“To be more explicit, I’m talking about compensation, often discussed in translation circles. I try to compensate by imitating the author’s style where possible. For example, if he’s used alliteration in a passage, I might not be able to replicate it at that exact same point, but I hope to get it in somewhere.”
I had this wonderful conversation with one of my undergrad professors yesterday and we were talking about work and I told him I feel like the hardest thing right now is prioritizing. I don’t know when to hunker down and work on something long versus how much of these short interviews/reviews to do versus whether I should really push to publish something academic since it’s about one year from my inevitable job hunt.
What I’m getting at here is that this blog has slipped down in priorities and I think that doesn’t matter, but I do need to transition to some sort of non-blog-based web presence in the not so distant future. Any suggestions on that front would be fantastic – what are your favorite author sites?
2016 has gotten off to a good start. I already occasionally use a standing desk, but one of my first investments of the year was an exercise bike with a desk attached. I’m using it while watching television and getting my morning interneting done – I don’t think I could read on it, but I think it works well for most other things. I think we need to tell beginning writers/academics more often that so much of getting started is figuring out how to make being hunched over your desk for a long time work out for you. You don’t just have to do it, you have to do it while remaining healthy (physically, emotionally, socially, financially) and productive. That looks different for everyone.
I’ve also written a letter, went on a mini road trip, and baked – all things I want to do more of in 2016. I think I’ve hit the pinnacle of hipsterness by drinking some small-batch tonic and enjoying it.
I don’t know what my goals are for writing. I think I want to get something academic published before I start job hunting. I want to review only books by people of color, women, or translated authors. I have a new job as a blogger for Ploughshares, which I’m pretty pumped about. I’ll be doing an interview with a translator for them once a month. I also want to pitch some long-form journalism. We’ll see what happens.
Lots of good Star Wars writing out there. This has minor spoilers and was one of my favorites.
…so my first blog entry in almost two months just happens to come right as I need to be writing my final paper of the semester (topic: Would The Master and Margarita still be considered magical realism if the narrator weren’t so gosh darned cheeky?) – totally coincidence. Definitely totally.
One of the most frequently asked questions in the writing community (right behind “Q: How do you deal with writer’s block? A: By continuing to write.” and “Q: How did you come up with that idea? A: By combining something that happened to me, something that happened to a friend, and something I read.”) is “Where should I send my stuff?”
So, where should you?
There’s a big complicated collection of answers to that question. One of the most common answers is that you should read a lot of publications and find one that suits your voice, but to be completely honest with you, that’s just not feasible anymore. Some venues have undergone massive shifts in the kinds of stories/essays they’ve published in the past few years. With the dawning of online-only publications, there’s also way too many quality places putting out good writing to keep up with.
A better answer, and a more practical one, is to find a group of writers who you feel like you have a similar voice to and then see where they’ve been published. Again, this has its drawbacks–if you’ve found their voice by chance, they’re probably in one of the higher prestige venues, which you shouldn’t limit yourself to. While you can always shoot for the stars, everything I’ve heard about the top tier places indicates that if you don’t have a guiding advocate pushing your stuff on top of the sludge pile, your chances are slim to none.
So – it’s easy to make a list of places you’d love to see your work. You can send your pieces off to Tin House, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, McSweeney’s, Zoetrope, The Paris Review, etc. But once you run out of those places, where should you turn next?
To help answer that question, I’ve compiled a spreadsheet with data from the last ten years of the Best American Short Stories series. I’ve listed each story, where it was published originally, and which year it appeared in BASS. The big names are there, of course, but there are a lot of smaller journals that I hadn’t been aware of previously. I’m sharing my work to help anyone else out there asking the question of where to submit, because while I don’t believe there’s one good answer to that question, I do think that this list is as good as any place to start.
So without further ado, here it is – 2005-2014 BASS Data.
And in list format, all the venues featured with links to their sites (Note, some of them are featured WAY MORE than others! [The New Yorker alone makes up 44/201 stories.] See the spreadsheet for details.):
a Public Space
American Short Fiction
Atlantic Fiction for Kindle
Bellevue Literary Review
Black Warrior Review
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Fifth Wednesday Journal
New England Review
New Ohio Review
Santa Monica Review
Virginia Quarterly Review
(I started this project several years ago. Knowing now that the bulk of my publications would be nonfiction, I probably should’ve done the Essays series instead, but hey, that can be a project for later this summer.)
One final note is that I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re better off finding theme issues and theme publications – it seems like there’d be less competition that way. As examples, Orion is focused on writing related to nature, Bellevue Literary Review publishes pieces relating to healthcare, Image wants Judeo-Christian-related work, and Callaloo seeks writings borne out of the African Diaspora. Tin House and several others frequently do themed issues, as well. There’s also the time factor to consider – a lot of these are published by graduate students, so consider when is best to try to get a graduate student to read something. On one hand, they’re busy at the end of the semester, on the other hand, if they’ve had a dearth of quality submissions, the end of the semester might see their expectations lowered.
I would like to point out that there are places out there not on this list that I hold in high esteem, but making a list of those would be way too amorphous of a project. If you want a taste of them, though, check out the fiction I’ve put up at /r/contemporaryshortform.
So, yeah. Hope that helps.
So following up with my last entry about being a good reader, I had an essay about what it means to be a good reviewer published in Full Stop. I was expecting to have some sort of dialogue pop up around the piece, but it didn’t – I wonder if that’s a lack of readers or a statement of consensus.
As a sort of continuation of this train of thought, I’m moving now from how to write book reviews to when to write book reviews and other short pieces. I said no to a solicited book review for the first time this week, and for a good reason, but I couldn’t help but think about the fact that a year or two ago I wouldn’t have even considered turning down any chance to have writing in print, no matter the circumstances. This line of thinking pushes me to spend time worrying about what I should be writing.
Of course, honesty check – if I spent as much time writing each week as I ambitiously plan to on Monday mornings, I wouldn’t really have to choose. Such is life.
This summer I had planned on spending a lot of time on a long-form project with the hopes of having an almost-complete book draft done before I started the MFA program. Given I have about a month and a half left, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Instead, I’ve completed a variety of short-form pieces: a couple of book reviews, a couple of essays, and an academic presentation/article/amoeba. I think individually each of those pieces was absolutely worth it, but the amount of time they’ve taken, theoretically, from my long-form project was probably not worth it. I say theoretically because that’s not really true. I write short-form pieces faster because I can hold the whole scope in my head and because there’s a quicker pay-off. Delayed gratification and marshmallows and all of the nonsense.
I think there’s a lot of people at this place in their writing careers – at least, that’s what it seems to me watching others on Twitter and other sites. I think you have two choices, and both are difficult. You can throw yourself into a long-form project that may or may not get published and probably end up having to find a day job anyway. Or, you can pump out short-form pieces and attach yourself to various sites and publications as a reader, an editor, or a regular contributor and hope this eventually leads to a paying gig. (Here I am disregarding the infinite complexities of also being a spouse, a friend, a parent, a family member, a student, a teacher, or whatever other roles you take on “outside” of your writing life [outside in quotes because all of it is inextricably linked and tugging on each other].)
Obviously they’re not mutually exclusive (There’s tons of people who start off doing regular short-form work as writers and editors then break through with a novel. Thinking here of The Rumpus contributor Cheryl Strayed and editor Roxanne Gay, as well as journalists like Caroline Knapp) and obviously some people will tend toward having the skills of one or the other, but it’s a crappy choice to make because it’s so easy to fail at both. It’s also crappy because it feels like, for me at least, that if I worked just a little harder it wouldn’t be a choice at all, that I could write enough short-form to continue contributing, write enough of my long-form project to keep moving at a decent pace, and contribute to social media and other sites enough to stay semi-networked in.
And maybe that’s true or maybe it isn’t, but I guess it does no good to worry about it, or write entire blog entries about it, but here we are.
Outside Content: Speaking of delayed gratification and marshmallows, did you know that the infamous marshmallow experiment not only correlated their choices regarding the marshmallows with their performance as young children in school, but also showed significant differences in their brain activity as adults more than 40 years after the experiment? Scary.
Also, sorry for the lack of English subtitles, but this video is beautiful. A child realizes the eating animals means killing them, and decides he wants to eat potatoes instead. I think if more people really thought it through, they would make similar choices. Not all of the time, but enough to make a difference.
Finally, in the midst of all my anxiety over teaching for the first time, I had to go and read something like this. Although, in truth, I’m more worried about not being able to be fair when someone comes teary-eyed about a paper.
I’ve been in enough workshops to not worry too hard about how my writing represents me… for the most part. This Saturday I’m taking part in a different kind of workshop as part of the Rhetoric Society of America‘s conference’s Research Network. Three of us graduate students have been in contact with a rhetoric scholar for the past couple of months, and we’ve already been through one round of critiques. Last week, I submitted an updated draft based on some of their comments and we will be discussing those drafts in person at the conference.
And I can’t help feeling like I’m going to disappoint my group with my changes, mostly because I didn’t follow many of their suggestions. Their comments were primarily urging me towards further entrenching the theoretical portions of the essay, and when I sit down to write more on it, that’s just not the part I’m interested in. Which, ultimately, is a problem, given there’s not a whole lot of nonacademic venues for a piece that focuses on using Kenneth Burke for analysis. FORTUNATELY, rhetoric has some really awesome publications that are not quite as worried about the theoretics as traditional journals – Harlot is primarily what I’m thinking of, although both the KB Journal and Kairos are also significantly different in tone and expectations than somewhere like Rhetoric Society Quarterly. I love Harlot – the articles are so fun to read, but are also connected to the field in a meaningful way and illuminate something new with each piece. I plan on working hard and trying to make my piece work for Harlot, but I’m not sure if I can get the tone right. We’ll see.
Anyway, it’s hard not to feel bad about the whole thing. On a small note, I want to impress these people. The other students are PhD candidates, the professor is well-published and works for RSQ. More importantly, though, the comments I got from the first round of drafts were super excited about the possibilities of my paper and all the directions it could go in, and they offered examples of things for me to read and such. I did read them, but just wasn’t seeing it, and I know that’s okay. I’m also fairly sure that they’ll see I’ve done some work on it and still be excited for what I’m doing with it and respect my decisions and all that jazz, but … guilt.
No small part of the guilt is me feeling like I should already have read most of the stuff they were suggesting for me to connect my piece to, and the fact that the pieces I did read lead to me feeling like I needed to read even more, and so on, and so forth.
Also, being on the internet makes me more interested in how a master recording is translated to vibrations on a needle which carve grooves into lacquer. Bad for business.
If We Talked about Architecture like Writing… (My favorite – “This particular building really surprised me. I mean, I designed it, and I approved it, and I oversaw the construction of it, but it still really surprised me. My buildings are always surprising me.”)
And, finally, a note to graduate programs about job training (that could also easily carry over to undergrad programs that train primarily for grad school instead of jobs).
Four days into March and things are a little crazy in my slice of reality.
Yesterday I accepted an offer of admission into Texas State University’s MFA program for fiction. Kind of. The application allowed me to send a short story and a nonfiction piece, and people have written nonfiction for their thesis, but my curriculum and such will primarily be aimed at fiction. Not that there’s a huge difference in how I write the two genres, other than the fact that my nonfiction actually gets published every now and then. I’m still figuring out the whole working thing while in school (lecturer vs. TA / convenience vs. experience and pay), and I’m still having moments of existential crisis about graduating again at age 32, but overall I’m super excited.
On Friday, I had a piece published in Full Stop about Kentucky Route Zero – a beautiful video game featuring my home state (which I’ve discussed in this blog before). I’m very happy about the essay because the pictures from the game are so pretty and work well with the writing, and it’s the first thing I’ve gotten to publish either about Kentucky or about video games.
On Thursday, I sent my complete thesis to my committee. At this point, my advisor has approved it. The committee has three weeks to read and respond to it, then I make changes, then I defend the thesis in April 2nd. Let me tell you how much I love the language of “defending a thesis.” It’s so valiant. A much better use of violent metaphors than the whole cancer thing.
On the topic of my thesis – it turned out different than I expected. I’m pretty proud of it. It’s longer than I expected. I put more real work into than I expected. I purposefully chose a topic that I was only moderately excited by, because I figured a small level of detachment would help me stay sane and help me be objective during the revision process, and I’m happy with that decision. There were days when making myself work on it was painful, of course, but overall my individual thesis is something I’m happy with, much to my surprise. I still have doubts about the thesis process overall. In my case, I’m going to present some of my research at the International Society for the Study of Narrative‘s 2014 conference in Boston in a couple of weeks, and then after that, I’m not sure anything will ever happen with my thesis again. My sample size was tiny and I wasn’t in direct conversation with contemporary scholars. There’s just not a lot to really work with, despite it being a 90 page document. That said, I have no intention of giving up on academic writing as I transition into a creative degree program. I still have several shorter pieces that I continue to think about and work on, including one that’s going to be workshopped at the Rhetoric Society of America‘s Research Network program in May.
I am breathing a lot easier since finishing my thesis. I have no more deadlines (besides the one for Guernica I missed yesterday). I want to read Ulysses and make big progress on writing a book and drink a lot of coffee. Like, enough to kill a small animal.
Just a few good articles this time.
When May I Shoot a Student?
When Elite Parents Dominate Volunteers, Children Lose
How Neil Gaiman Took the Road to En-Dor
The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist
Notes from Freedom County
and, finally, a blog entry that features my own hometown of Paducah, Kentucky: Jesus Guns
Book reviews! Last month I had one published in the fall issue of Texas Books in Review as well as in The Rumpus (the latter of which is viewable online here). Yesterday, for the first time, I received a review copy of a book in the mail directly from a publisher, and that was a good feeling. Very exciting. Brings me back to a topic I keep going on and on about in this blog – merging what you want to do with what you need to do for a career. Of course, I’m not getting paid for my reviews (except in books!) yet, but given that I read a lot and like to write brief reviews for Goodreads and friends anyway, writing a full formal review is only a tiny step beyond what I would be doing regardless. For me, this makes it an obvious choice for what to do with my extra time.
What has been a less than obvious choice is this year’s set of conferences. I’m definitely attending and presenting at the Rhetoric Society of America‘s conference. It’s a national conference and the piece I had accepted is one I really like (David Foster Wallace and Kenneth Burke comparison), and it’s one I think will be publishable down the road. The conference is in San Antonio, which means low cost to me since it’s not far away. And, I’ve been accepted to participate in their Research Network program, where they group a few of us novices with an experienced mentor (Dr. Michelle Ballif, in my case) for a paper workshopping. It’s after I graduate so it’ll be out of pocket, but it’s a no-brainer. Now, I’m also planning on attending the International Society of Narrative conference and presenting part of my thesis there. It’s in Boston, which means it’ll be a reasonably high cost, but for that one grad school will cover all of it. Then there’s two regional conferences – one in Albuquerque, one in Houston. Both will have relatively low cost, but it’s still a cost that I have to consider. I have to think about what I’m achieving by presenting (a line on the CV plus a very small chance [I am not a charismatic person with people I don’t know] at possible networking or revision ideas for paper) and how much I’m paying for that achievement. It’s hard to know when it’s not worth it. How much are each of those CV lines worth when it comes time to apply for adjunct or community college positions? Impossible to say. I’ll do at least three this year, maybe four, and review the results next year, I suppose.
Last year I made a policy that I wouldn’t submit any proposals for papers I hadn’t written yet, and that I wouldn’t be on any panels without a strong leader (professor), thinking that would limit my choices and make it easy. It did not.
In unrelated news, I’m planning on doing quite a bit of work over the break beyond reading. I have a map of the real-life equivalents to locations within the video game Kentucky Route Zero. Mostly just doing that for fun – while I have some work on the game being considered for a publication and for a conference, this exercise is more of an excuse to drive around aimlessly and take pictures. I also have a list of some graveyards to take pictures of for my genealogy work. Again, more for fun than for work.
What are you reading? What are you writing? Speaking of Kentucky Route Zero, a new piece of its incomplete puzzle was just recently released. I haven’t checked it out yet, but based on this review – “The Entertainment, a southern gothic high school play for the Oculus Rift, seriously. It’s ostensively written in 1973 by Lem Doolittle, a clearly fictitious playwright, although you can purchase the transcript by way of Lulu for $4.50.”
Finally, since my next book to review is a translation, I will share with you this funny Wikipedia article about translating Harry Potter. In French, Voldemort’s middle name is Elvis.