2020 is nearly here. As we reach the end of a decade, I’m grateful for the events that took place over the past ten years. For my kids growing up and becoming teenagers. For my divorce and remarriage. For a writing career that finally took flight. This seems like as good a time as any to contemplate the lessons I’ve learned from publishing 10 books in 10 years.
Book 1: Captive, De Novo Prize Winner, C&R Press, 2011
I graduated from the now-defunct Masters of Professional Writing Program at USC in 1997. I wrote and published extensively in magazines (hundreds of them) but my first book escaped me. The manuscript for my first book Captive was a finalist or semi-finalist for 20 different poetry prizes before it won the De Novo prize, C&R Press.
Lesson: The power of perseverance.
Book 2: Poets’ Guide to America, Brooklyn Arts Press, 2012
In the Spring of 2009, one of my best friends John Buckley let me know that he was starting to write poetry seriously and we decided to experiment with lines back and forth. Soon, we had a concept for a book: poems that take place in all 50 states. We ended up trading lines and ideas. John made me a better writer. He was a virtuoso of strangeness and Americana. We riffed on each other in a partnership that spanned nearly a decade.
Lesson: Writing can be fun.
Book 3: The Interrogator’s Notebook, Story Merchant Books, 2013
A book that came to life over a decade of workshopping it in my LA fiction writing group was accepted by an agent at William Morris. After a thirty page treatment and another draft, the agent left the business and I began looking for a publisher. At the time, I was working with Ken Atchity, a producer, on a film project and he convinced me to publish The Interrogator’s Notebook on his press so that he could pitch the film. It was championed at Paradigm Agency. and attached to a well-known Hollywood writer and director who wrote a pilot. It was pitched by Skydance Television and I still have hopes of the project being revived for screen.
Lesson: Sometimes it’s OK to not take a traditional path in publishing.
Book 4: Yankee Broadcast Network, Brooklyn Arts Press, 2014
My first word as a kid was Batman, allegedly watching from the Adam West TV show. Like many Gen Xers, I grew up with the heavy influence of television as did my writing partner John Buckley. We created a universe tied to our childhood and delved into parallel reality of TV shows we invented. It was a lot of fun and the funniest book I’ve written in a genre that can take itself too seriously.
Lesson: It’s OK in poetry to embrace pop culture subject matter.
Book 5: Underdays, University of Notre Dame Press, 2015
After my separation, after getting whooping cough and getting laid off, after bottoming out and rebuilding my life, I took dozens of old poems and braided them with new lines, my older self conversing with my younger self. Unlike Captive, this book won the Sandeen Prize within months of sending it out.
Lesson: It’s OK to embrace hard times and dig deeper in your work.
Book 6: Interrogations, Fomite Press, 2016
Similar to my first book Captive, this short story collection was a finalist for a half dozen fiction prizes before Fomite Press published it. I generally write one to two stories a year and the 20 stories in Interrogations (all published in literary magazines) span over two decades. So many memories and snippets from my life find their way onto these pages, including the short story that prompted me to write The Interrogator’s Notebook.
Lesson: The power of perseverance (important enough to list twice).
Book 7: Spectrum, C&R Press, 2016
A scene from the first chapter came to me as a dream in college. I wrote the first chapter at University of Michigan. I wrote the novel as my thesis at grad school at USC. The story of cloning haunted me so much that I wrote a second draft, then a third draft a decade later. I grew up reading and loving science fiction. The long creation process was worthwhile. This is my only book where I haven’t had a negative review.
Lesson: It’s OK to let your writing develop over time.
Book 8: Lessons in Camouflage, C&R Press, 2018
The third time’s a charm. My third solo poetry book covers similar terrain as Captive and Underdays, weaving poems of war and familial strife, illuminating truth in difficult times. Even though this book did not win an award like my first two solo poetry collections, it’s the better book. It’s taken me over 20 years to get here and in publishing this collection I feel like I can move on to new projects.
Lesson: Writing is a craft and it takes hard work to get good at any craft.
Book 9: Fake News Poems, BlazeVOX Books, 2019
In 2017, I decided to write a poem a week using a news headline as the jumping off point during the first year of the Trump presidency. The rules where simple: I had to write one poem a week (n matter how I felt) and no rewrites after the fact. I wanted to catch a moment in time in these news poems, and I selected subject matter that reflected my own life as much as the world around me.
Lesson: Taking risks is part of writing.
Book 10: Sharks vs. Selfies, Eyewear Books, 2021
The last few years I’ve come to realize in all the genres that I work in – fiction, poetry, screenwriting – that telling stories is what motivates me. Sharks vs. Selfies is a book of prose poem. The process of writing them is the most I’ve felt like my true self as a poet. It combines my imagination and love of weaving tales with a craft I’ve spent decades struggling to perfect. It’s a new direction and I’m excited for what the future will bring.
Lesson: Trust your feelings as a writer.