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Since major publishers are hardly publishing literary novels these days (read about it here and here and here and here), I’ll soon be spending most of my writing time writing short stories–just like I was doing years ago. For the last six years, I’ve been writing novels in hopes I could get one published by a major publisher. I’m finally ready to let that dream die. I can’t fight the market. I can’t conjure readers into existence. Readers are doing other things now–they are scrolling and binge-watching. And the readers who are reading have so many choices, and most of their choices are driven to their view by careful and pointed Amazonian marketing and other big-money-for-few-books marketing tactics. But that is okay. I will still write the occasional novel and send it to small presses (one never knows), but it’s time to go back to my old friends, literary journals. I visited them a couple of years ago and was welcomed with opened arms as they swooped up my flash fiction, one story after another. All these years–almost three decades since I discovered them–and they are still there, still here, and we fiction writers need them more than ever.

Centrum Residency: The Luxury of Time


Usually, I write my fiction while commuting to and from work. However, I’ve been feeling an urgency to complete my latest novel ASAP for a few reasons that I won’t go into here. For one full week, Sunday to Sunday, I did nothing but write. I had no distractions and no obligations. My fingers swelled from typing and not moving, save for a cup of tea or the need to rise from the story. Below are images from my cabin as well as a few taken on a short stroll on the grounds when I completed my work, on the last evening at Centrum. This time allowed me to surpass my goal and achieve a wish: to write the final 100 pages and to complete the first solid draft of my current work, a task that would have taken me at least three more months to achieve.

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Deflecting Rejection


Fiction writers have to be resilient. We spend hours, days and months creating make-believe worlds that most likely no one will ever read. I just completed my fifth novel in five years, spending seven months of daily commutes on buses and ferries, and at the end of it, sending out twenty queries to agents. Most likely, none will be interested. People who don’t write and writers who have never sent out manuscripts think this is a failure on the writer’s part, that if the book is good enough, it will be snatched up. Years ago, I thought this. But this isn’t the case. There are a number of factors that keep an agent from requesting the full manuscript to read–the market and timing being two of the strongest factors. It isn’t easy for us. Why do we go on?

Hope, I think. I hope that the next query letter I write for the next novel I write will be the letter that makes an agent say, “Please send me the full manuscript to read.” All these novels I’ve written, and no agents have asked to even read the whole thing. Is it my writing? Or is it something else? I want to believe it is something else.  But rejection can weigh a writer down. Two novels ago, I told myself I can’t do this anymore. The novel I just wrote was often painful to get through. Yet I finished it, and I sent out queries, and I expect rejection, and I got some, and I got some silence (the worst kind of rejection), and I got one request for the introductory material from an agent who asked for introductory material from the novel before this one, and who rejected it.

But three days ago, I got an idea for another novel. I feel pretty good about it. I am hopeful, again. And so, I will put aside the books I had planned on reading, and the book clubs I had planned on joining, and I will write. I will board the 7:20 am bus and the 8:05 am ferry and the 8:45 am bus, and I will write. Later, I will get on the 5:30 pm bus and the 6:20 pm ferry and the 7:05 pm bus, and I will write. I will do this for months until my next novel is done.

Erica & Gabriela Made Me Cry

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Or maybe I will say weepy. But still. I don’t get weepy at work. Work is work, and it is important to me to keep my emotions–the raw ones, like anger or sadness–clear of my office. Emotions–the big ones–get in the way at work. At least, at my work.

Yet here I was, opening a gift that I felt I didn’t deserve. A gift left for me, thanking me for my help when I was out sick during a two-day meeting that Erica, Gabriela and I co-organized by email, across the country. This was the second year in a row I have been out sick when they have arrived.

My gift wasn’t a box of chocolates. It wasn’t a mug or an office plant. My gift was a soft, leather journal, from a one-of-a-kind shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, miles away from my Seattle office. This gift was a journal with white stitches that edge a caramel-colored covering that smells of care.

The quote on the journal is what did it, I think. It’s what pushed me over the edge, what made me break my rule:

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

Virginia Woolf’s books sit high on my shelf in my bedroom. They are books I’ve taken with me from New York to New Jersey to Washington, books I haven’t been able to part with, even in my most dejected state. And here her words come to me again, from two, kind women who made their way to my place of work, armed with many things to ensure a successful meeting, and among those things, an offering to me that unbeknownst to them was exactly what I needed. And there it was: one of those raw emotions, spilling over me as I sat in my chair, my door closed, steeped in gratitude.