May 25 is (almost) here!

My first novel comes out this month, in case you somehow missed that news. And I'm elated, thrilled, excited...but also terrified.

All the fears and doubts that I thought would vanish when I finally, finally, had a "real" book remain. Only double. And public. What if no one buys it? What if it gets bad reviews? Or no reviews? And the flip side: What if it does really well? What if it's brilliant but it was a fluke which I can't replicate?

Oh, I know. It's a good problem to have, like choosing between vanilla and chocolate--either way you're getting ice cream. I count my blessings every day. I'd much rather worry about this than my lack of book. So many of my friends are talented, hard-working writers who just haven't made a book deal. And that's a result of bad timing, not lack of skill.

The point I'm trying to make is this: We're never happy. Silly humans. We're striving, grunting, climbing animals. There's always another mountain, a bigger fish.

That's why I love zombies. They know what they want (BRAINS!) and when they get it, they're content. At peace. Unworried. Zombies are Zen masters. We can all learn from our undead friends. Savor the brain in your hand.
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Can MFAs write good books?

I've never blogged about another blog post before--but I've been thinking about this one all week. It's the post about MFA programs over at Editorial Anonymous (one of my favorite blogs).

Basically, EA said that having an MFA doesn't make you a good writer--but more importantly, an MFA won't make you write books for which you'll get paid.

The comments section is full of people either defending or deriding MFA programs--but EA's not talking about the MFA. She's talking about publishing--and the chances of an MFA grad writing something that a wide audience wants to read. She's talking about money.

On that score, EA's right. Lots of MFA graduates are writing for other writers and academics, other MFAs. And she's right that those books won't get published by big presses. Because they won't make money.

But there is an audience for experimental and L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets, for slice-of-life quiet short stories, for surreal flash fiction, for novels that are long on words and short on plot.

I just returned from the AWP conference where there were literally hundreds of small and university presses whose missions are to publish writers whose books will never be picked up by Random House and turned into HBO series.

But they don't care! Small presses don't offer five or four figure advances. Hell, the author would be lucky to get three figures, and usually, the writer takes a percentage of sales and that's it. And that's okay with them. Because they're not writing for the big score. They are teachers, mainly, and they write what interests them.

Allow me one example: one of my favorite small presses is Slack Buddha. I visited their table at AWP and came across my new favorite chapbook: Sonnagrams. Each Sonnagram is an anagram of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The sonnets are in iambic pentameter with the ABAB rhyme scheme, but there are some wack-ass contemporary references involving Ben Stiller's feet. It's hilarious and you can read a sample here.

Anyway, the point is that Sonnagrams is never gonna win the Pulitzer. It's not for everyone. It's not gonna get published by a big New York house. But I loved it! And it's a book, by gum. An honest-to-god book.

Three cheers for the small press! Keep the flame alive.

PS: Another of EA's points was this: If your work has a limited audience, like Sonnagrams, don't even bother with an agent. Find your audience, write what you love, and they will love you back.
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When worlds collide: meeting the other Robin Becker

This weekend was the AWP conference. That's the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and as far as conferences go, it's a decadent one. Lots of writers equals lots of drinking. There are struggling students, mid-career writers, small press all-stars and some big names. Plus there are readings and panels on writing, teaching writing, and publishing.

This year was extra special because I finally met the other Robin Becker.

I was working the Exquisite Corpse table, reeling in writers and their 10 sweaty dollars, when behind me a voice said, "I'm Robin Becker."

And I was like, "No way, I'm Robin Becker."

I rushed over and introduced myself. I've wanted to meet Robin Becker for years. I am a fan of her poetry as well as her name and I'm happy to report that Robin Becker the person is as charming and beautiful as her work. A gracious woman. And best of all, we both love being Robin Becker.

My pal David Gessner said that we're the same person. He theorized that the poet Robin Becker was from the future, coming back to the past to tell me something or to help guide our career.

I like that idea. Because I would love to grow up to be the poet Robin Becker. She rocks--and I do see a resemblance.

But here's the best part: At the end of the conference, I heard from a mutual friend that people were asking Robin Becker, the esteemed poet, about her new zombie novel!
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Make Faulkner County Wet

I live in Faulkner County, Arkansas. And it's dry here. Not dry as in it doesn't rain. It rains plenty. It's dry as in no alcohol. It's a Baptist-stronghold, Bible-belt, alcohol-free zone. You'd think with the name Faulkner--great southern writer who loved his booze--we'd be swimming in bourbon. Not so.

Because Faulkner county isn't named after William Faulkner. And it's not entirely dry either. It's moist. And that's a lot less sexy than it sounds. Moist means you can buy booze at restaurants that call themselves "private clubs," but you can't go to a flat-out bar and you can't buy any package alcohol at the supermarket or convenience store. To buy a six pack or a bottle of wine for at-home consumption, we have to drive to the next county.

And that's just wrong, not to mention un-American. So I am on a mission to make Faulkner County wet! And the first step in any political fight is a folk song. A protest folk song that galvanizes the movement.

Lucky for me, I didn't have to write one. My bandmate Julee did. We're going to start the revolution, one cocktail at a time. Get wet, Faulkner County. Get wet.
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who's your dada?

Badass poet Davis Schneiderman was here this week. He is such a post-modernist that when he deconstructs books, he literally deconstructs them, as in tears them apart, as in takes a saw to them. He's a literalist that way. He also boils books and calls them...cookbooks. All in all, he's pretty rad.

I unlearned a lot from Davis's visit:

Words belong to everyone! You can take your favorite novel, rearrange the words, and make a whole new text. And it doesn't have to make sense because it's the reader's responsibility to construct meaning.

Authorial intent is sooo 19th century.

Words want to be free, but sometimes they are expensive.

The Spruce Goose is afraid of the dark.

Weird Al has to ask permission for his parodies, because he makes money off of them.

Sometimes, the reader eats the writer, even though writers aren't very tasty.

Davis has 99 problems, but writing poetry ain't one.

During his reading, Davis clipped a rope to his belt and let the audience do whatever we wanted. Because his words belong to us! Therefore, he does too. We discovered that, unlike most writers, Davis is delicious.

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Brains on sale now!

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