Category Archives: lit magazines

My Story at HOBART

Standard

My story, “Forensics & You,” just went live at HOBART today! If you have a few minutes today, please give it a read. I hope you enjoy!

http://www.hobartpulp.com/web_features/forensics-and-you

full_cropped_tumblr_mryko90XPH1rpbe3go7_1280

image: Carabella Sands

Writing is Thinking

Standard

As a writing instructor, I often wondered how my students had made it through high school with their limited writing skills. To me, their writing was an indication of the condition of their minds. In this digital age, many are losing the ability to communicate, and not just through writing. In a recent conversation with the principal at my daughter’s high school, she said some of her students can’t even talk face-to-face anymore. When she asked one to apologize to another, that student asked if she could text the apology instead.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, David McCullough said, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” His assertion is supported by modern psychology. If you’re interested in this, here’s an article by Keith Oatley and Maja Djikic from Psychology Today: “Writing is Thinking.”

When I came back to writing at the age of 28, I wanted so badly to be published. Now, I’ve never actually stopped writing. I churned out essays as an English major, but when I say I came back to writing, I mean stories and poetry. I grew up absent from my own childhood, preferring to create alternate worlds instead. I also read. A lot. I preferred the written word to the harsh reality of life in an unstable and abusive home. Probably what saved me was the ability to safely escape through books, and writing provided a way for me to order my thoughts and deal with things in a productive–rather than destructive–way.

Because writing came so naturally to me, I thought I would be published instantly. I was mistaken. I had to learn how to edit. I had to learn the meaning of revision. Re-vision: taking another look. Looking deeper. Reading as if you’re someone else. The words we find so pretty and perfect often fall short of our intentions. In my post about balance, I discussed how “most of the editing and revision process happens inside my head, before I even begin to write.” It hasn’t always been that way. I had to learn that writing is a process.ember cover

This week, I proofed my story, “Fear of Sudden Things,” for EMBER: A Journal of Luminous Things. [I should mention that I also read through most of the issue after I finished proofing mine. It is a beautiful publication–for younger readers, as well as adults–filled with magical illustrations, stories, and poems by talented artists and writers. It is worth a subscription, for sure. But, in the words of LeVar Burton, “you don’t have to take my word for it.” Check it out for yourself! You’ll be glad you did!]

As I read through my story, witnessing it in the digital form before it goes to the printer, my vision blurred from tears of sheer amazement. I wrote it close to 2 years ago. When I submitted, they accidentally rejected it. Then, a few months later, an editor contacted me and stated that Brian Lewis was asking about my story. They then realized their error. Laughing, I told them in my reply that things like this happen to only me.

I mention this because the story was rejected, then accepted back in March, and I am just now proofing it for publication. The entire process has taken 2 years. On Sunday, I received an acceptance from HOBART for my story, “Forensics and You.” I sent an immediate letter of gratitude and received an instant reply to proof the story, which will appear in the web edition on November 24th. I wrote this story last June.

Long story short: the entire process requires patience, faith, and an unbeatable confidence in your own ability. I cycle through loving, hating, doubting, and back again–even after publication. I worry that it’s never good enough. But this says more about the state of my mind than my writing. It’s determination to keep going that leads me to success. When Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try,” it’s obvious he wasn’t a writer. He was a Jedi Master. Sometimes trying is all we mere mortals can do. The rest is up to the editors, readers, agents, publishers, and whatever other employees handle our writing. I imagine the editors at PLOUGHSHARES sitting plumbers and cleaning ladies down at computers to filter through submissions. It’s probably a good practice. I mean, If plumbers and cleaning ladies actually want to read it, who wouldn’t?

What Are You Reading?

Standard

Though the words may differ, the advice is always the same: If you are a writer, you must also read–widely and often. Among my stacks of lit magazines, poetry collections, young adult novels, encyclopedias of paranormal/supernatural phenomenon, and geography/history resources are quite a few books on writing. I pulled these 4 to show you:

4 writing booksWriting from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice by Nancy Slonim Aronie (top left)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (top right)

Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood (bottom left)

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg (bottom right)

There are others–such as Stephen King’s On Writing and most of Janet Burroway’s guides on narrative craft–that I return to often. But these are the books I’ve heavily marked with scribbled notes in the margins and little fluorescent tabs sticking out the sides.

In Ms. Aronie’s Writing from the Heart, I like the practical exercises she prescribes.

Write about a lie you told. Do not soften the circumstances. Be tough but gentle. Be tough in writing the truth, but be gentle on yourself. You were just being human. Do you think you’re the only person who lied to get what you wanted?

Write about a lie that was told to you. (p. 72)

From Bird by Bird, Ms. Lamott tells us

One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around. (p. xii)

There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way. (p. 13)

In Negotiating with the Dead, Ms. Atwood lets us know that “it is artists who possess the secret identities, the secret powers, and — if posterity goes their way — the last laugh… As for artists who are also writers, they are doubles twice Writing Down the Bonestimes over, for the mere act of writing splits the self into two.” (p. 32)

As you can see from the picture to the right, my copy of Writing Down the Bones is dense with tabs. I read Ms. Goldberg’s book while riding the bus to David Zimmerman’s novel writing class one summer in grad school at Iowa State University. In addition to the assigned and workshop readings, I chose to dive into this book that was recommended to me by a professor while I was still an undergrad at Simpson College. I believe it was one of those situations where it meant more when I finally got around to reading it, more than if I had read it back then. As if the right time would present itself, like a chance encounter with a person who’d been placed in your life precisely when you needed them the most. Such is a good book.

In Writing Down the Bones, Ms. Goldberg discusses the way we have to distance ourselves from the place (be it a physical or an emotional state) we need to write about. She gives the following metaphor:

Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this “composting.” Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil. (p. 14)

While writing, I return to these works often, and I may mention them again here.

How about you? What are you reading? What gives you inspiration? Whose advice do you find yourself returning to, time and again?

Toxic Journals

Standard

You just finished months of writing, editing, and perfecting this miraculous creation. Then comes time for submitting–a daunting task. You find lit mag listings on Poets & WritersDuotrope, or NewPages. You write a beautifully crafted letter and attach it with your poem/story/essay. Then, you wait–checking every five minutes for a reply, logging in to various submission managers, hoping to decode Submittable’s mysterious status of “In Progress.” You hope for the best, but know those rejections are going to come in like dirty, shameful children, one right after the next.

But, alas! Some wonderful journal wants your piece! Someone really read your work, and they actually enjoyed it! Now they even want to PUBLISH it!

Hold on, honey! Before you accept, read this article from The Review Review. It’ll give you warning signs to steer you from a bad publication.

Toxic Journals: What to Watch Out For When You Submit Your Writing (Robert Boucheron)

~ Jennifer

**Feel free to comment on your experiences with ‘toxic journals’ in the comments. We’ll all benefit from each others misery.**

 

Reaching Out

Standard

I’ve been inspired by many wonderful contemporary poets, some only in the first stages of their careers–like me. I recently contacted many of them, along with some whose careers are established. To my surprise, everyone replied! Some were humbled by my note and all were delighted to hear I enjoyed their work. Both Eric Torgersen (author of the poem “Not Literature” in Pleiades, among many other works) and Joe Weil (whose Mar. 21 publication with Boston Review, “My Mother Reading in the Land of the Dead,” first compelled me to initiate contact with these writers) expressed relief that someone had read their poems. More partial to readings than publications, Joe said, “I like direct contact with an audience, and publication is often like putting a message in a bottle. You have no idea how the work is being received.”

I often wonder if anyone sees what I have published. I want to belong to a community of writers, but I have the problem Eric mentioned in his reply: “If you live in a somewhat out of the way place, it’s hard to sense that anybody out there is reading these things we put out.” I write for our local newspaper, and often get complimentary notes from loyal readers. With a limited readership, though, I want to reach a larger audience. I hope to impact fellow writers the way they have influenced me. In short, if you’ve read something I’ve written and either loved or hated it, please contact me. No writer wants to place their work in a bottle and sail it off to some unknown land without discovering who it actually reached. So let me know you’re out there reading away, and tell me about your journey of toil and creation.

~ Jennifer