I have been asked to present two workshops at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference on October 24-26, 2014.
Check out the schedule here. This year they have assembled a great group of presenters like Renda Dodge of Pink Fish Press, Susan Wingate, Robert Dugoni and my own Katherine Sears of Booktrope who I first met at the 2011 conference!
When I talk to people about conferences, Whidbey is at the top of the list every time. It is small enough to allow everyone a chance to mingle with the speakers and teachers, and it is well focused on craft and artistic purpose. And...what may be most important: the scenery is hard to beat.
The first year I attended I sat in on an intimate workshop with one author who was then on the NYT bestseller list, an editor and local author Terry Persun. The way Terry talked about his work, his vision and why he does what he does has stuck with me. This year we will present a workshop together.
Jennifer Munro--most excellent author, editor and teacher--will also be presenting and I highly recommend her workshops (one of them is with me!). I watched her engage a large class in Edmonds with a presentation on comic writing that I still talk about whenever I am asked for names to present at conferences.
What a gift it is to be able to work with two people that I admire and appreciate as much as I do these two.
I hope to see you up there!
I am reposting the launch videos in honor of the first anniversary of Sex and Death as a real-live-book-in-the-world-with-pages-and-everything.
In honor of this occasion I am going to do it up by hitting the Editor's Guild Pot Luck.
For the rest of you who I am offering this: for each new review that goes up on Amazon, I promise to send you your very own link to the Nelson video of your choice.
To my readers: I love you all, thanks for indulging me.
To my editors and mentors, supporters and publishers: I wouldn't be here without you.
To my hubby: I am sorry I forgot to mention you from the podium. It gets hard to remember everything when there are a hundred pairs of eyes on you. How about this instead?
I love you guys. MWAH.
Links to videos are mixed with text below. Scroll down to find the highlighted phrases that will take you to the videos that might interest you. Have fun!
The launch for Sex and Death in the American Novel was held at Benaroya Hall, Saturday September 8, 2012. In addition to the readings and short speeches, Maureen O’Donnell worked up an original tribal belly dance number to “Deformography,” by Marilyn Manson. I also had Michelle Badion, my first dance instructor perform two numbers with her partner Koa Hons.
After the formal program, people continued to mingle, I signed a few more books, then we danced to everything from “Suavemente,” by Elvis Crespo to “Rough Sex,” by Lords of Acid.
It was glorious. I could not have asked for a more fun bunch to share the evening with.
I want to thank everyone who attended. You brought much appreciated enthusiasm about my book, excitement for the event and an open mind regarding my topics and musical influences. You guys really did make this night for me. Thank you so much.
Through this post, and the video links, I hope to lay out how the evening went so you may pick and choose what you might want to look at.
The lighting for one of the dance numbers was less than ideal for camera, but was wonderful for the live audience. My apologies in advance.
At 6:30 I signed books outside the Founder’s Room while people mingled inside. Here is a short compilation that also includes bits from Maureen’s dance if you just want something quick. This piece doesn’t include any of the speeches or reading and doesn’t show as much of the tango sections.
At 7:15 Michelle and Koa danced their first number while people gathered for the formal part of the program.
Next, Maureen performed to “Deformography.” I can’t tell you how incredible it was to watch someone who already represented the spirit of my character Vivianna perform to music that represents so much about what it means to be an artist. The weirdo in me was finally given a visual representation and it was more exciting than I ever imagined.
Katherine Sears, Booktrope CMO introduced me and I spoke, both are on this clip.
I missed a critical part in my speech where I was supposed to thank my husband for all the things he does that make this writing life possible. Amazing what you forget when you’re up there with all those eyes on you.
Michelle and Koa danced to “Oblivion,” by Astor Piazzolla.
I read from the first page and then skipped over to the part that takes place at Benaroya Hall.
Maureen ended the formal portion of the night.
After downing a bag of corn nuts*, a small but dedicated group of us left the Hall a little before midnight and headed over to Neighbours, a location that features prominently in the book.
Taking this picture was fun**, but it was also incredibly important to me that on the night of my book launch, both the Ladies and the dancers were out. To pay homage to Vivi's spirit, there was no better way to celebrate.
Afterward, as in the book, we hit 13 Coins.
It was so much fun to see all the places I featured in the book and show my editor Katie Flanagan exactly where certain events took place.
Two attendees were kind enough to post their thoughts on the launch and the book.
Tamsen Schultz: I especially appreciated her interpretation of my comments on music.
Isla Mcketta: Love the thoughts on the artistic sensibility as well as the more removed interpretation of the event.
*The launch preparation and execution were more work than my wedding! On launch day I didn't eat or drink anything after the lunch the Gene Juarez ladies treated me to in the early afternoon. I signed, spoke, and danced my ass off (hairpins were flying, baby!) until midnight. At 12:30 am when we loaded up the minivan I was ready to chew the leather off the seats. I was not, however, willing to slow down long enough to hit a restaurant. Neighbours is only open until 4. Thank the good lord for Corn Nuts.
** Do I or do I not have the most understanding and supportive husband in the world? I do. I do. I do.
After the twenty-four-year-old in California who wouldn’t stop when I moved his hands and pretended I was asleep, I gave in and justified it because my ass was the only thing I could trade for a place to stay; after I did use that word when he suggested renting me out to the Mexicans—it would be safe, he said, someone would be standing outside the door with a machete; after that thirty-year-old guy in brown polyester pants left my friend on the side of the road because she was throwing up and I did nothing; after running away before his hairy arms dragged me back to the blue El Dorado with the white top; after knowing there were nice guys and still choosing to run around with ones who weren’t; after the night on that smelly boat when they took turns on two girls--one fourteen, one twelve; after the ones who said they loved me but still couldn’t listen; after the nights drinking when I just didn’t care what happened; after the guy from the salsa bar when I was 26, the one my roommate asked me not to bring over because he scared her, the one who said nobody loved him and I knew it would make him angry but I didn’t respond, but I did say that word while I pushed him away--softly, so as not to make it worse--and knew it was my fault when he did it; after several years and a man who said he loved me; after learning that I could speak and be heard…sometimes; after watching The Accused five times in a row; after two kids and eleven years and knowing I am too old for simpish bullshit, I still don’t know how to use this word, and I hate myself for it.
I pity the poet or novelist in this age of mass media, but my envy is frank and unconcealed for the musician, who is able to affect the audience with such emotional directness, a pre-rational manipulation of the nerves.
--Camille Paglia, “Sexual Personae: The Cancelled Preface”
“Nessun Dorma” from Turandot, Giaccomo Puccini
“Leper Messiah” Metallica
“O Foruna,” from Carmina Burana, Carl Orff
“The Mission” from The Mission, Ennio Morricone
“Kashmir” Led Zeppelin
“Dream On” Aerosmith
“The Boxer” Simon & Garfunkel
“Broken Crown” Mumford and Sons
“Rex Tremendae” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Wasted Years” Iron Maiden
“Fifth Movement: Dream of a Witches' Sabbath” from Symphonie Fantastique, Hector Berlioz
“Hells Bells” AC/DC
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” Metallica
“Regnava Nel Silenzio” from Lucia di Lammermoor, Gaetano Donizetti
“Opening” from Glassworks, Philip Glass
“Crystal Voice” Tangerine Dream
“Stairway to Heaven” Led Zeppelin
This playlist is posted on Spotify!
My July appearance on Soul Signal Radio was moved up to last night due to scheduling conflicts. There is an echo on my voice for the first few minutes but then it goes away.
The host, Leta Hamiliton, continued to bring me around to why I am compelled to write about the topics I do and wrangled me back to the topic of spirituality when I got too far off track.
This was a fun show and I hope you enjoy. Listen here.
Jessica Karbowiak is an author I know through working with Pink Fish Press. I am happy for the fact that I had no say in publication decisions or the editorial process, nor do I have any financial stake in whether or not this book does well. I am really really grateful for this because I feel like everything I say about the book is at the same level as what I say about Marco Vassi or Erica Jong.
In addition to my admiration for the writing and decisions the author made about how to structure these narratives (something I find separates the books I like from the ones I rave about), I loved this book because it did something I have struggled to do for years, and that is to handle—but in a new and novel way—personal topics that as Jessica herself mentions, have been done to death. A couple of days ago I posted a book review on my blog. Now through Saturday April 27th, you can download the e-book for free on Amazon.
SM: This was a beautiful and unique book. What gave you the idea to mix in real events with stories featuring such different women as Ilse Koch (The Bitch of Buchenwald) and Saartjie Baartman? Did you use any models for the structure?
JK: When I started the collection, it read much like the old-school ‘navel-gazing’ of the Romantic period—that is, the whole first section dealt with my own traumas, my own losses. When I think of the first section, I think of that part in Catcher when Holden Caulfield is sitting at the bar and gets really drunk. Salinger writes:
I was the only guy at the bar with a bullet in their guts. I kept putting my hand under my jacket, on my stomach and all, to keep the blood from dripping all over the place. I didn’t want anybody to know I was even wounded. I was concealing the fact that I was wounded sonuvabitch (195).
I wanted the arc or shape of the whole work to move away from the madness and isolation that trauma often causes. I wanted to move away from The Concealment, and have the work flow much like the cover illustration flows—from the personal ever-outward into some sort of holistic spiritual place. Moving beyond myself and my small hurts into the larger world. This was so important to me, and why I chose to shape the collection the way it is including the creative nonfiction accounts of famous people who have suffered back to my own, hopefully more informed, little life in section three. No formal models but my own weird movement, in writing and in life.
SM: The reviews on Amazon are all very positive. Two stories in this collection were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. What a great validation before the book ever came out. Since its publication, what type of feedback have you received from readers?
JK: Due to the lack of an agent and advertising know-how, the book has had little critical reception. This often makes me sad—and let me clarify, not really from a bloated ego—just that I do think it’s a weird, sharp little book. I wish it could reach more people. But still, I am grateful to have it out there. To move on to the next project. I feel like for me, if Renda Dodge and Pink Fish Press hadn’t published this work, I would be paralyzed and still in that place of trying to write out this overall narrative. That can happen.
SM: You open These Things I Know with the account of your rape. I appreciated your including the details that you did, especially the ones where you watch yourself from years later, judging the decisions you made. Much of that felt very familiar to me. In my own work I am only able to get events like these down in fiction, removing myself from them in that way, but also being able to see them more clearly for the distance. How long after it happened did you feel you were ready to write about this in any form?
JK: I wrote snippets about the topic of rape for years without any clarity or insight—I believe I was still in the middle of things, so to speak. It took a long while, years even, to be able to write about trauma in a way I thought spoke to the trauma. Like sort of trying to marry form and content in my own way.
SM: Had you talked to other women or read many other accounts before you wrote yours down?
JK: I’ve read lots of Survivor Tales over the years. They never speak to me. Like that quote from one of Joy Williams’ novels—one of her characters says something that speaks to this: “’I’m a survivor,’ she said. ‘People dismiss me as a survivor.’”
SM: I completely agree, it seems like once people slap a label on someone; victim, survivor, whatever, it makes it so much easier to discount what they say. These words come with so much baggage already.
JK: I think this is where the danger is writing about The Big Things—people can easily dismiss you as writer. I’ve been told that these topics are so potent that writers can bring little to them that isn’t already done or there. My favorite eloquent response is Bullshit. Every writer I have ever admired writes about the big things, maybe through the small things, but yeah, it’s still there. That’s what writing is.
SM: Exactly. A post I put up a few weeks ago where I reflected on what both Junot Diaz and Chris Abani do with material like this proves your point. It seems that the actual events are not really all that important, but more how they affect us and what we do with them that matters. This is why I was so impressed with what you did in this book. It was so mature, and magical. It made me think I could look at the events of my life and use them to make something that will matter as well.
SM: Who do you admire the most among writers and other artists?
JK: I’m a Salinger fanatic—mostly his stories and novellas. I love William Gay’s stories. Junot Diaz is a more contemporary favorite.
SM: Did I tell you that I got to meet him? This never gets old! I doubt any other experience will top that. He is one of my favorites and I’ve used him as sort of a virtual mentor more times than I can count. He gives incredible talks for young writers and is always reminding me to pay attention to what is going on in the world. I didn’t know we had this in common!
JK: I also love magical realism like in Marquez and Bombal—I can thank a UT-Austin professor, Pete LaSalle, for that. I love Borges and George Saunders. I recently got turned onto a Michigan poet, Robert Fanning. I dig his stuff. I don’t have any parameters—anything that tells a narrative in a way I can follow and appreciate. I love poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Not a real fan of plays, though.
SM: I am a writer and an editor; I know how much gets removed at the editing stage. Were there any topics that did not make it into the book and if so, what were these?
JK: There was one snippet of an essay about my hearing that got cut out for clarity’s sake; the fact that I was born 60%-80% deaf and had to have an operation as a child which in turn led to Super Sonic Hearing. It clouded the narrative’s purpose so my editor proposed either elaboration or omission. Omission made sense. Also, a narrative I wrote called “Lady of The Waves” got cut—it was about the 1900 Galveston storm in Texas and an orphanage. It didn’t really fit.
SM: The cover artwork is striking. Can you tell me some about the image?
JK: The image on the cover was illustrated by my brother, Matt Karbowiak. He is a carpenter by trade, but initially went to school for his BA in Illustration at The University of Hartford. He did all the illustrations throughout. He’s wicked good though he forgets to remember this sometimes. It was a great collaborative experience. I wanted the cover to show what I spoke about in terms of the shape of the collection itself—the rugged and beautiful terrain of moving outside of oneself. I definitely think of it as a flowering of some sort, so that’s where he got the idea for a weird cocoon-ish woman.
SM: Your use of language is one reason I will read this book again, hoping to absorb something I can use to make me a better writer. I loved the way you worked so much hope in—especially at the last page. I am eager to know about anything new you are working on and when you will have that out.
JK: Hope is essential for me; I don’t feed off it or live by it desperately. Most people who know me well think of me as cynical in relation to how people can behave, how we choose to treat one another.
However, hope becomes, well hopeful and not a crutch through beautiful things in my life like my students, my animals, my teaching and my art. These are the aspects of my life that never betray me. So different from lovers, friends, family, myself. I don’t know. Then getting beyond heartbreak becomes an experience leading to wisdom and can be eased by these things, rather than the idea of hope erasing pain. That doesn’t happen.
I’m percolating new ideas this year and moving beyond this first collection. It is taking longer than I expected it to. I’m not sure why this is—perhaps because the reception was small and people I thought would champion me chose not to, and some people who I didn’t know well became dear friends and confidantes by receiving my voice and work with loving-kindness. Weird how that can happen sometimes.
SM: As I spend more and more time working on essays and my next novel, I find it more difficult to balance promotion work with creative work. It is hard for me to switch from the introspective contemplative space to the outgoing personality I need for be for promotion. Since you are a writer I admire, and you are juggling career, work and promotion, do you have any words of advice?
JK: No advice. I am horrible at promotion. In some essential way, I feel like it is bullshit writers of small presses and books have to go through so many hoops to be heard or appreciated. I have no delusions of grandeur; however, I bristle at the whole carnival atmosphere—like running in circles it feels like sometimes. I take part when I can—I have a Facebook page (mainly devoted to my dogs), and I’m on Amazon, Goodreads, and a few other places. I put my book out there for some small awards and hope it gets noticed. I’m not holding my breath.
I mostly rely on the kindness of people like you, Sarah (!), my editor and friend Katie Flanagan, and readers who end up claiming me. I claim them right goddamn back. Everything else falls away. I’m not going to give up my day job—I wouldn’t want to—but we don’t live in an atmosphere where I could if I wanted to anyhow. I’m a small fish.
SM: Where can we see or hear more from you, I am speaking here mostly about how readers can get in touch with you and learn about your next steps.
JK: I mostly show up online this year. Google me if you like me. Write me on Facebook. I love hearing from people. They tell me their own stories. I value them and honor them in my own small way, I hope. One awesome aspect of being a small fish is you are relatable to people, not anyone they cannot reach out to speak with or become part of their writing experience. Because of this, I don’t mind staying a little fish forever.
To prepare you all for my interview with the author and the e-book going free on Amazon Friday and Saturday, I am posting my review to get you good and ready.
Note the front cover...the original and haunting image...note the blurb by Phil Jourdan (LitReactor co-founder who recently spoke at Oxford on memoir writing)...note that the author along with one of the stories in this book was nominated for a Pushcart Prize!
For all of you who have been discussing writing projects with me, this is one to study for an example of what can be achieved when you do your own thing. You will also find the glorious vision of something that is always near and dear to my heart: a book that doesn't fit. Is this a short story collection or creative non-fiction...is it, could it be...both? For all of you who have recently attended a writing conference populated with agents and editors telling you what sells, this is why you go with a small press.
This is the kind of book I read at least twice. Once for story, a second time to savor the language and as a writer I will go back a third time for study. These words make me want to be a better writer, a stronger woman, and a more compassionate human. The details in this book are so intense, the images, settings and situations are so vivid, they still pop into my head at odd times.
To read this book is to be shown, in a novel and interesting way, what it feels like to be in a fleshy, fragile, finite human body.
The poetic lines stayed with me even after I put the book down. The author's observations were both universal and familiar and for this I am grateful. When I find my own thoughts echoed in the words of another person I know that I am not alone.
Scenes in this book call up images that are either beautiful or terrifying and for the places where they are both, you know you are dealing with an Artist.
Life changingly good books come along so rarely, this is one is a real gift.
Tell your friends, book groups, doctors, veterinarians, local booksellers and libraries then please return for the interview with the author tomorrow.