The Spaces in Between

The period between March and June has always been, and will probably always be, a dramatic time in my life.  Most of the best (and also worst) news I've received is during this time frame.  For example:

1.  Winning the Sparks Prize

2.  Getting rejected from the JET program (for being too old)

3.  Getting accepted into SC's PhD program in Literature and Creative Writing

4.  Hearing back from all the tenure track jobs you applied to, where they gush about what an insanely large and especially talented pool of candidates there were, which made their job especially difficult

5.  Seeing my short story on Tin House's website

6.  Getting accepted in Notre Dame's MFA program

7.  Visiting Rome, Hong Kong, Macau, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Tokyo, and London

8. Finding out whether I'm getting (re)hired at UC Irvine after an exhaustive application process

9.  Getting married to LB, something I never thought I'd do and something I never wanted to do until we fell in love

This list could go on.  If we were at a café, this list would go on.  But the point is, shit always goes down this quarter.  Sometimes, it's bad.  Usually though, it's good.  But it's always crazy enlightening (and crazy dramatic too).  So, it's with immense curiosity (and slight trepidation) that I wait to hear the state of the world for me in 2016.  Stay tuned, people.  Shit could get crazy.


Ideas for the Future

I may rage against the machine when a particular rejection stings, but I'm the kind of dude that gets back up (literally) the next day and tries another way to make it work.  Writing, after all, is the one thing I'm great at.  Resilience is another.  And Ima figure out how to get my novels in the hands of my future readers because that's who I am.

In the next month, I'll be sending AMNESIA to several indie presses that I think might be receptive (among others, FC2 and Curbside Splendor) as well to a few laser-targeted literary agents who represent multicultural literary fiction.  One of them will be Zadie Smith's agent, because of the obvious similarities between The Amnesia of Junebugs and White Teeth. 

With a clean break from Kaya, I have the power to (re)consider all my options, not just the obvious ones.  I have the possibility of finding an even larger audience and a much more supportive editorial department.  I have the right to try again and find the right press for my manuscripts as a hapa writer of fiction. 

I may be bruised, but I'm still standing.  I'm still going to make this work.

The Double Meaning of Tweets

Really, you can interpret this tweet as both a description of the blustery weather outside + an unconscious desire for publication.  But maybe I'm just overintellectualizing again . . .

Chicago Purgatory with Markups

Dude, I feel like I spend more time waiting than writing right now.  Usually, that's not the case at all.  But since all of my writing for the time being is for my dissertation, I have a one-sided relationship with my (artistic) reality where I'm submitting short stories/self-contained chapters to journals, small presses + agents but I'm not writing anything new because of my PhD.  It's kinda odd really.  Because I'm not working on my third novel, or even revising my first two novels, I feel like I'm just waiting around for shit to happen.  Like:

1.  American Short Fiction, who has held on to one of my stories for almost two years.  Now I'm not hating, but think about that.  While the gracious editor there accepted a revision, I still have no idea if my story is going to be accepted.  The truth is, I really should consider sending it to another journal.  The only problem is, I feel like that piece is supposed to be published in ASF.  Call it delusion

2.  Mcsweeney's Press, Coffee House Press, Chiasmus Press, Dalkey Archive Press, Nouvella, the Seattle Review, Milkweed Editions, Les Figues, FC2 + an agent from Sterling, Lord Literistic, all of which I sent novels/Novellas to in the past year

3.   A bunch of literary journals like the Asian American Literary Review, Another Chicago Magazine, The New Yorker, Granta, Paris Review, Crab Orchard Review, the Atlantic, Wisconsin Review, Tin House, Indiana Review, the Believer, N+1, New England Review, Guernica, Kartika Review, Barrelhouse, Portland Review + A Public Space

4.  The University of Chicago for an assistant/associate professor of creative writing (fiction)

5.  Depaul University for a full-time creative writing + world literature professor, for which I'm pretty qualified since my dissertation is both a completed novel + also a shorter critical dissertation on the cultural compartmentalization of Asian American cultural identity + the mediation of Asian American masculinity in orientalist contemporary literature

6.  An agent, any agent, who read my short story in the Antioch Review + decides s/he wants a piece

See, this is why I need to finish my dissertation in like the next month (that's my goal anyway).  When I'm working on my fiction, I don't care all that much when it takes the industry forever to reject my ass/play with my emotions/mindfuck the shit out of me/lead me on/ignore me/procrastinate.  I just keep plugging away at whatever I'm working on, knowing that eventually everything will sort itself out.  In the meantime, I'm making pie out of mud, so what the fuck do I really care?  But right now, all I do when I'm not reading in preparation for my final dissertation chapter, is imagine which dream is gonna come true.  And that shit's just agonizing.

My Fixation on the Novel

It's odd.  If you'd told me 7 years ago that I'd be working on my PhD in English/Creative Writing, I would have laughed at you.  If you'd told me that I'd be working with writers like Percival Everett, Aimee Bender + TC Boyle, I would have said:  Lay off the weed, dude, it's conflating your dimensions.  If you'd told me then that in the next 7 years, I'd publish stories in journals like ZYZZYVA, African American Review, Fiction, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Quarter After Eight, Fiction International, Quarterly West, Stand (UK), Notre Dame Review + the Connecticut Review, with more to come inshallah, I would have said: Stop fucking with me man, it's not gonna be that easy.  And yet, even though all that shit's true, + even though I'm crazy grateful for every one of those things, the truth is, I'm not satisfied with my writing career at all, if in fact I can even call it that.

I want to publish my first novel The Amnesia of Junebugs.  I want to publish my second novel The Ninjas of My Greater Self.  While I think both novels have flaws for sure (which novels don't?), I think they're great for different reasons + deserve to be in your local bookstore as much as any other original work of literary fiction.  I have no doubt about that.  I don't doubt it for an instant.  Sure, I see momentum in my own emerging career.  Yes, I have a much stronger backbone from years of workshop critiques + gratuitous attacks by opinionated haters who don't write half as hard as I do.  Yes, I'm publishing stories in journals that I love + admire, that I grew up reading during my MFA years, journals that agents read.  Yes, I believe in myself 100% + would have killed to have been published in some of the journals my stuff appears in now.  But I'm sick of being in professional limbo where your entire life, your whole artistic career is put on hold while you scramble to get your novels published.  This isn't the goddamn 1920's--you can't live off of short stories anymore, even if you publish them in the glossies with your agent's help.

What I want is the novel.  I want my novels in bookshelves.  I want to be able to delete from my inbox a bunch of snarly, hitman-type book reviews by half-actualized, curmudgeon literary fiction writers who write these self-indulgent, in-your-face masturbatory sentences written out of envy for my own ascension.  I want to stop being a default critic of an industry I feel shut out of + start feeling like a player inside my own vocation. 

Seven years ago, I would have been happy with this progress, but not now.  Now I want more.  I want bigger dreams, I want insanity, I want my writing to receive scrutiny, adulation, innuendo, indignation, joy + Eros, I want my books to be dog-eared + heavily creased at the public library, smelling of black tea + engine grease, I want to turn on complete strangers with my sex scenes + move a reader to tears with my characters, I want cum stains, lipstick marks + tear drops on the pages of my novels. I want my unique literary voice to be part of this world, not an aspiration of grandeur.  I want to give public readings, do an interview while drunk + chat with people in bookstores about characters as if they were real.  I want my words to have resonance beyond the voice inside my own head.  I want cultural and artistic accountability, I want the consequences of affecting people, I want to share my creativity to the world, I want the unique privilege of participating, critiquing, embracing + affecting culture.  In other words, in my own selfish, arrogant, egomaniacal, grandiloquent way, I want to be an artist.  I want that.  I want all of that shit.

The way I see it:  My only hope is to either win a book contest, snag an agent or publish my novels in one of the indie presses.  That's when my career will really take off, when I become competitive for creative writing jobs at universities, when I stop questioning my literariness, when I start connecting with readers, when I start standing tall + being what I can only aspire to right now, which is myself.

Aimee Bender Helps Me Chill Out

I'm gonna tell this story in reverse:

Exactly one minute after hanging out with Aimee, I received this email from Graywolf Press, that pretty much broke my heart:

Dear Jackson Bliss,

Thank you very much for submitting "BLANK" to Graywolf Press.

We certainly found a great deal to admire in your work, but when it came time to make a publishing commitment, I’m afraid we decided we couldn’t make you an offer. It’s always difficult to make these decisions and to write letters like this one. The small number of books we can publish each year unfortunately puts us in a difficult position in terms of taking on a lot of new work.

We will say, though, that your enthusiasm about New York is fresh and infectious, and we did enjoy much of this. Unfortunately, we didn't connect with the voice here as well as we'd have liked. This is, of course, simply a matter of taste, and others may feel differently.

In any case, thank you for having Graywolf in mind. We wish you the best of luck in finding the right publisher for your work.

With best wishes,

The Editors

Graywolf Press

I have crazy love/respect for Graywolf Press. They pretty much epitomize everything that is awesome about indie presses (e.g. great selection of published novels, including translations, a devoted, smart + savvy editorial staff, national distribution, publishes literature that is aware of the greater world around us). So you can imagine the heartbreak when I found out they'd rejected BLANK. My big concern with BLANK has always been that it's too structurally ambitious, too conceptual + lyrical, too socially plugged-in + too unorthodox for most of the big presses. So my concern, my big concern, is that if the awesome indie presses won't take a chance on a sui generis novel like BLANK, then frankly, who the hell will? I mean, the only way I'm going to get Little, Brown to publish BLANK is if I have a love affair with Paris Hilton or protect Jessica Alba from a mugger with my dinner toothpick.

But my conversation with Aimee helped me get my shit straight:

1. I have to remember that I'm working on a second novel right now, which means that I'm not going to be sending out as many manuscripts as I normally do, which means I'm also not going to be getting pieces picked up as much as I'd like. But that's part of the whole creation process when you write. Working on a novel is your downtime to create, revise + invent. Most of the time, your novel will be hard to split up into pieces + published anyway, so you shouldn't worry about the publishing game for quite awhile.

2. Every major writer always has a tipping point. For her, it was publishing a short story in the Santa Monica Review, which helped her find an agent, get published in an anthology +get Girl with a Flammable Skirt published, all happening in quick succession. Obviously, I don't know if I'll have a tipping point (though I believe I will) or when it'll happen (though I sense it'll happen while I'm in LA). All I can do is keep writing, submit when I can + remember that I'll get my time. I hope.

3. After she offered me one of her vegan samosas, I asked Aimee what Jim Sheppard's writing trajectory was like.

--I'm not sure, she said, but I'm sure he paid his dues just like we all do.

And somehow, that's comforting to know that other writers that are now national players have had to slowly create their own momentum too just like I do, just like almost every writer has to.

4. I apologized to her about bringing in an Anis Shivani article for the class to discuss in our workshop last year in light of Shivani's most recent bitch session about literary publishing in the Huffington Post that came out a few weeks ago. Anis Shivani picked Aimee as one of the 15 most overrated contemporary writers

--Oh, don't worry about it, she said, smiling. --Actually, I'm completely flattered to be mentioned with those other writers: Amy Hempel, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, Vollman, Lydia Davis.

This is when I told her: --Aimee, for the record, I think it's really hard to write like you. I've never seen anyone who could write you convincingly. Besides, theory's got nothing on you.

--Thanks, Jackson, she said, blushing, --I appreciate that.

I guess writing is tough for everyone right now.

4 Things to Inspire Hope

1. I recently submitted defiance of objects, my first collection of short stories that i've been working on for years now (and this summer, revising) to 2 more first book contests at:

FC2's innovative fiction prize
The bakeless prize at middlebury college

2. Brick Magazine sent me a nice rejection letter that said "piano lessons" was engaging and stylistically beautiful. right then.

3. I'm still working on my short novella/flash fiction collection about people looking through windows. i'm almost halfway done. i'm planning on including this in my second collection of short stories once it's finished. Maybe.

4. If i don't get an agent or a publisher in the next 6 months, i'm gonna start submitting to some of the excellent small/indie presses: greywolf, soft skull, red hen, granta, stuff like that.