a Friday hodgepodge

Oh hello. I haven’t been avoiding you…it’s just that I’ve been neglecting my blog in favor of – gasp!— writing. I’m fairly bursting with short stories these days, and I find myself churning out drafts very quickly. I’m excited about these drafts. They are, of course, exactly that, unfinished drafts, but they exist all the same. Someday, a day hopefully not two years in the future as has been my recent M.O., they will become complete, finished stories. I’m proud of them in some strange way, and I can’t wait to reach that point.

The other day I managed to write ten pages of a story and half of a quite lengthy blog post (I adore days like that!) when my writing luck ran out and my computer ate my blog post. Sigh. I was too demoralized (and too out of time) to rewrite. So here we are. A brief hodgepodge of things I’ve been wanting to post about:

• I’ve had the good fortune of reading two books in a row that I want to read again. I just feel like there’s so much I missed the first time around. The first was Ron Carlson Writes a Story, which I posted about here recently. The second is Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood. It’s been a long time – far too long, actually – since I’ve read any of Dillard’s work and, wow. I’ve forgotten how wonderful her writing is. It’s the kind of writing that you learn from, that you read and think, how did she do that? Not to mention that nearly every passage seems flawless and beautiful. Gush, gush. I will probably devote an entire post to the book at some point, but a couple of quick bits: One of the things I admire about this memoir is the way that she conveys how various people impacted her life without saying, “I learned from my mother that…” or “My father taught me…” It’s implied, and it doesn’t have to be spelled out, such is Dillard’s ability to tell a story. It’s “show don’t tell” at its finest. Another thing I admire about this memoir is that it is not filled with the kind of tragedy or death or poverty or mental illness or alcoholism (and so on) that weigh down so many American memoirs. I’m not opposed to reading about those topics, nor do I think they don’t have a place in literature (nor am I afraid of double negatives!), but it’s refreshing to read about a childhood in which the wonder of being a child/growing up is central to the story, not the child’s alcoholic/abusive/crazy parents. I heard a lot of fiction writers in my grad program say, “Oh, I can’t write about myself, my childhood was too happy/normal/boring,” which I always thought was a bunch of hoo-ha and to which I will now say, read Annie Dillard’s memoir, and you’ll see it can be done, and done well.

• I received a rejection yesterday, my first real, form-letter rejection since I began sending out my work again. I’ve also received a nice email rejection, which didn’t feel like a rejection at all, since the editor of the mag wrote to tell me my story had been on their short list for the issue.  I don’t have to point out, I don’t think, that the latter is preferable to the former. Still, I prefer the resolution to the waiting, and so the form letter was not unwelcome. It just was.

• On a related note, I submitted the same story to a magazine that promised a response by a particular date. The date came and went, and so I visited their web site and discovered that they are suddenly and unexpectedly closed to new submissions, and had to cancel their spring fiction contest (and are returning entrants’ fees). Also on their web site: a “job” listing for fiction and nonfiction editors (I use quotes because the positions are volunteer – no pay). I had sent my story as a general submission, not for the contest, and so my assumption is that now the story is in indefinite limbo while the magazine finds new editors and solves whatever problems led to the departure of the previous editors. Has anyone encountered this kind of situation before? It reminds me of another strange lit mag interaction I had a while ago, when I received a letter from the (fairly prominent) magazine saying that one of their readers had run off with a batch of submissions and mine was among them. I used to get really demoralized by such things, but now I just feel like shrugging and submitting elsewhere.

• I read Joyce Carol Oates’ short story, “I.D.” (full text online) in a recent issue of the New Yorker, and it was not an enjoyable experience. I’m not saying the story was bad — on the contrary. But it was not enjoyable. Oates’ ability to inhabit the minds of teen girls in wretched situations blows my mind. But the resulting stories are always so, so unsettling. As in, not recommended before bedtime.

• I have two writing-related educational experiences coming up that I am very much looking forward to. I will say more about them when they happen. For now, I’ll just say that I feel very lucky to have an encouraging spouse who is willing to take on some extra hours (or days, as the case may be) with our son so that I can better my writing and be inspired by other writers.

Have a lovely weekend.

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5 thoughts on “a Friday hodgepodge

  1. One rejection is nothing! And Annie Dillard’s memoir sounds great, although if she weren’t already famous, I bet that memoir would be hard to sell. Sadly, it seems these days you need to be famous or have some crazy/tragic story to get your memoir published. I didn’t read the Oates story, and I don’t think I’ll bother now :)

  2. Elizabeth, we certainly do read the same writers…at exactly the same time! Ron Carlson Writes a Story is on my desk right now. I read it in January of 2008 but just had a workshop with Ron and wanted to write a post on it. Also just finished Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Although I’m not as big on nature as she is, there is some powerful writing there. Since my blog is named for a passage of hers from The Writing Life, I’d like to work my way through all of her writing. Next up–The Maytrees!

    And hi to Richard Gilbert–fun to see you here!

  3. Great inspirint post! I’d seen the JCOates story on the NewYorker website and after a very effective and depressing collection of horror short stories on girls, I’ll pass this time. But I chose the Junot Diaz story instead and it was really something new to me.
    You got me checking on my library catalogue if they have any Dillard. I want to give it a try, it sounds good!

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