Tuesday, July 26, 2016

motivation?

Text message from a former grad student a couple weeks ago, "Hi! Very strange favor to ask. N-- and I set ourselves a mutual deadline for our respective writing projects, and it’s fast approaching... He and I joked the other day that we’re pretty sure it was just the prospect of your angry face that kept us hitting deadlines when we were at FSU. (Okay, we weren’t joking...it really is terrifying.) So! if it’s not too weird/if you have a second, would you mind taking a quick picture of yourself, the most disapproving look you can muster, and send it to me? I’m 100% positive that if I send that picture to N-- on an hourly basis, he’ll hit his deadline with time to spare. (I might also frame the picture to use for future motivation.)"
I indulged her with a very disapproving selfie.
For any of you writers -- including my former students -- who might need some motivation, here I am, disapproving of you for even being ON Facebook.
This picture is titled, "Are you serious with that excuse?" -- or the alternate title, the classic, "I'm not mad; I'm just disappointed."
PS For you process nerds out there, this is actually data-driven -- check out Thinking Fast and Slow, the mention of the British lab with the snack bar, paid with an honesty box.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Coming sooooon!

We interrupt this blogging to give you a little sneak peek at what's coming up! 

Baggott’s latest novel, The Infinity of You & Me, will hit bookshelves this November! It will be published under J.Q. Coyle, the joint pen name of Baggott and author Quinn Dalton.

“A fantastically fun mind-bender from start to finish, The Infinity of You Me will thrill its readers and leave them hungry for more!” – Karen Akins, author of Loop and Twist


Almost sixteen, Alicia is smart and funny with a deep connection to the poet Sylvia Plath, but she’s ultimately failing at life. With a laundry list of diagnoses, she hallucinates different worlds―strange, decaying, otherworldly yet undeniably real worlds that are completely unlike her own with her single mom and one true friend. In one particularly vivid hallucination, Alicia is drawn to a boy her own age named Jax who’s trapped in a dying universe. Days later, her long-lost father shows up at her birthday party, telling her that the hallucinations aren’t hallucinations, but real worlds; she and Jax are bound by a strange past and intertwining present. This leads her on a journey to find out who she is while trying to save the people and worlds she loves. J.Q. Coyle’s The Infinity of You & Me is a wild ride through unruly hearts and vivid worlds guaranteed to captivate.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

How to Build a Bill-Baggott Father in 12 Not-so-Easy Steps

(On the Occasion of Father's Day)

1. Raise the boy among women.
It's best if he's born in Brooklyn -- to get a feel for the city -- but set him loose in the mountains of West Virginia. It's hard, yes, if he loses his father while young -- the trauma might cause him to stutter for years -- but he will be raised among women -- his mother, his old-maid aunt, and two sisters. And although the loss is profound, this might be the best way a man of his generation could be raised. The loss will make him sweet and thankful to be alive. He'll show emotion easily -- acts of bravery will make him cry but so will the weepy parts of The Parent Trap, starring Lindsey Lohan. In the 80s, he'll be the only corporate lawyer who loves sensitivity training.

2. Give him some mountains and uranium tank-fields to play in. Let him grow up among coalminers and glassblowers without any money.
He'll learn how to sneak into things without paying -- a habit. He'll be the corporate lawyer shuttling his kids into a football game through a break in the chain-link fence.

3. Make it inevitable that he gets punched in high school for being a know it all. (He should also date triplets -- at least two of the three -- and play trumpet.)

This will inform the dining room where you grow up, where you'll learn to argue. The dining room table, your brother will later say, that he learned more there than in all his years of school.

And one day the know-it-all will be the lead researcher for his youngest daughter who starts writing novels that entail nanotechnology and Domes and airships and all the things he liked dreaming about as a kid. It'll be something that ties them together, where science meets dreaminess.

4. Have him push through a 5 year engineering program in 3 years then law school. First real job -- patent office in DC -- during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Just plop him down at ground zero.

5. Have him fall in love with a redhead and marry her and have kids -- and always want more kids.
He'll be mistaken for a pediatrician a lot. He'll be the guy on the plane who offers to walk the screaming baby in the aisles so the mother flying alone can eat. Through all of his grandchildren, he'll become known as the baby whisperer. No one can get a baby to quiet like he can. He'll be able to take over the household of a family with five kids and run it smoothly while the parents are away. He's the one to call when the baby is sick and has to go in for an operation.

But way back, holding his first child, he should think, "If I died now, I'd have gotten more than my share."

6. Eventually, he should get political. He should take to the streets, protesting wars, with a baby in a stroller and eventually carrying one of his grandkids. He should be pro-civil rights are every turn. When his father in law gives him a German lugger as a gift, he'll take it home and dismantle it, hiding the parts in different places. He was once chased through the woods as kid by cops -- with their guns pulled.

7. In the National Guard, he should talk a man out of killing his wife. On a trip to Iran, he should save someone from choking.

8. Oh, and make him practice cheapness. He should make a lot of money -- why not? But he should downplay it because he's a little afraid of money. He grew up on Great Depression-era films where poor people were happy and the rich corroded. The youngest (who's kind of an idiot in her way) should think the family is so poor she can't bring herself to really fill out a Christmas list. Your father with his Velcro briefcase and Velcro sneakers should pay for two things freely: education and travel -- wait. One more, theater...

9. Have him write down every play he's ever seen on an index card held by a rubberband -- stacks and stacks.
And speaking of the arts, whenever his youngest daughter comes home from dance lessons, he should have her teach him the moves. He should be able to moonwalk pretty well, and he'll teach her the jitterbug in the kitchen. And, when he's retired, he'll learn to fly planes, self-diagnose a rare blood disorder, and take up modern dance in the Berkshires.

10. Have him search for his past -- all the way back to a dock in Chestertown, Maryland where his ancestor, a prisoner, was auctioned off. (He should get an Irish passport -- get a piece of that citizenship back.)

11. Have him sign off to raise all of the kids Catholic -- which he attends weekly, never taking Communion -- but have him answer the kids' questions honestly, what amounts to a small rebellion, a list of protests.

12. When his mother is in a nursing home, he should visit every night and feed her dinner, spooning in each bite -- long after she's stopped recognizing him. He should put her favorite old songs on a little tape recorder and she'll sing. Even in light of a 50-some year marriage to that redhead and the four kids and the 13 grandchildren, this is where he'll teach the most important lessons about love and devotion. And one day when he's watching a movie with his youngest and a little boy shines a mirror's reflected light on the wall to entertain the old man in bed, he'll say, "You'll do that for me one day." And the youngest will say, "Yes."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

what we talk about when we talk about drafts.

i've never looked at this data before much less thought to share it, but when new writers are excited because they've "finished" their novel, i'm never sure how to break it to them that they probably haven't. each time i make a major change to a novel in progress, i create a new file. sometimes these are also overhauls, complete rewrites. often i'll write the first fifty or so pages of the material but as drastically different novels -- even versions that exist in different genres and for different audiences. after a novel has a first draft, i rewrite heavily again, sometimes wholly. here's a list of the numbers of drafts (files) of certain novels i've written, including three current works in progress.
PURE -- 33
FUSE -- 16
BURN -- 15 (numbers go down because major decisions of world, tense, point of view, genre, audience had already been made in the first book of the trilogy)
HARRIET WOLF'S SEVENTH BOOK OF WONDERS -- 39
PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED (as Asher) -- 19
ALL OF US AND EVERYTHING (as Asher) -- 26
THE EVER CURE -- never published, pulled from the contract because the editor and I couldn't see eye-to-eye, a sequel to THE EVER BREATH -- 19
of my current works in progress, two have full rough drafts. one took 21 passes to get to the first draft. one took only 10. Both have many more to go. a third work in progress -- that has drastically different versions staring at me -- stands at 26 files and none of those files will likely be close to the version that will see me through to some rough first draft.
and then just to mess with me, there's THE PRINCE OF FENWAY PARK -- 2. just two. of course it then went through copyedits and proofing cycles in-house but still this kind of experience -- when it comes out in some way really clean and whole -- damages all expectations and keeps some twisted hope alive. it just never happened like that for me again. whatever you take from this post, don't hold on to this part. trust me, don't.
oh, and none of this includes reams of notes on the wall -- click here to see what i mean

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why You Might Just Marry the Right Person

The NYTimes piece by Alain de Botton, "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," has been circulating, and with my anniversary coming up -- I got married to David Scott when I was just 23 years old – I’ve had to ask who broke Alain de Botton so hard. (Gotta be some folks out there personally squirming.) Maybe it's the fact that de Botton chose the plural we -- the "we are all doomed" we -- that just felt so overbearing, but I'd like to say that we're not all doomed to disappoint each other. What's amazed me in these decades of my marriage to Scottie-boy is that I've had the privilege to know this other human being deeply and he astonishes me -- his depth of love, his tirelessness, what he says, how he says it, his humanity, his worldview, his connectivity with the people around him, his humility. He hasn’t shut down. He’s become more expansive, more loving, more interesting and complex and thoughtful. He's kind and sturdy; he'll lift you up. Not just me. I mean you -- family, friend, stranger going through a hard time. You. 
Is he also a jackass? Yes. Am I also a jackass? Absolutely. (And I’m also a dipshit, as those who know me well can testify.) 
But my point is this: the WORLD disappoints me. Life sometimes terrifies me. But, my God, going through it with this man -- this hilarious and tender-hearted and rock-solid human being -- it's more than I ever expected. 
We've been sad together, mourned and tended and laughed and shouted and hooted and fallen on our knees in thanks. I fell in love with him before we had our four kids, but I love him even more fiercely because of the kind of father he is. He’s also my creative and business partner so we work together, long hours, which are made easier because we work for each other.
I’m the one to turn out the light late at night. And I usually look over at Dave, and, when he’s sound asleep, he still looks exactly the 25 year old guy I fell in love with. But I'm so glad he's no longer that guy because the opposite of de Botton's piece is just as true. Sometimes we marry the right person and they become righter and righter and righter over time.
Take heart, de Botton. Take heart.

Monday, May 9, 2016

1/2 Dozen for Joshua R. Helms

I can't quite describe the feeling of having students who devote themselves to the craft and emerge with a book in hand. Joshua R. Helms was an undergraduate student of mine. MACHINES LIKE US, their debut chosen by C. Dale Young, has just recently been released into the world. 

"Out of three hearts (Boy Heart, Historian Heart, and Poet Heart), Helms has woven a new poetics of vulnerability that tells the story of survival and lust, brutality and tenderness.”  -- Sabrina Orah Mark 
Introducing Joshua R. Helms -- in the form of six questions. 


Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

Emily Dickinson. The Outs (though the second season is disappointing). Pesto carrots from the General Store in Putney, VT. My “grunge is dead” t-shirt. Washing my face with honey -- an excellent skincare tip from Jess Richardson, whose debut story collection, It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides, is now available.

I despise the pervasive myth of inspiration – the idea that an entire book can exist simply because of an accumulation of inspired ideas – but I don’t deny that inspiration exists. There are things that have no other explanation. Was there a singular moment of inspiration for this book?

I also despise the myth of inspiration because I think making a book exist is really hard work, but I don’t deny that sometimes I feel “inspired.” I started writing these poems during my first semester of grad school, just a couple weeks after I broke up with my first long-term boyfriend. Breaking up with him was one of the healthiest decisions I’ve ever made and it also broke me apart. There are several poems in this book that I felt compelled to write during the first year or so after the break up -- poems I wrote quickly and feverishly and often in one sitting because I didn’t know how to breathe and continue being without writing them. 

People always talk about the writers they aspired to emulate. I’d love to know the writers you most hated as you were coming up and how those tastes shaped you.

Hemingway. I hate a lot about Hemingway. I especially hate that, in various literature classes, I feel I’ve been asked to see the value in his blatantly misogynistic work. How this shaped me: I don’t feel obligated to see the value in problematic work and I’m working every day to confront and unlearn the various misogynistic things that the patriarchy has taught me. 

What kind of child were you, inside of what kind of childhood, and how did it shape you as a writer? 

I was quiet, bookish, sensitive, introverted, queer. I have vivid memories of my mom reading to me when I was very very young. I also remember watching Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music a lot and how important those narratives were (and are) to me. When I was five, I climbed to the top of the slide on the small swing set we had in our backyard and I jumped off with an open umbrella, pretending I was Mary Poppins. I always had a lot of imagination, was often daydreaming. I read the Harry Potter series (as it was coming out) when I was a teenager, which was delightful and gave me a safe place to go during a time that was hard and shitty -- I experienced a lot of queerphobic harassment at school and I desperately needed to believe in magic. I’ve always needed to believe in magic. And so I write. 

Have you learned to strike a balance between your writing life and the other aspects of your life?

No. This is a thing I think about all the time. I have to work to make money to feed myself and meet basic needs and like go to therapy and stuff. Having a job is exhausting and uses up so much of my energy and sometimes I’m pretty mad about this. It’s a constant struggle. 

What’s your worst writerly habit?

I don’t write enough. 


Joshua R. Helms is a nonbinary queer person from the south. They have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and their writing has appeared in various print and online journals, including alice blue review, Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost Ocean, Gertrude, New England Review, Phoebe, Sonora Review, and Word Riot. Their first poetry collection, Machines Like Us, was chosen by C. Dale Young as the winner of the Dzanc Poetry Collection Award and is available now from Dzanc Books. Their chapbook, The New Promise, is forthcoming from Tree Light Books in 2017. Josh lives in Brattleboro, VT. Follow them on Twitter: @joshuarhelms, and Tumblr: joshuarhelms.tumblr.com/


Thursday, April 28, 2016

new essay on the body (well, my body, in particular)

The essay about my body (which isn't getting any younger) that I wrote for Real Simple is now online. It starts with my daughter, a sculptor, asking me to pose for her work. Her theme? Deterioration of the body. (Thanks for thinking of me?) 

Warning. It gets graphic -- like I refer to my breasts as my sad Walter Matthau eyes; they’re that soulful-looking these days.

I've gotten such stunning emails and letters about it from women of many different ages, which really surprised me. 


Here's the link. (Note: There's an editorial gaff -- a small paragraph near the end interrupts the piece and then is repeated later. Sorry about that. Out of my hands.)