Sunday, November 2, 2014

Welcome, November



If you know me, you probably know that I NaNoWriMo.

I know, I know, it's really the garage band of noveling for amateurs and wannabes, but for one month out of the year, I don't take my writing or my self all that seriously and embark on the totally ridiculous, unrealistic, and wildly fun task of pulling a novel out of my behind.

And you know what? I'm actually pretty damn good at it :D I mean, at NaNoWriMo. At writing novels that are worth publishing? Heh, not so much, but one day I'll get that down, too.

This year is going to be a particular challenge, though I am determined to give it my best shot once again. About two months ago, I had this crazy dream, and when I woke up I thought, THAT WOULD BE AN AMAZING NOVEL IDEA! And so I began planning and thinking about how my story might come together for. This month, I'm writing a speculative love story about a cafeteria lady and a high school janitor who have the power to travel to different dimensions and times.Wild and weird, I know.
  
I've been participating (and winning) NaNoWriMo since I first began in 2011. Here are a few tips that get me through:

1. Have a plan -- I always go into the month with a loose plan for success, though it's a flexible plan. I try to have landmarks in my story. For example, in this story, by 10k, I want my two characters to have fallen in love.

2. Be consistent and write everyday, even if it's just a few hundred words. On particularly busy days, find at least 15 minutes to sit down and work on your novel just to keep it fresh in your mind.

3. Do it together. Have a few noveling buddies. Participate in the Nanowrimo forums. Having a community of writers always helps with motivation. I find that, typically, my writing buddies tend to drop off about halfway through the month, but by that point, I'm already invested in the project :-D

4. Spend your down time thinking about your project. Daydream about it while driving, walking, eating, spacing out, before you go to bed. I give my novel a lot of brainspace, and that way, when I sit down to write, I have something in my head to pour onto the page. For me, I think, this is the real key.

5. Have fun. Don't take it so seriously. The point of NaNoWriMo isn't perfection, but practice, community, and fun.

This month is going to be particularly challenging for me due to my health issues, though maybe I can even use that to my advantage. I spend a lot of time lying down, and there's no reason why I can't just prop my laptop on me. Plus, this might be just the kick in the pants I need to get into a writing routine and to get my mind off my back, even if just a little bit. I'm meeting with Surgeon this week, so maybe he will have other plans for my November, though right now, I'm looking forward to a month of wild writing, birthday celebrations, and stuffing my face with pie at Thanksgiving.

Wish me luck! I'm going to need it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Goddess Wears Orthopedic Shoes...

The goddess with her new "pimp cane"

The past month has been the most difficult and wonderful of my entire life. And I say that without hyperbole, without exaggeration -- just with stark, real honesty.

A month ago today, I was in the hospital. I woke up that morning and felt the most terrible pain I'd ever experienced. It was more pain than I could bare. More pain than I knew possible. I called my doctor to let her know I was coming in, but as I got out of bed to make my way to the bathroom, I blacked out, fell to the floor, and went unconscious. I remember thinking how I just couldn't do it, that there had to be something I could do to end the pain, and my brain just shut down.

B was there, thank goodness, and called 911.

The next thing I know, I'm waking up, and the paramedics are loading me into an ambulance. I try to put on a brave face, but I was scared out of my mind.

At the ER, the the doctor looks at me for two minutes and wants to send me home. "You don't meet the criteria for care," he says, and I throw the biggest hissy fit of my life. I cry and demand help. Sometimes, you simply have to wail.

And I do get help -- another doctor. A shot of morphine later, I'm wheeled away to an MRI machine, and then I'm admitted into the hospital. The whole ordeal takes all day, and by the nighttime, I'm assigned a neurosurgeon to help me find a solution. "Herniated discs, no biggie," he says at first, "you just need some rest. I'll look at your MRI in the morning."

But 15 minutes later, he returns, apologizes, and says it's more serious than a simple hernia, and that we'll talk more in the morning.

I don't sleep. Who could? B stays by my side.

The next morning I learn more. It turns out I have three herniated discs pushing into my spine, and on top of that, I have spinal stenosis compressing the nerves in my spinal canal. The doc thinks it's caused by my spine's unusual curve at the bottom, though he's not entirely sure, so he goes with the diagnosis of degenerative disc disease. In short, my back is FUBR."You need surgery," he tells me, a spinal fusion where they'll bolt together the bottom of my spine and remove the damaged discs, though all I can think about is going back to work. I opt for lots of drugs instead. I tell him, as long as I can walk again, I would rather wait until I have some time off to recover.

Now, a month out, I am doing much better. I am walking again. I am (almost) completely off pain medication. I have been undergoing physical therapy, I wear a back brace, and usually need a cane to get around (my physical therapist calls it my "pimp cane" which I find awesome). My neurosurgeon is so impressed with how I'm doing that even he wants to wait and see how I do before cutting into me. All is going well.

And I've been just trying to return to life as normal, keeping myself busy with work so I don't have time to think about everything. The past week, though, I've been reflecting and thinking about the whole ordeal a lot. I can't believe how much strength my body has, the amazing things it can do in the face of such adversity. I can't believe how strong I am, though at times, I do fall apart. I can't believe how compassionate people can be. With the exception of that first ER doctor, I have been treated with the greatest of kindnesses and dignity by my doctors, nurses, and therapists. And of course, I can't believe how much people care about me. My parents, B, B's family, my friends, and even my students. I've had an outpouring of love, and somehow, I just don't feel worthy of it all.

Last week, I celebrated life. Alongside the valley poetry community, I still went forth with my book launch, and it was amazing. I sold out of books before the night was even halfway through. We sat under the stars and shared poetry, music, laughter, stories, and well-wishes. It was absolutely surreal. Life will go on.

I'm 27 years old. This is something I will be dealing with, probably, for the rest of my life. If I don't have surgery, my doc says this will flare up again. With the surgery, I won't be "cured" either, though it will help. That's been really hard for me to accept, but I know that I can do this. I've never felt so weak and so strong at the same time. I feel like this experience has taught me so much about what it means to suffer, about being helpless, and about finding my sources of strength.

It's too soon to write about my experiences, though I hope to one day turn this into something beautiful and positive. In the meantime, I am relearning how to live, who I am, and really, what I'm made of. I'm still the Goddess, but I'm the Goddess in Orthopedic Shoes.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Langdon Poetry Weekend in Granbury

The hosts and organizers of Langdon Poetry weekend!


This weekend was absolutely lovely.

I had the pleasure of heading up to Granbury, Texas, for the Langdon Poetry Weekend, a gathering of Texas poets. A fairly small festival, it's well-attended by publishers, laureates, and talent.

Now, I've gone to my share of poetry festivals and conferences over the years, but to be completely honest, I think this was my best experience yet. This really was all about building a community of poets, of sharing ideas, of inspiration. The readings were all held in historic buildings near downtown Granbury, a small but beautiful town in north-central Texas. Everyone there seemed as though they were old friends, and though it was my first experience here, I felt like I was a part of the group. It was absolutely wonderful. I hope to return next year.

So here's my story!

It was early August. I had never heard of Langdon Review of the Langdon Poetry Weekend, and I kind of pride myself in being in "the know" in the Texas poetry community. But I had no idea about this event. Publisher suggested I look into going, since my book was just released, and it would be a great way to introduce it to other poets.

I looked up their website. Ugh. Granbury is so far away, I thought to myself (about a seven and a half hour drive!). Not only that, but it looked as though the program was already set. I decided to at least ask, just in case. I emailed the organizers, and to my surprise, they were able to fit me in for a short reading. Now I had to go!

The drive up WAS excruciating, especially for B, who spent most of the time at the wheel. He had a night class on Thursday, so it wasn't until after his class that we finally were able to leave Edinburg. My reading was at 9am Friday morning. Yeah, we drove all night. Well, B drove, and I slept.

We arrived in Granbury at about 5am. I was a bundle of nerves.  B dropped me off at the cultural arts center, which wow, was a really beautiful little place. It's a series of maybe five or six smallish buildings, but they're all incredibly old and well maintained. The "main house" was just that, an old house, where I was supposed to check-in and such.

I didn't know who to look for or what to do, really, but once I opened the door, I was greeted immediately by a familiar voice. "Katie!" I look around and  there was David Bowles, a good friend from our local valley poetry community. I was starting to feel better already! He was chatting up Larry D. Thomas, former poet laureate of Texas, and Michelle Hartman, both of whom I knew through their works, but had never met personally, though everyone there was incredibly friendly, so it wasn't long before I felt like I was among old friends.

David helps me check in, set up a place to sell my books (which was graciously taken care of for me!), and then, I headed over to my reading, which was to take place in this beautiful old concert hall. On the way over, I meet Karla Morton, former Texas poet laureate and the owner of the legs on my book's cover :-) She's absolutely delightful! I also finally got to put face to name, and met my wonderful publisher Jerry Craven.

I was nervous (of course). The reading was kind of like a panel, I guess -- a group of four poets reading about 15 minutes or so each. I was first (gulp!), but once I got started, I felt much better. I read five different poems from my book, most of them about goddesses, of course! Also on my panel was yet another former poet laureate James Hoggard, the delightfully funny Alan Gann, and Sherry Craven, who happens to be the wife of my publisher.

Following the reading, there's of course, another reading, only this one took place in another old, beautiful house just a few steps away from the concert hall. I headed over, dying to hear Michelle Hartman read, who was a serious hoot, along with William Davis, Daniel Williams, and Anne McCrady.

Next, was lunch on the lake with Oklahoma poet laureate, Nathan Brown. Aside from a lot of sun, it was a perfect time. I sat at a table with David, Larry Thomas, Carol Resposa, and Anne McCrady. We talked everything from teaching to politics and of course, poetry! Nathan Brown gave a performance under this enormous and beautiful oak tree, which was named the "Poet Tree" where almost all of Texas' poet laureates have read in the past. Oh, and did I mention the food was delicious? It was. And they even had a vegetarian option for little old me.


After lunch, I attended a discussion and reading about the new book from SFU Press, Texas 5X5. It sounds like an incredible collection, and the idea of linked short stories written by different authors was really intriguing.

Five contemporary Texas fiction writers responded to five different writing prompts, creating stories that were linked to one another in interesting and sometimes abstract ways. Jerry Craven, pictured left, read his story "Brenda Without Skin" about a young artist who likes to draw his neighbor, a young girl, who, well, doesn't always draw her blinds when she changes. As a feminist, I was cringing at first (no, not another objectification story!), but the story goes in this unexpected direction. You have to read it :) Other panelists included contributors Andew Geyer and Terry Dalrymple. I am looking forward to reading this collection.

The final panel of the afternoon was probably my favorite, though. It was one last hooray of a poetry reading by two former Texas Poet Laureates Alan Brickelbach and Karla K. Morton. They were both absolutely amazing. Karla read with so much energy and enthusiasm, even my sleep deprived self was there with her in a bull fighting ring, at the state fair, in the hospital. I think I have a bit of a poetry crush on her right now. Ok ok ok, a big poetry crush on her. I left inspired to create.
 

The festivities continued, but alas, at this point, I was beyond pooped. I said my goodbyes to everyone I'd met, had a few more erudite and artsy conversations on my way out. I left with an armful of new books, a head full of ideas for writing, and a heart filled with new friends. I couldn't have had a better day at the festival.

That evening, B and I went to a local German restaurant (his favorite type of food, of course), threw back a beer or two, and then crashed. I don't think I'd ever slept so well :-)


 The next day, B and I did a little sight-seeing around town together,checking out some of the local sights together like the "beach," the adorable town square, and the old jailhouse. We stopped by this little coffee house called Paradise, and oh my oh my oh my, I had the most fantastic latte ever. It was a pretty much perfect morning.

We left Granbury at around noon, and headed for home, making a little pit stop in Fredericksburg. On the way home, I dug into my bounty of books.

I hope to go to Langdon again next year, and I hope to submit to their lovely journal, too. Texas has an amazing community of poets, and I'm beyond blessed to be a part of them. Bravo to Tartlton State for putting on this event. I hope that next year, more valley poets will make the trek up to Granbury for a weekend of fun, inspiration, and friendship.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots

So...

Here's my official announcement, dear readers!

Lamar University Press will be publishing my next poetry collection, Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots. I am over-the-moon excited for this. Its tentative release date is September 1st, which is incredibly soon. To launch the book, I will be presenting at the Langdon Poetry Weekend in Granbury, Texas.

The book will be available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and I will likely have an armful of books wherever I go :-)

So how did this come to be? Well, let's take a journey down memory lane, shall we?

It was late 2011. I was feeling this mixture of elation and depression about the acceptance of The Garden Uprooted. It's a little tough to explain, but my first book was something I had cherished and worked on for years, all my years in grad school and beyond. It was my identity as a poet. And it was out of my hands, gone.

I needed something new to obsess over, something new to strive for, so I began writing. I remember I was going for a walk at the university to clear my mind, and I had an idea to begin writing poems about goddesses, revisionist poems. The Garden Uprooted dealt with re-visioning fairy tales (among other things), so it really didn't feel like something entirely new. I wanted to re-imagine goddesses doing everyday things, bringing the holy and mighty down to earth in a feminist kind of way.

So I wrote. And I wrote some more, all through 2012, I didn't dream of pulling any of it together just yet. Anyway, I was so focused on marketing and selling TGU that the thought of another full book made me, well, cringe a little! So I just wrote a mess of poems about my theme, and ultimately, tried to have fun with it.

When 2013 rolled around, I felt like I was ready to start assembling the pieces together. I spent that summer putting together a chapbook that I sent off to a handful of small presses. I got some very kind rejection letters, made finalist in a contest, but had no solid leads. No worries, I thought to myself, I'll just keep writing.

Then, earlier this year, I was researching different presses to contact for my book review column, and I came across this one, Lamar University Press. I had actually read a handful of titles from them before, and I really liked the kind of works they were championing over the past year or so, particularly the work of Jan Seale and David Bowles -- two fellow South Texas poets. I noticed that they took unsolicited queries in June. It was February, so I penciled them down for a submission around that time, thinking, sure, I could have a polished and completed manuscript ready by then. 

I contact the editor for some review copies, and within an hour, I get a response. I have to read the email like 50 times to believe what I see -- that he's a fan of my work (reviews, blog, and poetry!) and that he would like to see a manuscript! And that, of course, he would be happy to send me review copies of anything I wanted.

Let the dancing commence! Who could pass up an opportunity like this? An invitation to submit? To a university press? I spend the rest of that weekend putting it together my submission, and then send it off. I try try try not to think about it, obsess over it, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. In fact, I couldn't think about much of anything else.

Months go by, and nothing. Hmmmmmm, I think to myself, looks like he didn't like the book after all. Which, to be honest, didn't surprise me. Goddess Wears Cowboy Boots is a pretty feminist text, and, well, it's probably not every press's cup of tea, and the editor I was in correspondence with, Jerry Craven, is, well, a dude... so...

In May, I hear back. It's a rejection letter, but a nice one. The book was just too short for their tastes. Fatten it up, he said, and resubmit.

So that's what I did this summer. I spent the majority of May and June totally immersed in creating. The timing was pretty much perfect because I wasn't working, and I had way too much time on my hands anyway. I write on similar subjects, about the four goddess "tropes" that comprised four sections. By the time I go back to work in July, I resubmit.

Only to have the same response a month later -_-; Fatten it up, and resubmit again. Luckily, though, in that month, I had been a busy bee writing, starting on my next, new manuscript, so I was able to add on without much trouble. And off it goes again!

And finally, a yes. Phew! I got the news about two weeks ago today.

It's been an interesting journey from conception to publication for this nifty little book. Since February, when the manuscript was first solicited, I've been DYING to shout this news from the rooftops! Every time someone asked me, "SO... Whatcha workin' on?" I'd have to bite bite bite my tongue, because nothing was official, of course. I'd only told a handful of colleagues about my adventures with LUP, and with everyone else, I felt like I was keeping a dirty wonderful little secret :)

Today, I approved the final proof, and it goes to the printer tomorrow. I am beyond excited about this book and I am really proud of what me and Publisher created. Now, I just await holding the book in my hands. And of course, the cycle will begin again, and I'm already scratching my head for a new idea for a book, but for now, I think I'll just revel in the wonderfulness.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Katie as Editor

So this poet is pretty proud today, well, yesterday, but I just got around to writing this today because... well, reasons.

Anyway, the first issue of Amarillo Bay with me as poetry editor was published. You can check it out here.

So what does the editorial process of a literary journal look like? Well, now that I'm so experienced (hehehehe) let me shed a little bit of light on the process.

The whole thing began oh, about three months ago in May. I got the "job" and my first task was, of course, slush sifting, which means, of course, going through a bunch of unsolicited submissions in search of gems. I started receiving said submissions right away, and each time my inbox was full, I have to admit, I felt a little excited and honored. Poets from all over the world (and I can say that because some dude sent me a batch from Brazil!) were sending ME their poems to read.

My process for slush-sifting looks like this: I read the batch of poems. The ones I knew weren't a good fit for the journal's vision got a rejection letter after my initial read through.

For the batches that showed a little promise, clipped my favorite poems with their author's emails and pasted them in a word document. I called this my "maybe" pile.

This went on for about two months. I'd receive, oh, a handful of batches everyday, and I'd clean out my inbox about once or twice a week. So it really wasn't all that time consuming, to be honest.  Maybe an hour and a half a week.

After the two months of sifting were up, I decided it was time to make my selections. So, I returned to my word document of "maybes" which totaled about 30 poems to winnow it down to my final seven, which I would accept for publication.

I read through my little gems again, rating them on a scale from 1 to 10. Since I was reading the poems with fresh eyes, it was actually pretty fun. I'd forgotten what most of the poems were like, and it was surprising to look through what had initially spoken to me, and it was pretty easy to pick my favorites at this point, to be honest.

Then came the fun part. I sent out acceptance letters! And then the less fun part -- the rejection letters. But all of the poems that made it past my initial sift got a nice, personal rejection inviting them to resubmit. So, maybe it was a little fun after all. One of the poems I wanted to accept had already been published elsewhere, so that was a bit of a bummer. But not to worry, I just picked another poem from the same poet that I liked almost as much, and all was well.

Once I'd heard back from everyone, I forwarded my selections to the publisher. He loved them, but we went back and forth with edits, which was tedious but important.

And then, well, the issue was published!

Want a confession? My favorite poem of this batch was "Boris the Ninety-Pound House Cat." At first, the poem didn't grab me, but now I just can't get that zinger-of-a-first-line out of my head. Of course, I can totally relate to that poem, being a serious cat lover myself (note to readers, submit cat poems. I have a soft spot!).

And that's pretty much it. I've already begun reading for our December issue. If you have a poem laying around and want me to take a look, do toss a submission my way. I respond to everything, and almost always leave some sort of personal feedback.

So that's how I do things. I wonder how other poetry editors handle submissions and slush-sifting? I'd love to hear your thoughts, always always always.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Afternoon with the Texas Poet Laureate

I am blessed, that's really all I can say.

This summer, I am teaching creative writing for the first time, which is, of course, something I've always wanted to do, although I admit that I've felt a little overwhelmed with the task of piecing together a curriculum that actually encourages and fosters creativity in college students. On my first day of class, I entered the classroom thinking, Oh my goodness what the heck did I get myself into?!?! These students, unlike the freshmen I typically work with, wanted to get something out of the class, something more than a grade. They had expectations. I couldn't let them down.

Well, after a few days in class, I received a curious Facebook message from Jan Seale, the 2012 Texas poet laureate, asking me to call her. Now, I've been to a few of Jan's readings, we've exchanged polite conversation, and she's a bit of a literary celebrity. I called her right away, wondering why SHE would want to talk to ME.

She invites me over to her house, saying that she has something she'd like to give me. Hurriedly, I scribble down her address and she says to swing by her house after I finish teaching the next day. How can I refuse such an invitation?

I'm so nervous and giddy when the time comes that I ask my husband to take me, so off we go to her house. When Jan greeted us at her front door and invites us in for tea, the nerves mysteriously disappear.

For the next two or so hours, we chat about everything from love, work, the writing life, books, our families, and finally, teaching. Jan and I have so much in common; it's hard to believe we're from different generations. She, too, taught at UTPA, and for many years. She founded The Gallery, the student-run literary journal that I was the chief editor for back in 2007. She worked on RiverSedge, which I now work on, too. She's friends with the president of the university and we exchange stories about him. She, too, got her start teaching junior high. She, too, was a "child bride." (Ok, not "child" so much as we both tied the knot when we were 18)

Well, she asks me how my teaching is going. I tell her that I'm beyond thrilled to be teaching creative writing, though a little intimidated, lost, and overwhelmed. Jan smiles and nods her head as though she understands (I'm sure she did!). She tells me that's why she invited me over. How could she have known? It turns out, she didn't, it was a lucky coincidence and maybe a little bit of fate/ divine intervention.

Jan tells me that she wants to give me her "life's work" of poetry teaching and workshop materials. I look over at Bruno, wide-eyed, ecstatic. "Really? Are you sure?"

She explains that she doesn't plan on teaching much anymore, and that she wanted to pass all of her notes, examples, handouts, books and journals onto someone who could use them. She has everything neatly stacked in a box, organized, set out just for me. I can't believe her generosity and promise to give her collections a good home. We hug the most wonderful hug as Bruno packs up the car with the gifts. Jan watches at the window, a little sad to see her "babies" go.

I've begun going through the materials and they're golden, not only for myself as a teacher but as a writer as well. It's absolutely invaluable and I'm still in awe at how she's given them to me, entrusted me to continue this work. I'm really just beginning as a writer and teacher, and having Jan as a mentor and friend is just such a gift. I promise to visit, to let her know how my first semester goes and to keep in touch. Someday, I want to grow up to be like Jan, if only I can be so fortunate.  Someday, I hope I can pay it forward and help some lost, confused, and young creative writing teacher find her way, just like Jan's done for me.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Rejection Letters, Redux

I feel like it's time for me to return to the subject of, well, rejection letters.

Let's talk.

With the completion of my second poetry manuscript, I'm now in what I like to call "submission mode" which inevitably means I'm also receiving heaps of rejection letters once again. Part of the process, I know, and I'm totally over it already.

On Wednesday night, I sent off a handful of submissions before bed. I'm using Duotrope again to research new markets, and found two that I wanted to try. I spent a little time reading their online content, figured, hey, looks like it might be a good fit. I sent off a submission of poems to each journal that I thought might fit with their aesthetic. The whole process took me about an hour to put together two packets and send them off. A typical evening.

Well, the next morning, I'm going about my routine. First coffee, then email. And in my inbox, there's a message from one of the two venues. I figured it must be one of those automated responses, maybe letting me know that they'd closed their submissions early, or something.

Nope. It was a rejection letter. A form rejection letter complete with "dear writer." Ugh. I had sent the submission like at 10pm, and at 8:32 I get a form response? Annoyed.

I posted about this on my facebook page, to commiserate with my fellow writers about the smelliness of it all. Some were outraged alongside me. Some said I should be happy to get a response. Some asked, well, what do you expect? :-/

Being a poetry editor myself, I understand, kind of. I mean, Amarillo Bay is awesome but I don't get boatloads of submissions, and I'm able to personally consider and respond to each submission I get. Even in my slush-sifter job at Fifth Wednesday (where we DO get a boatload of submissions and more), I try my damndest to spent time with each poem and leave some sort of comment to pass along to the author. I don't ALWAYS do that, but I'd say 60/40.

I'm probably just being a big baby about this (I know I'm being a big baby about this). We're in an age where tons of mags charge submission fees. We're in an age where there's too much bad poetry out there, some of it probably written by me. We're in an age where, like, no one wants to read poetry anymore. I should be honored that an editor looks at my work for a moment, makes a snap judgement, hits reject, and the process begins again.

Only, errr... I'm not. And that's my problem.

So I've decided to begin collecting rejection letters again. To celebrate the process. To celebrate trying. To celebrate learning. To celebrate the long and arduous journey from idea to creation to revision to polishing to submission and finally, one day, to publication.

In 2014, this rejection letter marked 23. And onward I go.

Feel free to chime in below with your thoughts on rejection letters, stories, coping strategies, or anything at all :-)