Washington, DC, was to me a place of Saturday trips, museums and concert halls, subways and my sister’s house in endless Northern Virginia towns. My mother and I drove up from Central Virginia and crossed the Potomac to go to piano concerts. One windy day, we decided we’d write a mystery story called “Whitecaps on the Potomac.” We were pretty pleased with our literary genius and tried (and failed) to think of worthy sequel titles all the way home.

I did not know the capital city was built between Virginia and Maryland so that George Washington could keep his slaves, something he would have been unable to do in Quaker-influenced Philadelphia. And of course Washington’s slave-holding colleagues—Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—agreed with him. Lauret Savoy, in her book Trace, examines the history of place and land and family in DC and elsewhere.

Savoy writes about subjects that history and literature gloss over: the unthinking racism of Aldo Leopold, African American settlements in the southwest, and the erasure of Native American place names and their attendant culture. As a geologist, she is used to telling the story of the land, but in Trace, she tells the story of the land and people.

What DC was to me says a lot about my class privilege. Not many of my classmates went to piano concerts once a month. But my mother was raised in a wealthy, Jewish San Francisco  household, where piano lessons were valued. She was encouraged to go to college and majored in music. She could afford the mahogany Steinway baby grand piano in our living room.

Science and nature writing often imitate science by pretending to be entirely objective and above concerns such as class and privilege. It tends to stick to the scientific and shy away from the human and the political. Savoy shies away from very little. And her book is all the better for it.

In Sick of Nature, David Gessner excoriates nature writers for objecting to him (or someone else, I read the book a while ago) saying that a mushroom looked like a penis. He hated the prissiness of his critics. Savoy takes his complaints further and links nature to settlements, invasions, historical narratives, and culture. She shows us that there are no limits to what you can write about the land.


Editing is Weird

That isn’t to say copyediting isn’t weird (I could tell you stories), but editing one’s own work brings up a variety of questions that one has to answer herself.

For example, yesterday I spent more time than I should have deciding whether the Ents should stay in my manuscript. (I also am unsure whether Ents is uppercase or lowercase, but that’s a job for the professional editor side of my brain.) The Ents appear right after I mention The Hobbit. A person might conjecture that Ents appear in The Hobbit. But it isn’t clear, and two of my non-Tolkein-reading friends stumbled at them.

How many times do I have to qualify my dog’s name with “the dog”? One might think she were a human (or a tree person). She thought she was a human. Do people remember dog names from chapter to chapter?

What is the name for paper that is lined like notebook paper, but has a vertical line a third of the way across the page rather than at the left margin? Does it have a name? What is it for?

When I asked my spouse about the paper, he said, “What do I look like, Google?” And I said, “You know a lot of random facts. I was hoping that was one of them.” Spouse fail.

What questions do you ask while editing? Do I have to introduce Ents?

Submit or Die in Obscurity

Submission Season

It’s chapbook submission season. Paper Nautilus’ Vella chapbook contest is open and Durham’s Backbone Press has an open reading period now. Are you a feminist of any gender? Submit to Gazing Grain. Tupelo’s Snowbound chapbook contest just closed. You think I would be tired of submitting to Tupelo as they have been rejecting me for years, but I revised my chapbook and hope springs eternal. Or maybe habits die hard. Pick your cliche.

Maybe you’re more of a contest person. Solstice Literary Magazine has a contest going on right now. They are a fantastic magazine out of Boston that is dedicated to publishing diverse voices. For years my poetry friends and I debated what kinds of work would be more successful in a contest. We thought loud and bold. My spouse (a fiction writer) is untroubled by the nuance and says, “Just submit already.” No comment.

Today Brevity opens its submission period for an issue on race, racialization, and racism. Write a flash essay up to 750 words on an aspect of race and maybe (squee) have Joy Castro read your work!

How do you figure out where to send your work?




What Should I Read Next?

It’s seven o’clock and my tutoring shift is winding down. My spouse has promised to pick me up at work and we’re going to try the new Chinese restaurant in town. His class schedule this semester has him waking up at 4:30 in order to beat the traffic, so by seven, he is falling asleep in his (delicious) plate of General Tso’s chicken.

I look at his thousand-yard stare as we wait for the bill. Last week he literally fell asleep at the table. I do the marital mathematics of balancing our wants and needs. He wants to go home and go to bed. I am not sure I have anything to read. Let me repeat that. In a house of ten-thousand books I have nothing to read next.

Panic ensues.

I could drive home by way of the library and leave him in the car while I go get some books. But I’d have to be quick and I don’t really know what I want to read next. I could take him home and then go back to the library. Nah, once I’m home I’m going to want to stay home.  Then—thank god—I remember Maria Mutch’s Know the Night. I have something to read, and Spouse can go to sleep without interruption. Happiness all around.

Then this morning, someone posted a review of Olivia Laing’s new book The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, and I know what I’m reading next.

What are you reading next?