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.