Saturday, October 18, 2014

Count Down Day 23: Literary Agencies I Have Known and Cursed

I always thought I'd find a literary agent who would be my bestie forever and ever, but, alas, it didn't work out that way. In fact, I've had a series of ephemeral literary representatives who either I fired, or who left the business for a pregnancy, a retirement, a job in another field, a jazz career, or a prompt dismissal because she really hadn't agreed to be my agent in any official way, anyway. The latter is always the most heartbreaking: you work and work on the edits the agent offers and when you can't get it just so, they drop you like a hot potato. "Sorry, I just don't know how to go any further with this," or some such. The kiss off. But, what can you do? Most of these associations were tenuous at best. None of the agents were my BFF, and none of them will probably be that to me. I do still have Secret Agent Man still on my side for the non-fiction book I am writing, but that, too, is taking a long, long time, and who knows how patient he will be with me. Very, I hope.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Count Down Day 24--A Dose of What-Have-You for My Humble Novel

Q: How many journals/markets has your writing appeared in? Over what time period?
LROD: About a dozen when I was writing my second short story collection. I wrote my first collection of stories as a book and it got published when I was in my 20s, before I had a chance to send any of them out to be published in journals or magazines. One of those did get published in an anthology, but otherwise I didn't get started sending stories out for publication until I started writing my second collection (pretty much right away). I would say the best I did was win runner up in the Mississippi Review Fiction Prize, which came with publication, and finalist in the Iowa Review Fiction Prize, which did not come with anything. I won first place in the Seattle Review Fiction Prize ($500) and got the story published in the journal of course. I have also placed stories in a bunch of online journals that are very reputable. Interestingly, the collection (of which almost every single story is published in a journal, magazine, or review) has never gotten published as a book. Everyone said, "Write a novel!" Everyone did not mention how hard writing a novel is.  So it took quite a long time, but I would say I was writing and publishing stories in the late 90s and early millennial years. I was also writing essays simultaneously, and getting those published in anthologies and magazines. I have a collection of published essays, which also has not been published as a book. I'm not complaining though. My main thing for years has been the novel, so I'm very grateful it is going to be a book in the world so soon. When I look at it now; I see that it is really quite a humble little book, and that my expectations for it were grand and grandiose and arrogant.  Life provides the humility one needs, it seems. I got a good dose of it, and none to soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Count Down Day 25--Why No One Comments on My Blog

"Man, you're not getting no comments...what's up with that?" was a comment I received just a few days ago. This is from someone who had not been to LROD in about 6 years, according to his count. And, yes, it is true that 6 years ago I might get a hundred and one comments on one blog post, but those were the olden days. Now, there is mostly the sound of me typing and crickets chirping under the blog roll. In a way, though, this brings web-logging back to its ontological form, which is basically a diary for the one who is logging. And so I am not dismayed that most people are Twittering and Elloing and Chatting on Apps, rather than commenting on blogs. Personally, I appreciate the quiet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Count Down Day 26--What's The Real Deal With Me & Jacob Appel?

Jacob Appel is a prince among male writers. He is also prolific and smart and an interesting guy.  He is the second winner of the Golden Apple of Kindness, or GAK, Award here at LROD. I really have no particular deal with the fine fellow. I just noticed that every time I did not win a contest or award, he did! One day, I will sit at a bar and raise a full glass to the man; I'm pretty sure.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Count Down Day 27--My Obsession with Editor Rosemary Ahern

Q: Do you have any idea what happened to Rosemary Ahern? Has she ever contacted you about your good-natured "obsession" with her? 
A: My agent is friends with Rosemary Ahern, and when my novel was flailing last year, he and I conferred about my getting help from someone who has a publishing-view and could edit the book from that perspective. We came up with Ms. Ahern. It was a little awkward given my fantasy life about having her be my editor, but she claimed she really didn't get the whole blog thing I was doing about her.  I said it was all in good fun, and on the phone, I could hear her shrug. Not an issue.  Anyway, I paid her a bit of coinage to read my novel as it was then and to talk to me on the phone for an hour with high level notes about how to make the thing work.  She was brilliant and encouraging, and I have been in touch with her ever since via email. So, in a way, my little fantasy series (in which she coins a nickname for me as Doodles) turned out to be true, though not romantic.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Count Down: Day 28--Why I Have No MFA & Why It Doesn't Matter

Q. Have you ever considered getting an MFA? Why or why not?
LROD:  Ah...the dreaded MFA question! We have had some fun here on this topic, haven't we?  I never got an MFA. Instead I got a degree related to the kind of writing I do to make a living. A place where I worked paid for the graduate degree. My undergraduate degree, though, was in English Literature and Creative Writing. It used to be one of the few colleges with a workshop-style creative writing program, which has now been decimated by the new President of the college who is an economist and a boor. Shortly after I graduated from said college, I applied to Iowa and Brown, but got promptly rejected, so never applied anywhere else again. That just goes to show you how both arrogant and how insecure I was--a bad combination.  After my first book came out, a collection of stories, I started teaching here and there at some fine institutions as an adjunct instructor in English and in fiction writing, so I guess I never felt like not having an MFA was a deficit. I still managed to do what I wanted to do, and to gain the connections I needed by hook or by crook to get my work read. It probably would have been an easier road had I gotten accepted into one of those prestigious MFA programs, but I had to work full-time, and sadly no one was offering to pay my way or give me a nice juicy grant--those came much later. I could have gotten loans, I guess, but I'm more the nose-to-the-grindstone, earn-and save-money type of individual. (I've had jobs since I was 16 years old.)  I guess easy isn't exactly my modus operandi, anyway. So, no. No MFA.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Count Down: Day 29 and The Fictionalization of This Blog

Day 29....and counting.... 

Q. Have you read the book After The Workshop: A Memoir by Jack Hercules Sheahan: A Novel by John McNally, which seems to include a pretty strong reference to your blog? If so, what did you think?

LROD: Yeah. That novel came out a few years ago.  I am friends with the agent representing the book, who knows this is my blog, but we have never spoken about the fictionalization in his author's book about LROD.  I didn't really know what to make of it, so I never really commented on it. I suppose I should be flattered to make it into the literature, as they say.  I find it amusing, which is what I guess the author's intent is, though it seems slightly defensive too, like maybe he is still working out getting a thrashing here at LROD about his point of view on MFAs.  I do feel a little bad that there are people walking around in the world who have gotten thrashed because, as you know, I think politeness is underrated. That said, here is an excerpt of McNally's novel regarding LROD, so that you may judge for yourself:
A year ago, after a late night at the Foxhead, I made the mistake of pulling up a blog dedicated solely to rejections from literary magazines.  The site was called "Rejections Are My Heart Break and Misery," and each entry was about rigged contests or impersonal notes from agents who'd turned down the blogger's novel or the cruel wording of submission guidelines.  One blog entry that I had drunkenly stumbled onto happened to be about MFA programs, a subject that brought the loons out of their closets by the dozens.  Finally, they could rationalize their own lack of success by accusing publishers and writers of being part of a secret cabal, like Yale's Skull and Bones, that refused to let in anyone who didn't know the secret MFA handshake.  The comments on the blog came pouring in, one after the other, the sentiment being that MFA'ers were coddled, that they didn't know the real world, that they were handed book contracts and cushy teaching appointments upon graduation, that they came from privileged backgrounds.  The words "Ivory Tower" appeared again and again.  Although I couln't argue that my own publications weren't born of dubious circumstances, I foolishly decided to weigh in, letting everyone know that I had an MFA, from Iowa no less, and although most of my colleagues had come from backgrounds with money I certainly hadn't.  furthermore only a few of my classmates had received cushy teaching appointments after earning their diplomas; the vast majority pierced together work any way they could.  Lastly, only a modest percentage of my classmates had published books after graduation, and of those who did, only two had managed to achieve the kind of reputation where someone, somewhere, might actually have heard of him or her.     
"You're all so paranoid, I wrote. And then, for lack of a better closing, I wrote, "Good grief!"
I entered my comment, waited a few minutes, and refreshed the page. A man whose nom de blog was "Oscare Wilde and Crazy" responded to my comment with one word: "Bullshit."  
I wrote back, "Bullshit?"
 "I should kick your ass," Oscar Wilde and Crazy wrote. "You have an MFA from Iowa and you dare come here and chastise us? You're an asshole. Furthermore, I don't believe most of what you've written."
The anonymous blogger, who was known as RAMHAM (the acronym for the blog's name), moderated the comments with such speed that it was only natrual to assume that this person had nothing of import going on in his or her life.
"Now, now," RAMHAM wrote. "No name calling.  Keep it civil."
"Are you kidding me?" I wrote back to Oscar. "Why the hell would I be making this up? Who the fuck are you?"
"I know your kind," Oscar wrote.  "I live in Cedar Rapids. I see you Iowa snobs all the time.  You think your shit doesn't stink..."
"Now, now," RAMHAM chimed back in. "Remember what I told you." (p234)
 The novel goes on for a while with the fictionalized exchange. Then there is a section where the two commenting adversaries plan to meet one another at a local diner.  But the protagonist chickens out at the last minute upon seeing Oscar Wilde and Crazy and denies that he is the guy who agreed to meet. This prompts a tongue lashing on the comments section of RAMHAM, in which Oscar Wilde and Crazy calls the protagonist a "chickenshit mama's boy" and a "hack with an MFA."

You tell me: Should I be flattered or annoyed or simply amused?