A BAD LOW FOLLOWED BY A GOOD HIGH by Jenna Leigh Evans

Remy Charlip

Which I will illustrate with the help of my favorite children's book. All images copyright the magnificent Remy Charlip, 1969.

Some time ago I was approached by the editor of a small press who wanted me to submit to a poetry anthology he was putting together.  I was pleased when my prose poem was accepted. Since I was a little unnerved by the number of misspellings and typos in his communications, though, I asked who would be editing. The writers would be responsible for proofing their own work, he said. Well, okay....

Remy Charlip

When I got an email announcing the book’s publication, I was dubious, because I’d never been emailed a proof to check. Yesterday, I got the box of books to bring to the reading series that's slated in New York for fall. 

When I turned to page 68, I could not, at first, believe my eyes. The piece they'd accepted was 1,606 words long. The piece I was looking at was under 500 words. It stopped in the middle. More baffling, the paragraphs were out of sequence. The title was missing. It was more than truncated, it was nonsensical.  I was white-hot with frustration, rage, crushing disappointment. But there was very, very little I could do. So I did those things.

Remy Charlip

Today, on the other hand, I got accepted into an artist's residency at the Osage Arts Community, which all artists should apply to because it promises to be awesome, and I had my phone interview with its executive director, Mark McClane, and I have never spoken to a nicer fella, and I've been invited to write there, at a time of my choosing and for as long as I wish to stay, among the cows, horses, chickens, dogs, hogs, and "roughly a dozen deer"  that share their property. I don't even have to find a dogsitter -- they've invited my dog too. 

Remy Charlip

 

Walking a friend home that evening, I caught the first firefly I've seen this season. When I opened my hand, it climbed onto my thumb and rode there for the next ten blocks, its antenna waving wildly in the breeze like a dog with its head hanging out of the car window.

The book flashes through my mind every so often, and I feel disrespected, unseen, unheard...all the childhood monsters roiling with renewed vigor. I'm exhausted with the effort of calming them, frankly. Yet I am being seen and heard and valued as an artist, too. I'm sure there are more bad lows followed by good highs to come. There's always more to come....

All our books were like this when I was a kid. Storytime was like dropping a tab of acid. 

All our books were like this when I was a kid. Storytime was like dropping a tab of acid. 

 

 

DELIRIUM AT THE AWP by Jenna Leigh Evans

I expected down town Minneapolis to be an actual place. How was I to know it is actually in the Matrix, providing sustenance for the tentacled cyborg brain of Ayn Rand? However, surprises are what keep life interesting. Surrounding its convention center are a thousand Atomic-era edifices thrusting skyward, each appointed in strict conformation with the Mod Furnishings Act of 1956, impervious to entropy, gleaming with polished brass fittings and presiding over streets wide enough to drive four Chevys abreast — streets devoid of potholes, litter, traffic, and noise. I never saw a floating plastic bag, errant dog turd, or pair of shoes hanging on a power line. Asking locals to explain this eerie sterility incurred the same unchanging reply: “Oh, the people are all up in the skyways.” By this they mean the maze of featureless Habitrails that link one Eisenhower-era edifice to the next. Well, I went up in a Skyway, and I’m here to tell you I did not see a living soul. Escaping back onto the street, I did see some of the most jaw-dropping architecture I’ve ever seen….yet a Google search for photos with which I might here illustrate the grandeur of downtown Minneapolis’ weirdness yielded nothing but generic skyline shots. Make of this what you will.  

Because the AWP is so rich in events, it’s a 72-hour-long New York minute: “Oh my god it’s so great to see you, shit, I gotta run, I have a thing!” Among the awesome writers with whom I had the above exchange before they went rabbiting off to something glamorous were enough Lambda fellows to levitate the convention center with queer power: Bridget Birdsall, whose YA novel about an intersex teenager was a Lammy nominee, Jane V. Blunschi, PJ Carlisle, Queer Rebels Productions' Celeste Chan, drag artist & poet Wo Chan, John Copenhaver, Pushcart Prize winner Nicole y Dennis Benn, poets Lisa Galloway and Theodosia Henney; JP Howard, curator of the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon; Miah Jeffra, Charles Rice-Gonzales, Roberto F. Santiago, Noah Stetzer, Parrish Turner, and Lambda Literary Executive Director Tony Valenzuela, who attributed his fresh-as-a-daisy demeanor to a martini lunch. 

AWP fails its attendees only by not providing clones, without which it’s impossible to attend all off-site events simultaneously. I would be dead of FOMO right now except I got to see  Ravi Shankar emcee a night of poets that knocked the collective socks off, including Collier Nogues, a poet raised in Okinawa with a delivery like Laurie Anderson at her finest. Aimee Herman came onstage and fucking crushed it. Eventually there was a dance party; all the afterparties were fabulous and went on until morning every night, which was probably great fun. I wouldn’t know, as I spent nights in my hotel room, happily making tea in the toothbrush glass.  Well — not entirely true. I did participate in the queerbombing, organized by Chad Kampe of  Grrrlscout notoriety, of a bar in what turned out to downtown Minneapolis’s red light district, which looks like this:

and is just this big. 

and is just this big. 

I stayed at the bar just long enough to be shown the cool secret panel in the wall. But I can’t tell you what fun might have transpired there, as I left early to get back to my hotel room, where there were rice cakes, and a container of spreadable cheese. For the Cyborg Ayn Rand that is downtown Minneapolis has no use for your pitiful human desire to purchase food after nightfall.

I got to see the statue of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air, which got the theme song stuck in my head for the next 72 hours;

and I got to see  flash fiction masters Pamela Painter and Sophie Rosenblum shoot killer laser beams of talent into an astonished crowd, and shake hands with a whole stable full of Algonquin authors I admire, including Lauren Grodstein, Jill McCorkle and Tim Johnson, who wrote The Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England. Bill Roorbach kicked off a panel by pronouncing, cheerily, “I looked around this morning at the twelve thousand writers streaming into the convention center and I thought, 'if someone were to detonate a nuclear device here, nobody in the rest of the world would care.'"

AWP's Bookfair is so overwhelming a space that bodies in various states of collapse litter the perimeter. Still, I staggered around in it enough to say hello to Paris Press, which has the most elegant list in the world, Two Dollar Radio, which just published Carola Dibbel’s The Only Ones (my review of that cool book here], and Midwestern small press Ice Cube. I tried to tell James Maughn of Black Radish that it was so great to see him but shit, I had to run because I had a thing, but he was overrun by adoring young poets and when I saw him disappear under them like chum in a feeding frenzy I ran out of the Bookfair, scampering hamsterlike through the labryinth of Habitrails, I mean Skyways, to the rental car. 

What's the name of that tower again? Mmm-hmm.

What's the name of that tower again? Mmm-hmm.

I fled to a distant neighborhood the local business owners claimed had no name and walked into a vintage clothing store where the salesgirl was solicitous, everything fit me, and nothing was over twenty dollars, all of which proved beyond a reasonable doubt that I was in a false reality created out of my own mental projection while hanging suspended in a jelly-filled pod.

Unlike the local restaurants, unreality was a 24-hour enterprise. My last night there, a stranger called at 3am with the demand that I put her husband on the phone, adding, "I KNOW he's with you, Shalene." I told her I was not Shalene, and that, being a lesbian, I have no interest in anybody's husband. "Oh, you're a lesbian, are you? Well, I'm a lesbian now too," she growled, and hung up. 

I got back to Brooklyn early Sunday morning. By noon, a black motorcycle gang was roaring down my street dressed to the nines and doing wheelies with their fists pumping the air. This I knew to be 100% real, and, as I paused by an overflowing trash can to cheer them on, it felt good to be home.

fin.

 

 

OHIO HOOTENANY: LAMBDA FELLOWS FEATURE AT DAYTON LITFEST by Jenna Leigh Evans

L-R: Christina Quintana, Jenna Leigh Evans, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Joe Osmundson, Yana Calou.

L-R: Christina Quintana, Jenna Leigh Evans, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Joe Osmundson, Yana Calou.

I just returned from LitFest 2015 at the University of Dayton, where, thanks to the indomitable Dr. PJ Carlisle, five fellows from Lambda Literary were invited to lead writing workshops, sit on a shockingly un-tedious panel, and give readings: Yana Calou, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Joe Osmundson, and Christina Quintana, plus yours truly. The fabulous Furaha Henry-Jones and G. Scott Jones kicked the festival off with poetry accompanied by jazz trombone! James Thomas, the master of flash fiction (and coiner of the term), was our eminence grise! There was barbeque and blue cake! And, hearteningly, there was a surprising number of students willing, on the first sunny weekend of spring, to sit under florescent lights being schooled by a cadre of visibly freaky queer and trans folk about writing, of all things. Link Schrieber, who’s been hosting the Dayton Poetry Slam since ’99, wrapped up the festival with an inspiring and thoroughly kick-ass slam that went on sweatily into the night. Many, many thanks from all of us to Meredith Doench, Al Carillo, the endlessly patient grad students Brittany, Grace and Jamie, who spent 48 hours chauffeuring our asses to and from the hotel without ever once rolling their eyes, and especially to Dr. PJ Carlisle, writer, event coordinator, Lambda fellow, and brave soul. 

New Year, New Author Interview Series by Jenna Leigh Evans

A new dawn from my kitchen window.  That is a lie, it is a sunset. 

A new dawn from my kitchen window.  That is a lie, it is a sunset. 

I've been walking around with Nina Simone singing "it's  a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life" in in my head because I've just launched an author interview series on this site and kittens, let me tell you, it makes me feel good, Nina Simone "butterflies all havin' fun, you know what I mean" good. Because I have got some fantastic writers lined up for you already, truly. Sam Lipsyte! Victor LaValle! Luc Sante! Kathryn Davis! Eileen Myles! Amy Sohn! Jonathan Lethem! Carole Maso! Specially for my fellow word geeks, Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe is I! And the list goes on. 

I've been planning such a series for some time now, but have been waiting to begin until I knew exactly what questions I wanted to pose. What do we, as writers, really want to know about our literary heroes that we can't read about elsewhere? Finally, a friend nailed it for me: "BUT HOW DO YOU PAY THE RENT, THOUGH?" 

And on that day, Seven Questions for the Working Writer was born.

Enjoy it! Link it! Tweet it! Share it on a Certain Social Media Site I Will Go to My Grave Resisting! And if there's a writer (or several) you'd like to see interviewed, let me know -- I'll do my best to woo them. 

search term: "working for book packagers" by Jenna Leigh Evans

On 8 January 2015 at 05:35,< [NAME REDACTED]>wrote:

Dear Jenna,

I’m writing because [MULTINATIONAL BOOK PACKAGING COMPANY, NAME REDACTED] are currently looking for a new writer for our established series [CHILDREN'S SCI-FI SERIES, TITLE REDACTED]. I hear that you were the chosen writer on [YA NOVEL, TITLE REDACTED: 120,000 WORDS WITHOUT PAYMENT] and that you wrote great samples for [YA NOVEL, TITLE REDACTED: 80,000 WORDS WITHOUT PAYMENT] and [YA NOVEL, TITLE REDACTED: 65,000 WORDS WITHOUT PAYMENT]. We were therefore wondering if you might like to try out for [CHILDREN'S SCI-FI SERIES, TITLE REDACTED]?

 

If you’re interested in trying out, we would like to see the first three chapters of our attached storyline written up as a sample, no more than 3,500 words in total (each finished ms runs to 10,000 words). I’m afraid that we can’t pay for this sample, but in the event that you are not chosen, we will provide editorial feedback on your work. 

A Paycheck From Self-Publishing by Jenna Leigh Evans

If you can decipher every item on my shopping list, you will receive a prize in the mail.

If you can decipher every item on my shopping list, you will receive a prize in the mail.

My first paycheck from the publishing company (which includes, and in fact is mostly from, Amazon profits) arrived yesterday, for the princely sum of $110.84.

Yes, it is teeny. But my ratio of happiness to dollars is very high in favor of happiness.

You want to go through the gatekeepers, go for it. In fact, the shopping list in the photo is for tonight's pasta puttanesca to celebrate a Certain Beloved Friend's novel having just been bought by a Certain Prestigious Small Press (names withheld until I've been given the go-ahead), and I am KVELLING for her. But I'm so glad that I didn't wait. If I hadn't published myself, my novel would likely still be waiting to be a gatekeeper's "cup of tea," instead of providing me with money for a grocery bag full of fancy ice cream and Kalamata olives.

Furthermore, watching that check disappear into the maw of the ATM's deposit slot proved that my novel is, in fact, at least $110.84's worth of readers' "cups of tea." 

Also? I just found out that Charlotte Bronte had to publish Jane Eyre herself. Jane fucking Eyre.

 

 

"The Big Reveal" One of Autostraddle's Best of 2014! by Jenna Leigh Evans

http://www.autostraddle.com/24-incredible-personal-essays-we-published-this-year-268654/

This year we published so many stories that smashed your heart open, made your soul explode, exposed you to the unknown, opened your mind and/or reminded you that you are not alone.

Cool! Let's hope this makes up for the future jobs and apartments I won't pass screening for!

ARMY OF WRITERS: Sit Down, Shut Up and Write Together by Jenna Leigh Evans

My friend Anne Washburn, a playwright who regularly attends silent writing retreats, hatched an idea which she dubbed Army of Writers: folks pitch in to rent a space plus chairs for X number of days, and then write in it every day without interacting with one another. "Everybody just sit down, shut up, and write like mad every day from nine 'til five. Can you imagine how much work could be banged out in a month?" she mused.

Inspired to hold my own silent writing "retreat" at my house, I was immediately bowled over by how much work can get done when there's more than one writer in the room present. It keeps you from wasting time, from fucking around online or over-visiting the kitchen.

My posse can't afford the time or money to try Washburn's idea exactly as she envisioned it, but with her encouragement, I've adapted Army of Writers to fit our circumstances. So, once a week, people come to my apartment and write from 11 to 4. Sometimes it's one person, sometimes six (I can't seat more than seven); but it makes no difference -- we've discovered that all you need is one other writer present to keep the discipline and focus.   

This practice has had incredible results, and I want to Johnny Appleseed the fuck out of it. Our protocols are thus:

Set up a start and end time beforehand. Enter silently. NO CHATTING. Ringers off. Headphones are great. Bring a sack lunch. If you want to break for lunch with chatting, set that up beforehand. If you leave early, leave silently. 

That's all it takes. (Being a Sicilian Jew, I'm not content unless I also put out a tray full of cheese and crackers and peanut butter and a thermos of hot water and a box of tea and instructions for using the French press. But you don't have to). I guarantee you'll produce more, and be distracted less, in one sitting than you thought possible. And then you get to share in the feeling of achievement, which is deeply gratifying. 

Go forth and see for yourself! And remember: it only takes two writers to make an army.