And you sir, are no George

Bust of George Washington on display at the Museum of the Revolution in Philadelphia, said to be the closest resemblance in existence of the nation’s first president.

The father of our country has been getting a bit of bad press lately. There’s been chatter going around that he’s no different from General Robert E. Lee, saying they both were Southerners, they both owned slaves, they both revolted against an oppressive government. The chatter says if you’re tearing down monuments of Gen. Lee, you should also be pulling down monuments of Washington, as what’s the difference? They were both flawed men, both incited dissent and revolution, both, I don’t know–rode horses (thanks, Brian Williams). And if we want to be perfectly truthful, both were men of their times. But there’s a distinct difference that some don’t get. Or rather, refuse to acknowledge.

What Washington did, along with Jefferson and Franklin and Adams to name a few, was extraordinary in its audaciousness. They dared to propose a government not of kings but of laws, not of a hereditary monarchy but of the people. Of course it was exclusionary, but it allowed for evolution, to create a more perfect union, to strive for …the pursuit of happiness.  This American Revolution began even before Jefferson’s pen scratched out its principles, because it was so revolutionary in its thinking it instantly made obsolete every form of government before it. These men were not only of their time, but of the future. They envisioned a way forward, they dared to think that all men were created equal, even if all men at that time weren’t. But toward that more perfect union they marched, this government of laws that no man was above, in a sincere effort to get it right.

But Gen. Lee disagreed and led a march toward the past. He was defeated, as all backward thinking usually is. And in that, we find another truth.

We won’t go there again. We can’t. Because it’s not only in our nature to not go back, it’s in our collective DNA.  We’re still marching toward that more Perfect Union.

 

If I only had the time, sigh…

I read an article today in the New York Times by Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed about a woman who had a powerful dream one night about writing a book. The dream was so intense she awoke in tears, almost ready to quit her job and become a barista so she could pursue it. (Riiiight. Because that’s the path bestsellerdom, certainly more practical than getting an MFA and adjuncting yourself out as an English professor. But I digress.) Cheryl Strayed, who knows a thing or two about dropping out, acknowledged that dream may have been a kind of wake-up call, but also issued a few cautions. “Writing a book is drudgery,” she said. “It requires an apprenticeship. I suggest that you begin by doing it. Sign up for a workshop or take a vacation and spend it writing. See where that leads you. You don’t have to immediately quit your job to become a writer. You need only to start writing.”

Words never more true. You can’t call yourself a writer if you never write because writers write. I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “I’d write a book if I only had the time,” or “When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Yeah, because writers are really people with these friendless, vacant lives, and they only write to give themselves something to do besides watching The Bachelorette. (And no I didn’t.) Now, when I retire I’m going to preform brain surgery because you know, it’s the same kind of simple skill set. In my opinion, this type of thinking boils down to what many outside the profession believe: that writing is either something anyone can do if one could afford the leisure, or it’s this ephemeral kind of vocation that awards stardom upon completion of the inevitable masterwork. In reality, I hate to tell you, it’s usually neither.

But one thing I can say with absolute certainty is the writing life is just that. It’s like being being pregnant: you either are or you’re not. You can’t be kinda. When you’re in the life, it’s all-consuming. A work-in-progress is a cruel, unrelenting succubus (or incubus) that forgoes your loins for your every creative thought. It demands all of your time, whether working or driving or eating  or sleeping–it takes hold of both rational and irrational thought and doesn’t let go. It demands you set every word and impulse down by forcing you to confront the blank page, administering pain no opiate could numb, but rewarding you with a pleasure beyond sublime in the process.  But to be good at it, to be a success, it entails hours upon tens of hours of trial and error, the ability to withstand heaps and heaps of criticism, the tenacity to write the same passage a dozen times over, and the capacity to understand failure as a fact of any writer’s life.

In the end, if you have a hardened enough hide to spend hours in a chair, days without family, weekends forgoing anything social, and months and months of hurrying up to meet a deadline, only to spend an equal amount of time hearing nothing back, then maybe–just maybe you’re ready to wake up from that dream into a new reality. And take that job as a barista.

Hey, at least it has benefits.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Poor Yorick Journal

Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects brings back into light the skeletons hidden in our cultural closets.  The free online journal welcomes writing and other creative productions about lost objects and images of material culture: sculptures and paintings in the back rooms of museums or in hidden corners of public spaces; murals forgotten in plain view; lost photographic archives and restored films; newly discovered letters or manuscripts; knickknacks in attics; oddities and curiosities in misbegotten sideshows; forgotten stories that remind us of pasts that we cannot afford to forget.

Poor Yorick invites submissions in any and every literary genre and any electronically reproducible visual or audio medium.  In addition to open submissions, the journal’s editorial staff will occasionally identify a particular historical object, collection, exhibit, etc., and call for submissions inspired by the selected artifact or collection.

Poor Yorick evaluates submissions exclusively through our submissions manager, Submittable, which can be accessed here.  For more information, visit their submission guidelines page.

Congratulations! You’ve been rejected!

I know I’ve dealt with the subject of rejections before and although it’s hardly a happy topic, it is one of transition. Reality is a cruel mistress, and you can’t spin in the real world of writers if you’ve never been kicked to your ass a few times (or over a hundred like I’ve been, probably more, as I trust my agent to only give me the good news.) And you may as well face it now, snowflake, it’ll probably get a lot worse before it gets better. True, there’s always the case of the author whose first manuscript lands with the first agent they contact who sells it to the first editor. This happens. I know of a couple of cases myself. But the bald fact is the road to publication is pocked with a shit-ton of potholes. The trick is to learn how to veer around them and keep on going.

A fellow writer of mine got her very first rejection yesterday from an industry professional. She said although getting one made her sad, the agent gave her such detailed comments, she considered it good advice rather than criticism. It made her reconsider her characterization, as well as where the protagonist’s actions were leading the plot. And that in turn made her see her protagonist in a new light. I cautioned her that you don’t have to always agree with what an editor or an agent says as ultimately, you have the final say on what you write. But sometimes you can come so close to a work, especially after many revisions, you lose sight of the overall story arc. And I hate to say it but sometimes, unless that advice comes from an industry professional, you may not take those suggestions to heart. Often we will already have heard the same thing from a friend or beta-reader, but who listens to those? Unless, of course it’s effusive praise.  The other thing is–and you’ll often hear an agent or editor echoing this–all writing, as well as reading, is subjective. As what may seem phenomenal to you may just seem meh to an industry professional. As in the–REJECTION I JUST RECEIVED WHILE WRITING THIS!! My agent’s text:

Just got a decline from XXXXX <publisher>. <Editor> said you are very talented, but she didn’t fall in love with the story as much as she wanted to. Sorry.

Fuck. Fuckity-fuck fuck. But I’m not going to get upset. I’M NOT. Really and truly. <goes to retrieve big piece of 72% Belgian chocolate to salve wounded ego. Drinks big sip of water. Feels much better. Though has been known to lie on occasion.>

A-hem! Where was I? Oh yes, my self-fulfilling prophecy. Call me a duck, because you do have to let it slide off your back. At this moment I’m channeling James Lee Burke and his book The Lost Get Back Boogie that was rejected 111 times before it was eventually published, and even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hey, you got to find your inspiration somewhere.

Now get back to work.

Call for Proposals!

Liberty States Fiction Writers, a multi-genre fiction writing group meeting in New Jersey (and for whom yours truly is the Vice-President) has sent out a call for proposals for our annual Writers Conference. Have a workshop about the craft or business of writing? Maybe you have a fun filled idea for a readers track panel? Perhaps you have both? Then we want to hear from you!

The Liberty States Fiction Writers welcomes pre-published writers at all levels as well as e-published, indie press and traditionally published authors.

Yearly dues for new members are $50 and include attendance at monthly workshops, reduced conference rate, access to Members Only section with videos/podcasts of past workshops, monthly newsletters, promotional opportunities and more.

Our annual conference will take place at the The Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel in South Iselin, NJ March 24 – 25, 2018. Conference includes workshops, panels, editor and agent appointments, select meals, networking, book fair and more. Conference registration opens in September, though for more information about LSFW and on submitting your proposal now, go here. Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

Sex Scenes for Chicks 101

Out of all my posts, this one seems to be the most popular, as the hits have been innumerable. So here is my sagey-est of sage advice. Hope it helps!

Gwen Jones Writes

man-kissing-womanSex scenes are as integral to spicy romance as whipped cream is to sundaes (or to use-your-imagination), but quantity hardly speaks for quality. A proliferation of ins and outs and seductive banter are only the more apparent components of saucy scene-writing. Truth be told, there should be much more going on before the point of contact than during. A romance writer should never forget to keep an eye on the romance if she’s ever going to make the scene truly sensuous. So how to accomplish it?

Romance is mostly written by and for women, and because of that the prose has to be approached with their sensibilities in mind. Women take their cues from the images they form in their mind as their senses are acted upon, rather than visuals observed as men are more apt to do. This is the greatest difference I’ve noted between sex scenes written by…

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2017 Housatonic Book Awards Submissions Now Open

The MFA in Creative and Professional Writing (my alma mater) and its Alumni Cooperative is proud to open the 2017 submission period for the Housatonic Book Awards. Please read the guidelines below carefully and find our 2017 Entry Form Here or “Submit” page. You can also submit electronically by following the link to the left soon. We look forward to your work. The submission period ends on June 16, 2017.

The 2017 Housatonic Book Awards will be granted to full-length books published in the 2016 calendar year; the Award for Fiction will be open to titles published in 2015 and 2016.

Housatonic Award for Fiction (Genre Fiction for 2017)

Granted to a book of short or long fiction published in 2015 or 2016. The award alternates annually between literary fiction and genre fiction; the 2017 Award will go to a title categorized as genre fiction: mystery, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, etc. (as opposed to “literary” fiction). The Award carries a $1000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the January residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of January) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. To enter, either:

  1. a) send two copies of the book along with entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the entry form
  2. b) email a .pdf of the book to clementsb@wcsu.edu and mail the entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the form
  3. c) enter electronically at the Book Awards web site.

Deadline is June 16, 2017.

Click Here to view past winners.

Housatonic Award for Poetry

Granted to a book of poetry (at least 40 pages) published in 2016. The Award carries a $1000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the January residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of January) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. To enter, either:

  1. a) send two copies of the book along with entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the entry form
  2. b) email a .pdf of the book to clementsb@wcsu.edu and mail the entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the form
  3. c) enter electronically at the Book Awards web site.

Deadline is June 16, 2017.

Click Here to view past winners.

Housatonic Award for Nonfiction (Includes Creative Nonfiction)

Granted to a nonfiction book (including all subgenres—memoir, creative nonfiction, investigative and other varieties of journalism, travel, political, science, business communications, public relations, self help, etc.). The Award carries a $1000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the August residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of August) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. To enter, either:

  1. a) send two copies of the book along with entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the entry form
  2. b) email a .pdf of the book to clementsb@wcsu.edu and mail the entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the form
  3. c) enter electronically at the Book Awards web site.

Deadline is June 16, 2017.

Click Here to view past winners.

Housatonic Award for Writing for Middle Grades or Young Adults

Granted to a book of fiction or nonfiction for middle grade children or young adults. The Award carries a $1000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the August residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University (the first week of August) to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency. To enter, either:

  1. a) send two copies of the book along with entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the entry form
  2. b) email a .pdf of the book to clementsb@wcsu.edu and mail the entry form and a check for $25 to the address that appears on the form
  3. c) enter electronically at the Book Awards web site.

Deadline is June 16, 2017.

Click Here to view past winners.

Payment of Award

The $500 travel stipend will be paid before the end of 2017. The $1000 honorarium will be paid upon completion of the winner’s appearance at the designated residency of the WCSU MFA program.

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When do I give this shit up?

I must have asked myself that question a million times, and I keep asking it without getting any real answers. How many unanswered texts will I tolerate? When is one email too many? Should I call or shouldn’t I? Is ‘no news’ really ‘good news?’ How long is too long?  When do I stop soliciting advice and just fly on my intuition? Is it true I simply have to be patient? If that’s true then how long should I wait? Because when is enough actually enough?

To be a writer is to question your resolve over and over again. It goes along with questioning your ability, your stamina, your judgment, your self-esteem. You’re told you really can’t call yourself a writer until you start racking up the rejections, fill your inbox with humiliation, papering your wall with talent assessments from strangers. I once had an award-winning writer dress me down during a manuscript evaluation at a nationally renowned writers conference, literally screaming at me for wasting his time. “Who told you you could write!” he yelled at me, while I stared at him aghast and cowering, too flabbergasted to respond. At least my mind had the good sense to conjure up ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE! over and over again, but that didn’t stop me from fleeing to my room to collapse in teary self-doubt. Little did I know at the time that pre-published incident simply set the stage for more disappointment to come, more rejections, crappy sales, proposals that went nowhere, savage reader reviews. (A word of advice to newly published authors: stay away from Goodreads. The first glowing reader reviews will have you dancing on the ceiling. The first terrible ones will have you wanting to hang from it. Reviews are always subjective. If you want to read any, stick to the movies coming out this week.) Getting published doesn’t wash all the self-doubt away. It just ascends it to a professional level.

You wonder again and again why you do it. Why anyone would put themselves through such a wringer of scrutiny only to fall flat on their face 99% of the time.  You wonder as you work through the dark of the night, or amid the first shards of light before waking the kids, as you slip in your flash drive to write at your desk during lunch, or as you tap that perfect passage into your phone on the train ride home.  You wonder through the first chapters, through the call to adventure, the sagging middle, the dark moment, finding the elixir. Through that brief moment of absolute serendipity when you type THE END.   As you hit SEND to sail your query through to an agent’s website, as you approach an editor at your first pitch session, or tweet only the most essential 140 characters into  #MSWL. As you wade through the rejections, as you forget the last to go forward, as the law of averages and the law of even a blind chicken gets a piece of corn now and then, somehow you hear a click and there’s a request for more, then a proposal, then the whole manuscript, then–the unthinkable. Then all the planets line up and the sun finally comes out, and you find out that maybe, just maybe. Maybe you’ll get it right this time.

Then again, maybe you won’t. Maybe all the doom in the world will descend on you, you talentless guttersnipe, your presumptuous amateur, you hopeless fool. After all, who told you you could write?!

Then again, maybe you’re the only one in the world who doesn’t know you can. And then you do it anyway.

Seriously Snark

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