writing

Oh, New York

Like everyone else during this pandemic, I’ve been thinking. Too much thinking. The shot above is not from today. Today is one of those crazy stormy days; crazy rain, howling winds, you don’t want to go out even if you could.

I’m thinking about how unprepared we all were for this. Not just the tangible, obvious unprepared of a federal government that decided the best way to respond to warnings was to stick their fingers in their ears and sing lalalalastockmarketlalala, the lack of sufficient medical equipment and PPE for health care workers, disruptions in supply chains. The lack of emotional preparedness of…me.

I mean, it’s a bad storm today, but not The Day After Tomorrow.

We wake up and shuffle through our days, room to room in our apartments or for brief errands outside, but we haven’t turned into actual zombies, a la Zone One.

The streets are quiet, Broadway’s gone “dark,” but despite the photos circulating of empty tourist spots like Times Square, the city isn’t silent, as The Stand would have led me to believe. As I joked the other day with a friend, I was mentally prepared for the need to engage in a bit of looting to access food in the grocery stores, not waiting on line for over an hour to be granted entry. I took the photo above last week while on line for the store, a full two blocks away.

So here we are, just about mid-April, almost a month since NY has officially been under stay-at-home orders, over a month since many been social distancing. I’m still thinking too much, and April is still National Poetry Month, which of course puts me in mind of being an angsty teen and writing angsty poetry while sitting on the rocks on an empty, windy Brooklyn beach, expecting many things ahead–some good, some not, but not this. I’m still a lousy poet, but sometimes it still feels right. I’m not writing anything else, so why not?

 

 

Birds Sing in the Quiet Spaces

In the used to be normal days

The space of almost mornings

Gray and brown wings against black to blue to lavender sky

A moment with coffee, while neighbors snored to the rhythm of

Recycle trucks belching along

Subways rumbled below, metallic clash and squeal of elevated tracks reaching

 

Birds sing in the quiet spaces 

Today, yesterday, tomorrow, the new shifting normal, quiet all day days

Thought they’d be different days

Birdsong throughout days

 

But city quiet isn’t silent 

It’s the momentary standstill walking past a writhing garbage bag on the curb at 

2 am

The count between a split of lightning and ripple of thunder

The pause after a squeal and thud before traffic moves on

The halt of skittering roaches against cracked linoleum when the lights come on

The right before applause as the lights dim

The stun on the playground between a fall from the monkey bars and a wail

The space between a siren’s keen and speed followed by the lament of quiet lights 

that roll away

slowly

Ambulance full and void

 

Birds sing in the quiet spaces.

The 3 Rs: Reading, Writing, and Rejections

Asses up: is burying my head in the reservoir the same as burying my head in the sand?

Recently I’ve seen a bunch of tweets/comments in the writing world about writing that strike me as…odd. That it isn’t the writing that matters, it’s the story. Umm, what? Yeah, yeah, I know, there are books/stories that are plot driven and those that are character driven, and there are different readers who read for different reasons. But. If I begin a novel and it doesn’t have a strong voice and or strong writing, I don’t care about the story and will stop reading. The opposite is also true, if the voice/writing is strong and the story sucks, I’ll continue to read and still love the book. Obviously, a great book will have it all, most writers strive to create it all, but many don’t. Including, yes, many published and sometimes lauded and/or bestselling stories.

But I’m also seeing the flip side– don’t-worry-about-publication, just write for the love of it, doesn’t matter if you’re ever/never published. Strangely enough, this statement is usually made by people who are published and don’t seem to be renouncing future contracts. Hmm. Yes, I understand where the statement is coming from: rep/publication will bring new pressures, doesn’t solve everything. Nothing does.

I do love to write, oh, the feeling you’ve nailed the phrase, the scene, the word. The other side is the lousy, practically adolescent (at 50,000 years old) angst of rejections. You have to have thick skin, they say. Heh. I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul, fed my family more than once with a mostly empty fridge and cash scrounged from behind the cushions, seen both my husband and my daughter stop breathing, dealt with more ologists, advocating for my loved ones as a lay person most would love to ignore, actually seen Husband’s heart taken from behind all those nice protective layers of skin, muscle, and bone. The literal start to my day involves measuring the necrotic tissue on Husband’s foot, adding to the photo record of it to track the spread. Yup, my skin is plenty thick, thanks. None of this means I don’t care about my words. As I’ve said many times, for me, half of writing is being read. And nothing, nothing is equivalent to when someone reads my words and comes back to tell me they felt them.

I’m a reader who also plays with words and worlds of my own. I tend to enjoy reading books that are more in line with what I write (not exclusively, a good thriller or sff can be great fun to read, but my imagination doesn’t lean that way for wording). I’m a ferocious reader, a voracious reader, a fucking excellent reader who takes more pleasure in a great book than anything outside of those lovely but boring to others mama-moments. Seriously, half the time I trip over the kids’ names when more than one of them is standing in front of me, but a great opening line –hell, a great line in the middle of a novel– will stay with me forever.

Characters, oh I want characters who are fresh and raw and real. Who feel things deeply, who make me feel things deeply. It isn’t a fast pace, not even an imminent world war that’s going to make me feel, not a beautiful protagonist that will catch my reading eye, it’s the beautifully drawn world, even if, maybe especially if, it’s rich and dark and ugly; it’s the interesting narrative, sharp dialogue, it’s the words. Not is it realistic but does it feel/do these characters feel real?  Making me ache is cool, but making me laugh is better, both is best. Does it make me want to move to Alaska in the middle of winter like when I reread The Snow Child? Yes, I want those sentences so lyrical, so clear and ringing I do stop reading and say goddamn, how did the author do that? Is this really the same language I use every day? A great book will somehow take me out of my everyday with characters who are everyman/woman. Characters I see myself and my people in: those who are struggling and striving and failing and pissed off. Characters whose stories shouldn’t be remotely interesting yet are.

In a surprise to no one I, Mrs Fringe, write fringe characters, the people in the background brought to the fore. They don’t save the world, most of the time they don’t even save themselves. If I was smart, as someone who loves playing with words, has no MFA, and wants to be published, I would work on stories and characters that are more commercial. More exciting, more elegant, more sexy, more triumphant. I guess I’m more stubborn than smart. And every time I get feedback from a reader who says yes, I felt her, I know him, every time I get one of those dreaded close but no cigar rejections–you know the ones, they’re personalized, offer specific and positive details but say nope, can’t place it, or not this time, try me/us again, every time I read a novel that rings so fucking true, it frustrates me to no end but also gooses me not to stop.

I’m not everyone, but I’m not the only one, either.

Practice, Practice, Practice

That old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?…”

It’s showtime, folks.

Here I am, back home again. Not that I can’t blog from the hospital, I just didn’t want to. Husband has yet another brand new part, Art Child has a brand new diagnosis of walking pneumonia, and me? Well, I’ve got the same old pile of dirty laundry staring at me. Much like the file that holds the current manuscript I’m sort of kind of querying, I’m ignoring it. Every morning I get up, make my coffee, exchange emails with my writing buddy, squint at the newspaper while I try to pretend I’m not living through the death of American democracy, do my stretches, open the file intending to make notes for a synopsis (some agents require these when you’re querying), read a couple of paragraphs, weep, and close the file again.

Life has been pretty damned weird these days, and I feel like I’m…on the cusp of a new stage, or grieving, maybe both. I think those two things go together. Grief, not just for dinner dying anymore.

No, no, don’t get nervous, I’m not going to go on about health, hospitals, or death. We grieve a lot of things at different stages: loss of friendship, loss of marriage, job loss, major financial difficulties, leaving school, starting school, menopause (so I’ve heard–personally, I celebrated), children growing up, viagra prescriptions, a healthy planet, elected officials who understood the term public service, and dreams. Oh, those traitorous, treacherous fucking dreams. Mine, as anyone who’s been with Mrs Fringe for any length of time knows, is tied to my writing. A contract. Someone in the industry who believes in my words, my fiction, enough to think they and I could earn a dollar from them.

That clip above? From All That Jazz, my favorite movie, I honestly don’t think I can tell you how many times I’ve seen it. Gah! I was an adolescent during one of the golden ages of movie musicals. All That Jazz, Saturday Night Fever (I know, technically not a musical, but it was the soundtrack of my youth), Hair, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Grease, Fame, Yentl, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Rose, Shock Treatment, Fame (yes, I wrote it twice), The Blues Brothers–there were a lot of them. They were all great fun and great tears with a message. If you had talent, determination, someone who believed in you, willingness to put the work in and put up with various setbacks and humiliations, booze and/or mind altering substances but didn’t OD by the time you were 30, well. You would make it. That or you’d be beaten by life and give up those stupid dreams for a house in the suburbs. Or financial security. Or you’d just be too busy with financial insecurity to care anymore. See above, “I acceeeeeept!” Whichever way the chips fell, there was definitely no soundtrack telling me I’d take a twenty year break from trying, wake up one day to hear the alarm ringing from Pink Floyd’s Time in my head and start writing again, and write and revise and write and revise and connect with other writers and learn about the publishing industry and get derailed again and then write and revise and submit, and write and revise and submit, over and over again until I was 50,000 years old, still care, and what’s playing in my head is no longer the alarm clock, but Clare Torry’s brilliant, wordless vocals. Yeah, I’d like to see that movie. It’s possible this manuscript is a version of it.

I want to accept. I say I accept. I think I’ve accepted. And then I don’t. Because even as I grieve the loss of my writing dream, the writing is how I get through, how I live, how I grieve.

The closing scene of All That Jazz is below. Kind of long but you should watch it, about the death of a dream realized, and also Ben Vereen is a god.

Uncomfortably Numb

have you heard me screaming? I tried to do it quietly.

Well. Pretty much skipped 2019, didn’t I? Wish I could say that was true outside of the blogosphere, but life is what it is. Yesterday I saw this Tweet and this response and I thought, yes. Immediately followed by, maybe. I began this blog not expecting anyone to find it, and that was ok. I did it for me, and along the way gathered some followers, made some friends, connected with more than I had any right to expect. Mrs Fringe was a space for me to be not just mom/wife/dogwalker/reefer/writer/bitch/feminist/New Yorker, but the sum of those parts; a person (albeit a somewhat anonymous and edited one). It turned out great and perfect in all the ways for a long time, until it wasn’t, so I hit pause. I think I’m hitting the play button again, but life happens, so who knows.

How was your 2019? Mine was overall shit, with some wonderful bright spots. Art Child graduated from high school. Whee, I’m done, done, done with the public school system! That New Thing I was working on? I kept working, wrote to The End, and I’m pretty fucking proud of it. All the old qualifiers apply, no clue if anyone in the industry will like it/want it, but there you have it. I even went to a writers’ conference last summer and pitched it to a few agents, have done some limited querying, getting some interest. We’ll see. Hope for the best, expect the worst, blah blah blah.

The past couple of weeks on Twitter, reading my timeline I’ve just felt old. All these youthful, positive posts cataloguing the past decade in accomplishments, earnestly seeing the beginning of a new decade as something. There have been many New Years where my overriding thought has been wow, this past year kicked my ass. This year is not only not an exception, but I don’t even feel human anymore. When I tried to think about the decade gone, my mind started ticking off medical emergencies. The last 14? 15? years have been a twisted game of lurching from emergency to emergency, and 2019 will take its place up there in the top three. In the hospital with Husband, and then Mother-in-Law, and then Husband, and then Husband, and then Husband, and oh fuck the kids, MIL and I pretty much spent six months alternately holding our breaths and checking his, and then I spent most of the past two months inpatient with him.

All this time immersed in the world of medical interventions and I’ve learned four things really, really well. One: human beings aren’t designed for this level of sustained stress. Two: for every major medical intervention, there is a price to be paid–both physical and psychological–the more complex the intervention the higher the price, and you better believe this isn’t one of those no money down deals, they want that arm, leg, or kidney upfucking front. Three: I know who does or does not have real experience in the world of complex, chronic medical needs within ten seconds; by their understanding–or lack thereof–of what the actual, literal, monetary cost of our fucked American healthcare system is (if you’re reading this and you’re one of those mythical Americans who love your health insurance, all I can say is how nice for you, you’ve lived a charmed life with the luck of good genes), and what actually is/is not realistic to expect in terms of healing and recovery. In this skewed little corner of the world, out of the hospital doesn’t mean all better, it means the immediate risk/benefit of being inpatient tipped to the risk side, because nowhere harbors more antibiotic resistant bacteria than hospitals, so hey, congrats! Now you get to go home and do all this without a kitchen sending the patient three hot, fresh, reasonably nutritious meals a day, no nurses, no wonderful cart down the hall stocked with warm blankets and clean linens, and oh yeah, no teams of doctors coming to round, so multiple doctor appointments across the city weekly. What’s the fourth thing? I have the best kids in the universe, no shit.

I don’t know if any of my old faithful readers still check Mrs Fringe. If so, thank you (and hey, I’m not dead!). If not, that’s ok too. Maybe some new readers will find me. Mostly I’m hoping to blog my way back to the status of human, if that’s still possible.

PS: My camera has permanently decided it no longer wants to partner with my laptop, so for the foreseeable future all photos will be blurry cell pics.

Practical Dreaming?

Perfection

The only thing better than a beach day is a beer on the beach day. Sadly, this photo is from last month, and I’ve only made it the beach a couple of times this year. Life.

A couple of weeks ago was the Mrs Fringe blog-o-versary. I celebrated in Fringie style by intending to post about running this blog for the past six years, but was distracted by life and there went that.

Here’s the thing about living with chronic bouts of medical mayhem. It doesn’t take much, doesn’t take long to have all the doctor, specialist, emergency room visits meld into one long this-is-the-entirety of life. And it isn’t knowing too much about what’s being said in medical-ese, it’s the sneaky tidbit that comes from behind you and smashes you upside the head with an anvil. Like knowing exactly which bathroom is likely to be the emptiest/cleanest at any given time of day at your most visited ER.

I was joking with one of my writing friends last week, and told her to send me a rejection email so I could feel like a person. She didn’t, but the writing gods were with me and I did get one from an agent a few days later. Sounds a bit crazy to say that, eh? Not just because rejection, but because querying, in and of itself, can often feel dehumanizing. But rejections can be ok, they’re a reminder of person-hood and productivity. And this was a lovely one, personalized, complimentary, and brief. Well, maybe it is a bit crazy to talk about good rejections, but it’s a crazy business.

In addition to commentary on all the political muck, there’s been a lot of industry muck going around recently on social media, stories of agents who aren’t ethical, etc. I follow, pay attention, but don’t say much because I have no personal experience; I’m unagented and have never been strung along by a shmagent. I’d like to say the latter is the result of my sophisticated New Yorker radar, but that would be nonsense. It’s luck. I’m no different than any other wannabe who plays with words, knowing exactly how slim the odds are, and yet investing hours and days and weeks and months, sometimes years, into creating fictional people and living in their worlds, because it could happen. I could get signed, one of my manuscripts could get picked up. I want to think I wouldn’t get suckered, but I can see exactly how and why that damned hope could override any warning signs.

Yesterday there was an interesting thread on the writer’s forum, it’s been discussed many times before, and I don’t think what it became was the original question/intent, but it was a plot vs writing thread. Which is more important to readers, likelihood of being picked up, that kind of thing. Yah, yah, the best novels have both, but most novels aren’t *the best,* and have one or two strengths, not perfection. I enjoy a broad variety of books, literary and genre (nonfiction, too), but if I had to pick one, I lean towards the literary. I can forgive/ignore a lot of plot holes for an interesting character. As a reader, that’s fine, there are always many fine novels to choose from.

As someone who plays with words with an eye towards publication, it couldn’t be a poorer choice. If I was smart–practical–someone who wanted to improve the odds of their dream becoming real, I would work on a tightly plotted thriller with an intern who saves cyberspace, or an epic dark fantasy with a fairy who saves the world, or beautiful, eternally young vampires giving fangtastic blowjobs to shapeshifters–while saving the world.

I’m not that smart. The New Thing I talked about in my last post? I’m still working on it. Took a week off because of the medical mayhem, got back to it the other day. I’m not a fast writer, but if I’m in it, I’m in it, and will average 1000 words every writing session. I’m all in with this angry, unlikeable and unapologetic older woman. This morning I woke intending to open the file and begin the next scene, but instead sat and thought about how thoroughly impractical this story is if I care about finding an agent. And/or being published. There went the day’s words, eaten by angst and shoulda woulda couldas.

There is such a thing as a practical dreamer. I wish it was me, but it isn’t. I I love this story–even though most of it is barely more than a shadow at this point, and I am having too much fun with this character. When my words aren’t lost to practicality and medical mayhem.

What the hell, might as well go all in on the angst:

it was a Dark and Stormy Night

Hmmm

Ok, maybe it was more of a sunny but stormy morning. I like contradictions, the unexpected, the bits that make you say, wait, what? And I love the feeling when a new character’s voice gets strong and clear enough for me to begin putting fingers to keyboard.

And so, here I am. 22 pages into a New Thing. This many pages and it isn’t a short (for me, I know many write long shorts, I’m not one of them) but while the main character’s voice is clear in my head, and I’ve got a shadowy silhouette for the narrative structure, I don’t yet have enough of a story to know this can be a full length manuscript. I’m excited.

I know some who play with words are always excited by their new characters and stories, but I’m not one of those people. I always like them well enough–or, more accurately, not always like but am intrigued by them. But I’m not always excited. As a general rule, the more marketable (hah! as if I understand what’s marketable) the characters/story seem to be, well, the less tied to my words! my sweat! my opened a vein through the keyboard! I am. This is not a given, everyone’s process and experience is different. I’m sure I’ve blogged about this in the past, when I talked more about writing. I’m just not someone who feels each manuscript is a baby I’ve given birth to. I don’t feel any manuscript is a baby I’ve given birth to. Everyone has their own parenting style, but if I don’t feel a limb of any given kiddo is as perfect as I could have made it, I don’t chop it off.

That said, there are a few pieces I’ve been quite attached to, with 210% faith that weird or not, they were damned fine work, with a to-be-found audience that would pay money to read and not feel ripped off at the end, despite my fondness for killing characters. A couple of years back I swore I wasn’t going to write any more of those. Too consuming, too crushing when there was interest but no offers.

So what the hell am I doing with New Thing? It isn’t speculative fiction or magical realism–it’s been years since I’ve written anything over 3000 words that didn’t fall into those categories. Don’t misunderstand, it isn’t like I’m excited by a character or story that’s practical (read, marketable). No romance, no coming of age, no heartwarming friendship story, no thriller or cozy mystery. I’ve got a caustic, no-holds-barred 73 year old woman with early-onset age-related word finding issues, thoughts that skip around like a heart that needs a pacemaker, a love of bourbon, a greater love of cursing, memories of a family she abandoned close to 35 years ago, with no apologies for who she is and certainty that she’s going to die within the next two weeks. She’s offensive.

I’m using 1st person (I instead of she/he) for the bulk of it, which I’ve rarely done and am not particularly fond of, but it feels right for her. I’m using a framing device for the narrative (story within a story) which I’ve never done, and the frame is written in 2nd person, which no one is particularly fond of. It’s, I’m pretty sure, going to be, satire, which no one wants unless you’re Chuck Palahniuk, or Kurt Vonnegut, or John Kennedy Toole. All three are male, two are dead, and I’m neither. Sometimes you see Jane Austen on those satire lists, and I’m pretty sure the only thing my words/stories share with hers is that we both draw/drew from the English alphabet. But I’m kinda sorta falling in love with this bitch of a character. Bitchy, not snarky. I read the opening chapter to Husband (I always read my opening chapters to him–he’s a good sport, supportive of my words, but it’s more an exercise in me needing to read it aloud *to* someone than belief that he’s going to want to hear/read more), and he likes it. Genuinely laughed in all the spots I would hope someone would laugh. This is fucking terrifying.

Instead of a song/youtube vid, I’m closing this with the last few pages of the first chapter. Good, bad, or indifferent, Fringelings, feel free to share your thoughts:

Ha! You make me choke, think I learned to cook in the restaurant. Rest-o-rant-ay. I learned the restaurant to cook. No, I didn’t. I brought my secret in with me and took it when they closed. I’ll learn you to cook, if you want. Otherwise it’s just gonna go with me to the grave. No. Not learn. What’s that word? But I can’t start with cooking. Or the restaurant. If you want to hear my story, you gotta know there’s more than one. It’s a whole lotta stories, like everybody. Even you. You got one story in you? No, you gotta buncha em that brought you here, and a dozen more will chase you into your grave. But you don’t want those. You want what they tell you to want, one long happy ending. Because we’re women. 

Men are supposed to have lots of stories. But women? Women are supposed to learn one thing, and learn that one thing to their children, and then sit quietly in their rockers and knit booties until it’s time to go. I say fuck. that. I seen too many knitting needles used for other things. Them spindles on those rockers hurt my back, I’ve lived too many stories to take that. 

Take this. 

Oh, now, don’t get all offended. It’s just a finger. You sit the rocker if you want, I’ll keep the recliner. See, it fits my body just right, cloth rubbed smooth from my fingers, crooks and all. 

Where did I learn to cook? In the mountains, from my grams, same as most. Told ya, nothing dramatic. Bet ya didn’t know the Appalachian mountains go all into Pennsylvania. I know, most people think of Kentucky when they think Appalachia, but it’s a whole lot more than that. And don’t leave here cracking wise about banjos and moonshine. Sure, a little splash of bourbon is ok now and then. In fact, go ahead and top me up from that bottle in the cabinet next to the stove. No, no danger in mixing it, I told ya, I ain’t takin that damned medicine. A smoke, a tea and a splash, that’s all the medicine I need. Anything else is snake oil. 

What the hell did they learn you up there in the Bronx? No cooking, no stories, too much medicine. Thank the lord I didn’t move up there. My husband wanted to, in the eye-talian section. Where they got those salamis hanging in the windows like shlongs looking for their shriveled owners and pastries laid out like communion wafers. No, Frankie ain’t Italian. He just wanted to be, thought those sharkskin suits and slick-haireds were the way to be men. He’s German-Irish, but not like me. He got all watered in with New York-ese. He mooned over Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin more than I did. I was more of a Bob Dylan gal, myself.

Teach! That’s the word. I’ll teach you to make my dumplings. But now I’m tired. Is something wrong? Nothing’s wrong, I’m old. Heh, who told you 73 wasn’t old? Musta been one of them rich women you visit, someone with a fancy dog and a book club. Women like me with stories and crooked fingers, we’re old. And we’re tired. 

If you come back be useful. Bring potatoes and buttermilk, I’ll learn—I’ll teach you the secret. My gram’s dumplings and the restaurant’s guknockys. Both kinds but the same secret. Also bourbon. 

Words being Served

The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara, Lucas Cranach the Elder, ca. 1510 (yes, this photo is crooked)

Let’s talk about words. I was going to limit myself to “C” words, but I think I’m going to throw caution to the wind and use all 26 letters of the alphabet. Special focus though, on c words. Like cage. And f words. Like fuck, I was right, my country is turning into Nazi Germany. Or turn the clock back further, to pre-civil war legal slavery, or the atrocities visited upon Native Americans and their children, all in the name of white makes right. *excuse me while I puke* And yet, even with 26 letters to make an infinite number of words, they are inadequate.

Over the years, this little blog has provoked some reactions. Some, as I talked about the other day, positive. Other reactions have been scolding, “be positive!” “don’t talk politics, you could turn people off, offend someone!” Ah yes, the sword of offense. A few years back that caused me to shrug. If you didn’t like my politics or my honesty, you weren’t my reader–that goes for both blogging and fiction. By now, if you are offended by my discussing politics, I find you to be both offensive and an affront to humanity. I see too many supporting this ugliness, these atrocities promised and being perpetrated by our government.  And I see many more hiding behind the “virtue” of being apolitical. Some offering the Bible as proof there’s no need to worry about politics, God is in charge. That isn’t virtue, and in these times, it isn’t apolitical. It’s condoning. It’s support for conspiracy and crimes against humanity; in the names of greed, misogyny, and racism. It’s gaslighting of throwing around the word collusion–sounds so official and yet is meaningless in a court of law. It’s caging babies, turning a blind eye to the internment of thousands of children. It’s a lack of compassion signifying sociopathy spreading like genital warts.

There are those of us who are horrified, appalled by the images and audio coming out of these baby jails, those of us whose hearts are being shredded as we imagine being that mother, that father whose child has been stolen–for the sin of hoping to find a better, safer life than the one they left behind. As we imagine being that little girl sexually assaulted by a deputy, her mother blackmailed with threats of deportation. It helps no one to deny there are also those who are gleeful when seeing those same images, laugh at the audio, can’t imagine the terrified, traumatized child with Down’s syndrome as their own because they see her as damaged. Brown. Other. Not a “real” child. They prefer to snicker about liberal tears, pretend shock and offense at the language of Robert DeNiro and Samantha Bee.

I follow several lit agents on Twitter, and a smattering have always included some politics in their feeds, recently more, and in the past couple of days, a few have made reference to being told they shouldn’t–their response being a wholly satisfying fuck you. Some literally, some more politely. I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who will not make a distinction between their business and their humanity. I don’t care what you write or represent, lit fic, sci-fi/fantasy or erotica, this is the literary world. Telling the stories that need to be told, offering illumination to darkness, offering opportunities for everyone–no matter their life circumstance–to find characters that reflect who they are and who they want to be, say the words they wish they could say, offer comfort to those who need it and provoke those who are too comfortable. Publishing is a business, and the business is humanity.

A nation of laws is only as good as the people writing and enforcing those laws. Laws are not just by virtue of being written. Currently, we aren’t living by the rules of a democratic society. We have a spineless GOP in control that has given away the power inherent in their branch of government, enabling this hateful windbag-in-chief and his misogynist, white supremacist cabinet. An entire administration that defines avarice and corruption.

Sometimes silence is strength. This isn’t one of those times. If we do not speak out, we are sacrificing human beings for the sake of…what? Words are what we have. Right now, they’re about all we have. They are the power of possibility, the power of reason, the power of change. Don’t give away any of them. Especially not the ones that make you uncomfortable.

 

 

 

What We Bring, What We Take

I’m back! Didn’t realize I was gone? I boiled the water, poured it over the tea bag and…no milk. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t even read a post without a fresh cup of tea, let alone write one. One trip to the grocery store, one half-hearted clean-out of the fridge, one load and start the dishwasher and two hours later, sitting in front of the laptop again. With tea. I caught the most recent headlines detailing How-American-Democracy-Dies out of the corner of my squint, considered changing what I would blog about, and nope. Not today.

While I was on hiatus from the blog, I kinda sorta started a book club. I didn’t necessarily realize it was going to become *my* book club when I floated the idea to one of the more active tenants in the building. She got it started by posting a notice to see who might be interested, chose a date for an exploratory meeting, and then somehow, I’m the one spearheading it. Me and my big mouth, eh? In all honesty, so far it’s been great. There’s a good mix of interests/ages/backgrounds/and perspectives being brought to the discussions, enough people showing up to keep things lively, not so many that it’s difficult for anyone who wants to to be heard. This weekend I was chatting with a building friend, and she said she was enjoying the book club in unexpected ways because of those different perspectives. I’ve never done one of these clubs before (I know, you’re all shocked to discover I’m not a joiner of clubs), but I have to say I likely wouldn’t be interested in one that didn’t involve a mix like this one does.

Spent the weekend drafting pitches for a twitter contest coming up that I will almost certainly not participate in. As mentioned the other day, I’ve been generally obsessing over whether or not I’m going to try querying (through usual means, no tweeting required) this manuscript I’ve got. Even if the stars align and someone offers me a contract, it will involve lots of rejections first, and then during, and then after. I have to decide if I’m ready for it. What does this have to do with the book club? Perspective. Anyone who’s ever queried anything creative is familiar with some variation of the phrase, “this business is subjective, not right for me, etc.” It truly is subjective, and that subjectivity doesn’t stop with an agent and/or editor. Ultimately, once you produce words and put them out there, subjectivity lies with the readers. Not just the obvious of whether or not they enjoy the story/are glad they spent time with it, but the how and what of that enjoyment, or satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, what stuck with them and what their eyes skimmed over. Their interpretation of the story.

One of my beta readers referenced hope as something she took away from my story. My instinct was to deny it, nope–not about hope. I don’t do hope. Really. Except it is, if that’s what she saw. Because maybe her definition of hope is different than mine. Maybe what gives her hope is different than what might give me hope. What many others think of as dark I think of as honest. Interesting. The bits that ground us, what we hold in common through the human experience. (Yuck, that sounds grandiose, doesn’t it?) What connects us isn’t always love. Sometimes it’s hunger. Fear. The rage of feeling, being powerless in a given situation. The desire to laugh. Or maybe just to be transported for a little while; for a chapter or an hour or 90,000 words, out of our own world and into someone else’s. But when we do, we’re bringing our story to theirs, as sure as the reverse.

The Prodigal Blogger Returns

Hello all, it’s been a minute. How do I work this? How did I get here? Wait. Wrong song, wrong questions. Sort of.

I’ve been writing. And writing and revising and writing and revising. When I first began Mrs Fringe back in 2012, it was for all the lovely esoteric? ridiculous? reasons: a spot to be me, blah blah blah. It was also to see if I could get back to the discipline of writing. Which I did. In addition to the blog, I wrote a novel. I was pleased to have written it, queried it briefly, but I kind of hated it. I liked the very kernel in the center, but it wasn’t me. Not as a person, and not as a person who plays with words. Then I wrote another novel, which I loved. I queried that one, got an unexpected and deliciously exciting number of requests based on the query and opening chapters, but no offers, no hey-your words suck, please stop, no fix this-not that. I was fucking crushed, never going to write another novel, etc. Then I thought about going back to that other one, ideas for how I could rewrite it in a way that was me, but maybe include the potential to be commercially viable.

I started writing down notes on those ideas. Then in November 2016 the unspeakable but unignorable happened in the US, and I was crushed in a different way. At that point I took a break from the blog, feeling like America had voted for me to shut the fuck up, no-one was ever going to want to hear my words; not through Mrs Fringe and not through my fiction. Came back, blogged sporadically when I couldn’t stop the awful from spilling onto the keyboard, started seriously rewriting that manuscript. Too much awful, stopped the fiction, still blogged sporadically, then decided I needed to finish that novel. Talk about ludicrous. I had adult child telling me Mrs Fringe wasn’t fun anymore so obviously my answer was to write 90,000 words of political satire. Proof that no whips or chains are required to fulfill masochistic tendencies. This was also a different process for me. By nature, I’m a linear writer. First chapter, edit, second chapter, edit, and so on, until I reach the end, go back and edit the whole thing. I thought hey, this will be easier, I’ve got the bones from that original manuscript to use as a blueprint. Can’t speak for anyone else’s process, but for me, it was much harder, and I didn’t have enough words left at the end of each session to also blog. I will never do this again. Would I go back and revise an old manuscript, if there was a specific reason (ie: interest from someone in the industry)? Sure. But this? Nope. Seriously, I’d rather face the blank page.

Still tweaking, but it’s been written and revised and edited and edited and sent to beta readers and edited and edited. I even have a query letter. Because I’m Mrs Fringe, and the last manuscript (magical realism) was maybe a little too weird, naturally this one is eight times stranger. What can I say, I’ve got my own way of looking at the world, and my fiction explores that perspective. As always, the response from beta readers was split between positives “yes, send this out! I love your words! but maybe fix this first, and oh god what is it with you and commas?” and “wtf, Mrs F?” I’m having a hard time deciding the genre, I definitely veered left from magical realism, thought new weird might be right, but I’m not sure that’s a thing anymore (unless you’re China Miéville), so I’m getting used to using the term speculative fiction. It’s absurdist, kind of a fantastical satire set in near-future New York. Just the thing everyone is clamoring for, eh? Now I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. There are a couple of bits I want to add/clarify, and I’m not quite happy with the query, but I’m finding myself dragging my feet on fixing these, because I don’t know if I actually will query. If it’s as finished as I can/know I need to make it, I’ll have to decide. While it isn’t autobiographical, and maybe not the bookofmyheart that the last one was, it’s…Fringey. Much the way Mrs Fringe–eclectic as it is–has focused on what it is to live on the fringe of this city, this story explores the cracks of NY: who lives there, what they’re dreaming of, and how they survive.

I’m back here today because I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot. I broke the rules with Mrs Fringe. I don’t have one specific focus, I’m an expert on nothing yet have been forthcoming with my .02 on everything. I’m anonymous. I’m not consistent with content nor post production. I *gasp* don’t keep it positive. In almost six years of doing this, I haven’t built a huge following, but I do have a following. I think. Are you still there, readers? It’s me, Fringey. (I really did let it lie quiet for months this time.) If I was going to hit it “big” with thousands of followers, I figure it would have happened by now. But on a semi-regular basis–even during periods where I’m on a break and not posted anything–I get notes/messages from readers, maybe asking where I am, or telling me my weird words made sense to them, some have been generous enough to thank me. Every one of those notes has been amazing to receive, felt like both validation (yes! someone likes my words!) and bonus (it’s a blog, I have no expectation for anything to come of it). Can I find the same with my fiction? For all the years I’ve been playing with words, the question hasn’t changed: are my words good enough? Am I enough?

(Currently the working title of the manuscript, I’ve had this song on repeat for months. At this point I think it’s the soundtrack to my nightmares.)

Feed It All Your Woes

Through the fountain, Columbus Circle

I don’t know about anyone else, but my short stories always start with a sense. A glimpse, a scent, a phrase overheard, a taste. I used to imagine an eventual book of short stories, grouped by each of the senses. Usually while I’m walking, something will trigger the writing portion of my brain and burrow in. Often I try to ignore it, and over the coming days, weeks, months, I’ll know it’s growing, creating tunnels that connect into a story by the time I sit down to write.  This is not my “process” (could I sound any more pretentious?) for full length manuscripts. I am not a careful plotter who creates extensive notes, charts, and detailed outlines, but a full novel needs more than a whiff.

One of these bristle-worms-of-the-brain began creating a space for itself the other day as I walked down the wet subway stairs to wait for the dreaded 6 train. I’m letting it lie, don’t have an actual story for this story yet, but for whatever reason it’s brought up all kinds of old memories.

For me, old memories are pretty much synonymous with old music, the songs and albums I associate with different people and experiences, from jazz to blues to classic rock, from punk to show tunes to folk rock.   Anyway, I thought of an old friend I haven’t thought of in years. I can’t remember his full name, but I remember hours of poring over used albums in Academy Records and Bleecker Bobs.  He taught me about reggae beyond Bob Marley, and after work I would drag him to the (now mostly gone) hole in the wall folk rock bars of the west Village. We worked with autistic children and teens when autism was still considered a rare disorder, before the definition and diagnosis expanded to a spectrum, and drowning myself in music was the best way to not leave my heart smashed in a million pieces behind the head of a child trying to use his skull like a hammer.

Naturally this led me to youtube, listening to music I haven’t listened to in a long time, including the album below, which I’ve been listening to for the past three days.  I know I wore through at least two copies on vinyl and one on cassette, and while I can’t tell you how many years since I last listened, I still remember every word of every lyric. The entire album is beautiful, and some of it is quite dark, but when I was younger it left me hopeful and looking forward.  Now it’s got me looking back, time and opportunities lost. This was Joni Mitchell’s debut album (ancient as I am, it was already long released by the time I “discovered” it).  For all of her albums that I have owned and enjoyed, and despite the fact that when my birthday comes I associate it with her collaboration with Charles Mingus–their rap/scat of Happy Birthday, this is still my favorite.  Song to a Seagull.