There's not really been much new to report yet, really. So I printed out my manuscript again and have been kind of picking at it.
I've let it sit long enough now that I find lots of stuff I don't even remember writing. It's almost like reading something someone else has written.
And I like it. I like it a lot. It's exactly the kind of book I'm always looking for, full of place-ness, all dark and chimerical.
I've now had two requests for fulls. I still need to submit to a few more agencies... and will be very lucky to hear anything at all back before August. (That's where this is so tricky-sticky... all these different, unpredictable response times.)
I'm really itchy to start my next book, Savages. I've kind of outlined it and have done a few sketches for chapters here and there; I wake up from dreams and write notes to myself about it. So it's almost time.
Experiencing an interesting reluctance to start on it too soon. (My deadline to start again is August 1.) It's been such a blissfully carefree feeling to not carry around hundreds of pages in my head all the time. I've been so much more present. We had a blissful weekend. Dinners and parties with lovely friends. We threw a big one before a friend's concert on Saturday, went nuts until four in the morning. Then a lazy Sunday, reading, making pizza, watching movies.
But... I also can't wait to build a whole new world. We watched a fantastic documentary on D.T. Suzuki the other day. At the end he talked about how all is one- life is death, and death is life, all that. Strength and weakness the same thing.
This habit of mine (of mind) I have, this penchant for writing; it's my greatest strength, and so my greatest weakness. At once it is my tenderest and proudest place.
But I guess we're all that way about the things we love, aren't we? A friend was telling me how its a good thing, my writer-y-ness, but I wonder. This very same penchant, not so long ago, I guess I'd have been mauled by a lion. And if society goes all to hell, what with climate change and shifting world powers...well... I guess I might get mauled by a lion yet!
“Anyway is a such strange word," Ada said. "When you think about it. It’s a secret passage of a word. ‘Anyway’- always taking you from here to there.”
“Ada, my dear, you are fascinating, and I have forgotten myself. It’s late. You should go on to bed. I can show myself out.” Patrick shot out his watch. It was old fashioned, with a fawn colored leather strap. “Your parents probably don’t even realize I’m still here.” (Evening's Land.)
Anyway... Recently read Lawrence Osbourne's The Wet and the Dry, and The Paris Wife. The Wet and the Dry was very, very good. Unapologetic and fascinating. Loved it but was chilled. The Paris Wife, which Andrew's lovely grandfather recommended that I read, was incredible. I wrote to him this morning:
"What a sensation- to have had such a vivid and beguiling window into Hemingway's life, then to have had it close again, for good. Jarring.
But I guess that must have been how Hadley felt- shut out from [Hemingway] forever. I haven't read such an immediate and deeply transporting book in a while. I was sad to reach the end.
The last lines were perfect though."
It was an absolutely wonderful story. I still feel a little caught up in it.
Ten minutes ago I was supposed to meet photographer Mariah Channing at Barsa, the stylish tapas place on King. I’m working on a project and don’t mind that she’s late- but when my phone rings, and its her, we discover we’ve both arrived early and have been waiting separately. Channing waves across the restaurant, and comes over carrying her laptop and glass of water.
With her winged eye-liner, bow shaped lips, cat-eye glasses and a scattering of tattoos winking out from under her charcoal colored tee, Channing could be one of those mischievous sylphs on the cover of an alternative magazine. Her cameo necklace swings on a long thin silver chain as she sits, looking dreamily distracted, like a cat that’s just woken from a sunlit nap.
“I’ve been working on website stuff all day at the studio. Then I was at the Orange Spot- have you ever tried their cayenne tea?”
“ I haven’t,” I say, and she tells me its to die for.
She places her laptop between us and shows me her photographs.
“This one here, with the magnolias, that was an adventure. I bought this kiddie pool without really thinking about how I was going to make it all work. On the day of the shoot, I had to blow the whole thing up by myself and then run back and forth into the photo room with a pitcher to fill it up before my model came- and all these art students are sitting around outside Redux, sketching away and staring at me, wondering out what I was doing. I picked all the flowers by hand from trees by the side of the road. The model was from Model Mayhem. She was great.”
Channing crosses her hands over the back of her laptop, resting her chin over them with a sigh. “This cameo shape is hard to fit a picture inside. The shape is just so busy to begin with- I think maybe it just doesn’t work. I’m going to move towards using a circle frame. But this one,” she taps a cameo, “was in the Piccolo Spoleto exhibition...”
Rest of the article here.
Fan whirring peacefully in one corner, the painter Erik Johnson moves around the studio, arranging wax paper palettes for his Monday night painting workshop. He is slender and graceful, with the reflective stillness of a Zen practitioner. Johnson, who is a gallery artist represented by Robert Lange Studios, has been teaching workshops at Redux for “about a year,” he says. “And I just finished up on a mural painting class at a high school. Can you imagine doing that for a class in high school?”
I shake my head, smiling. Johnson has the comfortable immediacy of a person who finds himself at home wherever in the world he goes, but he’s been in Charleston “about 18 years.”
I’m sitting in a plastic chair that is precisely the color of melty orange sherbet, my back to the burlap doors of the two smaller painting studios behind us; Johnson, wearing faded plaid shorts and periwinkle blue shirt, moves back and forth inside the horseshoe of folding tables, adjusting, rearranging.
He says offering this workshop has forced him to clarify his teaching. “I almost feel sorry for my early students,” he says, laughing.
“I met some of my favorite teachers when they were teaching their first class. I think sometimes it can make you more accessible. Because you’re less jaded, more open, maybe. But you say this class has clarified your teaching- what would you say are some of the core tenets to becoming a better painter?”
“Patience. I’ve spend 200 hours on a single painting. A lot of the work I do resembles my students’ in its early stages, but I just push on longer. Monday night classes are three hours long, once a week, for four weeks. And I offer an intermediate class after that for four weeks. But the thing is, a lot of people just keep on taking workshop after workshop. But they also need to paint on their own,” he says. “Working on your own is how you learn what you need to ask in class, so that workshops like this are really valuable. And you can read about painting, too. Independent study, that’s important.”
I scribble this down, then look up for more.
But Johnson shrugs, closing a drawer of paints. “That’s about it. You can teach technique and craft. Experience is really what does it, what makes you a good painter. But its most important that your art says something. And I don’t know that you can teach that.”
“Does your work have a message?”
“Some of it. I do different things, but I have some recurring metaphors. Like goldfish- you know, you look at a goldfish in a bowl. That bowl is its whole world, yet it exists in a much larger world. We all have our own bowls, our own spheres of experience. To me a goldfish is a perfect representative of the individual in the world.” He pulls out his ipad thoughtfully. “I like to put them into different scenarios, these beautiful scenarios, but when you really look at it, you see there’s something there-” he shows me a photorealistic painting of an old fashioned scale, balancing a globe at one end and a fishbowl at the other.
Read the rest of the article here.
I just found out... I won the Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship!!!
Three months to write in Taos, New Mexico. 2015.
I'm so grateful to my wonderful references and to the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation- this. is. going. to. be. amazing.#anotherbook
So far I've submitted to six agencies...
1 request for a full
1 request for first 50 pages (from a major agency; a lovely rep who is also into beat literature- and if you know me, you know how much Kerouac et al meant to me when I was a whack-o teen)
1 form letter rejection (this means indifference- ow)
3 still pending.
Everyone's website warns that they take anywhere from 30 days to 45 days to pretty much indefinitely to get back to you. As I've written about here, I've applied to residencies and whatnot before. Hearing back so quickly is incredibly encouraging, and a new experience for me. Even if these agents decide my novel isn't the right project for them, clearly the first section of it (which they were initially sent) is a grabber, so hell yea!
I expect this will go on for another six months. You guys are going to get so tired of me always trying to find the pattern, but I can't help it! It's my brain!
Here's what I've learned so far:
Come prepared with a fully completed manuscript. Have a baller synopsis and query letter, ideally with a few notches in your belt, too. Research like crazy to find literary agents who are interested in your genre. Research the agents, try to find those you get a good gut feeling about- and personalize your query.
If anyone does decide to represent me, 3-6 months down the line, here's what I imagine would happen next. They come back with a bunch of suggested edits. I do a rewrite. And then, happy day! we go off to book auction. Actually I don't understand that part yet. But there's plenty a slip between the cup and the lip. I'm not even going to think about that yet.
(I just can't wait to get back to writing; I already have an outline for my next novel, The Savages. I just want to hole up and work and not deal with anything else, ever. Frankly.)
Meanwhile. Celebratory glass of wine and-
wonderful story in this month's New Yorker by Karen Russell. Here's some of my favorite quotes from it:
"And the Mojave was a good place to launch into exile together; already they felt their past lives in Pennsylvania dissolving into rumor, sucked up by the hot sun of California and the perfectly blue solvent of the day."
"Sand, sand, sand- all that pulverized time. Aeons ago the world’s burst hourglass spilled its contents here; now the years pile and spin, waiting with inhuman patience to be swept into some future ocean. Sand washes right up to the paved road, washes over to the other side in a solid orange current, illuminated by their headlights."
"In terms of an ecology that can support two lovers in hot pursuit of each other, this is the place: everywhere you look you’ll find monuments to fevered longing. Craters beg for rain all year long. Moths haunt the succulents, winging sticky pollen from flower to flower."
"That night she basks int he glow of the TV as if it were the sun. Yellow is such a relief."
"Calmly, he becomes aware that the girl he loves has exited the room. Usually when this sensation comes over him, it means she’s fallen asleep."
"The crumbly truth: the boy imagined he’d be the one to betray the girl."
"A weather seizes them and blows them around- a weather you can order for a quarter, the jukebox song."
Damn, she's good. I love The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis. Haven't yet read Swamplandia, although I have it on good authority from my bestie that it is wonderful. Childhood transmogrified into pages. Although she and I had a really oddball & lovely childhood, so maybe our idea of it is not normal.
Today: my first request for a full, within half an hour of submitting sample chapters! Fingers crossed. Hope she likes it...
Also today: my first form letter rejection, from a different agent. I sinned and sent him an impersonal query. Could he tell? Did he care? I'll never know, but now I have a new superstition. Damn it.
Anyway, from what I've read, it can take anywhere from 1 day to over a year to get a response from an agent, as many of these guys get upwards of 50 queries a day. (And they try to sift through all of them, unless you really suck, I guess, and they can tell its not worth trudging past that first paragraph.)
My fretful self is keeping busy, meantime.
Selection from Evening's Land:
====== Chapter 13 ===========================
Three years earlier: April 6th, 2011.
Roy Northcutt had been drinking High Life ever since his uncle Bake slapped a cold one in his hand the first morning he ever took him out noodling for catfish. Bake was a big, barrel-chested red-headed bear of a man with enough curly red hair on his chest to upholster a sofa. He had naked ladies tattooed on his back- Roy had seen them!- and when Bake winked and said, “This here’s the champagne of beers, the breakfast of champions!” Roy drank it right down.
The first gulp was like blood and nickels. The next came sweet and bready and light and suddenly it was all going down like Missouri sunshine. The lakewater sparkled as Bake launched over the side and slapped the boat, wading them towards a nest of cattails.
“Now this is what you call a very old technique, kiddo,” he said, and Roy listened. He was looking out for cottonmouths because his mother had warned him that Bake sometimes got “fast and loose.”
“Men been catching fish this way for damn near eons- when you grab hold of your first bad boy its like catching hold of where you came from, you understand me?”
“Yes sir,” Roy said, although he didn’t understand.
“Now, these stumps here, this’n’s where a lot of holes is, and the catfish, they like to belly on in and hole up, see? So I’m gonna stick my hand in and feel around. If you don’t feel anything that feels like a catfish, son, you just bolt right the hell on back out, all right, cause like as not there’s a couple three snakes or turtles in there. They all like the same holes.”
And Roy felt a little scared, but he nodded.
He shook his head and Bake guffawed.
“That’s all right, this time you can just watch. Here, give me another of those.”
Roy did, shyly taking another for himself. Bake opened one and then the other with his teeth, spitting the caps into the boat. Ping! Ping!
“All right! Mother fucking yee-haw, right kid? Fishin’ sure beats running around with the women, don’t it? I bet they’re all back there peeling eggs or something. You and me, we should do this more often. So I’m gonna reach down in there and haul me up a catfish. Trick is, you want him to take yore hand as bait and then you reach in and grab his gills, kind of hook your hand in, you know what I’m saying? And then you tug him out!” Bake whacked the boat again. “Here I go. See you soon, kid.”
He slid under. For a moment Roy could still see him, his uncle’s broad curly-haired back luminescently pale beneath the silky green water. But Bake must have finger walked deeper, towards more interesting and lesser known holes, turning his back to the friendly shore. The water sealed above him, smooth as glass, and Bake disappeared.
It must have looked for all the world as though Roy were out there alone on the lake, a kid high on his first beers. The afternoon buzzed. Somewhere a frog jumped in. It began, gradually, to seem as though Bake had been gone an awfully long time, although he didn’t know how long noodling should take, or how long Bake could hold his breath. He listened to water lap hungrily at the boat.
(fast and loose, that’s what his mother had said)
But Bake never came up again. Roy had been only ten years old. He didn’t know how to start the engine, so he leapt off- cold!- into the hungry lake, flailing towards shore. Every slip of plant life against his legs was the monster at the bottom of the lake, the monster that had grabbed and kept his uncle Bake-
or it was Bake himself, screaming at him- “Why did you leave me?”
To plunge through the cat tails, to be again on firm and solid ground! Roy was screaming now- and maybe he’d been screaming all along- “Bake! Uncle Bake!”
But the lake was silent, staring accusingly back at him like a big green eye in the earth as Roy stood on the shore, his heart shrieking in his chest. He ran up to the road- what else could he do? to flag down a truck. Then it was hours later, there was a crowd and flashing lights, he was still standing there shivering down by the lake in a policewoman’s blanket when they finally drug up poor old Bake’s body out of the miserable goddamn water, and Bake was bloated and cold and incontestably dead.
The skin on one of his uncle’s big freckled forearms had been sawed through by something damn near as big as Bake was. “That was one great big catfish,” a cop said. “Yes it was.”
And that was uncle Bake. Murdered by a catfish in a sunlit pond. Just 28 years old. He was just a kid, too, but Roy had no way of knowing that then. Now, some thirty odd years later, older than Bake would ever be, whenever Roy Northcutt drank a beer, he drank High Life.
He was on his third of the evening, enjoying the fine porch weather when an alarm across the street began to shrill. It was coming from that famous behemoth of a church across the street: St. Phillips. Now that was right odd. He shot onto his feet.
Those big wrought iron gates were locked every weekday at four thirty, smack on the dot. There was no way some tourist could bumble in to trip the thing off. And all these ritual killings had him on edge. Roy quickfooted it into the kitchen, snatching his 40 cal Glock from the drawer and his walkie talkie from the counter. He ran outside, calling dispatch as he dropped into the street.
“Unit 1 to dispatch.” Trying not to pant. Those Millers had nailed him.
A woman’s voice crackled. “Unit 1.”
“This is the Chief. I’ll be responding to an audible alarm at 142 Church Street. The church.”
“Copy, Chief,” she said.
The gate was hanging open. Jesus. Roy lit up the stairs and kicked the door; it swung in on dark pews. “Unit 1 to dispatch, there is an open door.”
“All units transmitting on Channel 1, standby.”
He had his Glock out, crossing one hand over the other that held the walkie talkie. Smell of candle wax and dust, Jesus Christ, why were all churches so fucking creepy? The statues of saints were the brightest points of lights in the place. He swept his gun from side to side, his whole body packed solid with adrenaline. There! Someone was kneeling at the altar, a man in an olive colored coat. Praying?
“Police! Put your hands in the air! Dispatch, there is someone in the church.”
“Are you 04?” the woman said, and the figure turned slowly.
“Hands in the air! Is there anyone else in here?”
“You’re a steely-eyed, flat-bellied weapon of a man, now aren’t you?”
“I repeat, is there anyone else in this church!”
“Yes, officer.” The man in the coat smiled. “The Holy Spirit.”
Roy relaxed, trying not to laugh. He lowered his gun slightly.
“Are you 04?” she said again.
“We’ve got a six-seven,” Roy said- as a sound tufted behind him. He knew that sound; knew it instantaneously even as the bullet ripped through him. Shot. He was shot. He went down. Blood, carpet, it all went black.
“Are you 04? 322 Edward, start en route to 142 Church Street. Requesting all additional officers en route to 142 Church Street! Officer, are you 04?”
The man in the coat stood, curiously studying Roy’s body.
“Officer, are you 04?”
Sirens wailed from the walkie talkie as additional officers signed on. “On response.”
With a quick, practiced movement he reached back with a gloved hand, crashing over a statue of Mary. Her head rolled onto the floor; he threw it through a window. Climbed through and was gone.
“Northcutt! Are you 04?”
This bit was fun to write. I'm a big fan of Stephen King, especially his on-the-fly character development, and when I wrote this passage I only sat down to write the very last part of it, when Northcutt is executed in the church.
But I knew he would be drinking on the porch when he heard the alarm, and all the stuff about noodling and whatnot just slipped out. Thanks to my wonderful, wonderful friend Cherry for answering all my mind-numbing questions about the minutiae of copwork. It's the details, you know. She let me wave around her radio and everything.
Frantic week, shoveling through deadlines that piled up while I was buried in final edits of my manuscript, but last night I knocked out the first draft of my query, which I realize now I've been stalling on. I'm incredibly intimidated by this part of the process. Oi...
I think hopefully by next week I should be on top of my (work) life again, looking forward to devoting a bit more time again to journaling. Also wonder if it would be interesting to post chapters from the book here, in sequence. Or if that would be a bad idea? I really only posted miscellaneous stuff from the Mary & Oliver storyline, as most of the other stuff needed context. Hm. Unsure about this.
Found out am under consideration for a fellowship!! I applied for several and was shortlisted for all of them, still in running for the longest, one of the ones I wanted most...! It would give me time to write in one of my favorite parts of the country. God, three months. It would mean everything. I could write another entire book in three months. Or, if someone picks up EL by then (fellowship would be sometime in 2015) I could do any requested rewrites out there. Oh, I hope, I hope!
So am waiting on knives and needles til sometime in July. Even if I don't make the cut it is encouraging. So I will try to be encouraged, whatever happens.
Had more good news last week- or was it the week before last? I do volunteer work for Citizens Climate Lobby, writing to newspapers, senators and Congressmen, and Mark Sanford's office actually called our HQ, trying to reach me in response to a letter! CCL was delighted, as had not been reached out to in this way before. They walked me through playing phone tag with his Washington office, then working with his scheduler to help land a face-to-face meet with Sanford during CCL's conference later this month in Washington.
Pen and paper, pen and paper, pen and paper. We march!
Pauline West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
ratings: 27 (avg rating 4.04)
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Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
ratings: 10 (avg rating 4.40)
Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
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Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.25)