Honk honk: August 2016 edition

Today is the first day in a long time where I haven’t had to be anywhere or do anything. It feels nice, if weird. I feel like I can breathe a little, plan the rest of my summer, and actually enjoy the nerdy nerdy things I love (oh video games, how I’ve missed you).

Time, as always, still runs out before I accomplish everything on my list (plus all the things I want to do but don’t put on my list), but I still have a good number of accomplishments to round up from the first stretch of summer:

  • My short story “What Jeannie Needs” was published in Rose Red Review,
    an online journal that publishes modern fairy tales. I’ll write up a little behind the scenes post for this story in the near future.
  • I interviewed Ranbir Singh Sidhu for The Rumpus. If you recall, I wrote about Ranbir’s book Good Indian Girls on this blog and followed that up with a short interview. After reading his novel, I wanted to do something more in depth. I highly recommend Deep Singh Blue, especially for anyone who’s ever felt completely out of place.
  • My short story “The Time I Listened to Warren Zevon for One Year Straight” will appear in Permafrost’s Summer 2016 online issue.
  • For the work blog, I wrote about my corgi’s degenerative nerve disease and the debut novel Lily and the Octopus, and apparently made some people cry. I also wrote about Pokémon Go, which hopefully didn’t make anyone cry.
  • And finally, my review of Sherrie Flick’s Whiskey, Etc., written for the work blog, was syndicated on Littsburgh. This is another fantastic book that I highly recommend.

Even though this is a great list, I feel guilty about the things I haven’t done: written a synopsis for my short story collection and novel so I can attempt to sell both projects to an agent, reading a friend’s novel, reading my husband’s novel, devoting serious time to Wild Age Press… I could go on forever. It’s something I’m working on with my therapist.

Maybe one day I’ll hack this time thing. But in the more likely scenario that I don’t, I’ll try to remember that friends, family, and writing are the important things, and those should always come before all the necessary chores of life.

On not writing

This has been one of those weeks where the words won’t come. Maybe it’s the heat and the humidity, maybe it’s the rough month I’ve been having, maybe it’s stress over money, and maybe it’s all of those things.

Sometimes, when I can’t write, I have to write about not being able to write to break through whatever block I’ve thrown in my own path (and it always is of my own design, unless I have a migraine, and that’s a different problem).

Not being able to write, not feeling like I’m adequately describing the story I see in my mind or the reasons I believe this or that, feels a lot like being stuck in a pressure cooker. All of those words build up and get hotter and hotter, but there’s nowhere for them to go. They’re stuck inside, and they can’t get out until I find the release valve.

When I don’t write, I start to feel stale, like week-old bread. I begin to harden, to lose my elasticity. I get irritable and discontent.

The best weeks and months are those when I get a steady pattern going: wake up at 6 a.m., eat breakfast, write for an hour or a half hour, then play with my dogs and get ready for work. It doesn’t even have to be every day. It can be three days out of five.

The worst weeks are ones like this one: too much stress over money, school, and the future, too little sleep, and hardly any writing. Weeks like this make me want to quit my job out of sheer frustration and become a full-time freelance writer—something I am capable of doing, certainly, but that doesn’t make the most sense for me right now.

Once I pick up a pen and drag it across a fresh sheet of paper—even to write about not being able to write—I remember why I love my job. Why a 9-5 actually works incredibly well for me. And most importantly, why I’ve built this life around the written word.

And then I can breathe again. Soon enough, the words flow.

Read my story, “Warren Zevon Attempts Happiness,” in Shadowgraph Quarterly

I wrote “Warren Zevon Attempts Happiness” many years ago, as part of my undergraduate creative writing thesis. It is based around true events, but is a completely fictionalized account of what might have happened to Warren Zevon (my favorite singer/songwriter) while he was living in Spain with his wife, Crystal.

But something was missing from it. It lacked “oomph” and tension, and I had no idea how to fix it, and neither did any of my undergrad thesis advisors. By the time I began my MFA program, I had mostly given up on that story.

But on a whim, I brought it to my historical fiction workshop with Katherine Ayres, who is a wonderfully insightful writer and excellent teacher. After I read the story aloud to the group, she asked me a single question: “What is the conflict here?”

It hit me like lightning. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I needed to do to make the story tense and meaningful. In retrospect, it seemed obvious. And, it worked.

Shadowgraph Quarterly, an online literary magazine that also publishes chapbooks, picked up the story for their Spring 2016 issue.

Their editors, who have hawk eyes as well, also picked out a few places where I was telling after I’d shown, and helped me trim the story down to its essentials.

Click here to read “Warren Zevon Attempts Happiness.”

I hope you enjoy it, and if you’ve never heard of Warren Zevon, here’s one of my favorite songs: