Sunday, May 15, 2011


I have moved over from Blogger to Wordpress. I hope you'll join me there, and update your links, your RSS feeds, and whatever Internet magic you do.

I'm still settling in over there, so some things don't look the way I want them to, and some sidebar stuff isn't quote up to speed--but we'll get there. will take you there, as per usual. Thanks for reading. I really do mean that.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge: Your Favorite Song

The "30 Day Song Challenge" is a Facebook meme going around that all the kids are doing. Basically, you post a song a day according to these rules. I saw it and thought: Oh, what the hell?

1) Your Favorite Song

The idea that we're supposed to scour through the whole catalog of all music--all sounds for that matter? What makes a song different from a sound, or set of sounds?--and cull down to one "favorite" is, well, mind-boggling and gives me agita. I think here of Donna Tartt saying in this 2002 interview, that "My favorite color is different for different things. Depends on what it is....For flowers, it's one thing, for clothes it's another."

So, favorite, how? How about "most meaningful at a meaningful nexus in my life?" Does that make sense? That seems like a long way from "favorite," but if we're talking about the stages of aesthetic development--and why shouldn't we--I'm definitely feeling a level five on this one. (Feel free to read up and then get back to me.)

Well, in this case, it's a song that gave me--at least this is my memory, plus 20 years reflection--a first inkling of how my sexuality was more than just who you sleep with. That my queerness would encompass, or rather that it could encompass, an entire set of values different from the ones I saw the status quo culture embracing. Beauty, fashion, grandeur, elegance, camp. A refinement in which the style was the substance. At the time, I wasn't very sophisticated--but I knew, I could sense, that this was sophisticated. (I can't believe I'm waxing on how Madonna is sophisticated...but hey.) Or, if it wasn't sophisticated, it was beyond my realm of understanding in a way that made me drawn to it. It was like watching a version of myself that I had never known, revealed. I saw a version of me in black and white, too. I saw a version of me moving like that, too. I saw that me as beautiful, refined, a success.

Madonna's "Blonde Ambition Tour" was broadcast on HBO that same year, and I set the VCR to record it. It's mechanism was such that it wouldn't stop during recording unless it was completely unplugged. So, in the break between "Open Your Heart" and "Causin' A Commotion" Madonna let fly a stream of "fucks" so long and punchy that my mother, either hearing this from the other room, or getting up from the couch while watching with me, I can't remember--ripped the cord from the wall!!! "You do not need to hear that," she said, sealing the deal. I was 12. I was heartbroken.

So, for the next several months, I watched the opening three songs over and over, until the tape turned fuzzy and refused to play. Eventually, I taught myself the choreography from the below video which I periodically performed both alone in the rec room and at Roller Coaster Skate World for scores of cheering girlfriends. Wow, what a queerbait, huh? I can still do most of it.

Here's a question: How does "1990 Madonna" stealing and popularizing New York ball culture reveal the inner life of a blossoming queen from the suburbs of Chattanooga, Tennessee? And the answer: That's the power of music.

So, having said all that, I give you, my favorite song, Vogue:

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Taking Care of Your Work

The Newburyport Literary Festival was a wonderful occasion to sit and talk about books with friends and strangers, and my panel with Michelle Hoover and Steve Yarbrough went well. (Steve and I also got to talk about Mississippi Delta accents versus Tennessee mountain accents, and how both our families have Lena's, and that felt a bit like home.) A 9:00am talk brings out a certain kind of audience--a bright, listening audience, ready to go, and I like that. They asked good questions, mostly about process and publishing challenges. At the end, the three of us sat at a table and signed books--fielding more questions and listening to the struggles of the writers in the audience, trying had to find a place for their work, an agent, an editor, even a bit of attention.

During the talk, there was some discussion of how our (or maybe just my) work was repeatedly deemed "unpublishable" or "without an audience" or "difficult." Michelle warned against self-publishing because you are tired--tired of coming up against these walls, tired of rejection after rejection, most of them with no reason as to why you were rejected, you just were. It made me think about my own time fighting with the desire to self-publish, and subsequently getting the call from my agent that someone was interested and could I wait maybe two more weeks for them to make a decision.

This made me think of this trend toward e-self-publishing, or digital-self-publishing, or whatever they are calling it these days, as a way of twarting the difficulties of the Publishing Business, and maybe--maybe--making a quick buck. Lots of attention has been paid to this new model--sell on Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc, and charge 99 cents, and make a mint. The theory of microtransactions. But I want to say to authors considering this model: Know what your work is worth, and know that readers will follow your lead.

The other part of me--the more radical, lowlife, street rat part--feels like this is Scrooge-y and coming from a more knowledgeable place, and young writers (read: younger than me, and not that different from my limited experience) need to find audiences however they choose. Not publishing kills you inside, I know. But please don't rush to publication until you've thought a lot about what you want from it.

Publishing is difficult--it takes something very intimate and specific and blows it up into something that people will take as vague and "for their consideration." They'll say its autobiographical when it isn't, and fictitious when it's pure realness. They will write horrible things about you personally on and GoodReads and B&, and other places where democracy is at its worst. They will write things like "I strongly recommend that you don't waste your time on this one" and "I kept thinking to myself, 'Who Cares.'" This is all if you're lucky.

Then, once you've been published and all these wonderful things start happening--and they do, really incredible, deeply fulfilling things do happen. The rewards are many, though mostly very personal and intangible. But the thing that happens after that, is that you have to figure out how to write for yourself again. Because suddenly, you're writing for the world, which, at least in my case, was never who I wanted to write for in the first place. You will have to figure out to make it back to the fearless place, to the courageous, invincible-and-vulnerable place that good art comes from.

All of this is only to say: take care with your work. Give it the right foundation, the best pathway to success, give it the most careful ushering into the world. Then you can rest and feel accomplished for about 24 days. And then immediately after that, start working on something else.