Friday, January 4, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Post

Bonnie ZoBell, author of the forthcoming The Whack-Job Girls (Monkey Puzzle Press, 2013) was good enough to tag me in the blog chain that is known as The Next Big Thing. I'd planned to write about a short story collection of mine currently in progress, Tales from the Hillbilly Underground: Stories from a Coal Miner's Daughter, but more recently, a new collection concept I've been working on has pulled my attention in another direction. Lefenstrausse is the vixen that has most recently divided my writer's heart. While it is currently in-progress, I hope to see it to completion within the year.

What is the working title of your book (or story)?

Lefenstrausse (a short story collection)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I love contemporary fairy tales and have long wanted to write them within the frame of an interpretive, darker sensibility. In Lefenstrausse, children are the focus of the tales.

What genre does your book fall under?

I would consider it literary fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Gary Sinese, Gavin Rossdale, David Strathairn, Christopher Walken, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Madeleine Stowe, Benicio Del Toro, Hope Sandoval, Johnny Depp.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Tales of dark emotion and trauma, Lefenstrausse captures the stories of children trapped in pain within the framework of a fairy tale.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'll be seeking agent representation for the book once completed.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It is in progress.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

There's nothing that comes very close in terms of the thematic frame, but in sensibility, Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, The Sandman (DC Comics), and Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

What can be found between the lines of fairy tales. Also the fear, as a parent, that your children will come to some harm. I consider this, in many ways, a book of deep and universal fears.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The reader who enjoys interpretive literature and unique use of language will be drawn to this book, as will anyone who likes a good fairy tale. The tales are also linked in some way, however small.


And without further ado, I pass the buck to continue the tradition and add the next link to the chain. Here are the authors who will be posting:

Traci Chee will be posting at about her recent release, Consonant Sounds for Fish Songs (Aqueous Books, 2012)

Carolyn Zaikowski will be posting at about her forthcoming release, A Child Is Being Killed (Aqueous Books, 2013)

Brian Mihok will be posting at about his forthcoming release, The Quantum Manual of Style (Aqueous Books, 2013)

Kathleen Kirk will be posting at about her poetry manuscript, The Cassandra Poems

Patricia Caspers will be posting at about her poetry manuscript, In the Belly of the Albatross

Annam Manthiram will be posting at about her novel-in-progress, Amit's Ability

Please watch for the posts above the week of Jan. 11-17.

And thanks again to Bonnie ZoBell for drawing me into the fold. You can read her Next Big Thing post here, and be sure to watch for her new book, The Whack-Job Girls, forthcoming from Monkey Puzzle Press this year.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It almost happened to me

I am dropping everything right now to write this blog post. It's that important. I don't know that I'm saying anything new or even that anything I'm writing here will matter. But here goes.

To the families of the innocent children and adult victims who died at the hands of the gunman today at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, my heart grieves with you. I am so indescribably sorry for your loss. There are no words that anyone can say right now that will matter or change the fact of what happened; nothing, not even time, can stop this kind of pain. But I am not alone in saying that I want to see something done about this that will help prevent anything like this from happening again, at least as much as humanly possible.

Because I am a writer, I want to tell you a story; this happens to be a true story, and it happened to me. It was 1985, and I was in second grade, all of seven years old. I remember that it was a sunny day. In my classroom, I raised my hand for permission to use the restroom, but someone, one of the little girls from my class, was already out, and the rule was one person at a time. I put my hand down, denied. I squirmed, held it, and watched the door for my classmate to return, but minutes passed and there was still no Sarah. I had to go and I just knew she was taking her sweet time, trying to get out of class for as long as possible. I raised my hand again, and my teacher, being perceptive, allowed me to leave, telling me on my way out to check on Sarah and send her back to class. I nodded, armed now with two missions, took the wooden stick that served as hall pass, and walked out the door as quickly as I could without running. I kept my pace steady down the hallway toward the girls' restroom, which was on the right near the end of the long corridor.

In the restroom, I could hear Sarah humming. "Sarah, come on," I told her in my bossy voice. "You have to go back to class." I took care of business and repeated my message after washing up. She ignored me. "Sarah!" I said again. "Okay, in a minute," she replied lazily, returning to her humming and dawdling. I left the restroom and as I continued slowly down the hall, taking my own sweet time getting back to class, I saw a shadow darken the glass double doors just past our classroom at the end of the hallway. The doors opened to the outside covered walkway that led to the faculty parking lot. I slowed my pace, watching as an unfamiliar man entered the building. In his hand, something gleamed and my eyes shot over to it immediately. He was stuffing a gun in his pocket. Being a clever girl, I pretended not to notice, moving to the other side of the hallway and looking as unassuming as I possibly could. Head down, I didn't make eye contact, but when I came to one of the other second grade teacher's doors, I opened it and made ready to go inside, still pretending not to notice him. He passed me by without incident, and I muttered something unintelligible to the teacher who was not my own and by now bore a quizzical expression, then quietly exited to the hallway. As quickly and silently as I could, I walked to back to my classroom.

In my classroom, I ran up to the teacher and whispered to her that there was a man with a gun in the girls' bathroom, and that Sarah was still in there. The teacher made a phone call, then locked the classroom door. I remember that we had a sudden "tornado drill," and everyone had to get under their desks. What happened after that is hazy, but before long we were all outside of the building and the police were inside of it, and I knew that was a good thing.

Other children have not been so lucky. My school averted some unknown disaster, but it is a scene that remains unfathomable to me. There are the obvious questions of why, but those questions pale in light of the tragedy of young lives lost. Sometimes it seems pointless to ask why when we're still trying to comprehend how such a horrible thing could happen.

I wanted to share this because unfortunately, this tragedy is nothing new. And yet, it is still happening. Twenty-seven years later, and this is still happening. I don't know what the answer is, and I don't know that there is one single answer or any answer at all, but I refuse to believe we can't come up with a solution to protect our children in this age of iPads and eReaders and so many sophisticated technology systems.

Incidents like this are a disgrace to the entire human race. Start a movement for change. Do something. Do whatever you can. Let your voice be heard. Don't stand by and let this happen to our children. One child lost is one child too many. More than that is an insult to the entire human race. If we can't protect our own, we don't deserve to be on this planet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Today I Taught My Son How to Fight

My 6-year-old son burst in the door from school this afternoon, happy to be home but reluctant to do his homework. He would have to finish it before he could play, I reminded him. His friends were knocking at the door not five minutes later.

Three boys stood on the stoop, ranging in age from 6 to 9 years old. "Can he play?"

"When he finishes his homework," I said. They ran off.

When he was done, I sent my son outside. Before long, the four boys tired and came in to relish the air conditioning. They all gathered conspiratorially in his room, the door shut. A few minutes later, my son, bored already, ran outside for the trampoline, leaving his friends in the room to conspire amongst themselves. A few minutes later, I saw them walking out of the room in a cluster, whispering, each of them shoving something in their pockets.

Time for a pocket check. I sent my teenage daughter outside to do the dirty work while I made coffee to combat an afternoon energy low. She returned shortly, reporting empty pockets.

Sneaky little devils.

Five minutes later, my son threw open the front door, wailing in earnest. I rushed to his side. Someone had thrown a rock at the back of his head. The group of three boys outside snickered, hiding in the bushes.

"Who did it?" I demanded. "Are you okay?"

He quickly pointed out the culprit, and I was out the door like a shot.

No boys anywhere.

My daughter and her two friends overheard from the living room. "Let's go find them," they said, and were out the door while I made sure my son was alright. I comforted him, and asked if he felt dizzy. He didn't, but was already growing a decently sized goose-egg on the back of his head.

Anger boiled up in my throat.

"Stay here," I told him, and walked out the front door. The girls reported that they couldn't find him. They knocked on two front doors, and the culprits were still nowhere in sight.

I walked down the street, closer to the curve near the end of the road. There they were, coming out of a ditch. I jumped in my car and sped toward them, ready for a confrontation.

I pulled the car up beside the boy who had thrown the rock at my son, got out and slammed the door. He looked guilty, shrinking back into the bushes.

I demanded to know what he was thinking, reminded him that he was three years older than my son. That I never wanted to see his face again and he was no longer welcome anywhere near my home. His mama came storming down the street, ready to give him a whooping. That's what we call them in the South. Whoopings.

I demanded the boy's apology. As I passed her, the mom gave me a look like, I know sorry won't cut it.

Not long after, there was a knock at the door. It was the other two boys who'd hid snickering in the bushes after my son took the blow to the head. They held out three toys that belonged to my son, said they'd found them in the bushes and had come to return them.

That night, as my son scooped up forkfuls of the garlic-butter-chives pasta and crunchy tilapia I'd made for dinner, I couldn't push a jumble of what-ifs, horrible images, from my mind--my son getting beat up, pushed around, punched in the face. I stopped him mid-bite.

"Baby, come here for a minute. I'm going to teach you how to defend yourself."

He gave me a half-smile. "Okay," he said.

I showed him how to grab someone's arm if they raised it to strike, to pull it toward himself to knock an attacker off-balance and knee them in the gut. I taught him how to punch. How to use his elbow to its best persuasion in someone's face. How to push the heel of his hand upward under someone's nose. I told him to practice on me, and he did. We rehearsed moves until I felt like he started to get them down.

I'm tempted to say something here, to give some moral, but I won't cheapen this with platitudes. Bottom line is: we all need to fight back at some time in our lives. I will say that I once believed that all people were basically good, but after 34 years on this planet, experience has taught me otherwise. Most people are greedy shitheads who will steal from your pockets while pretending to be your friend, then throw stones at you when your back is turned. Everyone is out for themselves. I've rarely known it to be any other way.

I will teach my son to defend himself, to always be on his guard, yet to live his life in such a way as to be a positive example to others--that is, if they're paying attention.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nightmares in New Orleans: When the Children Suffer the Failures of Administration, Or, On the Current State of the Orleans Parish Recovery School District (RSD)

In March of this year, I concluded that it was time to make a very big decision, one I had been contemplating for more than a decade: a move to New Orleans. I waffled on it for a while, uncertain whether it would be beneficial for my children, or for my businesses. Weighing the benefits against the drawbacks, I finally decided that ultimately, this would be a good move to make--in the best interests of family, business, and as regarded cultural enrichment and activities. Our previous town did not have much to offer in terms of culture or things to do, and the county is the poorest per capita in its state. The fact that my company had just reduced everyone's salaries by 20% and my rent had increased also helped my decision. I had a tax return coming in soon--I had the confirmed date when it would arrive--and when the time was right, anticipating the flow of funds, I made the move.

The move itself was fraught with difficulty over the course of about 3 weeks, which is ultimately neither here nor there in regards to this post. The tax return did not come after all--or at all. Working around that difficulty was more harrowing than should be explored here. Suffice to say that, after settling in, things calmed down, began to flow, and a certain and welcome order and harmony began to thread through our lives. Save for one crucial area: getting my daughter, an eighth grader, enrolled in school in New Orleans.

In our home state, as I believe is the case in most states, children are assigned to a school based on their residence. I was not aware if school assignment was done any other way. Why would it be? Before moving, I researched middle schools and K-8 schools near to where we would be living. As it turns out, there are no schools on our side of the river within our parish (Orleans) that include 8th grade, which my daughter was in when we moved. So she would likely attend school on the other side of the river. While not an ideal situation, I didn't balk at the idea. I understood that many schools post-Katrina had consolidated and that some had closed their doors indefinitely.

The day after we arrived in New Orleans, our things still in storage awaiting the influx of funds that would allow us to transport them here, I gathered my daughter's withdrawal paperwork from her old school, and took it to the school nearest our new home that accommodated the 8th grade. This school informed me that they were a charter school, and had no places open so late in the year, but that she could apply to a charter school the following year. They handed me an application, but offered no further information.

I still need to enroll her in school, I said. How do I do that? I was given a phone number to call, and happy to have a place to start, my daughter and I walked back to the car, where I would call the number, obtain the necessary information, and visit to the school or office to register her. I was excited, as was she; the move had been difficult for both of us and was still not over, our things still waiting in Florida; school represented not only a necessity, but also a source of much-needed stabilization that would place her back into a sort of routine.

Let me pause a moment to explain something. New Orleans has what is called the RSD, or the Recovery School District. This system was implemented to transform struggling schools into achieving schools, and resulted in the creation of a great many charter schools. My son, in elementary school in New Orleans, attends one such charter school, an arts academy. His father has lived in New Orleans for a few years, and so I sent him ahead of my daughter and I to get enrolled earlier in the year. He seemed to have entered as a new student without much trouble. The passion for developing young minds is evident in the principal and teachers, and I could not be happier with the quality of his education or the enriching and diverse curriculum.

Back at the car, I dialed the number I was given. The line was busy. I dialed again. Still busy. Again. And again. Why would it be constantly busy? I would try again later. In the meantime, I called other schools, which I found on my cell phone. Most were charter, and therefore not options for my daughter so late in the year. Where should I start? I tried the RSD number several more times, but with no luck. I searched again for a school locator, which would have been helpful were she in elementary or high school, or were I searching for a private school. I fruitlessly tried the RSD number again. Reaching a sort of minor desperation, I called a local elementary school that appeared to be not a charter school, but a public school. Someone answered. We're new to the area, I explained. Where do I start? This time, I was directed to call an RSD parent center.

The Recovery School District, or RSD, was formed in 2005 following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I learned that L.B. Landry High School, which housed one of several parent centers in Orleans Parish, was a 54 million dollar initiative funded by FEMA (read more about it here). The building is a modern, environmentally friendly, concrete fortress. It looks like an expensive prison.

As it turned out, I would need to apply at one of the RSD parent centers to enroll my daughter in school. L.B. Landry High School was near to our residence. Super, I thought. I had finally cracked the code on enrolling my daughter in school in New Orleans. I called and, because there was no answer, left a detailed message and awaited a return call. Unfortunately, I did not get a return call until the following week. The man on the other end explained that his office would be working to assign my daughter to a school, and that it might take a few days, but that he would get back to me. Ah, I thought, so they assign the children across the parish, according to availability. Interestingly, I also discovered that the potentially problematic situation of transportation is resolved by bus companies, who are hired to transport children all over the parish.

When the call that I was waiting for finally came, I was--at long last--driving the rental truck loaded with our belongings, traveling through Florida, and headed toward Louisiana. I struggled to hear the voice on the line over the noise of the truck. The man's voice asked me to stop by the center within the next few hours to complete the application. It would be a time crunch, and I explained our situation, but if I took the truck straight to him, we would just make it. I was worried we would run out of gas, and I risked not stopping on the way to fill up, because we were so short on time. We made it. Several hours later, I was maneuvering the unwieldy vehicle over the numerous and widespread potholes that every Louisianan knows as part of the native terrain, and sidled up in front of the school. Later, having completed the packet, I felt like I was finally getting somewhere. Now I would just wait for her to be assigned to a school with an opening.

But, as it turned out, my daughter would not be assigned to a school until three weeks after I made that initial contact with the parent center. That was three weeks of lost education for her. But she's not alone. One of her eventual classmates waited 5 weeks before being assigned to her school.

Finally, when the assignment came, it was to a school across the river, about a half hour to 45 minutes away, depending on traffic. In that school, I began the application process all over again. Why are you enrolling her now, I was asked, as if it was somehow inconvenient or unacceptable to enroll a child at any time other than the summer or the beginning of the year. It has to do with my work, I explained, thinking it was nobody's business and that their only concern should be getting her enrolled in classes. Then there was some confusion, not surprisingly, between the school and the parent center, who had lost the paperwork we'd filled out earlier. We had to complete another form, which I happily did. Incidentally, the paperwork was located the following day.

Refusing to be disheartened, and mostly relieved that my daughter was finally in school, I coached her as much as I could for the state testing that was to take place the week she enrolled. She passed with flying colors, which meant that she passed the 8th grade. I hadn't doubted her for a moment, and she had conscientiously kept her grades up after a particularly difficult bout with ADD which affected every area of her life. I was proud of her, because she had worked through it, with a lot of coaching from me and the gradual implementation of positive habits, as regarded both study and personal well-being.

The school year continued, and she began to settle into the routine. But wait. Two report card periods had passed, and she still had not received a single report card. I visited the school. What was going on? Where were her grades? It was by then 10 weeks post-enrollment and apparently the school was still waiting on the parent center to process her school records. I was assured she would be mailed the final year's report card. However, it is currently almost the end of July, and she still has not received the report card that her peers received at the end of May.

But wait--there's more. As part of the annual enrollment process, every student turns in what is known as the OneApp. This application allows the parent to select the school of choice for their child and ensures a place for the child the upcoming year, even though the school of choice cannot always feasibly be granted. This is the charter school assignment program. The night my daughter brought home her OneApp for the following year, I carefully researched every school, reading through their websites and looking at their school ratings. After several hours of careful consideration, I selected three schools and sent my daughter to school with the application, which she turned in the day following its distribution. The students were to hear on their assigned school the week before the end of school.

The penultimate week of her eighth grade year came and went, and still, there was no word on her assigned school. I wrote e-mails, I called and left messages (because nobody ever answers the phone). Several weeks went by before I heard back from anyone. Administrative personnel returned my call about a week after I left the message. We've sent the message to your e-mail address, the person on the other line swore. You should have received an automated message notifying you of your child's school assignment. Really, I said. I didn't receive anything. What e-mail address did you send it to, I asked. The person read off the e-mail address, and, lo and behold, my e-mail address was incorrect in the system. Ah. that explained so much. On my insistence, my e-mail address was corrected, as was my last name in the system, which was incorrectly spelled. I was assured that I would receive the e-mail assignment in about four weeks.

Four weeks passed, and I received an e-mail, assigning my daughter to...the eighth grade. The eighth grade, which she had already passed. I responded to the e-mail, which incorrectly listed our residential address, but of course, a wrong address took lower priority than the gaping error of making her repeat a grade she had already assed due to a clerical error. I typed out a response. My daughter passed the eighth grade, I said, and please correct our address. Receiving no response the following day, and very much "over" leaving messages in the black holes of voice mailboxes that went unchecked for God knew how long, I decided to pay the parent center a visit.

As it turned out, my daughter was listed twice in the system. I asked why, but was never given an answer. I don't think anyone knew--or at least, that would be my educated guess, based on my experience with such administrative personnel. In one parallel universe of their mysterious system, she was listed as an eighth grade student, and in the other, as a student entering ninth grade. No one seemed to understand why. No one seemed willing or able, upon my suggestion, to consolidate the two.

We mailed her school assignment letter to your address, they said. What address did you send that to, I asked, and was the assignment made for the eighth grade or the ninth grade? They rattled off the incorrect address, confirming my suspicions. Do you know who lives at that address, they asked me. No, I don't, I said, and I'm not sure if that address even exists. You might try looking, they said, and see if you can get the letter. Can you correct my address in the system, I asked? Can you tell me now what school she is assigned to? Shouldn't it be in your system? Can you re-send the letter to the correct address? Such questions utterly baffling them, as none were answered. We'll give you a call in a few days, they said. She is in the system, they confirmed, as if this were enough, as if I should then trust what they told me, as if they had so far proven their competence to perform in their current positions, and as if this would be resolved if I only waited for their follow-up.

It is now almost the end of July and I have left messages, made phone calls, and fully intend to march on the parent center tomorrow. I will be a tree-hugger, refusing to leave until satisfactory resolutions are made. I will be a picketer, a protester, because that is the extreme to which I am now driven by the absolute and complete failure of this system, which upholds some and allows others to fall through the cracks. I will be forced to arrive in a loud display of arguments and insistence; I will be forced to fight for the right for my daughter's fair education. And all that I will be asking is for her to be placed in the correct grade, to be placed in a school at all.

To me, the RSD had held up a large sign reading, Welcome to New Orleans. Welcome to the post-Katrina mindset that will never be, not truly, post-Katrina, never really past Katrina. Never really over it, never truly recovered. For you can take a multi-million dollar system and place within it an administration of absolute incompetence, and still, all you end up with is failure. Every system, after all, is only as strong as its weakest link.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

FOX 10 Interview

A big thanks to my publicist, Scott Jemison, and to FOX 10 News for today's interview on Studio 10. It was great to have the opportunity to talk about Aqueous Books and Fred Skolnik's recent release, The Other Shore.

Pensacola publisher releases new novel:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Advice for Noobs

I received an e-mail from a new writer--a poet--wanting to break into publishing her poetry. How to start, she asked? I've received a rejection, and I want to make sure I'm doing this right.

My advice: Read, write, and submit times infinity! You should be aware of what others are writing, and you should keep reading. Subscribe to a few magazines that publish poetry you like. Read lots of online journals. Never stop fine-tuning your work, try to write every day, and don't be too discouraged by rejection. Keep submitting no matter what. Be tenacious, and be driven. Expect lots of rejection. Eventually, you'll develop a tough skin. Always expect rejection, and when you receive it, don't take it personally. When you don't receive it, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Sometimes even published writers need to remind themselves not to get discouraged. I have friends who have been published, or make that Published, with a capital "p," and they still talk about the sting of rejection.

Like the old adage goes, you can't make everybody happy all the time. Writers: the best thing you can do is to please yourself. It will come through in your writing, and that spark will shine through. If you're trudging through your writing, that'll show too.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fees, Business Models, Publishing, Oh My!

It may be worth a mention that when I set the submission fees for the print edition, I consulted with a marketing expert with more years of experience in his field than I've been alive. My initial thought was $5 across the board, and he balked at this. He urged us to go for $20, but I knew that was too high.

He offered his reasoning for this, which essentially entailed weeding out not-very-dedicated submitters, where the idea was to encourage a higher quality of submissions, and to let people know the print edition should be taken seriously. His line of reasoning is that people realize they get what they pay for, and having a fee on the higher end would provide the image of a higher quality publication.

Thinking about this, I considered the existing identity of the online journal, with an ackowledgement that any print edition would be associated with the online journal right out of the gate. We've always been free, and the only time a fee has been charged was for a competition for which, yes, there was a prize and print publication, with complimentary copies being awarded in tiers, from the Grand Prize winner through honorable mentions. But competitions are different from a standard print issue and therefore are based on a different model.

Updates that will be posted to the print submission guidelines are:

* That a complimentary issue is provided for all submitters
* Adjustment to the fees
* Removal of fees for reviews
* That published authors will receive compensation, TBD

I do take issue with Robert Swartwood saying that the business model is a bad decision. I am far from Narrative's greatest fan, but they are essentially doing the same thing. This doesn't make it right, but it doesn't make it wrong, either. Has it worked for them? Obviously, yes. That is neither to say that it would work for me, nor that our fee structure is based off of theirs. The reason I divulged how I came up with the fee structure in the first place was to show that it was not based off anything anyone else was doing, but by consulting with someone who knows what he's talking about, and by taking into consideration the current incarnations of the journal.

The bottom line is this: if you don't like the fees, don't submit to the journal. Soon they will look a lot friendlier, and then some other schmuck will likely come along and whine that we don't pay enough to our contributors... and the cycle goes on.