Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Virtual Swallows of Hog Island -- new story coming at Tor.com

Tor publishes short stories on Amazon. They have a brilliantly odd and otherworldly sensibility that I've admired for a long time. I'm honored that they're publishing three stories of mine in 2017. The first is up for pre-order -- a .99-cent read. Here's a bit about it:

In "The Virtual Swallows of Hog Island," a programmer finds himself working for the self-proclaimed "Bad-Boy of Virtual-Reality Therapy.” While his boss is breaking new ground and breaking the rules and his coworkers are engaging in questionable uses of the latest technology, the lonely programmer is in a state of mourning over his deep personal losses and must figure out his own form of therapy.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Elves and Shelves.

Dave goes rogue and buys Elf on a Shelf. I say nothing. The next day, our 9 year old is upset because the Elf didn't move or give her a gift or become engaged in an elaborate marshmallow fight instead it stayed in its box. Dave and I are alone. "So this Elf..." he says.

I say, "Look there's a reason why we never had an Elf on a Shelf."


"What is it?"


"Have you seen our Easter Bunny game? Have you not noticed that the kids think that Tooth Fairies have a genetically poor sense of the passage of time? How our advent calendars just kinda go dry from distraction four days in? Sure, we say that cash prizes hidden by a series of difficult clues on Christmas are an odd familiar eccentricity, but do you remember how the tradition started? This Elf plays to all of our weaknesses, none of our strengths."

We both stare at the Elf, icily. He stares back.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Once the first draft of the novel is done... some tips.

I wrote a post-NaNoWriMo essay for Bustle on what to do once the first draft of the novel is done. (If you balk at #4 - Suffer fools gladly, I know a lot about you. More than you want me to.) 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

today.

While reading John Irving's In One Person, I remember stopping cold on this line, "By ’95 – in New York, alone – more Americans had died of AIDS than were killed in the Vietnam War." I remembered walking through the city in the summer of '89, seeing this young man stop to look at himself in the long window of a postal truck, his skin wounded by the disease. My sister was in theater, my best friend in fashion -- the loss of life, the generation who were taken. 
Today, on World AIDS Day, I remember my cousin, Jack. At our wedding, he likely already knew that he was dying. It was the last time I would see him. He was a father, a sweetheart, a good soul. I think of him each time I hear of a new scientific advance, each time there's hope, as if I can bring him back somehow. 
I think of Tom Hanks choking up in his Inside the Actor's Studio while talking about the filming of Philadelphia. Lipton reminds him that 53 gay men with AIDS were in the film. A year later, 43 had died. Hanks tells the story of one of these men who worked in a noodle factory. He says that it's a hard film to watch because he sees the men they lost. "They last forever, you know, these films." 
These past few weeks writing has seemed pretty pointless. Art has felt so flimsy. It's not pointless and we need all of it, from any willing to risk making it. All hands on deck. Sometimes it changes people. Sometimes it endures. We don't, none of us.
Here is the audio clip of Hanks' talk, mentioned above. For that story, listen in at 23:30.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Introducing ...

My daughter, sculptor Phoebe Scott, has new work -- and I'm thankful for the strange beauty of her mind. For more, visit her site.







Friday, November 11, 2016

Hypnagogic Hallucination Hunting...

I wrote this piece for Tor about my obsessive hunt for these pre-sleep hallucinatory slide-shows. Nabokov and Poe had them and wrote about them. I'd love to hear if other people A. have ever had them and B. want to try to recreate the experience. I'd love to hear how it goes. 

Yours in weirdness... 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

NOT ideal timing but ...

Look, I know the timing is tough ... what with it being an Election Day AND one of the most contentious and important elections of our lifetime. BUT my new novel comes out today so IF YOU WANT TO LOOK AWAY, YOU CAN LOOK HERE.

A novel about a fifteen-year-old girl who realizes that she has the ability to move between alternate parallel universes of her own making.


“…The clever, fast-moving plot features a strong, appealing heroine, Sylvia Plath's poetry, romance, betrayal, and heart-stopping suspense…” – Kirkus Reviews


“This ambitious sci-fi novel, filled with multiverses and what-ifs, has a slow and complicated buildup but contains complex world building that would appeal to fans of TV’s Orphan Black.” -- Booklist



“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

FIND MORE AT IndieBoundAMAZON, or Barnes and Noble -- or your favorite bookseller.   

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Physicality of Process...

I wrote the short story out of order, which was fine. But when I started to novelize it, the non-linear structure just couldn't be sustained. There were four plot lines and each of those was also told out of order.

I could only see one way to reorder -- a certain physicality.

I printed it and labeled sections pre or post or now or extra. Then I arranged all the marked pages as they were printed. Then I chopped them into sections pre, post, now, extra. After that, I put each section into their own chronological order. Finally, four piles emerged, each in order. I then went back to my document and cut and pasted a new draft. It lacks connective tissue but is roughly in place.





Sunday, October 30, 2016

1/2 Dozen for Elizabeth Powell

 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?

When my inspired moment came, I realized that I could just write the female voice that is left out in “Death of a Salesman”, a voice that is like mine, like our mother’s and grandmother’s, the silenced female holding up the American dream for the men to eat of. The play has always resonated with my upbringing, having had a Jewish salesman father from Brooklyn, who could never quite measure up to his father’s glory. There was a lot of sexism in my growing up, and I wanted to create a persona who could speak to all the issues that Arthur Miller’s play brings up about society, family, the old deadly American dream. I was thinking about how Luigi Pirandello’s great play “Six Character’s in Search of an Author “where all his erased/deleted characters speak and try to take over. I liked that idea in a number of ways, and experimented toward what that might look like in a poem. The voice that came out was the voice of the erased daughter in a man’s world of commerce, which has traditionally been the locus of power in the U.S. Then I was listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell, “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” and I thought that’s it, “Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter”. The rest of the title “Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances” comes from Sanford Meisner the great method-acting teacher. Reading about Method Acting helped me in construct the persona who wanted to speak in reality. That phrase seemed to me to fit my whole life, that I had been living truthfully under imaginary circumstances, so I started to play with that idea in developing a voice deleted from an imagined version “Death of a Salesman”. At times in my life, my brain and circumstances were such that only my imaginary life sustained me, but it wasn’t healthy. I believe reality is the great God of taskmasters. In some sense, the opposite has also been true in constructing this book that I have lived imaginarily in truthful circumstances as well in a positive way, imagining positive things that could be. So as a woman thinks! For a long time I fought that with my will, now I just fight it with my pen. The will can’t change reality. Reality has big muscles and eats spinach.

What’s your advice to someone who’s fallen in love with a writer? 

Congratulations! In a world full of despair and junky advertising and famine, you have found some light! Now, I hope you have your own interior life that amuses you! And, enough money to pay someone to help do the chores!

What’s your advice to a writer who’s looking for a lifelong partner? Any particularly useful traits to suggest in said partner? (Do you want to tell us a brief love story here?)

A teacher I once had said all creative types should marry successful doctors. I don’t know about that. Really, I don’t know much about finding a lifelong partner. I was married seventeen years to a wonderful artist, but we got knocked up young. Now, I find myself looking for a lifelong partner, so I can tell you useful traits in my list of what I’m looking for, which might not be realistic. Number one: Not a sociopath (there are more of those than you think in polite society, as they make good doctors, businesspeople, for instance). Trust your gut, know the romantic narratives of your forbearers, as much as you can, and learn to listen to your still small voice. Find someone who doesn’t need taking care of, someone who is hot and funny and likes to watch similar movies and eat similar food, and wants to read books together. Find someone to laugh with. And the “old church lady truth” to dating is to find someone who you can have good conversations with, because if the sex goes, baby that’s all you got. See, I don’t know much about this. What I’ve learned is that I can never be with anyone who is a ski freak. Such stunning knowledge! Seriously, writing the poems in “Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter” helped me to be done with the past once and for all. Writing is a way you can do that, take your power back while developing critical human empathy for all. What is not working in your writing is the thing that’s not working in your life.


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

I was a blunt talking, sassy, awkward, fairy princess-misfit who liked to stay home with my father’s mother in Scarsdale and wear all her silkiest Saks nighties as evening dresses over my own Danskin attire and eat raisin cookies from the Italian bakery down the street. I liked the quiet. I liked the hugs from my grandmother and her maid, both ethnic and affectionate and able to hug me close like my WASPY mother wouldn’t or couldn’t. It was never quiet at my parent’s house, lots of clients and dinner parties always going on, as well as their 1970s yelling, divorce style. As the oldest daughter, I was shipped off, thank God, to all my grandparents. During the summers I’d go to my Waspy back-to-the-land gram’s farm and ride the cows and play in the woods. I was always divided, split down the middle, city girl, country girl. Wasp girl, Jew girl: Never totally a fit anywhere. I suppose the main thrust of my growing up was that the men and boys always seemed to be the most important people among our tribes, both my Wasp side and my Jewish side. Inside that division was a kind of e plurbis unum way of identity that I grasped for. I love what Diane Seuss said in a Divedapper interview about her poetry: “It’s about girlhood surviving manhood” and that has been true for me, too. My childhood took place in a kind of Mad Men scenario, both my grandfather and father worked on Madison Avenue. I could only watch that show once (it activates PTSD in me).

Back then my Jewish grandparents considered Brooklyn “the old country”, a place to escape. I think that’s why Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” always resonated with me, growing up in a family striving to make and survive wealth, only to have nothing in the very end. My father eventually destroyed the business (almost on purpose in a Greek tragedy kind of way), and then went through millions and millions of dollars leaving us penniless once again. It’s that “dream”, that filthy dream that Biff is always referring to in the play.  That filthy dream pervaded my family since my father was the son trying to rise in his family’s business. My mother was all the time trying to be the perfect seventies wife, but under it all was a masculine, lesbian self that she wrestled with her whole life. There was great chaos. That chaos was a thin film over the truth I knew existed, even as a kid, but was always and forever on the verge of being revealed. Maybe it’s being a descendant of actors in the Yiddish theater in Eastern Europe, but that chaos had the pathos and tragedy of the drama I kept seeing unfold weirdly inspired me to make up songs and complex narratives. Narrative (storytelling) and music (poetry) was a way for me to make sense of it all, and both my self-proclaimed liberal Jewish and Waspy grandparents thought that was okay for a girl if she was going to marry right.  I love, love, love what Arthur Miller says about drama: There lies in the dramatic form the ultimate possibility of raising the truth-consciousness of mankind to a level of such intensity as to transform those who observe it.” Even as I child I was searching for truth consciousness beneath every action the adults in my life were taking. I am always been moved by Miller’s definition of drama: “ With the greatest presumption, I conceived that the great writer was the destroyer of chaos, a man privy to the council of the hidden gods who administer the hidden laws that bind us all and destroy us all if we do not know them.” Looking at the tumultuous time of my growing up through the lens of drama and poetry helped me survive the chaos and find a moral compass, a way out of crazy. Not only was home a disaster of opposites, religion, sexuality, etc. but the times were upsetting. I recall being regularly scared by the news, all the time.

What other jobs have you had -- other than writing or teaching writing? Did one of these help shape you as a writer?

Yes! Being a congressional aide and working in politics when I was younger helped me to really spin and fictionalize a narrative in a way I wanted it to be seen! It was like being a salesman of eternal bullshit. I guess that is why my father’s travelling salesman narrative and the Willy Loman narrative really resonate with me, how that explosive glory seeking can never replace the light of hope and redemption in the simplicity of things. Sometimes the only thing around the corner is death, and the American business narrative wants to erase that to a degree. We won’t really be redeemed by thingyness, after all the cross itself is only a symbol. Like Frost said, if you’re lost in metaphor, you are lost in history, lost in science, etc. 

Was there an extremely influential writing teacher who had a great impact on your writing life?

Charlie Simic was my professor in graduate school and he taught me how to cut (or should I say gut) the entrails from my poems. His poems really reflected to me the actual voice and wit I heard in the  man, it made me ask myself about my true voice that I had buried deep inside myself  because as a girl I felt I should just shut the fuckup already. I was too chit-chatty and it drove my parents nuts. Also, Simic’s sense of image/metaphor and juxtaposition appealed to my own Eastern European side, a darkness in my heart that could, if I let it, turn to wit, a kind alchemy for the soul. I love what he said about the similarity of timing of a joke and a poem. I grew up with a quiet waspy mother and a larger than life Jewish guy who was always joking, that eastern European Jewish humor made my growing up, linguistically speaking, bearable. Not to mention my father had Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce on the turntable a lot. I love the way humor guides us through the dark, and it does this by really recognizing that darkness unafraid. There’s a kind of communion in that, spiritually speaking. It breaks down barriers.

Faith. Do you consider yourself religious? If so, how does that manifest in your work and/or your process?

For a long time I thought I had to decide which side of my family to side with since we were raised with both Christian and Jewish holidays. I spent time in the Episcopal Church with my maternal grandmother, and my spiritual home is there, but I’ve come to accept myself as my daughter calls me—the Episco-Jew. The Eucharist is the Passover feast. I can sit at that table. Spirituality and religion have helped me to understand myself. A lot of my book is about disassociation of the self from the self. For a long time I was scared of God, scared of religion. Psychiatry has helped, but somehow I kept having these female Episcopal priests show up in my life and mentor me. My experiences in the Episcopal Church have healed my life. I love the liturgy of the “Book of Common Prayer”, and when I was young I wished I could write a poem as beautiful. I was so excited when I met the poet J. Chester Johnson, a man I admire so very much, who had helped Auden with the translation that is used to this day.

When I was writing “Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances”, I heard an Episcopal priest give a sermon about liturgy as play. The gist of it was theater is a way we play, and that playfulness brings us near to creation and our creator. I loved that idea. Theater is a kind of worship to me. My work and process is part of me becoming the person I’m intended to be, and since I have missed out on some of my life, I don’t want to miss out now. So, to answer your question, yes, I believe there is another world, maybe it is in this one. I find the new work of physics beautiful. Everything is everything. Coming from where I’ve come from, I need the peace that passeth all understanding.  There is so much space inside this space, and the writer is trying to communicate with it and for it. That makes me happy.

If you teach the craft of writing, why do you do it -- other than cash?

To save my soul, of course! I think that road to hell is paved with Wall Street dudes and dudettes. I suppose it is because I really believe in the biblical story of the gifts. Somehow I’ve ended up in this profession, so different from where I thought I would go, being an ACLU or environmental  lawyer. I argued so much with my father about our lives that he always told me I’d make a great lawyer. The dutiful daughter searching for acceptance, I was headed to law school from having already worked on Capitol Hill. Instead, things turned in a minute. I found myself in my own version of the movie, “Knocked-up” as I’ve mentioned. So, instead I had a baby, which made me go back into my own heart and see the young poet and writer I had been and abandoned in order to try and resurrect my family’s lost dignity and get my father’s attention.

Motherhood has been a central part of my creative and spiritual work, a way to find my true self that was lost along the way in my difficult childhood. So, in terms of the professional life, I have tried to really take up that mantle of Shelley’s that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, as a way to bridge that vocational issue. I keep teaching because maybe there is someone for whom my particular narrative of life information will mean something and help them in changing their lives in a “you must change your life” kind of way. Big order, but without that hope I don’t think I could teach. Meaning making is everything, in some sense. Nothing is scarier to me than that which is empty of redemption.

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

Really my whole life has felt like triage, cleaning up metaphorical messes and actual messes, albeit mostly blessed messes. I try to have schedules, but life has a way of interfering. I just keep a pen handy, take lots of walks. If I’m writing, I’ve come to understand that doing that makes the rest of my life come to fruition, come into focus because it is investigating the truth-consciousness I can’t yet see otherwise. What needs figuring out in my life needs figuring out in my writing and vice versa. This is absolutely always true. There’s the balance: The Mystery. If I am adequately addressing the Mystery in my life, the rest takes care of itself.

Criticism. It’s part of the territory. How do you handle it? Is this the way you’ve always handled it?

I once read an article in grad school that said to tack all your rejection letters up above your desk. I don’t recall whose advice that was, but it really worked for me. Having rejection letter wallpaper, really helped me get used to rejection in a way that I’m not really built for. I have come to believe we all have “our way” and what’s for us won’t pass us by. We each have a crazy recipe that makes our lives, so I try to remember that I can’t always understand the ways of this world. I have found envy of others totally useless, who knows what their actual lives are like behind success. Criticism and rejection in work has been easier than in love, for instance. Criticism means, at the very least, you’ve maybe made some one think something.

*   *   *

Elizabeth A. I. Powell is the author of The Republic of Self a New Issue First Book Prize winner, selected by C.K. Williams. Her second book of poems, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances won the 2015 Anhinga Robert Dana Prize, selected by Maureen Seaton, and was just released in September of 2016. Her work has appeared in the Pushcart Prize Anthology 2013, Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Ecotone, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Slope, Sugarhouse Review, Ploughshares, Post Road, Zocalo Public Square, and elsewhere. She is Editor of Green Mountains Review, and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Johnson State College. She also serves on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, as well as the Vermont College of Fine Arts Editing and Publishing MFA. She lives in Vermont with her four children.




Wednesday, September 28, 2016

#DedicateYourNoTrumpVote

As soon as the dedications started pouring in, it became my job to read heartbreaking, resilient, transcendent stories. Within two days, we'd had over a quarter of a million people visit the site.

Bestselling literary powerhouses like Pam Houston, Jodi Picoult, Pulitzer-prize-winner Richard Russo, National Book Award winner Jeanne Birdsall, and award-winning poet Erin Belieu have offered us incredibly moving dedications. 

Ed Clark is haunted by murders that rocked the black community of his childhood in the 70s; Chantel Acevedo gives tribute to the America she loves; Heather Nicholson warns us about a reemerging racism; Adrienne Su explains racists bullies of her childhood and its echoes in the Trump campaign, and Kerry Neville reminds us of the horrific history that accompanies calling a woman "crazy." 

And there's an anonymous dedication that will rip your heart out. 

Take a look. There's beauty and ugliness and heartbreak and hope ... 






Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Call to Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote

Three days ago, I wrote a simple Facebook post and, at the end, I dedicated my No-Trump vote. It's been shared over 950 times with almost double the amount of likes. It struck a chord. Dave and I are inviting others to join us; we're building a website Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote where we will collect submissions and post dedications. Who's already in? Two Pulitzer prize-winners, a National Book Award winner, a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army Special Forces, New York Times bestselling authors and award-winning poets....

But we are also looking for people from various walks of life, a diverse range of experience and points of view, those with a story to tell and a dedication to make.

We’d like to hear from you: a dedication to someone you love, maybe someone who's gone but fought hard for a better world while here, someone who's young and needs a better future, a Civil Rights movement or hero, well-known or overlooked, your neighbors, your friends, your ancestors... someone from one of the many, many groups that Trump has personally attacked.

We’d love to read your submission – from a few sentences to a full story.

You can message me on Facebook. (Even if it says that it won't go to me directly, I will find it.) Or you can write us through my juliannabaggott website.

IMPORTANT: We will collect the essays as we build the site so we are asking that you don’t share them on social media until we post them -- which will start soon. But obviously once the initiative is fully underway, we'll want people to share or participate by adding your own dedication on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat ...

When you send your dedication, include a short bio of yourself, too, along with a photo.

If you'd like to remain anonymous, we can work with that.

You can share this post.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Let me tell you something ...

Dave and I had been married a while when he made an off-hand comment -- I don't remember what exactly -- but I realized that I'd never really explained what it had been like growing up as a girl, the number of times I'd been really physically afraid that a man was either going to kill me or rape me. I told him stories, one after another. I told him the stories that I grew up with as a girl, that were passed down to me from the women in my family. I told him about the stories in my neighborhood, my schools, things that happened to friends of mine (without revealing names he might know), teammates, girls I didn't know but we all had heard... Things that happened in parks, swimming pools, basement parties, a train, a bar... I'd never told him because it had never really dawned on me to; I was lucky -- by every measure, compared to most women I knew. But when a man threatens a woman's life, women take it seriously. Because men kill women all the time. And little makes me feel sicker than when a man says that women are "full of drama." What's our drama? Men might think we've overreacted to something. What's male drama? A man's gotten drunk and beaten the hell out of a woman.
This Margaret Atwood quote can't be repeated enough. "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."
So today's news marks the second time that Trump has made threatening remarks about his supporters shooting Hillary Clinton. While Trump's made it clear that he's shaken by people laughing at his small hands, he thinks it's okay to threaten a woman's life.
It's not. It's sick and it's twisted. And it's why this election is so personal to so many women in this country.
And what happens, on an international level, when he starts making these comments about other leaders -- our enemies and even our allies who hurt his precious feelings?
I Dedicate My No-Trump Vote to women, girls, daughters, mothers.

[More on how to participate coming soon.]

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cover Reveal!

Baggott's new book of poems will be coming at you this spring!

And the cover is ... [drum roll]









Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Day One of Class...

I might have said:

For the purposes of this course there are only two kinds of writers: those of who are of use to you & those who aren't.

I hope you'll write some wonderful work on purpose, but first let's just try to write well by accident.

And then I also might have argued that all fiction writing is accidental.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Round-Up of Stuff I've Recently Tweeted (of the writerly variety)

On Writing… 
I prefer straddling two worlds, the one we basically agree on as reality and one that I completely control called fiction. A compromise.
The more complex the story (& world) you're writing, the more advantageous to have a straightforward point of view. A complex narrative with a chatty narrator who will just state things, for example, is smart.
Language compression and early aggressive use of white space allows for real breadth of narrative.
Sometimes you have to print the novel/poem out; only on paper will that snarling you hear show its muzzle, its bared teeth.
"I want to build an artificial heart, but you're not going to go from zero to a whole heart overnight." Kit Parker, bioengineer #noveladvice

On Poetry…
this might be controversial, but, look, the names of some poetry presses make it hard for me to take them seriously, as they deserve to be.

On Reviews…
my fave subgenre within the Amazon Review canon: the reviewer critiques the person who recommended or gave them the book as a gift.

On Teaching…
Sometimes I refer to my younger self in class as "Young Baggott." As in, "Young Baggott would have obnoxiously argued against..."

Arguing Against “If You Can Dream It…” in 9 Tweets
"If you can dream it, you can achieve it," is missing a basic component, actual work. It's actually mean unrealistic & weird.
"If you can dream it, you can achieve it" undercuts the whole notion of dreams, often wonderful b/c they can't be achieved only dreamed.
The whole notion of "wanting something badly enough" is also a weird mind-game & toxic after failure.
It's not that you had strong competition or the industry is flooded or you need to work harder but your desire is intrinsically flawed?
People achieve things they weren't dreaming of, actually, often when they're engaged not in "wanting it badly enough" but the actual work.
Maybe this: dream unachievable things if you want & then devote yourself to the work at hand (probably b/c you need it).
If you'd asked me at 20 if I dreamed of publishing 20-some books, I'd have said no, of course not or I'd have ignored you b/c I was writing.
Visualization is something different. A box jump begins with imagining yourself on top of the box. It's powerful especially in sports.
I'd like to read an article that interviews a number of successful people who never really thought they'd be successful. #didntdreamit

Monday, August 22, 2016

Okay... so here:

Let's say you have a chunk of a novel that's not working. The story is in place, more or less, but the urgency or voice or the sentence-to-sentence chemistry is off. You don't need to change the story as much as you need to change how its told. What if, as a completely cocky exercise, you sit down and write the first paragraph of the novel as if it were written by Marquez then Aimee Bender then Michael Cunningham then Colson Whitehead then Stephen King then Atwood then Zadie Smith. [Insert your own author-picks here -- and, of course, specific books.] It's not that your work would end up sounding like theirs (what a lovely problem you'd have then) but you'd find, perhaps, a new way in -- a new and inspired way in.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

prying open process...

This semester, for each story my writing students read, I'm going to ask them to do something I've never asked before. Invent a moment(s) in the author's life in which a glimmer of this story came to them. Don't research the writer's life. Don't look up interviews. Just, while reading the story, reflect on the writer's possible points of entry from life to story. The point isn't to gain insight into this or that published writer's process, but into the student's individual creative processes, to have them acknowledge that writers have creative processes (including themselves), to engage with the idea that the story didn't exist and then it did, but it didn't arrive whole.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sh*t Baggott Tweets About Writing

Writing a novel is pouring foundation while simultaneously stitching the quilt over the character and dreaming their dreams for them.

Let's say the Idea for a Novel is a locked house; voice is the key to the door, the jimmy for the window.

Writing a novel is drafting blueprints while oil painting a corner of the canvas then revising the blueprints accordingly.

I can sketch the plot but I have to simultaneously write the novel's opening to see if it has texture, voice, urgency.

I call it "mud-hoofing" a scene. Plot-wise something specific must happen. You feel like a puppet-master. Rely on details to make it real.

A grad writing student was telling me about what each professor had taught him. I asked what I'd taught him, had no idea. "You? The body."

When in doubt, remember your character has a body. Writers tend to exist in their heads but the body should sometimes lead.

Writing a novel is being able to build a house while ignoring its sinkholes. You have to be able to write with blind-spots.

Being an incredibly messy person has helped me as a novelist who can write first drafts where I just don't see the mess.


I wrote to music for the first time in my career recently. It turned out to be excellent -- IF you read it with the right soundtrack.



If you want to follow, I'm @jcbaggott ... 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Today's Tweets ...

My writing students get pounded with structure & then I teach them 3 Act structure by breathing in, holding my breath then breathing out.
Structures (3-acts, 5-acts, rising action...) are just paths through the jungle that someone's already cleared by hacking with a machete.
Writing is metabolic. Writers vary in the amount they can take in (reading, living, breathing...) before they need to create.
(I tweet on writing @jcbaggott. This is what I wrote today. Thought I'd share with you writerlies here.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ten years since my last collection, I have a new book of poems coming out this spring -- Instructions: Abject & Fuming. But, people, PEOPLE, the art on the cover is by this young up-and-coming artist whose work I love. Check out VICTORIA MAXFIELD. 

(The cover image we chose is on this page; try to guess which weirdness we picked...so much lush oddness to choose from.)

Monday, August 8, 2016

First Seven Jobs.

Seeing people post their first seven jobs makes me rethink my childhood. The list below is a look into the mind of the grandchild of a pool-hall hustler. It's still my job to hustle. Today, is the pub day for The 7th Book of Wonders in paperback -- and, look, it was a top 100 New York Times Notable and an Entertainment Weekly pick and Kirkus pick. There's not much more I can do except tell you to buy it. So I have. And now how a glimpse into how I started out, not in writing but in hustling... 

1. Dog-Trainer/Dog-Ride Owner and Operator. I would get neighborhood kids on rollerskates in summer and on sleds in winter and get my dog to pull them around our dead end – for cash. I paid my dog in marshmallows from the kitchen. All gross, no net.

2. Performer. I charged my family to watch me and my best friend put on Carol Burnett like skits in the living room.

3. Day Camp Owner and Operator. By ten or eleven, I ran a camp on my porch where neighborhood moms could leave their kids for a couple hours. One mom ran a daycare and would drop off her own kids and the kid she was supposedly watching.

4. By 12 or so, I was babysitting for a dental hygienist. 8-hour days, two kids, ages 2 and 4 or so. At twelve? It was a different time.

5. Eventually I got (and was fired from) a filing job at an eye doctor’s office.

6. I was a terrible caterer. My boss said he’d never seen someone do so little work. He was actually pretty impressed. One of our gigs was a lunch stand for a banking convention. I had to give change by doing math in my head. I’d basically take the money and then hold out a bunch of change and tell them to take the right amount because I couldn’t do the math.

7. Deli worker. Now this I was good at. I eventually could guess slices down to less than a quarter pound by holding them in my hand – so when I gave birth and the obstetrician held the baby and guessed her weight – and the nurses gushed -- I was seriously unimpressed.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

History was made today.

History was made today: the first out* transgender person spoke at a national political convention: Sarah McBride, a Delawarean, president of the student body while at American University, and former White House staffer who now works for the Human Rights Campaign. Her speech was eloquent and moving. (I can't wait to donate to her first political campaign.)
I also found out today that Hillary Clinton, in her role as Secretary of State, was the one to approve that a transgender person can get a passport that matches their gender identity. You might not know how important this is. In so many states in this country, it's impossible for the transgender community to get a simple driver's license that supports who they really are -- and doesn't dangerously out them. The passport is sometimes the only identification that supports their actual identity and allows them to travel the world without enormous fear.
*Note: I wrote out because trans people have always existed and so it's likely a transgender person has spoken at one of the conventions before. This is historic because Sarah McBride is being treated with dignity and respect -- she doesn't have to hide. As Attorney General Loretta Lynch put it, "we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side." Today was that history in action. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

New Segment: Survival Tips for the Election Season

Woke up to my neighbor yelling at the countless greyhounds she's rehabilitating (literally, greyhounds are hard to count). She yelled two warnings, "Don't pee on anybody! And, Mary, you better not go looking for poop." Presumably, she means poop to eat. Mary is your tragic -- but you'd be surprised how common it is -- poop eater. 
Right now, you're thinking, "What does this have to do with the election, Baggott?"
Rules to live by.
1. When arguing politics, don't pee on others. You might be thinking that it makes you superior to them, dominant, but actually it's just rude. It makes them not want to listen to you.
2. The world (in particular the internet) offers a lot poop. You don't go looking for it. Don't eat it. Be kind to yourself.
And thus ends the first (and maybe only) segment of Survival Tips for the Election Season.
You're welcome.

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/