MAKING THE WORK // How to take half a decade to get a story published
Write the story for an undergrad fiction workshop over the course of a few weeks. Submit the story. Try not to break workshop rules by talking about how the story is mostly true even though it’s written as fiction. Later, over beer, talk about it anyway.
Re-submit the story to another workshop because the fiction editor from Harper’s Magazine will be sitting in as a guest and it’s your best story to date. Not much about the story has changed, so it’s kind of cheating to re-submit it.
Your teacher says the story is done. You float the idea of revising it to be non-fiction instead.
If you go the non-fiction route, the fiction editor from Harper’s has some ideas for you. He gives you his card. Later, he emails you private contact information for other big magazine people. You gratefully read and re-read the email, marvelling at your luck, but don’t respond.
A. writes a sticky note that says “Email K.B.” to encourage you to write back and puts it on the calendar. The sticky note travels from page to page as the months go by.
You’re depressed by school, the 99 B-Line, and the constant rain. At the end of the year, apply to an MFA program across the country. Include the story in your portfolio. If they accept you into the program, you’ll get to skip the last year of your undergrad, which is why you've chosen it, even though you'd wanted to go to New York. It'd also mean you wouldn’t have to do Earth and Ocean Sciences again because you failed the course the first time.
When the new year arrives, the sticky note isn’t sticky anymore and doesn’t make it onto the new calendar.
On Valentine’s Day, get your acceptance letter from the MFA program. Think about the story again and how you should really send it somewhere. But where?
During the holidays, after you’ve moved across the country, when you and A. are squiffy from rummy eggnog, decide it'd be fun to record the story and put it on Facebook. Experiment with A.’s recorder. The quietest place for recording is the water closet off the kitchen, which somehow kills the vibe. You abandon the project.
Workshop the story a third time in your MFA class. That way you don’t have to write something new.
Send the story to your mentor who writes back from Poland where he’s attending a literary event. He says the story “is amazingly funny and heartbreaking and beautifully written” and calls you a “unique talent.” Repeat these lines around the house for the rest of the week as an excuse as to why you cannot do any cleaning.
Email the story to a new friend who you’ve been talking to about writing. He tells you he printed the story out and read it aloud to his co-workers on their lunch break.
Read the story aloud at your annual Christmas party when the same friend brings it up.
Decide that you’ll write another version of the story as an essay to be included in your book.
When your Tiger (one of your friends you’ve given a cool nickname to) asks if you have anything to send out, say, “Actually, I do.”
“So, send it,” she says.
And you do. You send the story to a national magazine (that’s named after a large, ornery marine mammal). The auto-responder says, “If you have not heard from us in six weeks, we would invite you to submit your work elsewhere.” Mark the six weeks on your calendar. Give up hope three days before the six weeks are up.
The day the six weeks are up, get a letter of acceptance. Act like an overcome rodent, squeaking and waving your hands in front of your eyes where the happy tears are.
The tentative publication date is December 2015. The pay will cover a whole month of your expenses, with several hundred left over.
READING // Summertime Swamp-Love by Patricia Young
I’ve never felt like sloths were kindred animals until Victoria-based poet Patricia Young opened an unhurried reading of her sloth poem by saying, “Sloths aren’t lazy, they just have slow metabolisms.”
The poem, called “Slothmidden,” is from P.Y.’s twelfth poetry collection, Summertime Swamp-Love (Palimpsest Press), which examines the mating habits of mammals, birds, fish, and insects, creating poems that read like “miniature wildlife docudramas.”
All of the poems are prefaced by scientific evidence, save one in which yours truly is quoted as saying, “I wanna be a bonoboooo.” (That was back when I was single and found out what randy little chimps they were.) Here’s the preface to the sloth poem:
“...a sloth midden is the one place in the forest
that another sloth could easily find a mate.”
—NISL, Ecological Informatics
For those of you new to the word “midden” (I was), it basically means “dung heap.”
And here’s the last stanza, from the point of view of a lady sloth:
Some say I’m one of the seven deadly sins.
Others, that I move with the grace
of a tai chi master. Me,
I say life is slow
and love even slower. I say
here comes my lover, dragging
hind legs along on the forest floor,
a shy smile on his face.
Bet you never thought of sloths that way before. And there’s so much more to discover about the bizarre (to us) sex lives of the animal kingdom—from lesbian albatrosses to amorous elephants—in this joyful poetic romp.
P.S. Just in case you’re worried about it, there is no snake poem. In her introduction P.Y. says, “Every now and then I’d return to YouTube videos of snake orgies in full swing, and, while I am not ophidiophobic, I found those writhing snake balls so repulsive that I could not continue.”
DOMESTIC ARTS // Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Cold, gloomy days require cheerful, kitchen-warming foods. Here’s a simple recipe for slow-roasted cherry tomatoes.
Start with a pint or more of cherry or grape tomatoes (rather silly, but apt, how another fruit is used to denote their shape). If you want to take a snap for social media, the multi-coloured ones are the hippest, but even the monotone ones contrast nicely with grey skies.
Pre-heat your oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut your toms in half crosswise and gently toss them with a shimmer* of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, and fresh-cracked pepper. You can add a splash of balsamic vinegar too if you want.
Now, spread ‘em out on a baking sheet (or two, depending on how many you’re doing) lined with parchment paper. Pop them in the oven and let them slowly roast for up to three hours. You want them to be shrivelled and dry with a little juice still left in the middle.
Use them right away, or save the pretty little flavour bombs for later—as a pasta picker upper, to go with eggs, in a grain salad, on toast, or pizza with fresh basil... whatever will make a party inside your mouth.
* From A.: "A shimmer... really?"