Have you ever thought of writing a Chicken Soup story? I just came upon this idea because it was in the newsletter of my local writer’s group. I don’t usually think Chicken Soup for the Soul would want what I’ve got … but maybe they do, and maybe they want what you’ve got too. The reason I think they might is because their website has wide open submissions and guidelines that tell you just what they’re looking for.
And then there’s another thing. I’ve met two writers in person who’ve had a story accepted by them. They are the only major market I can say this about. All the other dollar a word markets I know of, I’ve met one or, usually, zero people who’ve sold their work there. So maybe CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL has higher volume. They also have another reason why they might need more writers. Their stories have to be true. And how many Chicken Soup Caliber events generally happen to one person? Jack Canfield notwithstanding …
So, check it out. I’m going to turn this one over in my head. Maybe I do have a story that would fit in a Chicken Soup book. And maybe … you do too.
This month was a better one. I had one short story accepted, and got an assignment to do a pre-book-publication author interview for a literary magazine. I also was able to volunteer to help our writer’s group with an anthology we are creating, which at last put me on the “other” side of submittable.com: the editing side.
That said, I only made twelve new submissions this month. So I failed to meet the challenge of putting twenty new subs out there. I am not going to beat myself up; I will do better in March, especially since this week is my spring break. I have about 37 active submissions on Submittable.com right now and perhaps a half dozen others still out by email.
I wanted to talk for a minute about “quality” of submissions. What I mean by that is two things: how many other people are vying to put their work in a given journal, and how well your work is matched to the journal. I always read at least one story and one poem from journals before I submit, and if I don’t like them or don’t see any similarity between the work published and my own, I don’t submit to them. This means that I have to research probably three to four journals for every one I submit to.
Back when I was freelancing in print magazines for money, I used to rate the submissions from 1/1 to 1/10 or so. That was my perception of the likelihood of acceptance. So a 1/1 submission was a good idea to a journal I already wrote for. I could expect to get the assignment, and if I didn’t, I could ask the editor for something else and would get it. A 1/10 submission was something less likely to be accepted, perhaps to a journal I didn’t know as well, a national journal, etc.
These literary magazine submissions of stories an essays, so far, are about 1/40, I would say. And some of these journals are small; God only knows what your odds are with Agni, or Paris Review. In all honesty, I’m not sure my work is ready for those markets. But I don’t know, so I still submit.
Am I discouraged? No, because I think of this as a learning curve, and I am convinced that the most important part of this submissions challenge is developing new work and developing a submissions routine.
As my work improves, as I believe it will, and my submissions routine becomes more effective, I feel my project will be more efficient. But even if it isn’t, I am primarily, at this point, loyal to the art of writing. That is the benefit of the literary magazine project, and for the artistic freedom this affords, I am grateful.
“I think writers are often terrifying to normal people — that is, to nonwriters in a capitalist system — for this reason: there is almost nothing they will not sell in order to have time to write. Time is our mink, our Lexus, our mansion. In a room full of writers of various kinds, time is probably the only thing that can provoke widespread envy, more than acclaim.” — Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical novel, “Imposter,” pg. 192.
I worry greatly about time, its passing, its use, and most vexingly, its waste. I am amazed by the time-preserving zeal of Chee, who describes going over his shelf of books to find some to sell to buy lunch, because a writing check did not come in. I don’t know that I ever went that far …
At the end of the weekend, time mocks me: Did I write enough? At the end of a month, I ask myself: what have you actually been doing all these days?
I see a note in my journal, December 20th, “Going back to work … uneasy about that … ” Was that already six weeks ago? It seems like yesterday. And why did I take time to write such banal words that honestly are repeated again and again throughout the journal?
It’s that damn job, cluttering my mind with stuff that must be done but is so boring that no one but the most dedicated literary writer could turn it into art. Will I have time to write what I feel actually needs to be written? Can I even think up what that is?
I think about our local Shut up and Write group, in which we take an hour and write without speaking, without interruption. I always save this time for the most difficult writing projects, such as editing my WIP. But that’s a whomping hour a week. The rest of the time, I’m on my own for self-discipline.
Alexander Chee is right. He is right about saving time for writing, and right about time’s value. It only remains for us to become as singleminded as he apparently is about obtaining and cajoling and demanding and buying time to write.
One problem is, that you can no longer sell books for food, books have lost their resale value. You have to sell other parts of your kit. Maybe I can take my designer clothes to Plato’s closet. Or breed dogs? Or something. Anything that doesn’t take time away from writing.
While Scarlett and I were on the mother-daughter artist retreat last week, I told her our art was different, because we weren’t on the inside track, did not live in New York, did not have friends in publishing, did not teach at a university, and overall, we were outside of every art establishment I could think of.
“Oh, you mean we’re like those Burning Man people,” she said.
“Burning Man? What does that have to do with outsider artists?”
“I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that that’s what they called themselves.”
So I read up on it. Scarlett was right. The Burning Man phenom, which I had heard described by people who’d never gone or even actually read about it, but just heard about it through the grapevine, as “a bunch of wild men and women out on the desert getting high and burning things and going nuts,” is actually described online as primarily a movement of artists trying to sock it to the man, in this case, the Art Establishment of critics, foundations, universities and traditional publications.
I read the article to Scarlett. We had to admit that we concurred with the principles laid down by the Burning Man festival regarding outsider art.
“Maybe we should go to the festival,” I said. But I had to admit, I’d be afraid to go by ourselves.
“Maybe we could get Papa to go,” Scarlett says. “Burning Man might appeal to his offbeat sense of spirituality.”
I was convulsed. “Well, it’s true,” Scarlett continues. “Offbeat is about how I would describe it.”
I think of the Sarasvatti statue in his office, and the Buddha coffee mug. The sitar playing while sitting on the sitar pillow. The entire set of works by the bald philosopher, Ken Wilbur. It’s true. Leo could take all of it straight to Burning Man and participate.
Perhaps Leo is an outsider artist as well. I went home and mentioned the idea of going to the festival to him. He went right into research mode, and after an early burst of excitement we discovered that Burning Man is the last week of August, a time when school teachers like us are generally either in the first week of class or getting ready for the first week of class. Not a time when you could get a week off.
Another hope for adventure crushed, I thought. But Leo, Scarlett and I were still all intrigued by the very idea of being there … when as the pinnacle of the festival, the entire community gets together to rebel against the arts establishment and assert the participatory and egalitarian nature of the true human community, and as a symbol of this they BURN THE MAN!
Since Friday, I’ve been in Morro Bay, California, on our annual mother-daughter artist’s retreat, in which I try to write and Scarlett paints and draws. On the one hand, we’ve been having a great time. On the other hand, as I’ve noted in the past, going on a writer’s retreat doesn’t always result in getting everything done you hoped for.
The truth is, I’ve been struggling with the rewrite of my WIP that was indicated by my last bit of agent feedback. I know I have to revise again, but it’s the very last thing I want to do. I’d rather do anything, whether it’s walk on the beach, make sandwiches and tea, take a nap, or ride bikes across town, than revise. And now, thanks to using my best discipline, I’m on page 144 out of 320 pages and I’m sick of it.
Sick of it.
Sick of it.
This book is awful! I think to myself. Awful. What did I ever see in it?
I read Alexander Chee’s essay, 100 Things about Writing a Novel, and it helps. The novel wants to be written. It’s not a thing, it’s a character in your life. It’s like a lover you’ve had a fight with. It argues, it cajoles. It takes up more of your time than you wanted to give. It is an interloper, an interruption.
It will not be shut up. You have to finish it or you will not have any peace. You can go walk on the beach but that will not get it written any faster, it will just keep you from writing for the time you were on the beach.
Writer biographies I read talk about this: the taking of time you don’t want to take. The discipline to write when you don’t want to. Hemingway dealt with this, it’s why he said you should always stop somewhere when you know what happens next so that you can start again the next day.
Yet in the end Hemingway was brought to despair by writer’s block.
I write a poem about horses. I submit some shorts I wrote last year to literary magazines. I look at the novel itself. It rises like Morro Rock in front of me. I believe it can be finished. I must show up to the computer. I can do this.
Okay, so My Crazy Ex Girlfriend went too far. It was somewhere in there where she got a viral online video going of her 911 call she made after burning her own house down in response to losing her two guys in one day. The friend having an abortion as a matter of practicality and Greg leaving on a jet plane after calling his and Crazy’s relationship ‘excrement’ was a downer too. What happened to the girl in the cactus suit who, despite all the zaniness, evinced such a joi de vivre?
Or was this unpleasant breaking up and rejecting current cycle of the miniseries just the flip side of freedom? Scary thought.
I didn’t feel close to her anymore. Her teddy bear with the face of her crush pasted on it was no longer cute and creative, it was, as my mother would say, pathological, the period jokes were juvenile, the poop jokes downright incomprehensible.
I started watching this miniseries, mind you, as a way to game my writing. I was going to use it to stimulate me to think of the possibilities.
Clearly, after watching #CrazyExGirlfriend I could see: you could do almost anything with your plot, and people will, more or less, believe it. In fact, people might want you to do the unexpected with your plot. They might want things that could literally never happen in real life.
But there’s a danger in that freedom. Some plot twists might be too much for some readers. Or viewers. There’s a fine line between thrilling the reader and having them say “oh no, too dark, too gross, to morally bankrupt.”
Suspension of disbelief is the thing. When the characters seem too schizophrenic, the ironies too perfect, the tragedies premeditated, and all the foreseeable endings hopeless, the reader may just cash in. As I thought I was going to.
But then … I began to miss these people. I wanted to know what Valencia would do next. Peeing on Josh’s electrical equipment was the crass act of a 4 year old, but … surely the writer would let her recover her dignity?
Could I trust the writer? I wasn’t sure. I think I’ll go back just once more. But that’s it. Any more betrayals, I’m finding another miniseries.
Lately, I’ve had these clear memories, images of a specific minute in a specific year, a time, a place, a sound. Yesterday, I remembered being in Davis, California, in 1980 or so, in an ice cream shop called Rocky Mountain High. It was a big place, and there was a balcony up over the main counter where you could sit at a round dark wood table and watch the people below. I was with a friend listening to the Rolling Stones being piped through the restaurant, raunchy old Mick Jagger singing, “When you’re old, when you’re old, nobody will know, that you was a beauty … “
I was fifteen. I wondered immediately: years hence, would anyone know about me as a 15 year old, or would I just be hobbling around on a cane, ignored by the world? Would I even be alive as an old person?
I knew the song. I had purchased the Rolling Stones’ black vinyl album, Emotional Rescue, and played it on my tabletop stereo in my bedroom at home. When I look at the music video today, I think my God, but Mick looks like my boyfriend from high school. That’s not entirely a good thing, since now we know that Mick ran through a lot of women, left some substantially worse off then when they started, suicidal or suicides. My boyfriend from high school has had a few questionable moments as well. I try to avoid him but his name still comes up, because actually we had two children together.
At 15 I did not believe I was beautiful. So I knew the song could not be about me, even remotely. If one were beautiful, they would feel beautiful. It would go down to your soul and give you peace.
Mick Jagger’s words were suspect because his motives were suspect. Although I agreed with him about one thing: time has seemed dangerously short from the very moment I began to consider myself an adult.
I don’t know if, at 52, I’m old. But it’s interesting to note that this week I got called beautiful by my 19 year old daughter. “Oh come on Joline,” I say. “Not really.” So maybe I am somewhat the same, after all these years.
That said, I think it’s different to be beautiful to your daughter than to yourself. Meanwhile, as far as Mick Jagger goes, and all the random male claims that we women are beautiful, I think they’re serious, but I also think the implications are not the same as we believe they are. Because for me, beauty would have to go deep into who I am, while for men — sometimes it’s only skin deep, I’m afraid.