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It looks like the Nelson Algren Literary Prize is endangered

The first clue was when my submission to the 2020 version of the contest disappeared from Tribune Tower Chicago Illinois 9181667444 cropped ubmittable without notice. The administrators of the prize tend to be not so great about closing out submissions on Submittable, so I didn’t pay much attention to it (in past years I’d had some marked “completed” a few “decline” and some were just left hanging until I marked then “withdrawn”).

It wasn’t until the end of the year that it occurred to me that my Google news alert on “nelson algren literary prize” had never come up with an announcement of the winner. Digging a bit deeper and I found this:

The Nelson Algren Literary Award contest has been suspended for 2020-21 as we review the program.

Coming at the same time as buyouts in the Chicago Tribune newsroom with architecture critic Blair Kamin and music critic Howard Reich being two of the latest high-profile departures.

There seems to be an overall gutting of the newspaper by the current owners. Starting with the selling of the storied Tribune Tower and continual cuts. The death of the Algren Prize, assuming that this warning sign is indeed a herald of such a thing, is a relatively minor thing in the grand scheme of the despoliation of a once-great newspaper, but it marks the end of one of the richest short story prizes in the United States and a launching pad for a number of great writers. 

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Writerly resolutions for 2021

Last year, I wrote:

2019 was a disappointing year on many fronts, so I figure 2020 can’t help but be better.

Ah, the naïveté of 2019.

My goals for the year:

  1. Work on We, The Rescued daily until I’ve got it ready to pass on to other eyes to look at (which means finishing the first draft, doing the rewrite draft and then a revision draft after that).
  2. Workshop a new piece of fiction monthly now that I’ve got a writing group to keep me motivated.

As with last year’s resolutions, I’ll check back in with status reports each month. Since 2021 has already started, I’d note that I’m on track with item 1, but behind with item 2.

Writerly resolutions for 2020—the post mortem

I set three goals for 2020: two related to finishing snd revising the novel and a third that largely involved doing nothing. I kind of failed at all three.

Graph of progress on the novel in 2020

I had bursts of productivity in the spring and the summer but continuing problems with my laptop knocked me out of commission for the last couple of months of the year (it’s back in for its third round of repairs right now). So I not only didn’t finish the first draft of the novel (I’m in them middle of chapter 24 of 28), but I clearly didn’t finish the rewrite and revision phase of the work either.

My third resolution was to cut way back on submissions. I did that. Nothing new went out this year. But I was going to wait until my submittable queue managed to drain to zero entries. Then 2020 came and there are still two submissions lingering (technically three, but the third is for a journal that’s folded and I haven’t withdrawn the submission out of sentimentality).

Here’s hoping 2021 will be better.

Writerly resolutions: November status

No graph this month for progress on the novel because there was no progress. I wrote not one word.

I had planned to finish some writing. Lots of writing. But during the first couple of weeks, I was trying to keep up with writing group obligations and put things off. Then, I decided that while I had the chance, I would take my MacBook Pro in to fix a problem with the touchbar (it was getting ghost touches which rendered the computer unusable unless I put the touchbar into spaces mode and didn’t actually use multiple spaces). I figured it would be a few days without the computer. They told me ten days. Not ideal, but OK. Then when I went to check on the computer on the day it was supposed to be returned the system showed that it was still at the Apple store. I called and after some transfers got my own customer service representative who’s been active through the process. Finally on 30 November, it showed as arriving at the repair facility and I got it back yesterday.

And the bad news, despite them replacing nearly every part of the computer, the touchbar problem is still there (I’m guessing they should have replaced the keyboard as well). I’m hoping that when my representative gets back in the office on Monday, we can work something out where I can get a working computer without being without my laptop for three weeks again.

In the draining the submittable queue news, I’m down to two from three with Whiskey Island officially revealed as defunct (via an e-mail from one of the faculty at the sponsoring institution). Another submission hit its first birthday this month. I’m guessing my no submissions until the submittable queue is empty resolution is going to default to no submissions in 2020. Probably for the best.

“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. The PDF version is now available here. The website barely acknowledges the existence of the issue still.

I can remember the moment in Image of library card catalogthe 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.

871EB6B2 8735 4B1A A109 3869C3077BD9

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.

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.

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. 

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.