Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Here we go again... (Hello, November)

    I suppose a catch-up blog post is far (far) past due as it has been so long since I have updated this old thing.  But I wanted to write about rejection today, so the updates on where people can read my work will have to wait for a different (hopefully soon) post.

    Sometimes I wish that writing was a more linear career.  When I worked retail, I always knew the trajectory that I was on as long as I continued to work hard (and didn’t allow myself to get into too much trouble along the way).  Cashier led to keyholder led to assistant manager led to manager…  If I had stayed, I knew that I would either stay at that level or continue to climb.  Sure, it was dull.  But you always knew what your next step was.

     Writing, though, is such a “one step forward, two steps back” sort of thing.  The first half of 2015 (coming off of a fantastic second half of 2014) was really good for my writing.  I was receiving regular acceptance letters and notifications that I had been nominated for prizes (that I didn’t win, but I’m being positive right now…).  I received a personal rejection of my first full-length poetry manuscript from a (really) big press that said that they really liked the book and expected it to be picked up by someone very soon.  I had a couple of presses that I like ask me to send work.  I felt like I had finally reached that next step and had some good forward momentum going.

     And then came June.  For whatever reason, all of that forward momentum just stopped.  The rejections started pouring in, the book manuscript started receiving form rejections from every publisher that I tried it with…  I haven’t had a single acceptance of my work since June and I have kept quite a bit of it in circulation throughout that time.  Suddenly it feels not like I’ve taken two steps back, but like I am all the way back to the starting line. 

     Now, I know that I am being whiny.  This is just a part of writing.  Rejections are a part of life for sure.  When they start to pile up, though…  When you are hit with negativity every day when you open your e-mail without at least a little spike of positivity, it can get to you.  And unfortunately, I let it get to me just that little bit too much.  I don’t deal well with landslides of rejection.  I’ve taught myself over the years to be ok with rejections, to learn from them and move on.  For the most part.  The weird bit is that it isn’t even that long since my last acceptance.  I’ve gone more than four months without an acceptance before and (mostly) shrugged it off.  I think adding the full-length manuscript to the pot is what has changed it for me this time around, particularly after getting such a positive response from the first press that took a look at it.  Every time I get a form rejection for that book manuscript, it feels like someone is telling me to quit and walk away.  I know it’s a stupid reaction, but I just can’t seem to talk myself out of it completely.

     For the last couple of months, I’ve felt like I was drowning when I thought about working on my writing.  I have written very little and I’ve been escaping into things with very little literary merit.  I’ve read a lot less “serious literature.”  The thought of new stories or poems has given me minor panic attacks…  I’ve just wanted nothing to do with writing.  (I do want to give a shout out, though, to Unbroken Journal for notifying me last month that they had nominated a poem of mine for the Pushcart Prize.  That was the one big bright spot in the middle of this stretch of rejections.  And the first time that a poem of mine has been nominated.  I’ve had stories nominated but not my poetry.  So that’s quite cool.  Big thanks to them for the honor.)

     And so I’ve decided to do Nanowrimo again this year.  I had seriously considered skipping it, maybe working on another revision pass of my poetry manuscript.  More likely, November would have passed like the last couple of months before it – with little to no forward progress in writing whatsoever.  More pity parties.  More whining.  So I leave it to Nano to kick my ass again this year.  To knock me out of the doldrums and force me, kicking and screaming the whole way most likely, to write.  To let the word count goals pressure me to carry on, not caring (as much) if the words that I am writing out are any good at all.  I will be a rebel once again this year as I am not working on a novel.  I’m rewriting a few old stories that I like the idea of but just aren’t there, revising a few older poems, working on some new prose poems and hoping against hope that some genuinely new longer stories will come out of this as I’m putting together a collection of prose as well and most of what I have so far tends towards the flash/micro end of the spectrum (yeah – another manuscript to start sending out.  I’m a glutton for punishment.)

     So, to those doing Nano this year – carry on.  To those who don’t need crazy amounts of pressure to make them write – I am envious of you.

     Oh yeah.  And anyone know of presses looking for full-length poetry collections?  I have one here that I think would be great for them to reject.

     And as I went to publish this on my blog, I see no less than three unfinished drafts here.  Guess I have some updating to do here over the next couple of weeks…

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Been a long while...

It has been so crazily long since I have updated my blog.  I keep putting "blog post" in all-caps at or near the top of my to do list, hoping that it will magically give me the motivation to tackle the small task that for some reason always seems so monumental. 

So, I decided that at the very least I would update any loyal readers that I may have on the recent publications that I have had.  I started typing the list nearly a month ago and still never came back to finish the post.  (and even now as I restart it, I have opened a new word file, read my twitter feed, responded to an e-mail...  What is it about blogging that makes me avoid it so?)

At any rate, on to the publishing updates:

My first published piece of creative non-fiction:  http://www.kysoflash.com/RussellSummer.aspx

Also from the second issue of Kysoflash, two micro fiction pieces...  http://www.kysoflash.com/RussellTrappings.aspx

A few poems on The Sundial Review (click on the titles to see the full poems)  http://thesundialreview.com/author/ccrussell2015/

A few poems of mine on Snapping Twig:  http://snappingtwig.com/tag/poetry-by-cc-russell/

An older poem that I didn't post last time, but one that I still quite like (in a journal that was pretty amazing at the time)...  http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/xconnect/v4/i1/g/russell.html

My prose poem "Spun" opens the second issue of Unbroken:  http://unbrokenjournal.com/current-issue/

Five poems of mine in Bottlec[r]ap:  http://bottlecrap.com/story.php?storyID=45

I think that about covers the recent publications.  Some work coming up on Softblow and Queen Mob's Teahouse and a few print mags (Grasslimb, Lilliput Review). 

If anyone is reading this and you don't follow me on twitter, I'm @c_c_russell there and I tend to update whenever I have a new publication.  I try and tweet other witty things, but I typically delete them before hitting the "tweet" button because I'm neurotic like that.

Reading right now:

Limbs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell.  Loving it.  Loved Women by her and now this. If for nothing else, I am thankful to Twitter for introducing me to so many great new writers and presses.  Caldwell is probably my favorite new find, though.  She's teaching me that essays can be so much more than I ever thought they could.  I'm sure that there are a million others out there being fresh and brutally honest in the form, but she's my baptism into the "new essay" and I am fine with that. 

Together, Apart by Ben Hoffman.  Really great collection of little fiction.  I just recently found out about Origami Zoo Press, but I'm a bit in love with what they publish.

Oh, and even though they crushed my heart with a rejection recently, everyone should definitely check out cartridgelit.com - amazing writing about and around video games.  It may sound corny, but they're publishing some freaking fantastic work.  Definitely check out Sam Martone's chapbook there if nothing else.

I will end this not by making a promise to update this more often, but only by saying that I will try.   Thanks to anyone reading.  It is most definitely appreciated.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Oh, that Nano hangover...

It's true - I have a Nano hangover. 

First of all, yes indeed - I made it.  50,461 words.  The last few days were rough ones, but I muddled my way through it and I can count myself among the winners of nanowrimo once again.  No need to hold your applause.  I will quietly wait and gracefully accept your accolades....

Now, then...  The hangover.  It seems like the two times that I have successfully completed the fifty thousand word count, I have been utterly defeated at the end of the month; just no interest in writing (or reading, really anything to do with literary pursuit whatsoever...).  There's something about that daily deadline that just leaves me wanting to run away a bit at the end of November.  And therefore, that is why I haven't updated my blog before today (well, that and a whole lot of other craziness that no one probably wants to hear about...)

An odd thing happened a couple of days ago, though.  I opened a word document and I started to free write.  Without a deadline.  Without shooting for a word count that I could brag or moan about.  Those of you that have been reading my (increasingly boring, I imagine) blog posts about Nanowrimo will perhaps remember that my whole point in undergoing the process this year was a grand attempt to get the creative juices flowing.  I'm going to go ahead and tentatively say that it was a success. 

The first harsh edit of my 50,000 word document chopped it down to just over 26,000 words.  That sounds pretty awful, but it was honestly more than I had thought would remain.  I'm sure that it won't all lead to pieces that remain viable, but the fact that I have several new stories to play with (and quite a few bits of poetry) is definitely a nice starting point to be stuck at.

Not too much else as far as news these days. Swimming in quite a few rejections this month - must be a lot of places trying to clear through their backlog before the end of the year.  Have had a couple of fiction acceptances (and my first non-fiction acceptance), though.  Nothing I can talk about quite yet, but some possible good news on the fiction front.

It's interesting that my prose acceptance rate is running so much higher than my poetry acceptance rate over the last year.  I'm thinking tentatively of running an end of the year blog post with some numbers, though I'm not sure that would be all that interesting to readers other than myself...

Oh well...  I am past Nanowrimo for the year.  And maybe starting to get past the Nano hangover.  Time to revise and rethink where I'm submitting some of my poetry apparently.

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I may give that a shot this year.  Apparently, I work better under a deadline...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Nanowrimo day 23 - (insert witty title here. I just don't have it in me.)

23 days in.  I figured I should try and fit in one more update before the end of my 2014 nano journey.  I’ve actually been plugging along at a pretty good rate.  With one week left to go, I am well past the 40,000 word mark (hovering just over 43,000 this morning) which allows me to kind of coast through to the end.  I tried to push myself to go above and beyond on some of the days that were going well so that I could get to a point where I could get away with a lower daily minimum towards the end.  My daughter only has one day of school next week and we’ve invited family up for Thanksgiving, so I knew ahead of time that the end of the month was going to be rough for writing time.  (I wonder why they chose November in the first place.  Seems like a tough month to write a novel in, but perhaps that is the point.)  Rather than try and run a marathon at the end, I thought I would try a few sprints to get a bit ahead of the game if at all possible. 

It’s funny.  A week ago, I was having a hard time even imagining the endgame, but I had a couple of days there when the words just came at a pretty good clip and I didn’t allow myself to stop when I hit the bare minimum.  My record for a day last week was somewhere just over the four thousand word mark…  (I thought it was pretty darned good, at least.)  My word count jumped up quite nicely, leaving me where I am at now.

Which, for the last two days, has been a curious place.  I’m not sure if I burned myself out a bit (or more than a bit) making that harder push, but the words have been slow going.  You’d think only having to hit an average of 800 words a day versus the regular 1,670 would take the edge off of the stress a little bit, let the words flow more easily.  Apparently, though, I work pretty well under deadlines and more stressful situations.  (Maybe if I fall behind, the stress will kick me into high gear again.  Ha.)  At any rate, I am – at least for the moment – ahead of the game.  And even if I am struggling a bit right now, it is a good feeling to have, considering how worried I was that I wasn’t going to make it.  Who knows…  Maybe I’ll even plow on straight past that fifty thousand word mark.  I’m not going to automatically stop at that point if there are days left, even if I’m a little burnt out.

     In non – nano news, I received a poetry acceptance this week from Arsenic Lobster.  It was a breath of fresh air since I was running with quite a few straight form rejections and it is a place that published my work back in the small press days (he says as if he is some kind of mainstream breakthrough artist these days…) – always nice to see a publication from that time in my life that is still around and thriving.  It’s amazing how a string of rejections can impact the actual writing… 
I’m keeping to my promise, though (to myself) to not deal with the submission side of the game while in the middle of writing for nano.  Which is much more difficult than I thought that it would be.  But for this month at least, it’s all writing and no dealing with the other side of the “business.”  I have a feeling I’m going to need a couple of days off come the first of December.  I could use some hobby time that is a little more mindless right about now.  Then I'll dive right back into sending out my words, waiting for them to come back to me.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nano day 16: Oh, we're halfway there...

     If you started singing a Bon Jovi tune after that title, then you’re my kind of person.


     I’m surviving nanowrimo this year.  Yesterday marked the halfway point of the month and I hit the halfway point for word count (25,000) two days ago, so that puts me ever so slightly ahead of the game in terms of shooting for the bare minimum.  More importantly, it puts me a whole lot of words ahead of where I failed out last time, so it’s already a win in my book in a lot of ways.

     I say that I’m surviving, but it really depends on the day.  The last two have been particularly tough to even struggle towards that minimum goal, tough to even get started if truth be told.  There have been days along the way that have veritably flown by, hitting the minimum some time in the morning (and often continuing on from there).  Days when I felt like I might actually have something to say (that people would actually want to read).  Days when I can call myself a writer and not feel like a complete and total fraud for saying that.

     I would say there have been at least five or six of those days along the way.  (And I think for most writers that would be a pretty good percentage.)  And then there are the days like yesterday and today.  The days when I’m walking uphill, when I feel like I am moving through quicksand, when every. single. word. feels like a struggle.  The worst part about those days for me is when I finally do get to a respectable word count and I look back to find that I have written absolutely nothing that I will keep – that every word I have typed out in my monumental struggle will be ceremoniously deleted come December first when the number of words no longer matters and I have to actually think about quality rather than quantity.

     It is days like those that make me come close to throwing in the towel.  When several of them come in a row without any real breakthroughs or moments of awe from the muse is when it starts to get really tough to continue.  That’s when I start to wonder if this grand experiment is worth it at all.  And honestly, on those days it probably isn’t.  Most of the time, I hit my minimums without anything that I will keep.

     But in the grander scheme of the month, I can come back to the positive side of looking at it.  I will probably end this month with more revisable work than I have written in a good long while.  It’s no novel, but I have several possibly nearly complete stories, some poems, even a couple of short non-fiction pieces that seem like they could grow into something more.  (I have never submitted any non-fiction pieces before.  At least none that I have actually called non-fiction.) 

     I really don’t want to see what the final word number is once I start deleting come the first of December.  But I think that I have some decent writing mixed in among the crap.  And that’s really the point of this exercise.  As I said, so far I see it as a win.  There are just days (like today) when it certainly does not feel like one.

     In non-nanowrimo news, I have signed two publishing agreements in the last week – both for short stories.  It is amazing to me how much legalese I have to wade through for magazines that don’t pay.  (Well, I’ll get my customary contributor’s copy, but….)  And strangely, the contracts stress me out.  I know that none of my stories are plagiarized and that names have been changed to protect the innocent, etc.  But I somehow feel like I’ve been caught with my hand in the cookie jar.  Weird, isn’t it?  I suppose it’s the same concept as why I get nervous every time a police car drives by me, regardless of what I’m doing, why I panic when I have to go through security at airports…  I suppose I have more than a healthy level of paranoia.  At any rate; yay, new publishing agreements! 

     I have read very little this last week, so I don’t have much to say on that front.  Right now it is all about writing and the push for ever more words. 

     I’m past the halfway point.  Less than 25,000 words to go.  Hopefully some of them will end up brilliant.  Or at least passably useful.

     Wish me luck.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Day ten, continuing on...

A short note today.  I’m in the middle of another string of rejections and the push for ever more words in my nanowrimo document.  (Currently racing – ever so slowly – towards 17,000.)


It’s a good sort of melancholy here this morning.  Quiet and empty.  Beautiful snow slowly spiraling out the window.  I’m sitting here typing with hot coffee close by, hoping for inspiration while battling the ever encroaching thoughts of the giant to do list that floats over my head.  So I push for the word count while watching the world whiten out the window. 


Narratives I’m enjoying this week:


-James Richardson’s collected poems and aphorisms – a really excellent collection (and I’m not one to typically take a shine to collected volumes for one reason or another).

-The Walking Dead season 1 and 2 by TellTale Games – Some fantastic character narration in this point and click title.  While there are issues (both technically and narratively), I feel this is one of those games that show where writing in video games is headed, at least I hope so.   Kirkman’s Walking Dead is sort of a cultural juggernaut right now, but I think there are some moments in these games that are the best written moments across all media.  (Make sure to avoid the action game based on the tv show – video game mediocrity at its finest.  And if anyone reading this has an interest in the narrative art of the video game, please seek out Tom Bissell’s fantastic book Extra Lives:  Why Video Games Matter if you have not read it.  It’s an excellent starting point to a serious look at the medium.

-Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words by Susan Goldsmith Woolridge.  Helping me to get the creative juices flowing on those mornings when it is hard to make the words flow.  Also internet searches for writing prompts has brought some entertaining things my way over the last week.

-Just starting a new graphic novel – American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. 


Back to the word-count race.  And hopefully today brings something inspired – or at least workable.


To today, then.

Friday, November 7, 2014

some words on day seven

Nanowrimo, day seven.


The brilliant sheen of a clean page.  The crushing weight of it.


It is day number seven.  I load up nanowrimo.org and see the not so delicious curves of the zero – that starting point for each day – just staring back at me.  Today’s a tougher one for some reason.  My motivation seems to also be residing somewhere near a zero level of its own.


That said, I’ve done ok.  I’m nearing 11,000 words (and this blog post should take me past that point easily – yes, I’m cheating and writing my blog post in my nano document.  Like I said, no motivation.  I had to start somewhere to get those words flowing, right?).  That puts me at an average words per day somewhere right around where it needs to be for me to hit my goal.  I’m not one hundred percent positive, but I think that I may already be past the word count I hit in my tragically failed 2012 nano attempt.  That in and of itself is a big win for me.


The first four days were smooth, easy even.  I was absolutely shocked how well the words started flowing once I got over that first morning.  It’s why I love nanowrimo.  Somehow, it just *works* for me – worrying more about quantity than quality, trying not to allow myself to revise as I go, just push push push for that word count.  It makes me feel like a writer when most days I feel like all that I am is a “reviser.”  (And yes, I know how important revision is to the life of a writer.  Doesn’t mean that I have to love it unconditionally.)


My document is a barely contained entropic mess.  When I get stuck with one story, I move on to something else – to a completely different narrative, to a memory, to some poetry…  Yesterday morning, I started an exercise writing traditional 5-7-5 haiku and got a little out of control – now there’s a page and a half of haiku in the middle.  It’s the nice thing about “cheating” at nano – when I get tired of characters or get stuck into some crazy plot corner, I can move on to something else.  (I honestly have no idea how I did it in 2011 without cheating.  Even if the novel sucks, I’m secretly proud of myself for making it through that.)  I put three asterisks on the left margin of anything I would like to return to – first lines, mired plots, answers waiting for their questions…  Scrolling through the pages quickly this morning, there are at least ten spots in the left margin where I see asterisks.  It’s a good “problem” to have.  Anyone who reads this blog has a pretty good idea of how absolutely scattered I am.  Working this way seems to really work for me.


That said, I don’t think I have anything actually finished yet.  (as in first draft finished…)  The majority of my document so far is one story – maybe four thousand words?  It’s a story about friends in college at its most basic level.  But it quickly became about a lot more for me.  Loyalty and secrets…  It was just working and kept going.  I was ecstatic.  But when it stalled was when the motivation became harder.  I really want to push this story somewhere.  It was walking along with me so smoothly…   I feel a little betrayed by these characters right now.  Silly but true.


I have the beginnings to five or six stories, maybe more.  Some of them are only a sentence or two.  I have some really long stretches of prose in broken lines that may someday be poetry.  Some swatches of prose poetry.  A couple non-fictional recollections and musings…  In short, I have a whole lot of little bursts of somethings that I am hoping, hoping will become cohesive in the long term.  In the short term, I let them be whatever they are.  This month, all they have to be are numbers.