Nina Gaby

Essays, stories, novels and more.



[SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] [SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] 20130418-105222.jpg
In anticipation of writing this blog post for BEHIND THE BOOK, I immediately sat down and wrote a whole craft essay instead. More of a memoir, actually. About waitressing. It really did apply, at least to much of this process. I wrote about being “in the weeds,” an old restaurant workers’ term for being too busy to think about anything except for the rush, about just needing for it to be over and going home with your greasy pockets bulging with tips. And “In the Weeds” will make a great craft essay one day. But this needs to be more about today and this process with a hybrid publisher, this very first rodeo on my own, and the complicated experiences that pushed me towards editing and publishing Dumped: Women Unfriending Women.
As organisms, we tend to respond adversely to pain: it makes us wiggle around and eventually move in some different direction. The details of my own experiences with being dumped by friends over the years are the subject of my essay in the anthology. As I tried to make sense of this dynamic, I began to talk about it a lot, had begun to publish essays in a few anthologies myself, some articles and short stories (I had become a real writer), and everyone said, Wow what a great idea, do a book, yeah, call it “Dumped,” that’s so awesome. I was becoming impatient with where my life as a writer could go. I was about fifty-nine years old at the time, and on the precipice of old age. I had also written the first draft of a novel about the same experiences I was writing about in Dumped, but fictionalized (and funnier) and a collection of micro-prose. The writing had probably saved my life, as well as my opening a studio and doing some visual art, and having my career as a psychiatric nurse practitioner to fall back on when our life kind of went to pieces. A huge lesson in all of this becomes the contrast between who stands by you, who doesn’t, why, and what the lasting effects might be. In my case, I kept writing. And thinking about all the other women who had these stories to tell.
The comedian Jonathan Winters once said “I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.” I knew Brooke Warner from her days at Seal Press, where I had published a couple essays and had talked with her about another idea, a proposal I ultimately abandoned. I remembered her as skilled and enthusiastic. I hired her as a consultant/coach on Dumped. Through Brooke’s connection to another editor, I was introduced to an agent who was interested in my proposal. This was encouraging to me, a novice, and probably kept me going. But the agent needed famous writers as contributors to my collection if she was going to sell the idea. I was impatient. I had good writers–not famous, but really good. Then I got a couple of famous writers, but by this time, Brooke and I had the conversation about her press. At first I hadn’t understood how it worked (on some levels I’m still trying to figure it out), but it seemed like I was climbing up on the wave of publishing’s future.
As I wrote on my blog site: “Did I dream of the traditional route? Getting on the train to Manhattan to lunch with my agent and strike a big advance with a major publishing house? That image also has me in white gloves, nylons, and a tight-waisted suit, much like the one my mother would have worn when she accompanied my father to do just that when I was a little girl. And if I focus on that, I might just end up too old to even get on the train without serious help.” I signed on with She Writes.
In addition to renegotiating how we view publishing, I then had to renegotiate the “power” differential. I was now an editor. I posted a call for submissions to Dumped in Poets and Writers; I went to a conference on creative non-fiction in Oxford, MS and met several women who are contributing and one who has offered to write my foreword. A dear friend gave me a list of writers from her MFA program. I stalked a famous writer on a new book tour for permission to reprint one of my favorite essays of all time. I tried stalking a couple writers at AWP but the weather had grounded them elsewhere. I was disheartened by well-known women who would never get back to me. I was heartened by people who helped out in so many different ways. I got together with women who I thought had dumped me only to share our opposing perspectives. I stayed far away from others. And then I had to really be an editor and reject work. Yeah, I had to reject work. Me, the oft-times-rejected, had to reject. Me, dedicated to giving new writers their first chance. I’m a pro at my day job, setting boundaries all the time. But this is different and maybe the hardest part.
The hardest part except for time. We do not, but we should, anticipate the power outages, the cataract surgeries, the computer problems, the sudden injury leaving our back too twisted to sit at the computer. Problems at the day job that might require shopping for a new interview outfit. The death of a friend, then another, leaving us too breathless to focus. Enough time goes by and we will have to re-experience the holidays, throw in some Seasonal Affective Disorder, another ice storm. Terror. Lots of things get in the way. But to be so busy with something? A penance. A blessing. And now a deadline.
I take solace in the words of Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon who wrote in the May/June Poets and Writers about the birthing of an anthology, “Labor of Love”: “It’s just way more work than you can imagine. Even if you imagine a lot of work, it’s more.”
My focus today? I envision a beautiful book in a pile at AWP next March on the She Writes Press vendor table. Next March, the other side of the weeds.

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June update: DUMPED

I am finalizing my lineup, figuring whether to keep a few more essays than what had been originally planned, working with some authors whose pieces can use a bit more fleshing out before going to the publisher for a final copy edit in August. In the May/June issue of Poets and Writers magazine, an article resonated for me:

Labor of Love: The Anthology from Conception to Publication by Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon

In this, the authors echo what many others cautioned them, “It’s just way more work than you can imagine. Even if you imagine a lot of work, it’s more.” I am comparing it to the waitressing term “in the weeds,” and I am fashioning a blog piece for my publisher’s website on the process. But I’m afraid if I’m truthful, if I call the blog piece “In the Weeds” will people think I’m drowning? I’m not. There’s air between the weeds. Shafts of light. If I say I’m jealous that Henderson and Solomon had each other, will people think I’m not up to the task alone? There’s been some help along the way. Do I just have to stop bitching, pacing, checking Facebook? Yes. And that’s where the project is at today.

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Uh Oh

Some how this looks to folks as if they have been accepted into my book, even when they did not submit!!!! Or even if they did not yet get accepted. I am thankful that someone immediately pointed this out. I will be sending each author an individual e-mail……today if they were accepted now, and later if we are waiting. So sorry for any inconvenience or misunderstanding.

Image by Eva Weiss

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On a happy note

A timeline, a publication date, and an e-mail I get to send

Dear Author:

Mother’s Day seems a fitting time to discuss this 2-year gestation. I’m beginning to feel like an elephant sorely in need of a massive Pitocin drip.

Congratulations, and thank you. Your essay has made the first round for definite inclusion in DUMPED: Women Unfriending Women, and unless there is a natural or unnatural disaster, the publication date is March 3, 2015.

This is round one, there will be more essays included as I tally the word count contracted with the publisher

Image: Mother’s Day photo by Eva Weiss


Not giddy, not going to AWP, with poetic imagery and some whining

Nina GabyWas the last time I felt giddy with excitement a year ago already, writing a blog about going to my first AWP? I remember being anxious at the thought of 13,000 writers and publishers in Haynes Convention Center, and me, a relative nobody, a small town Vermonter in my signature gray UGGS, sodden with the March slush of Boston. Giddy came later, when I picked up my friend who was going with me. A friend that I am out of touch with now, an irony given that I am working up my anthology, “DUMPED: Women Unfriending Women.” And while I am not dumped in any classic way, like the stories I am collecting for my book, there is an unsettling distance. No giddiness this, a sobering year, indeed. The losses of several dear friends, not to dumping, but to death. Maybe the ultimate dumper? And maybe my perseveration on loss makes me less fun to hang around with? I will not mention my cat. Or my writers group. Dead, dissolved. Enough, please.

In art school, Japanophile that I was, I read that pottery apprentices in Japan were forced to throw 500 one-handed bowls on the wheel, keeping none of them, before they could even call themselves students. Every morning for weeks I went into the studio, alone in the silence before 6 am. My Marlboro glowing on the edge of the work table where I would balance it in a wad of wet clay. I threw those one-handed bowls, one after another, tossing them into the slip bucket even when they were perfect. I would allow a moment of nicotine-fueled giddiness, perhaps, just a transient moment. Forty years later I feel that I should have this patience thing, this discipline thing, this grief thing, down. But then again, that’s the whole of it right there. And I don’t smoke anymore.

Only one person has asked me if I was going to AWP this year. Someone on Facebook. No, I won’t be standing in line in Seattle on Wednesday to get my tote bag. Nor did I sign up by yesterday to schedule an off-site event. And yes, when I perused the workshop offerings this year, my throat twisted at “A bag full of god- female memoirists with daddy issues” and “Invisible geography- writing trauma, pain and loss.” And those are just in the first morning of the conference! This year, still mired in the Vermont gray, the monochrome of ruts and empty fields, I am teaching two day long classes on psychiatric nursing, and most of my writing time is documenting my patients’ pain and loss for the other four days a week. On the seventh day I have feverishly revised two serious essays on mental health. Did a fun piece for the Brevity blog. Oh yes, and have been as yet unsuccessful in setting up my LLC and business account for my contract with SHE WRITES PRESS as it is very hard to get anything of that nature done in my little state with only a few hours a week to get anything done. Some discipline, little done. Yet. And then there’s the loneliness of this long winter. But. We hope there is always a yet or a but to counteract the tedium. But I have a friend who is a lawyer and always helps me with contracts. But I met a woman who feels friendly and is putting together a publicity package for DUMPED. And I have a spate of writers with whom I have developed e-mail relationships, women who have sent me beautiful pieces of their lives in the form of essays for the collection. Not giddy-making, just useful hard work.

And I have a year. A year until AWP on April 8, 2015 in Minneapolis. A year to register, book in hand. Book in hand. Like the lessons learned so long ago. Fallow fields. 500 bowls.


Charms on a bracelet, amulets on a string:


I woke early this morning to review some drafts. Submissions for my collection DUMPED: WOMEN UNFRIENDING WOMEN. As I go deeper into the process of putting together a book that only has one of my pieces in it, (an essay I wrote almost a year ago at a self-imposed and glorious retreat at Kripalu in the Berkshires, sitting, professionally edited, already six months,) I realize I have become an editor and business woman, maybe less a writer? Outside of reworking two lengthy essays and a blog piece for Brevity, what have I really done?

Yesterday, after a 38-hour-in-3-day stint of working my day job so I could justify a whole day off to write uninterrupted, I didn’t write. I did many other things instead. Things that involved typing but not writing. I had a volley of e-mails with my accountant about setting up an LLC before signing my publishing contract. (The LLC being somewhat like the malpractice insurance I keep for my day job.) That then required several attempts at downloading forms from the Secretary of State and then calling several times to ask questions about those forms. Then more e-mails with the accountant about those forms. And the frustration of trying to deal with a rural bank. They have set up two previous business accounts for me, but they have changed hands and I can’t remember what I had to do to set up accounts before and the only person who does it now works only a couple hours a day and the person at the customer care center in the next state over suggested I drive to an address that is actually only a drive-through window so I got huffy with her which prompted a whole Facebook rant. And then after several more phone calls I realized I was in the wrong (I need the state paperwork before I can get a new checking account which they might have told me last week when I actually went into the bank for advice) which then prompted a delete of the whole thread on Facebook and then I felt crazy and watched Judge Judy from the treadmill. After business hours I continued to dutifully read a memoir strung together by women’s’ friendships, wondering if Susanna Sonnenberg would write a blurb for me. Hell, maybe she’ll write a piece. But overall, even reading good stuff feels like homework.

Why am I bothering you with these increasingly run-on sentences? Because it wasn’t until this morning, so early that first light hadn’t even made up its mind, that I was able to quietly savor the actual pieces that writers are sending me. I laughed at Judith Podell’s essay notes. I marveled at Jessica Handler’s interplay of grief and attachment. I reviewed e-mails from famous and not so famous strangers and a promise from Carrie Kabak. Another from River Jordan. “Gems,” I thought to myself. “I’m stringing together gems.” Every downloaded form and unmet deadline, every psychiatric note and evaluation I do at my day job, they all serve as the jump rings which will glue together the final project. Like a charm bracelet. Like the amulets that my best friend in high school began stringing together for me, and now forty-five years later, a necklace I am still adding to. The magic imbued in each hamsah, scarab, evil eye, baby tooth. Making one for my daughter when she turned 16, one for a friend after her partner died. Graduation presents, tickets to safe places. Pieces of meaning and beauty and superstition. I do enjoy the metaphor for a moment before I pull the paperwork from my tote and start typing my documents for work, getting a start on the real day.


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