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Three poems in new anthology

I had three poems come out this weekCover of Rising Voices in the anthology, Rising Voices: Poems Toward a Social Justice Revolution. These are all part of my Chicago Sonnets series.

Chicago Sonnet #4 has its origins in a research paper I wrote in high school where, somewhat enamored of my role on the school paper, I decided to focus on journalism and picked two books from the school’s library to write about. One was Mencken’s Minority Report, a collection of short notes and observations. The other was a collection of articles written by Carl Sandburg for the Chicago Daily News about the 1919 race riots in Chicago.¹ Reading about this stuck with me (and it’s interesting that so few people are aware of this chapter in Chicago history) and when it came time to write sonnet #4, I decided to have it focus on this particular event. Of course, since I originally wrote it, the poet Eve Ewing has written a whole book of poems on the subject which covers it far better than I could ever have accomplished.

 Chicago Sonnet #27 tells of the fate of Cabrini Green, long the bogeyman of Chicago’s public housing, its location was far too valuable to be squandered on poor people and so the community that did exist there (Mary Schmich’s² articles in the 1990s for The Chicago Tribune were a great source of my own knowledge of the neighborhood even when I lived less than a mile away while reading them) was erased so that luxury housing could take its place.

Chicago Sonnet #29 was inspired by free-style rap and how rhyme was retained and meter largely discarded. Using this to give the perspective of a young Black man on the streets of the West Side is something that I’m still not entirely comfortable with and perhaps should the sonnets ever be collected it may find itself replaced with a different poem but for now it will stand in that number’s place.

  1.  One of the distinct memories I have about writing this paper was going to the downtown Chicago library to pull up microfilms of contemporaneous reporting on the riots. At that time, the original main library in what is now the Chicago Cultural Center was closed and the Harold Washington Library had not yet opened so there was a temporary facility on a couple-three floors of a high rise somewhere in Streeterville. 
  2. Schmich’s greatest claim to fame is being the author of “Wear sunscreen” which has been widely circulated as being a graduation speech given by Kurt Vonnegut. She deserves the full credit for a brilliant piece of writing (which I’d first read when it was published in her column space in the Tribune. She also is a Claremont Colleges graduate (Pomona College to be precise) which is another big plus for her. I’d say something about the shared mascot for Pomona and Pitzer where I got my degree but I don’t think in my years in Claremont, I ever met anyone who ever attended any sort of athletic event who wasn’t participating in some fashion.
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Writerly resolutions for 2022

My goals for the year:

  1. Goals are nice, but remember that they don’t really matter. I’ll get done what I’ll get done, acceptances are out of my control.
  2. Get We, the Rescued through the rewrite and revision stage and then get some people to read the whole damned thing.
  3. I’ve got eight stories that have been workshopped but not gotten post-workshop revision. I need to prioritize getting those kicked off my computer.
  4. I need to get myself finishing some of those unfinished (or unstarted) stories that are lurking about, but trying to workshop monthly is a bit insane. It’s fine to pull back a bit if necessary.

Writerly resolutions for 2021–the post mortem

I set ambitiousGraph of the progress on the novel showing the completion of the first draft and the beginnings of the rewrite goals for 2021 and I failed at them all. Perhaps I should set less ambitious goals? Or perhaps I should remember that the goals don’t matter in the end and that creativity doesn’t follow schedules and spreadsheets.

I had two goals for the year:

  1. Work on We, The Rescued daily until I’ve got it ready for other eyes to look at.
    I didn’t do too bad on the daily part. I only missed 5 days’ work on the novel, but I didn’t get the first draft done as quickly as I would have liked and I’m still some distance from finishing the rewrite.
  2. Workshop a new piece of fiction monthly.
    I workshopped something every month, but I had to dig into my stash of rejected stories that I still want to submit most of the time. I did succeed in getting two new pieces into workshopping, but that’s ten less than twelve.

But even with missing my goals, I did have two stories and five poems accepted in 2021, so there’s room to not be too hard on myself over my performance.

2021 in rejections (and acceptances)

2021 was a pretty good year for me publication-wise. I’ve not been that good about getting stuff out the door, but what I have submitted has been well-received. In fiction, I managed to have fewer responses this year than last despite the fact that in 2020 I didn’t actually submit anything¹ and this year I did. I do feel like my new writing group has done a lot to up my game so while my acceptance rate was only marginally higher, my tiered response rate was my best ever.

Graph showing my total acceptances, tiered responses rejections and lost submissions since 2007. This year 37% of responses were tiered or acceptances with a 3.8% acceptance rate

Publications this year were “Saint Anthony in West Hollywood” and “The Norton Anthology of Self-Destructive Behaviours.”

 Poetry was also a pretty good scene for me this year, I had my best acceptance rate ever and my best rate of tiered responses as well.

Graph of poetry rejections I sent more stuff out this year, but more stuff got accepted too.

Most of the publications are coming out later in 2022, with just one poem, “Chicago Sonnet #19,” coming out in 2021.

  1. All of my 2020 rejections and acceptances were for pieces submitted in 2019.

1000 rejections (poetry)

Today’s mail brought poetry rejections 999–1,001. It took a lot less time to hit 1,000 poetry rejections than fiction, not least of why being that poems are generally sent in packets of 3–5 and even an acceptance includes a handful of rejections. And then there’s the fact that I’m not that good of a poet (my overall acceptance rate for fiction is double my acceptance rate for poems).

So now, just as with my 1000th fiction rejection, I’m off to subscribe to the rejecting journal, in this case Atlanta Review.

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.

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.


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.