It was such an astonishing story--this whale roaming the world searching for another who speaks its language--that I kept repeating it as an anecdote to whomever would listen. Somewhere along the way I realized there was more here than just a story about the literal whale; this was a story about all of us.
So you wrote a book. Congratulations! So did everyone else. One of the most common questions I get asked is, What now? What happens next? How does a writer proceed beyond this phase, and why is the world of publishing so inaccessible past the writing stage? How do I venture out, and how do I get noticed? I’m here today to take a little mystery out of this process, so you can feel safer in your lifeboat as you navigate the murky waters of starting-out.
The art has become a commodity; why is your voice any better (or different) than that writer’s? How do you get heard amid the roar? How do you keep your spirits up when everything tells you it doesn’t really matter if you keep on or quit writing?
I can’t help it. Writing is a compulsion. I might go a few days without writing but if I do more than two or three, I start to get anxious. Writing helps me organize my thoughts. Without it, I become easily confused and scattered. I become short tempered and unpleasant. If I don’t write, writing becomes all I think about.
My approach to writing very short prose is varied. Sometimes it’s a matter of distilling a much longer story into one substantially shorter in length than the original, through a process of culling and refinement again and again until I’m satisfied that the story can’t be any further pared away at without consequence. I enjoy that challenge of crystallization, which involves thinking deeply about the reader, imagining what she may fill in with her intelligence, intuition, and empathic imagination and invention.
I once counted over three hundred rejection slips and notes in the box where I kept them until I had become reasonably “established” and burned the lot in a fireplace while I sipped a snifter of Cognac. I guess the process was, keep trying. When a poem came back, I’d revise it again and send it somewhere else.
Poetry came in my late teens-first, as a requirement for an amateur writing workshop I was selected to attend at age 15 then a few years later when a friend asked me to edit a poem he wrote for a girl. I became jealous of this use of a powerful but shorter art form and decide to try it.
One of the key elements in Lebanese society is its openness and acceptance of Western cultures and values. It is really at the crossroads between the East and the West – trying to evolve in thought like the West while still holding on to its most deeply-rooted Eastern values. To that end, you can feel the ever-present struggle in every Lebanese’s mind, especially the younger generations being exposed more and more to foreign culture like music and movies and literature while growing up. The characters I use in my works embody this struggle and touch upon the most sensitive issues that are slowly being filtered and applied in Lebanese society while still considered forbidden on the surface.
Always a bridesmaid and never a bride. You see, I was a finalist in WAY too many competitions Violet Reed Haas, Pine Press, Ronald Wardell Prize, RopeWalk Press, Paumanok, May Swenson, Philip Levine, Snake Nation Press, Paris Review, Zoo Press, Akron Press, University of Illinois Press Poetry Award, Hayden Carruth, New Issues (twice), Ann Stafford Prize, and Anhinga Prize (twice). It was sad and frustrating and expensive. The entry fees nearly killed me. To come so close and still end up with nada? My vision as to how things would go is that I would, ideally, win the Yale Younger Poets Prize and sail off into eternity. The reality was more sundry. The reality was exhausting. There were student loans and rent and bills to pay. I was struggling and failing on so many levels. Yet? After nothing and then nothing. AND THEN MORE OF NOTHING. Poof!
I’d always dreamt of writing a novel, and an idea had been floating in my head. The story consumed me with an inexplicable force, and the class’s themes compelled me to write the words down. That night after class, I sat down and I started writing, never thinking anyone would ever read the words. Each night when I came back to my story, I chided myself for wasting my precious time. At the end of summer, I shoved the faded green notebook underneath my bed to collect dust. I abandoned the dream, but the story never quite abandoned me. I came back to it the next summer and the next until finally I had a complete manuscript.