One of my best writerly friends and lifetime member of the most fantastic writing group ever (because I’ll never let her leave), Sharon Harrigan, tagged me to roll on a writer’s blog tour project. The questions are simple, but as you probably know, you can’t ask a writer a simple question. Here are the answers to innocent inquiries about what’s on my plate, which took me way too long and much neurotic lip-gnawing to type. Don’t let a moment go by without visiting Sharon’s blog for her take, and to learn more about her memoir, Playing with Dynamite.
1) What am I working on?
Patience. Accepting this moment for what it is and where I am without hating myself for being able to rush the future. These skills go against all my DNA makeup, so I’m having mixed results.
I have a complete memoir, Paper Bag: Tales of Love, Beauty, and Baggage. My agent is in the selling process, which has only lasted for a couple of months, but stretches out into an infinite, uncertain eternity. Maybe by the time I finish writing this post I’ll have a book deal. Or the end of the month. Or year. No one knows, and the waiting is exhausting. I wake up every morning and think, “today could be the day!” I fill my writing desk with talismans. I probably entertain the hell out of the NSA with all of the email refreshing I do (“Hey! Bob! Yeah, #843724453 again. I think she’s going for a new Hotmail record.”). Keeping that much hope on the line is exhausting. Some days I want to lean back and accept failure, if only to end the wait. Other days I feel like I’m thisclose and my heart is going to explode (see: yesterday). I’m impatient because I want people to read this book. I’m proud of it. I want to hold it in my hands and clasp it to my chest and sign it and shelve it. I’ve been working on this book in one form or another for over eight years. I’m ready. I know I am. It’s a matter of waiting for the universe to catch up, and fate doesn’t seem to be the take-charge go-getter that I am.
In the meantime, in between all of those phone and email checks and head games, I am working on smaller projects. I just wrote my last Games of My Youth column for Hobart, which will be featured at the end of the month. The Hobart column opened up my writing in an incredible way, and as sad as I am to let it go, I know that I’m concluding it at the right place. I’ve recently begun writing book reviews for Bustle and features for Food Riot, and I’m planning to pursue more freelance work. As far as another book, I haven’t started working or thinking on it. It’s been suggested that I write about moving from the Northwest to Tucson, but that’s not something I can do right now, not with the perspective to know what the experience means and how it truly changed me.
I’m also taking a class in making cigar box miniature dioramas.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The term “memoir” makes me uneasy because I don’t feel like it accurately represents what I do, which indicates how I feel different from the rest of the genre. As Vivian Gornick says, I think many memoirs are too much situation and not enough story. Dramatic, unusual, extraordinary experiences, like being the president’s daughter or Snooki, are easy memoir sell because they come with easy-to-package interest and a Hollywood storyline. These memoirs don’t appeal to me. I’m drawn to the writers who take the smaller flotsam of ordinary lives and explore our culture, age, and shared humanity in much bigger, important ways. These “memoirs” are less linear and more playful with language, riskier and meandering, willing to experiment with what the genre is and test the lines between fiction and nonfiction and poetry and all the standards and strangeness in between. Writers like Jo Ann Beard, Nick Flynn, Chloe Caldwell, Lidia Yuknavitch, Pam Houston, Jill Talbot… they’re who I closely identify with. They’re who I spend every day trying to be in the same stratosphere with, someday, if I’m lucky.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Because I am possessed by commercially unviable demons.
4) How does my writing process work?
It kind of depends. I’m finding that I work best when I’m away, at a restaurant or café, where my husband and cats can’t bother me and my house full of chores and responsibilities can’t drag me away. I have a bad habit of trying to “schedule” my work, like, “okay, I’m going to write this essay for X and this column for Y and this brand-new submittable story in this order,” and the ideas get extremely pissed off and rebel. I’m a control freak, so I want to keep my process in a neat production line, but the essays want to be told in the order they choose and if I don’t let them do so, they’ll come out as lifeless garbage. Once I let go I can be present in the sentences and the piece tends to flourish, but I always take way too long to relinquish control, freak out, and think I’m the worst and will never write again. This cycle continues to repeat itself every couple of months, and probably will times infinity, because again, that damn DNA.
Next week, look for answers to these same questions from another friend and fellow Pacific MFA grad, Susan DeFreitas (www.susandefreitas.com).
Susan DeFreitas is a writer, editor, and creative writing facilitator. Her work has appeared in The Utne Reader, The Nervous Breakdown, Southwestern American Literature, Fourth River, Weber—The Contemporary West, and Bayou Magazine, among other publications. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and lives in Portland, Oregon, where she serves as an associate editor with Indigo Editing & Publications and a reader for Tin House Magazine.