Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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A PENANCE. A BLESSING. A DEADLINE. A guest blog on SHE WRITES PRESS.

[SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] [SWP: BEHIND THE BOOK] 20130418-105222.jpg
POSTED BY NINA GABY ON JULY 14, 2014 AT 5:30AMVIEW BLOG
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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Going Hybrid

I have decided to publish “Dumped: Women Unfriending Women” with SHE WRITES PRESS. SHE WRITES was co-founded by Brooke Warner, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. Brooke was the Acquisitions Editor for Seal Press (the first hot shot non-fiction folks who published my early essays) and she is also a bad girl (gave people wine from under her display table at the AWP conference last March even though the security guards told her to stop.) (She reminded me of me as a teenager.) (Only smarter. Taller.) More importantly, being a “bad girl” means that she was willing to leave behind the norms to create, with co-founder Kami Wycoff, a hybrid publishing model. “Hybrid” falls between the “still not ready for prime time” concept of self publishing and the traditional route which has begun to erode in our digitized and transitioning literary culture. Gutsy, professional and transparent, SHE WRITES may just be leading the way for a whole new deal in publishing.

Did I (do 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. My initial forays into that world were pleasant enough, some generous assistance finding an interested agent, but for the Catch-22, the details of which I have already bemoaned adequately.

Brooke consulted on my non-fiction book proposal- a traditional thirty seven page “learning experience” which was likely more time consuming than the final product will be, and we suddenly asked ourselves why I didn’t publish with SHE WRITES? The vetting process a success, SHE WRITES has now accepted it for Fall 2014 publication.

Dumped will be a collection of essays written primarily by women about that awful moment when you are erased from a friendship more meaningful than even the basic romantic relationship. You expect romantic relationships to break up, the entertainment industry and a good part of literature revolves around that loss. You feel as though there should be an Adele song for you, but there isn’t.

My “pitch” goes like this:dumped cvr blog 1

“The essays in Dumped aren’t stories of friendship dying a mutually agreed upon death, like when you fall out of touch and a decade later find each other and you haven’t missed a beat. These are the stories about suddenly finding yourself erased, without context, possibly without worth, undefined. The stories that stay with you, maybe for a lifetime. I want textured, layered, messy, funny- with anger, sexual confusion, redemption, hopelessness and social context. What did it really mean to be deleted, discarded, deserted?” By the ones you most trusted?

I  have a number of essays I am reviewing from women all over the country, I have some works in progress by some outstanding writers- Jessica Handler, Alexis Paige, Judith Podell. A reprint promised by the well known Ann Hood. In conversation with a fabulous publicist I met at a conference this spring. A number of other writers who’ve made initial commitments.

But seriously? All I can envision is the not yet existing  “EVENT” button on my website, fast forward to the readings and signings and NPR interviews. And what I will be wearing and if I can lose 40 pounds. In the meantime I will update on the process of “going hybrid.”