Strangelove, MA or: How I Learned to Start Worrying And Hate Bookstores

My dear friend Lara has written a novel called The Hero. You should go to her blog and read about it, because years from now, when reading it in school traumatizes your teenage children, you can smile and say, “I knew about that book before it was even published!” At which point they will sneer and say something teenagey like “yeah, you say the same thing about the Bible, too!” and go back to ignoring you. But, anyway, the point is your children will be traumatized, and you can gloat a little in the fact that you saw it coming before almost anybody else did.

Yesterday, Lara announced that she’d signed with a literary agent for herself and said novel, which is a huge step in attaining that mythic status of “published author,” and also a huge step in traumatizing your future teenagers. On a completely related note, Oline, the God the Daughter of the Unholy Trinity of the Naked Lady Bar Writing Circle (I am God the Father, the Dane is the Spirit) announced that she, too, has a piece to be published in the lit journal Line Zero.

This is all very exciting news. Honestly, I’m almost as excited as if it were me who had an agent or had an essay about to be published (almost). I am also, of course, exceedingly jealous. But in a way that makes me proud of them, makes me proud of having critiqued both pieces, makes me want to hold my own feet over the fire and get my own work done, and submitted, and published.

Lara and Oline both deserve it. They worked hard to take whip their writing into shape, to turn promising ideas into actual working prose. They have busted ass. They knew they had to.

It’s only been lately that I have begun to appreciate how much busted ass is necessary to getting published. For a long time, I fancied myself a writer but didn’t actually do any damn thing about it. Oh, yes, I wrote a Civil War novel in college (this is more or less obligatory for all young Southern writers) but it was terrible and God willing, it has been vanquished at last and forevermore from this earth.

Mostly I’d just think about all the brilliant novels I was going to write. I’d map out the plots and characters (and book covers and critical praise and Norton’s Anthology introductions) in my head, but rarely did pen touch paper. Every now and then inspiration would strike and I’d jot down a scene or two. A few novels even got under way. The Splendor and the Sadness. Stella Maris. Ghosts in the Grass. Isis. Neon Sun. The Shallow Sea. But I abandoned them all. Some out of loss of interest. Some because they required too much research. And one because it broke my heart.

I used to wander around bookstores happily, imagining how nice it would be one day when my brilliant books were up there. And I knew I’d started to become more serious about actually writing stuff when that sensation disappeared. Now I honestly find bookstores kind of painful. I still love books with all heart, but it’s hard now staring down those endless shelves and realizing that not only are none of my books up there, but I don’t even have a book to put up there. Not yet.

When I started writing Kumiko, I had this strange sense that this was it. This was my last chance. If I didn’t finish it, I’d never finish anything. That’s been my mantra for a year and a half. Even when I wanted to abandon the book, I couldn’t. If I abandon it, I abandon everything. I know that in my bones.

It helps that I’ve had people like Lara, Oline, Doug, and a few others reading and critiquing chapters. There’s been structure and feedback and that’s made all the difference. It helps immensely that I have this blog and that you’re reading it and giving me feedback. So, thank you for that. It means more to me than you know.

Still, I have not busted ass as much as I should on the novel. After a year and a half, there should be at least a dozen busted-ass asses lying around, but I’ve only busted seven or so.

But I’m getting there, and a big part of getting there was taking my friends’ critiques and experiences to heart. Part of it, too, is knowing you need to bust ass and the biggest ass you’ve got to bust is your own. I’ve gone through two drafts of Kumiko and only now do I know what the plot is. Who the characters are. Where we’re ending up. The first line, “the girl with eight eyes sat at the back of the classroom” is the same, but almost everything after is different. Only now am I really ready to trim the fat, get the prose and plot in shape. Like Kumiko herself (in the book, she’s a 15-year old girl turning into a spider), I’m getting adept at peeling back dead skin to see the beautiful monster beneath.

Last year, Lara declared that “this year is the year we’re getting published.” She was right about herself, right about Oline. Maybe right about me, too, hopefully, please please please, if the magazines and journals I’ve submitted to print my stuff. Maybe the novel, too, if I really get down to business and start busting those asses.

Lara was right about her writing, right about Oline’s. It worked for her. So, now let my make my own prediction, my own promise, for me, and for everyone else reading this who writes.

This is the year we’re going to get published.

For me, this is the year I finish Kumiko. This is the year it takes the huge step toward getting published–a huge step that ultimately ends with it, years from now, traumatizing the hell out of your children. I promise you that.

3 thoughts on “Strangelove, MA or: How I Learned to Start Worrying And Hate Bookstores

  1. Godspeed. Or perhaps Godstick-to-it-ness? Godbustthatass? We’re all behind you. Not literally as that would be kind of creepy. But you know. Figuratively.

    1. Great post, my friend. First of all, I am ALWAYS right, so when I say that this is the year we are getting published, I do mean WE. What I’ve read of Kumiko is special and important and deserves to be up on that bookshelf of that bookstore. Second of all, you are SO not alone. I had the same feeling about The Hero. The “if i don’t finish this, i’ll never finish anything” feeling kept me going even when I didn’t think I could. That feeling is quite the motivator 🙂 Also, your willingness to read and critique the book, and your support, have been a huge part of helping me get this stupid book written. I hope I can be half as supportive to you, in return. And I CAN’T WAIT for your “how i got my agent” post, because it’s coming this year, and it’s going to be a damn good one.

  2. i think the jealousy is the key ingredient here. it seems to mix with the incredible excitement and help us actually pull our feet out of the fire and get things done. we could go all thom kinkade and call it “community,” but regardless, thanks in large part to it and a hell of a lot of hard work, this IS the year we’re going to get published. all of us.

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