Friday, September 05, 2008

September Sentiments/Georgia Review/Hillary, and I don't mean Clinton

SEPTEMBER. In the old days, September meant school, me walking out the door on Mayor Drive heading toward Calle Mayor K-8, and later in the opposite direction toward South High. Usually it was foggy in the morning living that close to the beach, only a mile away, and rarely hot in the AM, except of course, on those first days of classes. Record heat. Always.

I wanted to wear my new clothes, wool skirt, turtleneck, knees socks in high school, but on the occasions when I couldn't resist, I ended up feeling--and looking--like a Good Humor Bar left forgotten on the grass in the broil of August.

Eventually, September meant school for my kids, me driving carpool every third day, and dropping them off on Mentor. They wore uniforms, neat and tidy at 8:15, wrinkled and stained by 2:25 or whatever that odd pickup time was. And I ended up back at school too, teaching English, except the community college starts in August, dog-day hot, me wearing pants and a jacket despite discomfort because of my need to look professional--and vanity still intact--to look thinner.

But now, in September, no more school in my family, everyone launched in their own directions, so I stay home in shorts and tank-tops, no shoes for most of the day. I miss that old discipline, the preparation for a new year, new adventures, new successes and even new failures. The rhythm of September works if one can capture it, and that's what I'm going to try to do. I've been "lolly-gagging," my mother's word, and now it's time to work. September, hmmmm.

GEORGIA REVIEW. A couple of weeks ago someone I don't know left a comment on this blog. I'd written about submission season and my dilemma: What to work on, book or short stories? Organizing writing priorities is a problem for those who must also support themselves with day jobs and therefore can't spend full days over the computer. About the same time, Kev received some advice from one of his favorite authors who championed "the novel" because the readership of short stories is small. Here's one response to that discussion:
"What a sad approach: give up writing short stories on the chance of getting more readers and I suppose more money with novels. Then, when the novels don't work out, you can just give up writing, since apparently that wasn't what mattered in the first place. Shrink the artist's world; yes, that's just what's needed."

I don't know the author of the comment: Stephen Corey. I thought, hmm, isn't that the name of a short story or a poem? (Richard Cory is a poem) I googled it. And was shocked at what I saw! Stephen Corey turns out to be the editor of The Georgia Review, one of the holy grails for short story writers!! This man read MY blog?!? Holy ***t.

I sent Mr. Corey a note, thanking him for taking the time to comment, then I danced around the site and decided to order a recent copy of the mag and when it came, there was a note from him. He hopes that if I like what I see, I'll blog about the Review. Me!

I will, but first I must say it is a little intimidating. When I used to go to Iowa in the summer and spend hours with my buds at Prairie Lights, we'd order double-shot capuccinos and dig though lit mags for clues about how to turn readers on. One of those lit mags was The Georgia Review. Slick production, the cover satiny under fingertips, sophisticated art. And inside. Clear font on quality paper. Beautiful. It even smelled good. Sounds like I'm sucking up, doesn't it?

We writers know where the stories for the America's Best series come from, and we want those mags to publish us, and The Georgia Review debut their share, but in the new issue I received, there is only one fiction story. One. Lots of interesting articles, a feature about Richard Hugo, poems, essays, reviews, but only "The Color of Darkness" by Alexandre Mas with a killer first line: "Many years ago, when I was little more than a girl, my eyes failed me" made it in. What are the odds for writers to get into these quality lit magazines? I think I actually moaned. But...

That's the way it is. I've always accepted this fact. If an writer wants to make it at that level, then he or she has to be enormously talented and self-disciplined. Not one of those things, but both. It's a reality check, not a bad thing. However, typing this, I feel a little down, reminded that this is a big world filled with many, many talented writers all struggling to do the same thing. So what can I do to keep my heart in the game? Really? Read the best, learn from the best, and not think about the publishing side of the scoresheet. If I worry about the where, I will end up playing Spider Solitaire all day and sucking up episodes of Law and Order all night. After I read Mas' story, I'll report whether it blows me away or not.

HILLARY THE DAUGHTER. Today's final note is about my daughter, faithful reader, chief advisor, straight-talking editor for my stories. She never lets me down. She tells me exactly what works and what doesn't in my work in such an honest, compelling way, I can't afford not to listen to her. Since we share DNA, she seems to get what I'm going for even when what I've emailed her is an embryotic disaster. Thanks, Stalwart Hill. And Jane. You too, thanks, sis.

5 comments:

Shameless said...

You know, lately I'm sick to death of literary magazines.

I used to aspire to wrap up all my thoughts into obscure, pretty words that drew upon the classics, the form, the intent, the fragility and diamond-strength of language structure--I wanted to say something real, and touching.

THEN I realized that I also want to make money while I do that. Since I'd rather spend my days writing than working for some asshole company, and I wasn't born into an idly wealthy family, I have to write things that make money. I can still be real and touching, but include EVERYONE who can read, not cater to a gob of intellectuals who wouldn't know life if it lived through them.

I realized that I like to tell stories that anyone can read. Not just someone who's attended the correct classes, schools, or writing workshops.

I can write literary fiction. It's just ridiculous to do it unless you don't give a whit about making a living. (Or garnering a public voice that is heard beyond universities, literary magazines and coffee shops.)

Literary writing is exclusive.

I aspire to be a best-selling author. That means my stories sell the best. It doesn't mean that they mean more or less than something about James Joyce's real meaning behind a bowl of oatmeal and a girl hanging upside down on a swing in that familiar, soft-focus, backyard where something wonderful hides something horrible, and everything means something more than is said, but you wouldn't understand unless you've studied Joyce at Emery with professor So-and-Such.

Pretention does not a story make.

That's my ten cents.

Remember, I'm at two hours and ten minutes of not smoking. I'm a little testy.

And I don't run some fancy-shmancy literary magazine.

Gay Degani said...

Two hours not smoking and you still write like a prince? Pretty damn good, Kev. Well said and duly noted. Decisions lead to success.

K.C. Ball said...

I am right there with you, Kevin.

I got put down, in a back-hand, over-the-shoulder sort of way, in the EDF daily comments yesterday because I said I wasn't always sure where the story was in literary fiction.

I think the words that were used were "insular" and "two-dimensional reading."

I didn't bother to respond because there already was a donnybrook going on. I didn't bother to say that I appreciated the way the author used the language, and that I complex play of emotions being presented. I just didn't see a story there.

Maybe that's why I like genre writing so much. If you don't have a beginning, middle and end, if you don't show some sort of character development or deliver a punch at the end, it is really obvious that you blew it.

That's my ten cents.

Oh, and my poem, that Oonah, et.al., accepted for Every Day Poets, rhymes; so I guess I am beyond hope.

K.C. Ball said...

That should have been "and the complex play of emotions". Sometimes, my brain works faster than my fingers.

BTW, Gay. Now that my rant is over, I want to say how much I enjoyed reading your September musings. It brought back lots of memories for me, too. Thanks.

M.Sherlock said...

What kev says is right...also i have to write stories for a particular audience...you have to write things you dont really want to write sometimes becuase its the only things certain places will take.

Regardless, there are ways and i will succeed...and i still have my music...there is freedom in music.


The comment from that guy seemed kinda snooty too.