Tin House, Heidi Durrow + the Bellwether Prize

1. Tin House is pissing me off right now. No, it's true + I'm not afraid to say it, even if I do love the journal. I'm not even talking about the fact that unsolicited fiction goes to PDX and agented fiction goes to NYC--what is this? Fiction apartheid? Anyway, that's a different topic all together. No, what's pissing me off right now about Tin House is that I sent them one of my best stories, "Neologism." This is the story that got me into USC's PhD program in Lit + Creative Writing (almost accepted at FSU), the same story that a fiction editor from the Iowa Review told me he really enjoyed reading + that the managing editor of One Story admired very much. So empirically, I know that story rocks (i.e., it's not just me who thinks it's an awesome story). But that's not even what's pissing me off. "Neologism" is one of my favorite stories because it deals with class, race + love in SoCal, a topic + focus that just isn't dealt with that much. And sure enough, 2-3 months after I sent them my manuscript, I look at Tin House's website, and they have a call to submissions for stories dealing with class. And I gotta admit: I started thinking, all right, maybe this is the perfect break I've been looking for; one of my best stories submitted at a major literary journal that is asking for the very theme I wrote about in my manuscript. For a second, I thought, maybe this is the conspiracy of success every writer needs to break through. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, this is gonna be it.

Then, I get my rejection a few days ago + not even a good rejection. The same form rejection I get everytime from them. And the crazy thing is: the idea for "Neologism" I got from reading an Aimee Bender story in Tin House back in 2007 about two girls that go to the mall. Now, I could never write Aimee Bender the way Aimee Bender writers Aimee Bender. I love her writing + her voice is beautiful, touching + untouchable that way. But the idea, the setup, an aspect of my voice, all of that was directly inspired from reading one of her stories in Tin House + Tin House doesn't even consider my story for whatever reason, and it's a story that deals with white privilege, high school bullies + racism in Southern California. I don't fucking get it! I know this sounds like sour grapes, but it's a great story. Why can't Tin House pick jewels out of the rough? Why do I harbor such irrational hope in that journal when everyone knows that most of the shit they publish is agented fiction? Why did I think they would be different?

2. The bad news kept coming this week. After attending Heidi Durrow's reading of her debut novel, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky at Skylight Books (which was one of the best fiction readings I've attended in years--more on that later), I told her I'd entered BLANK in the Bellwether Prize + she asked me if I was a finalist + I told her I didn't know because I hadn't heard anything yet. And when I got outside, I went to the web page of the Bellwether Prize + there were the titles that had made it to the shortlist + BLANK wasn't one of them. God, I was so bummed. Again, why did I think BLANK would be a finalist? Because I think that every time I enter a contest. I wouldn't enter a contest that I honestly thought I didn't have a chance of winning. Otherwise, it's just a donation. But it's funny, I had this feeling after talking to Heidi at the booksigning table, a feeling I know very well of things having been decided, and not in my favor. I could just feel it inside. But ironically, she'd wished me luck with the prize inside my copy of her novel + then once I was walking to the subway, I looked up the results + I was pretty damn sad.

I'm still waiting to hear from the Bakeless Prize though. + if BLANK doesn't win--+ I'm not expecting it to though I believe it's as worthy as the other novels--I'll send it to some of the better indie presses like SoHo, Graywolf, Soft Skull, maybe even FC2, though it's not heterdox enough for them I imagine, and see what happens.

3. Strangely enough, seeing Heidi Durrow read her novel (that won the 2008 Bellwether Prize) gave me hope. For one thing, like I said before, I thought her reading was fantastic. She had a command of her delivery, had memorized much of the text, which allowed her to make eye contact with the audience + she was charismatic, charming, smart + funny. I'm happy she won the prize in 2008. It made me happy + gave me hope to see an emerging writer break out into the publishing sky, something I hope to do some day.

After chatting with her for a second before her reading + then asking her a question about Nella Larsen + passing + biracial identitification in the Q + A, I waited in line to get her to sign my copy of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, and when I finally made it to the table, she smiled, hit her palms on the table + said:

--Who are you? Laughing.

I have to say, I really enjoyed talking with her + I thought her reading was awesome. Leaving Skylight, before I looked up the results of the contest, I felt two distinct things:

One, good things do happen to good people (which is profoundly reassuring). They just have to persevere + keep writing + editing + putting themselves out there. Eventually, reality colludes to help that writer make it if s/he has what it takes to deal with the constant rejection (hello Tin House!).

Two, with all due respect, I also left the bookstore feeling like more than ever, I can do this. I don't know how much work is ahead of me (doesn't matter cuz I'll do it), but I can live my dream of being a great literary fiction writer, just like Heidi Durrow, just like all authors that are obscure before the clouds open up for them. + I just have to keep working for that day. It'll happen, I just don't know when yet. So until then, I fight on because that's how I do. I never give up on the things I love + there's nothing I love more than writing (except people + love itself)

My First Murmurs as a LA Writer

I'm not gonna lie, this was a pretty good week for me as a Chicago implant + new LA fiction writer. Among the many small things that give me little heart joy:

1. I met Howard Junker (the editor of the ever-great ZYZZYVA
) on the phone on Wednesday. Evidently, he liked one of my short stories I'd sent him only last week about a pepera that falls in love with one of her victims. It's called [ ]. He told me a bunch of things, many of them mysterious + smart, some even flattering: he wants to publish something of mine in the spring; it may be [ ], it may not be, who knows; he wants something of mine hot off the press; he feels like [ ] is good, but slightly old for my repertoire, but not wrinkled per se. He didn't tell me why he thought that though (I wrote [ ] in the spring of 2008, so in a way he's right, but maybe he's been reading my blog). Anyway, of course I'm thrilled by this because ZYZZYVA is the real deal as far as literary journals go, a fierce defender of emerging writers + Howard Junker has been fighting the good fight for 25 years, even standing up to other journals that have become too smug/slick for their own good--something I welcome frankly because it forces us to ask ourselves why writing matters. At the same time, nothing is set yet for me. So until he says yes Jackson let's do this, I look at his letter/offer as very promising for sure but not concrete. Not yet anyway. I think I'm going to send him a new chapter from my second novel that I recently started. It doesn't get fresher than that man

2. I gave my first public reading in LA last night at the Mountain Bar for USC's The Loudest Voice (along with my talented classmates Elise Suklje-Martin, Lisa Locascio, Jess Piazza + poet extraordinaire Mark Irwin).

Though my performance wasn't my favorite one by any stretch of the imagination (I mean, I actually messed up a few words + adlibbed more than once as I was turning the page), people seemed to like it a lot, which is always flattering

3. Mark Irwin, (who is one badass poet, not to mention a four-time Pushcart Prize-winner) came up to me afterwards + told me he really enjoyed my reading. Mark fucking Irwin,
man. This guy's huge + has been published in every major literary journal + not once mind you, but repeatedly. Anyway, when a poet of that caliber, charisma + reputation compliments you, you do one thing: you fucking take it

4. I'm entering BLANK in the Bellwether Prize this Monday, a contest founded by Barbara Kingsolver to spotlight socially conscious fiction that speaks of the greater world around us + our responsibility to that world + to each other. It's gonna be hard to win that contest because there will be many fantastic novels, many of which will come from writers with impressive resumes + even more impressive apprentisage, but I still have to try. BLANK, despite its flaws, is a beautiful + important novel + it advocates human connectivity, social protest + collective responsibility as well as offer a critique of narcissism, doing so in a way that is important, ambitious + yet also tricky too for some agents to swallow. Wish me luck peeps. In this industry, talent is not enough. You also need lucky dice + an empty seat at the High Rollers Table to strike it big