Emerging Writers

I saw yesterday that my alma mater is holding a special event celebrating emerging writers in the creative writing MFA program.

This is likely code for “these are three people who’ll be graduating in May and trying to hack it in the real world, so let’s give ’em a bit of a boost.”

The thing is — and I know I read and watch way too much sci fi, so this could be just me — the term “emerging writer” always sounds vaguely insectile to me. Kind like pod-people covered in weird mucus-stuff. I know I’m likely meant to envision the beautiful butterfly, but I tend to fret about the cocoon itself. If a writer “emerges,” where were they before that?

Sealed in muck, wrapped in a protective package?

Maybe they have a point.

The word “emerge” comes from the root mergere, which meant to dip, sink or dive. So “emerge” originally meant (according to the Oxford English Dictionary, my bible in all things etymological, if not entomological) “to rise by virtue of buoyancy from or out of a liquid.”

See? There we are, right back in the mucus, the nutrient bath. I suppose there could be something to the metaphor. Many writers talk about the act of writing being like swimming. Annie Dillard said that it’s like diving underwater and not knowing where your head will pop up. But that idea implies that the diving and emerging is a regular event, part of a writer’s daily life. In that scenario, a writer would emerge by virtue of some unspecified form of buoyancy, only to deliberately dive again.

Which makes sense to me.

It’s one of the great truths of being a writer that you are never there. You never get to dry your wing membranes and fly off to giddily pollinate flowers. Which is probably a good thing, since a butterfly’s life is cruelly brief.

Only by diving back down again, can we find the buoyancy to emerge, over and over.

Ides and Flowers

The Ides of March at least produced the first blossom of Spring.

I know. I know. It’s one flower component of an an entire hyacinth. But, hey, the journey of 10,000 leagues begins with that single step, right?

Besides, I’m tickled to have actual flowers by mid-March.

It’s long been the tradition of my Irish-Catholic family to plant sweet-peas on St. Patrick’s Day. We soak them in buttermilk the night before. Living in Laramie for over twenty years disabused me of that notion. I used to try for Easter instead. Then I just gave up on a date and waited for the ground to thaw.

But it’s supposed to hit the 60s tomorrow. I think I’ll buy some seeds and buttermilk this evening, along with the eggs and Earl Grey on the list. Work is quiet, so I’ll take a little time to plant my seeds. I don’t know how well sweet peas will do here, but it’s worth the experiment to find out.

I’m a believer in planting seeds. In the incremental approach. I’m not the first gardener to note that planting seeds is an act of supreme faith, in the universe, in the rhythm of nature. I’m not the first writer to go about putting down words little by little. Sometimes you have no idea what exactly is coming next in the story, but you take the seeds that fall into your hand and lay them into the fertile soil with love and precision.

By the end, you hope you’ll have something beautiful.

Spring Snow

We left the palm trees and hot sunshine of Tucson and came home to a wet Spring snowstorm.

We didn’t hit snow until north of Albuquerque, but then it hit us with a vengeance, making us crawl home. Someone in Santa Fe tweeted that it had been tea on the patio sunny, then a rainstorm, then all the snow. The forecasters had said snow after midnight, but this hit well before sunset.

Springtime in the Rockies!

The Spring storms are hard on the wildlife, too. A little bird, who had clearly gotten far too wet, pressed up on our threshold, savoring the warmth from our glass door. David captured it and we put it in a box last night to warm up. Now that the sun is warming and the snow shriveling before it, I set it loose to join its brethren at the seed-fest out front.

It looks rumpled enough that I can tell it from the others, but it should be okay.

Yesterday, before we hit the road, we stopped at Starbucks for breakfast. In Tucson there are these roving packs of bikers. The bicycle kind, not the motorcycle kind. They wear matching outfits, with the tight shorts, windbreakers and helmets. They zoom about the city in fleet groups and stop at Starbucks to sit in the sun and treat themselves.

There were several ladies of this ilk waiting for their lattes as we were, of that indistinguishable badly preserved 50s/well preserved 60s age. A very young girl also waited. She was maybe 18. I would have guessed younger, but she wore a short black satin skirt, a black satin top with big rhinestones and very high heels. Heading to a job at a nearby casino perhaps. Not your usual Sunday-morning garb. She looked gorgeous, with the long slim legs only teenage girls seem to have. Her pretty face smiled sweet and open.

The women glared at her and I saw her physically flinch and look away, some of her happiness dimmed. I wondered if she even understood what their problem was. She didn’t seem to notice the weathered columns of their thighs, pressed into wrinkles by the tight Lycra. I wanted to tell the ladies to stuff their nasty looks, to give the girl a break.

Let her enjoy her Spring, I wanted to say. There’s plenty of Winter to go around. We should celebrate the sunshine wherever we find it.

Sunshine, Beer and Palm Trees

So, when I was feeling sad, the last couple of days, my stalwart friends suggested that it was okay for me to take a little time. Not to worry about wordcount. Hot baths, candles, wine and reading were suggested.

The fact that so many people took time to offer me ideas to soothe myself meant more than any steps I might take.

I mentioned that I was off to Tucson to see my mom. And for sunshine, beer and palm trees. So, here you are.

It’s amazing what some good conversation, fun meals and hanging out can do to improve your frame of mind.

Not to mention sunshine, beer and palm trees. My new mantra.

Frogs in My Driveway

It’s been a funny weather year for everyone.

Certainly a wet one. It’s hard to say, after all the spectacular drought if all the snow and rain is unusual, or just not drought.

One of my Facebook friends, a distinguished Southern gentleman I work with, commented yesterday that they’ve had so much rain that he had frogs in his driveway. I said that sounded like a metaphor for something. He replied that he’d be proud for me to put it in my blog.

Someone else pointed out that it’s a toad, not a frog. He said he could live with that, too.

Yesterday ended up being a sad day. I wrote about Karol, as I really wanted to do, and then people replied. It was wonderful and gratifying, to see the various comments and read the emails. But it made each new contact freshened the grief. I suppose that’s good, the catharsis of it. At times, though, I felt like I was drowning.

I find deaths and funerals to elicit strange reactions from people. In the first place, people in general don’t know how to deal with grief. No one knows what to say to the ones grieving most. Largely because there’s nothing to say. And then there’s a level of competition, of who knew the person best, who loved her most, who’s the most affected.

For me, Karol was far from being a central part of my life. There was a time we were in almost daily contact, but that had long-since changed. And yet, her disappearance from the world feels pivotal to me. I’m sure my issues play in, my own mortality, facing the ways in which that very fun and fertile era is over.

That’s how it is for all of us. A death is rarely about the person who died; it becomes about the people left behind. After all, the person who died doesn’t care about any of it.

Not so far as we know, anyway.

Perhaps that’s why elegies always become autobiographies. People stand up at memorials and funerals to speak about the dead and almost always spend the whole time talking about themselves. They don’t intend it that way, but the thoughts always wend towards how that person made them feel.

Nothing wrong with that, really.

Rain is just rain. It falls without reason, without emotion. We are the ones who assign meaning to it.

We’re the ones who notice there are now frogs in the driveway.


Fair warning: today’s post is sad.

I found out yesterday that my friend, Karol Griffin, has died.

Yes, it’s a shock because she was my same age. And because she didn’t tell me she had Hepatitis C. I didn’t know she was waiting for a liver transplant.

But then, we’d fallen into a pattern of only emailing every once in a while. Actually, I should say that we’d taken up that pattern after falling out of touch for a number of years.

I met Karol sometime around 1996. I know this because that’s always the year I cite when people ask me how long I’ve been writing. Those were the days of shiny exuberance. I’d joined a writers group and was producing real work that people liked and gave substantial feedback on. It was the beginning of what would become the Silver Sage Writers Alliance. We were a serious critique group that we eventually capped at 12 members. Most of us went on to publish in admirable places, several of us with books.

I remember when Karol joined the group, though I forget on whose recommendation. She was kind of wild, with her Betty Page sensuality and her full-sleeve tattoos. Her essays ran raw and sexy. One of our middle-aged members tried to turn a critique session into a counseling session, which Karol would have none of.

To my admiration.

Another one of our members once wondered if Karol wrote about her crazy life, or led a crazy life to have things to write about. She was fascinated by the idea of the outlaw — both in the sense of the Mythic West and in our personal lives. When her book, Skin Deep: Tattoos, the Disappearing West, Very Bad Men, and My Deep Love for Them All, was published to the biggest advance any of us got, her outlaw life seemed vindicated. It’s a wonderful book, too.

I remember helping her come up with the title. I know I had input and, not surprisingly, argued strenuously for my take at the time — and now I don’t remember which part I liked or didn’t. It was Karol’s book and full of all her deep love.

That was the thing about Karol. She was larger than life. Another one of our group said Karol reminded her of Marilyn Monroe.

Beauty, charisma and a smidge of tragedy.

Eventually things went bad for her. Those who know her, know what went down. Those who don’t — well, her writing tells you most of it, and tells it well.

We fell out of touch and I think it was because she wanted it that way. It was something she went through on her own. I always had the impression she didn’t want witnesses. And that was part of her, too. Karol always did things her own way.

A couple of years ago I was at a book festival at one of Wyoming’s community colleges. To my surprise, Karol was also on the program. After a couple of diligent hours at my table, I enlisted someone else to watch my books. I worried that she wouldn’t be happy to see me, but her face lit up in her characteristic radiant smile when I walked up.

We talked a bit — there wasn’t much time — but we started emailing again after that. She was teaching at the college. She’d met a man that she said met all the delicious criteria of a “Very Bad Man,” but without the other stuff. She had custody of her son, Sam. She sent me the wedding photograph.

I was really happy for her.

I know there’s no morality to death. I know that a person’s liver doesn’t care whether a person cleaned up their act and practiced a healthier lifestyle. Or whether she had a son who needed her. Or whether she had a lot to offer the world.

I suppose that all I can offer is my grief.

See? I’m Smiling!

I had this teacher in high school who had a mean temper. He taught math and the newly introduced computer science. We learned DOS programming and how to create graphics by designating pixel ranges on Apple computers.

You now know exactly how old I am.

He would become aggravated with us. Especially if a student questioned his authoritae. His anger would be palpable as he reacted, but he would assure us he wasn’t angry. “See?” he would say, “I’m smiling!” as he bared his teeth to us in a rictus of a grin.

Looking back, I suspect he’d had some sort of anger-management training where they counseled him to smile through the rage. It came out creepy, however, and many cartoons were circulated of him with a lizard head and that awful smile.

A book blogger I like brought up an interesting discussion yesterday, about an author who has been exhorting her fan base to buy her new release in a particular way at a particular time, so that she can hit the bestseller lists. What people have been responding to is less that she’s asking this of her readers, than the tone she’s using. One example from Twitter:

“One more time people: now..cough..FRAKKING LISTEN. I’ve said it 1000 times in the past 2 wks, ONLINE sales DON’T COUNT. Don’t help me at all”

The comments on the blog are interesting to read, as various authors are chiming in with their takes — many of them saying they’re happy for any and all sales and readers. The author in question has a number of champions coming to her defense accusing people of misinterpreting the woman’s intent because body language can’t be read through the internet and that she’s a really sweet, funny person and people are just being mean to her.

Well, okay.

There’s lots said about how the internet, whether it be emails, Facebook posts, Twitter, lead to miscommunication. (Amusingly, Blogger doesn’t think that’s a word.) I think that can certainly occur, especially with Twitter, where the responses can be staggered and so what appears to be an answer to one thing was actually to an older tweet.

But I think that often the communication is very clear. Perhaps more clear than people would like. Sometimes the intent is laid more baldly without the in-person wink-wink, nudge-nudge. A friendly smile might diffuse the exhortation that you must “FRAKKING LISTEN!” But does it change the intent?

A friend of mine is a big believer in “truth in jest.” That people often cloak honest responses as sarcasm or jokes. The “oh, ha, ha, you’re such a wench about doing dishes – just kidding.” I suspect that we all become reliant upon using personal charm to smooth over awkward social situations. An opportunity the internet doesn’t really provide.

A person might later cry “out of context!” or “I meant to be funny and was misread!”

The thing about the internet and social media is that they really do expose you to your audience. Warts and all. It’s about connecting with other people, which means it can be really difficult to control what they see in you. It might be that people see who we are more clearly than we’d like through our random little posts.

Baring our teeth and assuring people that it’s a smile won’t always work.

Death and Taxes

Quite the thunderstorm rolled through here yesterday.

After quiet snowfall since December, the fury of the storm startled us. Lighting whipped out booming thunder. Rain and hail pounded on the roof and skylights with equal fury. In the way of Spring, the squalls passed through, ominous dark giving way to sunshine, until the next row of boomers passed over.

Yesterday a well-known, and generally regarded as successful, literary agent was tweeting that she needs a second job. She said that people don’t understand how literary agents do and don’t make money because the association rules forbid that transparency. But she asserted that agents in their first five years don’t make any money.

I wouldn’t know.

But I do know she works for a large literary firm that theoretically should pay her some kind of salary or wage. I suspect they also work for commission and that, over time, those commissions are where agents really start bringing in the bigger dollars. I suppose it’s possible that her agency doesn’t pay her a living wage. New York City is certainly massively expensive to live in, so a “living wage” means something totally different there.

The thing is, when people start talking about how much money they need to live, that could mean anything at all.

I follow this one blog from time to time, called Debt Kid. It used to be all about the one guy, who tanked himself financially doing day-trading and how he turned his life around and climbed out of truly enormous debt ($300K+).

(As a total aside, I don’t like the blog nearly as much now. He brought in other people to blog about their out-of-debt journeys. I don’t “like” all of them. Their voices and stories don’t speak to me. I only bring this up because I notice this with group blogs — I don’t really like it when the blog I visit isn’t the person I like to “hear.” Something to keep in mind, anyway.)

At any rate, sometimes there’s still interesting stuff and he recently posted about how where you live affects your spending habits more than anything else. Not the city, but the neighborhood. There was an article out at about the same time on tax breaks and discussing how people making upwards of $500K/year can complain that they can’t possibly afford to take a greater tax hit. Those people truly believe that. Of course, their expenses are high. And if all of their neighbors are making $1 million/year, then they are the poor folk of the neighborhood.

It’s an interesting thing to me: how much money is enough. The Tony Robbins money-making movement is based on the idea that if you’re not making more money this year than last year, then you are essentially dying. In that view of the world, a person either grows or dies. And once the trajectory moves downward, it’s very difficult to reverse, if not impossible. A personal and financial death spiral.

Which is just absurd.

I think, anyway.

Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk) was a good book and a good movie partly because it addressed the idea of stuff owning you, rather than the other way around. It also showed that you can always walk away from it. People only have to have what they think they have to have.

Seasons are cyclical. The winter gives way to the tumult of Spring. Storms hit and move on, leaving gentle sunshine behind. I don’t have to make more money than I did last year. Whatever I have will be enough.


There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

~Anaïs Nin

I’ve always liked this quote. Amusingly, when I went to look it up, to make sure I got it exactly right, I found it on a website of quotes for gardeners. I want to write to them and say, erm, you folks *do* know this isn’t really about flowers, right?

Which would be ingenuous, since it’s clear they don’t.

If you don’t know who Anaïs Nin is, you should look her up. She was a French writer who wrote all her life, but was especially well known for her erotica. In the Preface to Delta of Venus, she tells the story of how a book collector offered her lover, Henry Miller, $100 a month to write erotica for him. They settled on a standard fee of $1 a page — not a shabby deal in 1940. This is how Anaïs wrote the stories in that collection, and later ones. My copy of Delta of Venus was copyrighted in 1969 and belonged to my mother.

This is the IM conversation I had with my mother after yesterday’s blog post about selling my erotic novella to Loose Id:

Mom: Good morning. Nice blog! So do you get $$$ for the ebook?
Me: oh yes! actually they pay 35% of every sale
Me: and thanks!
Mom: That sounds pretty good. And do people buy ebooks?
Me: yes, lots of them
Me: especially the Super-Sexy ones
Mom: and this is?
Me: yes – it’s BDSM
Mom: Is there something a little weird about reading your daughter’s pron?
Me: lol
Me: could be!
Me: one does not expect one’s mother to read it. nor to tell her friends
Mom: hmmmm. This is a new-age dilemma! My mother would be totally wigged out!
Me: it’s a new world
Me: I really did think about creating a secret identity for it, but Cynthia was really practical with her “what for?”
Mom: So one buys it online and then downloads it? Can one then print it out and read it like a “real” book?
Me: yes. or you could put it on your Kindle or other ereader
Me: or read it on the computer
Mom: gack!
Me: too fraught, on so many levels
Me: I’m amused that you picked up “pron” so quickly
Mom: Makes sense
Me: yeah, it does

She makes me laugh. Of course, it is a new world, with our youthful mothers who are active and free in a way their mothers never were. One of my Twitter friends commented yesterday that her parents were on vacation and were texting photos of their cocktails and that her mother had used the word “squee.” She found it both amusing and unsettling.

I’m getting to know my new editor at Loose Id. She has an MFA in creative writing from University of New Orleans. She’s asked me to make a few initial changes, to move the story along a bit, then the manuscript will be edited four times: twice by her, once by a line editor and once by a proofreader.

Whatever perception you had of ebooks, especially Super-Sexy ones, I doubt if this is it. I know it wasn’t mine.

Maybe it’s overreaching for me to feel a connection with Anaïs or Pauline Réage. But I do. I love their writing, and others like them. If you go to that link, you’ll see that Anne Desclos (writing as Pauline) penned The Story of O to prove that a woman could, indeed, write an erotic novel.

It feels good to me to own that, to be part of all the women laying claim to our own desires, rather than hiding them away and leaving that realm to the men.

It feels good that we all have the freedom to blossom as we wish.

World Domination: Phase II

So, I mentioned the other day that an epublisher offered to buy this erotic novella of mine.

You might have missed it, buried as it was amidst my other angst. I would not blame you if you were skimming at that point. At any rate, I’m signing the contract today and they’ll publish my naughty take on Beauty and the Beast in early summer. I’ll use the pen name Jennifer Paris, which is half of my pron name. And no, I didn’t misspell pron. You pretty much have to use the word that way to defeat the icky-bots that crawl the web looking for that kind of thing. As it is, people search for bizarre stuff on writer’s websites. Here’s an example from Meljean Brook. I just love how she offers the searcher alternate scenes.

I’m sure you know, but your pron name is the name of your first pet combined with the first street you lived on. Technically I’d be Stormy Paris, but that’s just a little too.

My friend Cynthia Eden gave me excellent advice on the pen name question. She said that if I want to differentiate my “Super-Sexy tales” from my other stuff, then go for the pen name, but own up to it, to take advantage of my networks, such as they are. Cynthia delights me that she refers to a BDSM story as a “Super-Sexy tale” – she’s this charming combination of polite Southern lady and frankly sensual writer. Cynthia put it well when she said that, after all, these are just gradations of what we’re writing. KAK also talked me out of my tree, to own this and be proud.

I’m thinking back to a time, must be over ten years ago, when I bought this ebook “Writing Pron for Fun and Profit.” I never got around to reading it. It was kind of dull and the first part didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. But I’ve always had the idea that I should try this. For fun. Profit would be nice. Then Samhain put out a call for an anthology of Red-Hot Fairy Tales. I was between novels, so I wrote up Beauty and the Beast. I always wanted to know exactly what made him so Beastly.

Samhain turned me down on the anthology. Another friend, Dawn McClure, who writes for Samhain pointed me to Loose Id. (She also pointed me to one other high-profile epublisher who turned out to be uncommunicative and unprofessional – very odd.) So far, Loose Id has been wonderful to deal with. I think it’s a good fit.

And, what do you know? Their logo is a lizard, which has become the good luck emblem of our new Santa Fe lifestyle.

Must be meant to be.