Chasing Dreams, Literary Magazines, and Why Not Now?

maybeToday I’m thinking about chasing long-held dreams and finally stopping all the excuses and the, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Or “Next year.” Or the vague but still hopeful “One day.” You see, this is a thing I do to myself, and have been doing for years. I have dreams of writing certain novels. Of moving somewhere new. Of so much more. But I keep putting them off. I keep getting overwhelmed, and making excuses, and lately I’ve felt a shift inside me. There is a sense of urgency that I can’t explain. It began after the election aftermath, and the fearful depression that landed on me (and so many of us) afterward. It broiled under me all these months as it seems like the planet is falling apart, disaster after disaster, all around us. I’m sorry to be so negative, but for me it all starts there.

Recently, I was a part of a group of publishing people—authors, agents, editors—who banded together to create an auction to help raise money for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. It came from a sense of shared helplessness and the desire to do something. We came together in a matter of hours one night, and in days the auction grew and grew. We called ourselves #PubforPR and held the auction earlier this month and ended up raising (as of today) a total of $206,550 that went direct to local charities in Puerto Rico.

Through this experience, I discovered something: We don’t have to be helpless, especially when we work together and put our hearts into it.

I also discovered something more personal. For one, I miss working together with people under the pressure of a deadline (that heated excitement I remember from my production editor days).

And two, I don’t know how much time I have left and I can’t keep saying tomorrow, next year, one day.

So I did three things: I removed my social media from my phone, logged out, and will not have to log in to those accounts until winter except if/when there is news to share.

I started a new novel I can’t talk about yet.

And I reached out to a friend to see if she wanted to do a project with me that I have been wanting to do for years.

What is that long-held dream?

It’s to create a literary magazine. Yes, it’s time.

This is a dream I’ve had since college, when I used to be a work-study student at the Antioch Review. My job was to open the mail—stories were sent snail-mail back then!—and type up the submission details on an index card on an old electric typewriter. I then filed the card in a library card catalog and put the story in the piles to be read. Sometimes, very rarely, I got to read some of the slush. Through this job, I discovered and fell in love with Aimee Bender (one of her early stories, “What You Left in the Ditch,” was published in the Review in the fall of 1997, I read it as a submitted manuscript and about died from awe). That was my first introduction to literary journals, and I’ve worked on and interned for a few more since, including co-editing the one in my MFA program, COLUMBIA: A Journal of Literature & Art, my second year in the program. (When it was my turn to choose the issue’s theme, I chose “fairy tales,” and solicited—and published!—a short story from… Guess who? Aimee Bender.)

So here’s the thing: If you know me and know me well, you know that my first deep and true love as a writer was short stories. Writing them. Reading them. Collecting them.

I’ve considered, as a YA author, pitching and editing a short story anthology, but it seems like so much of that is curating a group of named authors and I knew that you don’t often see the pieces before the anthology is sold. (I’m a contributor to three YA anthologies, with a fourth about to be announced, and never did I have to write the story ahead of time.) Which means the part that I loved the most—the discovery moment of finding a gorgeous short story in slush that we end up publishing—isn’t a part of it. And I want that back again. I remember finding the most amazing short story in the giant slush stacks at Zoetrope: All-Story, when I volunteered as a reader in their New York offices and rated stories for four-hour stretches on the beanbag chairs in the loft. I rated that story the highest score I could—I think it was a five?—the score we were told to rarely, so rarely use unless we were SERIOUS. I was serious. The editors ended up passing on the story, but I remember seeing it published soon after in my favorite litmag Tin House, so I see that it landed on another reader’s desk (or beanbag chair) who must have given it the highest rating, too.

I remember my first short story acceptance. I was in my twenties, still a student. When I was sending out short stories on submission, I would give a PO box as my address, so the rejections wouldn’t come to my house and ruin my day without warning. Whenever I visited the post office to check the box, I steeled myself… and told myself one day I might hear a yes even if today it was a no. That day, I got the envelope out of the box and didn’t even open it right away. I remember I was on the subway platform up at 110th Street, where I lived then, and I opened the envelope while waiting for the train on the way to work. It was a yes. My first-ever yes. The first story I ever published appeared in a litmag called Gulf Coast in Texas. I’d never been to Texas, but I remember thinking, I LOVE YOU, TEXAS! That story was called “Mars, New York.” I’ll never forget the incredible feeling of knowing someone was going to publish it.

As a reader, I loved short stories so much that I collected them. I’ve confessed this before, but I used to photocopy stories I loved from anthologies and magazines and keep them in binders. I have about ten binders stuffed full of stories. I called them my “anthologies.” Sometimes I go back and reread them, and I love seeing what struck me then. One day, I’ll edit a litmag of my own, I told myself. One day. And the years passed, and I did nothing, and here we are.

So you can see, I’ve been carrying this dream around for a long time.

Once I became a YA author, the dream shifted and focused to YA.

I’ve been talking—to friends, in sighing updates on Twitter—about wanting to start some kind of online literary magazine focusing on YA short stories for years. You may have heard me talking. You may have rolled your eyes. You may have been curious. You may have been intrigued.

I last talked about this online a week or two ago, so if you heard that and wondered what came from it…

It’s happening.

For real.

In my opinion, the YA world needs more venues for short stories—we have so few. So guess what? There’s about to be a new one.

I have a wonderful partner, someone who’s wanted to do this for a while too, and who is just as committed to this as I am. (I’m not sure if she’s said anything publicly, so I won’t reveal her name here just yet!) We’re making plans. We’re going to reach out for volunteer staff and content soon. We’ll be announcing more details when we’re ready, so I am not going to say a specific thing about it except… JUST WAIT, IT’S GOING TO BE AWESOME. If you’re a YA writer, I hope you’ll consider sending us a story when we’re ready! If you’ve emailed or messaged me about wanting to help, I have your name on a list and will be in touch.

But as the concept takes shape and the plans get more and more detailed, I almost want to pinch myself.

I dreamed this a long time ago, and I’m tired of telling myself now is not the moment to attempt it. Now can be the time. Why not?

So that’s my little dream gaining traction and becoming more and more solid with each day. What’s yours? And if you haven’t tried to make it happen yet, what’s stopping you?

Advertisements

A Dream

theaterempty

I had a dream that I had a magic wand. It was pink, with glitter. (I do not like the color pink, but go with me on this.) I could wave the wand and it would give me completed manuscripts. A wave, and The Walls Around Us was finished and ready for my editor. Another wave, and a short story appeared. Another wave, and the adult novel I want to write turned into a massive stack of pages on my desk. One last wave, and the secret project I’m working on was done and no longer such a secret. Waving my magic manuscript wand was SO easy. It was the best kind of magic I could hope for. I can’t tell you how terribly sad I was when I woke up and realized I didn’t have the wand and none of those manuscripts were actually written…

Until I remembered something.

I remembered that the reason I write isn’t for that final stack of pages all neat and collated on my desk. It’s for the *writing* part of writing. The feeling I get when I invent those pages, when I carve a good paragraph, when I create a character who surprises me. The process of writing, on good days, can be such a terrific high. A thrill and a deep sense of satisfaction that I’ve never felt for anything else in this life, ever. If I did have that pink, glittery magic wand from my dream, I’d never have a chance to experience this feeling again. And wouldn’t that be sadder?

On Dreams and Hearts: In Which Someone Says Something So Much Better Than I Ever Could

I’d planned to blog today, and that blog was meant to be about my first writing love—literary fiction for adults, which I aspired to write since college—and how dreams shift and balloon and curl back in on themselves, and how dreams expand and take on new faces, and how your dreams change as you grow and change.

But then I began thinking about the book I did write, the book that led me away from my original dream into a new dream. This was Imaginary Girls. Last night, in the aftermath of a mini identity crisis, E and I were talking, in the way we do, about my future as an author. He’s just as invested as I am in this, and he knows all of what I want to do, can do, could do, might do, and wish to do. We talked about how Imaginary Girls turned out—the book I wrote. It doesn’t matter who the audience was meant to be, before or after or during. Would I have written a single word differently? And the answer is no: That book is exactly how I want it to be, how I meant it to be. I was true to my characters. I was true to my intention. True to my love for my sister. True to myself.

Truth.

Imaginary Girls is the book of my heart.

Which brings me to today, in which I came upon Beth Revis’s beautiful post: “The Book of My Heart.” She says so much and more:

If you’re a writer who is unpublished, then I hope and pray you will eventually write the book of your heart. It’s a wonderful thing, and the closest I’ve come to touching magic. But I also want you to know something very, very important: the book of your heart is not the apex of your writing. It is not necessarily the best thing you’ve written, and it’s not necessarily your only shot at getting published.

I encourage you to read her post, if you’ve written the book of your heart years ago, or if you’re writing the book of your heart today. Even if you haven’t found the book of your heart yet and you wonder where it might be.

And if you’ve written the book of your heart already and have seen in published, I encourage you to read the comment on that post from Jo Knowles.

I have no more words today.

Novel Confessions

Has anyone else had one of those catastrophic, apocalyptic dreams (mine, frighteningly, involved a city destroyed) and in the dream, during the panic, you’re running to safety and have no idea how you’ll stay alive or how you’ll get out and you think… you actually really think: Damn. The world’s ending and now my book will never be published.

Oh, yes. Welcome to the dream I had this morning. I hang my head in shame.

So right now there are three novels in various stages of undress that are flitting in and out of my life. My oldest and dearest is needing a lot of attention now, and I’m falling in love with her all over again, so she shouldn’t worry.

Another one is on hold, but she keeps pounding on my windows to be let back in and I’m going to have to unlock the fire escape sometime.

And the last is begging me to finish her synopsis. WHAT HAPPENS TO ME NEXT? she whines. Then she kicks my shins. She’s mad I spent all weekend finishing up a freelance project.

These three novels don’t want to become like the two I’ve buried in boxes under the floorboards, and who could blame them?

If you’ve had any good novel nightmares lately, do share.

I met some very inspiring people last month and one of them has a website called This Is Dreaming Also. I’ve been told to visit it at nighttime…

Touching Ground

I’ve been home a week now. I’ve come back to responsibilities, and obligations, and stress, and static, and more static, and rejections, two of them, neither of which made me cry, but still: I’m disappointed. There hasn’t been good news in a while, it seems. I know I’m exaggerating, but sometimes the emotions take over and reality gets squished into a corner and you’re too taken up by the drama to let it out.

I’m just having a tough time. Blah, blah, boring.

Yesterday, I felt the weight of it all coming down on me so I did a terrible, evil thing. I napped. Toward the end of the day. I just didn’t want to have my eyes open anymore.

I had a dream.

I was back at the writers colony, my very last week there, and I discovered that there were two doors in my studio that I had never bothered to open. I opened the one on the left and discovered, to my great delight, that it led to a sweeping balcony all along the side of the house. I ran out into the open air, thrilled. Then I was immediately disappointed that I hadn’t bothered to check what was behind this door before this moment. I was about to go home and I’d only discovered it now. I was kicking myself.

Then I found, at the edge of the roof, this little contraption. A step to stand on and then a rope and pulley system to raise and lower it to another level of the balcony. I stepped on it and lowered myself to the second level of the balcony, but I couldn’t get it to stop. The rope plunged me down to the ground. Then I tried to raise it back up and stop at my floor, but I couldn’t get it to stop again and this time I rose up high into the sky, at the very tip top of the house, wavering in the bright blue sky.

I could go either all the way up or all the way down. There was no stopping in the middle so I could get back to where I started. I had no control over where I wanted to be.

The dream ended with me on the ground again, asking another artist if he knew how to get the thing to stop halfway. He didn’t. No one did. I was about to try once more—in the dream I was afraid of getting in trouble with the writers colony staff for messing up some antique lift system and mucking up its rope on the lawn—so I was just about to send myself soaring back upward, hoping I’d find a way to stop this time, hoping I’d find a way to get myself where I wanted to go… hoping, this time, I’d somehow know what to do.

Then E woke me up for dinner.

I opened my eyes and still felt the wind in my face, the beating of my heart as I sped up, up into the sky.

The Dreams You Have When You’re Dreaming

I found this very inspiring yesterday: “Leap and the Net Will Appear.”

Last night, feeling worn out in anticipation, I slept. I went to bed at ten o’clock. While I was sleeping, a text message came in from someone who’s been so supportive of me and my writing over the months in surprising, wonderful ways. Her text showed she’d been thinking of my book. It was wonderful to wake up and find it this morning.

But first, I slept.

I slept longer than I should.

I slept, telling myself this is the last Sunday I could ever sleep in.

I slept as if my whole world was about to be shaken up and I’d get tossed around with it. Which I guess it is, and which I guess I will.

While sleeping, I had a dream in which I decided to go swimming in a pool. In daylight, naked. And everyone was watching—my family, and the gang of outlaws we were somehow trying to get away from—and it wasn’t until I’d walked in up to my neck that I realized the water wouldn’t hide anything. That it was broad daylight and the water was crystal clear. I felt so exposed, the perfect target. And I kept my back to them, and I wondered: How will I get out now?

I woke before I did.

I had another dream, the kind of waking dream where you’re in bed but not fully asleep any longer, and so your conscious mind sticks its fangs in you and gets you thinking. In this dream there was this writer I know of in real life, a writer whose success I’ve been aware of. In the dream she didn’t speak to me. I watched her from a distance. I thought: Good things have started to happen to me, but nothing like that. And I thought, So I’ll just have to work harder. Like we were in a race she didn’t even bother running in. She was so sure she’d made it, she didn’t have to run.

And when I woke I wanted to smack myself for the thoughts. For comparing. For even thinking her life has anything at all to do with mine. Because it doesn’t. The worst thing you can do is compare yourself to other writers, the things you’ve been given to the things they’ve been given. She is not me, I am not her, my book is mine, and her book is hers. I hate to think I have thoughts like that, that they fill up my mind and enter my dreams.

But there are some things I thought while dreaming and half-dreaming this morning that I want to take with me: I do feel exposed now, the perfect target. But I feel all the more determined to work harder.

Now back in to this chapter I’m writing, where—funny little coincidence—my character is about to dive into a pool. Should I let her keep her clothes on?

On My Scattered Mind

Some things crowding my head this Saturday morning:

My new novel, obviously. Like constantly. Like at the worst moments, and the best moments, and when I’m trying to fall asleep, and when I’m showering, and making me almost miss my stop on the subway, and making me walk into strangers on the street, and drop things in the hallway while at work, like on my toes, and I have a bruise in my side from where I walked into the door when I was thinking about chapter five. If I could just dream about this novel and eat it for dinner, my life would be complete.

What am I going to do with my future, huh?
This question is still floating in the air and I hope it will be decided in a few months, or at least by 2010. Factors out of my control make it undecidable now so there’s no point thinking about it, but clearly I do pointless things like thinking about things I shouldn’t be thinking about while thinking about how I shouldn’t be thinking about them, and is there a way to stop your brain from whirring? I could use a pause.

I have a novel coming out in LESS THAN TWO MONTHS HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
That’s right: Dani Noir is out September 22. I have lots to do to prepare for that launch. Updates forthcoming.

Anxiety. Related to the above three items, much of the space in my brain is filled up with this amorphous thought, which takes the shape of people’s faces sometimes, or other times it’s faceless, or like a cloud, orange sometimes or red, and this morning I had a weird dream featuring my agent, my mother, and someone who I think was supposed to be my landlord, and I woke up all the more determined to write my novel, whatever that means.

Bagels. I really love them. There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not thinking of some food-object and today it’s bagels. I had a sesame.

New ideas. I have some. One is the idea for the next YA. No worries—I wrote it down and will go back to it later. But two are ideas for new tween novels, the age level of Dani Noir, and I really want to work on them, but I have tons to do this weekend, so it’ll have to wait.

How I may change up this blog. Make it less personal. Or delete it entirely. Is there a poll I can add where you can have a vote? ETA: There is! See below.