Thursday, November 17, 2011

I read that blog

The writing conference, the whole reason why I came to New York in the first place, was a giant, work affirming, connection making, ground breaking, tiny little Tiramisu gorging success. I met with agents, authors, editors and marketing directors. I scribbled down notes for eight hours straight, almost delirious from lack of sleep, sensory overload and the stunning amount of information being put forth. Also, I could drink as many mini-bottles of San Peligrino as I wanted and when they started to pile up at my table, someone would come and whisk them away.

In my normal life, I spend all day at my desk. I used to write in a coffee shop which added a shot of social interaction into my work week, but those days are over. I'd end up spending too much money, drinking too much caffeine, and as each hour passed I grew less productive, unbearably jittery and increasingly neurotic. ("Hey! Hey! Can you quiet down a little over there? I can hear you drinking!

I've since moved my office permanently into my bedroom where I can sit and work for days at a time. As a treat, I'll get up and fold laundry. Receiving an email from my editor is a momentous occasion. Conference calls with Soulpancake writers are delightful. If I know I'll be getting feedback about a story over email on Friday, I'll lay awake all Thursday night, wild with excitement. But most of the time, I just sit at my desk.

My work life, which is quickly encroaching on all other parts of my life, is a social desert. But the conference? The conference was a tropical retreat. I was in New York! At the Hilton! With a hundred other writers! And it was catered! There were trays and trays and trays of little tiny desserts. We were given bags full of books! And I wore a name tag!

Without question, the most valuable insight I learned was how well respected blog have become within the publishing field. Honestly, this was not what I was expecting to hear. I even straight out asked about it to a panel of Penguin agents: "How do I make my blog actually register with an agent? Because I'm sure you don't go home after a long day at work and peruse the Internet for blogs."

And then, and I've never been so excited to hear these words, the (intimidating, poker-faced, fancy-suit wearing) agent leaned forward and said into the mic, "You're wrong."

Across the table, heads nodded. "Actually, we get paid to look through blogs. And then we go home, and we look through more."

In that one reply, almost every disparaging remark I've made about blogging in the past three years was contradicted.

One of the most remarkable moments in my career occurred during lunch.

Lisa Stone, the co-founder and CEO of BlogHer, was on stage leading a discussion with Dominique Browning. Dominique is an author and publishing veteran: she was editor in Chief at House and Garden, an editor at Newsweek, and recently published a memoir called Slow Love. Both women were professional, accomplished and poised, with enough elegance and grace between them to give Meryl Streep a run for her money. 

After the interview, they took a few questions. I lunged for the microphone.

"What I really can't stand, when I mention that I write a blog,  is when people say wow, blogging sounds so self-centered! It's a pretty common response, and I have a hard time countering this, because on a certain level they're correct." I asked Dominique if she had an intelligent response to this type of negative comment.

Before Lisa passed over the mic, she paused. "Wait a minute. You write The Wilder Coast, right? I actually read that blog. I really like your blog. And if anyone gives you a hard time, just direct them to the essay you wrote about eating your power animal on your birthday. They will shut up."

I was stunned. BlogHer is huge. It's enormous. And Lisa is very high up in the publishing world. It knocked me off my feet that she read my work, even more so that she could single out a specific post. There were a hundred and fifty other writers in the room, along with the agents and the marketing directors and the editors, and they were all looking at me.   

Then Dominique then gave me a gorgeous reply about how this style of personal writing is following in a grand tradition that goes back to the beginning of books. Write what you know.  I wish I could be as eloquent as she was, but I cannot remember her exact words. Maybe if she reads this, she could leave a message and remind me, and all of us who write.

So I'm back at my desk now, in front of a very cold, leaking window and a picture of John Stewart from the cover of Rolling Stone magazine tacked to the wall. He's looking at me with that face he makes, incredulous, eyebrows raised, and every time I glance up I imagine he's saying "You better keep working, kid. You better work, right now." I have a copy of Dominique's book on top of a stack I keep at my desk, along with the memoirs of Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling. I read a few pages when I feel discouraged, and I remember being at that conference room with all the other people in my field, and I think about Lisa saying "Yeah....I read your blog. I really like your blog."

It's so simple. I just want to write things that people want to read.


Karie said...

Of course she does! Your blog is awesome, dude. You're an amazing writer. It makes me quite jealous.

Jeff in Oregon said...

I'll second what Karie said, like photographers who have an "eye" for art, you have a way with words that become art. I've been reading your work since we first met at the WFR class, and you've always kept my attention. I'm looking forward to the day when someone says "Hey, you ever heard of this writer?"... And I can say "yep, I actually took a class with her in Seattle......"

SJJ said...

Best blog I've ever read.

Candice said...

...and I knew Lina before she was famous. Cool by association ;)

Vanessa said...

If someone were to ask me why I read your blog...(note: I don't know you)...I wouldn't really have a succinct answer. I would probably mumble something along the lines of a bit ecclectic, fun style of writing, unique stories. I honestly don't know...I only read 4 blogs. But you are amazing! So keep up the awesome work. ;)

Nick Best said...

I'm already planning how I will tell people I know a famous writer, perhaps I will regal them with stories of ab celebrations on the SRK loading dock.

Tracy said...

That is wonderful!! And she's right - your post about the power animal was a great one!

Kerry said...

Fabulous. And deserved. And Sam loves you too.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations. That must have felt lovely. You deserve it. And yes, from one blogger to another, keep working. Just keep working.

ddawg said...

I don't think I can say I've been reading your online work from the beginning, but I was reading before there was The Wilder Coast and, however invalid, I lay claim to some deeper faithful fan because we have overlapping personal histories from our respective teen years. I especially looked forward to new posts on your fiction site, and briefly gave you a hard time for letting that outlet of yours go silent. I continued to enjoy your other outlet, the memoir writing, even if the form was more expository and what I had liked most about your fiction was the negative space – to gaps and openness in the story that I could fill with details of the rich context and personal motivations that you only suggested at with your specific sentences. I sensed that your life was entering sequential periods of change and uncertainty and in order to keep up, your memoir posts became less and less like the fiction that I had so enjoyed. I admit, I wandered away for long periods – allowing several or even dozens of posts to accumulate unread. Please don’t take this hard, for this next phrase overstates things a bit, but I lost interest.

I didn’t lose hope, though. I was no stranger to the fluctuations of life and since you were giving all of us such an honest portrayal of your own, with the brilliant color added by it being autobiographical, I could see that you were still headed towards something greater than where you were. I checked back in periodically and most recently I have been richly rewarded for that.

While still almost entirely populated with memoir writing, your posts have adopted a voice similar to what I missed from the fiction – there are gaps, negative space. The framework is still based on the unavoidable “this is what happened to me today” that defines a memoir, but as you takes us along, your writing points, gestures and hints at paths of thought beyond the recounting of events. Sometimes you eloquently highlight the obvious, like describing a defining moment receiving recognition from a prestigious panel member at a NY writers conference. Other times it’s a single sentence in a paragraph about waking up and chronically not knowing what time it is that suggests, like an inscrutable tracker from a monster movie, that here is a snapped twig, a tilt to the ferns that tells of something weighty beyond the treeline of your immediate story.

So keep writing. I want to read it.

SmithShack71 said...

This is really awesome and so are you.