Faye Rapoport DesPres

essays

The blog is back — and so is the writing

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As I mentioned in a quick post the other day, my blog was out of commission for a couple of weeks — sorry about that, readers! One day I logged in to write a new post and got a strange error message noting that there was a mistake in a random line of code. Not being a coder (I can only code the most basic HTML) I had no idea what the message meant. So I emailed my trusted Webmaster, Justin Sablich. This made me feel kind of ridiculous, because since I met Justin several years ago and he built my website and blog for me, he’s become a bit of a “big shot.” Now a multi- media sports journalist and designer who writes and produces news stories for The New York Times, he was even sent to London to cover the Olympics. But because he’s also a kind and generous human being, he got to work on my blog the first moment he could and within days had it up and running again.

I know people recommend web designers all the time, but I honestly can’t say enough positive words about Justin. I believe he still pursues his web design business in addition to his work at the Times, and he has never been anything but wonderful, generous, and helpful to me — all at a very reasonable price. So if you’re looking for web design services, do contact Justin (and tell him Faye sent you!).

I feel as if I’ve missed so much time with the blog — I wanted to write something about my experience at AWP in early March, and I’ve had thoughts since then about some of the writing I’ve been doing, as well as publications news from other writers. I have also been going through the process of having my agent, Joan Schweighardt of GreyCore Literary Services send my essay collection/memoir manuscript to a number of presses. It’s been an interesting experience to “shop” my first book-length manuscript, but I’ve been hesitant to say too much about the process here. You never want to second-guess what might or might not happen, or to jinx any possibilities (even while all of your toes and fingers are crossed). I’ll just say this — it’s been an illuminating experience in many ways, and it has helped me to understand the publishing world better and to think carefully about where to focus my writing as I move forward. If and when there’s news about the manuscript that’s worthy of sharing, you can be sure I’ll share it here. I can say this — with everything the manuscript has been through so far, I’m gaining more pride in the accomplishment of working on and finishing that book, no matter what happens.

But as one friend familiar with the publishing scene told me, the most important thing to do while a project is out there is to move on and keep writing. So that’s what I’m trying to focus on now. I’ve working on a variety of things — getting back to my writing desk first thing every morning, tinkering with both old and new personal essays (which I think I’ll always do) and planning on trying some fiction. I even have a children’s book in mind that I’d like to write. There’s so much out there to try and explore, and I’m going to cast around for what feels right for my next project.

Wish me hard work and good luck. I wish it right back at you.…

A new publication: My essay “Survivors” at TOSKA Magazine

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My short essay “Survivors” has been published in the Fall issue of TOSKA Magazine. This essay is somewhat different than most the work I do — it’s shorter, and more lyric and experimental. I’m glad it found a good home.

TOSKA describes itself this way:

Founded in spring 2012, TOSKA is a quarterly online literary magazine that strives to publish the highest quality nonfiction writing and photography.

With a strict focus on nonfiction, we accept narrative nonfiction, flash nonfiction, biography, autobiography and memoir, experimental, political, historical, LGBT, journalistic works, and most other nonfiction subgenres. We will also consider art, music, book, and media reviews of exceptional quality for occasional publication.

I encourage you to peruse all of the great work in the issue, and to submit if you have work that might be appropriate. I’m honored that TOSKA published “Survivors” — if you check it out and enjoy the piece, please feel free to click “like” or to use the thumbnails below the essay to “tweet” it or “share” it on Facebook. The magazine is encouraging the use of social media to get the word out about TOSKA and the new work they publish.

My thanks to the editors for the work they do producing this new outlet for nonfiction, and for publishing “Survivors.”…

“And so it goes…”

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Someone once told me that every step in the literary ladder has similar stresses, hopes, and disappointments — just at different levels. Before you’ve been published, it feels as if the world will be a better place and your life will be transformed if you just get that first “yes” to a submission. Then, if and when you get that “yes,” you begin to worry about whether you will ever get another one. If and when you get a second acceptance, you wonder if you can keep the momentum. And if you’re persistent, hard working, and lucky enough to get a number of acceptances, you begin to worry that your work is (choose one):

  • Only being accepted by online journals
  • Only being accepted by lesser-known journals
  • Is being accepted by good journals but hasn’t been nominated by the editors for any prizes
  • Won a prize but not an important one — after all, it wasn’t a Pulitzer.

And so it goes…

I’m at the stage now where I’m worried that my book manuscript won’t get published. I’ve gone through all of the stages of convincing myself that indeed it won’t get published so that I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t. Still, I find myself believing and hoping, despite my better judgment. I don’t want to jinx the process by talking too much about where it stands; there have been some positive developments accompanying the usual and more daunting bumps in the road. But it’s all been a lesson in the same type of thing: first you wonder if any editors will even read the manuscript, then, when someone agrees to read it, you sweat over the likelihood of a rejection. You remind yourself over and over that at this stage it’s as much about marketability as about the quality of your work — or even perhaps more about marketability. But there’s still that eager, hopeful, scared writer inside of your reasonable head saying, “Please, someone fall in love with and publish my book.”

But what if I’m ever lucky enough to hear a publisher say, “Yes?”

I’ll probably celebrate by dancing alone in my home office for a whole five minutes before I start worrying about what reviewers will say and whether the book will please the publisher by selling.

But that’s jumping way ahead of things right now to a place I might not ever reach. Let’s take things one step at a time.

All of this, anyway, is about feedback from the outside. In the end, what’s really important is to be able to look in the mirror — in the real world or on the page — and be happy with what’s there.…

Irrationality — Acceptances and Rejections

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“Remember, the acceptances are just as irrational as the rejections.” One the faculty members at my MFA Program often told me this. And the more I forge through the daily life of a writer in the trenches, the more I understand what he meant.

I just learned that an essay that I entered into a literary contest didn’t win or get a nod as a finalist. That alone is not unusual; it’s very difficult to win a literary contest. There are often hundreds of submissions, and in order to win your piece has to get past initial readers and then end up being the one particular piece that one particular judge decides is the best among the final entries. That judge has his or her own tastes, interests, and literary preferences, and if your essay or poem or story doesn’t particularly match those sensibilities, it’s not likely to win.

The reason the failure of this particular essay confuses me, however, is that it is almost universally the essay that readers who know me have loved most. I first wrote it during my MFA studies, and even then the initial draft I presented at a workshop got rave reviews from most of the students and teachers. Since then, over the past nearly two years (after I had polished the piece and gotten the sign-off from a respected reader) I have submitted it to quite a few journals — 13, to be exact, if you don’t count the contest. It has not been accepted at any of the journals. Five of the journals rejected it with a basic form rejection, and eight rejected it with a note that requested more work. These requests either arrived in a form-letter type response or in a more personal letter praising the piece but saying it was not right for the journal. One of the journals, a well-known publication, sent a personal note letting me know that the piece got “very close” and encouraging me to try them again.

In a case like this, it’s tough to know what to think. I am inclined to think the piece is good enough to be published, because it got “very close” at a well-known journal and inspired eight editors to request more work. But part of me thinks that maybe there’s something not right about the piece, because, well, let’s face it — no one has accepted it in almost two years.

But then why does everyone who knows me and reads it love it so much? It’s a mystery.

It’s possible that the topic of this piece throws off some editors, or makes them question whether the event described in the essay really happened (it did — I had a very special, almost mystical encounter with a blue jay that bordered on unexplainable, and that’s what I write about in this piece). I can’t know if this is the problem, or if some other aspect of the essay just doesn’t gel with these editors’ sensibilities.

In the end, I guess I just have to accept what my teacher told me so long ago. “The acceptances are just as irrational as the rejections.” You can’t get too puffed up when you get good news, just as it’s a mistake to get too discouraged by bad news.

As for my essay, I think at this point that I might just include it in my book manuscript and leave it for my future readers to decide — if, of course, that manuscript gets one of those irrational acceptances.…

On the Quest for My First Book

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It’s hard to believe that June is more than half over. Time passes that way, flying so fast you can’t catch it. For the past few weeks I’ve been adjusting back into the schedule of writing and working at home. I’ve found it strangely difficult to get back into the swing of things; the writing is getting done, but I’ve been falling asleep later at night and waking up later in the mornings. I’ve also been living alone while my husband is away at school, so I’ve had more household chores to handle when I first wake up. Today I didn’t start writing until 7, and that meant the rest of the day didn’t begin until 9.

I’ve been concentrating lately on trying to complete a collection of my personal essays. I have an agent, the wonderful Joan Schweighardt, who is also a long-time friend and colleague. Joan has worn every hat in the writing and publishing world; she has written four published novels of her own, as well as a memoir that was recently accepted for publication by a small press. Joan was in fact a publisher herself for a time after founding a small press called GreyCore Books. After a number of years in the field and the successful publication and marketing of quite a few books, she found that the financial challenges publishers faced at the time were too difficult to conquer (today there are more printing options that might have sustained her venture). As a result, she transformed GreyCore into a literary service that assists authors with manuscript editing, marketing, and occasionally, agent services. Joan has successfully placed a number of fiction and nonfiction titles with publishers, and I felt lucky when, after I worked with her as an editor on a couple of titles and she read some of my work, she agreed to be my agent once I finish a completed essay collection.

There are many facets to the idea of attempting a full-length book, especially if you are an essayist. Personal essay collections are notoriously difficult to publish, because publishers have to work with books they can sell and essay collections traditionally don’t attract a broad audience (even when they’re very good). A number of small and/or independent presses are working to boost general interest in essays, and I am forever grateful to the editors and publishers who believe in creative nonfiction and take this work seriously as a publishable genre. Fiction, biography, memoir, and poetry are generally easier to sell – but personal essays are becoming more popular, thanks to the many great essayists out there and a growing number of readers who are interested in the shorter forms of personal writing and reflection.

When I decided to earn an MFA, I wasn’t sure which genre to pursue. I had written poetry throughout my childhood and young adulthood, and had taken a poetry class at The New School and a graduate poetry workshop at the State University of New York at Albany. I received solid, positive feedback from my teachers and saw myself as a poet. But by the time I decided to apply to an MFA program, I hadn’t written any poetry for some time. Instead, I had been working as a journalist and writing a lot of feature stories. Fiction was the genre with which I had the least experience; I had written just two or three short stories in my life, and although one of them had been published by an online journal called Void Magazine (now defunct), I wasn’t confident that I had either the skills or the portfolio to apply as a fiction writer. I also wasn’t sure what “creative nonfiction” was exactly, but it sounded like the type of writing I was doing even in my spare time – I used to distribute a tongue-in-cheek newsletter called The Rapoport Times to friends and family that shared humorous stories about my life. One of my stories, about the culture shock experienced by a young woman from New York who was adjusting to the “new age” lifestyle of Boulder, Colorado, was published in a special Boulder edition of The Intermountain Jewish News.

When I was accepted as a student of creative nonfiction, I still wasn’t quite sure what creative nonfiction was. But I fell in love with the personal essay as soon as I learned about it, and I have been writing personal essays ever since. The form feels the most natural to me right now, and seems closest to what I want to achieve with my writing, although I haven’t ruled out a return to poetry or another try at fiction in the future.

Currently, my goal is to combine the essays I’ve been publishing over the last few years with new work in order to form a collection. And after re-dedicating myself to my morning writing routine I’m getting closer to my goal: enough words that I feel good about to complete the generally accepted required length of a manuscript (a minimum of 50,000 words for essay collections).

A couple of years ago I actually held myself back by worrying too much about completing a book; I needed time to improve and to focus on individual essays without worrying about finishing a book manuscript. Rushing things led me to produce inferior work in the quest for a manuscript with “enough words.” So I set aside my hope for a book and focused on individual pieces. That was the right thing to do at the time, and it’s possibly an approach I should continue with even now. I certainly don’t think that I’m already the best writer that I will ever be (at least I hope not). But I have worked long and hard and have had the quality of at least ten of my pieces verified by acceptance for publication in respected journals. And lately I have felt the desire to see my work in a larger context. So I’m going for it. …