Exquisite Duet: Helene Cardona and Myfanwy Collins

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myfanwycollins:

Grateful to have been included in this exquisite duet.

Originally posted on JMWW:

the-duetExquisite Duet (formerly Exquisite Quartet) is not so much a composition between two writers, but rather something created within the murky midlands of each author’s mind, yet set off by the same first sentence. Meg Tuite chooses two writers each month and gives them a first sentence to start with and a 250-word limit to finish an exquisitely mesmerizing story or poem. These duet-dueling writers will craft two completely different cosmos that have rotated, pitched, and blasted from the depths of their cerebral cortex to the twitching nerve endings of their digits onto dueling keyboards and separate screens until their sublime duet is prepared to see the light of an audience.


All the Sweetness in the World

by Helene Cardona 

The dreary memory of those two words spewed out
while she lay unconscious, a place in chaos.
The truth is you can never believe what anyone says.
I flash back…

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let us be broken

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My son tries to take a picture of me but I can’t stop moving. I hear birds making noise in the arbor vitae and think about the nest and eggs. Babies. I turn my head as he takes a picture. The camera is locked on lens blur and so my limbs are smeared.

He is pleased with the picture because he tells me I never let anyone take pictures of me.

There is a photo of me from when I was his age. I was in the backyard and I had just been crying or about to cry. I don’t know who took this photo but a fingertip covers a portion of the lens, which makes me think my mother must have taken it.

On the outside, she was always put together perfectly. Heels. Just a touch of lipstick because she needed no makeup. But with us and in our home, we knew her clumsiness with things. How she tore open a milk carton so that it was impossible to pour properly from. The general filthiness of the fridge. The dogs that were never properly trained to go to the bathroom outside.

When friends say to me, why is your house always so clean, I am shocked. I see the flaws and the places where I have missed some dust and feel a great deal of shame. My cabinets need repainting. I need to bleach the grout again. All of these things.

In a workshop once, Dorothy Allison asked us (we were all women), how many of us needed to clean our house before we could sit down to write? About half of us (including her) raised our hands. My compulsion comes from physically needing a sense of order around me so that it does not compete with my crowded brain. My compulsion comes from a deep sense of shame and a fear of chaos.

As for how my body looks when I write, I don’t care. It does not exist when I write. The vessel. Limbs blurred.

When I moved out and into a house with my boyfriend at age 19, my mother encouraged me to dress for him when he came home from work. Brush your hair. Fix your face.

I was a student with a full load of coursework and several jobs. I worked all the time. I would not dress for him. Let him dress for me.

I didn’t say that to her, of course. I let her say what she needed to. I realize her need for my outward appearance to be pleasing was more about her than it was about me. I realize that now. Then, though, her comments about my weight, my hair, my clothes stung me. I worked hard to be pleasing to her, mostly so that she would stop saying what she said to me.

I feel this now as I push my son’s hair out of his eyes and he pushes it back. I try to stop my hand from moving his hair, but I don’t even realize I am doing it. This is his hair and his head. His. Not mine.

In the photo my son took, I am in movement as I always am. I move when I try to sleep. I move when I sleep. This is a photo of me. A photo of how I am put together and how I am broken.

Let us love the broken pieces of ourselves.

Without these pieces there is no whole.

Let us be broken.

 

Do You Know Who I Am: On Writing and Identity

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I had a job interview once for a job I sort of wanted. It was going to be a long commute and we needed the money. I interviewed with some peers and potential boss and then one of the founders of the company was going to meet with me. He walked into the room and the first thing he said to me was, “Do you know who I am?”

My impression at the time was that he didn’t say it in a gentle, awkward way that one would hope such a thing would be said. Instead, he said it in a cocky way.

My first thought was, why, yes, you’re the person I don’t want to work for, but instead I dutifully said, you are so and so, blah blah blah.

They offered me the job for which I was overqualified but when our negotiations broke down over vacation time, I was happy to walk away from the offer. He would not budge over a few days. And neither would I.

I knew who I was.

It’s rare that I know who I am. I consider my face blank and unrecognizable. This is how I see myself from within my skin, looking out. Tabula Rasa.

Who will know me? Who am I?

I have a published a literary thriller novel, a collection of short literary fiction, and a young adult novel. I am being gently encouraged to focus, write another thriller. Focus. Focus. Keep reaching. Become this.

Become what? Write what?

Here is something I have been reluctant to talk about. I try to be as professional as possible in this business of writing but maybe saying this here will help someone, too, because this is about something that jolted my sense of identity as a writer.

So here goes: In January, I learned that my beloved agent was leaving publishing. This was a tough blow for me. She and I had been working together for nearly ten years. I have come to count on her as a key part of my writing process. You might be thinking now, who cares? Who are you anyway? Who even wants to read any more of your stupid books?

These were all things I asked myself. Who are you? Who cares?

I care. This vacuum I am in lacks air and light and sometimes we need others to bring us that air and that light.

But all is not lost.

The good news is that her boss, the owner of the agency, kept me on as a client and for that I am most grateful. Having met and exchanged emails and phone calls with this woman I know I am in great hands. So that is good.

But who am I? Which writer? Which person? And what will become of my process?

Last week, I was at the AWP conference in Minneapolis. This was my fourth (or fifth?) time at one of these conferences. They are overwhelming and exhilarating. So much to see and do and experience. So many people to meet and so many people to reconnect with.

I will admit, though, that I spent much of the conference in despair. I was missing the huge part of me that is my family. I was anxious that people would not like me or that they would not notice me or, worse, ignore me.

Of course, it was all great. My one-on-one conversations with friends were the best part of it, but also the readings and panels were exhilarating and I left there feeling completely ready to write again.

And yet, still I am wanting. I want so much. I want my new book to be read and reviewed. I want it to get into the hands of people it might help. I want. I want. I want my novel manuscript that is lingering out there in the world to not be ignored. I want someone to read it and recognize what I am trying to say. I want that connection.

I want you to hear me.

Do you know how I am?

Maybe that man wasn’t being arrogant. Maybe he was legitimately experiencing a moment of crisis or maybe he was awkward about the weird dynamic that is the job interview. I can give him this now.

When I was pregnant, I worried that my child would not recognize me when he was born. I was worried that he would not love me. Of course, I was wrong. He was born with his heart attached to mine, knowing me in the way that no one else can.

Like a newborn, I push myself out into the world constantly with my words and always I am asking you this: Do you know who I am?

self-promotion, bookselling, blah blah blah

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As you probably know, I am in the middle of launching my new book, THE BOOK OF LANEY. It is a young adult novel and so a bit of a departure for me. I am extremely proud of this book and I hope those of you who have read it will believe me and know this to be true when I say it: I have a mission for this book. My mission is that if reading this book can lift one young person (or person of any age!) out of darkness and offer them hope, then I will feel I have done my work well.

Since I am my own publicist, I have been working hard, as I always do, to get the word out about THE BOOK OF LANEY. I have sent out many pitches and for all that have been responded to favorably, 10-20 or more have either been denied or ignored entirely.

For all the booksellers, libraries, people in the media, reviewers, who have responded favorably or reached out so far: THANK YOU! I am truly grateful to you (which I hope you know already but I want to say it again here). I know what it takes for you to do the work you do and I appreciate that you continue to fight for literacy and literature and the future and young people and hope.

I read a few blog posts recently that were making the circuit. Two different writers talking about what to do and what not to do when one promotes one’s book. There was some decent advice (though a bit snarky in tone) from the perspective of these writers. However, I come at promoting my work not just as the writer, but as someone who knows what it is like to promote the work of others. Someone who knows what it feels like to be pitched day in and day out.

I have been on the receiving end of the pitch and I know what worked for me and what didn’t. I try to remember my past experience with each pitch I make myself. Honestly, to call what I do a pitch is not accurate. What I do is get in touch and give some information and try to be as pleasant as possible and never, ever, ever demand anything.

So here’s my story: Twenty years ago, I was living and working in Boston. I was a writer in my heart and trying to find ways to sustain myself, but I wasn’t doing much writing. What I was doing then was making a living. What else I was doing was learning. For a time, I was the Regional Promotions Director for Tower Records New England. What this meant was that I was responsible for in-store/off-site events and off-site sales for the three New England stores (Boston, Cambridge, Burlington). All day, every day, I had people pitch me: indie record labels, big record labels, radio stations, distributors, artists themselves (musicians, writers), publishers, book distributors, etc. I, in turn, pitched events to these same people when they had work coming out we thought would be a big draw or when we thought they were hosting an event we might want in on. My team (all two or sometimes three of us) and I were responsible for promoting, publicizing, and managing these events.

During my time, we hosted Marilyn Manson, Nancy Sinatra (when she was in Playboy… THAT was an interesting in store), Marianne Faithful (for her book. She was allowed to smoke in the store because she was Marianne Faithful), etc. etc. No end of famous people.

I remember and have fondness for all of the people who were pleasant to us. I worked with those people many times because they were pleasant, polite, and nice to work with. There were assholes, too. The assholes were rude, demanding, and had the expectation that something should be done for them. The assholes… we didn’t work together much. I avoided the assholes. I lost their messages. I didn’t return the calls.

Remember, this was before social media. This was before Amazon. If you wanted your stuff to be sold, you pretty much needed it to be in a brick and mortar store. And you pretty much interacted face-to-face.

I learned so much from this job (and subsequent jobs in which I promoted and publicized other things) but the key lessons I learned are this:

1) No one likes a pushy sales pitch. NO ONE. Pushy sales pitches are not normal human interactions. They are not love. The people who spoke to me with love and honesty and who got to the point quickly about the artist they were representing were the ones who opened my heart. Even if I didn’t respond to that particular artist the fact that they so believed in that artist and their potential, moved me and brought me to action. So if you are your own publicist (as I am mine), try your best to get to the point and to do it in a way that is open and be honest about yourself. You don’t need to pitch yourself so hard that you come off sounding false.

2) Be a human being and treat others as though they are human beings. I was on a panel once and I responded to a question (don’t even remember the question) that writers should treat agents and editors like human beings. The follow up question was: “What do you mean like human beings?” Not even kidding. Basically, you know how you like to be treated. If you are like me, you like to be treated as though you have thoughts and feelings that matter and as though you are not just on this planet to serve others. Well, that’s the way we all want to be treated. We want kindness and respect and honesty and generosity of spirit. I know I responded best to those people who approached me as if I were a living, breathing creature. The people who took the time to learn my name and know some things about me.

3) As for social media: do it if you like and it feels right to you. Don’t do it if you don’t. Back in the 90s we had to hit the streets with paper fliers and hand them out to people. NOTHING is more humiliating and humbling than having people ignore you when you stand before them with a flier in your hand. Your outstretched hand. Social media can be like that. You might just be tweeting about your book and you think that’s cool but you don’t realize how many people are averting their eyes from you and your outstretched hand. It’s okay, though. It’s cool. Do what works for you and don’t let people make you feel ashamed for doing whatever you feel like you need to to get yourself out there.

So I’m here in these trenches with you. I am trying  to get this book into as many hands as I can–not just because I want to do a good job for my publisher and my editor (because I do) but also because I want it to be read. I want it to make a difference in the world. We all want that, right?

My AWP Schedule (please commit this to memory!)

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A week from now, many of us will be in the thick of the annual AWP conference in Minneapolis. By this point, we will be exhilarated, exhausted, dehydrated, hungry, possibly hungover (especially if you drank that shot that was offered to you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!), missing our families/pets or families and pets or missing no one. We will also hoping to connect with old friends or friends we’ve only known online or writers/editors/journals/presses we admire from afar.

I am excited that I’m going to be there but I’m also preemptively missing my family even though I am still at home. I will need a hug when I see you! And I hope that I will get to see you. I arrive Thursday afternoon and leave Sunday morning.

Here’s my schedule:

April 9th, 2015, 7:30PM: Reading at ELJ Wild and Harvest Reading, Magers and Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, MN

April 10th, 2-4PM, 2015: signing THE BOOK OF LANEY at AWP 2015  Conference at the Engine Books/Lacewing Books booth 652, Minneapolis, MN

April 11th, 10AM-12PM, 2015: signing THE BOOK OF LANEY at AWP 2015 Conference at the Engine Books/Lacewing Books booth 652, Minneapolis, MN

April 11th, 3PM-4PM, 2015: signing I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND at AWP 2015 Conference at the PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press booth 1122, Minneapolis, MN

April 11th, 4PM, 2015: Reading at Four Presses Present a Hotel Room Reading, Le Meridien Chambers, Minneapolis

 

“I Wrote This Book Because…” – Myfanwy Collins and The Book of Laney

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myfanwycollins:

So grateful for our wonderful local bookstore, Jabberwocky!

Originally posted on jabberwocky books:

We loved hosting Myfanwy Collins in the store last week for the publication of her young adult novel.  Collins had the crowd in near tears with the dramatic opening scene in the book, and attendees followed with a thoughtful Q&A session about what challenges kids today face in sometimes violent school culture.  She also prefaced her presentation with a list of reasons why she felt had to write this book, and they were so moving we wanted to re-post them from her blog here.

I wrote this book because we live in a sometimes horrible and often beautiful world.

I wrote this book because I did not want you to feel so alone.

I wrote this book because four boys in the town where I used to live used their collective rage, boredom, and feelings of worthlessness to turn the lives of another family into the thing of nightmares.

I…

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the bluff

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This picture is of the bluff where Laney lived with her grandmother. Of course, the one in the book is made up but this is the one I based it upon. This bluff exists in the lake where I grew, a place where I felt most free and also most trapped. As a child, I lived in the woods, the water, the mountains. As a young adult, I lived in my mind, in my books, in my anger.

The woods, the water, the mountains, the mind, and the books are still here but that anger has died. It has been replaced with determination and desire. And right now, that anger is also replaced with fear.

I’ve been having dreams this past week. Anxiety-fueled dreams that wake me up filled with belief that they are real.

No one shows up to my readings or just a few people show up or people show up but don’t care. All of this is wrapped up in my anxiety, of course, because this weekend I will be presenting THE BOOK OF LANEY for the first time. On Saturday night (3/28)  at 7PM, I’ll be at Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport and then on Sunday at 2PM, I’ll be at Newtonville Books in Newton Center.

I’ve had my share of readings and reading in front of an audience is something I enjoy doing. So why the fear and worry?

Maybe it is because I feel a great deal of responsibility with this book. It’s not like I haven’t felt responsibility with my other books but with this one I am hoping to reach a specific audience of young people and maybe make a difference for them. I feel responsible that this book speaks authentically from the voice of a fifteen-year-old. I feel responsible that the material be treated with the seriousness and respect it is due. I feel responsible to victims and also to those who feel an urge to victimize. I want this book to help heal those who need healing and to reach those who are nearly out of reach.

Of course, I have no control over any of this but being given the opportunity and the honor to speak and read in front of an audience is one way in which I can reach out and with that comes the pressure to make it count.

I will make it count. I promise you I will. If you will meet me there, I will be there for you. Thank you to those who have already read this book and let it speak to them. Thank you to those who have let me know what it meant to them. You have given me such hope.

Thank you for coming to the bluff with me and remembering how we can come back to ourselves. Even in our darkest moments we have that possibility.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for hearing me.