Things I am Thankful for this Thanksgiving: Family, Poet Bloggers, Small Presses and Other Blessings
So, this may be cheesy, but I’d like to highlight some things I am thankful for this pre-Thanksgiving week. Some of them include the poetry bloggers that brighten my days with their contributions!
So, my little brother and his wife will be celebrating Thanksgiving with us this year. This is the first time we’ve had family around for Thanksgiving in…well, a long time. I’m so glad they’ll be here. Thanksgiving in our house growing up was pretty stressful – we had a large family, so it was crowded and noisy already, then Dad always invited graduate students without telling Mom, which caused tension, and Mom didn’t especially like to cook…well, you can see how it might be a bit tense. (Oh, and the girls – me and mom – were expected to do all the cleanup while the guys watched football. Stuff that had me stamping in my pre-(proto?)-feminist boots, I can tell you!) In our current family setup, Glenn does all the cooking, so that leaves me to do the other stuff – family visiting, decorating, and yes, writing thankfulness blog posts. Thanks honey! So it’s a different kind of Thanksgiving for us as grownups than we got to celebrate together as kids, and I am glad. I also anticipate one throwback tradition – the MST3K Turkey Day marathon (now streaming instead of on Comedy Central! Ah, the future is now!)
I’m thankful that I’m not in a wheelchair like I was a couple of years ago, or desperately ill and unable to tolerate most Thanksgiving food like I was even last year (welcome back into my life, chicken, peppermint and carrots! I’ve missed you!)
This year I’m giving thanks for the poet bloggers who are still around, writing long-form notes about their lives, their writing, and random reviews of books, movies, video games, etc. Their ranks are shrinking all the time! Here are some bloggers I’ve been reading for a while that I’m thankful for (and you should take a peek at their blogs, too!) Obviously I love and value everyone on my blog roll or they wouldn’t be there, but these are the blogs I turn to when I’m discouraged, I need a lift, or I need to commiserate:
- Kelli Russell Agodon – http://ofkells.blogspot.com/ – Her words about writing retreats, quotes from writers, and just general reflections on life are always inspiring and cheerful.
- Kristin Berkey-Abbott – http://kristinberkey-abbott.blogspot.com/ – a mix of writing, college administration, and spiritual living, Kristin in intelligent and thoughtful and often ponders things in a way that (I think) make me think about stuff that’s really important.
- Kristen McHenry – http://thegoodtypist.blogspot.com/ – Kristen is a fellow Seattle writer whose blog makes me laugh, she’s a darn good writer, and occasionally writes reviews of movies and video games so good they actually make me go out and get them. (Which is hard, right?) She also makes fun of hipsters, which is necessary to survive living in Seattle, a sometimes unbearably hip place. (I like a little snark sometimes too!)
- Lesley Wheeler – http://lesleywheeler.org/ – Lesley is an intelligent, sparkly human being who also happens to be a successful academic and sci-fi writer. It’s good to read her blog. Do it.
- Mary Biddinger – http://wordcage.blogspot.com/ – I’ve been reading Mary’s blog since before we each had books out from Steel Toe Books the same year (that is, since 2006!) It’s because of her I even know about Zooborns and her pictures of Ohio landscapes are melancholic little poems.
- Kelly Davio – http://kellydavio.com/ – Kelly’s posts of the world of being a poetry editor are worth the price of admission by themselves. A thoughtful fellow Seattle-area writer who is another “sparkly” person in real life.
- Rachel Dacus – http://dacusrocket.blogspot.com/ – a strong soul and good insights into the writer’s life.
Other special blog recommendations include January O’Neil (especially on Confession Tuesday!), Natasha K. Moni (charting the life of a poet who’s also in medical school,) Rebecca Loudon, Susan Rich, Diane Lockward, Martha Silano, Sandra Beasley, Sandy Longhorn and Robert Lee Brewer. Thanks to everyone who does the hard work of writing into the abyss, and keeping up a writing blog in the age of Twitter feeds and Instagram.
I’m also grateful to each press who has supported me by publishing my books: Steel Toe Books, Kitsune Books, New Binary Press, Two Sylvias Press, and Mayapple Press. Say, it’s the holiday season, maybe go buy a book and help support a small press, right?
Feel free to share your favorite blogs in the comments! Happy Thanksgiving week! And next up – a Black Friday shopping list?
First of all, thank you to Ariana Page Russell for interviewing me over at her blog on dermatographia and poetry! She found a poem I wrote on the subject and decided to write, and it was really fun talking to her!
So, I’ve had my hands full trying to do all the things you’re supposed to do six months before launching your book, like send out e-galleys, contact bookstores and other locales for your book launch reading (I was planning on having mine at Open Books in Seattle, but they’ve announced they are no longer doing readings after December 2014, sadly.) I’m also trying to send out my little PR kit to magazines, book blogs, and other places – it seems early, but really it’s not too early, which is incredible, right?
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter book launch countdown! Six month mark. List of things to do: Find a place to do the book launch, send out e-galleys to likely reviewers, check proof, order book postcards…send out queries to people who might be interested in teaching, reviewing, or otherwise taking an interest in the book. I’ll do this again on the blog at three months, just so you can follow the trail of a poet trying to launch her fourth book of poetry! I don’t want to bore you with all the details, but just in case it’s useful to someone, I thought I’d document it…
Speaking of which, if there are any talented filmmakers or video experts out there who would be willing to help a poet out with a book trailer for credit, please let me know!
The other thing I want to catch up on over the holidays is the best gift a writer could give a friend – some book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads! I’ve gotten behind on my reviews and have a stack of friends’ books that have come out this year. It’s a nice thing to do when you get a little downtime. Also, it’s been so cold, I really want to decorate the house early this year! I’ve already bought two little poinsettias AND a tiny rosemary Christmas tree…We actually had some sun for a few days, but it was cold enough for a hat, gloves, coat, and boots!
Some new review news!
Bryan Thoa Worra reviews Unexplained Fevers here:
And my own review of Jericho Brown’s The New Testament is up at The Rumpus!
Also of note – if you want a PDF press kit for my upcoming book, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, it’s now available on my book page under pricing and availability. The e-galley is available for reviewers, librarians, and booksellers on request now too!
I’ve been home sick the last two days – random cold/flu thing with high fevers that forced me, ironically, to cancel two “good for me” appointments for the dentist and my physical therapy – but I guess that leaves me more time to read!
Yesterday was one of those rare cloudless sunny days in Seattle, a teeny bit cold but gorgeous. Sunny days in winter always make me a bit giddy. Glenn and I sneaked out at midday for a walk in the park, and spotted our first bald eagle in a long time circling overhead:
Then it was off to Matthea Harvey’s reading for SAL down at Chihuly Gardens and Glass. (Glenn and I even dressed up for the event!)
I decided to spring for the “upgraded” ticket that included a little cocktail reception beforehand, and despite battling some truly horrific traffic to get it, we started the evening in the Space Needle. I moved to Seattle in 2000, and you know what? I’d never gone up the Space Needle, or even walked through its gift shop!
So it was with great pleasure that I hopped the elevator up to the observation deck for the pre-reading party, even though I hate and fear elevators with a vengeance. I got to see lots of friends and catch up, but mostly I was mesmerized by the lovely views. Here’s the Chihuly Gardens view from the Space Needle’s observation deck, about ten stories up:
The reading from Matthea Harvey’s new book, If the Tabloids are True What Are You (from Graywolf,) which I reviewed here, was slightly surreal with all the glass art and inside a giant glass dome. Here’s a view from inside, where we were sitting, which made Matthea’s poetry, usually surreal, even more surreal. It was a nice touch, actually!
After the reading, I got my book signed, and then it was off for a tour of the outdoor glass gardens at night, with the Space Needle and sculptures all lit up. It was super cold by then, so we didn’t linger, but I thought you’d like to see the place at night! It was still hopping at 9:30 PM at the Needle on a Friday night, FYI!
Anyway, if you get a chance to go to a poetry reading that combines surreal poetry with surreal art at night with a flying-saucer-from-the-sixties rising in the background, by all means, do it! Isn’t this the reason we live in Seattle?
So, I finally read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I know, you’re saying, “You’re way behind on your reading, Jeannine!” Yes, I am!
Anyway, so I’ve been thinking about Flynn’s portrayal of Amy, is it complex, nuanced, is it misogynistic or feminist? I’m thinking about the “Cool Girl” speech, in which the main female character runs down the idea that men want the woman that Cameron Diaz plays in all her films and Flynn’s own interviews and articles.
I’m thinking about Margaret Atwood, all Atwood’s wonderful complex villainesses: Atwood’s murderesses and unkind children, her suddenly violent maids. Atwood’s “bad girls” – and her assertion that to be truly feminist, we have depict women characters as being fully human, capable of both great heroism and great evil. Atwood herself is a little acerbic, a little bit difficult, definitely not giving off the maternal/nice vibe you might expect from a 72-or-so year old woman writer.
So, if you’ve read my first book, Becoming the Villainess, it’s very much about the ideas espoused in the Cool Girl speech. You could argue my “Snow Queen” – probably the most villainess-y villainess in there, unrepentantly eating children and whatnot – has a backstory that includes throwing back shots of whiskey and pastrami sandwiches while remaining perfectly beautiful, pretty much the embodiment of every guy’s fantasy cool girl. The book was inspired by some “bad girls” – Atwood’s villainesses, certainly, Louise Gluck, probably, especially her bad girls in Meadowlands, and the sexed-up villainesses of comic book and mythological fame – evil stepmothers right next to Ovid’s Procne, serving up her son to her husband in revenge for his raping of her sister Philomel.
In my twenties, when I started writing the book, I think, frighteningly, I might also have been playing a cool girl role – I was, after all, the girl who hung out mostly with guys, could quote Star Wars and Fletch, read comic books, and was pretty good at video games, especially first-person shooters. My marriage was still pretty young then. I had started to notice “feminism,” as such, only a few years before I wrote the book – and noting the sad lack of women in power in politics, in comic books, in any and all pop culture – I mean, everywhere. There was one kind of strong woman character allowed – and she was “the villainess.”
This was before movies like Maleficent started reclaiming powerful women’s stories for an alternate treatment, before “Once Upon a Time’s” sympathetic mayor villainess/heroine. That book was my discovery, my way of writing myself out of a seemingly impossible quandry – to remain the princess, the victim, the good girl, or to enter into enemy territory, empowered, maybe sexy, but crazy/dangerous/deadly/evil.
Gone Girl is making me realize that since the time I started writing my first book around 1996 – how much has changed? Shows like “The Good Wife” and “Scandal” have been popular precisely, I think, because they mine this territory of “good girl on the brink of bad.” But is a woman allowed to be sexual, intelligent, powerful – and still a heroine? Look at what happens to women who succeed – at anything – becoming a CEO, or a senator. She’s basically demonized. Look at Gamergate. What is the message that Gone Girl is giving us? Since the “Cool Girl” speech is made by a crazed psychopath, every man with a “perfect” girlfriend’s nightmare of what could go wrong, how are we supposed to take that text?
What is the ultimate message in Becoming the Villainess? (I have high school students write to ask me that all the time. Here’s your secret chance, kids!) I talk about video game heroines trapped in endless rounds of sexualized death (Lara Croft) and princesses trapped in towers becoming dangerous (Cinderella) and Wonder Woman’s secret inner conflict between violence and peace, vigilantism and working for a greater good…but what is the answer for a woman who wants a way out, Buffy when she’s tired of being a Martyr, the superheroine tired of wearing heels and a thong? As a 41-year-old woman today, I don’t want to be playing at being any kind of girl, good girl/bad girl/cool girl/gone girl whatever. I want to be authentic. I want to find a way out of the victim/villainess conundrum.
Happy Halloween! It’s official: I’m now a horror writer! I just joined the Horror Writers Association and wrote an essay for their newsletter that was just sent out on the dark side of science poetry!
Appropriate to the season, here are two spoooooky poems.
“Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales” appeared first in Phantom Drift and was selected for The Year’s Best Horror, vol. 6!
Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales
The body is a place of violence. Wolf teeth, amputated hands.
Cover yourself with a cloak of leaves, a coat of a thousand furs,
a paper dress. The dark forest has a code. The witch
sometimes dispenses advice, sometimes eats you for dinner,
sometimes turns your brother to stone.
You will become a canary in a castle, but you’ll learn plenty
of songs. Little girl, watch out for old women and young men.
If you don’t stay in your tower you’re bound for trouble.
This too is code. Your body is the tower you long to escape,
and all the rotted fruit your babies. The bones in the forest
your memories. The little birds bring you berries.
The pebbles on the trail glow ghostly white.
Introduction to Witchcraft first appeared in Atticus Review.
Introduction to Witchcraft
Always these young women in search of power,
their eyes rolled back in their heads, midriffs exposed.
Always some girl with a candle in a dark room –
and poof, her face brightens as she achieves
some moment of bliss. The raindrops around her freeze
in midair, the wolves stop baring their fangs, and for a moment
the young girl marvels at her own invincibility.
But then it’s fire, fire, always someone with a stake or a knife
ready to do her in. She is a spark about to go out.
Oh, look at the news these days: you might see something about spying drones, ebola, maybe some random crime spree (or school shooting, as our community had this week.) All of this worrying stuff that is out of our control.
And in our own lives: no matter how we try to follow doctors’ orders, eat right, exercise, medicate as advised, etc., our bodies will still let us down. Sometimes in an annoying way, sometimes in a spectacular way. We can’t control the weather, our friends and family, the way our neighbor looks at us funny. You can be nice to your neighbor, hug your loved one, floss, help some stranger on the street.
You know that old serenity prayer, the one that talks about knowing the difference between things you can control (your eating habits, your time reading books on subjects you want to know more about) and things you can’t control (your genetic propensities, weather, your love of seventies supergroups)?
So how does this apply to poets and small press authors (most poets)?
I’ve been thinking of the things I can do for my next book, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and the things I can’t do. I’ve done some of the hard work already: written the best book I could, found the best publisher I could for this particular book, and now…
Things I can do:
- Buy an ad somewhere.
- Send a book out to reviewers, bloggers, media folks.
- Get on social media and post, thoughtfully, weekly.
- Maintain a web site.
- Send my book out to book contests (or select contests for your press to send)
Things I can’t do:
- Make someone actually buy a book.
- Make someone who reads the book like it.
- Determine if the book will win any prizes or recognition.
Realistically, I’m looking at what I can do differently for this book than my last two books. I probably won’t be able to afford, either monetarily or re: physical health, a big gigantic book tour. I may be able to handle a couple of readings in cities I love and have family/friends (Portland, Cincinnati, maybe even Knoxville or NYC.) But I can plan some fun and exciting local events. I’m actually working with a PR person (a blessing in itself, as there are a dearth of PR folks who are excited to work with low-sales, esoteric poetry books) to try to launch the book with a little more forethought and try to reach out to non-poetry audiences a bit more. I know I may not make the money back from this endeavor, but I wanted to try to do something different for this book, instead of just complaining about things I can’t control.
Please feel free to post more examples in the comments of things a poet (or any small press author) can and can’t control, and what you’ve tried that made a difference! (Next post, I promise – more Halloween-type poems! Spoooooky!)
LitCrawl Seattle last night seemed like a big success, judging by the numbers of attendees (almost every event I saw, including ours, was packed) and the after-party was a great place to see long-lost writer friends, assuming you’d missed them at all the other events, and was also packed. I got a pic of our readers and MC just before the “Superheroes vs Fairy Tales” reading started.
A big thank-you for this interview up with Geosi Gyasi at Geosi Reads (he’s a very thoughtful interviewer:)
I read my Poison Ivy poem last night and it seemed to be a hit. Since it’s getting close to Halloween and I should be putting up spooky poems anyway:
For the Love of Ivy
(Poison Ivy Leaves a Note for Batman in the Wake of Another Apocalypse Attempt)
You can see, can’t you, the appeal of such a world – lush with growth,
an earth empty of men’s trampling? In college, sitting through botanical medicine
classes, ecotoxicology, experiments in plant poisons – it became clear
that this was my verité – an orchid dressed to seduce wasps, a blooming
parasite wrapped around the trunk of a tree. You might take me home,
beg me for a kiss, but don’t you see the xylem and phloem in my veins
can’t pulse for you? My only offense not-death, regenerating from venom
fed me by my own professor? Feculent, fecund and feral, my power
you couldn’t understand, being born of cave-dwellers, bats and humans,
and your peculiar love of stray cats. My very existence, perhaps, my only crime
against nature. You can’t stem the murmur of voices under soil,
buried against their will – radioactive trees, GMO fruit. Just consider me
another mutant gone wrong, my betrayals in the distant backstory, my tears
now flow a green ooze as I try to heal the land, cesium in the sunflowers,
goat genes welded into innocent corn. Despite drought and denial,
I will continue to grow unharmed, my defense all delicate leaf and toxic petal.
Very excited about this Thursday, which is Seattle’s 2014 LitCrawl event, Superheroes vs Fairy Tales, where I’ll be reading at The Project Room at 8 PM. The lineup: Angela Jane Fountas, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Michael Schmeltzer, and Maya Sonenberg, with Evan J. Peterson. Michael and I will be representing the superhero side (plus I might sneak in a fairy tale poem,) so come early and cheer us on! I’m also planning on going to the after-party at Hugo House, which starts around 9 PM. Should be a blast!
And I’d like to thank The Freeman and Fee.org for publishing my poem, “Introduction to Dermatographia.”
Yesterday I ventured into downtown Seattle for a meeting, and we got towed (for the first time since college!) Downtown Seattle has gotten much more aggressive with its ticketing and towing, just a heads-up for those who visit – even we locals get confused by the signs and rules! But the meeting was lovely, and I also got to visit the office of the press Chin Music, which is a lovely local press that does some amazing books.
Thinking a bit and planning a bit for the next book, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, including things like marketing, PR, print runs, that kind of thing. That’s because the book is basically complete and going early to get ready for sending out e-galleys soon!
Speaking of robot scientist’s daughters, I watched a bit of the Manhattan series yesterday, which is maybe a bit overwrought (some of the dialogue lands with a thud: example, the teen daughter of one of the nuclear scientists: “Why does everything have to be a secret??”) and I object to all the “important” work being done in New Mexico (as a lot was done at Hanford and Oak Ridge) but it’s definitely a fascinating mini-series about the Manhattan Project. Everyone waves a lot of Geiger counters around a lot. I do like that they have a female botanist/biologist who starts outside the project to notice things going wrong with her backyard flowers, and later medical records indicating problems with the children exposed to the radiation around Los Alamos. It’s a series that helps bring to life some of the “boring science” of the Manhattan Project – and, this being what it is, they fill it with lots of sex and violence to give it more tv-friendliness – of a subject that most people probably don’t know enough about. This first season (it’s just been renewed for a second) focused on the failed “Thin Man” project.
Superheroes, fairy tales, radioactive flowers – I mean, really, what more can you ask for? Hope to see you Thursday!