“The Namesake”: The Story Behind the Story

Usually, I post these when a story is available online or the issue can be ordered. But for whatever reason, the issue of Sandy River Review that contains this piece seems not to exist anywhere but contributor copies. If you’d like to read it, send me an email and I’ll send a PDF.

I can remember the moment in Image of library card catalog he shower when the idea for “The Namesake” came to me. It was one of those flashes of inspiration that come rarely, but I had nearly the whole story at once, it was just a matter of writing it down.

And editing it.

And editing it.

The accepted version of the story was draft 6. It was rejected 40 times , including a very encouraging note from Conjunctions indicating that they’d have taken it if it hewed closer to the theme of the current issue, before it was accepted. Twice.

It turns out that one of the publications I sent it to on the last round of submissions who I assumed were just not going to respond (they didn’t answer when I inquired about the story status after a longer than usual wait), were going to respond so a week after the initial acceptance. A few weeks later, I got the following rejection from The New Yorker.

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Digging through my records on the story, this dates back far enough that it was among the stories that I workshopped on Critique Circle back in the day.

Writerly resolutions: October status

The biggest change in my writing life this monthGraph of progress on the novel in October—slow progress  is returning to having a critique group. Trying to balance critique group responsibilities with my own writing has been a bit of a challenge and I need to do better with this. I did manage to complete chapter 23 and make some progress on chapter 24 in fits and starts, but I’m not writing at the pace that I’d like to be. I had a sense of what I wanted to do with chapter 24 last month, but I never bothered to write any of it down and now I only have a vague notion of where I was going with that.

I did get some great feedback on a story that I’d sent out last year and had a number of near-misses without success. I now know exactly what was wrong with it—and it’s a simple matter of deleting a single section. It’s still a story that I can see generating form rejections when it goes out for a second round of submissions, but I feel confident that it will get accepted somewhere.

The submittable queue has drained a little bit more with a promised response arriving in the form of a rejection. I’m down to just three pending responses with the two youngest pending responses about to turn a year old in the next week.

The Big Countdown

My life expectancy number has declined slightly this year from 88 to 87. I imagine the last year hasn’t helped with this, between the pandemic shutting out interpersonal interaction and trump generating daily stresses and then yet another first-degree relative getting cancer, it’s not been my favorite year.

My writing life has been fair. I had a long slow difficult summer with my writing but things have finally picked up and as an added bonus, I’ve found a new writing group so maybe things will be better in the next year, especially once I have the first draft of the novel completed.

Writerly resolutions: September status

September was a pretty goodGraph of progress on the novel month for progress on the novel. I finished a first draft of chapter 23 and have done most of the rewrite draft although I’ve slowed down as I need to get into the weeds on some questions of Jewish theology to write a conversation that takes place. Even better, I have a decent sense of where things will be going in chapter 24 which has often not been the case in the past.

The submittable queue, on the other hand, has been sitting at four items without any changes although I did hear back from one journal assuring me that, while they’re further behind than usual, the piece isn’t lost and will get a response. I’m increasingly suspicious that Whiskey Island Magazine may be defunct.

Dewey Decimal Project: 650.11 DAV Two awesome hours : science-based strategies to harness your best time and get your most important work done

Who wouldn’t want to make more effective use of their time?Cover of Two Awesome Hours I sure would. So when I faced the bleak wasteland of 650–659.999, Management and Public Relations, I decided that one of the time management books would be the most appealing option.

Davis’s approach is to focus on decision points and  making the point of making the right decisions of what to do at those points. This is pretty much the opposite of my way of working and probably why I’m not that effective. I tend to have a quasi-deterministic way of going about my day, taking the next item on my to-do list and tackling it regardless of whether it’s the best thing to be doing. I’ve ended up rejecting the advice from Davis not because it’s bad but because I don’t really want to change my life in that way even though it would be better for me. Perhaps one of these days I’ll have to revisit this approach to life.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 640 BOW The useful book : 201 life skills they used to teach in home ec and shop

I think NewImagethat the best option for writing about this book is to provide a copy of the letter that I wrote to accompany the copy that I gifted to my nephew after I read it (roughly a year ago, in pre-Covid times when he had just started his freshman year of college.

Dear T—,
I hope this letter finds you well as you’re about a month into school. I’m sending you a book I recently discovered that I think you might find useful (not too surprising, given its title). When I told your aunt that I was thinking of sending you a copy of this book, she said that everything that’s in it was a Google search away, and this is true, you can almost certainly find all the information in this book on the internet.

So why go to the trouble and expense to send it? Let me digress with a bit of a background for how I came to find the book myself. I’ve had a project going for the past few years where I’m reading my way through the Dewey Decimal system at the library. Not every book—that would be crazy. (Which is not to say that my plan isn’t crazy.) Instead, I’m looking for something interesting in each “decade” (xx0–xx9.999) of the DDS. The big thing I’m getting from this is exposure to things I wouldn’t normally encounter. In this case, the decade that the book comes from (64x) is “Home & family management” and looking for something to read there turned up this book. I’ve found a number of books that I probably would have never encountered otherwise with this technique. There’s something to be said for planned serendipity in life. It’s easy to get caught up in a plan. I have at least a hundred books on my Amazon wishlist and a file on my Dropbox (pro-tip: sign up for a free Dropbox account, or something similar, and put all your documents there. This gives you an instant back-up of everything on the net, easy access to your files via any web browser or a phone app, and you will never have to worry about what happens if your laptop gets lost or stolen or dropped in a pond) with nearly 1000 books that I’ve heard about through various venues that I’d like to read but don’t need to own so I plan to check them out from the library. The problem is that this doesn’t give me the opportunity to discover something by accident. I put a hold on the book at the library and pick it up from the lobby when it’s available. Buying books from Amazon, while it offers similar instant gratification, loses that ability to discover some other book I never realized I might be interested in in the first place.

The Useful Book can serve as a sort of microcosm of this sort of openness to possibility. It’s not merely that you can find out, for example, how to patch a pair of jeans, but that you might entertain the possibility that a pair of jeans can be patched. There are a lot of skills here that you likely won’t need to employ in the foreseeable future, if ever (your need, to clear clogged gutters is likely to be near-zero), but you might find it helpful to browse at random through the book and discover things you hadn’t thought about previously.

And if nothing else, it’s a nice thick book that you could use to raise a monitor to a more comfortable level on your desk.

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Writerly resolutions: August Status

August finally felt like a return to normal—whatever that would be in my progress on the novel. Progress on the novel. Looking pretty pretty good.  managed to finish chapter 22 and get a good start on chapter 23 without too much dithering about what’s happening in the novel. It’s still a challenge to get myself to re-read the pages when it’s time to rewrite/revise, but I’m spending less time procrastinating about it than has been the case before.

My submittable queue is slowing down its draining with only one rejection coming in after prompting (plus another rejection for a non-submittable submission). One prompting did get a response sayin that I should hear from them soon and that it might take “up to eight months” to get a response. It had been nine months when they sent that. September should see the publication (finally) of two pieces accepted earlier in the year.

A story of a word

I got an e-mail yesterday inquiring about the spelling of a word that I used in a poem that will be published this fall. I had written “galabiyya”Image of galabiyya in reference to the robe-like garb that some Islamic men wear. My editor, doing due diligence found spellings of “galabeya” and “jalabiya.” 

I honestly didn’t even remember using the word in the poem (it’s been over a year since I originally submitted the poem and longer still since I wrote the first draft—what’s more I’ve since retired the notebook where I wrote that first draft along with any notes and would be hard pressed to find it at the moment). My best guess is that I googled something like “What is the name for the robe that some Islamic men wear?” and went with the first result that came up with a picture that corresponded to what I was thinking. (I almost wonder whether I really wanted was taqiyah, the skullcap that some Muslims wear).

Now the fun part of all this is that Arabic is, of course, written in the Arabic alphabet and any transliteration of Arabic to English is going to be imperfect. As an added bonus, the Arabic word, جلابية will be transliterated differently from Egyptian Arabic than other North-African dialects because ج which is the first letter is pronounced g in Egypt but j (or dj) elsewhere.

Googling my spelling turned up the Wikipedia article which offered three different spellings (one in the title and body and two more in the introduction), none of which were my spelling: “Jalabiya,” “galabeya” and “jellabiya.”

Then I thought, what does my dictionary have? I dug into the dictionary on my computer and found:

djel·la·bajəˈläbə | (also djellabah or jellabanoun a loose hooded cloak, typically woolen, of a kind traditionally worn by ArabsORIGINearly 19th century: from Moroccan Arabic jellābajellābiyya.

(As an aside, despite the etymology given here, Wikipedia distinguishes between Djellaba and Jellabiya.)

Then I thought what about Wiktionary? Unlike Wikipedia, it doesn’t make the distinction between the two robes and unlike the dictionary on my Mac it leaves out the hood, but it is generous in offering twenty-four spellings, none of which is my original!

In the end I decided to go with “Jalabiya.” I’d seen it used in enough different sources and the poem really needed the extra syllable so the dictionary headword forms weren’t workable. 

Dewey Decimal Project: 635.934 ORL The Orchid Thief

I knew this book Image from the movie Adaptationfirst from the movie Adaptation and when I finally saw Susan Orlean in person and she didn’t look especially like Meryl Streep, I was somewhat disappointed.

And the lack of resemblance between book and movie (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say the funhouse mirror resemblance between book and movie) goes beyond the appearance of Susan Orlean. Although it’s been almost twenty years since I saw the film, it was still fresh in my mind when I was reading the book and I was surprised a bit at how much of the book actually made it into the movie despite the excursions into screenwriting and the bizarre chase scene at the end of the film.

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Writerly Resolutions: July Status

Something has changed.Graph of progress in July showing pretty good progress I’m not necessarily having the progress I’d ideally like, but I’m doing much better at getting the words onto the page. Still a lot of flat stretches in the graph, but the vertical bits are more vertical than they’ve been for months.

The submittable queue has drained from 8 down to 5. Only one submission over a year old now. One press, upon being contacted this month realized they’d mislaid my submission and promptly rejected me. Another told me they’ve had a staff change and it’ll “take some time” to hear from them. I’m intending to be more proactive in contacting the other presses in August.