Alabama For Beginners in bioStories

A big thank you to editor Mark Leichliter for featuring my essay “Alabama For Beginners” in bioStories. This is my fourth appearance in bioStories, and I am honored to be among the many talented contributors.

“bioStories offers word portraits of the people surrounding us in our daily lives, of the strangers we pass on the street unnoticed and of those who have been the most influential and most familiar to us but who remain strangers to others. We feature essays from an eclectic variety of viewpoints and seek out writers of literary excellence. We particularly look for work that offers slices of a life that help the reader imagine the whole of that life, work that demonstrates that ordinary people’s experiences often contain extraordinary moments, visionary ideas, inspirational acts, and examples of success and failure that prove instructive. In short, we believe every life displays moments of grace. bioStories wishes to share pieces of these lives and celebrate them.”

 

Of Burgers and Barrooms

Main Street Rag has just published Of Burgers and Barrooms, an extraordinary collection of poetry and prose featuring bars and fast food restaurants. My story “The Side Bar” is included in this publication, and I am deeply grateful. Provocative, humorous, edifying, delightful, this anthology has something for everyone. A great gift for writers and readers!

From the website: Main Street Rag Publishing Company has been publishing our print magazine, The Main Street Rag, uninterrupted since 1996. Among its features are poetry, short fiction, photography, essays, interviews, reviews, and commentary. Subscription information is available on the Submissions page and can be placed online at: Subscriptions. Current and back issue information–including who appears in each issue–can now be found at The MSR Online Bookstore on the back and current issues page. Our magazine is financed through subscriptions, direct sales and shelf sales. We receive no money in the form of grants or public funds. Reader support is important and necessary.

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Lovers and Loners in Snowflakes!

Many thanks to Darrell Laurant, for featuring Lovers and Loners in the latest edition of Snowflakes in a Blizzard. Please visit this book-saving site and take a look at some fine work you might not otherwise encounter. In the meantime, here are a few words from Darrell:

“Given the current technology, virtually anyone who wants to publish a book can now do so.  And that’s a good thing, because I believe everyone has something of value to say and something to teach the rest of us.

But it’s also bad news for individual writers, because the chance that someone will randomly pick up or click on a particular book has decreased exponentially. I chose the name for this blog because getting noticed for a writer in this market — especially a new, unknown writer — is like a snowflake trying to stand out in a blizzard.”

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Notes From A Burned-Out Book Mom

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I recently wrote a post called “Tough Love—A Few Words on Rejection” in which I compared submitting manuscripts to raising children. There is the pride we feel, the apprehension, the shared pain, the lengths we go to in our abiding love.

But that’s just the beginning. Once our children find homes—whether through our efforts or a publisher’s—we must function as literary soccer moms: organizing the launch, attending the readings, trolling for reviews, reaching out to libraries and local bookstores, paying for incidentals. And don’t even get me started on the time spent creating what is referred to as an author platform. I’m not certain what this is, but it seems to involve thousands of social media followers as well as marketing expertise, previous sales, a robust readership and throngs of industry contacts.

Remember when publishers arranged and paid for everything? Me neither. But it must have been something to be a writer in the 50s, when authors like Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, E.B. White and Kurt Vonnegut were wined and dined and generally treated like royalty. Of course they were unarguably gifted, but even lesser known talents could depend on their publishers to procure an audience and offer fair compensation for the hard work of writing.

Book promotion is never finished, I’ve been assured, and who would disagree that books, especially sidelined genres like literary fiction, don’t fly off the shelves and doubtless benefit from regular cheerleading. Unfortunately, it takes a certain type of personality—optimistic, buoyant, outgoing—to succeed at marketing, and most writers are not comfortable in that arena. I know I’m not. I get clammy just posting a story link on my Facebook author page, afraid that readers are tired of hearing from me, or worse, not listening at all.

I’ll admit it: I’m weary of the circuit. I’ve written one novel, two story collections and a book of nature essays, and while I don’t begrudge the years I’ve spent on their welfare, I’m ready for some time to myself. You can find my four children on Amazon, in paperback or digital form, just a keystroke away from ownership (the same technology that has devalued our work has made it instantly available). My books have not changed the world, but they do represent my greatest effort. I think we earn our lives by giving the world whatever gifts we have, regardless of how they’re received.

I spent my childhood looking at bugs, trees, clouds, stars, frogs. I want to go there again. I want to break away from the tyranny of this computer and collect fall leaves, make a miniature diorama, hunt for fossils. My books are leading quiet lives of their own and can carry on without me; indeed I’ve not been much help to them. Maybe, freed of my worry and angst, they will make their own connections, surprise me yet. In any case, they could never disappoint me.

We have an abundance of book clubs and writing groups. Maybe there should be support groups for weary book parents. Comrades, you are not alone.

 

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Tough Love–A Few Words On Rejection

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I cannot imagine wanting to have children, which must be why I never had them. I wonder if that’s the reason I became a writer, if giving birth to stories instead of babies sublimated my maternal urges. There are indisputable similarities between the two professions: extraordinary effort, scant recognition, nothing to put in the bank.

It’s true that I think of my stories as my progeny. I do my best with them, and then I bundle them up, arm them with my publishing credits (attesting to my fitness as a mother), and launch them into the world. This is always a moment of trepidation—I want so much for these innocents, namely love and acceptance.

I have to admit it: my children aren’t doing so well. Lately they are all returning home, sullen and weary, collapsing on the sofa like broke college graduates. “I told you,” they seem to say. “I told you I wasn’t good enough.” I don’t blame them; it’s a hard world, and as their mother I probably made plenty of mistakes. It used to kill me to see my babies come back. I’d pull out the Kleenex, wind up commiserating. I’d let them stay home and do what they wanted. Which was nothing.

I’m a tougher mother now. “Look,” I tell them, “I get it. Times are rough. There are too many of you. But you can’t spend your life on the sofa.” I don’t even give them time to take off their coats. I march them right to the door.

Occasionally one of these rejects—I don’t like to use that word, but it’s the truth— comes back a suspicious number of times. That’s the point at which I sit down and take a long hard look. Maybe I’ll make a few changes, tuck in the shirttails. I might spruce up my qualifications, tack on a couple more publishing credits, mention the award I was short-listed for. I might even lower my standards, lead my problem child into a borderline neighborhood where editors are known to be more lenient. There is nothing I will not do for my children.

Of course some of my children, the quirky ones, will be with me always. Nobody wants these stories, they just don’t fit in, but I don’t care. I love them. I love them fiercely because no one else does. I keep them in a nice clean folder on my desktop, safe from harm.

Repeated exposure has inured me to rejections; I don’t take them personally anymore. So my stories don’t land in the New Yorker; so they end up off the grid, archived in some small journal; so a few of them stay behind. At least I know I’ve done my best. As with living, the best revenge is writing well.

“Savages” in On The Premises

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I am honored and delighted to have won second place in this contest for my story “Savages.”

On The Premises is an online fiction magazine founded in 2006 by Tarl Kudrick and Bethany Granger.

Stories published in On The Premises are winning entries in short story contests launched each December and June. Each contest challenges writers to produce a great story based on a broad premise supplied by the editors. Winning stories are published in each April and October.

I am grateful to editors Tarl and Bethany for this opportunity and distinction.