If you are looking for a Christmas present for someone….or, if you really love great fiction….or, if you are one of my family members who have a biological imperative to support my artistic endeavors then I proudly suggest purchasing a copy!
I’d like to also send out a special shout out to Crack The Spine’s editor, Kerri Farrell Foley – perhaps the hardest working and most dedicated editor I’ve worked with to date. It has been an absolute pleasure working with her. Her support has been invaluable!
If you find yourself reading through the pages and thinking, “Wow. These writers DO.NOT.SUCK” please consider leaving feedback on amazon’s page. So often, I’ve found myself loving something I’ve read and keeping those thoughts to myself. But, the success of these kinds of publications rely on reader’s feedback. Writers supporting other writers is a great way to increase your publishing karma (says me) and to support an industry we all want to see succeed.
And, if you read it and think, “Wow. These writers SURE.DO.SUCK” then you could maybe go ahead and keep that to yourself. I won’t mind.
Amazon Description: Crack the Spine. Bend a fresh book until your hands meet beneath its stressed strings. Feel the weight of words snap free. This anthology includes the best poetry and prose from Crack the Spine Literary Magazine’s weekly publications. Authors: Glen Armstrong, Sally Burnette, Jay Carson, Tobi Cogswell, Daniel DiFranco, Megan Dobkin, Melanie Faith, Janelle Fine, Christina Marie Glessner, Matt Hall, Brian Hobbs, Tim Kahl, Brianne M. Kohl, Priscilla Mainardi, Robert Marshall, David McAleavey, Sean Padraic McCarthy, Shaun Anthony McMichael, Greg Moglia, Annelle Neel, Jos O’Connell, Jeffrey Park, Eliot Parker, Laura Pendell, Jim Richards, Marilyn Ringer, Jason Ryberg, Carla Sarett, Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, Michael Dwayne Smith, Angela Maria Williams, Kirby Wright
When I was in grade school, we had a guidance counselor that would come around to each classroom and give self esteem presentations. She would talk to us with the help of a little blue whale hand puppet. We called the whale “Stanley” because she was Mrs. Stanley and because grade school kids are not always witty.
“Don’t blow my candle out to make yours burn brighter,” Stanley would say anytime one of us would pipe up in a nasty way. He said it a lot, I remember. Because, grade school kids are basically just sociopaths confined in a room together.
I like to toss this old chestnut out when I hear adults being nasty with one another because it is folksy and cute and because if a blue stuffed whale hand puppet can get away with that kind of condescension, I feel like I can do it, too.
I thought about it tonight while I was reading another blog post from another writer who felt the need to tell the world why NaNoWriMo was a bad thing. I try to keep an open mind about things and I am very genuinely curious about what writers have to say about their process. I’m not talking about those writers who stand up and say, “Hey, NaNo: Not my bag.”
I get that perfectly. It isn’t for everyone. Writers – artists in general – all follow their own path to creation. That is the sheer beauty of being an artist. We each go alone into the cave and whatever thing we walk out with is the product of our own mind and effort and inspiration. Sometimes, telling the world what doesn’t work for us is as helpful as telling the world what does work. I have no beef with you, non-NaNo writer.
The people I do have a beef with? The nay-sayers. The poo pants. The people that ridicule others because they are excited about something that sponsors creativity, literature, reading and community. I’m lookin’ at you, established (sometimes) writer who wants to talk about all the hacks out there with the balls to attempt something so hallowed and revered as writing a novel. Who are those people to try? What gives them the right?
It’s a bit like climbing Everest, isn’t it? Or, running a marathon. It gets popular and then all these people come out, thinking they are just as good as the folks who’ve dedicated their lives to the craft. The craft, I say! Who will protect the craft! It takes practice, people! It isn’t for the weak. Those of us that write for a living, do it with hard work and dedication! We learn, we practice, we fail! We are the worthy ones. You get off my mountain!
Except, of course, NaNoWriMo isn’t anything like climbing Everest or running a marathon. No one is going to die attempting to put 50,000 words down in November (unless you forget to eat. Don’t forget to eat, NaNo’ers! Water is important, too!). I’m not putting anyone’s life in danger by dedicating an entire month to writing (except, maybe my family that may or may not be waiting for dinner at just this moment).
Writing is a huge mountain and yes, it is true, the best always make it to the top. But, nothing is gained by putting others down for trying. The Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping writers write is not some nefarious organization that is hell bent on world domination or the destruction of literature. If you are really such a great writer, stop putting other writers down and publish something people want to read.
Truthfully, most people who attempt NaNo will end up doing nothing with the novels they write in November. I know this is true because this is my fourth year doing it and none of my previous novels were ever published. Until this year, when I dumbly posted excerpts, no one had even seen a word I’d written. I did it because it motivated me. It made me dedicate time and effort to a craft that was important to me. It made me think in a different way – and as a consequence, I made it further in long form story telling than I ever could before.
At first, I did it quietly – I didn’t know a single other person attempting it. Over the years, I’ve gained writing friends and built a whole community of writers and artists from whom I draw a considerable amount of strength and inspiration. If nothing ever comes from it, if I never publish another story or write another word, it was still worth it. Because, I put words down on the page and it made me a better person for the effort. That is what art does.
Paradise awaits the writer that supports other artists. Likewise, people that can only build themselves up by putting others down are always doomed to fail.
Don’t blow my candle out to make yours burn brighter, asshole.
When I was in sixth grade, my homeroom and science teacher was Mr. Bassetti. He was a very nice man, a very nice teacher. One grading quarter, in our science class, he gave us the following option: skip the quizzes and tests if we performed a series of predetermined science experiments at home.
As a sixth grader, this seemed like a no-brainer. I was not very good at tests or quizzes – mainly because I didn’t care to study so I weighed my options and immediately signed up for the experiments. Mr. Bassetti gave the intrepid experimental few our instructions and promptly left us on our own. When quizzes and tests came, I quietly sat at my desk and smiled knowing I was doing the work at home, thus excused from in-class torment.
It was intoxicating: being special because I was doing something special on my own. I had a project. I was exempt from quizzes! From tests! From the dull day to day drudgery of science class! Days ticked along and I was free. Sometimes, Mr. Bassetti would smile at the few of us working independently. I knew that smile meant he was proud of us. We had initiative! We had drive! We were special!
Except, I had a dark secret.
I told no one.
My smile hid a painful truth.
I was an untrustworthy six grader and I had managed to eke out only one of the six required experiments. And, since I’m confessing, I might as well go all in: my Dad actually did the one and only experiment I managed to turn in. He wrapped a metal coil around one of his screwdrivers and attached it to a battery, conducting electricity and somehow managing to be a better student than his daughter. I mean, I stood there and watched him do it so that totally counted.
But, as they always do, the day of reckoning finally came. Mr. Bassetti (who I am positive suspected I was not as trust worthy as I tried to portray) had been steadily feeding me the rope I needed to loop around my own neck. He gave me an extension because I “forgot them at home”. I didn’t feel well one day, so he patted me on the back and said, “ok.” But, the final day came and his smile was a little harder, a little cynical and I could feel my specialness draining out of me onto the black and white linoleum blocks. All the other kids had already turned in their experiments. I was getting weird looks from my classmates. So, I decided to do the right thing.
I stood up. I walked right up the man and I said, “My experiments are out in the hallway with my coat.”
I said it with enthusiasm. As if to say, “I know you thought I was hopeless but it was all a misunderstanding! I might lag behind sometimes but in a crunch, I can come up with the goods!”
He looked relieved – on my deathbed, I will remember that look of such tenuous hope regained – that hope that was so altruistic. It was solely for me and for the type of person I would become. He was a teacher that wanted his student to succeed.
We walked together to the hallway. We stopped at the little hook where my coat hung – all of our coats and lunch boxes and backpacks were ordered neatly in a row outside his classroom. I dug past the thick layer of highlighter-neon pink and green coats, searching for the large brown grocery bag from Bag-N-Save (or, Bag-N-Gag as we still call it even though it is now actually a Giant Eagle) that contained my experiments. I heard Mr. Bassetti sigh behind me. His shoes squeaked against the hallway floor – recently cleaned of mud and snow tracked footprints. I pulled back out of the nook and said the first words that came to my head, “I think someone stole them.”
Once I thought of the lie, I really went for it. I’d seen a man in the hallway – a janitor. It was probably him. You know, those six-grade-science-experiment-stealing janitors? Ohio is notorious for them. And, really, wasn’t this so much more exciting than a bunch of stupid experiments? We had a thief in our midst! We could work together to uncover the truth! Get the whole class involved. I was a victim – someone, quick, pity me!
Mr. Bassetti said nothing. He just turned around and walked back to the classroom, leaving me to stew in the snowy wet parkas and abject disappointment of the hallway. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do: follow him? He hated me. Run to the bathroom and cry? Too melodramatic, even for me. We weren’t allowed to be in the hallway alone during class time! It was a forbidden place without a pass.
So, I did what liars do best: I hitched up my pants and slunk in the back door. I took my seat. Some students sensed trouble, others ignored me completely. My face was surely red with embarrassment and sadness. But, a part of me was relieved the suspense was over.
Mr. Bassetti didn’t look at me for the rest of the day. I am certain, partly because I had him again in 7th grade, that he never quite looked at me the same.
Because, I wasn’t special.
I had no initiative.
I was a punk six grader with a lazy streak as strong as the monkey bars.
But, looking back, that was also a defining moment for me as a writer. Because, I had two options available to me after that: Use my imagination for a creative purpose or give up the ghost of morality and work as a playground shiester. I wasn’t great at thinking on my feet so I made the best decision available to me at the time. Clearly, I wasn’t going into the sciences.
The evolution from liar to writer was a process. I spent a lot of years thinking up lies that were more interesting, or less shameful, than the truth. We moved around a lot and I was insecure so I’d make up stories I thought made me more interesting. The lies never made me interesting enough for anyone to overlook my social awkwardness.
But, once I figured out how to weld that into true story telling, I had a purpose and didn’t really need the lies to make me interesting. Plus, I’d gotten busted a few more times and I have an intolerance for discomfort.
Even six grade liars can grow up and learn truth is easier in real life. But, I still have the lies inside me – I just use them in my writing now. I want to spin the best, most compelling story. But, then, I want the simplicity of truth in my real life. Because, with the lies hidden inside me is still that innate laziness. And who has the energy to work through an extended Science Experiment Stealing Janitor* Plot at this stage of our lives?
* I’d like to formally apologize to the Central Elementary Janitor I framed that day. And his family.
I was chosen based on the reactions my story “Burn, Baby Burn” received when it was released in Issue 74 last month. Thanks to everyone that read it and spoke out in their comments and Facebook page. If you haven’t read my story, please take a moment to head over to their site! You can read my story and their interview where I sound brilliant, self assured and amazingly attractive. Yep.
I have really gotten some of the loveliest rejections. Since I began submitting my work for publication, I’ve only gotten one rejection that felt unnecessarily rude. And, really, that was early on and if I went back and read it today, I’d probably realize that it wasn’t as mean as I thought. Early on, I was, perhaps, a little sensitive. Over 50 rejections later, I am a little tougher. I’m not a crocodile but I’m not a new born kitten, either. I guess I’m more like a sea horse? (In that I’ve learned to use my fancy tail to hook onto debris so I don’t get swept away by the current. Also, because I like to eat a lot.)
I’ve gotten loads of form rejections. The kind that tells you no in as few words as possible. They generally wish you well. They salute you in an absentminded way. You know what it is without even reading the words – the format tells you no and prepares your brain for the let down. I don’t mind the form rejection. It is clear and it closes the door with a strong snick of the lock. I walk away from the form rejection with a shrug and a “what can you do?” attitude.
The form rejection is a Jacques Tati pratfall – it will make you a little uncomfortable, it might hurt your ass a little but you can laugh it off. You want others to laugh it off with you. I mean, what were the odds of getting into The New Yorker anyway?
But, just recently, there has been a very specific trend of rejections floating my way: The “I love your writing but this doesn’t work for our next issue” rejection. The “you made it to the final round of deliberations but we’ve decided to go another way” rejection. The “you were a finalist but we had so many worthy submissions to choose from” rejection.
The “close but no cigar, sucka” rejection.
These are the ones that hurt the most because they hint at an opportunity lost without my knowledge or participation. The format of the note is chatty which the brain interprets as an acceptance. But, the words: the almost lover, the guy that liked you but liked your sister better. Those words might let you down gradually but they still let you down. They say, “Hey, you are good. But, just…you know…not good enough.”
Those are the ones that break the heart a little. I went back in, I’ll think. I went back in and changed that one sentence and that is probably why. I got a little heavy handed with the sea horse metaphor. But, I don’t love the sea horse! I can lose the sea horse! I’ll kill that God damn sea horse with my bare hands! It doesn’t work for your current issue? What about the next one? Or, the one after that? I bet I’d be great for the 10th issue from now!
Almost lover, why do you make me act like such a desperate tramp?
But, no, the near-miss is still a hit. The fall is less prat and more old lady with a broken hip. And, really, the end result is the same. It had nothing to do with that one sentence or that stupid over-used sea horse metaphor. It maybe had nothing to do with my writing at all.
So I nurse my aches and take my pratfalls. I smile at the fourth wall and I wait for the windfall that surely comes from persistence in the face of failure. It might not be a step up, but it is, at the very least, stepping across to a different ladder. And, if you are looking the right way, all ladders lead up, right?
Note: I mentioned this once before, but it really is worth repeating: My story will be published in their online journal but it is now eligible for inclusion in one of their print publications. They take into account feedback left on their website and social media sites. So, if you like my story, please tell them. I would love the opportunity to reach a wider audience and for my story to be published in one of their esteemed anthologies.