Protecting this Delicate Thing Called Hope

So much of writing for me is sitting my ass down and writing, even when I don't want to.  I have really good discipline.  I can write for fifteen hours straight sometimes, and then revise and edit for days and weeks afterwards.  The hardest part of writing I can do and have done since my first workshop back in 2002.  The other crucial part of writing for me involves psychological and emotional maintenance (aka self-care), which is just as important.  Normally, self-care for me means not only exercising, meditating, getting enough sleep, eating well, and going on dates with LB every week, but also ignoring my own negative thinking and putting myself out there again and again (even when it feels POINTLESS) and not getting discouraged (even when NOTHING is happening), which has been particularly difficult this summer. 

Read More

AWP Conference 2016 (LA)

Remarkably, it's been ten fucking years since I've been back at AWP.  The last time was in Atlanta in 2006, back when I was a confident, driven, ambitious, but also paradoxically naive, trusting, and hyperidealistic MFA student whose only aspiration at the time was to publish short stories and essays in the best literary journals possible.  The idea of publishing novels was fundamentally foreign to me for the simple reason that I hadn't written a novel yet, nor a collection of short stories.  There was no lofty expectation because there was no product.

Ten years later, I'm both amazed, horrified, and also humbled by how differently I look at the publishing industry in general and at my literary ambitions in particular.  Unlike ten years ago, I have a bunch of stories and essays published in a number of legit literary journals, but it's no longer enough for me anymore.  Also, unlike ten years ago, I have several manuscripts that are ready for publication.  I have more than a few realistic publishing possibilities with several awesome indie presses (though they remain merely possibilities until those manuscripts become material objects of art for public consumption).  I have--I always seem to have--several agents and a senior agent at a major New York publishing house reading my novels.  I have two rad lecturer positions at UCI and CSUN teaching literature, writing, rhetoric, research, and creative writing.  I have probably too many advanced degrees now, but whatevs.  I have a network and a community of friends (many of them APIA writers, but certainly not all of them).  I have some fans who follow me on Twitter because of the things I've written.  Most importantly, I feel--possibly irrationally, possibly delusionally--that I finally have momemtum in my writing career.  So, I apologize for this self-indulgent recollection, but the point I'm making here is that I see this conference in such a different way than I did before because I bring a different emotional and professional technology than before.  I feel like I can almost touch my future, as absurd as that sounds.

Among other things I did at this year's AWP, I got to:

1.  Attend readings from Claudia Rankine, Eula Biss, Jonathan Lethem, Geoff Dyer, Leslie Jamison, Maggie Nelson, my friend and mentor Percival Everett, Shonda Buchanan, Judy Grahn, Joyce Carol Oates, and Peter Ho Davies, which were all pretty amazing.

2.  Attend a fascinating (and inditing!) panel by Adam Atkinson, Lillian Yvonne-Betram, and Sarah Vap (an SC student) that presented the results of its survey and data collection about race and racial representation within PhD programs in Creative Writing.

3.  Talk to editors of several of my favorite indie presses and do a tiny bit of politicking (almost all of it unplanned and unintentional)

4.  Make new writing friends and also do some networking (which never hurts in this business)

5.  Most importantly, meet up with and reconnect with former professors and old friends from my MFA and PhD years, many of whom I haven't seen in years and whom I've missed, sometimes terribly, including Steve Tomasula, Marc Irwin, Joshua Bernstein, Chris Santiago, Lily Hoang, Gwendolyn Oxenham, Casey and Denise Hill, Heather Dundas, David St. John, and Percival Everett (who hugged me and then said, "What's going on, brother?")

6.  Buy a shitload of books and literary journals from indie presses

7.  Remember again why I'm a writer, a writer before I'm anything else in the professional and artistic domains

1st Story Accepted in 2015

Yesterday, I got the good news that my short story "My 12-Step Program for Yuki Hiramoto," which is part of my debut collection Atlas of Tiny Desires, was accepted by the Santa Monica Review.  Of course, this is fucking awesome, not only because I've been sending the SMR submissions since oh, 2005, when I started my MFA program, but also because it's one of the best journals out there.  Certainly, one of the top west coast journals.  And, while I know the publishing landscape has changed a shitload since then, I happen to know that my friend and mentor, Aimee Bender, found her agent (Henry Dunnow) after she'd published her own story in the Santa Monica Review, so there's always hope when you're getting your shit out there for the world to see.

Lou Matthews Writes Back

If you know me, you know that one of my favorite stories back in the day was Lou Matthew's "Crazy Life," about a headstrong latina who falls in love with a cholo named Chuey, written with love, tenderness + strength. In fact, I loved this short story so much that I made my students read it in my workshop while I was working on my MFA at Notre Dame, + time + time again, this story was one of their favorites. Not only do I love the story, but I love the conceit of a white dude writing what is essentially a dissolved love story from the point of view of a smart, strong, low-income latina, something that critics/intellectuals would argue he can't/shouldn't do, but in this case, they'd be completely fucking wrong. Anyway, I was chatting with Aimee Bender before classes ended + I told her how important his story had been to me + she was like: Oh, you have to write him + tell him that. He'd really appreciate it.

So, she sent me his email address because Aimee knows practically everyone in the business, + a few days ago, Lou responded. This is what he said:


Hey Jackson,

Your e-mail was a great greeting for me on my return home. Thank you so much for your kind words on “Crazy Life.” That story has pretty much had a life of its own. It’s now been published about eight times and a young San Antonio film maker, Dora Peña made a short movie based on the story about four years back. Gets used a lot in L.A. Unified High Schools. One of my former students from UCLA used it in her Honors class at Long Beach Poly – a class composed of 16 young chicanas. Dorothy mentioned she’d had me as a teacher. They accepted, finally, the possibility that I might not be Chicano, but refused to believe I was a guy. I had to show up and talk to them. Interesting discussion. I describe that story as “involuntarily researched”, a phrase I stole from Carolyn Chute. It was where I grew up and who I grew up with – A place called Toonerville and I didn’t date an anglo girl until I was out of High School - Dulcie is based on a couple girlfriends from that era and Chuey on a whole lot of guys that I knew.

Glad to hear about your own experience writing from a Latina P.O.V. I find it immensely freeing, as I am sure Flaubert did, to put yourself in someone else’s high heels, and if it crosses cultural boundaries as well, so much the better. You can’t worry about identity politics – or as we used to say on my block, “The Fri-jolier than thou.” One of my other favorite stories, “The Garlic Eater”, is the story of a Korean grocer (That one I did have to research. Heavily) and I ended up feeling the same way about Mr. Kim as I did about Dulcie. I liked the time I spent in his head very much. I’m sending you an archive link for that one, from one of my favorite magazines. Failbetter. Love publishing on-line, doesn’t cost your friends anything to read you:

"The Garlic Eater"

Delighted to hear you are working with Aimee. She’s the real deal. You couldn’t be in better hands. Great writer but also an excellent human being. Please give her my love. I’ll be writing to her shortly. One of my former UCLA students is also teaching in your program, Dana Johnson. Introduce yourself if you don’t know her already. And if you see me at some literary gathering – I’ll be the fat guy with a beard older than you are – introduce yourself. I owe you a beer for making my day.

All my best,

Lou

The guy you met at the café, was Hafeez Lakhani, my PEN “Mentee” (such a strange word). Great guy, I’m really enjoying working with him. I’ll send you an invite to his final reading for PEN


Stats Don't Lie, Motherfucker

Since I'm leaving Sobe probably for good, here is a final tally of my productivity stats:

I'm gonna leave sobe in 2 days having written:

1. A complete 434-page novel
2. Sixteen new pieces of creative non-fiction
3. Twenty-six new pieces of flash fiction
4. Six new short stories
5. One really terrible napkin poem
6. Nine little hip-hop single review blurbs so far like this one

And i've published a bunch of stuff too, which is cool.

Okay, now, time to pack, and time to move back to my city. CHITOWN! CHITOWN! here i come. . .

Disengaging Myself from this MFA Program

Looking forward to completely disengaging myself from this MFA program in 6 days (exceptions for bee, lily, tom, tim, lynne, colby, v and ls). i'm just not giving more of my sacred time and energy to some of these insecure, childish, unforgiving and selfish people anymore. the karmic bitch slap leaves a bit of a sting my friends, but i'm not going to be the one doing the slapping.

Passed the 400-Page Mark

So it's true, i'm now on page 403 of my novel, and i think i should be completely done with this draft before next week--something i didn't even dream was possible. i pretty much just banked on finishing The Amnesia of Junebugs in chicago, but now it looks like i'll be able to finish this draft, send a copy to valerie before i move, and then sit on it for a couple of weeks before revising it into shape. man, i'm so happy about this. it's amazing how when you're writing alot, not just everyday, but when you're writing copiously, you get high off the fumes of artistic creation.

Closure

I'm on the last real chapter of my novel (which is actually, the beginning) and it's coming along beautifully. right now i'm at on page 386, and i think it's gonna be around 400 pages, but that's cool. i'm hoping to finish this draft of my book by the end of this week, or the weekend, giving me enough time to revise 2 stories and 1 memoir this weekend so i can print them out with my surplus printing balance at the library next week.

Also, I checked my grades today and i got another 4.0 leaving my cumulative gpa at 3.96. what this really means is, i'm gonna graduate, and that's so fucking sick.

Working on Last Chapter of The Amnesia of Junebugs

Well, i'm def not done at all, but i'm now officially working on the LAST CHAPTER of my novel. i can't fucking believe it. i've been working on this little bastard since first semester of my first year (August 2005). a few things i've accepted about it:

1. it's gonna be around 400 pages. there's just no way around it.

2. it's cooler and much more flawed than i thought it was gonna be.

3. once i'm done with this draft, i need to sit on it for a few weeks, and then revise the hell out of it.

4. and then, send it to lynn nesbit.

5. writing a novel is simultaneously the most natural thing i've ever done--far more natural for me than writing a short story which reminds me of someone trying to fit all of his clothes into a tiny suitcase--and by far, the most demanding and intense thing, artistically i've ever done.

6. writing a novel, even more than a collection of short stories, is the very definition and essence of h. bergson's theory of élan vital, no question about it.

7. this novel is gonna be fucking big man.

Now, i really need to take a shower and think about something else.

Rejections Make Me Listen to Gangsta Rap

I went on a marathon walk up st joe's river, near iusb, then i turned around, walked on the east race boardwalk, which i didn't even know existed all the way to the end and then back home, and i did all of this listening to glock-obsessed rap music that put some attitude in my head nodding. This put me in my gangsta mode to deal with this shit. . .

I know this is the name of the game, but frankly, this past week i've been getting so goddamn sick of rejections. i don't even understand how the worst story in the whole world--statistically speaking--could get rejected that many times, morever, a really good story. the numbers aren't in our favor, but still, sometimes, i still have to keep asking myself, why is it so fucking difficult to publish an awesome short story of mine, and why do i keep reading stories in journals that are like hmm, or ho-hum, and sometimes, oh nice, but almost never, holy shit. i mean, i haven't read one short story in one journal that is technically perfect yet, and that's normal, and my stories certainly aren't anywhere near being perfect either. but why can one of those great but imperfect short stories be one of mine? it's annoying the shit out me and putting me in a really bad mood today. . . hence, the ghetto star rap i've been enjoying so much. i understand now, more than ever, why there are more literary journals than there has ever been in america. paradoxically, there aren't more lit journal readers, there are just more journals, and why? cuz writers are sick of rejections. there can't be another explanation. one day, another writer says, you know what? fuck this, i'm gonna start my own shit.

I must have received 5 or 6 really encouraging rejection letters from Missouri review, but i just can't seem to get a yes from those fuckers. okay, i luv the Missouri review, but i really wish they'd finally publish one of my stories. literary publishing is like the greatest cock tease/drive by of all time.

Finished with My MFA

I can't believe it, i'm all done with everything. go aji go!!!

After:

my mfa thesis reading
my japanese oral exam
my written japanese final
my mfa thesis
a gazillion quizzes and tests
a 100 kanji later

I'm all done with everything. i'm gonna graduate and everything. i'm so stoked about this. i can't possibly tell some of you how excited i am to have closure on grad school after having to leave yale when i was too poor to finish, this really means alot to me. and i had to work so damn hard to get here, to get accepted into a mfa program when i was a americorps volunteer living on 700 bucks a month and foodstamps in chicago, and to graduate, and it's been worth every moment and i'm so grateful. in two to three weeks, i'm gonna sit down, look at my diploma that came in the mail, and say, yo, i have a masters degree now. and that's so fucking rad for me. it means the world to me. and if there's truly a spirit world, it means everything to my obaasama too.

Now, i just have to pack, and work on my novel. i have 2 weeks to pack, 2 weeks to finish my book, and around a month or so--give or take, well, another month or so--to revise before i send lynn nesbit my finished draft. i think this summer is gonna be rad. i can barely contain my joy.

Sunlight Drowns the Best Excuse

When i was talking to kpg yesterday about why it hurt my feelings that no one went to my b-day party, she had a list of excuses for everyone, and i was like, ho-hum, some of those are legit, but a lot of those are really bad fucking excuses, and as she was talking, it made me realize how good we are rationalizing things when we don't want to do something. we all are. and that helped me understand that people didn't ditch me cuz they necessarily dislike me, though some do i' m sure, but because i'm not a priority to people. and now that i understand that, it's simplified my life in this program immensely. i don't hate the peeps in the program for marginalizing me, i just know it's not the place i wanna donate more energy to. my energy, my mind, my creativity, my time--they're sacred.

Paperwork + Soba Noodles

Today i drudged through hours and hours of formatting hell with my book after i decided to add my photoshop cover to my novel in progress, which, for some inexplicable reason, changed the columns in my dual narrative chapters and created random space in one chapter. i wondered why i suddenly had an extra 10 pages. anyway, this final assis chapter is coming along, but not even close to done yet. i'm looking foward to finishing this and writing my 3rd and final split screen chapter this week, and next week i'll hopefully start the final chapter.

I got an email from lynn nesbit's office a few days ago that said, sorry, we had a misunderstanding. the consensus here--in the new publishing world, god i wish--is that you're a very good writer (chin up kiddo) but we need a complete manuscript before we can decide whether to take you on as a client. in a way, though, this was the perfect impetus to finish my novel cuz now i have someone to write for again now that i'm 3 weeks from graduating and ditching this school cafeteria.

My rejection from 9th letter was depressing. even after i became friends with the cnf editor, Juan Sanchez, who's a cool dude, i still couldn't publish my piece. no luv from the cnf putos.

My consolation? Yakitate japan anime (i'm sad that i only have 6 episodes left--a sure sign of my addiction). Also, I bought these great frozen soba noodles, and with a good miso base and some okonomi sauce, it's really quite something.

1,001 Nights, Junot Diaz + Asobi Seksu

Tonight has been just like 1,001 nights. my frame narrative subsumes all these little minnie narratives until i've forgotten what the frame narrative was. it was like this:

I was fucking around online, and thought i'd go to the website of this japanese singer i really like--遊びセクス--when i thought, hm, i should compare the shipping costs of having this cd sent overseas from asia with the costs of having it sen via amazon, so then, i'm on the amazon website, and before you know it, i'm looking at new ds lite videogames, rpg, yoshi's island, final fantasy 3 reviews that i've already read before, and then somehow i ended up looking up anime dvd's, which led retroactively to manga, and before i knew it, i found my way back to music, and there was asobi seksu's eponymously named album, and sure enough, it was cheaper. well, i was about to buy that, and then the amazon add said, spend, i dunno, 18 more dollars Jackson, and shipping is free. well, i thought, that's not alot, so then i took a peak at other cd's, and i found feist's new album that comes out 1 may, and i thought, okay, i wanted this anyway, and i fucking luv her shit, so i'll just buy this and that should do it, but because amazon is selling it so cheap, i was short by like 2 dollars for free shipping, so then, i ended up back where i started, video games, anime, lit magazines, manga, and then, after looking up legal drug, i realized, i really want to order issue # 2 of that one manga, what was it called? i couldn't remember so i plopped down in front of my vent, near my other manga, freebies from my hachette internship and japanese books, and before i knew it, i forgot ALL ABOUT THE WHOLE POINT OF SITTING THERE, and i ended up reading two short stories by Junot Diaz i'd never touched before, "edison, new jersey" and "boyfriend," and it was only when i was flossing in the bathroom, that i realized, oh shit, that manga's called "eternal sabbath," so then once i was finished, i came back to my computer, my order in waiting, was still, well, waiting, to be ordered, and then i found a 2nd issue of eternal sabbath, and FINALLY placed my goddamn order. that has got to be the most complicated things i've ever done online, besides try to send a complete stranger porn in saudi arabia.

There's not doubt in my mind that Scheherazade would have been proud of me.

Winging the Short Story

I read a great story by celeste ng in one story. Despite its weak ending, it made me realize that i really don't have the slightest idea how to really write a story. or, said another way, i feel like all fiction writers wing it, and that's why sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't cuz we don't really know what we're doing (or we have to figure it out for each new story we write). And though a collection of paragraphs doesn't constitute a story necessarily, sometimes we hit just the right note. creatively, i'm at a good place, but technically, i could def improve. ng's story made me realize that.