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Remember last summer when this blog ran a series called Cocktails With Writers? Well two writers featured in that series have fabulous news which I am delighted to share!
CARLEEN BRICE has just been told that her novel, Orange Mint and Honey, will be made into a movie for the Lifetime network! You can read about her novel, and see her recipe for Orange Mint Mojitos! (It IS summer, you know.)
KELLY MCMASTERS has just gotten the Oprah seal of approval! Her book, Welcome To Shirley: A Memoir of An Atomic Town, tops Oprah’s list of “addictive non-fiction.” Read about Kelly’s book here, but try her recipe for Long Island Iced Tea for at your own risk!
Here is another installment of “The Amazing Eight.” Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of Picking Bones From Ash which will be published by Graywolf Press in September.
Marie Mutsuki Mockett is a writer who lives in New York. Her fiction, essays and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in Agni, Epoch, South Dakota Review, New Delta Review, North Dakota Quarterly, The Portland Review, LIT, The Texas Review, Primavera, Blue Mesa, Carquinez Poetry Review, The Distillery, Fugue, The Ledge, West Wind Review, The Griffin, and Berkeley Poetry Review.
Now you have a listing of her accomplishments, but I urge you to trot over to her webpage and read the more personal account of her journey that is posted there.
Below is her essay about publishing her debut novel as a grown woman. It’s called “The Perfect Age To Get Published.” I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
(author photo by the incredible genius Rachel Elliza Griffiths.)
By Marie Mutsuki Mockett
I wrote the first draft of my novel when I was thirty-one. My husband, who is Scottish and warm and funny but schooled in that British way, read the early manuscript and murmured: “Hmm. I like this one paragraph.” So I put the novel aside, then wrote and published short stories for a while. At thirty-five, I dragged the manuscript back out again. The one paragraph is the only thing from the original draft that is still in my book.
I had always wanted to be a writer, and I sometimes wonder if I might have succeeded earlier in life if I’d attended an MFA program in my youth. We’ll never know. Instead, I worked a variety of jobs—test prep question writer, online store manager, non-profit administrator, failed antique picker—while writing in the corporate toilet stall, on the weekends and during company meetings. When I was disappointed or hurt by rejection, I would try to remind myself to take the long view; it takes time to become a writer, and many of the people I admire have had long careers.
In the beginning, I was often told what many female writers hear: I was talented, but my writing was “too quiet.” I revised. An editor rejected me because she “already had a half-Asian writer.” I was devastated. Much as I loved this other writer’s work, I knew that our material was different. Would anyone else notice? Another editor rejected my book because: “I have just had a child and I cannot accept what the mother in your book has done.” I tried to tell myself that another editor would not confuse her personal experience with an unmarketable product. These rejections were often paired with variations of this one line: “I know someone else will publish this work with the enthusiasm it deserves,” which I dismissed as an empty compliment. As I got to know other writers who had been through the same grueling process, I learned they too had heard the same semi-praise. When I finally met my editor Fiona McCrae, from Graywolf, I was absolutely positive I wanted to work with her. She understood what I was writing, and saw ways to strengthen the novel that meshed completely with my vision. I was relieved. And then I was grateful for all the other rejections that had kept me from working with someone who might not have been a good fit for my book.
My wonderful agent said to me earlier this year, “Sweetheart, you are the perfect age to get started.” I think I know what she means. As writers and artists, it’s our job to develop a vision of the world—to see what others are missing. This is the kind of thing that takes time, and that you cannot learn in school. It’s wonderful to see a writer like Kazuo Ishiguro, for example, turning out even more probing material as he matures. I do not mean that younger writers don’t manage complexity, because of course I can think of plenty of examples where they do. It’s just to say that writing generally takes time and can be painfully slow. About the only thing you can really control is the quality and uniqueness of your work. Make this your focus, and I really and truly believe that you too will find someone who will publish your book with the “enthusiasm it deserves.”
You know I think of myself as Toni Morrison’s biggest fan. And yes, I did coin the term of endearment, ToMo. However, there is a member of our blog community who is more Hard Core than even me.
John Charles Palazzo is an expat living in Rome. He came across this blog while looking for information on all things Morrison. He comments pretty often when ToMo is the topic. Well, yesterday, he emailed me in what I can only call a frenzy. ToMo would be speaking in Milan. What should he call her? Dr. Morrison? He could never call her Toni. Perhaps her given name, Chloe? We decided on Ms. Morrison, and of course, Ma’am.
What happened next? Below is his report and a absolutely fantasic video.
so here is my story of my brush with greatness!
first, Ms. Morrison was in a really great mood, she seemed rested and really full of energy and enthusiasm. My intuition, seeing her up so close is that she’s a person who gets energy from personal relationships, and there did seem to be a feeling between her and Umberto Eco.
so… after about 40 minutes of Q&A between Umberto Eco
mostly I was just flat out impressed with just how brilliant she is. I’ve watched every interview, read every interview, read all the books, so I obviously realised long ago she’s a genius but I really cannot put into words what I felt like to observe her in person. She is just so fluid and fast intellectually, strong yet poetic in her breathless way of speaking, so many things come together in her that I could not see on a screen or a piece of paper. a brilliant academic analytical mind, a person capable of handling complex emotions, yet a person who seemed very open, honest but also brutally severe when necessary in her ability to size a wide range of issues up. She really is amazing to watch over the course of two hours.
So…. she was very professional the entire time. After about an hour Eco opens up to questions from visitors and I sat silently and didn’t say a word. Then one person’s question leads to another give and take between Eco and Morrison that goes on for about 20 minutes and I start thinking that I lost my chance to ask her my question (that I have wanted to ask her for years) but I still wasn’t convinced to find the courage. Then I thought, here I was, 10 meters from one of the greatest authors in the history of the world, someone from my own hometown, and I was risking to lose the chance that for some short time, Toni Morrison would look at me and listen to me. Then I realised I didn’t want to miss this chance, as I would regret it forever. so…. I start hoping they will open the floor for more questions and indeed they did.
I first became aware of Tiphanie Yanique about a year ago when I read her brilliant essay “My Superhero Secret.” I posted it about it and a lot of you were moved by her words. I then read her chapbook, The Saving Work, and I knew that I was reading an important new voice. I knew it was only a matter of time before she published her first book, but in the essay below, she writes about not being so sure.
But before you read the essay, here is a quick bio of the fabulous Ms. Yanique:
Tiphanie Yanique is an assistant professor of creative writing at Drew University. A former Fulbright Scholar, she has received the Mary Grant Charles Award for fiction, the Academy of American Poets Prize and the Tufts University Africana Prize for Creativity. She is the recipient of a 2008 Pushcart Prize, the 2006 Boston Review Fiction Prize, and was the Parks Fellow/Writer-in-Residence at Rice University. Her short story “The Saving Work” was chosen by Margot Livesey for the 2007 Kore Press Short Fiction Award. And here is the new bio line: Her first book, How to Escape from a Leper Colony is forthcoming from Graywolf Press.
So now read the essay below. It’s good.
by Tiphanie Yanique
When I left graduate school I just knew I was going to have a book immediately. I had an agent, I had a novel that had just been picked up, I had all this drive, and wasn’t I talented, too? Well, maybe all of that was true, or maybe not. Either way my agent had a baby and then retired from agenting; my novel was taken by a press, and then that press closed its Caribbean line without publishing my book; I moved to New York and being a full time tenure track professor had sucked out all my drive…and maybe I wasn’t that talented. I appealed to friends. More than one said, “It took me ten years!” At a writer’s retreat a very successful author held up the rejections from her first book that went on to be a best seller and corner stone of American literature. There were more than thirty rejections.
Again and again, when they weren’t commiserating with me, my friends said, “Just keep writing.” This was hard. I felt betrayed by fiction and the whole system of publishing. I felt betrayed by readers who bought used books, or who didn’t buy books by writers of color at all. I was watching really talented friends tank and less talented ones soar. I liked to believe I was amongst the talented tankers, but who knew? And what did it matter, if you couldn’t get published?
I’d always been a poet even before I decided to take an MFA in fiction, and now poetry became a kind of salvation for me. It kept me writing when I didn’t trust prose. And since I teach fiction, I could read poetry and feel I was doing it just for myself, for the pure pleasure of it. I kept writing poems and then, every now and then, when I could stand it, I edited stories in a collection of which I had a draft. I wasn’t writing with a mind towards publication—I knew the novel was the ticket to publication, not poetry or stories. I was writing because I just wanted to be writing
Almost a year later, Fiona McCrae of Graywolf called me. I knew she had already felt my novel wasn’t right for Graywolf. We had sent it to her when I’d made the mistake of giving it to the other press that then canceled its line. Still, I was hoping, maybe, she’d help me take it to another level before I started sending it out again. When we met her at her office she said that she had read my short stories. My short stories. Not the novel. The only problem was that there weren’t enough stories to make a collection.
I peered over her shoulder. “But you only have about half of the collection. I’ve written more.”
“Well, that’s great news,” she said.
The collection, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, comes out with Graywolf Press on March 2, 2010.
This is the first profile of a member of the Amazing 8– debut writers from our blog community.
Matthew Goodman is the author of Hold Love Strong which was published just last month from Simon And Shuster.
Matthew Goodman earned a B.A. degree in literature from Brandeis University and an MFA from Emerson College. He has been a student of writing at the 92nd Street Y, Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, and the Vermont Studio Center, and has taught and worked in inner-city communities for years. Working hand-in-hand with formerly incarcerated men and women, he created The Leadership Alliance, a community empowerment project that unites community leaders and volunteer partners. He lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York.
You can read more about this new novel, here. If you’re in NYC, he’s got readings coming up. If you’re not in NYC, content yourself with this Q&A.
5 or So Questions for Matthew Aaron Goodman, author of Hold Love Strong
Was there a particular trigger that got you started on this novel?
Stand in a small hot, overcrowded room with folks and eventually you either sing and live or stay silent and die. It isn’t solely about mortality. I’m talking about your human spirit, that fire that keeps one alive. You can get jaded or impervious or indifferent too, or you can fill with some other variation and/or derivative of hate. What I mean is I don’t want any part of my spirit suppressed or snuffed out, and I don’t want any part of the spirit of the people I loved snuffed out either. Hell no. If I knew how to play a trumpet or a trombone or a clarinet, then I wouldn’t have written a word. But I don’t, so I had to write.
What do you hope to accomplish by publishing Hold Love Strong? What would have to happen for you to know you have succeeded? Has it happened already?
How about equal educational opportunity from the kindergarten on? How about affirmative action beginning when affirmation must begin for one to have a full chance to fulfill their innate human potential? How about discarding Emerson’s obstinate preachings of “Self-Reliance” as a touchstone in the American Literary Canon and replacing it with David Walker’s Appeal? Am I asking for too much? Judging by history, I am. So I am not delusional. I know no novel ever birthed justice. But many novels have contributed to conversations. That’s what I most hope for.
What was the first thing you did when you found out it would be published?
I lay down on my back, put my hands behind my head, and cried.
What is the first thing you did when you finished the novel? How did you know it was finished?
I want to think of a novel as a chapter in a writer’s story, in their life, so finishing a novel for a writer is like finishing a chapter. That is, there is still much more to write, or that I hope to write. But when I finished, I celebrated. Lord knows, I danced my damn pants off that night.
What is your advice to all the people out there trying to publish their first books?
All things possible through patience and zeal.
As some of you know, I taught Remedial Reading for several years when I was in my mid-twenties. This experience really changed the way I understood my life and this country. I couldn’t believe how many people graduate high school without the sort of basic literacy that would allow them to, say, really enjoy a magazine article. The job was tough as no-one really cared about this population—evidenced by the fact that they let a 23-year-old kid to run the joint. One of the biggest challenges was finding reading material appropriate for students on this level—people with the mind of adults, but the literacy skills of a much younger person.
A couple of years ago, I met Karen Batchelor, author of Murder at Ocean View College. It’s a mystery, and a good one, but also it’s a novel designed to help adults who are just learning to read. Q&A with her below.