I’m excited to be part of a new group (video) reading with fellow local authors Anastasia Wasko, Gideon Marcus, Brent A. Harris, Gabriel Hart, and Jean-Paul Garnier, hosted by our ever-supportive local bookstore, Space Cowboy Books. Click below to hear me read “With Her Sharp, Heavy World,” an ecofeminist flash fable (I guess you’d call it?) Many thanks to everyone who creates, facilitates, supports, and appreciates the art of words.
Once a month, here in Joshua Tree, Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library hosts an open reading on the outdoor stage behind Space Cowboy Books. Thanks to the ongoing pandemic and mandatory distancing, we’ve been unable to meet in person, but the Cholla Needles website has transformed into a virtual “salon” with an impressive (and growing) collection of poets reading their work. Some, like me, live in the high desert, while others hail from places far beyond. The videos are organized into pages and are well worth your time. I’m fascinated by this medium—how we present ourselves and what we reveal. I’ll always love listening to writers read their work aloud, although of course I desperately miss the face-to-face energy exchange of the Cholla Needles readings and the Desert Split Open Mic. This is not the same, but it is something. I hope you’ll check out my work and the rest on these pages.
Page 1: My reading is from my chapbook of tiny stories as classified ads, Swap / Meet.
(I have a few remaining copies of Swap / Meet available for $5 + USPS ship. worldsplitopenpress[at]gmail[dot]com to order.)
With the Desert Split Open Mic, like all in-person literary gatherings, still on hold, I miss that live energy exchange, the intimacy of truths told in confidence to those who will hear. I miss watching us step up and swing and sometimes miss, but always try to listen hard to each other and ourselves. I miss my physical response to words read in halting voices that grab me and shake.
Reading to you from my office, alone, is not the same, but it is something. I am interested in how video might share our work more widely and creatively. Why not, I suppose. Video allows me to deliver my work in autobiographical context. I made a YouTube channel. I’ll update it now and then.
I’ve followed social distancing recommendations for about 10 weeks. It feels like so much longer, doesn’t it? Maybe because it’s been 10 weeks of chaotic change and uncertainty, underlain with faint, abstracted, persistent fear. Even in the flurry of creativity I retreat into in order to cope, I feel the worry slip in. I catch it in the corner of my eye, a reminder that I might as well make the art I want to make, now.
I can be dramatic—I already knew this. 10 weeks in relative isolation isn’t making that less true! I suspect the videos I record in this strange time will become a visual diary of deconstruction or transformation. I will try to embrace my changes, for lack of another choice. We are all, already, different. Nothing is the same, but we are something.
Here in Joshua Tree, CA, every second Saturday is Art Walk. All the galleries stay open late with displays of new work; there is live music; refreshments are served; friends meet up and hug. It’s not like that, this month. It’s different here, as everywhere. Quieter and more distant. It’s something we’re all mourning, as we reluctantly explore other means of connection. One of our local galleries, the Beatnik Lounge, just opened a virtual show, “Alone Together: Art in the Time of COVID.” As soon as I heard the name of the show, I knew what I wanted to write for it. I decided to record myself reading it, as I’ve started doing, here and there. It’s not like reading live, but it is something.
Here I am reading “DESERTed,” written in response to a beloved painting by high desert artist Zara Kand. As always, thanks for listening.
It’s not like I had no idea what to expect. As a bookseller I assisted with author events both swanky and huge (Pat Conroy at a Connecticut yacht-club brunch) and tiny and spare (local writers at my used bookstore in Kingston, New York). As a book buyer for the wholesaler Baker & Taylor, I bought everything from small press titles to kids books to some of the largest adult trade lines (all of which have since folded into Random Penguin–yes, I know they prefer the names reversed.) Book promotion is an enormous challenge at every level. Even backed by a corporate publisher’s PR machine, many books struggle to attract interest. Every year, thousands of excellent books are published and ignored. It’s an honor to reach any readers. And if you hear from a few who loved your book and got what you were trying to say–well, let that wash over you, because that connection is everything. You get used to the non-responses from places you’d hoped to appear. You get used to leaving readings with unsold books. To empty seats in the audience. To other books getting more attention and praise. You stay grateful throughout.
So, to celebrate Not On Fire, Only Dying‘s first year, a multimedia look back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you for hearing me.
Thank you to everyone who read this book (and to those who have a copy and might yet get around to reading it–no worries. Trust me, I know how that goes. Maybe once in a while something small and unrelated will remind you of Not On Fire, Only Dying.
Happens to me all the time:
Nature isn’t dependent on an audience. Life happens, often without a witness. -p. 213, NOT ON FIRE, ONLY DYING pic.twitter.com/MIRlO23kIR
First things first: The trailer for Not On Fire, Only Dying was just released. Hear me read a few tiny excerpts and discuss some of the things that prompted me to write the book. Listen to my friend Naomi Hamby’s groovy, perfect music, which becomes another way of explaining this book—not the plot, but what sort of book it is. I hope you love it:
That said, if asked for a description of my current mood, I’d have to go with this:
Time churns forward, as it does, and suddenly I find myself a little more than two months from my publication date. I’m approaching bookstores and libraries and reading series, hoping to take advantage of every opportunity to read from and discuss my work. I am especially interested in venues in New York—the City and the Hudson Valley—two locations central to this novel. I’m immersed in nostalgia for that part of the country, which I left ten years ago.
I’m sending out NOFOD for review. I’m brainstorming ideas for promotion. I’m planning trips around the country. I’m proud of this book. I can’t wait to show it to you. I want to find those readers who will connect with it, maybe strongly. I want to sell as many copies as possible for my publisher, who took a chance on me and this book. All of that, of course, but…
…none of this comes naturally. Self-promotion makes me uncomfortable. So does praise. Like a lot of us, I’m not wild about speaking in public. It’s an entirely different skill than writing, that solitary submersion in language and your characters’ lives. It’s trying, always, to stay grateful. I won’t dishonor my past efforts by crapping out now. Still, it’s like jumping off a cliff, every day. On purpose! And I’m an earth-bound Taurus, usually the one telling you to get down from there right now before you break your neck.
I get it—this is being a writer. Returning, day after day, to labor that promises nothing. The labor of writing, revising, then submitting and hoping, absorbing rejection and discouragement. Doing it again the next day. Being a writer is doing everything necessary to make your book work, if you’re lucky enough to have it published. Even when you’d rather hide with a sympathetic, nonverbal, furry friend. A writer writes, yes, but she also tries. Every day.