MacArthur Genius Grants versus the Avocado Trees

We are surrounded by MacArthurs. The trees tower above the house, their limbs thick and old, the fruit monstrous and melon-sized. We are both writers, my wife and I, and the recipients of the bounty of the MacArthur avocado trees’ crop that most often falls from the trees and crashes to earth, much as our hopes for procuring an agent, an advance, a publishing contract, crash to the ground so often. There shall be no genius grant in our house this year, nor next most likely, unless our daughter comes home from “baby” school with good news. Instead, we write our stories, our poems, make jam (in my wife’s case), paint (her’s too), and generally get on with the obscurity of living the creative life in a world where such choices often go unrewarded. Still, $625K over five years wouldn’t go down the wrong way, and I’m certain the MacArthur award is more welcome in most creative households than the sad avocado that bears the same name. Since the advent of the Hass avocado, the poor old MacArthur has suffered stumping and grafting to produce trees that now sprout the popular Hass variety so popular with the North American market. We refuse to chop our trees down to graft Hass cuttings onto the stumps; preferring the shade of the stately old MacArthurs to their more lucrative cousins. Hell, the Macs sell out at the farmers’ market when we bring them, retaining as they do somewhat of a sensibility of the heirloom varietal.  We shall envy the genius grant recipients their good fortune whilst we bask in the shade of the avocado trees sipping our drinks and getting on with our writing.


More Lessons I Learned from my Breadloaf Rejections

  • Seeds are not what make jalapenos spicy
  • Don’t tell people where you’re sending your work
  • The earth in Vermont is not “sacred” like New Mexico’s, except perhaps to descendants of the Abenaki Native Americans (thanks GG)
  • There’s a barn owl buried in our garden
  • The rate of falling bodies does not discriminate
  • The blood orange tree is coming back to life after a heavy pruning
  • Care givers are not necessarily decent people
  • Social media is an unnecessary evil
  • The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live
  • Most press emails receive no replies
  • Dust collects on the Tarot deck

Progress Report

The launch is in twelve days, and I’m busy writing notes in all the pre-sales, and inking a little surprise addition for those who bought early. It’s humbling to know so many kind souls paid good money for my book, and pretty overwhelming, too. I’m hoping to get the books in the mail by Wednesday, so with a bit of luck people will have them by launch day. I don’t have “that” many to sign, but recall a picture of 2000 copies of Matt Bell’s books waiting for his signature, and understand how cramped his hand must’ve been! Not that he’s complaining, probably.

Night now. Moon and stars. Fall arrived with cooler mornings and evenings. Birthday parties. Old friends and new. Small towns. The nearby dogs are barking like crazy and the faint scent of illegal substance is floating in the window from a neighbor’s place. Things that matter always matter: family, friends, time for creativity, fulfillment, good coffee, books. Always need to remind myself how great a life we have here on the avocado ranch. Sometimes I lose the run of myself and descend into moribund thoughts.

The novel is not forgotten. I’ve split the chapters and sections into separate parts on Scrivener and have begun to make the additions necessary to bring the narrative to a satisfactory conclusion. Sometimes I wish I could sell out and write the straightforward three-act story that the market bears, but that’s not the writer I have become, and that’s not the writing that calls to me when I sit down to write. Instead, I write what I must, whatever the images are that come out of my head, and put them down as best I can. The cliche is that “We’re all doing the best we can,” but that’s not actually true. Sometimes, we don’t do the best we can, and there’s no harm in admitting this fact. Persevere. Write. Rewrite.

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Getting Closer all the Time

Two weeks out. UPS tracking says books are out for delivery, or should that read “devilry”? Three boxes to be split between pre-orders and those for the launch at the Curious Cup bookstore. Each pre-order needs a message written in there for the buyer. Some of the names are familiar ones, friends and family, and writing folk I’ve shared the pages of a publication with, and some are unknown to me, and that’s astounding to me; that someone I don’t know has read some of my work and decided to buy my book.

This week, I was over the moon to see a short prose piece, Cold Circumstance, featured at The Bohemyth Literary Journal, based back home in Ireland. I’ve also got a short one, Intifada, at one of the best new places out there, the amazing Cease Cows. So, my cup runneth over, as they say, or used to say!

I keep writing—despite the need to edit the novel—and submitting short pieces of fiction to different places, places that have rejected my writing in the past, places where I know the fit is not right, but I send it out anyway. Masochistic. Better to choose the audience with a bit more care, tailored to my style, perhaps.

I’ve a couple of mail only submissions to send out in the next month, to journals where the fiction I create would be a good fit. It’s interesting how reading the submissions for Literary Orphans brings responses from me, snarky sometimes, to other people’s work. I find this process gives me more tolerance for the places that reject me, knowing the process, the slew of submissions to be gotten through, and that the process is so arbitrary, on any given day.
Moon, harvest, big and orange, the plump spiders sit in their webbed trampolines, caught in relief. These early days of fall are more summer-like than most Irish summer days , by far. The last few days the morning fog has crept back in to the coast and the marshland by the campus where I work is eerie and the mist floats low over the water. Geese in formation honk their way across the sky, over the lights of the soccer stadium, bound for an early feeding ground. I’m attuned to the natural world about me despite the fact I walked right over a small snake whilst walking the dog the other day. She, the dog, leaped high and avoided the creature. No flies on that cattle dog.

Being a writer involves great silences. Monastery quiet, the time between submission and either rejection or acceptance. The same holds for this fallow time between the finished book and the day it launches. Not that there are not moments of hustle, when the interviews need to be recorded in the closet, or typed on the laptop, and the press releases sent out to locations from whence a reply might never come. The answer is to send them again, to more places, to keep moving the pawns across the board, to mount the ground offensive, the slow, patient build-up of pieces until the endgame unfolds.

Nights Redux

The nights are for sending out emails, press releases, submissions, queries, all sorts of writing business, and sometimes, if the stars align, they are for writing new pieces of fiction, poems, essays, book reviews, whatever the muse brings to the table. Times, I sit at my desk, the glass occluded by hand-prints, spilt coffee, food, any other number of reasons, and I watch the darkness. Out there, creatures are in motion, stirring the leaves, the branches of trees, searching for food, for prey, for a safe place to sleep, even. Owls screech and hoot and pass low over the trees, and at the same time bats dip and swing over the roof of the house, in front of the front door, ink dark and radar guided they glide.

The nights are short because sleep is vital. With a young one in the house there’s a premium set on sleep that converts into valuable commodity. There are, however, books to sell, stories to tell, and the clock is moving in only one direction. I want to find a path, a tramped down piece of earth that leads through the foothills to a clearing, a tree-filled stand of oak, maybe. There, under moonlight I might shed my human skin and forget the stresses of the day, the unchanging state of the Submittable queue, and slip off into the cool grass and run until the heart explodes in my chest and I fall to earth, replenished.

The nights are Barry’s Irish tea and Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bars and fast cars on a country road. They are Peach Sleepytime tea for my wife, and jars of jam and preserves in need of wrapping. They are precious and dwindling because they have a number on them. My father died at 83, a stroke, a three-week journey from one late-night snooze to a coffin on a damp, cold hillside in rural Ireland. I rip the memories from my mind, like straw from a tattered mattress, and reconstitute those nuggets into stories I can read to people I don’t know very well. The stories will remain and provide some evidence I once spent nights tapping away on a keyboard in a house amongst trees, surrounded by books and family and generosity of spirit.

And sometimes the nights are harvest moons and recording audio stories for interviews in the closet, and for Skyping with a son in San Diego and reading the first chapter of the Hobbit to him, and for arranging and rearranging papers on a desk, and straightening the books on the shelf where the photos of my brothers and me with my father at the seaside when we were lads sits collecting dust. Nights are also for listening; to the strains of country music from across the road, for the rats gnawing at the oversized MacArthur avocados, for the dripdripdrip of the leaky faucet in the bathroom, for the drumthrumrumble of the dryer in the kitchen, for the jingle of the dog’s collar as she settles on her wingback chair, to the manor born. And if we’re lucky, nights are for sleeping, recharging the batteries, for the coming of dreams, and the remarkable things they contain.

harvest moon