who the heck knows anything, anyway

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I have always hated competition.

Bukowski has this poem, “The Last Generation”, and it does the smash-bangingest job of conveying my mild (or, you know, major) anxieties about jumping into an over-saturated field of work (unfortunately, I don't think it's available online). How am I supposed to jump into writing during a time when everyone and their mother (and father, and older sister, and younger cousin) is an author*? Will anyone ever pick up one of my books? And how can a serious albeit young writer find a community these days? All of the greats are jaded, and most of the newbies... Well, let's just say that finding peers (dare I say, friends) at my starting-point in the literary world requires a lot of wading through legions of people who are incompatible. And, as you are about to find out, I do mean legions.

It’s a surreal thing to consider: the population of the world, alone, is more outrageous than it has ever been, and when you also factor in increasing racial- and gender-equality as well as increased acceptance/appreciation for the arts (both of which are awesome, mind you), you begin to see just what I mean. In 2009** in the USA alone, 288,355 new titles were published through traditional channelsCurious about non-traditional? Oh, well, that's just a measly 764,448. No big deal.

This makes me feel like Dash from The Incredibles***
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

Sigh. Well, let's try to forget about that and just ogle some numbers, shall we? Fortunately, I rule the internet.  Do keep in mind that I will only be looking at traditional publications of new titles and editions. God knows who keeps track of those self-published and small-press shenanigans. I would not volunteer for that job. 

Ok then! Let's only look at fiction and literature numbers (including both hardcover and paperback). The data I can find only goes back to 1993, but--as you will see in a moment--that's more than enough. (thanks again, Bowker.com, for providing me with non-broken PDFs)

First, some clarifications: I am not sure how Literature and Fiction are technically separated (I'm guessing the latter includes sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, etc. All the Gold Room books in addition to the Blue Room, if you measure everything--as I do--in PM****), which is why I'm including both. These are, however, classified separately from "Juveniles" books, which I am not including here. 

The freakin' Library of Alexandria couldn't fit
all of the books published last year.
(image thx: history-magazine.com)
So! In 1993, the number of new "Fiction" titles was 7,721. "Literature" made up 3,250. Total: 10,971.
In 1995: F=8,380 and L=3,279. Total: 11,659.
1999: F=12,372 and L=3,646. Total: 16,018.
They continue to creep up--Fiction progressing rapidly but fairly regularly--until 2003, when Fiction reaches a whopping 17,599 and Literature has increased to 4,948, together totaling a crazy 22,547. Oh, but that's nothing. Let's check out 2004 (all of ONE YEAR LATER), shall we? 

2004: F=28,010 (!!) and L=5,364. Total: 33,374. 
Holy smack, Fiction! Also, that's a 204% increase in eleven years. Flub


Let's take a gander at a mere four year difference, between 2004 and 2008.
2004: F=28,010 and L=5,364  Total: 33,374
2008: F=53,058 and L=10,843 Total: 63,901
Recap: Titles increased by 91% in four years. How about the fifteen year comparison? Oh, it's nothing. Just a 482% increase in traditionally published titles. 
(data links! this is where I got my info: 1993-20042002-2010)

This is just the '90s through the 2000's. I wonder what the comparatively small differences between publication in 1920 and 1960 were. Even that change in number, whatever it was, made a great enough impact on Bukowski to write "The Last Generation." So go read it and feel my pain.

And you guys wonder why I'm always having existential crises...

*I believe the answer is, unfortunately, "be better than EVERYBODY ELSE." TOO MUCH PRESSURE, PEOPLE.
**taken from the Bowker Reports of 2009 info
***thanks for the quotes, Brad Bird and imdb
****"Powell's Metric". I measure everything according to Powell's room color and alpha-placement. Ask Daniel. He will confirm that I have, indeed, found where my last name would fit in the Blue Room and, due entirely to poor shelf-placement, seriously contemplated a pen name.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Freds in My Life

Beware: this is kind of a sappy post. ...And my primary motivation was basically to show off pictures of a couple family members.

my great-grandfather proved that fezzes are cool 
So my cousin Kaitrin recently sent me this amazing picture of my great grandfather, Fred Meeds. It made the rounds on facebook between all the cousins, and it's funny to see my fourteen-to-sixteen year old relatives (brothers included) obsess over it. To them, he's mostly a construction of stories and the occasional photograph--he died eleven years ago, so what memories they might have of him are hazy, at best. 

My memories of him, however, are largely crisp and clear. So clear, in fact, that writing this right now is making my eyes tear up a little. I was twelve when he died, but for over a year leading up to that, I was his art apprentice. Grandpa Fred, and his faith in my potential, make up one of the biggest reasons why I have not given up pursuing art. He taught me how to make clay-and-paper-mache figurines, how to assemble them, how to paint them. Of course, mine were nowhere near as fantastic as his were, but once a week (sometimes twice), we would work on them. We would also eat lunch with his friends in the retirement home where he lived--he called me a little rabbit because I loved to eat huge salads--and watch the old re-runs of Perry Mason until my mom picked me up. 

I wish I had more photos of his art to share with you, but I don't have any up in Seattle with me. He went through this Matador Period where he did those sculptures, painted, and made these amazing tile mosaics, all of matadors. Also pretty neat: for years of his adult life, he painted window displays for a living. I like to attribute some of my graphic/pop art style to him.The man was talented.

(This isn't even touching on stories of his hilarious/hooligan youth, or what a great dad he was. Listening to my grandma talk about her parents will make you cry.)

I had the chance to write a eulogy for him when he passed away. Even back then, my knack for writing was starting to show its tiny little face. But I didn't. I didn't think I'd be able to say anything good enough, worthy enough. Fortunately, my dad's eulogy made up for my lack of words. That is the first time, though, that I remember consciously thinking that words could not be used in vain; that only the best are worth using, only the best will do a person any justice. My twelve-year-old brain knew it hadn't cooked enough to write words beautiful enough for my grandfather. Instead, made sure he was buried with the last paper-mache sculpture I made with him (my last paper-mache sculpture ever), a little Saint Francis.

my papa and wee toddler me
FORTUNATELY, the Fine Art gene did not skip two whole generations. My father, also a Fred**, has been my hero since I was a wee lass, and this goes doubly for his status as my Art Idol. He paints, he writes, he builds little houses, for goodness' sake. I wish he had more time to pursue painting, but supporting a family takes a lot of time and energy. Hopefully he'll get back to it when my brothers  have all moved out. 

My dad definitely predicted that I would become a writer. Who's to say if it was one of those prophecies that becomes a reality simply because it was predicted, or whether he just knew me better than I knew myself at the time. Fate is tricky that way. But I won't embarrass my dad too much by talking about him at length on the internet. He's a modest guy! However, he is still largely to blame for where I am today (though my mom was the one who finally told me to screw practicality and just go for it. My happiness is really the combined fault of both my parents). 

My mom and dad have this very effective saying, and it still gets me through the day (particularly when people express doubt or find my decision to write for a living to be impractical***): 

Do what you love, and the money will follow.

So there you have it. Sage advice. I recommend you all follow it.

And that's the [short] story of my Freds. I'm sure they, along with the rest of my silly kin, will pop up in any number of my stories. Family is kind of influential, or something.

*this is the most famous Grandpa Fred-ism  
**named for Grandpa Fred, of course
***this shout-out goes to all those people whose faces demonstrate obvious disdain when I tell them I plan on being a novelist, and am not using my English degree to become a teacher or lawyer. Lawyer? Me? Seriously? No. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rejoining Academia (...Maybe)

Two posts in two days? I must be on fire.

So, brand new as of last night, I've decided that I'm going to apply to grad schools with the goal of beginning a program Fall 2012. There are a few conditions (personal parameters), however, that are at play here. First, I am only applying to schools that could provide me with full funding* and a living stipend. Second, I am only applying to top tier MFA programs.

Though the prior no doubt makes sense to any liberal arts major who is considering grad school, the latter might appear a bit odd (i.e. limiting, or even egomaniacal). But here's how I see it: I've been on the fence about a Masters for the past few years, never knowing if it was "right for me." The thought struck me that, since I am not desperate to attend just any school, I should just go for gold and try to get into the best programs I can find.** Why not, right? And if I don't get in, then my situation is no different than it is now. I can make writing work no matter what, but the extra deadlines, support, and potential connections would be pretty nice, too. So I signed up for the GRE***, which I am taking in August, and I've made a list of four schools that look pretty rad. Stay tuned for lots of bitching about standardized tests and how I have to remember how to do a bunch of crappy math. In the meantime, want to see my school list?? (They are generally in no particular order, though the Michener Center is probably my #1.)

The Michener Center for Writers @ UT Austin
University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Oregon

And now I have to run and catch a train to P-town. Ciao for now, folks!

*either through tuition wavers or in combination with teaching assistantships
**that also seem awesome. A few sounded a bit too academic, and I'm looking primarily for studio-based MFAs. Also, if your website is mean or if your campus is incredibly ugly, I scratched you off my list.
***Pro tip: the GRE is 50% off if you take it in August or September. Eighty dollars is much better than $160--especially when you are paying money to be tortured.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Working Weekend

I have a website! Woooo, isn't that fancy? I spent about five or six hours putting it together yesterday. It's free, so it's got one of those subdomains attached to the address, but I am not one to complain. Go look at it! Ooooh, pretty.

Now I would like to talk about endings.*

I kvetch about them a lot. All the time. It's incessant. When I'm not audibly complaining about them, I'm visualizing my hatred for them (often this mental imagery involves yelling loudly and lighting magazines/my computer on fire). Generally compared to the landing of an airplane, ending a story is the single most difficult part about writing (short stories, in particular). They often come out sounding rushed, trite, or shocking-for-the-sake-of-being-shocking. If you're me, this leads to a few days of erasing everything and feeling depressed. Plenty of people seem to settle for the bumpy landing and publish their stories, regardless. This deepens my depression.

If I were a casual reader, I might hardly notice. But I am not a casual reader. I am a hawk-eyed reader searching specifically for a good example. This is not me being picky and pretentious; this is me being desperate for a role model**. Tell me that a good ending exists, so that I know what it looks like. TELL ME.

Ok, and this may be extra picky of me, but can I narrow my parameters (I did say this was extra picky) to "the good endings of good stories that are not guaranteed to make a person cry from sadness"? Because a few stories are coming back to me--truly amazing stories--that had endings that were incredibly solid, but all of them involved dead children or spouses dying from cancer that hate each other. Though I read these stories, and admire them, I am not one to write about--well, those things. There were a few nights of Advanced Fiction reading assignments that had me both crying and hugging the toilet, fairly concerned that I might need to throw up. If I have to throw up every time I end a story, people will start to think I have an eating disorder. I have enough disorders already.

If all this ranting had to have a point, I think it would be that I spend a lot of time combating doubt. There are lists of things I would love to study (comics would be such an awesome art/writing hybrid, and then there's the M.A. in Folk Lore, or I could do a 180 and go into marine biology or neurology...), so how do I know that I am making the right choice? Of course, I know that writing is one of my truest true loves, and that I have the skill to pursue it, so there isn't any real doubt that I'm making a wrong choice--but I'm still such a novice at the whole Authorial Hoobly-ha. I have friends that write for eight hours a day. Eight hours a day. I write for, like, three. On a good day. How the heck to they do it?? My brain just gets so tired.

This sounds very negative now, and maybe I'll get flack for being so glum-tee-tum, but I think voicing this will be good for two reasons:

1. I can look back on this in the future when I am (fingers crossed) successful but still encountering these same frustrations, and I will remember that these feelings are not new, and that if they didn't make me give up then (i.e. now), they sure as heck won't make me give up now (i.e. in the future).

And 2. If anyone else feels like this, they'll know they're not alone. There's a lot to be said for camaraderie. I like to be supportive of my fellows. Plus, I sure as heck wish I knew some people in my profession who could commiserate. Is that bad? (I'm guessing the answer is "no"? Anxieties about what it means to be a good, responsible person invade my every thought. It is totally ok to complain every once in a while as long as you're proactive and not just wallowing in it, right? Gaaaaaah, wracked by guilt.)

...Also. I admit, for the sake of being entirely honest, that I remember one story that was not sob-inducing and that I thought was excellent. It's called "Field Events" by Rick Bass. You can definitely find it in The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. So go on ahead and read it. (It may be worth noting that the class I read it in was split right down the middle after reading Bass' story, one half Super Loving It and the other half Super Hating It.)  Although he did win the PEN/Nelsen Algren award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. So he's not a newbie.

Now I'm going to work on my mystery and not be such a stick in the mud.

*I apologize in advance for the tirade that is about to take place.
**one without a big, shiny Nobel/Pulitzer/Man Booker prize (etc), preferably. Because if prize-winners are the only authors capable of ending a story well, then I...um, I have no idea what then. Then I shed lots of tears? Read nothing but Nobel Laureate lit? All the options seem very limiting. Granted I should probably aspire to write endings like Award Winners, but it's just a little discouraging that none of the contemporary fiction I have read outside of Granta seems to have anyone who is good, beginning to end (and I've been reading a lot of publications). Where are the newbies who can bring me hope? Or is there really just a great rift, hardly a spot of middle ground, between the people who are acceptable and those who are amazing? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Outta Town, Pt. 1

Be prepared for lots of pictures of things.


Just got back from ol' Stumptown last night. Because I have not yet reached the Obsessive level of photo-taking (and because I was both (a) sick and (b) paying attention to a large platoon of party-goers who were there to celebrate my graduation), I don't actually have any pictures of the party. No pictures from Saturday at all, in fact. Being unable to breathe through my nose and overwhelmed by ever-increasing pressures in my head, most of my concentration was dedicated to helping my mom set up--and smiling. That said, it was still a great party. There was beer, there was wine, there was amazing food. Everyone who came had a great time, for which I am very thankful. The last thing I wanted was to be a party-pooper at my own party.

That said, I want to share some pictures. Along with the ever-needed grocery money (and bookstore certificates--just as necessary as grocery funds), I got a few fantastically unique things. I am very excited about them. You might not be, but worry not--photos are easy to breeze through. 

FIRST UP: the History of Pompeii/ius*, published in 1617

I now own a book published only 14 years after the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Now, I don't like to get heated about this topic on the internet, buuuuut... this is why e-books will never win.** 

SECOND: three heads, sculpted by the husband of my first-cousin-once-removed*** 

Receiving art for a graduation present is probably my favorite idea ever. Especially when the art is edgy and eye-catching and tangible. I suppose it's also lucky that they have some idea of, or totally guessed using amazing psychic powers, my taste in art, because taste is so personal and varied. These are spot-on. Daniel and I were considering ways to hang them up, but for now they reside happily by my reliquary on top of my Novels bookcase. They seem quite content there.

THIRRRRRD: edibles/medicinals

aloe plant and fancy bubbly wrapped in pink cellophane

Evening in Missoula tea 
The aloe plant came with a bright orange fish watering can (for some reason, I forgot to put it in the picture). It will help me when I get a sunburn (or should I say "if"--because today, like every day, is cloudy and barely 60 degrees), and will also be difficult to kill because I need only water it once a month. I do love a low-maintenance plant.

I had to include the picture of the Sofia sparkling wine because I never get pink, frilly presents, and I absolutely love it. That light pink cellophane is a perfect accent--I just keep ogling it. Appropriately, I could see it fitting right in to Sofia's Marie Antoinette set. Delicious.

And, people know me so well, what would I be without new teas to try? I tried some last night, since my taste buds/nose decided to work again. It tastes rather how the Sofia looks--soft, sweet, delicate. It's probably why I fell asleep at 11:30 and slept for ten hours.

NOW THEN, these things aren't exactly gifts, but they still belong in this post. Bear with me here. 


I went to Powell's yesterday. I had a gift card from graduation. Plus, I may have designated a bit of the aforementioned grocery money to book-purchasing.  Books are nourishment for the soul

This was not a gift:

This was a teeny tiny vial of Aged Ginseng Liquid or some such thing that I found on the counter at my parents' house. My mom said "Oh, drink it! It will definitely help your cold." So I drank it. It was nasty. Her response: "If it tastes that bad, you know it's good for you." I'm pretty sure she meant that strictly in terms of medicine, but you never know with mothers. I think part of her just likes to trick us into drinking gross things that pretend to be medicinal.****

This last one was a gift to myself. I got it at a natural curiosities shop on Mississippi St. (I'll admit--I'm a sucker for shops full of apothecary equipment and animal skulls.) 

Edward Gorey created a set of his own tarot cards, called the Fantod Pack, with which you can predict your own terrible misfortunes. Like everything Gorey did, they are beautiful and hilarious. And they were only $9. How could I say no? (Daniel is in the background, drinking water and reading the Isaac Asimov book he bought at Powell's. That is the one place I miss most. Elliot Bay just can't compete.)

And here's the puppy, sleeping on my feet, just for good measure:

I am so thankful to my family and friends who planned and attended my party. Everyone who asked what I was up to seemed genuinely excited to hear that I'm working on my writing, and the sheer number of people who turned up reminded me that I'm already making people proud. Hopefully I can keep that going! I  certainly have a crapload of writing to catch up on--not to mention a mountain of Thank You cards--so if business is measured in busy-ness, then I'm set up for a very successful week. 

It's also worth noting that this summer is going to be remarkably packed with travel, weddings, and other summery business, so maybe I'll learn to use my camera more often! That would be nice.

OH, DUH. Almost forgot to mention the most important part of my trip. I got my hair cut. Short on the left, long on the right! 

It's the best.

*unclear at this point, as I have yet to translate any of it, if it is the history of Pompeii, or a history written by a man named Pompeius. I'll get back to you on it when I brush up on my Latin and get going on a translation.
**I believe e-books have a time and a place (airplanes, reading erotica on the bus, etc), but they are not the future of books. However, if you worry about tree-killing, I've been considering asking about this when the time comes to publish my own novel. It's like papyrus! Well, in my head it is. 
***I come from a very big, very close family. Also worth noting: these are cement castings of heads he used in a bronze series. I can not express how cool this is. 
****Mom, if you read this, I am saying these things in jest. But you also know it's true. :P