How To Handle a Rejection Letter

Playlist:

“Every Day I Write the Book” Elvis Costello

“Sister I’m a Poet” Morrissey

“Here’s Where The Story Ends” The Sundays

Last night, I got a rejection letter from an agent I had queried about No Awkward Goodbyes well over a year ago, saying that while I had the chops, the novel was “too backstory and voice-heavy for me.”

That’s funny, of course, because three weeks ago, my agent, the brilliant and charming Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich, sold No Awkward Goodbyes to Chelsey Emmelhainz at William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins, for release in early 2016.

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How To Murder Your Friends

PLAYLIST:

“Street of Dreams” Blackmore’s Night

“If I Ever Leave This World Alive” Flogging Molly

“Searching for a Heart” Warren Zevon

Relax — this isn’t an instruction manual

My story “How To Murder Your Friends” was selected as the winner of the Stoneslide Snap Contest, netting me literary fame and a free pass to AWP.  I love the Stoneslide Corrective and apparently they love me; my story “The Redemption of Oren Barry” (among my favorite stories I’ve ever written) was an honorable mention in their most recent short fiction contest.

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What Power Is…

PLAYLIST:

“Bump In the Night” AllStars

“Pet Cemetery” The Ramones

“Dead Man’s Party” Oingo Boingo

“Halloween” Siouxsie and the Banshees

Anyone who knows me knows that Halloween is kind of my jam.  In college I threw Halloween parties in the Oneida Hall 4 A-L lounge that were the social event of the season.  Now that I’m a grown-ass lady, I use Halloween as a chance to win prizes and internet fame (We’re #10 and #2).  Hell, last year, my fiance proposed to me in the middle of our town’s Halloween parade.  

goon-franky1This year, Ian and I are going as The Goon and Franky from Eric Powell’s awesome comic The Goon, because we have a very unique concept of the “couple’s costume.”  It was my idea, because I wanted something easy, something I could move/dance in, and something that cool people (like Trace Beaulieu!!!) would recognize, but wouldn’t get us swamped with requests for photos, like with our Maitlands and Alien costumes.  Also, I have a deep, possibly unhealthy affection for Franky (it’s a natural progression of my love for Shane Vendrell) but what can I say? I’ve got a soft spot for the sidekick.

Not pictured: The frantic beating of my nerdy heart

Not pictured: The frantic beating of my nerdy heart

But when I put on that costume, something weird happens….

FrankyBy nature, I am a pretty likable person.  I’m funny and I’m cheerful and I don’t like conflict and don’t go out of my way to be an asshole. But when I put on that hat, my Id, the razor blade under the tongue of my soul, takes over. I move differently.  I make faces different from my normal range of emotional expression.  And suddenly, I feel like I can do whatever I want.  It’s a fantastic and terrible power, this costume.

And it then becomes this fight between Libby and Franky to not, say, stab a Ghostbuster who was being a broseph to my friend Corey at a horror film convention. (Ian made me a “switchblade” with silver tape and a comb).  At her most badass, Libby might throw some shade in Ghostbro’s direction when he’s looking at her so that he knows she doesn’t think he’s so hot, in fact, he’s kind of dumb looking and takes his stupid hobby to idiotic extremes.  (Libby won that round…for now)

But Franky? Well, Franky’s a different story.  Franky’s unhinged.  Franky is going to get a beer instead of a Dr. Pepper and then Franky is going to compliment how good the waist-cincher on your pirate costume makes your boobs look, because Franky has no filter or decorum.  Franky is not going to tolerate it when drunk skanks try to hit on The Goon and may resort to violence*.  Franky would love to play Cards Against Humanity, but you’d better bring your A-Game; Franky isn’t going to tolerate your faux-edgy Dane Cook bullshit and will be happy to grin and tell you that your cards are neither funny nor clever, because Franky plays dark and mean and you should too.

...so then Charlie Noodles -- he's good people -- he plays the "dead babies" card, and I beat him to death with a crowbar! That's what makes it so funny!

…so then Charlie Noodles — he’s good people — he plays the “dead babies” card, and I beat him to death with a crowbar! That’s what makes it so funny!

Franky throws her clothes on the floor instead of the hamper. Franky doesn’t do the dishes before bed.  Franky doesn’t wake up at 7 a.m. to work on her novel, and Franky doesn’t think twice about making breakfast out of three tacos, Cuban espresso and the last fun-sized Milky Way that The Goon hid in the the back of the cupboard.

When Halloween/convention season is over, I’m going to really miss being Franky…but somehow, I don’t think anyone else will.

...Especially Not the Slackjaws!

…Especially Not the Slackjaws!

*Ripley-Libby did once resorted to physical threats; I slapped a drunk Slutty Cop’s hand away when she grabbed Ian’s Alien costume (DO NOT EVER DO THIS, EVER), and I screamed, in character, Get your hands off him, you bitch!   She quickly realized I was probably crazy and took off with the rest of her horde.  It was one of my prouder moments.

How To Map Blind

PLAYLIST FOR THIS POST:

“Death To My Hometown” Bruce Springsteen

“Back on the Chain Gang” The Pretenders

“Winter Song” The Crash Test Dummies

“I Were What” Sinister Yu

Let’s talk about setting.

The other night my friend Jim tweeted that our old Binghamton University dorms, College in the Woods, were being slated for heavy renovations and upgades.  Cayuga, where no one I knew lived, is up first, and the rest of CIW will follow shortly.  Binghamton University has been undergoing a ton of renovations to make the dorms more like “apartments” and less like “prison cells” in a continuing effort to lure potential students/indentured servants.  (I say this as a proud Binghamton alumni; those cinder-block dorms made me the person I am today)

CIW is important to me because it’s where I made the majority of the friends I still have today, where I threw my best parties and where I really began honing my craft.  I lived in Oneida 4D my entire time on campus, with the same roommate (Allie) until she moved out my senior year.  I can remember the placement of posters on the wall, the way my desk chair felt, the arrangement of the furniture in the Triangulon (where Eeon, Jim and Pete lived) next door, the exact degrees each knob in the shower had to be turned so you didn’t freeze or scald yourself to death.  In a few years, perhaps, none of that will physically exist in any layout I could map blind.  I’ve never lived someplace where I’d never again have the chance to walk the floors.

*

Setting has never been one of my strengths, and anyone who’s ever been in a writing workshop with me will admit this.  It’s usually something I go back and add in later, but in a first draft, the majority of my action takes place in a black box with the curtains and the view added later.

Part of No Awkward Goodbyes takes place in Binghamton, specifically, the Belmar Bar, which is a little townie dive on Main Street, off the main college drag.   In the book, it’s where Jett confronts the mysterious GPS, and I have transcribed it exactly as I remember it: Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs on the jukebox, a pull-knob cigarette machine of Pall Malls and Lucky Strikes, smokers in the parking lot.  That setting came easily to me because, hey, write what you know.

You don’t know how sweet water can taste until you’re dying of thirst.  The other day my friend Chuck sent me a piece he was working on, and he started by describing the character’s alarm clock, her bedroom, her makeup ritual.  If I was writing that same scene, I would have ignored all those details, because my idiot mind would have thought “everyone knows what waking up is like, get on with the story!” but the way he worded it felt like water–simple, and yet, so essential to the character’s existence.  No airs, just simple, stark, well-paced prose.  I was seized with both jealousy and awe, and vowed to do better.  Bad writers seeth.  Good writers learn.

I doubt the Belmar still has the pull-knob cigarette machine.  Maybe they don’t have Tom Waits on the jukebox, maybe the place has been taken over by college students, I don’t know and it isn’t important. But what’s important is that Jett and GPL — and therefor, the reader — feel comfortable there, that they have a space to exist.  It’s a lesson I’m going to have to learn again and again.  But I need to learn to write spaces my characters can map blind.  One step, one clock, one pack of smokes at a time.