The Final Countdown

It’s been a long winter, and somehow it’s now April, with just under a month to go until The Leavers is out on May 2.

Over the past few months, I’ve been steadily crossing things off my pre-publication to-do list. Essays written, pitched, and sold. Book tour and other events planned – check out the video I made below announcing some of the dates and cities! Newsletters, thank you cards, e-mails, and invitations sent and in the works. Q&As and interviews completed and scheduled. Bookmarks, postcards, and other promotional materials created. Website and social media updated. I’ve even bought a new dress and a pair of shoes.

BOOK TOUR!

Of course, these next few weeks are going to coincide with a big freelance editing project, and I’m moving apartments the day before the book launch (note to self: next time, don’t do this), so I’m surrounded by piles of boxes as I alternate between excitement and sheer terror on what feels like an hourly basis. You spend seven years working on a book and think that’s it, the bulk of the work, but then comes publication and the aftermath. A whole other unknown.

So, I’m taking deep breaths and looking forward. See you on my book tour?

My Favorite Books of 2016

I read 50 books this year, which is about average for me. I read a lot, really fast, often too fast, on the subway and almost always before I fall asleep. Mostly fiction. Many writers of color. I like a big and sprawling novel. I read some books over and over again, every few years, and I always keep lists. I read mostly in print, though I love my Kindle too, at least I loved it before the one I had broke about a week into my residency and then I bought a new one and left that one on a plane after a bleary red-eye back to New York two weeks ago. Lost forever. So it’s back to print for now.

There were so many great books this year! Here are some of my favorites, in the order that I read them:

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee
Monstress, Lysley Tenorio
Normal People Don’t Live Like This, Dylan Landis
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Heidi Durrow
Tuesday Nights in 1980, Molly Prentiss
Mudbound, Hillary Jordan
We Love You Charlie Freeman, Kaitlyn Greenidge
The Veins of the Ocean, Patricia Engel
Jazz Moon, Joe Okonkwo
The Border of Paradise, Esme Wang
The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst
Private Citizens, Tony Tulathimutte
The Black Notebook, Toi Derricotte
What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt
Problems, Jade Sharma
Innocents and Others, Dana Spiotta
The Last of Her Kind, Sigrid Nunez
Hot Little Hands, Abigail Ulman
How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Kiese Laymon
LaRose, Louise Erdrich
Night at the Fiestas, Kirstin Valdez Quade
The Fortunes, Peter Ho Davies
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Christadora, Tim Murphy
Swing Time, Zadie Smith

Leaving New Mexico

top, an adobe house surrounded by trees and green leaves; bottom, same house but with bare trees and some snowMy first day and last day at my casita in Taos

Three months, two seasons, 90,000 words of a new novel drafted, one short story and three essays written, countless sunset walks and hikes and bike rides taken, many nachos and green chiles and potlucks eaten, several shooting stars wished upon, one supermoon rising over a mountain, ten new artist friends, six weeks of post-election fallout. Late nights and early mornings, the mountains, magpies, coyotes at night, a couple of skunks.

a woman in gray pants and a black sweater standing on top of white sand dunes

Going home to New York City on Monday. What comes next? A lot.

the back of a woman's black coat walking away from the camera, on a rocky trail during sunset

Imposter Syndrome

frontcover

The Best American Short Stories 2016 came out last week. One of those best American short stories is mine.

When I first got out of college, I used to buy the annual BASS anthology every fall. I’d read every story closely, as if they contained the secret to greatness, and if I learned that secret, I could be a great writer, too. I took notes. I marked those books up. After I read each story, I’d immediately read the author’s bio and the accompanying short essay in the back, about the story’s inspiration and process. Some stories took years to write. Years? I’d think. I don’t have years to spend on a story!

Fast forward two decades. My story in BASS, like my novel, ended up taking years to write. Years, years, years, years, years, years. Although I wrote the first draft of the story in less than a week in 2010, I revised it, on and off, for four years after that. What I didn’t mention in my short essay was that the story had been rejected more than 25 times before it was finally published in the literary journal which made it eligible for consideration in BASS. I didn’t mention that I was that close to throwing the story out forever. Or how I had workshopped it in my MFA program and my professor said it was all wrong, and the story should be written completely over, told from the point of view of a character who was not even in there. I didn’t agree. Yet every time I revised and resubmitted, I’d always remember his words and I would doubt myself. Huge, enormous gobs of doubt.

How can you trust your own mind? that doubt said. What makes you think you know what you’re doing?

*

I’ve reached a point in my life that I never actually believed would happen. I’m 40 years old. I’m a bonafide adult grown-up. I have a story in the same anthology I once considered a template on how to write. I never thought that I would have this writing career, this surprise success, my community and my relationships. For so long, having any one those things seemed impossible.

But despite this—or because of this—there’s a part of me that is still afraid.

That I have no right to be writing or publishing.

That I am a fraud.

That I won’t be able to write and finish and publish another novel—not only was this my lucky break, it was my only break.

That people will realize I don’t belong here: in this anthology, on those bookshelves.

These voices are so old, telling me I’m not enough. I know their origins and their reasons and why they linger. I even know what to do with them and how to fight them, or listen to them.

In a way, rejection is easy for me—25 rejections for one story? Why not 26?—because I’ve been so accustomed to it. But what about acceptance?

*

My copy of Best American Short Stories arrived at my artist’s residency in New Mexico yesterday, more than a week after the book’s publication date, forwarded from my apartment in New York.

I tore the envelope open and the first thing I felt was trepidation. Fear of embarrassment. (What if the story sucks? Maybe I had forgotten.)

There was my name on the back cover as one of the contributors.

backcover

Yet I couldn’t bring myself to open the book. Instead I put it down, put on my shoes, and went out for a walk. (You wouldn’t believe how gorgeous the skies are here in New Mexico, and the mountains…)

I came back, made a cup of tea, washed the dishes, checked my email, sent out a text, wiped down the kitchen counters. I sat down again.

story

I opened the book. And I saw my name there—in the table of contents, my short essay, my story. My name, my story. I closed my eyes and opened them again, and there it was. Still there. Really there. Then, I started to read.

A Tale of Two Desks

Two weeks ago, I left the cubicle I’d been working in for the past three years.

a cubicle with a monitor

Now I’m in Taos, New Mexico for a three-month residency at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation.

I have a little house, a casita. The floors are heated, though when I’m inside I’m usually wearing socks, and my writing uniform: a sweatshirt, leggings, and depending on the temperature and time of day, a Snuggie.

Things are different here. Crickets chirp loudly, even in the daytime. I hike to hot springs and pick sage and lavender and wildflowers. The light is blinding, the skies (and cars) enormous, and the temperature drops about 40 degrees every night. There are no streetlights, no sidewalks. There are two colors of flowers: purple and yellow. Prairie dogs dart in and out of holes in the ground.

I don’t miss New York at all, though all the books I read have New York in them.

a dirt road with a blue sky and mountains in the background

Mountains are everywhere. Riding my bike down a dirt road, I shout out loud at the view in front of me: “What the fuck is this. Get the fuck out of here. Seriously, fuck me.

I’ve waited over a year to get here, for these three months. I put everything on hold, my apartment, my work, my life. I try not to think if I’ve made a terrible mistake.

I fall for silence. Life is good when you don’t have to ride the L train.

desk with purple cloth on it, a cup full of flowers, facing a window and trees

I’m plotting out my next novel, slowly.

It’s July

woman with head down on table surrounded by piles of paper

Local Woman Defeated by Manuscript

This was me, less than two months ago, three days before my manuscript was due back to the publisher. What’s happened since then?

  • Got the copyedits back a month later and spent an intense week going through them, responding to questions from the editor, and generally reveling in having such a close, obsessive read on my chapters. Then I turned it all in!
  • Wrote my acknowledgements page, which was challenging and fun at the same time. There are so many people who’ve helped me out over the years and I am full of gratitude. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten others.
  • Blurbs: solicited!
  • Accidentally killed this website when I transferred servers and forgot to back up all my content. Note to self: Never again.
  • Resurrected the whole damn thing.
  • Slept poorly, drank too much coffee, downgraded to tea, cut out caffeine for one woozy week, upgraded back to coffee, slept poorly, back to tea, all is well.
  • Planted a garden, wrote an essay, did an interview, read Drunken Boat submissions, threw a party, spent a long weekend in the country gaping at nature and silence and crickets and waterfalls, finally started reading novels again (thank god)
  • Hatching plans

On Having Space

a window with 2 plants overlooking several high rise buildings

I’ve had the great fortune of having a chunk of prime Manhattan all to myself for the past nine months, thanks to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace residency program. A studio with a door and two giant windows overlooking some of the world’s priciest real estate. The fact that it would only be available to me for nine months lit a fire under my ass from the first day, got me there on weekend afternoons and occasional evenings and early mornings, on rare days off from work. Why waste time when there was a studio waiting, and in that studio, there was writing and editing to be done?

Before this residency I wrote at home, in a room crammed with my desk and books and my boyfriend’s desk and his “closet” (our typical NYC apartment has no real closet; my “closet” is in our bedroom), or in cafés. Sometimes I wrote on my bed or couch, though that usually resulted in a sore neck and shoulder. But in my studio, I had a proper chair; I could stay as long as I wanted, sometimes past midnight. There were no café patrons making Skype calls or coffees I had to buy.

For the past nine months, I’ve been able to live out an unexpected life on Wall Street. I’d sit here on the nineteenth floor and look out the window at the sixty-floor buildings dressed up in construction scaffolding, the Federal Reserve and its employee gym, and imagine what it would be like to live here. A far cry from the view from my desk at home, in my second-floor apartment, of Mister Softee trucks and drunk hipsters, busses and loud music everywhere, the guys working at the 24-hour gas station across the street.

As a kid, I got through many long days by imagining myself elsewhere, as someone else – living in a Toronto suburb, a Florida motel, a Queens apartment. What would my name be, who would I live with, what would I do? These days, my fantasies of new spaces feel a bit more loaded, perhaps because they are theoretically possible. I could pack up and leave the city and move to a small town upstate (I won’t). I could go back to California (probably not). And then there are the fantasies that are local, yet impossible. Real estate fantasies. Living in a high-rise in Manhattan, in a neighborhood far richer than I am.

But my time here is up, and the nine months will soon be over. I’ll adapt, or re-adapt. Find a new work space, and with that, a new neighborhood to dream of. For now, I’ll be writing from my couch or desk, return to my local café, keeping it on the ground

Six Weeks

It’s hard to believe it’s only been six weeks since I found out the novel I feared would never be published was going to be published. In many ways, life is the same as before — scrambling to find time to write in addition to working my full-time day job, a messy apartment, chronic neck pain, too many unanswered emails, insomnia, laundry avoidance, running around the city carrying a giant backpack stuffed with my laptop and workout clothes and orphaned socks and various Tupperware — but in other ways, it’s changed completely.

For one thing, I’m now trying to find time to edit the manuscript for real, with my editor’s edits, in addition to working my full-time day job. And while trying, valiantly, to maintain my hard-won victory over coffee.

So it was great to take a break and attend the PEN Awards ceremony this past Monday night.

a woman in a black dress standing and speaking into a microphone at a podium with a sign that reads PEN America

8 women and 1 man standing and smiling in a room

The best part was getting to share the excitement and joy with my friends and partner and even my parents! Writing can be such a solitary process, but it’s good to remember the many ways it isn’t.

Here I am at the after party with the manuscript itself, which I’d been carrying around (in giant backpack) after meeting my editor earlier that day, and which I’m sitting down to work on right now. In another six weeks, it will be done and delivered to the publisher. Now that’s hard to believe.

a woman in a black dress and beige jacket looking down at a stack of paper on a table while holding a brown folder