Because I’m a fan of the Laura Moriarty’s novel The Chaperone, I “liked” her author page. That’s how I entered a drawing and got my hands on an ARC of American Heart; Moriarity asked if anyone wanted to take a look at her new novel, and I said, sure, why not? Please note that I’ve never met the author. We’re not even Facebook friends.
2016 is Indiana’s bicentennial year, and I’m really honored to have work in two projects that celebrate my home state.
This week, the Munsonians (people from Muncie!) in that anthology are giving a reading and selling books, so you if you live close by, please come! Here’s the Facebook event for the reading. Continue reading
I’m thinking a lot about disloyalty today.
Let me explain why.
I feel like I’ve betrayed my hometown and home state.
This essay was published today, and I’d like to say a few things about it.
A few months ago, Barb Shoup at the Indiana Writers Center asked me to submit an essay to an anthology of Indiana writers that will be published this fall to celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016. She mentioned that the anthology might end up being used in public schools, and I thought, What would I really like to say to an Indiana high school student? It also stood to reason that Governor Mike Pence might actually read something I wrote. What would I really like to say to him? Oh boy!
Throughout my life, I’ve worked hard to balance my idealistic nature with necessary doses of…realism? pragmatism? skepticism?
If you believe in Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ.
I don’t think it’s an accident that I married a cynic. Sometimes, the stuff that comes out of my husband’s mouth shocks the heck out of me, but mostly, I am just so thankful that he helps me prioritize and stay focused. When I met him, I was a puddle of naive disappointment. These days, I rarely get that low.
I can remember so many moments in my life when I’ve said something so idealistic that the other person looked away and shook their head in disbelief. “You really think like that?” they’d say, and I’d say, “You don’t?”
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, I sat down to write, and I made a horrible mistake: I checked Tweetdeck.
I have a special list called “Indiana” which is how I stay in touch with my state. It includes newspapers, colleges, political and cultural organizations, progressive and conservative politicians, TV and radio stations, etc.
Yesterday, every tweet in my “Indiana” column on Tweetdeck filled me with despair.
A song came to my head. “Anything you can do, I can do better…” So I started retweeting all the bad news with my tweaked ditty.
— Cathy Day (@daycathy) February 24, 2016
After awhile, I got so angry that I logged into Facebook and wrote this:
Yes, I sacrificed my novel-writing time to Facebook-screed writing time.
This is why I’m going to have to go off social media again.
Tell me, why do you hate Indiana?
My friend Barbara Shoup asked me to contribute something to an Indiana anthology that’s going to be published in conjunction with Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial celebration. Although, who knows? Maybe that’s not going to happen either, since it’s not clear if my governor will be able to find the money to “celebrate” Indiana’s history.
So I got out an essay I started here a few years ago and expanded it.
This essay doesn’t celebrate Indiana. It critiques it. And the more I worked on it, the angrier I got, and I’m actually not sure it’s still appropriate for the anthology.
Here’s a snippet:
I don’t think Indiana is honest to goodness. Sometimes, I think it’s the angriest place I’ve ever lived—and I’ve lived in a lot of places.
I’m going to read it this Saturday and see what happens. Please come and tell me what you think?
I guess that the news about plastic bags and Tesla and payday companies wouldn’t have enraged me any other week, but this week it did.
If you know me, then you know how much I love my home state.
But this week, I did not.
I’m reminded of this scene in my favorite novel, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (Replace “the South” with “Indiana,” and that’s how I felt this week.)
“Tell about the South,” said Shreve McCannon. “What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they live at all?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?”
“I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”
Subscribe to my list and keep tabs on Indiana
My “Indiana” list has always been private, but I just made it public, so you can subscribe to it, too.
You’ll see bad news, probably, but I also hope this list gives you hope as well.
If you use Twitter, I highly recommend you use lists. Here’s how. It allows you to follow accounts without actually “following.”
Once you subscribe to the list, create a column for that list on Tweetdeck (or Hootsuite). Here’s how.
I hardly ever look at Twitter via the Twitter app (unless I’m on my phone). I look at Twitter via Tweetdeck, where I can see a variety of columns. Some people think Tweetdeck is overwhelming, but I think Twitter is, actually. Once you get used to the interface, it’s easy, because your feed and your interests are nicely organized–by you.
Maybe my legislators think that no one is paying attention to what they’re doing?
I’m paying attention. I hope you will, too.
Yesterday on Twitter, Celeste Ng asked a great question, and people responded.
How do you start a writing career? Some of these books will help you with the craft of your writing (very important) and others will help you with the business of writing (more important than you think).
You also have to expand your notion of what “a writing career” is.
- Maybe you write grants and promotional materials for a non-profit and work on your novel every chance you get.
- Maybe you teach high school, sell cars, work in a bank, etc., and work on your poetry every chance you get.
- Maybe you are a free-lance writer trying to actually make a living from YOUR creative writing or journalism.
- There are many ways to create a literary life for yourself, no matter what your job title is.
Anyway, on to the Storify!
I want to thank my friend Gail Werner for recommending that I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, which came to me–as many books do–right when I needed it most. I’ve never read Eat Pray Love. I didn’t watch her TED talk on creativity (where Big Magic got started), even though lots of people were sharing it on Facebook for awhile, singing its praises. Why didn’t I? Why not read her wildly popular book or see what she had to say? Well, because I knew that a lot of writers I admire didn’t like Gilbert much–as a writer, and/or as a cultural phenomenon–and I really, really wanted them to consider me a good, serious, “important” writer. Of course, I wasn’t thinking any of this consciously. I was unconsciously “pandering,” similar to what Claire Vaye Watkins talked about in this provocative essay which came out a few months ago. Every time I think I’ve stopped “pandering,” something comes along to make me realize that I still am. Man, this shit runs deep in me. In all of us, I think. The older I get, the more I realize that the high school lunchroom mentality never leaves us. Even though I didn’t mind not sitting at the cool kids’ table in high school, I still aspired to it–just in a different lunchroom.
The first month of my sabbatical is over, and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made thus far. I have some self-imposed deadlines: finish the current section by the end of January, finish the next section during February, the last section in March, revise in April. I write every day–at least two pages, sometimes five or six. The manuscript is currently at 400+ pages, and at this rate, might get to about 600 pages, but I don’t think it’s going to end up that long. I’ve been writing very scenically, dramatizing much of the novel in something akin to “real time.” This would be fine if the novel’s “clock” was a month, a year, or even a few years. But the novel covers about 20 years. I wanted to “see” the scenes in my imagination and show them on the page, but now that I know what happens, I plan to go back in and do more summarizing, more telling, which is what I really prefer doing anyway.
I’ve been reading a lot of young adult novels over the last few years. Almost all of them take place over a relatively short period of time and are quite “scenic,” unfolding at a rate of, say, one day or maybe one week represented by one chapter. That’s something I’ve been trying to teach myself how to do better–create a “faster read” by slowing way, way down, create a vivid and continuous fictional dream. Novels need scenes. Novel readers need moments when they can just be “in the story.” But frankly, I get a little bored after a while with this approach–both as a reader and a writer. Another book I read recently was the marvelous Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. This book covers a lot of time, and certainly, there are dramatized scenes, but lots of skillful telling, too. I remember one chapter in particular that needed to cover the first 10+ years of a couple’s marriage. Groff did so by focusing just on the parties they threw in their apartment. The style of party changes over time. The main characters change. Their friends mature. Think about how some of the montages in Groundhog Day work–Bill Murray figuring out how to play piano, how to woo Andi McDowell, etc. The thing I have to figure out, I guess, is how much of what I’ve written needs to be “in scene” and how much needs to be montage.
At the same time that I’m thinking about shortening/tightening the chapters I’ve already written (a process I really look forward to), I’m also trying to draft brand new chapters (a process I dread). I love to edit, but I do not love generating new stuff. Here’s how I’m learning to cope with this: I think of each new chapter like a painting. An oil painting in particular, which is created in layers. First, I sketch. I write about the scenes rather than writing scenes. I free write as things come to me. Then I move things around. Decide on the beats of the chapter. I try not to get bogged down in details like what my characters are wearing or their expressions or what kind of couch they’re sitting on. Sometimes those details come first in my mind, and I build around them, but most of the time, they come last. I use this a lot: xxxx. Reminding myself to come back later and fill in the blank rather than get sidetracked with research–and boy, is it tempting. Every day, I try to add another layer, another level of detail to my painting. Let’s say that my chapter/painting’s not done until I complete 10 layers. Maybe I’m still too much of story writer, and I should move onto the next chapter after I finish step 5, but I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with getting to about step 7 or 8. I love the feeling of “finishing” a chapter. I usually take a day off and do something physical, and then I start the next chapter and remind myself (again) not to fuss with the first sentence, the first paragraph, but to just start sketching.
Today, I’m heading to Lake Forest, IL to do a residency at Ragdale. Eighteen days. I’ve never done a residency before. I think I was always afraid that I’d get to one of those places and not be able to write. I also thought that it was kind of silly to go somewhere to write when I live in a relatively quiet house with no kids. I even have a husband who does all the cooking! So why do a residency? But my friends swear by them, and I think it will be good to separate myself from the allure/distractions of my home, my yard, my dog, my cats, my neighborhood, my job, my husband. I’ll let you know next week how it’s going. Here’s a nice video about Ragdale, what it looks like, etc. In the summer of course!
I published my first short story in 1995. Twenty years ago. How can this be?
I was a graduate student at the University of Alabama. I’d been sending out my stories for two years without much luck. Then, over Christmas Break 1994, I went with my mother, a hospice nurse, on a “death call” in suburb of Cincinnati. The experience stuck with me, and when I got back to Tuscaloosa, I tried my hand at writing a “short short story,” or what we might call now “flash fiction.” 742 words. I sent it to Quarterly West. and they accepted it immediately.
When I got the magazine in the mail, I marveled at it for awhile, and then I put it on my shelf. My poet friend Tim kept the journals in which he’d been published in a place of honor on his desk, like a trophy case, and so I did the same.
I also added a line to my very brief curriculum vitae.
“Hospice.” Quarterly West. 41 (Autumn/Winter 1995): 6-7.
A year later, I published a story in The Florida Review about a man raising his daughter alone. Another magazine on the shelf. Another line on the vita.
“Leon’s Daughter.” Florida Review 21:2 (1996): 88-98.
Slowly, I kept adding more journals to that shelf. More lines to the vita.
Out of Print
Was it a waste of my time?
In 2013, I posted to this blog once a week and enjoyed some pretty great stats. 47,000 unique page views. Up from 20,000 the year before.
But at the beginning of 2014, I declared (a little facetiously) that this blog was a waste of my time. Instead of posting once a week, I posted sporadically. About 17 times total.
And a funny thing happened: I still got about 43,000 page views.
How did this happen?
- Well, I think I got Googled a lot because of the musical.
- A lot of my old posts about Statements of Purpose and LORs, etc. still get read a lot.
Truthfully, a lot of my blogging energy went into this blog, maintained by my department at Ball State. If you read the post I’ve linked to, you’ll see the stats, etc.
Lately, my blog posts have been about administrating in higher education and my personal life rather than teaching and writing. I guess that’s what happens as time passes–the things that occupy space in your brain change.
I’ll be happy if you continue reading, despite these changes. Thank you.
My year in review
My husband published an essay at the Rumpus on the occasion of the death of chef Charlie Trotter.
The Indy Star did a nice story about me.
Spoke about Literary Citizenship at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop “Paths to Publishing” event. Reunited with Erin Flanagan and met Kirby Gann and Steve Saus.
The night I came back from Yellow Springs, my dog was hit by a car. He lived. We rejoiced.
Went to Seattle with my husband for AWP 2014. Loved Seattle. For some reason, I felt compelled to blog about my marriage while we were there. I put them on Tumblr rather than here. I don’t know why. “Traveling as a Couple,” “AWP Spouses.” And this one, too.
I wrote about my fear of and desire to be looked at on my Tumblr blog. (I wasn’t sure if these personal stories were appropriate for the Big Thing. I guess I felt safer posting them in this little corner of the internet where you might not see it.)
Took part in a roundtable discussion on Money and Creative Writing Programs with some amazing writers (Dinty Moore, Robert Hass, Elizabeth McCracken, and Yiyun Li. ) for Scratch Magazine.
Helped my mom start a caregiving blog.
Redesigned this blog. Click around. It’s kind of pretty.
Started a new job as Assistant Chair of the English Department.
Gave a talk at Hanover College because my book was the “common read” there. What an honor.
Published an essay about the value of a degree in English at The Millions. (This too started as a blog post that I sent out rather than posting here.)
Taught with Dinty Moore at the Grailville Retreat Center for the Antioch Writer’s Workshop.
Found out I’m going to be an aunt again. To a girl this time.
Read with Ben Clark at the R.J. Julia Bookstore and at the Mark Twain House and Museum. What an honor.
Went to French Lick for a book signing that went bust, but got to stay at West Baden.
Did a webinar for AWP’s Career Services on Requesting Letters of Recommendation.
Saw a new production of The Circus in Winter.
Launched my department’s first e-newsletter.
Lost two members of my extended family to cancer.
Reunited with an old high school friend and started trading work. Thanks to a new set of eyes, I got excited about my novel again. Worked on it a lot over Christmas Break and have applied for a sabbatical so that I can get that baby out the door.
I started writing this post feeling like “Man, I don’t feel like I accomplished much this year,” but now I see that I was as busy as ever in 2014.
Thanks, as always, for reading. Have a great year!
It’s been four months since I started my new job, and the things I most feared have happened.
- I’ve stopped blogging here.
- I haven’t been working on my novel as much as I’d like.
- I care about stuff that I never cared about before–like bulletin boards and registration time tickets and how class rooms are assigned and posters and scheduling grids.
I’m not surprised. Administrating changes you. Entire realms which have been hidden from view suddenly appear, and all you can really say is, “Holy shit.”