Peg Alford’s Weblog

Peg Alford was the fiction editor of Identity Theory in 2004. This is an archive of the blog she maintained at the time. We detested the word "blog" and thus called our blogs "weblogs" back then. The title of this blog was simply "Peg Alford's Weblog."

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

When I was a kid growing up in my parents' house, I used to wonder all the time about how my dad would get these really great presents, or presents of any ilk, and let them sit forever. Sometimes the next year's gift-giving celebration arrived and he still hadn't touched the stuff from the year before. It didn't appear to have anything to do with how wonderful a present any of them seemed to be, from my perspective anyhow ("great" or "of any ilk"). For example, there was his woodworking phase and my mom buying him this very expensive kind of specialty saw. Something more specialized, out of the ordinary, than a jigsaw or scrollsaw, which he already had. Something a person wouldn't get unless that person was really deep into the craft. And we weren't exactly a family with a lot of disposable income, really, so it was hard to figure out why he never bothered with that special saw, gift of my mom's, as far as I could tell. In fact, at some point, the whole woodcrafting hobby faded entirely... onto something else, I guess. Mostly, my dad just liked to ride his motorcycles. A Suzuki (not to be confused with the innovator of the teaching the very young child to play violin method), a Kawasaki, a Norton, a Triumph, and eventually, a Harley. The Harley was last, in his later years, just before he quit doing that.

The bikes he had were fast. That was one of their most important criteria. They had to be excellent mechanically but had to be fast. And light.

It was easy to know why he stopped riding. We lived in a very small town. A while after he'd been riding, into maybe his second or third bike or so, other men in the town began to emulate him. They'd show up in our driveway one day on a motorcycle, these men who were not really all that well-acquainted with my dad despite the fact that this was that kind of town in which everyone knows everyone else. Yeah, he knew who they were, and evidently, they felt that they knew him somewhat more familiarly, but my dad was a loner. I think he liked to be alone. I think he liked getting on his bike when the mood struck him and taking off to wherever... who knew? I don't think he did, when he set out, he just wanted to go and see where he would wind up.

Soon there were all these other men, though, quite a lot of them, who wanted it to be group rides, some kind of club-like thing, a clique, maybe, and got uptight when they would discover that my dad had been out somewhere himself rather than doing the en masse rides. I never got this back then; it all seemed silly at best. Most of the time, it never made a dent in my awareness. Today, this moment, it makes me feel sad ... I start picturing all these people driving up and hounding him and otherwise ever-vigilant and set to ride if they thought he might be about to do so.

I started out thinking about how I might be doing some of that same kind of thing, gift-wise. I've been letting a bunch of good stuff accumulate. Business before pleasure. But pretty soon the pleasure is hardly that anymore; the knowledge of it on the sidelines, waiting, transforms. Stress. Pressure. I've got to get to it, in the back of mind.

Here's a quick look-see. Noah Cicero's Waiting for Coffee. This stays with me; I've wondered what the original futurists would have made of it. Would have made of the Internet. It turned be back towards Mark Amerika's stuff ... reminded me of years back Michael Martone talking about the effect on narrative, consciousness, of everyday technology as simple seemingly as baby monitors. Have reread a little of Camus. Some of Bryan Greene's stuff ... and connections -- what would Jung say, think, I wonder on the matter of his synchronicity? From Robert's talk with Bryan Greene -- RB: In the beginning of The Fabric of the Cosmos, you describe musing in your father's library as a youth and, among all of the large and leather-bound tomes you looked over, you came across a slender volume by Albert Camus...

This [from Waiting for Coffee] resonates:
Kaya: Yeah, I feel it in my gut, the desolation. I don't know what to do, I'm human, but I don't feel like it. And what the hell does it mean to feel human anyway, you know? What exactly should a human feel like?

Death and Dying A reader, a fan, wrote of the story: The voice is clear and straight.

That, it is. All the way through including and starting with "Jane." I recently got a couple questions about that very thing, choosing characters' names. So, here's to hoping those interested parties are paying attention. The right names can subtlely and not so subtlely influence, do a lot of the work.

It is so hard to select some one thing or other about a story to point to as its finer points. I know, this is my usual refrain. Maybe I'll just stick with the voice aspect . . . how about the author's light touch -- a good measure of objectivity, avoids blatantly directing your emotions but rather directs your attention to those things that aggregated and in relationship to the other evoke and result in your emotional rendering.

I like that the story stays mainly in scene, in the present-time. The ending differs, takes a leap, long-range, almost wild but not stray -- seems representative, reflective, of the character's internal experience. I love that the character is complex; her little sniffy judgment: Liz was plain and too serious looking for her age. She was probably not twenty yet. She wore her blond-brown hair back in a tight ponytail. She wore a faded green sack dress and clogs. Jane didn't know what kind of a young person would attend a group like this on a Friday night.

Good, good story. How about The Africans Dress...? But no time now -- maybe that was it, my dad. Maybe he was just always running out of time.

I don't think that it's it.

I have an exceptional friend named Jane. She's an awesome writer and I've been nagging her for a story. I think she'll finally have to humor me one day. Jane used to visit us (from Massachusetts) around this time each year. One year we drove her crazy when we were trying to do yard work and learn about planting herbs; each question we asked one another ending up "I don't know, ask Jane." Besides being a great writer, gardener, and cook, she also grew up with Jerry Garcia. Another year I drove her crazy by asking her to repeat all these anecdotes she'd (probably regretfully) shared with me about that. Like how once she, he, and another girlfriend of hers were in her backyard eating I think mangoes, it was, from her tree, 13 or 14 yrs. old, I think, and he told them that one day he was going to be a great guitarist at which she thought, "Yeah, right." Jane has a great sense of irony and humor, and she also pointed out that the redeeming quality of a first horrible novel I was writing then, started before we met, was the protagonist's name. Jane.

 

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

"I'm horrified to see how much time has passed since you wrote; I kept wanting to wait until I could respond at some length, and I should have known better." So begins an email message from one dear to me fairly recently. Fairly recently -- now that's the key. For, if I looked at the mail's date, I'd probably be horrified to see that it's older than I think it is. The irony extends farther, further back. That email response only echoes the email it answers, that I'd written, and in fact, the entire correspondence pattern developed so far. It looks like this (B represents me):

A writes me briefly, an unexpected but very welcomed message.

B finally writes back to say I'll have to write later when I can write at length. it takes a week or so to get to this point, despite how pleased I am to hear from A, despite how I have been thinking of A and planning myself to write to A. One day. Soon.

B writes again, after several more weeks have passed, to say that this is a hurried message and not at all the one I want[ed] to write but if I let any more time pass I'm afraid it's not going to happen at all. Then, I attach some other hastily put together notes for some other kind of communication that attempts to provide a synopsis of the years passed in between connection points. Again, it's this thing of needing to somehow get that info to the other and too bad about the exact info itself. Horrid. Horrifying, indeed.

A writes a couple weeks later, opening with the "I'm horrified to see how much time has passed..." and goes on to say that the message is going to have to be brief. In actuality, the note isn't all that brief. Not in comparative terms, really, though there is ground left yet uncovered for getting to that next message, of length, and so it goes... echoes back and forth, mirroring and creating that pattern that I've time and again hoped to break free from --

I think I am starting to become accustomed to this reality in a rather discouragingly felt way ("Sounds like classic depression to me," so quipped one who ought to know.) Maybe, I think. And I think that maybe then many of us are becoming more "classically depressed" with this technological ease of communication and rampant information and all this stimulation -- thoughts, ideas, new insights, unturned facets, potential connections -- all this coming to me without my even having to go look for or seek it out ... so seductive and so overwhelming. Mark Amerika's Grammatron --- Hypertextual Consciousness has been on my mind a lot.

The human mind works by association. I have always enjoyed, loved that my associative process was healthy, energetic, prominent. I would notice that others, students, colleagues, friends who felt that they were blocked from creating, writing, were struggling with ability to associate, often, more often than not. I felt lucky that this was one problem at least that I didn't have that problem. Mine was more one of straining to clamp down on, put limits on this ever-flowing associative nature. What comes to mind this moment is a friend, in a conversation way back when about my fiction, saying, "But can't you control it?" or maybe it was, "Don't you have any control?"

Well, yes and no, and that's stuck with me, her saying that, because it's core, at the and of the heart: control and wild-mind. how much of each, and when and where, and how it is a new venture every time, no recipe, no proportions that fit all and each. when to let go and when to seize hold.

Hypertextual consciousness, the internet/web and all parts pieces related, the vast larger mirror, echo, extension of associative process of the mind . . . but I don't want to live inside the life of the mind solely; "that ain't living." There's this whole body, I am. It isn't just: pouring rain or blazing hot, sun beating downwind whipping hair backa gentle breeze etc and so on. . . there's all the minute precise minutes and moments, straightening up from the garden and catching this whiff and thinking my god that's me that stinks and then noticing the tshirt indeed plastered onto chest and that's one time, one way of a hot day. and more importantly, it's not living so as to ensure that I am not one who has no more real, remembered knowledge of the sensual from which I can draw upon, for a story, than the usual cliches left and not got eroded, but because. because it's sensual. even b.o.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Objective Correlative: what a great sound that's got to it, multi-syllablic words, those dual "tive" endings. No doubt I'm taking broad license with it -- what Eliot meant, originally, in comparison to how I let it mean. Right now I imagine workshoppers, writers who've studied with me or whom I've mentored, taught, et al, some of them (won't name names, B.) I imagine rolling their eyes. Here we go again, thinking that, as under my hand the ever multi-faceted "objective correlative" turns, reaches, stretches, etc and so on. [by the way, some extraordinarily attuned and informed reader informed me that Hendrix's "blah, blah, woof, woof" per me, is in fact actually "blab, blab, woof, woof." Thank you, F. And I'm sure other readers shall also be thanking you as well since now you've helped underscore the association in my mind/head, although, I will -- promise -- attempt to suppress it, and the fact that it takes quite a few characters to type out should help, i.e. I should become aware, perhaps, by the time I've gotten to entering the second "blab."]

To continue, to --

[Do I] dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
[For] decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse . . .

... Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis --

Eliot said, rightly, that you can't tell a reader how to feel. You can't. It has to come across through the story. Through careful design. I'm forever crossing through lines such as: George felt ... and I was terrified... and saying ShowShow it and feeling dissatisfied because that's such an oversimplification and such a cliche [show, don't tell] that it fails to puncture that ether cloud or protective glazing over, against the cliche. In other words, when I'm critiquing or editing or whatever, I'm having to come up with some fresh arresting way of saying things to make an impact. Exactly what I'm urging the owner of the work/manuscript to do, right?

Well, yeah, obviously, I don't have to, but then why bother, I guess is the thing for me, to call yourself "teacher" or put yourself in the position that calls for you to do this in the first place? But I'd rather grapple around with that kind of thing in fiction -- creating or writing fiction -- which is why I have to or why I do limit that kind of teaching-mentoring work. Partly, anyhow. For me to stay interested, to feel that I'm not wasting my time, when I do that work, I push myself for original expression; even if a certain way of making that arresting or touching commentary, I've come up with for one piece or other, could fit -- work well -- for another or two or three, it's of no use because it's taken on the flavor of the overused with me. I can't escape my consciousness, awareness, that, once written, it's no longer original. And what about sensitivity to the nuance each piece I'll worry. And then there's the whole thing of how, somewhere along the way, when it became clear to me that no, I would not be able to spend my entire time, energy, work-day on writing fiction, that then the thing to do is make the most of every writing opportunity -- which includes the teaching-instructional-editing kinds of stuff. Right, recipe for burn-out. As it's been pointed out to me annoyingly quite often.

In part, that's what's hard about this blog. On one hand, it's a great relief to have made that disclaimer, upfront, at the start -- against decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse -- and to just write like that, let it go/flow, a sort of stream-of-consciousness. But it's not truly s-o-c; it can't be; there's always some sense of or idea about "audience" -- who's going to read this thing? -- any time words get committed to a page, or better said maybe, what's in your head is giving a concrete manifestation, made visible. Else why make them visible? Like even with painting them, when I have, painted a word, as a part of a larger work or whatever, it's about seeing it, its shape, design, and evocation, too... but that's something for another time, lest I lose my way completely. And see, there's the proof, written, just now with the latter. The sense of purpose with writing -- exercising control, reigning back in -- it takes a modicum of awareness all the while. The doubleness of writing. Which I will talk about more another round. Many more rounds, likely. Fascinates me -- modulating awareness, degrees, extents, how to, how not to, letting go, risking, control, uncontrol -- It seems to me that's the center of the whole thing with writing: being able to move in and out and through and amongst all these layers/levels of consciousness. As much as I find nicely controlled writing, submissions, I find them frustrating in that there aren't any risks or leaps out of that control; it's limited, a stifling dull box of ho-hum.

So, yeah, trying to make the words I write, email, wherever, whatever, matter is in part a selfish thing of reaching, extending, pushing myself, go beyond limits of my skills, idea being that then when I am with my own work, fiction, I'll something more to work with than what might elsewise be seriously atrophied skills. To be honest, though, sometimes it's just Screw it! don't have the time, patience, inclination and then rationalize:

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

-- no, don't want to do that! Or

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

-- that's what's happening, I'll think, while I sit here trying to find different words for saying this...

... [Do I] dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

And that's it; it's off, to hear mermaids singing, each to each before it becomes a matter of, or maybe better said, in the face of the painful, sad I do not think that they will sing to me.

But I haven't yet gotten to, never did yet, force the moment to its crisis. So, here's the thing, when you're writing fiction -- unlike critiquing a ms. or replying to an email message, etc -- you've got this whole entire universe to work with. To design, create, how and what is felt. Tone, events, narrator ... all of it! Details; use details; use the right details. This is stuff I'm always saying, too. What are the right details? Well, what's the tone? What do you want to get across? Objects -- what can they mean, or seem to mean; why coffee spoons, tupperware, bronze urns, etc? Is it a subtle evocation of a tone you want or what about a juxtaposition -- what an effect comes out of or with the lonely deprived character set, suddenly, in the middle of the cheery homewares giftshop ... for example. Time, place, events, happenings --- all this and more! But "I grow old" and leave with these examples.

Christian Bauman's "The Soldier, the Squid, and the Dancer." A light touch without dragging down or mucking up the storyline.

Two girls were talking and laughing over at a table in the corner, and it's funny and weird to see two girls sitting in bikinis at a table in a bar late at night.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, CB, for sparing us the discourse on why that is -- so funny and weird -- as a lesser-skilled writer might. How much richer that he trusts his reader and doesn't insist upon spelling it out.

Then this pivotal moment:

"Squids-safe in their ships. What the fuck."

And wasn't that a mouthful.

Jimmy and Xerox were outside the car, yelling at the bartender now ...

There's so many reasons why it works, this "And wasn't that a mouthful." The story's tone -- the sort of conversational narrator and the intimacy or level of emotional distance established, all that and all the rest, the entire thing working together. Inseparably, in fact, which is what makes it difficult to pull each out and hold up as a distinct entity. Grossly oversimplifying -- last example -- we don't get some long treatise on it. We get to be part of it because we make the connections. A bigger, overarching (more grossly oversimplifying) design oversimplification: The author chose a fight, a bar room brawl, to "get felt" and does it so well that the reader isn't thinking, "Hmm, what a great idea for a vehicle to do this."

That's good storytelling.

 

Thursday, February 19, 2004

From my inbox:

We made it to the second round, the storySouth fiction contest. Here's the scoop:

============= Over 600 short stories were nominated for the award (which includes nominations from 51 online magazines and journals, whose editors each selected up to three stories they had published in the last year). From these nominations, a volunteer panel of readers selected their favorite stories, which are listed as notable stories of the year. ====================

Coolness! Thanks for helping, your votes. You'll vote again, of course, right? The second round voting starts ...Because of a delay due to the large number of nominations that had to be read, the listing of the ten best stories of 2003 will be released on Feb. 20. Voting on the favorite story will begin then and last through March 15. For more information on the award, including rules, go here. .... uh, tomorrow -- how did that happen?

Lately, I've had this going through my head, a lot: George Jetson's voice, "Jane, get me off this crazy thing!" Fast, too fast. It was just a couple weeks ago that I was stuck on figuring out what I was going to do here about this other project of mine, which now I realize dates back to the start of the New Year, and it's time to clear away all the last vestiges nagging me in this way that these things do, long after the actual source itself is often hard to remember fully. But what this was, was that Christian Bauman kindly sent a copy of his novel The Ice Beneath You , signed for a gift I wanted to give my significant other. I actually already had the book since the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning , Chris Hedges, had good things to say about The Ice Beneath You. And Hedges' book was something I'd just read after having my s.o. urge it on me, as well as his family members and friends and so on -- it was significant, and that's significant in big letters (wait, I'll go back and bold the letters) Okay, because, really, we read a lot, he and I, so for any book to get mentioned, make it through all the stuff of days and missed opportunities, well, it's something I want to read -- no urging necessary.

There's the build-up. Except for one minor point: not surprisingly, I didn't come up with the grand idea of this gift until just before I needed it. There was no way I'd get my copy off to Christian and then have it returned to me before we left to go away for the holidays. What did Christian do but fed-ex it to me, where we'd be staying -- there it was, when we arrived, waiting. Now, one day as we lounged around simultaneously reading our copies of The Ice, wouldn't it be rather fun, I thought, to snap a few photos of this fun we were having, send them to Christian as a thank you. One thing led to another and pretty soon I had quite a documentary of the book taken in various settings, amidst various activities, times, etc.

The best laid plans ... this is another thing that's been echoing in my head, lately; my father was very fond of saying this to me. So, if you've been reading along, you remember my lament about my antiquated tech equipment, yes? Uh-huh. Digital photos. Gone.

I guess it's time to put that one to rest, though. Especially since I have a few more recent annoyances of the best laid plans going awry variety. Which was how I started down this road... Valentine's Day. I had another great scheme, for identitytheory readers, that would be you -- a big love-fest of fiction, I thought. How wonderful it would be to have a whole bunch of fabulous stories published for you lovers of fiction, there having been -- are -- some great pieces, submissions, for that. Wasn't it John Lennon who said about life being what happens while you're making other plans? And, hey, am I not just full of the words of others? Interesting ... maybe not something I'll ponder publicly in the moment -- after all, isn't it getting pretty late? And besides, there's something else from my inbox, Valentine's Day, what I've been thinking about, regarding. So, maybe it is all consumerism-materialism-Hallmark-make a buck ... but I don't know -- maybe I'm getting all soppy old sentimental, but seems to me that (*shit, I almost wanted to write "it's what you make it!" Ugh! ARgh! I have to wrap this up.) but yeah, that, in a way. I mean, what's the alternative? I suppose you could organize a protest. "Love" is being exploited -- I mean, is that new? It's the same old sad sick illness, really. (You got to beat them at their own game?! Help, call the cliche police) I mean screw the romantic got to have somebody or you're nobody, use your mouthwash, deodorize, sanitize, get flowers, chocolates but don't get fat, blah blah woof woof (Hendrix -- not that cliched) There is love and then there is love. I think it's meant to be a verb. That is, I think it works better that way, but then again, expert I am not -- Before this totally disintegrates, the inbox thing alluded to earlier:

============Valentine's Day is weird for so many people. N. was working at a restaurant in Montpelier on Saturday morning and a woman of about forty came in. She was very attractive and polite, but when N. asked her what she would like to have, the woman kind of started sobbing, said, "You decide." Later, N. walked past the table and the woman was reading a book entitled Aging Well, and it was sad that a woman who wasn't old at all, who was pretty and seemed kind enough, would be sitting alone there feeling bad just because of the day. Someone in the town, the night before, had printed out thousands of 8 1/2x11" sheets of paper with large red hearts on them, and taped them to the storefronts - so many that the effect was blizzard-esque. And though it was sweet, really, when I think about that woman in the restaurant, I kind of resent the pamphleteers. That afternoon, we went to a coffeeshop in town and there was this man, the same age and same level of attractiveness, reading the same book, drinking a cup of coffee and periodically looking out the window at the clocktower across the street. It was so cold outside that day. And everywhere people were feeling so outcast. But there was the fifteenth, the next day, and all the hearts were torn down and the woman and man were able to fall back into step with the loveless, and that's just how fast those things fall apart.==============

Two other Valentine's Day things: One of the stories, contemporary, that made an estimable impression on me, still carried, is Daisy's Valentine, Mary Gaitskill. ("Daisy" is listed as a nickname for my name -- one of those interesting bits of assimilated associative bright and shiny bits, times of crow-like, attraction, maybe, more to the surfaces...) The other is the way that I have some very dreamy, dream-like, vague thing going on, some association, felt, to some long ago way back in time, when I was a child, something about Valentine's Day and that glitter on the valentines ... I can sort of see, but it's more about feel, a feeling felt physically inside -- this sky-blue dress or gown on a card with the glitter embellishing it. I've had this as long as I can remember, but have never been able to remember anything more. It's not unpleasant, it's odd, almost kind of along the lines of feeling wonder, but you know, not quite... Curious. My other remembered childhood stories are pretty replete in detail. Hypnosis, an idea discarded -- some things sometimes I think -- I just want to keep "sacred" in their mystery. It's no fun really, to always have to know why. Oh, why ask why? Ha! I'll leave things on that note, but more as a note to myself than anything, I have to say there's not much mystery on that account -- that is, the association is obvious: I set out to say something about T.S. Eliot's notion of the objective correlative. And I didn't. So now I've left myself a nice public note to remember to do that next round.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I want a camera phone! Right now, my scanner doesn't even work. Free me, please, someone, anyone, from the tyranny of all this old, antiquated, claptrap equipment! Hear me now, developers and makers, this is your opportunity. Get your piece of equipment in the public eye while I use it. Not only is this a creative exchange and barter of services, you get the benefit of knowing you made a worthy contribution to society. Impoverished artists and writers, no money but in possession of everything else that matters -- don't let yet another instance of potential go unrealized! Write me now!

Tongue-in-cheek? Not completely. I've always been inclined towards the creative side of the "creativity versus consumption" spectrum. Even during times of more plentitude than now, of steady sufficient income, free from crises that meant or led to financial disaster, the "art" work I was doing had me haggling and deal-making over salvage and curbside throwaways ("You can have that chair for the lamp post") with those who also were intrigued by the possibilities -- a curve, the fluid line, an intricate carving -- what can become, from the discarded. Sure, I could show you pictures if I had the right working equipment!

This is an opportune moment to segue into that not-forgotten topic, a la fiction-writing, the craft issue of using details. Flannery O'Connor: “Now learning to see is the basis for learning all the arts except music. I know a good many fiction writers who paint, not because they’re any good at it, but because it helps in their writing. It forces them to look at things. Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things.”

Make stuff! See, know twining together the green twigs and sticks fallen near your feet on the porch decking, fashioning together something -- what? some shape, a heart! for lack of imagination this moment, eyes falling onto a piece of mail beside me, some ad for Valentine's Day. . . We have to see to have the language. The precise word. The unique word. The fresh way to say it. Maybe a good litmus test for writers could go something like this: when all that comes are the cliches, the overused words and expressions, the blah discountable throwaway show nothing usual dreg, it's time, a reminder to, go do something. Make. You can't get your own experiential perceptions in a thesaurus.

I'm off to check what might be getting ready to sprout under the layer of sodden oak leaves in this patch of side yard marked off for trying to grow things, the simple usual easy herbs like sage, its varieties. Too much struggling for words of the nonusual genus, maybe, or blame it on the sticks and twigs, I've got a hankering to get outside before dark. Walking, Brenda Uleland, her book If You Want to Write. This is one worth reading, and revisiting. Not a how-to, it's about spirit, being. I stole some pieces of text from reviews, long ago, too much so for being able now to properly credit or pay tribute, that fits or comes closest in giving some hints of this book's good.

For most, the hardest part of writing is overcoming the mountain of self-denial that weighs upon the spirit . . .

matters of the writer's heart

You're simply happy to hang out with her.

discussion about writing, art, independence and spirit

She liked to write, she didn't care what anyone thought, and she had a great sense of humor.

published back in 1938, before everyone [and anyone -- something about the proliferation of books about writing, maybe?]

About the author:
Brenda Ueland was born in Minneapolis in 1891 and grew up there. For many years of her adult life she lived in New York, working mostly as a freelance writer and disliking her work. Returning to Minneapolis, she began to teach writing in various community settings in the Twin Cities. . . . knighted by the King of Norway and set an international swimming record (for over-80-year-olds). She lived by two rules: to tell the truth, and not to do anything she didn’t want to do. She died in 1985 at the age of 93.

Saturday, January 31, 2004

Good thing that I set that deadline for this. Can you feel the disclaimer coming? I feel pretty certain that I didn't cover every question asked me -- oh, who am I kidding? I know I didn't. But I have a good reason. We're just not all that fussy or picky about the stuff that doesn't have anything to do with good fiction. We are picky about that, the quality. The other stuff is just things to do to make sure that we can access the quality, and yes, we'd really like it to be easy, so we can focus on what matters, but it doesn't make or break our days when or if something doesn't quite work out that way. To list every minor detail is to give the mistaken impression that they bear that much significance. So, check out what's here and if you really need to know something else, that's not here, just ask (yes, again). Now before I start messing around with this again -- I just got done deleting examples of my fine wit, which I suppose, yes, might be viewed as a tad bit more sarcastic than necessary, but now I regret it. Oh, okay, since you asked so nicely, this is why: Not for the first time, that is, once again, I heard Larry Levis's voice, saw his face, the expression of mock-scorn, the last time I saw him, now pretty many years ago after all -- "Oh, morally, schmorally!" He would have left all the jokes in and then some. Happy reading. Write if you have questions.

Submitting Fiction to IdentityTheory

Information about submissions other than fiction are located for the time being here.

What we want:
Excellence is the requisite. Substance and significance are musts. Send only your best.

There are no style or content restrictions, the proviso being we are disinclined towards the stuffy, overtly sentimental, trite, stock, polemic, written for the sole purpose of praising one god, excess irony, hot trends, moralistic tales, feel-good anecdotes, writing "above editing," or anything that makes us say, "So what?"

We love language. We read each word.

We like fiction that resonates. Images, metaphor, sound, rhythm, dialogue are good. We want original, exciting, experimental, inventive writing that is tightly-crafted and well-executed. We want intelligent, challenging, provocative, insightful fiction. We will publish fiction that has something to say that's said in a way that keeps our attention. We love to be surprised.

In regard to romance, mystery, horror, children's literature, or other writing of genre stricture, we hold all submissions strictly to the same criteria. To examine our published fiction is to see that no such fiction has been published, from which you can rightly infer that there has not been a genre submission free of the limits of its genre. Extend the inference and you are correct again in the realization of just how extraordinarily rare the likelihood is of a submission that indeed truly does transcend genre constraints.

We approach each submission with fresh eyes and minds, with faith and eagerness. We read every piece. Those we like we read over and again. Each word. With care. This takes time.

We don't much like rejecting submissions. But we do. A lot; in fact, in extreme proportion to the amount we receive. The ease of submitting online, at this early time in its practice makes for a more relaxed or casual attitude towards the act of submitting, which aren't at all, of course unhappy or unintended consequences, loosely speaking. Yet, it is important to know that the relaxed, casual attitude, the ease must not extend to the actual submission itself. Please do not send anything that you would not go to the trouble of sending by regular postal convention, for example. As a starting point only. We expect fiction that is absolutely finished, polished to the nth degree, burnished!

At heart, we're able to understand the temptation to test the waters, but, at heart and with mind, body, and soul, we think it is insensitive, at least, to click the send button if you aren't absolutely good with the knowledge that your submission is in perfect shape. We find it insensitive to receive first, second, third drafts, and especially things you "just put together." We believe that providing quality fiction is a mutual venture that asks for the best from everyone. We are not a resource for learning to write; that is, not in any way different from what is to be learned from reading a select publication. We are unable to comment upon or enter into dialogue about submissions.

We consider the fiction weblog a resource in that way. There you can ask questions, for example, about improving writing skills or specific craft issues. Send suggestions, ask for advice, comment on topics - in short, make it your resource, but don't confuse it with submitting a work for publication in identitytheory.com.

Pragmatics such as length, rights, etc.
Traditionally, we've placed no limits on length. Reading fiction online is not the same as reading print fiction. An obvious point? Submissions don't always make it evident that it's truly understood.

We believe that every piece has its own ideal length, which may or may not translate well into online publication. Length, we believe, is inseparable from a piece's own best shape.

It should go without saying that we especially don't want novel chapters that have not been prepared or shaped for the publication. Novel excerpts are welcome but must stand on their own, a complete entity, ideal in all aspects including length. We don't publish teasers. A piece should be such that no mention of a larger body of work is necessary.

Submissions are welcomed continually, at this time, 365 days per year. We respond to every submission; therefore, please keep us updated on your present email address. Should correspondence come back as undeliverable, which has happened, yes, we aren't able to pursue things further. Contact us with questions, and certainly, do inquire if you have not heard from us within six weeks. Currently, we respond with some word by the third or fourth week.

Such a quick turnaround time would seem to make unnecessary any need for policy or mention of the personally annoying issue of simultaneous submissions. It's hard to imagine that there could be a more preferable venue for publication that could give a response in a briefer period of time. That, with all its implications, forms the basis for my perspective on this topic.

Coming from a traditional print publication, which is a whole different matter, I say simultaneous submissions - of course! There are quite a few print journals and publications one would be proud to have work published in, and the response time can be lengthy. Those that care not if one simultaneously submits I hold in higher regard - I take it to mean that claims of being inundated with worthwhile fiction are true; i.e. there's always a replacement in queue for any one that might go into print elsewhere.

Just guessing, but I bet the "size" of the print journal's slush pile can't rival that of the online publication. Regardless, I, myself, don't much care if a person is simultaneously submitting. However, I do think that when IdT Matt says, "It is not generally kosher to send simultaneous submissions..." that's valid, given the volume of submissions and the quick turnaround on reporting back to authors.

Looping back to where I started, if someone's got some reason such that the clock is ticking every second of the wait so as to sacrifice the opportunity for having work appear in IdT, it's doubtful the submission is of quality sufficient for publication here anyhow. Maybe. Generally speaking.

There are always exceptions. Maybe the submitter lied, for example, told somebody important for some reason or another, someone the submitter's beholden to, or what have you, that they have things published or about to be and are in a mad rush to make it happen . . .

So, should or shouldn't you submit simultaneously - you're one of those who need a hard, fast rule, eh? You'll not get it from me, sorry to say. I detest hard, fast rules. They make me want to rebel, my development arrested at the stage of juvenile delinquency maybe.

If you must have a rule, here's one, be professional! And here's a strong suggestion: be sensitive to the work that goes into this venture, as previously mentioned. Imagine how displeasing it might be, for example, to contact the author of a submission we'd like to publish, having weeded through quantities of others to get to it, and in just seven days' time, only to learn just then - no mention made elsewhere in the submission whatsoever - the thing was going to appear online somewhere else. I'd be inclined to go soap the author's windows.

Fiction published elsewhere doesn't interest us, as a rule. Definitely not fiction published elsewhere online, though you are always welcome to inquire about previously print published work, make a case for why we might make an exception for your piece.

All rights of published fiction are the author's with the exception of First Electronic at the time of publication. If a piece finds a home elsewhere afterwards, it would be the right thing to acknowledge our publication. Professional, you could say.

All work is subject to editing. Rabidly averse to the editorial process? You might be better off to tick us off your list. Reminder: we do not expect to or wish to edit work; we ask that submissions come edited, polished, and ready for publication.

Format and other matters
At this moment, we're not particularly fussy. We like to be able to tell what we're getting, from whom, and any other existent information that might affect our decision-making process (this story has been submitted to every online publication Google turned up and it's going to the first place I hear from, or this story has appeared in sixteen separate anthologies, etc.)

We like to be able to read the submission easily. Definitely appreciated are attempts made to keep paragraph breaks understandable. If I were submitting I would do it like this:

1. In the subject line of the email, I'd write "Fiction Submission." Maybe if there was room, or I felt like it sounded good that day, I'd write "Fiction Submission: Mary Goes Berserk." (The last part being the title of the fiction.) I'd definitely label the email a fiction submission, though, right there in the subject line.

2. I'd be dang sure that I was using as permanent and reliable an email address as could.

3. Considering how messy formatting can get in electronic submitting, I'd be inclined to send my submission as an attachment in .RTF, or Rich Text Format. That way, all the paragraphing would remain.

4. Of course, I could always cut-and-paste plain text in the body of the email attachment since I know what I'm doing, being sure to space between paragraphs to delineate them.

5. Since I know that there are certain pieces of information about me, the author, that have been requested, I'd be careful to provide them right in the body of the email.

6. I would send this email once it was prepared to editor@identitytheory.com and then I'd relax and know I'd handled it all quite nicely.

Information about the author to include:
1. Your Name
2. E-mail address (and note whether or not you want it posted)
3. A short bio (about 50 words or less)
4. Your homepage (if you have one)
5. Links to some of your other work online

We would like to know how you found Idt, but it's up to you as to whether you wish to divulge that highly covert information.

If you have questions still nagging at you, of course, you should ask. Just because we will pass them around among us and poke fun at your dimwittedness, we being the slackers that we are with nothing better to do, don't let that stop you. We, too, deserve a good laugh now and again; it might as well be at your expense. (Like I said, arrested development. . .)

 

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Stories, not atoms. Did you make your nomination yet? ++ My Confidence ++

Today I woke up in that state which I'm still carrying, still under the spell of to some extent, when you know you've had an exceptionally active night of dreaming, when the dreaming state's not that far forgotten. Not exactively "lucid." That's not it. There's no memory. Not in awareness, that is. I don't have any idea what the dreaming was about, but am deeply aware that I was somewhere. I'm affected, still, by the sense of very important activities having taken place. The balance between being awake and being in the dream is shifted in importance maybe more towards the dreaming state. As if today, in this moment, it would have something more valuable for me to know. This persistance of feeling from something I can't remember --- it's unshakability -- it's odd and fascinating. If I were a different person, today, this moment, I would follow that wisp of a trail, see if I could see what is there . . .

But today instead there's been email troubles. You could look at this as an opportunity. I've lost a bunch of mail, maybe, probably, yours. I have to ask you to resend it.

Working from memory, dangerous as that can be, in response to the vague bits of mail I remember here are a few bits back.

Submission guidelines for fiction -- I've thought a couple times now that I was ready to share them, put them up here, but it turns out not yet. I'm just not satisfied with what I've got together. It's the tone maybe. I know, I know, not at all helpful. So I've set myself a deadline. By the end of this week you can find them here. Sometime between now and then, but definitely by no later.

Preferences and publication choices -- I don't think that anyone could claim that personal preferences, style, don't enter into the process somewhere along the line, no matter how much a person doesn't think or want. When it comes to making decisions about what to publish, awareness is the thing. I work at staying aware. Exhausting, at times, for someone like me who can easily hyperfocus (i.e. obsess) but it's as worthy a cause as there is in this, being editor. So I'm okay with that, and then there's the great bunch of editors here who are always wonderful about giving input. Any submission. If I have the slightest niggling about my ability to fairly see a piece's value, I turn it over to them.

As for what constitutes my preferences of style -- what I like -- impossible to cover in a short bit. So I'm not going to talk about that now, but don't mistake that for a cop-out! I love to talk about this! I'd like nothing better than to wax on about it day in, day out. The first time Matt asked me who I liked that I read, I think I replied in a similar way, saying I'd have to put him off until I had a lot of time to answer, and then, in fact, sent him a huge message that at the time was what I thought was nothing more than giving him just a quick general sense of what was to come in a proper response. Which he boiled down to "likes Kafka" and didn't ask again! And which we reminds me that this is getting long, far longer than a few bits. Thus . . .

. . . Do I have a website? Yes, more or less. Can you read my fiction online? I think there might still be a story (or two) archived from the SC State Fiction Awards. What I do, look like, enjoy, etc. I'll cop-out on officially. Yes, I did forget to mention the party alluded to earlier, yes. It's for the The Story Behind the Story, Chicago at the end of March, and I want to go. I'm working on it. You're in Chicago and want to barter your lodging resources in exchange for going along with me, let's talk. Here's the bit on that, my last bit this round.

On Friday, March 26th, the tour goes to the Midwest. In downtown Chicago that day, there will be two events: at the AWP conference in the Palmer House, at 2:30, a panel on process by Andrea Barrett, Robert Boswell, Michael Martone, Antonya Nelson, and Peter Turchi, and at or about 6:30 pm, at Maxim's, a series of very short readings and a Warren Wilson and friends party including the panelists plus Pablo Medina, Joan Silber, Debra Spark, and Tracy Daugherty.

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