New poem in California Quarterly

I just got in the mail the latest issue of California Quarterly (Vol. 47, No. 3, which for some reason is not yet listed at their website) which includes my poem, Chicago Sonnet #19. 

Postcard of the Beverly House. On the left, an exterior view of the restaurant from Beverly Blvd. Top right picture of food, bottom right, chef/owner Sam Corkalo alongside food and wine

The poem details my vague memories of the Beverly House restaurant in Chicago’s Beverly Hills neighborhood on the South Side, an area speckled with my grandfather’s architectural designs, many of which were for commercial buildings now long gone. This is part of my series of Chicago Sonnets of which Sonnets 1, 2 and 5 have been previously published and 4, 27 and 29 are forthcoming.

Writerly resolutions: November status

I had thoughtGraph of the progress of the novel in November. Pretty dull that I could read and take notes on 28 chapters of the novel in 28 days. That turned out to be optimistic. It turned out to be 47 days although I have a nice chart of all the characters in the novel and which chapters they appear in along with some notes on their background (the sort of thing I should have been keeping track of all along). Some of my characters’ hometowns changed multiple times in the same chapter.

The book is in better shape than I anticipated, although there are still some sections that will require major rewrites and some parts that will be cut. It also helps to have a stronger sense of every character’s arc to see how they develop over the course of the novel.

Still working on that new story. I’m guessing that it’ll end up being one of those things that has a thirty-page draft that needs to be cut to ten pages. I’ll likely not get it done in time for my next turn workshopping.

And very little progress on the revise and submit phase of things other than a growing backlog of stories that have been workshopped.

Something interesting: Two sides of a story

Once again, after much delay, I’ve put another post on my mailing list. It’s about Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland and Yoko Ono. There’s also a recommendation and a link to my latest story.

Writerly resolutions: October status

The big news this month was that Progress on the novel showing the completion of the first draft and thent the reading and annotating processI finished the first draft of the novel (finally). I then proceeded to print the whole thing out and get it ring-bound at the UPS store (I later realized that it would have been cheaper—if slower—to have that printing done by instead).

I continue working on the new story (I ended up missing my over-optimistic goal of finishing it in a month, but I’m aiming for my next turn at the workshop table to have it ready. A bit of reading that was putatively unrelated to anything that I’m writing made me reconsider the original path of one of the characters but I think that this will result in a stronger story.

Beautiful Sentences: Tove Ditlevsen

Being young is itself temporary, fragile, and ephemeral.

Tove Ditlevsen, Youth.


The Big Countdown

My Leonard Cohen in London ife expectancy number has declined a lot this year. from 87 to 82. I can’t imagine that 2020 helped a whole lot with that.

My writing life has improved with good progress on the novel and a few placements of stories and poems in the last year. I think the biggest thing I need to do these days is get more active and improve my diet and weight. I recently watched Leonard Cohen: Live in London and man, LC looked better at 73 than I do at 53. I have a new life goal of being more like Leonard Cohen.

As of tomorrow, I will have outlived (in no particular order):

  • Christopher Reeve (Superman)
  • John Wayne Gacy (first serial killer I ever heard about)
  • Princess Grace Kelly (actress who married a prince)
  • Luke Perry (my favorite of his roles was in the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
  • King Henry VII (Henrys IV, V, VI and VIII got Shakespeare plays. Poor VII? Bupkis.)
  • Roy Orbison (I always thought of him as really old when he died)
  • Frank Zappa (likewise)
  • Harry Houdini (who didn’t really look like Tony Curtis)
  • Tsar Peter the Great (founder of St Petersburg, I mean Petrograd, I mean Leningrad, I mean St Petersburg—but not the one in Florida)
  • Abbie Hoffman (when I was a teenager, I somehow came into possession of a stolen copy of Steal this Book)
  • Harry Nilsson (he put the lime in the coconut and drank it all up)
  • Barack Obama’s Mom
  • Lou Costello (who’s on first?)
  • Valerie Solanas (she shot Andy Warhol)
  • Giordano Bruno (monk, scientist, and a bit of a nutball all in one)
  • Ezekiel (he of the Bible)
  • Samuel (he also, of the Bible)
  • Hezekiah (yet another Bible dude)
  • Macbeth (the real one, not the Shakespeare one, but maybe him too)
  • Olaudah Equiano (former slave whose autobiography and activism led to the end of slavery in England)
  • William Makepeace Thackeray (author)
  • Richard Wright (author)
  • Johan Pachelbel (whose canon is not actually a canon and is probably the piece musicians hate most to have to play at weddings)
  • Wendell Willkie (failed presidential candidate who I first heard of from Green Acres—who says TV isn’t educational?)
  • Omar Torrijos (president of Panama and friend of Graham Greene)

A first draft of the novel is done

A week shy of five years after I started writing, I Graph of progress on the novel over five yearshave a complete first draft of the novel. It’s been a long journey and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but there’s a complete story now. Things I still have to fix include making sure characters don’t change names mid-novel as well as taking advantage of the fact that I now know more about the characters than I did when I began so I can flesh out a lot of details (and eliminate out-of-character behaviors) as I work further on the novel.

I have a rather structured process for the beginning of my work on fiction: I write a complete first draft.¹ Then I read it, scribble all over it making notes about how awful everything is and what makes me think I can write. Then I rewrite the whole thing from scratch starting with a blank Word document.² Again, I read the whole thing, plugging my nose to get to the end. The finalish step is to revise it: Now, instead of retyping everything, I let myself just work on the existing document and just change those bits that need to be changed.⁴ Once I’ve reached this stage is the piece finally ready to show to someone else.

Each chapter has gone through this three stage process (which explains the zig-zag pattern in the diagram above), in some cases, a chapter has gone through even more revisions,⁶ so this “first” draft is kind of a third+ draft. Nevertheless, the next step is to read the whole thing, then do a rewrite as above and finally a revision before I start thinking about workshopping it. But first, I can at least celebrate a little.

  1. Sometimes it takes more than one draft to actually get that first draft.
  2. This practice dates back to the days when I was in high school and I would write my columns for the school paper sitting on the floor with an antique manual typewriter, typing with a long-past-its-prime ribbon onto notebook paper³ and then the next day, I would retype a clean copy on an electric typewriter in the school paper’s offices.
  3. Because typewriter paper wasn’t all that readily available in the ’80s.
  4. This doesn’t really have a counterpart to my practices in high school. Word processors were still pretty primitive back then, as in you had to enter printer control-commands into the manuscript if you wanted bold or italics or underlining.⁵ And forget about footnotes at the bottom of the page. Although, as you might have guessed from this post, I’m perhaps someone who shouldn’t be trusted with easy footnotes.
  5. And the printers that our school had, would, if you had something underlined that started on one line and ended on the next, continue the underline right to the edge of the page on the first line, then start at the left edge of the next line and continue it to the end of the document.
  6. The most revisions any individual chapter has seen is eight, but 4–7 revisions are not uncommon.

Dewey Decimal Project 998 S South!

At long last, I’ve come to the end of the projectDoctored image of Shackleton leaving his crew at Elephant Island on his quest for rescue, a bit more than seven years since I started. 999 in the Dewey Decimal system is “Extraterrestrial Worlds” but at my library, the end was in Antarctica instead. The last book, it turns out, has an incorrect call number labeled on its spine and is identified as 999 S instead of 998 S. However, even if it were correctly labeled it would still be the last book so I picked it up to read.

Shackleton’s expedition was a failure with the expedition’s boat The Endurance crushed in the sea ice before they even reached Antarctica itself. When it became obvious that the ship was lost, the crew salvaged what they could and made their way across the ice rather laboriously until they were able to get off the ice and ended up sailing to a deserted and inhospitable island on the coast of Antarctica before a small crew navigated to South Georgia Island and made their first contact with civilization. Everyone from The Endurance survived the disaster.

The crew who were assigned to lay down supply depots on the opposite side of the Antarctic continent were less fortunate, with three members of that group lost in the snow.

The whole thing reads like an adventure story, the first part more vivid than the second. It had the kind of tone that I can imagine appealing to the young Tom Sawyer who might lead Huck Finn into snowbound wastelands after reading it. At the same time, there’s the specter of the first world war hanging over the expedition with the men being largely cut off from civilization and not really learning of the war and its horrors until after their rescue and the unspoken imperialist attitudes of the explorers that, of course, it was their right to “conquer” the frozen terrain of Antarctica. 

Having reached the end of this project, a few notes in retrospect.

I had originally planned this to be the basis of a gonzo experiential memoir, akin to A. J. Jacobs’s The Know-it-all or The Year of Living Biblically, but I realized early on that it was going to end up being deadly dull as such a project. I’m not especially thrilled even with the blog posts that did end up being the sole output.

But along the way, I did find myself reading and learning things I might not have otherwise encountered and it was a good exercise in controlled serendipity exemplified most dramatically in the letter I wrote that turned into the post for The Useful Book. I think with this project over, I’m going to let my reading go largely unfettered. I’ve been flooded a bit with books I’ve not gotten around to reading and the piles threaten bodily harm, so it’s time to read more of those books.


Writerly resolutions: September status

It’s been a pretty good monthGraph of my progress on the novel in September for writing. I managed to get a first draft of the last chapter of the novel finished and get started on the rewrite of that chapter. I expect to have the rewrite and revision done sometime before the five-year anniversary of starting the damn thing.

The less resistant feeling story has fallen to a back burner to a new story which has demanded that I work on it. I’m not entirely sure what happens in it beyond the inciting incident, but I’m curious to find out. 

The workshopping of the new story went pretty well, with some good suggestions and affirmation of what I had already suspected were weak points. It might be publishable as is, but it will be publishable after I finish with its revisions.

Speaking of revisions, little progress on that front. I really need to push on that.

And a poem was picked up for publication, more on that when it actually goes out.

1000 rejections

Today, I got my 1,000th fiction rejection.¹ It was a tiered rejection from Neon. Per my promise to myself, the journal responsible for the 1,000th rejection (or any acceptances while I was at 999²) gets a subscription³. 

 Looking back over my records, the first rejection in my “modern” era of rejections was a form rejection from The New Yorker (the story in question. “Confiteor” is something that I’ve since trunked). 

My acceptance rate in that time has been 2.06% with 20.8% of my rejections being personalized or tiered, including personal rejections from The New Yorker and The Atlantic, so I’m apparently doing something right (although I could certainly stand to be doing things “righter”). For the year so far, my acceptance rate is 5.7% with 40% of my rejections being personalized/tiered. 

  1. Strictly speaking, it’s a bit over 1,000 rejections, but I’m not counting the scattered rejections I got when I was an undergrad or in my 20s before I tried not to write. This is my “modern” period beginning in 2007.
  2. If I get any acceptances before I hit 1,001, I’ll subscribe to those journals as well.
  3. Had it been a journal that was online only, I would look for a donation option.