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courage, Guest Posts, Self Image, Truth, writing

Ghosts

February 28, 2016

By Helena Montanez

The thing is, you don’t have to be told that certain things are for white people.

You just know it. Or at least believe it, in the way you believe other seemingly simple and absolute truths.

The sun will rise and set every day. Queerness is for white people. The sky is blue. Only white people can be mentally ill (and normally in the form of depression, or, say, something that can be used in court to explain why a man shouldn’t be held fully responsible for his decision to shoot up a public place). The world is a sphere. White people need more thrills from life, so they mess around with ridiculous stunts like skydiving, and/or the occult.

The reality of these things aren’t as simple; there are all sorts of factors that come into play to create them, such as gravity, lack of proper representation, and the like.

Still, none of that changes the fact that I, as a queer poc with social anxiety who happens to be interested in otherworldly things, am what shouldn’t exist, what some might even go so far as to claim doesn’t exist, because I’m probably making it up, trying to be as “other” as I can be. There’s a limit to how different a person can naturally be from what is the traditional norm before it’s labeled as a ploy for attention, and the bar for that limit is quite often set impossibly low.

In fact, a common consequence of this is the person in question doubting themselves and their diagnoses, sometimes believing that they’re just making it all up, that it’s all in their head (though, of course, the nature of mental illnesses is that it too lives in the mind). These sorts of doubts can be difficult to rid yourself of, even in a span of years, and especially when you can’t see yourself, in people like you, in the media.

I think that’s why I was determined to go on a school trip to take a ghost tour in Virginia City.

It was a good trip, all in all. I’d always been interested in history, and Virginia City is full of that, both good and bad, and readily apparent in the old buildings that line the streets, the boardwalks lined over the partially collapsed tunnels that run underneath the city. You could feel it in the air as we walked from place to place, as the tour guides told us stories of people and times gone by, as they asked ghosts to appear and make their presences known. Still, something about it all bothered me slightly.

The reason why didn’t hit me until later on. Maybe it’s ridiculous, but I’ve always believed in ghosts, or if not ghosts specifically, then at least some sort of entity, whatever you’d like to call it. And more than that, I believe that though they don’t have the same physical form, they’ve still got some semblance of being, and are deserving of respect (of course, there are evil spirits out there as well, but without knowledge of their stories or how they ended up that way, I’m more inclined to feel pity or sympathy towards them, even if they might feel that is worse).

I felt that certain people didn’t always show the proper respect towards the ghosts. In particular, in one part of the city there was allegedly the spirit of a young girl, and they didn’t necessarily act as if she were just that, a child, albeit a ghostly one.

It occurred to me that the ghosts and I have a few things in common, on a few basic levels: we’re not always treated like people, don’t always command respect, and though our reasons for being unable to tell our own stories differ, we often have to rely on others who aren’t like us to do so.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for some time now, despite the fact that I don’t know very many Mexican American authors, and even because of that. And during the tour, I felt a strong urge to learn more about the stories of the people who’d lived and died in that city, and to share their stories with more people, perhaps to bring some of them some sense of justice that they didn’t get to have in life. In the end, I suppose, my wish is the same in both cases: to give a voice to the largely voiceless.

Helen Montanez is an aspiring writer, currently a junior at Sierra Nevada College working towards a bachelor’s degree in English, and well on her way in achieving her goal of ascension to “local strange cat lady” status.

 

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough. Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough.
Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, Interview, writing, Yoga

THE CONVERSE-STATION: Novelist Stephen Policoff Interviews Poet, Short Story Writer & New York Literary Lion Tim Tomlinson

December 26, 2015

Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic (my Facebook page is reaching over 18 million people) I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy. xo Jen Pastiloff

 

Turnabout is fair play, or so they tell us.  Last November, my friend and colleague Tim Tomlinson interviewed me on the eve of the publication of my 2nd novel, Come Away (Dzanc Books, 2014).  And now, I am returning the favor, letting Tim discourse on his amazing and inspiring work. ~ Stephen Policoff 

 

SP: I have read and loved some of your poems and short stories—which, by the way, always seem to be published in cool and interesting magazines.  Do you have a preference for one form or the other?  Are there certain subjects which evoke one form rather than the other?  Do you work in—or plan to work in—other forms as well? Novel? Memoir? Screenplay?

TT: Many thanks, and yes, I’ve been fortunate to have my work appear in some pretty cool venues: Pank, and Heroin Love Songs, and Down and Dirty Word.  Not quite the same register as The New Yorker, or The Atlantic.  But sometimes the unwashed of today wear tomorrow’s tuxedos (or we know some people who will).

I go back and forth between poems and fiction. If I’m supposed to be doing one, I do the other. This way I get an illicit thrill and simultaneously court disaster—story of my life.  All my subjects—from the pleasures and perils of various forms of inebriation, to the pleasures and perils of the coral reef—appear in both forms.  Sometimes the poems begin as notes toward something. Blueprints, or maps.

There’s “B.A.R.” the poem (Soundings Review), then “B.A.R.” the story (Blue Lyra Review). I wrote the poem first, it got published second, but both uncoil from the same trigger event.  Writing the poem gave me the story.  The story opened up the incident, I built backwards. In an old interview, Denis Johnson talks about the stories that became Jesus’ Son—how they grew out of drafts of poems that, he felt, didn’t fully work.  The first story in that collection, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” opens with the lines of the poem from which it springs.

Many of my stories are linked—the ones featuring the protagonist Clifford Foote.  When I reach “the end,” I’ll call the collection a novel-in-stories, with the title Work Until Failure.  At least a dozen of its “chapters” have already been published, and you’ve probably seen one or two.

And in between the poems and the stories, I’ve done something entirely new for me: Yolanda:  An Oral History in Verse, will appear in October, 2015 with Finishing Line Press. It’s a collection of accounts I gathered from survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda, then reconfigured into poems.  (In November 2013, the islands of Leyte and Samar in the Philippines were devastated by Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda; well over 10,000 died—the official number is lower, but there’s a cynical motivation for that.)

 

SP: I know that you teach writing about music and assume that music has been a tremendous influence in your life.  Could you tell us a little bit about the ways in which music influences/is a presence in your work?   Bonus Question: If you could be a piece of music which would you be?

TT: I take heart from music, and from the stories of musicians. Bob Dylan’s Chronicles I opens with his encounter with prize fighter Jack Dempsey. Obviously, the suggestion is that a career in music (or writing, or painting, any of the arts) is analogous to getting in the ring. You will be hit, you will be knocked down, you will lose. But you have to keep fighting. Chronicles I is structured around a series of walls that Dylan hits, and his accounts of how the walls affected him, and then how he got over or around them. As Tom Waits says, any way’s the only way. With writing, you can get hung up on—I do get hung up on—rules and templates and the way things are supposed to be. But often the thing you need to do is the thing you’re not supposed to do, the thing that breaks the rules. Dylan’s work teaches that, over and over again.  Blood on the Tracks is a great example—the non-linearity of the narratives, the multiple points of view, and the asynchronous events happening simultaneously.

At the moment, I’m reading interviews with Joni Mitchell. She says that she dipped her toes in the lake of jazz, and then Mingus came along and shoved her in all the way. That’s how I feel with poetry. I always wrote it (despite Philip Levine begging me not to), but I was much more committed to fiction. Teaching—the needs of my students—is what pushed me into poetry’s lake (which I should probably call Innisfree). I couldn’t teach without doing, and I couldn’t do without sending out, and suddenly I was having more success placing poems than placing stories. And I thrive on encouragement.

In reference to music itself: I love how certain music induces moods, and I love to write out of moods. Yearning, melancholy, abstract rumination. One morning while we were living in London, I was listening to Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes” (Pascal Rogé, piano), and two poems emerged, damn near fully-formed.  They were  “Broken Things” (http://www.mandala.uga.edu/recon/poet-broken-recon.php) and “Mescaline”(http://saxifragepress.com/tag/tim-tomlinson/).

SP: Bonus Question: If you could be a piece of music which would you be?

TT: “In a Sentimental Mood,” the Sarah Vaughan version, the Nancy Wilson version, and/or the Ellington/Coltrane version, not all at once.

SP: Travel, too, seems to be a huge factor in your life, especially travel through Asia (?).  Could you tell us a little about how travel/living and working in other countries has affected your life—and your writing especially?

TT: Even as a kid, I wanted to be the boy who ran away and never went back. (I have a story called “Runaway”; it appears in the current issue of Tomas, the literary journal of the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila.) William O. Steele’s Flaming Arrows and Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain planted the seeds. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn cultivated them. On the Road and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test—these led to first, and probably premature, harvests. When I was eighteen, I wound up living on a research vessel in the Bahamas. I say wound up because there was never any plan except to be available for opportunity, the wilder the better. Now I think of my time in the Bahamas as analogous to Percival in the Grail Castle: there I was, in the midst of all that splendor—the islands themselves, the people, the water, the coral reefs. But I was too dazzled to ask the right question. In The Story of the Grail (Chretien’s), Percival flubs his visit to the Grail Castle, and if I remember correctly, he winds up back on his horse staring at drops of blood in the snow. I didn’t have a horse, so I went to college (in some respects, an exchange of one wasteland for another).

Asia came much later. My wife is from the Philippines. We started visiting the Philippines for extended periods pretty much every year since 2003.  I started teaching summers in Thailand.  Then we had two glorious years in China with NYU Shanghai’s Liberal Studies program—the original NYU program in China.  We did a lot of travel in China, and throughout the region—Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and up and down the Philippines. We made our first visit to Tacloban, on Leyte, during that period, and then of course the typhoon struck. That wiped out the place where we’d stayed, and we felt we had to give something back to a place that had made us feel so welcome. Out of that comes Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse.

Flannery O’Connor says that a writer has all the experience she needs by the age of seven. That’s true for some work. But all the time I’ve spent in Asia has opened up new material for me. Raymond Carver divided his life into the Bad Raymond years, and the Good Raymond years. And he often took Bad Raymond behaviors into Good Raymond settings. “Cathedral” is an example. I have Pre-Asia Tim, and Asia Tim. I’m putting the one into the other and having fun with the collisions. Pre-Asia Tim isn’t exactly a bull in a China shop, but he is a worm, and a weasel, and a dog, and a monkey.

SP: What about yoga and your relationship to it and how does that connect to your work (if it does)?…that one is a serious question.

TT: Yoga provides a foundation for my life. Without it, I don’t think I’d be doing the writing. Regular practice results in incremental improvements, and not just in executing the asanas. But because the asanas get better (easier to achieve, to hold, to transition in and out of), a more general sense of well-being occurs. I think it’s a lot like learning an instrument, except it’s the body, and the mind, and the life, that’s the instrument.

When I began a regular practice, thirteen years ago, almost everything beyond the simplest basics seemed way beyond my ability. A lot of what seemed impossible then is a part of my daily practice now. Headstand, for example, or some of the binds. The lessons you learn from the practice translate into your everyday life. And when you encounter a yoga problem—and you always do; as one of my teachers used to say, yogis seek discomfort—you find a solution, eventually, through the breath, which can mean the breath literally, or, more figuratively, daily sustained effort (although yoga teachers tend to scold too much effort).

You can see how all of this applies to writing. You fail, you fail better. You don’t nail the headstand, and you don’t nail the sestina, the first time out. But you come back to the problem and you give it your breath—it is your breath—and you don’t experience it as a failure, you experience it as another day in the practice. Then, one day, you’re in headstand in the middle of the room. And the next day, you have a book.  NB: my collection of poems, Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, will appear late in 2016, with Winter Goose Publishing.  To me, a collection seemed much more impossible than a headstand in the center of the room.

SP: Tell us a little about New York Writers Workshop, and your role there.  Can you tell us about how The Portable MFA came to be?

TT: New York Writers Workshop is a collective of writers who teach. We’re based primarily in New York City.  We formed in 2000, incorporated in 2001.  Our first slogan was Think Outside the Yellow Box—Gotham was our local “competition.” Now it’s Coming Soon to a Continent Near You—in July 2015, I bring New York Writers Workshop’s Pitch Conference to Australia. We’ve been in China, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico, and in many locations in the US, including Kansas and Alabama.

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing is our craft book. It covers fiction (the chapter I wrote), poetry, drama, and a few different forms of non-fiction. It’s enormously flexible—it’s on high school creative writing syllabi, college syllabi, and grad school/MFA syllabi—and it’s moderately successful—4th printing, over 20,000 copies. We’re very proud of it. I’m a co-founder of the organization, and I’ve been the president since day one, basically because I’m the only one who read Robert’s Rules of Order. Our mission is to help writers, at whatever stage of their game.  So we do community outreach in programs for inner city youth in trouble with the law, and we do pitch conferences for writers with manuscripts but without publishers.

We have a phenomenal staff—poets Loren Kleinman, Hermine Meinhard, Mary Stewart Hammond, writers in dramatic forms such as Emma Goldman-Sherman, Ross Klavan, Neal Rowland, novelists Yvonne Cassidy, Sally Koslow, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, graphic novelists Laurence Klavan and Alissa Torres, multi-genre writers like Charles Salzberg who’s got almost as many books as Joyce Carol Oates, and Jacqueline Bishop, who paints, quilts, and photographs in her spare time away from novels, short stories, poems, and oral histories. If you can’t tell, I’m very proud of this group. We’re the little not-for-profit that could.  Ah, and I should mention our two other divisions:  Greenpoint Press, run by Charles Salzberg, publisher of fine fiction and non-fiction, and recently featured in PW, and Ducts, the literary webzine of New York Writers Workshop, with an archive that’s starting to rival the Paris Review.

Stephen Policoff

Stephen Policoff

 

*Featured image is author Tim Tomlinson

Family, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Women, writing

The Summer Mink

November 16, 2015

By Jennifer Rieger

While most of my school friends spent their summers attending various camps and enrichment programs, I spent my vacation in the little mountain town of Cresson, Pennsylvania. God’s little acre, my grandmother called it, but to me, it was a town of freedom and ease. This comforted me as a child; I liked being in a place where people stopped me in the market to tell me how much I resembled my Aunt Diana, or told funny stories of my parents growing up. In Suburbia, USA, I was a nobody.

My father was a Postal Inspector, and the nature of his career took us all over the country—Wisconsin, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Illinois, Philadelphia—but Cresson was always the constant. The town is approximately seventy-five miles east of Pittsburgh, and if you blink driving through, you’re sure to miss it. It’s known for its scenic landscape and crystal spring water, as well as its creamy custard and front porch gossip. Years prior to my own existence, wealthy railroaders and even Andrew Carnegie would vacation in the decadent Queen Anne-style Mountain House mansions to escape the sweltering city summers. Those years are long gone, and the thriving little mountain town of railroaders and coalminers has become a bit depleted, and many struggle to get by.

While both sets of my grandparents lived in Cresson, it was an unspoken understanding that my sister and I would spend our summers with my mother’s parents. I didn’t question decisions like these—I knew better. There was an interesting complexity to my grandmother that the observant conversationalist could discern in a matter of minutes. She loved fresh-squeezed orange juice, clothing made with quality fabrics, porcelain dolls, and her granddaughters. As for the town itself, she possessed a love-hate relationship. An army bride at sixteen, my grandfather whisked her away from Texas and brought her to Cresson, to his family, his life. She willingly followed and gave him a daughter, but never let him forget the sacrifice she made leaving her family behind, even if they were desperately destitute.

I suppose that’s why she needed the mink coat.

Minnie Hudson had a mink, and wore it when there was even the slightest chill in the air—yes, even in the summer.  Each Sunday in church, Grandma would stare down that mink like a gentle, skilled hunter stalking prey. She never bad-mouthed Minnie for wearing it, never openly judged her for possessing such an obvious extravagance in a blue-collar town. I watched her, the all-consuming envy gleaming in her sparkling green eyes. At the end of each service, Grandma would make her way to Minnie, feigning a casual conversation. If Minnie noticed the number of times Grandma’s pained, arthritic hands reached out to nonchalantly caress the coat, she never let on. I noticed though. The way her hand would linger a little longer, the way she would sigh when they parted, the way she would look at the sky as we walked home—I noticed everything. And I wished I could buy her that coat. Her crooked hand grabbed my little one. Let’s go into Altoona and get your ears pierced baby doll, what do you say? I know your mother said no, but tiny diamonds will look so pretty. I nodded, smiled, and kicked the rocks of the gravel alley all the way home. Grandma kicked some too. Continue Reading…

courage, depression, Gratitude, Guest Posts, writing

Navels Are Natural

November 8, 2015

By Caroll Sun Yang

Do you, you feel like I do?                                                                                           

Do you, you feel like I do? — Peter Frampton

Being an artist is like being a wrung out rag, making and mopping up messes, bunched up in the corner, oft hung to dry, wearing history on our sleeves, smelling of our own mammal ripeness and occasionally being thrown in with the real wash. We who soak in alphabets, images, and sounds know that all arts demand that we uphold a fundamental oath to act as shaman, seers, provocateurs, infants terrible, politicians, romancers, therapists, charmers, jokesters, witches, pioneers, maniacs, hookers… and all of this sexily to boot. If we fail at these tasks, oh arduous hours flecked with blessed golden play, then our lives will seem utterly wasted. Our creative callings failed. Leaks in the hot tin roofs. Ancient toilets stopped up. Lives less lived. Muzzled. We are about to blow!

If I seem melodramatic and insecure, it is because I am. In this lowly state, I let my mind wander off to pasture. Chewing the cud, metaphorical green juice dribbling down my shirtfront, prostrate in bed, covered in ancient fawn quilting à la Salvation Army, cats fighting at my feet like warm lumps of tangling frisk. My gut consists of Mr. Pibb carbonation dancing with a cheap chile relleno burrito all laced with psychotropics. I burn. I feel strong. Full of jitterbugging ideas jostling into place. Visions. Sounds. Alphabets. Maybe my aura is finally lava.

I am typing on a cellular QWERTY pad, words tumble after one another on an eerily lit screen sized smaller than a maxi-pad (great metaphors abound), my skull and brain propped up on two pillows, growing heavier with each word, double chin at attention, heartbeat slowing to a meditative rate, legs like dumb sticks. My life has been reduced to thumb typing essays on the same devices that boisterous MTV and Tyra Banks reality show participants showily make use of. Their devices announce: “Meet at the holy hell wrecking ball platform wearing sneakers and bathing suits at 8 a.m.! Get ready for a raunchy, mad blast! Today is elimination day.” Or “Be fierce! Today you will walk the runway for anonymous couture designer, winner will be treated to anonymous jeweler’s jewels and full body massages!” My humble cell announces no such sport. At 8 a.m. I am usually shuttling children to school, teeth unclean, sunglasses hiding yesterday’s raccoon eyes, donning paint splattered tee and torn pajama bottoms, breasts swinging free, naked feet, throttling through any drive-through Starbucks. My text messages read like this, “Where r u?” to which I might respond with “Ded.” Or on a decent day, “Writing. XO.”

I run with a pack that the uninitiated might describe as “eccentric” or “off” or “bat shit crazy”. We artists do not pace in straight sober lines, solving problems like accountants, optometrists or soldiers do. We professional imaginers pace the ground raw in drunken lines, darting in and out of reality, occasionally leaping from the sheer thrill of “breaking through”. We inventors, theorists, artists, writers, musicians… struggle, but in the name of what exactly? Exactly.

We are generally benign, somewhat opinionated, obsessive nerds. While the universe propels forward, infinite events occurring simultaneously, we feel caught in its sway. It is our job to mark time/space in unique ways while attempting to engage others. Sometimes we will fail at this; many hours will be lost to intense examinations of life, but some hours we will make magic- magnificently warping perceptions. On days when I feel especially wrung out, halted and alone- I seek out my fatherly path pavers. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, storytelling, writing

Finding My Voice

November 7, 2015

By Kathy Bernier

All those years when I was trying to find my voice, and come to find out it has been inside me all along.  It was the thing I was trying to get away from and it would never let me go.

It’s the deep gritty mud that clings to my rural roots.  It’s hair on my legs, and the sound of coyotes calling from way down back on a hot summer night with all the windows open, and the taste of the first spring radish.

It’s breathing in the warm sweet barn smell first thing in the morning, and looking out the bathroom window at the dark silhouette of the fir trees when I get up to pee at one in the morning, and wishing there were enough money in the checkbook to just pay somebody to do stuff and take a day off from worry once in a while.

It’s squeezing my eyes tight and pretending it’s the glare of the sun when I help load the yearling goat that I delivered on a stormy night last summer into a crate headed for the slaughterhouse, repeating the tired old “you can’t keep them all” mantra and knowing it was the only way and refusing to let myself hear the panic in his bleating while I try to swallow the panic in my soul.

It’s giving myself the okay to say words like shit and even the eff word out loud even though I love God.  I know he’s listening, but he hears them whether they’re in my heart or in the air, so what the hell.  I guess that’s what the voice is, really.  It’s the words that God put inside me.

It’s not words I chose, I can tell you that.  I wanted my words to be all smooth and polished and chic and sophisticated.   Every one just right, every one pithy and impeccable with the swoop of a cartoon princess veil and a rock star chef and an Olympic giant slalom skier oozing from their pores.  Edgy in a cool hipster round-framed glasses kind of way. Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, storytelling, Women, writing

Keeping the Faith through NaNoWriMo and Beyond

November 4, 2015

By Suzy Vitello

This is the month that many writers take the plunge and re-prioritize their lives to take part in National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, in other words. Probably if you’re reading this article, you’re on a break from the marathon. Or you’re simply not doing it. It’s a huge commitment, this pledge to write 50k words in a month.

Huge.

Five years ago, I embarked on a failed NaNoWriMo adventure – and I say failed, because I didn’t come up with the whole 50, but, November, 2010 was the year I crystallized my obsession with the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and the effort eventually produced two books. The first one was published by Diversion Books in September of last year.

The level of joy when your book find its way to the hands of readers is only matched by validation  you get when a New York publisher says, “Yes. We will invest in you. We believe in this book.”

But it was short-lived.

Over last winter, I continued the story (the book was always meant to be a series), and wrote the second Empress Chronicles book. I had it professionally edited, rewrote it, and sent it along to my agent in late spring. We both felt pretty confident that Diversion would put the sequel out, too.

But they passed.

Though claiming The Keepsake was “a delight from start to finish,” they felt they needed to focus on books with more robust sales numbers.

This is a polite way of saying: your first book tanked, and we’re moving on.

The level of self-doubt when your book gets rejected is only matched by frustration when a New York publisher says, “Show me the value.”

Because, value is subjective. Value is an abstraction. Value, my friends, should be tied to something intrinsic, but at the end of the day, value is tied to numbers. And consumers. And a system as random as a Las Vegas slot machine.

The hardest thing, for an artist, is to maintain belief in creation in the face of rejection.  It’s not just about tenacity. It’s not just about revision. It’s more than that.

It’s finding that audacious place inside you and pulling her out. Talking to her with tough love. Asking her the hard question: “What is standing in the way of success?” And then, “What do you really want?”

When I answered those questions, here’s what I came up with:

My tendency to value myself only if fancier people value me.

And:

Connection. All I have to give is my love of language, story and the dream that plays out on the page. 

And here’s where the miracle comes in. When you live inside a decision to find connection, you do.

I decided to put The Keepsake out myself, and I found an extremely talented and passionate street team to help me. Continue Reading…

Fear, Guest Posts, imagination, Women, writing

On Writing and Rejection

October 25, 2015

By Julianne Palumbo

When I was very young, I used to write poems on 3 by 5 index cards and paste them onto the blank pages of a large scrapbook. Then, I’d crayon pictures next to them, half-circle trees outlined in Electric Lime green with dots of Scarlet red apples scattered below. My coloring was never worthy of the 64-count Crayola box that I relished, the untouched points lining up in a progression of vibrancy. Perhaps my poetry was not much better. It looked small surrounded by all that white space. At seven, I hadn’t yet mastered the art of figurative language. A tree was typically only a tree. Once in a while it was its roots and its branches, but always I wanted it to be as vivacious as the colors in that box.

My parents typically dispensed the appropriate amount of praise when I showed them my poems, always willing to read my new creations and to pass them around to collect the obligatory nods and smiles of relatives. It was enough to encourage me to keep writing.

But, I remember one poem I wrote while passing a few hours at my grandmother’s house. I was seven, and visiting her home always left me feeling like I never could really sink into the chairs she covered with dishtowels before our visit. I would roam around her quiet raised ranch, inhaling the scent of cherry tobacco and mothballs, and scouring the shelves of black and white family photos searching for a likeness of my own face. The wood floors creaked achingly under my quiet steps as I peeked into the lifeless rooms upstairs searching for the perfect place to write.

The poem I wrote that day was about best friends, a boy and a girl, perhaps a friend I wished I had. In the poem, the friends played together all day, and then, when nighttime came, the boy stayed over the girl’s house. I remember showing it to my grandmother who whispered to my mom, pointing to my small paper with her curled and spotted finger. My grandmother handed my poem back to me. “Put it away,” she said.

I remember the embarrassed cry that welled up inside when she informed me that little boys don’t stay with little girls and that I shouldn’t show the poem to anyone else. I remember ripping up the poem and being so embarrassed that I had written it. I snuck it into the trash bin under her sink, wishing it would just decompose among the milk cartons and coffee grinds so it would be forgotten.

I’m not sure why I remember this so vividly. Perhaps it was my first experience with writer’s rejection.

But, the pull to keep writing remained strong. I wrote through high school, contributing to my school newspaper and entering poetry contests, but mostly I wrote for myself. My writing was usually well received as youthful writing often is. Adults are happy when a teen expresses herself in writing. No one really pays attention to the words she says or to the stirrings that hide behind them.

I didn’t experience rejection again until my valedictorian address was spread across the chopping block by a Sister of Mercy at the all girls’ Catholic school I attended. Sister Marie said something about my speech not being religious enough before she took her merciless red marker to my manifesto. I had earned the title of Valedictorian but apparently not the right to say what I wanted at the podium. It was my first attempt at the art of compromise, actually daring to remind her that I was writing the speech and that it was important that I believed in what I was going to say. It was perhaps my first chance to be heard by my peers, really listened to, and I wanted them to know me through my words.

After high school and college, I practiced law for many years. Law, with all its terseness and arid sentences parceled out into tiny billable minutes, parched my writer’s voice. I wrote legal and business articles profusely, but my creative side nearly wilted under the weight of all those legalisms. During those tedious days I longed to return to the imaginative and colorful. I allowed myself to think back on my earlier years and to remember myself as a prolific creative writer.

It was motherhood and all of the overwhelming feelings that come with birthing and raising another human being that brought my pen back to the page. The joys and struggles cried to be vented someplace. It strikes me now that an introvert like me suddenly became so comfortable sharing myself with you and countless readers I’ve never met. If you knew me in person, you would know very little about what I need and what makes me happy. If you read my writing, you will know so much more.

We write to be read, to be understood, and to understand. We write because when someone else reads us and processes her own pain, we have given a gift. You are either a writer or you’re not. You either understand the need to put down words or you don’t. You will either read someone’s writing and desperately need to know them, or you won’t.

I found that old poetry scrapbook the other day. It had been tucked into a cardboard box in my parent’s cellar then moved to my basement when they cleaned out theirs. It surprised me to find that the cover was nothing more than an industrial speckled tan with a thin functional bronze frame thoughtlessly surrounding the word “Scrapbook.”

In truth, I hadn’t even filled half of the pages with my index card poems. The fancy gold cover, the gilded tipped pages, and the large satin ribbon of my memory had been imagined. I had remembered the book teeming with poetry that documented a young girl’s life with the mastery of a memoirist. But, the poems that had seemed so large back then were in fact nothing more than a few words written squarely on pre-penciled lines. They contained barely even a simile, and many of them were loaded with treacherous rhyme.

Inside the scrapbook was my old valedictorian address, written in bubbly letters, blue pen on a stack of oversized index cards, tea-stained by age. It’s funny how those two relics of my writing past found refuge together for those thirty dry years. It’s as if they knew someday I’d return to them.

As I opened the scrapbook and turned its thick manila pages, a small creak in the binding reminded me of that old feeling of putting myself out there and having it torn. I remembered thinking that day that I hadn’t meant any harm by my words.

When I decided to leave my law partnership and take up writing again, I also decided that I would embrace the rejection that would inevitably follow an attempt at a writing career. I vowed I wouldn’t let fear of rejection silence me. Instead, I would drink in each word of criticism like it was the last drop of water in my inspirational well.

We face rejection in so many facets of our lives. Why then is it so difficult to stomach when it comes in the name of improving something important to us?

I submitted my young adult novel manuscripts to professional editors and poured over their redlines like they were treasure maps to the spot where my future best seller was buried. I refused to allow myself to feel the sting of their criticism. Instead, I read between their cryptic lines, sifting out any tidbit or morsel that would help me to reach the better writer trapped deep inside of me. I told myself that the editors were not offering criticism to make me feel bad but because they understood the human need to communicate well. They were helping me to reach my goal, and I wouldn’t allow my pride or my sensitivity to silence my own voice.

There are so many good writers out there. And for each of those, there are that many more who are even better. I read those writers like I am prospecting their gold, sifting their gravel through my strainer. Turning and shaking it until I find that tiny glittering bit that will raise my own writing, inspire me to reach deeper, to try harder. With each critique or rejection letter, I strive to glean something, anything that will move me forward even a step.

Then I come across a piece of writing that makes me stop short, hold my breath, and wish I could have put those very words down in that very same way. Pangs of writer envy, I guess, but not in a way that shuts me down, in a way that makes me root for the writer to continue to spread her gift to the world. I realize that I had to write those simple poems about tree branches that dropped apples in order to write the better ones about trees branches that blossomed.

I turn the page in my old poetry scrapbook and lift the tired satin ribbon that marks the page. There, in the center, is a poem about me.  I read it and I know myself.

I am a writer.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories and essays have been published in Literary Mama, Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, The Listening Eye, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, Mamalode, Coffee + Crumbs, and others. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for my YA poem, “Stuffing Bears” and received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI in the 2014 Magazine Merit Awards. She is also the Editor of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers.

 

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

cancer, courage, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, writing

Half A World Away (fugue: unfinished)

October 11, 2015

By Jennifer McGuiggan

I’ve been away: Out of town. Out of state. Out of this time zone.

I’ve been away: Out of words. Out of tears. Out of time.

Out of time: To have no time left.

Out of time: To be outside of time.

* * *

Some people believe that God is outside of time, seeing the whole story from start to finish before it plays out for us mortals. This theory allows for predestination, the idea that God not only sees the whole story but also has ordained it, including who receives eternal life and who, well, doesn’t. This kind of predestination thinking seeps into the highs and lows of human existences. Horrible things happen and some mortals leach comfort from platitudes: This is all part of God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason.

I believe that everything happens for a reason insofar as I believe in the commonsense law of cause and effect.

Yes, things happen for a reason. One thing causes another. We can reason it out:

My friend got breast cancer.
She had treatment.
The treatment worked.
She got well.

My same friend got another kind of breast cancer.
She had treatment.
It didn’t work.
She died.

* * *

Life is a series of If/Then statements.

The day after my friend died, I flew across the country for a trip I’d had planned for months. The older I get, the more nervous I feel on planes. With each takeoff, landing, and turbulent bump of this trip, I thought to myself: If Christy can die, so can I.

This wasn’t a recognition of my own mortality. I’ve been well-aware of that for years, like a stone in my shoe mostly obscured on a daily basis by the padding of a well-placed callous. Rather, this thought was a comfort, almost a feeling of empowerment: If my friend who loved life so much could die, well, then by golly, so can I!

* * *

The week after I returned home, my mother had a scheduled surgery at a hospital an hour from my house. During her five days in recovery there, I drove to the hospital. I sat. I drove home. Repeat.

None of us knows how much time we have. Continue Reading…

Books, Guest Posts, writing

Scheherazade’s Call.

December 26, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Laraine Herring.

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of those magic stories that saved my life. I remember the line drawings of the Bunny all alone on the hill, splashes of muted pastel colors behind him. The Bunny was so loved by the Boy that his fur was rubbed away and he was no longer new and pretty, but it didn’t matter because the Boy loved him. But then the Boy got sick and he was taken away and the Bunny was left alone.

This was the part of the story that began to take root inside of me. My dad contracted polio in the 1940s when he was the same age as the Boy, and even though the diseases were different, the story helped awaken empathy in me for the experiences of another. How scared my dad must have been to have suddenly found himself so sick! What treasured toys of his were taken away? I empathized with both the Boy and the Bunny, and I wanted more than anything for the Bunny to become real—to become loved alive—and if that could happen, maybe—even though my father’s right leg was shorter than his left leg, and even though his gaze often rested on distant things I couldn’t see—I could love my dad back alive too.

That 1922 edition of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit was my version of the book. My rabbit. My boy. My playroom and wise old Skin Horse. William Nicholson’s illustrations helped make it mine. When later editions hit the shelves, the new illustrations (lovely though they were) were jarring. That’s not my bunny! That’s not my story.

This seems ludicrous on the surface, but talk to a fan of a book when the movie comes out and you’ll get a step-by-step guide of what didn’t match up and how the actors didn’t fit the images the reader had put in her head. Readers claim ownership of the fictional worlds they inhabit, and rightfully so—they helped to create those worlds using the signposts the author provided through text. The reader’s experience with the story is so intimate and so real that it comes as a shock when another reader has a different relationship with the same story. No one can enter the web of words the same way, and no one comes out the other side unchanged either.

Why do books matter? Why do fiction writers matter? Why is fiction reading still relevant? The world changes, evolves, and by necessity leaves behind what no longer fits. The thing is, stories always fit. They take us by the hand and pull us into worlds we didn’t know existed—not the world of the writer, but the world that was within us. Our hidden interior world, on the trigger of a turn of phrase, can expand into new ways of being in and relating to the world. Our experiences with characters and adventures on the page make us move in surprising ways. They give us a window into a way of life we’d never know or a belief system that challenges us and stretches our capacity to care. The author might have been writing five hundred years ago or just yesterday. It doesn’t matter. The readers are the wild card. Each reader co-creates her own story and makes it personally relevant and then engages with the world from that new, changed place.

Our lives are very different from when that first edition of The Velveteen Rabbit captured hearts. Much of what fuels our economy is not a physical product that we can ship and store. Our productivity is intellectual. It’s artistic. It’s creative. And it doesn’t always sit on a shelf. It isn’t warehoused and it isn’t collecting dust. This is an economy of ideas and of inventions based not on a combustible engine, but rather a combustible spirit. As Seth Godin tells us in The Icarus Deception, this is the time of the creatives, the artists, the dreamers and imaginers. This is the time for magic. But it’s hard to put magic in a spreadsheet. It’s hard to make a pie chart or a PowerPoint slide about its benefits. But make no mistake. Our modern age runs on magic. It runs on someone alone in a room with an idea to make the world a little bit better. Innovation and invention start with imagination—the world of fiction.

Who would have thought we’d go to the moon, or store our documents in a cloud, or type a manuscript from across the room from the computer? Who would have thought, until someone did, and then what had once been purely fiction became the norm. Then the standard. But before it became the standard, it was inconceivable. It was impossible and then someone dreamed it. Someone shook the fairy dust and came up with an electric car, solar power, Apple computers, airplanes and stories. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, World Events, writing

I Don’t Get It.

December 10, 2014

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By Powell Berger.

There are some things I don’t get.

Like sometimes the funny pictures George Takei posts on his Facebook page and says, “like when you get it.” I am still trying to figure out the one with the reindeer looking at his grades. (Message me if you can explain it.)

And you know those air freshener things, the ones you plug in and insert the little bottle of various fragrances, and the heat activates it and pretty soon your house smells like apple pie or tropical beach or winter snow?  I love those, but could only have one in my apartment because I only have one vertical plug (they don’t work sideways, I learned.) Then just this week, after a year of constant use, I discovered that the little pluggy thing on the back of the plug-in device rotates. Who knew! All this time, I could’ve had apple pie smell everywhere, if only I’d gotten it, figured it out.

I don’t get two grand juries, half a country and one week apart, refusing to indict police officers whose actions – in one case completely caught on video in horrifying detail – snuffed out two black men.  All the lawyers I know tell me grand juries indict ham sandwiches. But apparently they don’t indict white cops in black deaths.

I don’t get the angry old white guys raging on FOX News about bringing back American values, or defunding Air Force One or disinviting Obama, the President of the United States, to the annual State of the Union. Last I knew, the President was the main event at the State of the Union. But like I say, I don’t get it.

Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, Interview, writing

The Converse-Station: Elissa Wald Interviews Author Rene Denfeld.

December 9, 2014

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Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic (my Facebook page is reaching over 18 million people) I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy. xo Jen Pastiloff

The Convere-Station: Elissa Wald Interviews Author Rene Denfeld.

He talks about the confused mess inside of him. He says everyone thinks sociopaths are super-smart criminals, but he is just a messed-up guy who doesn’t know why he does what he does. Except there is like a switch in him, and when the switch flips on, he cannot stop.

“If it made sense, I would tell you,” he says. “When you kill people, it is supposed to make sense. But it doesn’t. It never does.”

The lady nods. She understands.

With each secret he tells her, her eyes get darker and more satisfied. York can see from the precious slot of window that the rain clouds have lifted and the sky itself is dark. He has been speaking forever; he has told her secrets he has been afraid to tell anyone, secrets he suspects she knew all the time.

The look in her eyes is of a person who drank from the end of a gun barrel and found it delicious. Her eyes are filled with a strange sort of wondrous sadness, as if marveling at all the beauty and pain in the world. Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, writing

The Converse-Station: Tim Tomlinson Interviews Stephen Policoff.

November 10, 2014

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Poet, Short Story Writer & New York Literary Lion Tim Tomlinson Interviews Novelist Stephen Policoff

Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic (my Facebook page is reaching over 16 million people!) I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Confession: I am totally biased with this one. I love these two writers dearly. They both helped me find my voice as a writer so many years ago when I was a student at NYU. Tim was one of my teachers and Stephen ran the literary magazine and published my first poem when I was still a teenager (and we joked that we were related since both or names ended in “Off”.) It is my great honor to publish this. And, to call both of these men my friends. 

The other day I was emailing with Stephen about his daughter (you’ll read about her below) and I felt overwhelmed with sadness. “Why does the world have to be filled with such pain,” I wrote to him. He replied,  ‘I always knew we would come to this but I never thought I’d have to do it by myself.
So it goes. Or as Kenneth Patchen observes, “Christ Christ Christ that the world should be cold and dark for so many.’ “

I hope this interview leaves you feeling the opposite of cold and dark as it did for me. Love, Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station.

Tim Tomlinson is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. His fiction and poetry have appeared in venues from China and the Philippines to Toronto and New York. He is a Yoga Alliance certified (200 hr) instructor. He believes the easiest asanas are the hardest, and the hardest aren’t easy at all. He lives in Brooklyn, he teaches in NYU’s Global Liberal Studies program.

Stephen Policoff won the James Jones Award for his first novel, Beautiful Somewhere Else (Carroll & Graf 2004). His memoir, Sixteen Scenes from a Film I Never Wanted to See, was published by Monkey Puzzle Press in 2014. His second novel, Come Away, won the Mid-Career Author Award and will be published in November 2014 by Dzanc Books. Like Tim Tomlinson, he teaches in Global Liberal Studies at NYU, and edits their literary magazine The West 4th Street Review, where many years ago, he encountered Jen Pastiloff, then a poetic waif, and published her first poem. He lives in Manhattan with his two daughters.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, How To, writing

Finding the Hook.

October 15, 2014

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By Lisa McElroy.

It turns out that, when you’re writing your first novel, finding a hook is crazy hard. How can you capture a reader’s interest in the first few pages? How can you make her relate to your characters? How can you reel her in, keeping her on the line, guiding her expertly into your net, all the while making her think it was her own idea?

It was my own career teaching writing that brought me to question what I really knew about the process.

Since 2001 – for almost all of what I perceive to be my adult life – I’ve been instructing students on the art of legal writing. To teach first year law students to write is to teach communication, the kind that future lawyers need to develop to represent clients, help them solve their problems, convince courts to rule in their favor. Legal writing is highly structured, nearly formulaic in some instances. But as many legal scholars have discussed, it is also storytelling of a very high degree. A good attorney must find a way to tell a client’s story that draws the reader in, holds her interest, and – most importantly – evokes sympathy and understanding for the client’s plight.

It’s a lot like writing a novel – or a novella, at the very least.

Every fall, when a new crop of students sits down in my classroom, eager to learn, I realize for what seems like the first time that legal writing is, while natural to me, overwhelmingly difficult for students who do not know the lingo or the structure or the strategy that make up a simple memo to the file, a motion for summary judgment. The rules – and a certainty about when to break the rules – are all brand new, mysterious, seemingly ungraspable.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, writing

Sojourns.

September 24, 2014

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By Abriana Jette.

Saturday, New Jersey Turnpike, 12:33pm

I had better tell you where I am going and why I am watching smoke sift through the hood of a 1993 green Honda Accord as spritzes of coolant spatter like small kisses onto the windshield. I am with a rap artist named the Deafinition, whom I will call Greg, and we are heading to the Poconos. Just a moment ago I was listening to the brashness of his voice seep through the SONY speakers that cost more than this car. Just a moment before life was working out as planned.

Since I have been near him I can’t help but to touch him. There is a meager patch of skin creviced between his head and neck, where his hair remains prickly, where there sits the redolence of a tender man, a place where my fingers seem to travel to trail the ends of his spine. He is soft to the touch. Wears a size thirteen. Hates tomatoes. Writes.

Except he calls it rapping. Same difference, I say. Within my reach I always keep a notepad or pencil, same as he when he scribbles lines at work or keeps a beat to remember with his fingers on the steering wheel. He writes in rhythms of west-coast rooted torments; here is the best friend’s unexpected death, there, the knowledge he has been forced to accept. He prides himself on his growth. He is 6’3”, has quiet green eyes.

I am trying to keep calm. He storms out of the car; swings open the hood, spouts curses while mumbling under his breath. For the first time I notice he is wearing dark blue jeans that he has rolled once, then cuffed, a pair of black Nike Zooms, a plain Hanes t-shirt (black), and a white Rocawear track jacket, with horizontal red and black stripes. His hair is shaved as if he were a soldier.

 

Ten minutes ago his voice sounded closer on the radio; like I could finally hear him speak. There is a distinct east coast flow in his pronunciation, a syncopated voice that manipulates verbs. A troubled voice permeates through all ten unsigned albums. He is judging, and crude, he lacks the desire to reach out and love, and yet his tone is void of rancor: it is kind, it has listened.

Continue Reading…