Monday, January 02, 2012

It was a very good year.

All in all, 2011 turned out to be a pretty good year. It didn't begin with much promise. My agent had still not managed to sell my novel in stories, and I was struggling with the manuscript of a new novel, unsure of what would become of it. I was studying French (that was fun, at least), but was turned down for a residency in France. I was working hard, but nothing seemed to be going right.

But then . . .

The AWP conference was in March in DC. I was on two panels, saw a lot of friends, and spent a lot of time in the bookfair. I was energized, as I usually am, and full of ideas.

In May I attended the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA Program, and also participated in the alumni workshop in which the beginning of my novel was critiqued by peers and by an editor from a major publisher. That experience was encouraging--the feedback was quite positive--and I pushed ahead with the book.

In June I attended the Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop at Hollins College. I did it in part because several friends had plans to go to various workshops around the country and I suddenly felt left out, but also because Fred Leebron was teaching an advanced novel writing class and I felt that was what I needed. It was great. I got more good feedback and encouragement about the novel.

In July I went to Korea. This had been planned for some time. The government of South Korea has been sponsoring re-visits for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served there, organized by the RPCV group Friends of Korea. I hadn't managed to get one of the earlier trips, so this was my time. Plus, the novel I was working on was partly set in Korea, and it seemed a good opportunity to refresh my sense memory. It was a fun trip. I didn't get any writing done while I was there, but had a great time.

Around this time, I got some good publishing news. Although my agent had not been able to sell my novel in stories, I had submitted it to a few small presses on my own (with my agent's blessing), and finally got an offer to publish it. Since I knew the publisher--Press 53 also published my first book, In an Uncharted Country--I felt very good about that. In addition, a number of the stories from the novel in stories were accepted by good magazines, which made me very happy, too. The book, WHAT THE ZHANG BOYS KNOW, will be published in September 2012.

And then I found out that I got the residency in France after all. So, in mid-August, I went to the South of France for three weeks, the first of which was being a tourist in Toulouse. During the last two weeks, spent at VCCA France in Auvillar, I completed the revisions on my novel. (I posted a lot of pictures from that trip, as well as the earlier Korea trip, here on Perpetual Folly.) Just before I began that trip, my agent and I parted ways, so I knew that I would be looking for a new agent when I got home in September.

In September, then, with a completed novel in hand, I began the search. Having done that three times before--without success for my MFA Thesis novel and also for my story collection, and then for my novel in stories--I knew what a hard and frustrating process that could be. But something was different this time. Lower expectations? Timing? A better query letter? A better novel? Whatever was different, by the end of the month I had signed with a new agent.

In October I worked at placing more of the stories from the WHAT THE ZHANG BOYS KNOW (there are only 3 left at this point) and also did research and outlining for a new novel.

In November I participated in Nanowrimo, simply as a way to get a lot of words for the new novel on paper, to see if the structure worked. But I also had a 2-week residency at VCCA in Amherst, Virginia, and so was able to get most of a first, very rough, pre-draft of the novel done.

And in December I continued work on that novel and some other projects, as well as finalizing Issue No. 17 of Prime Number Magzine (our 7th issue), which comes out in January. Also in December, a couple of stories appeared in some fine online magazines, and another story acceptance came in.

Which brings us to now, the New Year. I realize that 2011 was actually a very good year, and I'm grateful, but also looking forward to more good things in 2012.


Paul said...

The title reminds me of "What Maisie Knew". Is the reference deliberate?

Paul Epstein

Clifford Garstang said...

Not deliberate in the sense that there's anything Jamesian at all about the book. The title is actually shortened from a pivotal story in the book called "What the Zhang Boys Know About Life on Planet Earth," and I settled on the short form in part because of the familiar (to some, but believe me not many, anymore) ring. [You're only the second person to mention it.]