Half the Whole of It

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I posted a new food debacle on my other site, icantbelieveididthis, in which I confessed to the latest kitchen horror involving meatloaf. Maybe the suspense was too much about how I salvaged this hot mess:

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Or, perhaps, the blizzard conditions outside kept people inside bored crazy and reduced to scrolling through the internet for anything at all amusing. Whatever, I received a ton more likes from this than most of the Scraps postings concerning all my hand-wringing over writing and the story I’m working on now. Not only is the subject matter on I Can’t Believe This  different but the voice and style is, as well. If I’m honest with myself, these are factors in why my food writing found an audience while my straight writing remains obscure.

What can I say…both writings and blogs are equal halves of the whole of me. Every time I face the blank screen/page it’s like putting me in a paper bag, shaking me up, and be surprised at what tumbles out.

Moral of this story: Lighten up. Enjoy everything I do. Find humor after a day of slogging in the trenches. Not everything I write has to be serious.

A Quandray Over a Video or I Don’t Want to Be Noticed! Damn It I Do!

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I honestly don’t know how or why I got involved in this video from Food Crimes, a part of Anthony Bourdain’s vast endeavors, but here I am in it talking about saffron because I happened to have written a book full of stories about saffron and the reporter who contacted me was charming as well as a voraciously expert reporter. You’ll find me mostly in the second half, not at all as serious as all the other talking heads, babbling along, sweaty and frizzy haired (it was a humid 96 degree in my house made worse by all the lights they carted in), with bags down to my chin.

When the book came out it gathered a lot of notice because saffron is so mysteriously exotic.  I cook with it a lot  so it wasn’t as much a mystery to be explored but the stories I uncovered in my research from which I realized I could compose a string of stories that would allow me to stretch as a food writer.  It was short listed for Best Literary Cook Book by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and included in a volume of Best Food Writing.

Here’s the thing: this is my least favorite book of mine. The writing embarrasses me for being stilted, even a little pompous. After publishing two books I really loved and proud of (Pie Every Day–which did get a lot of notice and I still earn puny royalties from; and A Soothing Broth,  the one I really have a sweet spot for), I had an ulterior motive in writing this: I meant it as my bid to become the new M.F.K.Fisher.  If I was any smarter, and certainly less ambitious, I would have known that the results would lead to being too aware of the writing in a way I wasn’t with the others. The stories failed to take off and be, well, entirely like me.  In other words, I am no M.F.K. Fisher.

However, it’s the one I receive the most fan emails for (and let me be clear–my fan emails amount to maybe 2 or 3 a year, at best). But it’s for the spice and not the writing. The general public like the history but often complain about the lack of recipes. Culinary writers, historians, and academics, including students writing their dissertations, want my research and sources (there isn’t a bibliography–it’s a book of STORIES, God damn it, and did M.F.K. Fisher ever include a bibliography? No!). I politely respond with something that translates to “Do your own damn research.” Mine took a whole year of daily digging through all kinds of books and documents in many different places, that now fill two boxes down in my basement: Everyone else can go ahead and do the same thing.

This is not a complaint–I realize I’m so lucky to have this tiny trickle of notice and bless the few readers it may lead to me. It’s complicated, though, because if I feel this way, why am I sharing the video link?  Ego, I suppose, and eagerness to be at least out there at a time when I’m quietly writing the Clare stories.

I’m slinking back into my room now…..

It’s All About Me and Clare, God Damn It!!!!!!

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There are now eight parts to the Clare stories and, after completing extensive rewrites, I’m feeling pretty good about them. The logical next step is to begin pushing them out into the world.

There’s two ways of doing this:

  1. Send them to my wonderful agent who hopefully will fall in love with Clare
  2. Get them noticed first through some form of publishing

I started by mentioning them to my agent who says she’ll be delighted to read them when I’m ready to send them along to her. But I think the best thing to do for her would be to complete the series and I’m at least seven stories away from the ending–say six more months if I’m lucky that the world and life stands still.

That leaves #2, so I started with the folks at Wattpad.com, asking them to highlight Clare on their homepage. They enthusiastically replied that they would absolutely consider it, but I should hold tight because it may take six weeks for them to decide.

Exactly six weeks later they got back to me and this is what they said:

We enjoyed your collection of stories, but we feel that it’s a little early to add you to the Featured List as you’ve yet to really engage with the Community.

Additionally, your collection is marked mature and I’m afraid we’re not adding mature content to the List at present.

Well, there you have it, God’s honest truth about how I’m failing Clare: I don’t engage with a Community and the stories’ ratings are a little too, well, risque for the more acceptable rating of “All Audiences (13 +)”.

This signals trouble.

Community–whether upper or lower case–is a word that gets thrown around a lot in publishing these days. My agent has explained it to me several times. Simply put, community means the writer brings along a whole posse of readers with her even before she gets to the starting line because publishers and editors no longer have the luxury of supporting writers until they grow an audience. Thus the requirement that a writer possess not only talent but warm, paying, bodies.

Getting bodies means I can’t just put Clare up on Wattpad. I have to employ every social media option out there, starting with the 35 million or so other writers on Wattpad who I should make nice to by following, commenting and liking. I’ve tried but Clare zaps any energy I have to follow, comment, or like anyone else. Can’t I just say I’m following people? Can’t I simply create a pool of general comments and then cut and paste them to a random, very unselect, population among the 35 million writers on Wattpad (and seriously? 35 million? Think about this for a minute. It’s like all of Idaho are suddenly writing fantasy/horror/dystopia/chick lit! Isn’t that a horror in and of itself?)? Other than that–and yes, I know this would be unethical–I simply can’t imagine I have enough time left on earth to build a community on Wattpad.

What I have been ethical and earnest about is this blog and a website to try to accumulate readers (and thank you to those who have gone on to read Clare). I’m technically on Facebook and LinkedIn, though I rarely post or ask to be connected. My agent strongly suggested I get a Twitter and Tumblr account, which I did, but you won’t find me on them because I’m simply not witty, interesting, smart or clever enough on the fly. Pinterest and Instagram are non-starters, not that I don’t look at them when family and friends ask me to but I can’t imagine why I would use them. Seriously, I can’t imagine.

As for the other reason why Wattpad is not featuring Clare–I don’t know what to say. According to them Clare’s content ‘is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. Stories labeled with ‘Mature Content’ may contain frequent use of strong language and graphic depictions of violence, sexuality, and drug use. Stories where explicit sexual activity is the sole premise of the story are not permitted on Wattpad.’

Clare is sexual, profane, often druggie and, in an understated way, violent, so what can I say–that’s life for the two young women I’m writing about.

So here’s my options:

  • Suck it up and work my butt off to build this community thing;
  • Not look to Wattpad to do much promoting but continue to use it as a workshop platform until the story is complete;
  • Start pushing the work out the old-fashion way, i.e. small literary publications/websites, etc;
  • Just love the hard work of creating Clare.

So here’s my options:
∙ Suck it up and work my butt off to build this community thing;
∙ Not look to Wattpad to do much promoting of Clare but continue to use it as a workshop platform until Clare is complete;
∙ Start pushing Clare out the old-fashion way, i.e. small literary publications/websites, etc;
∙ Just love the hard work of creating it.

Revision Obsessions

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The new Clare story–Life Right Now–is the shortest of the bunch, yet it took two months to write. I have three slightly different versions on my desktop, each representing several print-outs scrawled with edits, major and tiny. I put it up Sunday and have already fiddled with it again.

All the Clare stories are obsessively revised–even after I post them. I know this is the worse, most unprofessional, thing to do in web publishing and it doesn’t let me off the hook that I obsessively rewrite whatever I do–including emails and casual notes. (This particular blog posting is in its four rendition.) After all the time spent in drafts, the Clare narrative and character development are right. But once they’re up I start catching spelling and grammar errors that slipped through and scream more horrifying on-line then in print. That starts me fussing with individual words or descriptions. I change a verb to make it more active and untangle weird sentence structures. I take out a line of dialog that is tripping up the pacing. Maybe I change the way Clare looks and act, or clarify her friend’s thinking about what’s happening to her to make it a little more sharper.

Whatever it is, I realize I’m tinkering with them in a very public arena that I wouldn’t do in print, if only because I know I can. It’s the ease at which these changes can be made. I feel anonymous enough to take them down, then put them up again, since I’m convinced that no one is paying much attention to them, anyway. The site, itself, plays into it. The Clare stories are serious work for me but I’m using their current venue as a workshop. That doesn’t do the site much justice but I feel it allows me space and time to get them right until I figure out a way to push them truly out into the world.

Wait, this is hogwash: If I am so serious about Clare, the mistakes weaken the experience of reading them. They are embarrassing. They make me cringe. I fault myself for being unprofessional. I can’t even blame the fact that I am profoundly dyslexic, which makes grammar rules, not to mention spelling, a life long challenge.

The habit of obsessive revision won’t budge much. It’s my process of writing. What should happen is to find a way to improve proofing and editing or, at the very least seek out a good pair of eyes (help!). Then, when they are about as perfect as possible, I need to let go and find them somewhere to live.

Writing 101–Clare’s Progress…..ECK!

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One of the best things about writing the Clare stories is that I don’t really care if they’re ever read or not.* I really don’t. I care about creating them, untangling structure, making sure the girls are moving along in their way. I spent weeks, daily scrapping away, on the second one after I realized Clare and her friend were sticking around (see below: that’s the one with the seven readers, in case you’re interested). But the reality is, I’m writing them for myself, publishing them online by myself, and not really paying attention to the current eleventh ring of hell which is publishing today. **

The third story I’m writing now shows what not caring does for me. Clare thinks artistically; her friend imagines numbers. One is seeing the world through her ability to make something out of nothing through art. The other puts order to the world and understands its mystery and beauty through numbers. They are sixteen, soon enough seventeen and they think about being dateless or oversexed, straight, gay, bi, or even a whole other gender/species all the time. But in no way do they think of all this as much as they are beginning to think about art and mathematics.

This is my memory of being a sixteen soon enough seventeen year old girl. My friends and I struggled harder to understand what our abilities were–and thus our worth–than our angst over sex, and what to wear, and who’s saying what about you and to whom. This is the age where the awareness of something else other than the outside world begins to push forward inside you and for girls it’s a make or break moment. Teenage girls have nothing and everything to lose and the outside world will either impede them or support them but they don’t know that yet. They’re on a high-wire and beginning to have dreams that will bring them balance or a fall.
Now, I could tell this third story straight but really it’s a complicated, loaded situation because it’s all in the girls’ heads and few outside themselves are aware of what is going on inside them. And yet, what happens to them now will factor into their eventual fates. Prose just doesn’t seem enough to me to explore this fully. So I’m using graphics and illustrations, clip-art, some photos I’ve put together, and am now contemplating embedding a vine, all strung along from one to another on sentences–clothe lines to pin them all together. Collecting the visuals and placing them together in logical sequence has been absorbing, confusing, and tricky. I am now about a week into it and I have to tell you, there’s no talking to me lately because I’m always trying to figure out the true way of portraying what is going on in Clare and her friend’s heads. ***

I’m hoping to tell the story of two girls diving into their real desires and realizing the shape of their true character. These two certainly will have a lot to overcome–as any child does–so whether they survive and preserve who they are is the real meat of these stories. I don’t think this is a profound thought or such an original observation. It’s the way I find to tell it that hopefully will put a different spin on girls growing up. ****

Yeah, self-publishing. It surely allows you to try all kinds of way to tell stories. I’m seeing about a month to complete it. Let’s hope it comes out. *****

*Disclaimer: Yes I do. I check the site where they’re on–usually in the dead of night or in the middle of the work day–and cringe: only 15 people, only 7 for the other!! What the hell!!!! Aughhhhhhhh!!!!!
** I once had a student that gave his high-paying job six months notice that he was quitting because that was when he expected the book he was writing would be sold for a gazillion dollars–including movie rights, of course. His story had everything, even a little sensationalism, notoriety and talent. That was five years ago. He has twenty drafts in his garage and he now works as a consultant. I tried to warn him but, you know, you have to get to this point all by yourself.
***I’ve been close to several budding artists, but I have no talent whatsoever that way. And I’m math illiterate–beyond illiterate, I’m actually an imbecile. This means I’m pretty much buried in discarded drawings and equations, and doing research on where Clare and her friend would be in their skills and what that may entail. As I said above–confusing and tricky. Oh, and very very anxious. This is a good portrait of me right now:

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****Seriously, that sounds so pretensions! So full of myself. What do I know–I’m an old lady. I can’t remember what it was like at forty, let alone sixteen soon enough seventeen. All I have is a box full of overheated diary/journal entries from high school that my mom mailed to me when she was cleaning out my room. Have you ever tried reading what you wrote when you were a teenager? It’s both embarrassing and fuel for a second martini. They’ve helped, though. I’m just waking up at night because of troubling memories and panic attacks over what was then and what is now.  Oh, wait, that’s the Clare stories right there in a messy ball–and they’re not even autobiographical, heaven’s no, not memoir either! Don’t say that!

***** You can weigh in on that one. But then you’d have to read it when I’ve uploaded it.