Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Tag: Rebecca Brown

Rebecca Brown meets Alice B Toklas at the Sorrento in Seattle

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Jane Eaton Hamilton quick sketch 2015

Rebecca Brown, the skilled Seattle author of “Gifts of the Body” among other titles (with whom I’ve dined and read), has written about Alice B Toklas’s stint in Seattle as a teenager at the current site of the Sorrento Hotel, where Alice may or may not be resident as a ghost. I’ve always been a bit of a groupie to Alice and Gertrude, and it’s Brown’s tender grappling with the after-effects of her mother’s death that shines particular light here.

When I visited 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris, I wanted so badly to lie down on the sidewalk with my eyes closed for an intrepid thinking session, imagining Alice or Gertrude fastening the big front door, or Natalie Barney, or Picasso, coming or going, their fingers itching with paint. Or Hemingway or the others, fingers itching with ink. I went to Père Lachaise cemetery and near Oscar Wilde’s then unprotected, red-kissed tomb found Gertrude’s big slab and the skinny afterthought that was Alice.

I wrote a poem about an affair I think Gertrude had with Etta Cone that Alice, I think, broke up. Learning and viewing the Cone sisters’ Baltimore art collection gave me a new inroad to see Gertrude and Alice. As does this fond article by Brown.

Alice B Toklas Lived in Seattle Before She Met Gertrude Stein

 

The Adequate Writer: Your work is crap

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

We’ve all been there on the receiving end of rejections that are ill-conceived and thoughtless.  Your work is crap, these notes say, in whatever arguably neutral language they couch this in.  Your work made me vomit.  Go shovel walkways.  Go work at Goonies.  Just go away and please, please, please, and whatever you do, stop writing.

They aren’t actually that bad, and most of them aren’t bad at all.  But we feel like they are, right?

It may be that, in fact, our work is crap.  It happens to the best of us.  After 35 years at this, I still write reams of garbage, and, sometimes, I send it out.  But regardless of the status of my submissions, good or bad or in between, the stats for rejection/acceptance stay about 20-1.  Which means that I get one acceptance per couple dozen rejections.

Does being queer enter into that?  Of course it does.  Pieces aren’t judged only by merit.  Unless there’s a push for affirmative action at a magazine, an article/story/poem that is even tangentially about being queer is often overlooked.  Oh, we published a lesbian piece last month.  Not quite for our demographic.  A little too avant garde for us.

Do I care?  Yeah, a lot.  I hate homophobia, and at my age, it’s a tired old saw.  Go play with knives, already.  Get over yourselves and ask more of your readers.

But even so, if I send a piece out–no matter what kind of piece it is–for long enough, with enough diligence, it will eventually find its home, and that won’t be the bottom of the barrel, that’ll be at a magazine/journal/online site where I’ll be proud to publish and they’ll be proud to have you.

Most of being a writer is showing up, keeping at it, being persistent when the whole damned enterprise seems keyed to shutting you down.

Here’s what I know, though.  You can do one thing better than any other writer anywhere:  you can be yourself.

Authors might have talents and skills you don’t have, but you have talents and skills they don’t have, as well.  That’s the thing that strikes me over and over in this long-game:  No one can write like I do.  Often I whine and grumble about that–how I can’t stop being me for five minutes in order to write as brilliantly as, say, Eudora Welty–but really, ultimately, my uniqueness is a good thing.  In fact, in an over-crowded marketplace, it’s the sum total of what I’ve got.  My idiosyncracies?  Those are my only commodities in publishing-land.

Do I wish I had other styles, other skills, other talents?  Of course I do.  Absolutely I do.  If I could write like Arundhati Roy, or Karrie Higgins, or poetry like, say, Alice Anderson or Jane Hirschfield or Marilyn Hacker, or essays like Roxanne Gay, or one true sentence the way Ray Carver could, or a Lidia Yuknavich short chapter, I would die a perfectly fulfilled human being.  If I could turn a sentence like Rebecca Brown or Lorrie Moore or Mavis Gallant or Toni Morrison I would be incandescent.  But I can’t.  That’s them.  That’s their kick at the can.  It’s not supposed to be mine.

Mine is the bit I got.

And that’s a lucky thing.  Because if we all wrote like each other, reading would be a grim task indeed.

Your work is crap?  Make more crap.  Do it the Beckett way:  If you’re going to fail–and you are going to fail–fail better.

 

I have the pleasure of introducing you to The Consolation Prize by Mark Doten (Enthusing About Writing and Bitching About Publishing), a blog out of the beautiful Soho Press.  Today he is featuring an interview with Emily Gould, editorial director at 29th Street Publishing and co-owner of Emily Books, an online bookclub/bookstore.  I noticed them because they brought back one of my favourite writers, Rebecca Brown, whose work I kiss paragraph by paragraph (and we’ve read together, though for the life of me I can’t remember where).  Doten calls this the “best curated” bookclub around.  It’s very clear I could choose all my reading material just from their list and be completely content.  Emily Gould has a first novel, following a book of essays, due out from FSG in July.   All the necessary links are here in Mark’s article:

The Consolation Prize

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