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On Jitters & Novel Ideas

Hey all!

Two days left until Bad Animal is officially out in the world, and we've gotten to the point in the process where there's little for me to do except sit back and bite my nails until they're stubs as my family and friends read my innermost thoughts about love, sex, and death. There's something calming in the sense that it's been printed, and it's out of my hands. Nothing for me to change, nothing to edit. My author copies are stacked on my dining room table with the custom notecards I bought for them ready to go, and I've been donating some copies here and there: to The Lantern Bookstore in D.C. affiliated with my alma mater, Bryn Mawr College in particular. (That place is a balm, and I miss it dearly up here upstate, side note.) I've been gradually sending out feelers for book events, and teaming up with poet friends of mine like the lovely Erica Abbott and Alejandro Lucero in pitching to bookstores. It's been difficult finding the time to do it, however, and my friends are spread from coast to coast. It's been hard accepting that my current financial limitations as well as time won't allow me to go wherever I want to go for this book, but we're making do with what we've got. And what I've got is a troublesome 2006/2008 Subaru Outback that drinks gas like water and needs car repairs. So. We're figuring things out.

However! My first book event for Bad Animal is at The Spiral Bookcase in Philly on the 8th of July---the bookstore is really special, and they have such a delightful focus on queer artists and literature that it felt right from the beginning. They couldn't have been kinder in considering my event request, and I'm thrilled that my first foray into the book events world will be with them. I think Philly and the Main Line are going to be important for the book, and that's fitting, honestly, considering that the oldest poems from the book are from my time in the area, when I was at Bryn Mawr and Haverford learning how to put poems together. I'm hopeful that since some of my friends and mentors are still in the area, it'll be a good visit, but that good old doubt is rearing its ugly head. I'm worrying and worrying over no one showing up, even though I know people will, and besides, if the audience outnumbers the poet, I'll consider it a good turnout and count my blessings accordingly.

In other news, I've been plugging away at my first novel, Mills. I'm at about 55,000 words in the current draft and struggling to maintain focus as another brighter, more shiny idea has come into focus, a story based off my mother's childhood in the mining towns of Chile. I grew up hearing her invoke their names like prayer: Escondida, Chuquicamata. My grandfather was a geologist, you see, and every so often, I try to get one or the other of my parents to write their memoirs, to dip their toes into the creative writing pool. You try that with two retired government intelligence analysts. It's like herding cats. Or catching lightning in a bottle. But then the thought occured to me: why not use that story as a jumping off point for a larger, more complex narrative? But that second novel idea is behind several hurdles I need to get over, the chief thing standing in front of me being potentially years of research, and reading, and interviewing. The idea I have is ambitious, and it spans the 70s and 80s in New York City and Chile, the AIDS crisis and reverberations from the Pinochet dictatorship wrapped up into a novel that asks the question: when you've grown up so entrenched in a culture while standing outside of it, where do you belong?

I will say, I love the opening line I came up with, so I'm posting it here as inspiration for when I doubtless will feel bad about this new idea: "It wasn’t until Grayson Blake found himself snorting lines of coke off Mirabel’s thigh in the bathroom at McGinty’s in the dead winter of 1998 that he remembered the day they brought Umberto’s body up from the hole." Cool, right? I envision this novel as a really intense family saga, and I hope when it's completed, it's at least a fraction of what I envisioned it to be. I don't kid myself thinking it will come out perfect, a double image. I'm not naive and understand that novels lead you where they want, not always where you want. I've learned that in this initial experiment with fiction. It's much like poetry in that way. Poems move through me, and so too does dialogue, does description. I read back one of the more recent chapters I wrote and I truly don't remember writing it. It was like I was channeling something. It's been comforting, knowing that I can lose myself so entirely in a different genre.

That was something I remarked to my therapist in this week's session: that I was surprised at myself, with all my talk to my students about the multi-genre mindset, so to speak, that I was resisting it. Writing in multiple genres has been at times confusing, but also liberating. If one doesn't work, or it's not coming easily, I can make the move from one to the other without much trouble. During all this genre switching, though, it's hard to figure out what is sustaining all that creative output. I haven't had much time to read, and what I have had time to read, I haven't been able to finish, really? Bits and pieces of collected poems here and there, bits of novels here and there. I finished a novel (and I use the term loosely here because it is most definitely a collection of linked short stories) and that was actually quite disappointing---the synopsis on the jacket copy was misleading, and the story boiled down to that age-old original plotline: unhappy people doing things that make them unhappy, unhappily. And I love the writer's other work, which makes me so mad, and the writing itself in the novel was at times gorgeous, rife with meaning. The novel had so much potential, but it was a potential that was unrealized and instead prioritized side characters that appeared once and then never again, a truncated sort of MFA workshop satire, and no clear commonality between plotlines except that everyone was fucking each other and each of them had incredibly strong feelings about it. There's a way to do what that writer did well, and unfortunately, it was lacking for me personally. But hey, at the end of the day, what do I know? I'm just a poet trying to be a novelist too, and maybe my appreciation for its conventions will grow in time.

On that cheery note, I'm off to try and do some reading. I've been diving into Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin after reading her book "Publishing: A Writer's Memoir", and have been enjoying it immensely. Yes, unhappy people being unhappy, but with ambition! With purpose! With more than sex to carry the plotline! Okay, stopping now.

Happy Wednesday!


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