Baby Steps

As an emerging fiction writer, you have to continuously find new ways to believe in your writing for the simple reason that in the beginning--and it's always the beginning until you're famous--you're the only motherfucker who believes in it. Parents, friends, classmates, wives, pediatricians, as lovely as they are, don't matter, at least not in the publishing world. All the love in the world won't get you published, at least not until it's an editor who's swooning over your language play. So, in order to find the perfect agent + publish your polished novel, you need to make a name for yourself first. So you send query letters to agents + submit stories/chapters to literary journals, all of which entails a shitload of rejection. And with all that rejection, it's easy, so easy, in fact, to listen to that nagging little voice inside your head that says you're just not cut out for this industry that seems to reward technique over beauty, name-recognition over originality. Maybe you're not talented enough (unlikely). Maybe you're not intrepid enough (more likely). Maybe you're not well-connected enough + your skin isn't thick enough (very likely). But to stick it out in this game, inevitably, you learn to be intrepid, you build your own networks + through scar tissue, you become thick-skinned. You have no other choice. Otherwise, you give up. Luck helps, but as it turns out, you can't bribe her. . .

My problem (+ greatest strength) is that I don't give up on the things I love. The few respectable print publications I have so far are as much a product of my talent as my stubbornness. But shit, I'm human + sometimes I need to replenish, not only my faith in myself as an literary fiction writer, but also my hope as a human being.

So, here are a few things that help me keep the faith:

1. Submitted Love + Porn, my collection of short stories, to the AWP Contest in short fiction

2. Submitted Love + Porn to the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

3. Submitted Love + Porn to the Drue Heinz Literature Prize

Winning any of these contests is really fucking hard because each contest receives hundreds upon hundreds of manuscripts, many of which are as polished + pretty as yours. But you have to face these odds with your bare fists + fight for your right to live as a writer. And every contest you don't enter, your failure rate is 100%. So I'll take my 1-2% chance, thank you very much. Besides, even with those slim odds, the potential payoff can be fucking amazing: you win a prestigious literary contest, you win some cash + most importantly, you get your first collection of short stories out there in the world (which later, will probably get picked up by a major publishing house too--it happens all the time). And then, suddenly crowned with your first book, you'll give a few readings. You might give an interview or two for a journal. A book club wants to chat with you. Readers argue about you on Amazon. And suddenly, suddenly, your application for that creative writing faculty position, it goes from the bottom of the pile to somewhere in the middle. All of that with just one book, one contest, one piece of conspiracy that goes your way.

Beyond that, there are other things too that give me hope in the now + these things matter:

1. Like finding this awesome review in Ruelle Électrique of "A Full Cellar" that was published in ZYZZYVA, part of which you can read here (though this is not the complete story, by the way).

2. Finding my writing blog on New Pages without having to beg someone!

3. When times get tough, I remind myself that 8 years ago, I'd never taken a workshop before + now, TC Boyle is my thesis adviser

4. Remembering how only 3 years ago, I didn't have a single short story published in a prominent, nationally-distributed print literary journal. Not one

5. Fanmail. Though sparse, I've officially received 3-4 emails from people who read something of mine + loved it. And that really fucking makes my day. It helps me know that my writing does matter

Granted, there is still so much more to accomplish as (just another talented) fiction writer in this cut-throat market. But you can only take baby steps in this industry. And finally, I've taken a few. Just a few. But that's how you get to where you need to be.

AWP Conference in Atlanta + Cave Canem

Busy week, man.

I spent 3 days in Atlanta for the AWP convention where i also:

Became friends with the editors at one story, one of my fave lit journals

Became friends with the non-fiction editor at 9th letter

Became friends with the crew at where i might become their online journal critic

Hung out with Tony d'Souza who i admire for his Chicago connections, his impressive work ethic, even if he IS a complete and absolute hustler

Talked to the editors of at least 10 different journals that i have pending submissions at

Became friends with some of the mfa students at alabama

Went and heard Robert Olen Butler read

Met utahna faith in a flash fiction panel discussion, the editor that published my story, "City Lunch" in the fantastic international online journal, 3:AM Magazine

Listened to Lily and the other Chiasmus Press writers (including Lance Olsen) give an awesome joint reading (+ free mimosas, a def bribe for such an early morning reading).

Went to michael martone and john barth's reading in the crystal ballroom of the Hilton Hotel--mm stole the show, man. I bought 2 of mm's novels and chatted with him at the book signing. he even sent me 2-3 emails in the past week. He's a good guy that way.

Talked to one of the poetry editors at Tin House--jc was his name, i think

Played air hockey and won (Holla!) against Pei-Lin Lue, the Managing Editor at One Story

Met Atina, one of the fiction editors at red hen press, one of the better indie presses, this one, out of LA

Met fred ramney, one of the publisher's at unbridled press, who gave me his card after i told him about my novel and the interest that publishing luminaries like Lynn Nesbit has shown the manuscript so far.
--And we take agented and unagented fiction, he explained.

Picked up something like 25 free lit journals from the AWP Book Fair

Smoked 3 cigarettes (bad Jackson!) and drank lots of Heineken--all of which tasted fantastic

I submitted stories to:

Michael Martone
quick fiction
the greensboro review
mid-american review
missouri review
9th letter
dave eggers
cream city review
tarpaulin sky
colorado review
smokelong quarterly
blood lotus
miranda literary review
word riot

Also, i went and heard Cornelius and Yusef Komunyakaa read tonight at the Cave Canem conference reading.