your vicious scars

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For years I kept Charles Bukowski’s poem “so you want to be a writer?” pinned to my refrigerator. I would read it every day before I wrote. It was part of my process. An affirmation. A prayer.

I needed that voice to burn through me and provide a sense of belief that someone outside of my skin was pushing me forward. I needed to believe that I was not alone.

But I was.

You asked me to tell you whether you should keep writing or not. You said, “Read what I’ve written and tell me if I’m a writer.”

I said, “I can’t tell you that. Only you can tell you that.”

This is what I tell myself. I tell myself: You are the only one who can make you stop writing. You are the only one who can tell you if you are a writer or not.

What you are craving is validation. I understand that. I do. It doesn’t help, though. Well, it helps temporarily but it doesn’t help in the long run. Validation is fleeting. Validation does not stop you from doubting yourself.

I would image that even the most successful and well-known writers suffer the same doubt. When they sit down to the page, they are seeking the same thing. They are looking for someone to say to them, “Keep writing. You are a writer.”

They come back to the page again and again for this same reason and there are many days when they feel like they have failed or like they have not been heard. There are many days when they receive no validation at all.

As for me, all of my words are piled upon the words of rejection. No. Not good enough. Not for us. Not the right words. Not the right message. Not the right writer. Not a writer. Not good. No good. No. No. No.

There have been yes’s but they are fewer and harder won. The yes’s have never come as easily as the no’s have.

When all of it piles up and I am struggling with time, I have the difficult conversations with myself. Should I keep doing this thing that hurts me and sometimes takes me physically, emotionally, and mentally away from my family? Should I? Why do I even want to?

Always I come back to not knowing why I want to but knowing that I have to and have always had to, whether anyone else cares if I do or not.

And yet, I know there was a time many years ago when I was just starting out that I wanted someone to say to me, yes, you can do this and you should do this. I also know that someone did say it to me.

But not until I allowed myself to be fully and completely vulnerable.

The walls of a fortress leave us cold, unmoved. It is only when we spy the crack and find our way through the walls that we are able to understand how it is you want us to feel. Every fortress has vulnerability. Show us yours.

Vulnerability is the key.

The solace you seek in your words is available to you but only when you are willing to break yourself open.

Only when you are willing to expose your dark heart.

Only when you show us your vicious scars.

 

 

mango

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I was in a Mexican restaurant in Topeka, Kansas when a man taught me how to peel an avocado. We had driven downtown, past the hate signs, through the empty streets. A town without pedestrians.

This is the way you do it, he demonstrated with his empty hands. This is how you separate the skin from the meat.

It might’ve been a mango.

I learned how to peel something and then I forgot.

It was something about the texture of the skin beneath your fingers.

Something about the flesh beneath the skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Writing Process — Blog Tour

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The Book of Laney -- available for pre-order now!

The Book of Laney — available for pre-order now!

Thank you to one of the Engine Books family, the lovely and talented, Courtney Elizabeth Mauk, for inviting me to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour.

Here’s how it works. I was given some questions to answer (see below) and I was asked to nominate a few other writers so that they might answer the same questions a week after I post. Here we go…

1) What are you working on?

I am finishing up the edits on my forthcoming YA novel, THE BOOK OF LANEY.  I am excited about this book and also quite nervous about how it will be received. This book is extremely close to my heart as is the main character, Laney. I hope that readers will feel for her the way I do and understand the message I am trying to send through this book. I honestly can’t wait for it to be published so that I can get out there and talk about it some more.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

 I don’t know whether it differs or not. Does it have to differ? Is that what we’re striving for? It’s not something I think about when I’m writing. I just write.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Recently, someone asked me about THE BOOK OF LANEY and what it was about. When I told her, she said, “Don’t you get depressed writing about stuff like that?” It wasn’t until much later when I’d gotten over the shock of the question that I thought of what my response should have been and that is: I would be depressed not to write about the dark and the sick in the world. I would be depressed to see something horrible and not use my work to formulate a response to it.

4) How does your writing process work?

I don’t know if I have a process so much as I have a bunch of quirks:

  • I set goals for myself–500 words a day, 1,000 words a day, etc.
  • I deny myself things I love until I make goals. For example, earlier this spring, I would not allow myself to watch the new season of Game of Thrones until I finished a rewrite. I pushed myself to get that rewrite done because I could not even consider waiting to watch GoT.
  • I tend to under promise and over deliver.
  • If my house isn’t clean, I can’t write.
  • I don’t write every day, unless I have set a goal for myself.
  • I tend not to write anything new in the summer but I do rewrite in the summer. I need the autumn and winter light to get my juices flowing.

Up next on the Writing Process Blog tour (look for their posts on July 17th or thereabouts): 

Kathy Fish‘s stories have been published in Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly, Guernica, Slice, and elsewhere. Her work is forthcoming in “The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers” (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). She is the author of three short fiction collections, “Together We Can Bury It” (The Lit Pub, 2012), “Wild Life” (Matter Press, 2011), and a chapbook in “A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness” (Rose Metal Press, 2008).

Paul Myette is the author of several short stories and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is curently working on his first novel. He is a graduate of the Breadloaf School of English and lives in Byfield, MA with his wife and kids.

dog

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The day we went to look at the house, she was there on the street, watching us as we drove by. Then again on the day we moved in. She was out on the cross street, a busy road, herding a child to safety. She stood tall and weighed well over 100 pounds. Her coat was pure white but often filthy after she took to the woods or the brook.

At first I feared her. Shepherds, in general, I feared. When I was a child, there was a shepherd on my street that would chase me when I came home from school. I learned to start running from the stop sign. This was a mistake. Running only made me more tantalizing. Then I started taking a short cut through yards, but still there was no escaping her.

This white dog was no different, I believed. I avoided her.

Out running one day, she approached me, barking and then growling. One of my neighbors drove up and I told him how afraid I was of her. He said, “She’s harmless.” I wanted to believe him, but I wasn’t sure I could. One day I held out my hand to her and she licked it. Then she let me pet her. From then on, we were friends.

She had accepted me onto the street once I let go of my fear. Actually, she accepted me before I let go of my fear. I was the one holding back.

For the past four years, she’s been a constant on this street. Standing in her yard. Lying in the road. Cruising up and down to make sure everyone’s homes are in order. She’s been here watching us. She was sixteen years old.

Over the winter it was clear that she was starting to fail. Her head hung lower. She moved more slowly. Then, this spring, she followed someone from her house as he ran with his dog. On the way back, she lost the use of her back legs. She was stranded in our yard. My son and I talked to her, encouraged her. I was worried that she would die and we would witness it. I was worried she would die. Instead, she used her two front legs to pull herself across the street into another yard. She rested a few minutes and then stood.

She made her way slowly down the road to her house.

Dogs are amazing in their pain. Briefly it is visible and then it is covered over. They will not show it. Our old dog had been living with pain for a while. We brought him into the vet in earlier December and he told us outright that he would likely not be able to make it through Christmas. Making the decision to let him go was excruciating. The second he died, I begged for him back. “My friend,” I said. “I want my friend. Come back. Come back.” I yelled this out in the room, in the vet’s, on a Sunday morning. The vet had come in specially to help us. He did not want this dog to be in pain.

My friend. We had gotten him after my mother died. For years, I spent more time with him than I did with any other living creature. We were a pack. The last morning, I felt the soft fur behind his ears. Most dogs have that same soft fur behind their ears, I’ve found. It’s their puppiness. Their vulnerability. We let him go because we had to.

The last time I saw her was one of the hottest days so far this summer. She stood in her driveway, swaying. Her coat was blowing out. Her paws were filthy. I was going to stop the car and say something to her like I normally would but I drove on.

Day before last they knew it was time. She’s gone now.

I think of her with gratitude for helping me let go of one of my fears. It’s never too late to let go of something that’s holding you back. A dog taught me that.

 

THE BOOK OF LANEY — Now Available for Pre-Order!

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NOW available for preorder from Lacewing Books.

Here and now I am in this place far away from my home. Here, with the cold wind blowing down from the north and the stars piercing through the cloudless sky. Here I am.

But my story does not start here.

My story starts months ago and hundreds of miles south of where I am now. My story starts in the place I used to call home. My story starts with violence and heartbreak.

After her brother is involved in a grisly murder-suicide, fifteen-year-old Laney is sent to live with her grandmother in the Adirondack Mountains. Laney gradually warms to her new home—especially her relationship with a mysterious neighbor—but before she can appreciate her new life, she must uncover the secrets that have haunted her family for decades.

 

book of laney

Available March 2015 from Lacewing Books.

survival of

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The pines belong here, seventy feet up or more. The oaks have found their way. The greedy hemlock hugs the border, its low-slung, dead branches cover the ground below. There is no light beneath it. A survival technique. A way to keep all of the light and water for itself. The swamp maple is as diseased and twisted and scaly and ornery as it sounds, but with a characteristic blaze of glory in the fall. There are also the birches—the white and the black. They are not hardy but they are beloved.

Cut back the diseased and the crooked and then the bigger, stronger trees have a better chance. When the leaves came in and we found we were entombed, I was right there with the pruners. Later, I watched and understood how taking some of them gave others a chance.

My head is full. My head is hot. My head is a cloud.

The sugar maples are love. The pines, desire.

 

Newburyport Literary Festival 2014 — wrap up

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Another year, another great Newburyport Literary Festival. I was thrilled to be a part of the festival again this year and to be able to share the day with readers and writers. It is, without a doubt, my favorite local event of the year and I am so proud that our town hosts it. And my great thanks to Vicki Hendrickson and Jennifer Entwistle for all that they do as co-directors of the festival. Amazing work, ladies!

Here’s a recap of all that I witnessed during the festival.

I was so happy to share the festival this year with my friends, Jennifer Pieroni and Pamela Erens. Pamela’s plane was delayed and so, unfortunately, she did not make it to the opening ceremony. Jennifer and I did, though, and it was great. The opening was a lively conversation between Andre Dubus III, this year’s festival honoree, and Ann Hood. Here I must admit that I have never read any of Hood’s work but I intend to now. She was such an engaging and charming speaker that I fell right in love with her. Their conversation was funny, informative, and full of heart. It definitely set the tone for the rest of the festival.

After the opening ceremony, we went to the Dinner with the Authors where we are able to connect with the fabulous Holly Robinson (who is so damn funny that she brings out my snort-laugh). Thankfully, Pamela was able to get on another flight and made it just in time to meet up with us at the dinner. I also was able to meet Jessica Keener and Caroline Leavitt, who were both so lovely and warm. All in all, a lovely night.

Saturday morning had me rushing out the door to get to the church on time. That is Old South Church in Newburyport where I was scheduled to introduce Wally Lamb. The night before I told my friends at dinner about my anxiety dream. I dreamt that I was at the church on time but I had forgotten my write up. I told a sour-faced group who were seated at the altar that I would be right back and I headed down the aisle. Unfortunately, I never made it down the aisle in the dream and never introduced Wally Lamb because I was too busy changing my clothes in front of everyone in the church. So my friend Holly triple-dog dared me to tell this dream in my introduction and it sounded like such a great idea after a glass of wine, but, alas in the light of the day, I decided not to. I did, however, tell the dream to the horrified pastor in my nervousness(sorry, Pastor Rob!).

Just before I was to introduce Wally Lamb, I noticed that Richard Russo was in the audience which made me FREAK OUT even more, but I managed to hold it together and give my introduction.

As for Wally Lamb, he could not have been nicer and kinder and his reading was excellent. He read an excerpt from We Are Water which made me cry. I think he must have known what wrecks he had turned the audience into because after his excerpt he read his account of signing at Costco.

After Wally Lamb, I raced over to The Book Rack to listen to Jennifer read from Danceland. Her reading was moving and excellent. So proud of my friend!

Meanwhile, my husband took our son to hear and learn from David Biedrzycki as he discussed The Art of Digital Book Illustration. They had a great time and learned a lot.

After Jennifer’s reading, we headed to Jabberwocky Bookshop to hear Caroline Leavitt read. My god, what a funny, warm, and engaging speaker and reader she is. If you have the chance to hear her read, do yourself a favor and hear her! She was fabulous. <–side note: Ann Hood sat next to us at this reading and by this point I was so in love with her that I had to physically hold myself back from telling her so!

After lunch came the 1PM panel I was moderating called, Finding the Story. On the panel were three excellent writers: Bret Anthony Johnston, Jessica Keener, and CB Anderson. What a great group the are. So generous with their insights into process and craft and all such talented writers. I was honored to share the stage with them and to have this conversation. We had an excellent audience with good questions and even ran out of time before we got to all of the questions. I actually loved moderating a panel which I’ve never done before. It was great fun.

After my panel, we headed back over to Jabberwocky Bookshop to hear Ann Hood speak and read. She was incredible. My girl crush went into overdrive listening to her entertain and amaze the crowd. I can’t wait to read every single one of her books. Team Ann Hood!

Sadly, I was not able to attend any of the 4PM events because by that point I was hobbling due to a poor shoe choice (note: wear comfortable shoes in your anxious, rickety-streeted town. You know better!) and so I had to go home and “rest” (i.e., go to the grocery store to make sure my neglected family didn’t starve) and change my shoes.

I met back up with Pamela and, after dinner, we headed to the Closing Ceremony. which was a wonderful discussion moderated by Lucy Kaylin, editor-in-chief of O Magazine. On the panel were: Richard Russo, Wally Lamb, Andre Dubus III, and Jenna Blum. They were all great speakers and so funny as they discussed their various Oprah experiences. Of the four, I have yet to read Blum’s work but I certainly will now as she seemed really intelligent and funny. All in all, a perfect ending to a great day.

I should note here that while it was raining and cold all day, people came out and enjoyed all of the free events. I am already excited for next year.

The very best part of the weekend, though, waking up this morning to my beautiful family who missed seeing me all day yesterday as much as I missed seeing them.