson, Brian Evenson, Ben Weissman, and Fred D’Aguiar. I bought Maggie Nelson‘s Bluets in Seattle last year, and I need to sit in the presence of the woman who experienced then thought then wrote, “Mostly I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for the beauty in that.”
  • 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm – American Tropics featuring Patrick Rosal, Tiphanie Yanique, Willie Perdomo, Christina Olivares, and Brandy Nalani McDougall. Because Hawai’i, and Land of Love and Drowning.
  • 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm at Wolf and Crane Bar – Crossing the Line: Genre-Curious Readings featuring Lily Hoang, Nicole Walker, and others, oh my! I’m a Japanese whisky virgin and who isn’t genre-curious?

Friday

Saturday

This year’s theme, for me, seems to be newness. My What-Jane-Wants-to-Do-Most-at-AWP-2016 list has shed a lot of my long-term obsessions. Maybe I’m exhausted with the familiar, balancing-work-and-the-creative-life anxieties, the craft of drafts upon drafts. Even though it is comforting to revisit kindred spirits, hearts that beat and minds that think in similar ways, I need something else, but I’m not sure what. There is a lesson here.

Jane Recommends “…Things You Should Worry About While Writing A Novel” via LITERARY HUB

An excerpt from “Here Are The Things You Should Worry About While Writing A Novel” by Susannah Felts:

I worry that I have not done enough research. I worry that I’m spending too much time researching. I worry that people will think it’s not true to life. I worry that it’s too true to life and thus boring. I worry that there’s not enough plot. I worry that there’s not enough lyricism. I worry that there’s not enough hours in the day in the week month year life for me to ever finish it.

*

Jane says: I worry too.

 

Jane Recommends “On Privilege Guilt…” via THE ESTABLISHMENT

An excerpt from “On Privilege Guilt: My Fraught Path From Foster Care To Luxury High Rise” by Lisa Marie Basile:

I slept in the center of my room on a mattress on the floor, as did my younger brother. I would sleep with the window open in the summer, while friends slept in cool, three-story homes on the better side of town. Our dinner was funded by food stamps; we washed the plates immediately lest the roaches come. The memories are of my little brother’s bedroom. This room was the saddest of all. It didn’t have a window, and it was always dark, always filled with the sound of him playing by himself, a static television. I think now of the little pale boy, alone after school, sitting on his broken bed on the floor. How he didn’t know of the lack. How my mother took the living room couch as her bedroom. And the television with the aluminum foil.

*

Jane says: Like Lisa Marie Basile, I went into extreme debt (school, school and school) because I wanted to put distance between me and where I’m from. Separately, my parents have given me the “just-don’t-be-like-me” talks, and I can’t write a simple sentence about my childhood. When I remember, pain rushes to the surface, but when I sift, there is beauty too. (Or I choose to see beauty.) For a while, I fell asleep to the sound of the ocean and, later, trains. I know “I’m a poor girl at heart” because any time I think of the things that I have nowlove, safety, health insurance, some writing timeit’s hard to want, but I’m always working towards more. God, do I work. Because of where I’m from, I can’t rest. There is so much to say, too many people like me out there with pain like mine, and time is precious; time is privilege. In fact, I’m so happy I keep thinking someone is going to steal all that is good from me because where I’m from not a lot of dreams come true. I keep splashing my face with cold water and, still, this is my life. Maybe one day I will share my story. Thank you, Lisa Marie Basile, for sharing yours.

Jane Recommends “You Will Be Tokenized…” via BROOKLYN MAGAZINE

Excerpts from “‘You Will Be Tokenized’: Speaking Out About the State of Diversity in Publishing” by Molly McArdle:

  • “We keep bringing others through till we fill up this room.” —William Johnson
  • “We ought to be able to create classroom[s] and school libraries where a student can pick up a book and see the food that she eats, hear the sound of her family, follow her stories. That isn’t achieved by just slapping the name ‘Maria’ on a character.” Meg Medina
  • “How many stories have I not heard because this editor was in charge?” —Mira Jacob
  • “Part of what kept me in the publishing industry was—god damn it—I have my foot in the door. When my job goes they are not going to give it to another black girl. There goes a black woman’s shot at changing something.” —Megan Reid
  • “It takes a lot for a writer of color to be recognized, and then when they are recognized, every single person expects them to be the solution to their diversity problems.” —Angela Flournoy
  • “Growing up in the largest housing projects in the United States, Queensbridge, it affects everything I do, how I read.” —Linda Duggins
  • “I asked, ‘If I had worked at a magazine like Newsweek would you propose I do an internship?’ He said that’s a good question, and I said that’s a bad answer, and I walked out of his office.” —Okey Ndibe
  • “People always say, ‘good work rises’—that’s bullshit.” —Elissa Schappell
  • “Literature is a powerful thing, especially in the hands of a child. If you ask the majority of readers when they fell in love with reading, most of them will say, when they were children. And they will remember the book or the author that changed their lives.” —Shelley Diaz

*

Jane says: This article hijacked my morning, and I have never been so excited to have something stolen from me because what I was given back—immeasurable. So much of my private pain was spoken, and eased, reading these fifty experiences. I rolled out of bed and wrote. And wrote. And wrote. You’re damn right, Syreeta McFadden; as you said, we are out here, doing everything we can:

I’d like affirmative action the fuck out of that space. I’d readjust salaries for these folks. Solicit interns outside of the usual places. Train them in the culture of what a literary citizen should look like. Make them listen to Kanye. Get the United Colors of Benetton in that bitch. Empower people of color open their own bookstores. Create a literary agency. Buy a pop culture media outlet. I know a couple of people who are doing that but they need capital. I’d give it to them—a fund for affirmation. Seed money for people who are already doing that work. That’s the thing, right? We’ve been out here working.

Considering 2015, Jane Resolves

“White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” —Roald Dahl

I wouldn’t call 2015 a draw between me and my resolutions. I won, narrowly, thanks to high scores in the Always-write and Start-a-writing-group categories. I made a lot of progress, but the lofty list of goals frazzled me by October.

On NYE, I resolved to focus my energies. It has taken me sixish weeks to decide on the key day-to-day elements I must improve to inspire notable positive change, momentum, results.

Find a Way to Sustain a Creative Life

If you follow my blog, you know that balancing work and writing is a constant struggle in my life. A perfectionist and hard worker, it’s difficult for me to do anything half-heartedly. Either I need to find a job that gifts me room to be creative, or I need to find a job that nurtures my creativity. Because I have done the full-time thing and didn’t write, and I have done the part-time thing, which became a full-time thing, and wrote, and when I finished both, I was standing in an eerily similar place; even though I made progress, the matter of a couple drafts, I was another year older and still working on the same things.

Actually Finish Things

When you’re creating, it’s hard to gauge success. Even though the novel manuscript is fully drafted, I’m revising a lot: adding scenes and the much-needed lick or two here and there, deleting darlings here and there, while cringing at—and editing—the remnants of the first draft I wrote in the last 15 months of grad school, which almost murdered me. I have moved so many damn commas that many pages look like they are hemorrhaging or someone’s triplets took Crayolas to them, but I am getting closer.

I am closer than I have ever been, but I curse my honey-slow pace. And time constraints. Money. The general state of things. During one of those life-sucking Twitter holes, I found an essay on the incubation stage of creativity, and it reminded me that books take time. Junot Díaz’s third novel, This is How You Lose Her, took 16 years. Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night took 14 years. Right now I am at 8 years, and that’s okay. It has to be. Because I’m not ready to let go of it yet. But I am ready to let go of parts of it. Of the 290 pages, I feel confident in 38 of them. Then I think, Moving that chapter-six paragraph to the opening might solve all of my problems….

Read Better

Last year, I finished 32 books, a personal high, which naturally makes me want more, more, more. Usually I read organically, one book leading to another, so I thought the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 reading challenge would force me out of my lazy river, give me some structure, force me to consider the uncracked or favs already on my shelves. At the same time, the list (below) only consists of 12 books, so if I read 33 books this year, I will have 21 opportunities to float.

  • A book published this yearGreen Island by Shawna Yang Ryan
  • A book you can finish in a dayThe Lover by Marguerite Duras
  • A book you’ve been meaning to readThe Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • A book recommended by your local librarian or booksellerHow to Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
  • A book you should have read in schoolI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • A book chosen for you by a spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFFBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • A book published before the year you were bornSula by Toni Morrison
  • A book that was banned at some pointThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • A book you previously abandonedTales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich
  • A book you own but have never readMake Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
  • A book that intimidates you Bluets by Maggie Nelson
  • A book that you’ve already read at least onceLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

To the readers and writers who are vowing and working towards bettering themselves, please share your resolutions and reading lists with me.