This weekend,the poet Ai passed away. She is remembered here by another poet whose life she changed forever.
A Remembrance by Rigoberto González
I have a votive candle next to my bed. The only time I take a match to the wick is when I feel a particularly devastating poet loss. Just a few weeks ago, it held a flame in honor of Lucille Clifton. Just a few days ago, a flame for Ai.
It feels selfish to claim the poet Ai, but I have much to be grateful for: she was the one who selected my first book for the National Poetry Series back in 1998. This prize is a luck of the draw. A poet sends his manuscript to the contest hoping that it lands on the desk of the one of four judges who might be more sympathetic to his work. I was fortunate that Ai, who was also one of my inspirations, was drawn to the pages of a manuscript that opens with a piece titled “The Slaughterhouse.”
Not long after I was informed that I had won, I moved to NYC. And shortly after, I met a woman who worked at Norton, who gave me a picture of Ai sitting on a suitcase, a Native American blanket behind her. She’s embracing a pair of cow-skinned boots and holding up a pair of slippers with her other hand. As the Norton gal handed me the photo, she said, “Here’s your champion.”
Woman to Man
Lightning hits the roof,
shoves the knife, darkness,
deep in the walls.
They bleed light all over us
and your face, the fan, folds up,
so I won’t see how afraid
to be with me you are.
We don’t mix, even in bed,
where we keep ending up.
There’s no need to hide it:
you’re snow, I’m coal,
I’ve got the scars to prove it.
But open your mouth,
I’ll give you a taste of black
you won’t forget.
For a while, I’ll let it make you strong,
make your heart lion,
then I’ll take it back.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my arch enemy WORKCRASTINATION. (This is when you avoid your writing by doing other work. You don’t feel guilty like you do when you waste your weekend watching Law & Order, but you still haven’t written your book.) Well, I am revisiting the subject.
Networking and other marketing concerns are particularly slick forms of workcrastination. It’s very easy to trick yourself into thinking that you are making progress on your book because you are going to this and that conference where you got to meet a certain famous author (OMG she gave me her card!!), etc. You tell yourself that publishing is all about who you know, so this is all very positive. It’s taking your career into your own hands. And, since you don’t have access to an Old Boys Club, you have to hustle harder. And maybe you should order up a new set of cards now that you think about it. And what about your website, your blog?
You get the idea.
Cut it out. It’s workcrastination. Working for the book is not the same as working on the book.
Working on marketing and networking is easier than finishing your book– especially once you have reached that 100 page mark and you feel like you are trying to bathe an octopus. Endlessly researching agents and scouring Publisher’s Marketplace is a lot easier than figuring out what’s hanging you up emotionally and keeping you from being able to develop your characters. And who wouldn’t rather drink a Bellini at an awards ceremony than read your entire manuscript aloud to check for pacing problems? And anything you do in a party dress is more exciting than sitting at your kitchen table in your robe, struggling to get your heart on the page.
You know what you need to do. Just do it. Sit down, get quiet. Write your book. No one can do it but you. No one you meet at a cocktail party can write your book for you. Even if you were to save Oprah from a burning building, in all her billionaire gratitude, she couldn’t help you write your book. It’s all up to you. Don’t let yourself down.
On Sunday, March 21, at 1:30 I will be giving a reading and chat at the Brooklyn Public Library– central location (Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway). I hope that you can come out and say hello! I’ll read from my novels, and then take Q&A about whatever you want to Q&A about. The weather man is promising a pretty day, but right after the reading, you can head to the park.
(P.S. Click on the photo to see a lot of cool facts about the beautiful library building.)
Do you love Eileen Fisher? I do. A lot. And on March 27 is Eileen Fisher Day for Girls Write Now. (Full disclosure: I am the enthusiastic Vice Chair of the Board of Directors.) New York Area stores will donate 10% to Girls Write Now when you buy Eileen Fisher on our special day. (And, by chance, you don’t wear EF, you can just donate to GWN directly, and help us shape the next generation of women writers.)
Behold, my sweater-crush.
Y’all, this is a delicious book! If you like mystery/suspense/crimefiction, this is a novel for you. I am listening to Black Water Rising, by Attica Locke on audiobook and it is interrupting my sleep. Last night, I was lying in bed thinking, maybe I could get up and listen for one more hour. Granted, it is pretty risky, me endorsing a book a I haven’t even finished yet, but it’s so engaging, that for now, it is all I can think about. And I will confess, that the narrator of the audio book, Dion Graham, has a lovely voice. (And you know with that name- Dion – he is a true son of the south.) It feels like a southern gentleman is hiding in my iPod telling me a bedtime story. I should bake him a red velvet cake.
(Voice off screen interrupts: Don’t nobody care about the silky-smooth chocolate-dipped narrator, Tayari. Can you at least tell us what the doggone book is about?)
It’s set in Houston. (Did y’all know I used to live there?) It’s the story of Jay, a lawyer whose practice has devolved into ambulance chasing. He used to do loftier things, like represent people whose civil rights had been violated, but doing the right thing don’t pay the bills. Also, his wife is pregnant. Well, they sorta semi-witness a crime. The black union workers are going on strike– could shut the whole city down! Somebody is following him and he don’t know why. And what about the white lady that fished out the bayou, more dead than alive? And don’t forget Jay’s activist past, and the fact that when she was in college, the mayor was a radical.. shhh.. And her and Jay used have a little somethin going on!
I can’t tell you any more, because this is as far as I have gotten. But oooh, it’s good! And go read this dynamite essay where the Attica Locke tells you where she got the idea for this novel.
P.S. I get my audio books from audible.com. (I have a basic membership) But I believe this title is widely available at public libraries.
This summer, for the first time since 2002, I am not going to spend the summer at an artists colony. Why? Because I’m too tired. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s where I am. A couple days ago, someone asked me if I where I was going for spring vacation. I said, “I’m too exhausted to take a vacation!” I am looking forward to spending this summer vegging out in my apartment and going to outdoor concerts. I want to be a little bit free of my work and the deadlines I impose upon myself. I need a little me time that doesn’t involve a word count.
(Even as I type this, I am laughing at myself because I am teaching in three summer programs– VONA, Provincetown, and Pima. But we workaholics have to taper off gradually.)
Anyway, eventhough I am not going to summer at a colony, this is the time of year that bloggers start talking about retreats. So, here is a really good entry from Nova who has gathered quotes from various writers (including me)about thier experiences. And Christine has done a nice overview.
Now, I am going to go back to my favorite leisure activity. Baking cakes while watching Law & Order.
Now that The Silver Girl is in the hands of my editor, I’ve been thinking a lot about publicity and how best to launch my new novel. My inner teen-ager wants a big party to which I will wear a silver dress, and silver shoes! My Play-Granddaddy says he is going wear silver suspenders! But a book party does not a publicity campaign make.
There is a lot of pressure on authors to take responsibility for publicizing your own book. But frankly, I am not sure if Do It Yourself is the best way to go about this. PR is a skill and if you are not properly trained, you may very well make a mess of things. It seems like it would be easy enough to get the word out about your book, especially in the age of internet. All you have to do is talk yourself up, facebook status your good news. Gather the emails of everyone you ever met and BLAST! Isn’t that getting the word out? Kinda. Making a lot of noise about your book is not the same as a carefully plotted PR campaign.
DIY marketing is not the same as DIY dentistry. It’s more like selling your house without a real estate agent, or cutting your own hair. You probably won’t kill yourself, but things will likely turn out a lot better if you hire a professional.
I know that the economy is tight, and a lot of writers can’t fork over major bucks to hire a publicity person. If you aren’t able to make the investment, I would suggest that you take some classes on the subject. Often writers’ conferences will have a lecture on how to promote your book. There are lots of books on the subject that you can score at the public library. And there’s always The Google. Or maybe even pay a PR person just to review your plan.
Personally, I think it’s sort of unfair burden that we are expected to write the book and market it, too. It seems like a really disparate skill set we are asked to employ. For several years you are chained to your desk channeling your deepest thoughts, as vulnerable as a newborn. Then, all of a sudden, you have to think of your book not as art, but as product, and grow this really thick skin and hit the pavement.
But I guess that’s just the way it is.