Working for What?

I keep meaning to say that I saw someone the other day comparing blogs to phonographs–this ancient technology no one but weirdos still uses–and it made me laugh. And it stuck with me. A decade I’ve been writing here (at least come this fall) and so many good things have come of it. It’s weird to think of that wonderfulness, shoot, just the opportunity for that wonderfulness fading away.

Anyway, our brother wanted me to look over his resume yesterday because he dislikes his job. And I spent much of the afternoon being irately angry at him. Like just who does he think he is that he gets to have three kids and a girlfriend who’s staying at home to take care of them and a wife who needs divorcing and he gets to decide that he’s working “too much.” Like, aren’t those the kinds of life decisions that generally result in people having to work really hard at things they don’t like in order to finance the whole thing? And, if he decides he’s going to quit this job in a pique, isn’t he basically just then relying on my parents to support his family? And you know I worry that the stress of dealing with our brother is going to kill my dad.

But then last night I was struggling with this story, my second one of the year, the second one I’ve struggled with like a motherfucker, and I wondered if it was too hard for no payoff. And it gave me some sympathy for our brother.

I read a post yesterday (man, I guess I should have emailed all these things to myself so that I can link to them, but it’s a guy whose being published by Angry Robot) and he was talking about the number of novels that (Oh, here it is!) he’s written that sucked and how his short stories sucked until he went to Clarion and so one and then he got good and now he has a publisher. And he says,

I’d been struggling to get a novel published for twenty-four years now, clawing at the walls of the Word Mines, and I had no hope of anything but oh God I couldn’t stop and I realized that I wasn’t going to stop, that the breath in my body would run out before I stopped writing tales and who the hell cared if I got published or not I was locked in.  I had to create.  I had to.

And boy do I know that feeling! But I also know our brother’s feeling–of doing something and being okay at it and just not seeing how it’s going to go anywhere. Or, in my own situation, frankly, not being sure what “anywhere” looks like.

I’m very lucky. I realize that. But I want to be good. No, I want to be great. And I don’t know how to be.

Ha ha ha ha ha. Lord, I’m sure you were like “Oh, Betsy has a new job she really likes. I’m sure her days of fretting and longing are over.” Wrong, buckoos. Fretting and longing are my default settings.

Welp

I’ve become kind of boring to myself. The blog has become kind of boring. The dog was peeing in the corner of my room, where Sadie peed when she was sick. So, Murphy’s Oil is not the cure-all I had previously thought. My story got rejected again. It’s hard to know about some rejections. There’s the kind of rejection that makes you feel like a story just doesn’t have it and you can’t see it. And then there’s the kind of story where everyone seems to like it almost well enough. And you wonder, or I do anyway, do you keep tinkering? Or since they all put their fingers on different things they think the problem is, do you keep searching for someone who will like it?

I don’t know. I’ll probably keep sending it out, I guess.

I have promised yet another story to a person to do some free crap with it. The march story, which I just have to hunker down and write.

I really hope I’ve got the dog situation resolved. He pees a lot in one squat. I mean, it’s impressive how much he pees. So, yeah, I really don’t need him doing that in the house.

That Sound You Hear is Just Me Screaming

Next week, folks. My new job starts next week. I would, I think, feel better if I didn’t know what I was doing. But, instead, I feel like I know enough to know that I’m just going to suck so bad for a little while.

The Butcher said I’m writing about “middle-aged people things” for Think Progress, which is depressing, but true. Here’s my latest post on Hannibal. He then lectured me about Vincent Van Gogh and accused me of being a dumbass for wanting to be a known writer.

So, that was a fun ride to work. Mostly, though, my writing anxiety revolves a lot around the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing.

And what if “Frank” was as good as it gets? Talent is finite and I spent mine on one zombie story?

In other news, I’m listening exclusively to songs written in 5/4 for lunch today. I need to remember to ask @txmere if there’s any well-known dance that is done in 5/4.

The First Item on My To-Do List is “Make a To-Do List.” The Next Item is “Panic.”

Oh, lord, people, I am already feeling like I got hit by a metaphorical ton of bricks and I am not nearly done with the things I have to do. But I do need to sit down and make a list and then just start plowing through those things.

Anyway, the meeting with the artists for Project X was amazing. Oh, you guys. I can’t even tell you. There’s a creepy church and a huge wolf that somehow appears to be made mostly of empty spaces. Dr. Jack’s pseudo-veve for raising the devil is so fucking thoughtful–the shape of the symbol intentionally looks like looking at a wolf head on. There’s a wolf tarot card that is just so fucking awesome. And the moon in it is mindblowing. And then the art for Mrs. Overton’s section brings her to life. Like, I just saw it and was like “Man, this section went from nothing to being a portrait of this woman’s soul.” We still have two parts that don’t have art, but we’re getting a map for the one and they have an idea they want to talk to a paper maker about for the other–making paper from “the coat of Mr. Merritt.” Which, granted, since you haven’t read the story doesn’t mean much. But I’m blown away.

And, if we do some kind of crowd-funding for the project, I’m going to make the new version of Allendale one of the gifts.

The pain in my hip that I’ve been suffering from all week finally went away, but my hip muscles are now grouching because they’re sore from compensating for the hip pain. And, though this was annoying, it made me laugh.

I have the day off today, so I have to run a billion errands and read a book on tattoos. And make my to-do list. And panic.

I Swear, the Butcher is Magic

I’m sitting here last night kind of failing to work on my afghan (turns out it’s hard to work on an afghan when you’re playing Civilization) and I get a text from the Butcher. He has found someone to get me some headshots. Sunday at 4. At no cost to me, because he “has taken care of it.”

I am looking at all the other headshots involved in this thing I need a headshot for and, at this point, I’m just hoping for something that makes me look friendly and approachable. I’ve studied the genre and the trope seems to be–stand by a wall, cover your double chin, get shot from above. If you have long hair, let it hang loose and flowing. If you have a beard, rock it. I don’t think I can grow a whole beard before tomorrow. But maybe one chin hair?

I wonder if it would be funny to try to get a headshot that embodied all the rules at once?

Return to Allendale

So, you know my plan to return to my ‘Allendale’ story. I think I told you all that I drafted up an entwined story that would go with it–the story of what happens when poor George’s niece gets hold of the story. But I hadn’t looked at that draft in a long time. Since it’s too cold and wet to walk, that’s what I did this morning.

It needs some polishing. But damn. It’s in better shape than I remember. I’m going to have fun bringing that up to speed. I really want this to somehow be this October’s thing. It just feels like a nice circle to me. The drawback is that the second story is all in footnotes to the first (because we never outgrow our first loves–so make sure your first love is baby carrots, my friends). So, how exactly to format it and get it set up to be the October thing I’m not sure of, unless I just print the damn thing. But I really don’t want or have time to do all the shit I did for A City of Ghosts. So, I don’t know. I need to think about it.

I’m feeling pretty okay about my presentation to the Demonbreun Society, too. I want to get some more visual stuff together for them and I need to run over to the TSLA and make some copies from the Provine Papers. But I feel like I have a good outline of the topics I want to cover with them.

So, I think all that leaves on my plate here at home to sort out is this afghan.

On My Plate

I read Diddy Wah Diddy by Corey Mesler this weekend and it was really good. It’s kind of a dreamlike mythologizing of Beale Street. Lots of sex and singing and just rolling around in language like a pig in mud. If you’re a fan of Memphis, you’ll have feelings about this book. You’ll either love it or hate it.

But the thing that I’m lingering over, just from a technical standpoint, is how he nails the ending–which is, of course, as it must be in a book like this, about Elvis. And I think Mesler gets it exactly right–that feeling of Elvis being so excited about what he was hearing, about him stealing it, about people feeling like him stealing it at least meant that it was going to get heard, and about Elvis being too young to know just what his role was.

Let me put it this way. If Diddy Wah Diddy is a mythology in the old sense of the word (and Mesler goes to great lengths to assure you that it is) and Beale Street an Olympus of sorts, then Elvis is an unwitting Prometheus.

But all that is more about plot. I kind of mean something different when I say he nails it. What I mean is that how he handles that plot point technically, as in how he writes it, is satisfying. The ending doesn’t go on too long, but it hits the right sweet and sad notes that the story is over. I haven’t put the book on the shelf yet, because, as a writer–and one who’s not very confident in her endings lately–I want to understand the mechanics of what he’s pulled off. The physics of it.

Speaking of endings. I finished my short story. I’m not quite satisfied with the ending. See above. But I sent it to my beta reader anyway, because, if there’s a flaw with the ending, its roots are going to be earlier in the story. And, earlier in the story, the parts that I am most unsure of are whether it fits the mythology (in the newer sense of the word) that the guys who created this world have made up. So, I need a sense of whether all that is working.

You know I struggled with how to tell that story. It took me a while to settle on the narrator. I probably wrote close to 14,000 words of what is now about an 8,000 word story. All the same scenes and characters just told in different ways until one clicked for me. The most important thing I cut was a whole discussion of my current narrator’s parents, who had her when they were teenagers and are not doing a great job of co-parenting her now.

That is still the case. But other than the clues that they appear to all be living in her grandfather’s house and that he was a hobo until the 80s and that the narrator is clearly older than 13 or 14 and she mentions a step-dad, I cut all that out. It’s just a thing about her, not some central trauma to her life.

Still, I’m pleased with it. Even if I end up tinkering with it a little more.

And I think that means all I have on my plate for my spare time this month is to make an afghan I don’t have enough yarn for yet and to put together something for the Demonbreun Society about Joseph Deraque (Deratte?) I can feel proud of sharing with them. I just have to remember to bring the John Sevier’s story about Joseph meeting the Welsh Indians, even though I think it’s complete bullshit. Still, who doesn’t want to hear a weird, cool complete bullshit story about their ancestor?

Once that’s out of the way, I’m going back to Allendale. I’ve been having some thoughts and I’d just like to get that into a form I feel satisfied with. Maybe we’ll revisit it in October.

I Cannot Finish My Story

I am too tired to write the last couple hundred words. I am completely daunted about revising this from “people sit around tables talking to each other” to “things happen.”

But I got to invent a Led Zeppelin song and then have my bad guy steal it from the world.

See, before she fucked things up, J.D. Short’s ‘Wake Up Bright Eye Mama’ was never lost, so Led Zeppelin got to steal it and make it into one of their most famous hits. And now, sadly, we live in a world where Led Zeppelin’s ‘Bright-Eyed Mama’ will never be heard.

And I love that so much that, even if everything else in the story is an unfinished mess, I am happy.

Songs for Sewing

So, I think I’ve come across a weak spot in the world wide web. I’m still working on my story and the main character sings, a lot. In the beginning of the story, he’s moping around singing “Ohio” by CSN&Y and then some “This Land is Your Land” and the whole family sings “The Rock Island Line” and one baby gets the Dead’s “Casey Jones” as a lullaby and another baby gets that Everlast song “What It’s Like” sung to her and then there’s a whole part in which the main character is singing a stream of American music at his granddaughter. Anyway, we’re just now at the point where the villain gives the narrator Betsy Ross’s thimble (did I mention how much I love this world?!), which she heretofore has been unable to make work.

And the main character sings a sewing song. So, I’m all, “refresh my memory, internet! What are some good songs to sing while sewing?” And all I could really find was “O Can Ye Sew Cushions?” that sounded like a song someone might actually sing while sewing, which is also about sewing.

This is weird to me. I feel pretty confident in saying that any task, like sewing or weaving or spinning or doing the dishes or whatever, would be greatly improved by singing. So, where are those work songs?

I modified “O Can Ye Sew Cushions?” for my purposes, but come on! Betsy Ross’s mom did not sing her a Scottish song. So, that sucks. I don’t know if the songs just don’t exist or if my Google skills have failed me in finding them.

I did learn that there’s some doubt that “Sarasponda” is an actual spinning song, though, so that’s cool/depressing.

More on Sound of Noise

Okay, so here are some other things I loved about it. There’s a man and a woman at the core of it. They might even be said to have a very tiny thing. But it doesn’t go anywhere! And that’s not a tragedy. It was really fun to listen to. In that way, it kind of reminded me of The Innkeepers. (Just in that way, though. South of Noise is not at all, even in the slightest, a horror movie.) And, for a movie about music and making music, there are a lot of really delicious silences.

It makes me wonder just how outlandish a central premise you could come up with and still frame it with “real”ness.

I feel like many of my stories are obviously not quite here, like we have all moved over together into unreal Nashville (or wherever). But this movie was very “real” except for the central two things. And I kind of like thinking about that, moving one or two strange things from “unreal” into real.

Like everything is the same as it is here, but you can use butterflies as a heat source. Like, how little a change could you make?

I don’t know. I’m thinking about it anyway.

Another Process Post

So, yeah, this current short story. I had 3,500 words that I knew hit a lot of the plot points I wanted to hit, but represented two different approaches to hitting them. Both of which didn’t quite work. But they were helping me solidify my thoughts on how the story should go, so I went with each one until it was clear that approach couldn’t carry me through the whole story.

Now I’ve figured out the problem–what about this story I found compelling and therefore whose perspective matches up with that compulsion. The thing is that I am pretty much obsessed with the past–its effects on us, how little of it we know relative to how much influence it has on us, the struggles to even understand what we do know, etc. You read me. You know.

So, I had been trying out telling the story from a limited third-person point of view both from the perspective of the hero and of the villain. But part of why it wasn’t working is that they’re both old. And, frankly, people who think they know better than you their own interpretations of history and then try to force them on you as the only interpretation are, at best, tedious. No one wants to read a story that’s basically “I know so much more than this other character. How can I teach this other character everything she needs to know in time?!” At least I don’t. Because part of the thing about history is that it’s like your grandmother’s jewelry box. Everything’s in there, but what you find valuable–what you pick up and put down–changes depending on your needs.

So, obviously, the compelling perspective is from the person who must do the sorting for herself.

I struggled for weeks to get those first 3,500 words, but I have gotten this 3,000 in two days.

Allen

Oh, god, the other two stories in the Scene this morning are perfect. They have one on Wessyngton and the tremendous work John Baker has done to bring the stories of the people enslaved there to light and the cool new exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum on it. And then they have one on the work just getting started at Belle Meade to provide a more complete look at the lives of the slaves there. And then there’s mine on the slaves of the Corporation and the work that needs to be done on them.

I’m really pleased.

Tomorrow, Allen

Last month, I went to the city archives and I tried to learn about the slaves Nashville owned. Tomorrow, my story about it comes out in the Scene. I’m really proud of the story. But the difference between the version I turned in and the version that’s running gives me great pause. See, the version that’s running is very much like the version I turned in, but the edits have substantially improved it. They cut a paragraph or two, rearranged things where they made the cut and they turned the ending from sad into a kick to the throat.

I like the story I turned in. I 100% thought it was great. But it’s much, much better now.

And that’s always what frustrates me about my fiction. I think it’s good. I know it would be better with an editor. I know I’d learn a lot from that experience. I don’t know. I can’t actually do anything about it at the moment but fret over it. But I have to figure out how to make that happen. I need to get over a hump I don’t even understand the scope of. Yes, I know, this directly contradicts my happiness about things earlier on this week. So, the truth is I don’t know.

Anyway, Allen is the slave I focused on, because he’s young, like my nephews. It’s easy for me to imagine what his life should have been like–had he not been the captive of our city.

But it got me thinking a lot about what we owe the people of the past. I mean, I drink water out of pipes Allen placed in the ground. I directly benefit from Allen’s enslavement. It’s not such a long time ago when I can open a faucet and, ta da, thanks, Allen.

One thing I think is that any discussion about this leads directly to reparations because it’s such a big distraction. It’s a way to talk about the issue in such big, abstract, impossible-to-achieve thus easy-to-dismiss terms so that we don’t have to consider a much more basic question. Like, what do we, as a city, owe Allen? And, given that we can’t give him what we owe him–what would come close to making us even for what we stole from him–what should we do to acknowledge that debt?

That’s the real trick. When you owe a debt that cannot be repaid, what responsibilities to your debtor do you incur?

So, the question isn’t “What do we owe Allen?” because it doesn’t matter. The legacy we inherited as the living embodiment of the city is that we can’t make it right with Allen. But what is our responsibility to Allen?

I think, in part, since we robbed him of his own people, we have to acknowledge our responsibility to act as his descendants. We stole it, but we’re his beneficiaries. Our responsibility is to remember him and to admit that we owe him a debt we can’t repay.

Why Walking in My Back Yard is Like Walking on Marbles

This is technically from my neighbor's yard, but the effect is the same in mine. You step on that and you're going to go rolling.

This is technically from my neighbor’s yard, but the effect is the same in mine. You step on that and you’re going to go rolling.

On my walk this morning, I paused in the wettest spot to look at a track. Surrounding it were deer tracks, pretty clearly frozen into the bog. But this almost appeared to be canine. I convinced myself that it might have just been two overlapping deer tracks. But I do wonder. The thing I wonder about is–yes, we have coyotes and yes, that area is pretty soggy when it’s not completely frozen. But how heavy a coyote would we be talking about, to leave that deep an imprint?

I should have taken a picture of that, instead of the weird dirt marbles. But I’m sure it was just a deer track on top of another deer track.

Or, perhaps, a werewolf?

Ha ha ha. Oh, life, of course I would be the first person to be verifiably eaten by a werewolf! My poor mom, so afraid of someone hitting me while I walk in the road in the dark, hits a kid while he’s walking in the road in the dark. Of course I would get eaten by a werewolf! It’s so clear that this is a likely ending to me.

Oh, which reminds me, I got sick before I could do it justice here, but I saw a sketch for the herbal in Project X. In the book, the conceit is that the herbal was put together by Mrs. Overton out at Traveller’s Rest. But it’s just an herbal. There’s nothing really directly about her in the story, even though her presence stretches over the rest of the book.

But this sketch is her. Not in a way anyone working at Traveller’s Rest would recognize. But in a way that I recognized as the author of the book. You look at that picture and you understand something I didn’t put into words about how the woman who would take the first steps towards dealing with the werewolf saw herself. It’s amazing. I told the artist that I want to marry the image. And she’s surrounded by these moons.

Oh, god, everything about it is perfect and occult and weird and lovely.

The artist wants to talk about maybe collaborating on something, just her and me. Yes, in addition to the kids’ book (different artist).

It makes me feel like I might have to reevaluate what I mean by “success” for myself. I had thought that it meant getting a book contract and having a “real” publisher. But I have to tell you, there’s something about having these amazing artists wanting to collaborate that blows my mind. It feels like a way to carve out a happy writing life for myself. But I’ve been so focused on Ben & Sue (still not back from the reader) and then on this short story which is still going hilariously poorly (I’ve got another good beginning from a different perspective, but still not sure that’s the POV that’s right for the story. Yes, pushing 3,000 words, none of which I think are quite right, though getting closer.). I’m not bummed about it, though. This is the kind of story that just has to go like shit at first.

Anyway, my point is that I’ve been focusing on finishing things up for a while now. I haven’t really given any thought to starting new things out. But, man…

Google Street View Drivers? Long-Haul Truckers? Walkers across America?

So, I’m writing this story. And, on the one hand, it’s not going well. And, by that, I mean, I have no fucking idea where it’s going. And I’m kind of not sure that my focus is on the right character. Or, if it is, what his fucking arc is supposed to be. On the other hand, I’m dying, because I’m having such fun writing it. Like, one of the central conceits is that the main character’s granddaughter needs to hit the road and go out and… well… conserve America’s vital magical resources. And, in the old days, she could have done this work while, say, being a hobo. But, in this day and age, where they scan railcars for heat signatures in most major cities and boxcar doors are more regularly closed, it’s hard to be a hobo. Just leaving aside the danger of a woman being a hobo.

So, I’ve been trying to come up with a job/lifestyle that could allow her the same kind of criss-crossing of America motion without the danger of constant rape, pretty much. And one that would then also put her in contact with evil villains for her to fight. And I had thought that a good evil villain plan would be to commandeer the Google Street View cars and magically mess with the images they’re taking so that they show… I don’t know… streets that no longer exist, houses that were torn down, maybe the terrible things that happened in the front yards of the places you drive by every day. Like, oh, you thought that was just a Walgreens, but here on Google Street View we’ll show you the gallows that used to be here in use!

But, frankly, America, I don’t think you’d find that incredibly evil or disturbing. I think you, like me, would find it fascinating. As far as evil plots go, it kind of sucks.

And then I’ve been mulling over whether the kids who go door to door to try to force you to buy magazines might actually be a force for evil. But it seems like, in real life, they might be already. So, maybe turning them into supernatural evil isn’t that creative.

But I’m already thousands of words into it! And I have no plot!

I guess what I’m saying is that, in this case, I’m writing something I enjoy and just barfing it all up on the screen, with the understanding that revising is going to be basically rewriting the thing to get it into the shape it needs. Sometimes, like with the Tilda part in Project X, the story comes to me so forcefully that, really, all I’m doing is sitting back and trying to get it all down as it comes. Like I just know the story inherently, before I even start writing it.

And sometimes it goes like this, where I’m doing a draft just to be all “And what’s this person’s deal? And what’s this person’s deal? And how did they meet and what’s it like when they meet again?” and that all might eventually get trimmed away from the final story. I just need to know it before I can write the final story.

Making Plans

In the work realm, which is going to drift back off blog here shortly, there’s both a lot to be done and a lot of time to do it in, which is really weird. I will probably feel freaked out more the closer we get to the start of April, but right now, I’m just wishing I had a large wall calendar, which I can get procured for me today, I imagine. And some colored pencils that really erase. I wonder if those exist?

In the writing realm, my goals for this little bit are modest. I have two stories that I’m shopping–”Sarah Clark,” which was once accepted into an anthology and then the publisher went belly-up (so it’s never seen the light of day, but someone else once liked it), and “The Letters that Laurel Sent Maggie about that Thing in the Woods” which got rejected last year from someone who had it most the year, and the feedback I got from them suggests to me that, if it strikes your fancy, it really strikes your fancy, and, if it doesn’t, you still think it’s a good story, you just can’t put your finger on why it doesn’t do it for you. So, I’m going to try to find someone for whom it really does it.

I’m waiting to hear back from a Moll & Sue beta reader, so that’s just simmering there on the back burner, nothing I can do about it at the moment. Project X is doing whatever it’s doing and the children’s story is chugging along.

And I am going to start working on a story for an atypical outlet! I’m still in the mulling-over stage on that one but, if I can talk the Butcher into going Super Bowling all Sunday afternoon, I might have time to start to see what shape it might take.

Holy shit, honestly. For as shitty and unproductive as last year seemed to live through it, I’m glad I kept working, because it means I have a lot of little fires to tend now.

Lately, all my characters run around singing “Wild Hog in the Woods,” because I find it creepy as fuck.

It sound like this, when it is sounding particularly English:

And like this once we get a hold of it:

The Importance of Silliness

I had dinner with a couple of friends this weekend and one of them is working on a novel and we’ve been talking about it, because I really love both to talk about writing and to hear other people talk about writing. I spend a lot of time talking about my process here because I gorge myself on other people’s process posts.

See, the thing is that I’m used to being the “good student.” You tell me what you want me to do and I will fucking nail it or die trying. But my whole adult life has been a struggle to figure out how best to be good at the things I want to do when there is no set way of doing things–when you have to figure out what you want to do, how you’re going to try to do it, and how you’ll recalibrate if it doesn’t work how you want it. Basically, trying to move from a paradigm were failure means it’s over to one where failure is just how you learn what doesn’t work.

So, I like seeing what works for other people. I like thinking about what works for me. (For instance, I subscribe to Duotrope* and right now my strategy is to submit a.) to markets that are on their top 100 of pickiest markets and/or b.) markets I like or am curious about. I don’t know why, but being rejected by hard markets somehow sucks less.)

Wow, so, this was a long prelude to my point. But here we go. My friend’s novel has a kind of silly premise. But the points he’s making, the ways he’s drawing up his characters and setting them loose in the world is really, really thought provoking. (What I mean by silly is more like “In a world where vampires are real, a cheerleader will save us!” and not “It’s a comedy novel.”) So, you know a couple of years ago, I went to that awesome panel at the Southern Festival of Books which was a funny horror writer and a comedy writer who writes about horrible things, and it made me really aware of how comedy and horror are close siblings, and, in fact, how you almost need one in order to have the other.

And now this conversation has me thinking about the ways that a strain of silliness makes room for seriousness. And it makes me wonder if the presence of the fanciful (maybe that’s a better word than silly) acts as a kind of signal to the reader that we’re in a story, so that the serious stuff has room to work behind our defenses. I mean, not many of us–let’s be honest–want to real all about class struggles in Britain and how they affect children, but we care that Hermione’s parents are muggles and we don’t want her to feel like she doesn’t belong at Hogwarts.

It’s not like it’s a clear allegory. And I think allegories eventually feel thin (sorry, Narnia). But you see what I mean about letting the serious slip past your defenses?

 

 

*Did we talk about this, now that it’s $50 a year? Which means, in years I don’t sell anything or sell only one thing, but for less than that, they’re making more money from my writing than I am? And how I have mixed feelings about this? And how it’s made me decide that, bless many other hearts, Duotrope is the only writing-related expense in my life? I mean, I plan on recalculating this. Don’t get me wrong. If there were some way for me to do Clarion, well, I’m not a fool. Of course I’d jump on it, even though it’s much more money than my writing earns and even may earn after that. But at this stage in my “career,” I just don’t want to pay someone else so that I can be a writer.

In Weird, Nice News

At least ten people seem to have gotten A City of Ghosts for Christmas this year. That’s really nice. I’m glad to see that still chugging along at its own speed.

It may not be for everybody, but the people who like it seem to really like it.

Not an Excuse, But…

So, I have a friend, or, I guess, you can work with a dude for a year and drink with him regularly and now he’s not a friend, but just some guy you used to know in the course of a “full disclosure.” Saying he’s only someone I used to work with seems, to me, in my case, disingenuous. I liked the shit out of him and have cheered for him at various stages in his career. On the other hand, when he came through town last and saw his “friends from the Scene,” I wasn’t among the people he tried to get together with, though he apologized later, which is how I found out he’d been in town at all. So, that’s, I guess, the accurate assessment of our friendship. We kind of keep track of each other and I’ve been excited to see where his career might go.

So, here’s also the thing. He fucked up. Badly. And now a person is dead.

But, here is also the thing. As much as I read his story and imagined with growing horror what he was doing and what that would mean if he were writing about someone I knew–what if this were my friend V. instead of just some stranger?–I read his story and imagined with growing horror whether I would have written that story that way. And the thing that I keep coming back to is this: I’m not sure. Maybe not in this particular case. Maybe, if the circumstances were that I found out that a person I was investigating for a story about golf clubs was transgender and really, really didn’t want that to come out, I might back off. Maybe I might be smart enough to ask around about how best to handle the situation. Especially if I knew she’d tried to commit suicide before.

But I write about Scott DesJarlais regularly, about what a fucking tool he is. And I know he was suicidal at one point (I mean, say what you want and claim you knew the gun was empty, but sitting around with the barrel in your mouth does not make you non-suicidal) and I know he didn’t want the fact that he’d pressured his girlfriend into having an abortion to come out and I jumped right on the dog pile.

It’s supposed to be better because he chose to be a public person and he’s a vile jackass, but is it? I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure because I think a lot of writing–in my case, a lot of blogging–is pretty formulaic. I think, in fact, people’s own narratives about themselves are pretty formulaic (hence why Tarot cards work). And the whole “scrappy reporter sticks it to the rich and powerful” is a pretty strong narrative. It’s at the heart of the phrase I’ve seen bandied about against my friend–Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. I feel fairly certain that this was the strong, simply narrative at the heart of the urge to uncover this woman’s fraud (let me be clear: about her education and credentials). How dare you, rich and powerful person, try to pull one over on the public?

But it’s at the point that the simple narrative falls short that I feel uncertain. If you discover that your framework for the story is the wrong one–that this isn’t a powerful person fucking over the unwitting–how certain are you that the other simple shorthand ways you have for explaining the situation are workable, not outdated, not so bloody fucking violent? I’ve known my friend a long time and we’ve had a lot of discussions about writing and justice and sticking it to The Man. And it would have never occurred to me that, sitting in his writerly toolkit, unused but waiting in case he needed it, was “trans women are unstable frauds.”

So, I kind of don’t know how to process that. And, frankly, obviously, that’s not just a narrative he had on hand, ready to snap it into place when the story he was telling became strange to him, but one his editors also saw and thought seemed plausible and fine.

I feel kind of disjointed and incoherent about this. But I’ll just say this. A lot of the discussion of this story is about how my friend is some obvious villain. But I am certain that, if anyone reading this had sat down and had a beer with him before this happened, you’d find a guy you liked, a guy you thought was on your side.

And I get why everyone is all “Oh, not me! I would never…” But I just don’t believe it. And, in part, I don’t believe it because I would have believed my friend when he said something similar (and, in fact, as people have pointed out, he pretty much did when talking about the Kellers).

I feel like saying “Oh, not me! I would never…” is a lie. For me, anyway. I feel pretty certain I’d never write about a trans woman this way or go around outing her to her acquaintances. But I’m not certain I’d never fuck someone over in my writing as badly as my friend fucked over this woman. I’m especially not certain because I know I think there are a lot of people who deserve to be raked over the coals. I mean, who cares if fucking DesJarlais has some nights of discomfort?

I don’t know. I don’t really have a point. A woman is dead. And my friend seems to obviously have contributed to that death. And everyone else seems so angry and certain that this is beyond what a decent person would do. And yet, I know my friend and I’d call him a decent person. So, that certainty scares me.

Checking on My Projects

I nagged C. about nagging the artists on Project X.

And then I stopped by and talked to J. about the children’s book. She’s busy plotting out what will go on each page and then making a little foldy book so that we can see what will be on which page where. Today we talked about whether we’re imagining text on one page and a picture on the other or text framed by the illustration or some mixture of both. We settled on both. She was telling me how much she likes Edward Gorey’s way of incorporating text and illustration, so I’m curious to see how that might influence how the book ends up. Our plan is to debut it at the Proto Pulp Book Show in the fall. So, that’s really exciting and a deadline for which to aim. I’m really excited.

Not Like

So, there’s a moment in the Ben & Sue project when Sue’s pissed that something’s done to her and she turns around and does the same thing to another character and Moll launches into this pondering of how radical Jesus’ idea of treating others as you want to be treated is, how hard it is for people to put it into practice. And nm was like “Um, that’s not Jesus’ idea. It’s so-and-so’s, and probably earlier than him.”

And I haven’t fixed this part yet because I’m not quite sure how I want to tackle it. One of the themes in my manuscript is the trouble with surety, how being certain you have the true interpretation of events no place good and how uncertainty, though harder, gets us closer to the truth. Kind of. And this seems like a good place to kind of reinforce that.

But it’s also got me thinking a lot about the problem of antisemitism at the heart of how a lot of Christianity is taught. Look at me. Even ten years ago, I would have told you that, if I was raised any way, it was to be not antisemitic, but respectful of the fact that people have different beliefs than I do, beliefs that are, yes, wrong, but not our business if they are so. And, once I moved places where there were Jewish people to knew, I knew and liked and became friends with people who are Jewish. Then my own beliefs changed and I let go of the idea that being non-Christian is some kind of mistake of imagination that will be cured, eventually, by the awesomeness of Jesus, which I’m sure made me a less obnoxious person to be friends with.

These days, thanks to the kinds of scholarship there’s been on sundown towns, it’s impossible for me to view my upbringing in white, Christian towns as a coincidence of circumstances. Those places were deliberately white and Christian and how they were kept white and Christian was mostly kept hidden from me as a child.

And just in my own being around a while, it’s impossible for me to not see how a lot of the ways I was taught Christianity involves a constant, implicit rebuke of a fantasy Judaism. And what I mean by “fantasy Judaism” is that it’s this made-up version of Judaism, this idea that, just by reading the Old Testament and other Christian scholarship on the Old Testament, you know what Judaism is. It’s a fun-house mirror version of real Judaism, except that the people who study the reflection don’t seem to ever realize that.

Here’s a good example of what I mean. I was taught that Jesus was an outsider to the Jewish power structures he was critiquing. The scribes and the pharisees were those people who were doing it wrong and Jesus was sent along to bring them and everyone else new information that supplanted the “rules” (Oh, how we loved to go on about how Jesus turned his nose up and people who paid more attention to the rules than to loving people, because how stupid that was. Only look at how Christians tread gay people. And then look at the words other Christians use to critique the Christians who use rules as an excuse to ostracize gay people–”They’re modern-day pharisees.” Don’t even deny it. I KNOW  a few of you were getting ready to type that in the comments below. Because you, too, have been taught a version of Christianity that sets Jesus in opposition to Jewish people and Jewish social structures, even though Jesus was Jewish.). The scribes and the pharisees are the villains. Jesus is the hero. Don’t be like the scribes and the pharisees. Be like Jesus. Who had all new ideas.

So, that’s the reason I’ve been thinking so hard on nm’s “but this wasn’t new with Jesus” comment.  Because, of course it wasn’t. There’s a theory (and I say theory, but it’s stronger than that) that Jesus was a pharisee, himself. That, if you look at what we know about his life and the intellectual tradition he’s so deeply versed in–which would mean knowing the intellectual tradition he’s deeply versed in–it’s obvious. Like the way you’d know that a guy with pocket scales deals a little dope, even if you never smelled it on him, knowing who Jesus quotes tells you what intellectual tradition he was a part of and that he was, indeed, a pharisee.

Now, at this point in my life, I like this tidbit. Because I know it can be harder to critique a group from the inside–that calling people you love and respect to task is often more difficult than standing on the outside yelling in. But it also undermines a lot about how Christians in this country see themselves as a threatened minority, since they see themselves as a threatened minority like martyrs and in the tradition of Jesus, the ultimate outsider.

And I’m not sure what it would mean for Christianity to more firmly reject the “refutation of Judaism” model.

But I know, when I saw nm’s comment, I felt like I had made my character a liar in a way I hadn’t intended, because I, myself, have been a liar in that fashion. And it’s not my own lie. I didn’t know better, but tell that anyway. Well, okay, it’s not quite that simple. I do know better now. And I lie to myself and to others when it’s easier, as a kind of shorthand way of signalling that I know the tropes of Christianity, which includes the refutation of the fun-house Judaism. But I didn’t always know it was a lie. When I first started telling it, I believed it was the truth–that Jesus was somehow in opposition to the very culture and religion he was clearly deeply engaged with.

And this is the part I wonder about–what does it look like to let go of the lie? What would a Church like that look like?