Thanks to the awesome folks at the Railroad Book Depot for hosting my Zoom reading from The Cosmic Turkey! Here's the recorded version.
T-shirts! Hats! Water bottles! Phone cases! Laptop covers! All with the Cosmic Turkey logo. There's also a coffee version for mugs.
Find it all here and here at Redbubble.com.
I'm the featured local author at Railroad Book Depot, an awesome store that gives back to the community!
I got third place in the latest mini-contest at "On the Premises." Topic was "an ad with a little TOO much information."
I had a mini-interview with Darcia Helle on Instagram, all about my main character, Janet Delane.
Every issue of Thema has fiction, nonfiction and poetry around a single theme. the current issue, with the theme "The Tiny Red Suitcase," contains my flash fiction piece, "Garbage Bags." Inspired by my too-many years working with the foster care system.
Some people write for their own enjoyment, which is great. Others write for publication, which means dealing with rejection. Lots of it. Like, far more rejections than acceptances. Given the sheer volume of submissions they receive, editors and agents have to reject most of what they receive, even when it’s awesome.
Most rejections come in generic form: “Thank you for your interest, but this piece does not meet our current needs. We wish you luck placing it elsewhere.” More personalized rejections with specific critique are a good thing — but it doesn’t always feel that way, especially in the beginning. Being told that your main character is unlikable can feel like a personal attack, when really it’s an opportunity to make the story better.
Every writer who’s sent out submissions has a few stories about the “WTF” rejections. Like the agent who objected to my “main character’s Lesbian issue” (yes, she capitalized it). Or the one, back in the prehistoric era of snail mail, who wrote, “You could try workshopping this poem, but in its present form it is cliched and unoriginal” — on the outside of the return envelope. (I resisted the temptation to write back when the same poem, unaltered, won $50 elsewhere. Publishing really is very subjective.)
And (despite some of my fantasy suggestions below), it’s unwise to ever respond to a rejection. The editor who loves your next story won’t remember that they passed on your last one. Unless of course you sent them a stinging email calling them “an infected boil on a troll’s butt, who wouldn’t know great literature if all nine muses used it to kill them with paper cuts.”
So, for those contemplating taking the plunge, here is my unofficial list of ways to handle rejection:
Reread the rejection letter. Try to find some unexamined nuance in Thank you for your interest.
Google the editor relentlessly, looking for evidence of substance abuse, felonies, inappropriate photos, divorce filings, lawsuits, rumors, fashion crimes, and any other evidence of shoddy judgment.
Use the editor’s name for a new entry in the Urban Dictionary.
Research untraceable poisons. Use them to coat the darts you throw at a picture of the editor.
Send roses to the editor with an effusive note thanking them for accepting your piece, hoping they’ll get confused and think they actually did.
Spread rumors that the publication is about to go out of business.
Read other items that were accepted by the same editor. Comb through them for flaws. Write indignant letters to the publication, demanding to know how they could print such junk.
Doubt your worth as a writer. Doubt your worth as a human being. Suspect that the creation of the cosmos was a mistake, since it resulted in your existence.
Shred the manuscript. Realize that doesn’t matter when you still have it on your hard drive. Take a hammer to the hard drive. Panic and call a specialist to restore the computer.
Call your therapist.
Frame the editor for embezzlement, plagiarism, adultery, and/or treason. Alert authorities, and then try to have incriminating conversations with the editor in places that are likely to be wiretapped.
Re-re-read the rejection letter. Look for evidence that the editor is secretly in love with you and can’t publish your work because it would be too painful to be that close to you.
Write a letter. “Dear Editor: Thank you for your interest in not publishing my story. However, after careful consideration I have decided that your publication will not go in a different direction. I wish you the best of luck in not publishing someone else’s piece.”
Make any needed edits to the piece, cross your fingers, and send it out again. And keep writing.
Cross posted at Daily Kos.
Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, caught my attention when President Obama mentioned reading it. The author was raised in a survivalist family in rural Idaho, with no schooling. She went on to college, and eventually got her PH.D. at Cambridge and was a visiting fellow at Harvard. There’s a whole lot more to Tara’s story.
Several things jumped out at me:
Both of Tara’s parents had mainstream Mormon upbringings, and their own parents and siblings were baffled by the choices they made as adults. Tara’s father was an End Times prepper who was devastated when Y2K didn’t bring on the expected apocalypse. He was extremely paranoid about “The Feds,” and refused to enroll the kids in school or even get them birth certificates. They learned to drive, but didn’t get driver’s licenses. Tara’s mother tried to home school the seven kids at first, but became overwhelmed and didn’t teach them much beyond reading. And their father demanded that the boys help out in his scrapping business from an early age, and eventually the girls too.
Tara speculates that her father was bipolar, given to extreme mood swings. But his paranoia had to be encouraged by other sources. Tara doesn’t mention Fox — they didn’t always have a TV in the early years — but the theories he spouted were popular in far-right circles. He quoted conspiracy theories about Jews that Tara later recognized as coming from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In college, she became confused in a history class and asked about a word she didn’t recognize. The other students were offended, thinking she was making a tasteless joke. After class, she hurried to the library to look up the new word: “Holocaust.” She had never learned about it.
Her parents’ distrust of authority also extended to medicine. They “didn’t believe” in doctors, and the book is filled with near-fatal accidents with permanent effects on Tara’s parents and siblings. Tara’s mother was trained by the local midwife, and began making herbal oils and tinctures and doing New Agey “energy work.” Both parents insisted that doctors and their medicines “would kill you” (which sounds familiar after a year of listening to COVID deniers). Tara was accustomed to addressing pain with “treatments” that had no discernible effect. As an adult, taking an ibuprofen for the first time was a revelation for her. In a strange twist, after Tara’s father survived a devastating explosion, her mother’s fame as a healer spread and her herbal business lifted them out of poverty for the first time.
It’s unclear if older brother Shawn’s rages were caused or exacerbated by the untreated head injuries he’d suffered, or if he was just an abusive asshole to begin with. But Shawn became the missing stair in the family, the one everybody else had to work around. She describes him physically and emotionally abusing his siblings and girlfriends. Tara noted that she struggled for years with shame over the abuse — because a part of her believed that his violence toward her was somehow proof that she deserved it. While Tara was in college, her older sister Audrey told her they needed to confront Mom and Dad about the need to get Shawn under control. Mom said all the right things privately, but the moment Dad or Shawn was in the room, she folded, and Audrey quickly succumbed to pressure to deny the things she’d seen.
The family essentially split in two. Tara and two of her brothers got into college, by studying English and math books for the ACT test, and claiming on the college application that they were raised with a “rigorous homeschooling program.” That was enough to get them into BYU. All three of them went on to earn Ph.D’s. The other four siblings never got any schooling, work for their parents, and completely cut off Tara. Tara began reconnecting with extended family members on her mother’s side, who had also been cut off by Tara’s parents.
Many college students wrestle with the question of “How does anyone know what’s real?” For Tara, the question went far beyond the philosophical. In putting the book together, Tara compared notes with others, including the two brothers who had also become outsiders to the family, trying to reconstruct what happened when family members suffered traumatic injuries. They couldn’t agree on such basics as who was there, how the injury happened, and whether their father immediately sought help or made them wait. And even with incidents where she was there, it was sometimes impossible to disentangle her actual memories from the gaslighting she’d endured.
Given how we now have whole industries creating misinformation and disinformation, it’s a fascinating story seeing someone find her way through it.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos.