Thanks to Stephanie Wytovich, amazing horror writer – she is on the Bram Stoker finalist ballot this year for her poetry book, Brothel – for taking the time to interview me today on apocalypses, my new book Field Guide to the End of the World, my thoughts on the future of science fiction, and advice for writers (spoiler alert: stay weird!)
I have to say I have found the horror writing community to be so warm and welcoming, especially for such a spooky and scary genre! Stephanie is a great example, as are the writers in the local Seattle chapter I’ve met with. I’m very happy I joined the Horror Writers Association last year and encourage other poets to do the same!
Also, I was super touched that my local library tweeted about my new book yesterday:
— King County Library (@KCLS) March 23, 2017
KCLS is one of the best library systems I’ve every belonged to (and I’ve belonged to libraries since my mom first got me a card at 6!) I really appreciate their support of local writers!
First, thanks so much to The Pedestal and Stephanie Chan for this excellent, thoughtful review of Field Guide to the End of the World. Here’s a little bit from the end of the review:
She makes the end of the world strangely relatable, filled with details of normalcy that have been flipped on their heads. Field Guide to the End of the World feels very much like a collection of postcards, poems sent from a series of desolate vacation spots, each inscribed “Wish you were here”—with romantic nostalgia for a future that may or may not come to be.”
(If you’d like to purchase a signed copy of Field Guide to the End of the World, you can do so here! And here it is on Amazon in case you’re just dying to write your own review 🙂 Did I mention I’m in the middle of revising and trying to finish my PR for Poets book? I’ve re-organized it into more bite-size chapters and interview tips, and So I thought I’d practice a little of what I’ve been writing about.)
Had a bit of a hard week with the aftermath of more medical testing – I’ve got a couple more important ones to do, then hope I can get a break for a while, as in, no results will be worrisome and require even worse follow-up testing. And at the end of the month, a new Aimee Mann album drops – “Mental Illness,” so I’ve got that to look forward to!
Today’s the first day of spring, and yesterday we had actual sunshine (after two months of record cold and wet) so I went out hunting for signs of spring. Nothing in my own garden is blooming yet, but we put roses, blueberries, and sweet peas in the ground anyway. Here are a signs of spring from all around town…plum blossoms, camellias, and other early blooms:
Success, Ambition, and the Body: How Do We Define Success as Writers? And What Do We Do When Circumstances Defy our Expectations?
I am staring down my 44th birthday next month, in the middle of a bunch of medical testing I had to put off while I was sick the previous couple of months. I have noticed that many of my conversations with friends lately – younger friends in their twenties and early thirties, older friends in their mid-fifties and sixties – are about whether or not we are feeling successful in our lives as writers.
What does success mean to us? Is it a full-time, tenure-track teaching job (I used to think so!) What about getting an NEA grant? (Though now, after seeing the Trump budget proposal which I dearly hope will be turned down by Congress, the NEA may in fact disappear, so,…) What about getting a poem published in a dream publication? What about getting your first book published? What about your second? What gives you happiness and satisfaction in your work? Would a MacArthur Genius Grant make you feel happy with what you have done, or would it drive you to work harder? Do you just want to get paid enough to cover rent and food?
I asked this question of Facebook and got a myriad of answers from writers just starting out and writers who have several of the accomplishments I’ve listed above. (You can check out the thread here at this link, I think: https://www.facebook.com/webbish6/posts/10155904705729951)
You can see that success, satisfaction, happiness with your work on a writer can be hard to define, can be a moving target, and can often feel like it depends on external factors we cannot control.
I was talking to a writer friend of mine who, like me, is often limited in her drive to succeed by what her body is able to do (or is not able to do.) I had to turn down a reading visit I dearly wanted to do next month because I have been so sick this year and I was worried the travel would send me back to the hospital. When I have to do stuff like that, it feels like crap. I feel like a failure. Though I know I can do a Skype visit (which I love! And thank goodness for technology!) I miss the in person visiting. I’m one of those writers who actually likes being around people – other writers, students, etc.
When I consider applying for full-time jobs I’m worried my body would not be able to handle…but on some days when I feel optimistic, I feel like I could do…when I wonder if I’m letting down my publishers by not traveling more to promote my books, or skipping AWP… I’m running into the problem of drive versus limitation. My friend whose been laid off from her job of twenty years and is stressed out looking for something new, or my friend who’s looking for her first job that can sustain her financially – they are also running into limitations, different ones. Our lives are defying our ambition, our plans for success, our road to what a writer is supposed to be able to do and be.
I wrote last year when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer that I was happy with what I’ve accomplished so far in life, and you know what? That’s still mostly true. I’ve been Poet Laureate of my city, I’ve published five books, all with publishers I consider friends. I’ve published in a few “dream” publications. But now that I’m looking at the possibility of a little more time, and the possibility of being slightly more mobile (I’m mostly not in a wheelchair or on a cane right now, due to 6 grueling years of twice-weekly physical therapy for neurological issues) it feels like I SHOULD be doing more than I am. But I’m still worn out, the cancer tests keep going, my immune system has been a big FAIL for three months. I’m grateful that I may not be facing death in six months. But I’m also anxious about what I should be doing in the meantime.
Last night I turned in two articles, turned in the judging of a poetry contest, and finished my first organized draft of what will become my sixth book eventually (possible titles: Post-Life? Sitting by Yourself at the End of the World? Self-Portrait as Accident?) and am thinking of what I can do to help promote Field Guide to the End of the World that I’m not already doing. And you know, today, I’m getting ready to go undergo more tests at a medical office which will take a couple of hours, and I’m like – can I get a submission in? Or write a new poem?
My ideas about what I expect for my life are different now, my ideas about what success as a writer consists of has changed. Sure, I would love a part-time job I could actually do from home, I would love a best-selling book or more prestigious book reviews or an award for Field Guide to the End of the World, I would love an unexpected award or fellowship out of nowhere, but I’m thankful for what I do have: a whole bunch of poems I’m pretty proud of, a great bunch of writer friends around the globe who are supportive and helpful when I need it, a spouse who values the work I do (even when it doesn’t bring in the kind of money I’d like it to.) I am thankful for today, which I would usually classify as a “bad day,” as it involved a company coming to cut down one of my backyard trees, a birch that’s gotten infested with birch beetles, which was sad, the news about Trump wanting to cut Meals on Wheels, which at least several of my house-bound relatives are reliant on, the NEA, and PBS, and the aforementioned several-hour-long medical testing. But the sun shone a little today, I made plans about new things to plant, and when I get home, I’m going to make more plans, submission and writing plans. That’s what we do to truly succeed as writers: we hold on to hope, we plant seeds, we try again. We keep writing.
Today is the 20th anniversary of the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn’t catch a Buffy episode until the end of Season 2, and I was instantly hooked. That when I was (over)working as a Capital One Media Manager in my early twenties. So Buffy was entirely a thing of my adult life, not my teenage life, which was too bad. I mean, I did have Daria during high school (the original MTV version with original music – so much better than the edited/without music episodes you can see now) but it would have been nice to have a dose of kick-ass girl power in those days.
So here’s my poem, from Becoming the Villainess, that was meant to immortalize my version of Buffy, “The Slayer Asks for Time Off.”
I’m thinking there’s a segue-way here about survival and weariness, what with Buffy and Joan of Arc and what this year so far has felt all about. The worst winter in the Northwest in history? Check. The government’s extreme chaos? Check. Health stuff? Yep, I’ve been sick in one way or another almost every day since the year started. Today there was a brief window of grayish sunlight. I took a walk at a nearby winery where there was no hint of spring yet – the vines had no visible greenery, no flowers, the ducks (wood ducks, mergansers, buffleheads, Canadian geese, etc) were huddled together against the wind. As I was walking along a path, a whorl of wind picked up around me, raising leaves – that I previously hadn’t even seen on the ground – up into the air around me, along with a cacophonous murder of crows. It was like a magical moment when a teen witch discovers her powers, except it was just me, and the weird wind.
It’s a struggle, sometimes, to feel like the heroine of your own life. It feels like there is only more evil to confront, more tasks that seem insurmountable, more problems to figure. When the weather and the news and your body conspire against you to make you miserable, we are required to look beyond the moment, beyond the cold wind and the crowds, to a future where flowers and abundance and health and happiness seem possible again. Most of us are required, sometimes, to fight battles that no one else will ever understand or know about. We feel alone. We feel helpless or overwhelmed. When it feels like we have nothing, we still have ourselves, the mysterious power of hope and even sometimes love. Our resources are larger than our enemies imagine. We must become our own magic.
Hailstorms, HWA Bram Stoker Award Finalist for Field Guide, Elgin Award Nominations, and Tapping into February Despair for Positive Actions
Woke up to hailstorms (second day in a row) and a little good news: Field Guide to the End of the World made it to the finalist round in the HWA’s Bram Stoker Award! Hooray!
It’s also been nominated for this year’s Elgin Award! Thank you to those who nominated it!
So if you’re a voter in either the HWA or the SFPA but have yet to see Field Guide to the End of the World for yourself, there’s a special link here where you can download the PDF. Every vote helps! Just like in real life 🙂 Also, if you’ve read it and liked it, please put a review up on Amazon! I’d really love to see at least ten reviews up there!
February Despair, and How to Channel It
So, it’s February, and the weather’s been dreary, wetter and colder than usual, I’ve been sick for the majority of the month (it also hit my normally healthy husband) and then I knocked a tooth out Monday night which resulted in my very first crown (so $$$!) and Glenn needed thumb surgery after a kitchen accident. The news of course has been horrifying (people being asked for their papers before they’re able to get off planes; people being picked up in the middle of the night, burning the Standing Rock camp, The EPA/Russia stuff, Arizona deciding it can take your house if you plan a protest, in case you missed any of that fun.) If I check back on my blog in years past in February though, chances are I’ll be blogging about discouragement, depression, and despair, because February is the month of giving up/getting sick in the Northwest. This year everyone else across the country has been getting sunny, warm, spring-like weather, and I also had to miss AWP, which sort of made it worse! Anywhere but here…although since I’ve lived in so many places I know intellectually that each place has a downside, that this feeling will pass, that I’ll love the Northwest again (but not as long as snow is in the dang forecast! Come on, spring!)
But how to turn this February despair into something positive? Well, since I’ve been stuck at home for the most part, we’ve gotten started on the taxes, I’ve gotten started on two new articles for Poet’s Market, and I’ve been hard at work on an editing pass on the PR for Poets book, which I realized was in worse shape than I thought and needed tons more work. Isn’t that always the way? You’re so proud of yourself on the first draft, and then you look at it a few months later on the editing pass, and you’re like: “What was I thinking? This all needs to be re-written!” I’m also working on a full-length new manuscript of poetry (title still undetermined), which somehow has found itself put together since January, and I’ve been working on it a little at a time. Plus calling and writing my representatives about the various nightmare political stuff. So, to recap: being disgustingly sick and fairly discouraged/down but trying to channel this into making things better. At least when I’m not so sick I can’t even sit up or focus on the computer, which has been a good amount of time!
Sometimes being chronically ill makes me hibernate, though I’m more outgoing in nature than most writers. You just 1. want to avoid germs, either getting or spreading them 2. don’t feel you have the energy (See: The Spoon Theory from “But You Don’t Look Sick”) and 3. tend to have a more pessimistic outlook when your body physically hurts. I need to make more of an effort to socialize, to get out when I can, because we really do have a lovely poetry community here. And I found out we’re about to get our very own independent bookstore nearby in Redmond Town Center called Bricks and Mortar Books. It opens in May, and I’m excited about that! Nothing is more demoralizing than having to drive 45 minutes and pay a bridge toll to get to an indie bookstore! I will also make an effort to be a bit more active on social media until the weather turns better/my health improves. At least I can contribute that way and it’s very difficult to give anyone the flu through e-mail or the phone. Anyway, if I owe you an e-mail or phone call, please don’t hesitate to bother me!
Happy Valentine’s During an Apocalypse! And More Disturbing Things: AWP Disability, Politics, V-Day Bronchitis, and Fighting For the Right Mindset
Hey kids! Does it feel like the apocalypse yet? How do I wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day today? How about a poem, “Post-Apocalypse Postcard (with Love Note,)” from Field Guide to the End of the World?
My playlist today? “We Found Love (in a Hopeless Place)” by Rihanna. “Love Love Love” by Avalanche City. “Wish That You Were Here” by Florence & the Machine. I recommend you play all three while reading this post!
Struggling with Mindset, Mid-February
I’m feeling a little down lately. Partly because I am really sick again, this time with pretty bad bronchitis and a sinus thing, and it’s hard to be cheerful when you’re sick. Partly because 1. I missed AWP (by the way, if you picked up either Field Guide to the End of the World or The Robot Scientist’s Daughter at AWP and post a picture for me, I’d be really grateful and mail you some swag if you want!) and 2. I heard from so many friends with disabilities that this AWP did a terrible job with accessibility (a disability caucus that required stairs? Non-accessible Accessibility Desk? Power doors that didn’t work? A lukewarm response to these problems from those in charge?) and that makes me very nervous about attending in the future, as I am mildly disabled due to those pesky neural lesions I sometimes talk about. (Sandra Beasley has a more encompassing post about this issue here.) It’s just a reminder that some things should change, but don’t. Speaking of that…
Then, you know, politics has invaded my dreams. I have actual nightmares about it almost every night. A person in charge of national security stepped down today because of possible treasonous dealings with Russia,and Trump blithely does his nuclear strategy talks in front of tourists at Mar-a-Lago. This President and his dirty team are sure unfun to watch, and I am ashamed of the Congressional Republicans unwilling to do anything about it. I used to be proud of my country. Now I feel less so, and this does not make me happy. Meanwhile, a dam actually burst in northern CA yesterday, a literal symbol of our country’s crumbling infrastructure (don’t worry, I’m sure a ton of stuff built in the sixties and seventies is in great shape! But a lot maybe isn’t! Including a lot of important stuff, like nuclear waste storage. Concrete fails after a certain amount of time…)
I also lost a beloved Uncle this week, and won’t be able to travel for the funeral – it’s on the East Coast and I’ve been given strict orders for some bedrest til I’m better so this bronchitis doesn’t turn to pneumonia again, as it did last September. He was really a lovely guy and his wife, my Aunt Charlotte, is one of my favorite people. I’m very sorry not to be there for them right now.
So I’m struggling to keep up a cheerful mindset on today, this pink-tinged holiday. I’m also attempting to write two articles, working on the edits of PR for Poets book draft that’s going way more slowly than I was hoping, and worrying that Field Guide to the End of the World isn’t selling well enough or I’m not doing enough for it because I’ve been sick pretty much the entire winter or that it hasn’t gotten enough reviews. (By the way, if you’re interested in reviewing, even just on Amazon, please let me know! PDFs are available!)
As far as writing, I’ve been writing up a storm, it seems – that day of the superbowl, I put together a first draft of my sixth poetry manuscript, and was surprised to find 50 pages there. The poems are pretty stark – cancer, of course, and death are pretty consistent themes, since those are pretty much what I was thinking about for the last year. I remember, too, it was last February around this time Glenn took me to the ER for what turned out to be food poisoning but could have been appendicitis, and then the scans turned up the liver tumors that were diagnosed then and there as terminal metastasized cancer. I got an MRA (a kind of specialized MRI) for my brain lesions last week and am awaiting more blood work for cancer markers this week (or whenever I’m up to a trip to the lab!) This kind of thing does not, just FYI, make you feel better or more cheerful. Spending a lot of time in medical offices lately – always a recipe for less cheerfulness. I tell people that having chronic health issues is a full-time job, and I am not kidding – it literally takes all the energy, time, planning, intellectual and social skills that a job does.
Meanwhile, Glenn is making a fancy Valentine’s dinner for us tonight (despite the fact that I can only sort of taste food right now) and my kitten Sylvia is snuggling fluffy by my side in bed. When I get better I’ll get to planting some blueberries and roses now that the snow (!) has melted and the weather has gotten back to somewhat normal temperatures for this time of year. I have things to be thankful for. But I’ll admit to struggling a bit with mindset and keeping a mind that isn’t filled with catastrophe. I try not to watch the news – I literally absorb too much of it without even trying, on Facebook and Twitter, and when I glance at BBC’s site each morning. “I can’t fix everything, I can’t even fix myself” says my internal voice. I try to do things that feel like they might have a positive effect on the world, on the people around me. Maybe right now that’s the best I can do: rest, restore, do what I can. So here’s wishing you Love in a Hopeless Place this Valentine’s Day. (Thanks Rihanna!)
Snow Days, AWP madness – tips for surviving AWP and surviving NOT going to AWP, TAB literary journal. and More
I’m writing to you from snowy – yes, snowy Seattle!
It’s AWP week and that means madness for many writers! I’m missing this year’s conference, but since this is the first AWP appearance for my latest book…here’s where to find it!
Field Guide to the End of the World at Moon City Press at AWP – 125-T
And my previous book from Mayapple Press:
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter will be at the SPD/CLMP table at 616/618
Tips for Surviving and Thriving at AWP:
DC is an amazing beautiful city, so I hope you guys will enjoy the city and enjoy hanging out with each other in the scramble. My tips include: leaving the conference at least once to check out DC’s amazing museums (most of them free!), shops, and restaurants. Also, drink more water than you think you need to. Pack for emergencies (extra medications, cold/stomach meds, maybe one of those instant ice packs) and leave space for packing books (unless you plan to ship them home – if you carry USPS priority boxes with you, with the printed out labels of your home/office, you can ship books straight back from the hotel instead of lugging them.) Extra lip balm. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous – if you get invited out with great writers, go! Go to the party you happen to be invited to. Take a break if you need to (and I know a lot of us introvert/extrovert writer types need breaks to stay sane!) Don’t schedule out too much stuff, so you can have room for the surprises. Remember you have a responsibility to tell all of us who weren’t able to go all the best anecdotes when you get back!
Sandra Beasley has some good tips for you if you’re attending the DC AWP here.
I received the beautiful, design-intensive contributor’s copy of the literary journal TAB, edited by Dr. Anna Leahy (which you can also pick up at AWP!) I have two poems in one of the smaller booklets – and there are multiple booklets in this issue. Here’s what a sample page looks like, to give you an idea of the intense design elements of this journal:
Tips for Surviving NOT Going to AWP
I always like to have tips for people not attending AWP so they don’t feel like they’re entirely missing out. Of course you can follow #awp17 on Twitter or your friends on Facebook who are attending. But don’t sit around wistfully following social media. Here are some ways to build up your literary, community, wherever you are:
–Subscribe to a literary journal that’s new to you and read Poets & Writers or The Writer’s Chronicle all the way through.
–Go to your local bookstore with a decent poetry section and pick up a book just because you like the cover. Bonus points if it’s from a publisher you haven’t heard of yet. I’m planning a visit to our local poetry-only bookstore, Open Books, to get my new book fix.
–Go to a reading. Call a literary friend on the phone or arrange to get coffee. Actual physical interaction for writers can be a wonderful thing! (I was lucky enough to get together with a couple of writer friends over the last week or so, and it was immeasurably cheering!)
–Be a little bit more of a literary activist than usual. It’s easy to get stuck in our routines, but dedicate some extra time this week. Write, submit, research, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads or for a literary magazine, and network. Write an enthusiastic e-mail to a writer you admire but have never met. Many of us could be WAY more active in our literary worlds than we are, and make a difference.
And just remember: you can practice eating too little, drinking too much and getting sleep deprived right in the comfort of your own home. and see how it affects your writing 😉 Seriously though, keep up your writing and submitting while you’re missing the big conference. You will feel more accomplished at the end of three days!
Thanks to Diode for publishing three of my poems in their excellent and apocalypse-tinged 10th Anniversary Issue. You’ll find great poets in the issue, including lots of my friends, so be sure to check out the whole thing!
Many items in the news today made me think about how we survive. How we humans have survived genocide, wars, mass shootings, nuclear accidents, dictators, plagues, and we will also survive the Ugly Man and his reign of idiocy and bigotry. America will survive. But it made me think that this thing, America, is partly made of us, so we must all do what we can do make it the best place possible, to not wipe out hopes for immigrants, or the downtrodden, or the poor. That we must reach out to others as much as possible. That we must participate in the political system, or the political system will make short work of us. It’s a grim time, I think, one that will go down in history as dark and hostile, adding the Ugly Man to the list of Presidents who committed terrible atrocities – like how FDR turned away the Jewish refugees during the Holocaust – including Anne Frank and family, who were denied refugee status – because of the claim that Jewish people were spies for the Germans, or how he also locked up innocent Japanese citizens in camps. or how Andrew Jackson mass murdered the original occupants of America. But when bad things happen in America – when a bad, stupid man runs the country without anyone stopping him – it takes ordinary human beings, like us, standing up and demanding justice. It’s hard to stay involved. I mean, protests are great, but writing and calling your Senators is great too, maybe more important, donating money to good charitable causes – environmental and women’s causes spring to mind, but there are many more that the Ugly Man will make important – and being sure to vote when you can vote. These are difficult times. But we can still make a difference, so don’t give up.
And here are some nature photos from this last bleak week of January in the Seattle area – a sunrise and a creek with a windmill.
With that in mind, here’s a little poem for the day from Field Guide to the End of the World, “Lessons in Emergency,” which first appeared in The Atticus Review.
Thanks to Fiction Southeast who published my flash fiction piece, “Post-Apocalypse Postcard from an Appalachian Chalet.”
AWP is coming! I’m not able to attend in DC this year, but if you are, keep an eye out for Moon City Press/Moon City Review’s table (they will have copies of Field Guide to the End of the World for sale) and for Mayapple Press who will be carrying copies of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. I’ll be with you all in spirit! It’s a weird time for a trip to DC in some ways, isn’t it? This is the first time in some years I’ve called Senators offices and spoke to people in the different departments of my own government. Which is something important to remember – this is still OUR government. We still have a voice, and we have to insist on making it heard. We can still vote people in and out in two years. Are you going to AWP this year? If so, what are you looking forward to? Are you going to do anything political while you’re there? Besides politics, DC has lovely museums (many of which are free!) and parks, great restaurants, although the mood these days may be gloomier than it was when I lived nearby in Northern VA in the old Clinton days. Try to get away from the conference for a bit. There are waterfalls and horse-friendly mountains not that far from the city, and Georgetown and Dupont Circle are (I hope) still fun to browse around and check out. Busboys & Poets is a famous DC hangout for the literary-minded.
I just read an interesting book on writers and money called Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, with essays from Jonathon Franzen, Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, and a bunch of others. Not many poets in the collection, of course (what would we talk about in terms of money, I wonder?) It’s interesting to learn how people put together a living, or conversely, blow through 100K advances. (Those essays sort of made me grind my teeth.) Unsurprisingly, the most inspiring essay was by Roxane Gay, but they all had something to learn from.
I’m still not completely well, and the weather’s been colder than usual, which I’m sure has affected my outlook. Or maybe it’s just all the apocalyptic news we’ve had so far this year. January in the NW can have its own beauties – the sudden brief sunshine, the deer and rabbits (nibbling at my carefully planted tulips!), the flashes of bird wings, but mostly it’s a grey and gloomy time. I hope you guys will bring me all the good news from AWP when you get back!