2021-09-16 Dealing with Deadlines and a Midlife Identity Crisis Part Two ✌️

Part Two? How quaint. 

Last night I banged away at my keyboard, pulled dozens of books off my shelves, and googled “emerging author bios” seventeen different ways. My goal, of course, was to write one short, concise bio for the back of my pending book and one longer version for only the Universe (and my publisher) knows why. 

It took me exactly four years to write something akin to all the examples I’d looked at. Name, geography, credentials, and experience with just enough personality to make it seem like I’m a real human. It’s not exactly inviting. It feels dry and academic and I hate it. 

Well, hate is a strong word and I don’t exactly hate it. It’s more like I read it and it does not seem enticing. It’s also tough to come up with stuff to say in a way that somehow glosses over the fact that I’m very new at this publishing thing. Most bios I read start off by gushing about previous awards and books published and I just don’t have that. But I have to start somewhere. 

Anyway, the short bio got written and I’m mostly satisfied. Then I had a little fun writing the “alternate” version. The one that was easy and oozing with my humor and charm. Yes. I can be funny. I actually like to be funny. And so that exercise was satisfying. 

Just about then my darling husband came up the stairs and I read him both versions. He said about the first…

“It’s well written and I can tell that you thought through each sentence and carefully selected each word.” 

That’s right. 

His reaction to the second one?

“Yes! You nailed it! That’s the one!”

At that point I closed my laptop and decided I needed to go to bed. I gave up on my deadline and promised myself I would revisit it first thing in the morning. 

When the morning arrived I kept that promise. I made a few minor edits of both short bios. I collected all the other items the publisher had asked for and I finally, FINALLY, pulled the trigger in sending those emails. The only thing missing at that point was the long bio.

Which short bio did I send? The answer is both. 

I even asked my friend M what she thought. She laughed at the second one and said she’d definitely read the book of that person. What’s a girl to do? 🤷‍♀️

Some feedback from my publisher will be invaluable. I wonder if and when I will get that. I still owe them the long bio and in my opinion, it will be helpful to know if the two (short and long) will be in close quarters with each other. 

If, for example, the short one appears on the back of the book and the longer one at the end of the book on the inside, then I’d want to minimize repeating using the same language. 

If, though, one is for the book and another is for mailers or postcards or other promotional material, then I can repeat certain phrases and elements and not be troubled by it. 

Am I overthinking this? 

Yes, of course I am. That’s my Way. 

In any case, as I began to struggle with the longer bio today, what I ended up doing was combining the two, adding an element that M suggested, and then changing some of the verbiage so that it didn’t sound too similar to either, shorter version.

And there you have it folks. The finishing line of the deadline for The Finishing Line Press. How apropos.

That’s it for today. Right??

Wrong.

I realized just when I was wrapping up this post that going on and on and on about these bios without actually including them is like setting up a joke and then never getting telling the punchline. Kinda worthless. Well.. not worthless but likely very unsatisfying. So here are the bios mainstream short, humorous short, and long:

Official (95 Words)

Shyla Shehan is a writer and engineer born and blossomed in the Midwest. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska where she received an American Academy of Poets Prize in 2020. Shyla is Co-founder and Editor of The Good Life Review and currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband, children, and four cats. She enjoys digging in the dirt, road trips, and she accidentally breeds snails in her spare time. Her full bio and an account of her published work are available at shylashehan.com. This is her first book.

Alternate / Humorous (99 Words)

Shyla Ann Shehan is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven books of poetry, essays, and flash-forward fiction that have not been written yet. Her most noteworthy accomplishment to date is divorcing her (now former) career as a Healthcare IT Integration Specialist. Since then, she has pledged her undying love and fealty to Poetry but has so far refused to get matching tattoos. Shyla spends most days tending to a healthy household and accidentally breeds snails in her spare time. She is currently suffering a mini-midlife identity crisis over writing this bio for her first book, Unsuspecting Cinderella.

Long (209 Words)

Shyla Shehan is a writer and engineer born and blossomed in the Midwest. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska where she leveled up her poetry game and discovered that the writing life has more to offer than just a way to cope with the chaos of the Universe. 

Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, Plainsongs Summer 2021 by Corpus Callosum Press, Gyroscope Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts by Matter Press, and elsewhere. Her most noteworthy accomplishment to date is divorcing her (now former) career as a Healthcare IT Integration Specialist. Since then, she has pledged her undying love and fealty to Poetry but has so far refused to get matching tattoos. 

Shyla is Co-founder and Editor of The Good Life Review and currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband, children, and four cats. She spends most days tending to a healthy household and she accidentally breeds snails in her spare time. That’s a joke; she has no spare time. 

She is currently suffering a mini-midlife identity crisis over writing this bio for her first book, Unsuspecting Cinderella but is nonetheless grateful to you for reading and hopes you will visit  shylashehan.com for more. 

***

Now that’s it. I’m sure of it. And it is most certainly enough. Good gravy.

With peace and love and fluffy new kittens, 

~Miss SugarCookie

PS. If you have an opinion, I would be interested to hear it. No joke.. I really would.

2021-07-16 This Blog Post is Not About Toads 🐸🐸🐸

Jim and his boys brought back about 12 toads from their adventure at Two Rivers State Park and we released them in the stream behind our house. I feel a little bad for displacing them from their original natural habitat but feel confident they can thrive here too. Lots of cool places to burrow and hide in the day and bugs to snack on at night. The bugs are kind of bonkers right now with all this rain and heat. 

This would be a perfect intro to the garden update that I’ve been wanting to write about for a hot little minute lately but it’s not what’s on my mind today. Nope. 

Today I’m thinking about the grinder as a necessary tool in “sausage making.”

Sausage making (in this case) being the production of poetry which is opposed to where I first heard the term applied to developing software when I was working as an engineer for a software company. The metaphor, as it turns out, works well for both. 

I think that’s because there are a lot of similarities. There is a SDLC to poetry I don’t think people recognize.. call it a PDLC. Poetry Development Life Cycle. 

Complete with analysis to development to testing, iterations, and IF you’re good AND lucky, a little bit of implementation too. 

I’m also beginning to be a firm believer in the mathematics of it all. Proven formulas that work and methodologies that can be applied to increase the chances of success. But this is all just metaphorical until I can explain using real life examples to help solidify the thoughts. 

That’s a good disclaimer actually. These are all just my thoughts and what works or makes sense for one person might not for someone else so take that for what it’s worth. Back to “sausage making”…..

About a year ago I had just finished my last semester in an MFA program and my Master’s thesis in Poetry. It was also shortly after the “peak” months of the pandemic when folks were still on serious lockdown and waiting for news each day about what had transpired around the globe in the last 24 hours. I was working full time but had a growing desire to hang on to my MFA magic somehow and use the momentum from that to channel my creative energy into “something.” At the time, I didn’t realize that “something” was going to turn out to be publishing my poetry. 

Sure, I was also starting an online literary journal, but I needed something that would be more personally satisfying. Plus, Trish Lear lectured once that if you have a lot of balls in the air, something is bound to land successfully. You just gotta Toss ‘em up!! 

Yeah… it was near the end of July in 2020 when I started to submit my thesis poems like crazy. As it is with a lot of things you do for the first time, you learn as you go. The main platform I submitted on was Submittable and I slowly developed my own process. 

This process included things like finding and researching potential publishers, tweaking my cover letter and bio, and of course selection and revising poems I thought might be a good fit. After completing my thesis I felt as though I had about 50 poems truly worthy of letting loose on the world at large. I also had another 20 that had potential with more work and (not exaggerating) over a hundred others that will never see the light of day, so to speak. 

I had been told it’s a numbers game and so that was also part of my strategy. All this feels very much like an analysis phase tipping into development. I put the time and effort in. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions and with each submission and subsequent rejection, I made slight modifications. 

Soon, a few acceptances happened. If I revisit some of the blog posts I’ve written about being accepted and rejected in the past 12 months, I know I would find a sentiment of indifference. That’s kind of a curious phenomenon—to have a similar reaction to both. It’s like a brief shot of emotion right to the heart. An adrenaline spike when I open an email and see that a poem has been accepted and the same dose of a downer with each rejection. 

It passes so quickly, like minutes, and then I’m back to baseline. I’ve often wondered why I am so emotionally detached from the outcome—why I get so much more satisfaction out of revising and submitting than anything else? Maybe it’s the same rush as plunking your precious pennies in a slot machine and pulling the handle. The possibility of “hitting it big” is kind of a rush. 

That slot machine metaphors is also pretty accurate when it comes to getting your work accepted as a publisher, but I’ll stick with the “grinder” for now. 

I went on a serious roll, cranking that grinder daily and the last time I checked, I had amassed about 200 submissions (which equates to about 1000 poems). Being a numbers nerd, it’s an important part of the analysis. Law of averages melds with chaos theory to produce a result by which I can say now, with confidence, is about a 10% success rate. I put that statistic in my back pocket. 

Part of the PDLC is learning from mistakes and making modifications. And I’ve made a few. Some feel like big mistakes like submitting to a brand new publication with no idea about their presentation, professionalism, or vibe. I gave away one of my very best to a new place and was very disappointed in the outcome. I had to let that go, but will never do that again. 

Another mistake I made, which may or may not have been that big of a mistake, was spending too much (money and time) submitting to contests. Like Rattle, where I have very little shot of getting in. I know now that my poems don’t really fit with their vibe (or the current climate for rhetoric) and now all I have to show for that is 4 years of a subscription. That’s a lot of Rattle. I still aspire to get in there someday, but have to find the right poem for it and realize that I may never write that. 

I mention money. While this is not so much of a concern for me, it’s more about not just throwing it out the proverbial literary journal window. I’m all about support of small presses and startups but there are clearly some that have a good mission and vision and others that feel like they are just out to make some bucks. In order to ferret it all out, it takes research. And research takes time. 

It’s also a matter of observation and experience. For real! If I spent $20 on a submission and that hangs out there in “received” status the better part of a year with no communication back (even after the issue or contest it was submitted to has come and gone), that’s a serious red flag. 

Someone once told me that the longer it’s out there, the more chance it’s going to be accepted but I disagree. I think there’s a sweet spot and most of the acceptances I’ve received were at an average of 9 weeks. I think some places just don’t have a very good process for follow up on rejected pieces. 

It’s part of the reason I want to treat submitters to The Good Life Review way better and follow up on every inquiry and make sure each submission gets the care and attention it deserves. I digress. 

Anyway.. so now I have a process defined and operating like a well oiled machine. What this does for me is allow me to maintain my submission goals without a ton of effort. My current goal?.. maintain about 35 open submissions. 

This means when I get a rejection (or acceptance) the open count goes down and I engage with the process to crank another out. However, as most people in any sort of successful business know, there’s always room for improvement and ways to level up. My new aim, therefore, is not just to maintain 35 (or increase that number) but instead to make small steps forward to increasing the quality of the publications I’m getting into. Having names that are more recognizable on a CV or in a bio becomes important in the grand scheme. 

The grand scheme being what? Success. But, good gravy what is the definition of success? The true short story on that one is that I don’t know. Is it to someday get into Rattle or The Sun? Is it New York or Paris? Is it having a full manuscript published by Grey Wolf?

Maybe. I don’t know. 

If it is then I’d better get busy writing. What this post doesn’t address is that part of the process which remains shrouded in mystery. I’ve told a few folks my well of inspiration feels dry right now and what I get in return are comments like “well you are in the middle of publishing a book so I wouldn’t be too worried about it.” 

Good point. I’m not actually worried about it. I’m just a thinker and a planner so I know that if I desire to publish more, I’m going to have to write more. And prove to the world that I’m not just a one trick pony, so to speak. 

The other way one might interpret the grinder of which I speak is the way rejection can start to mush up your confidence after a while. Yes, I’m not so bothered by any individual rejection but after a while, as they start to accumulate without any acceptances to balance things out, I begin feeling like I’ve just gotten lucky and am really just an imposter posing as a poet. 

That’s ok. I fooled the world into thinking I was a rockstar engineer for about 25 years so I’ve got this. 

I know I’ve been shying away from public appearances lately and my social anxiety has thanked me, but I’m really jazzed about this topic and think I would like to give a talk or presentation on it. Barcamp? Winter Res? Nebraska Poetry Society? We’ll see. 

I think that’s it for today folks. Or should I say toad-a?!! 😜

With Peace and Love and Bacon Wrapped Dates, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-06-12 The Security Camera Saga: A Prequel 🎥

A prequel? Hmmmm… This is new. 

The briefest definition of “prequel” that I have found is a story or movie containing events that precede those of an existing work. And for sure I began writing this blog post several days ago with the intent to get into the weeds of the analysis I was doing at the time in order to come to a conclusion about what security camera system to replace our existing cameras with.

However, sometimes, when I begin to write, the words come out of nowhere and go in a completely different direction than I intend. It happens quite often actually and while I am sure it is all part of some grand plan, I’m left with little nuggets of treasure I don’t quite know what to do with. This one happens to be about writing bios. 

I’ve written and rewritten my bio dozens of times and included it in a hundred (plus) submissions. In the beginning a person really doesn’t know what to say about themselves. In 2017 I was at the beginning of a new chapter of my life and had just started rekindling my passion for writing. As such, I had nothing noteworthy as a writer to say about myself or my life. 

You can’t fake or fib experience and so all you really have to go on is your current status—Where you live, what you do, perhaps your personal familial situation or pursuits. My bio back then:  #ILikeTurtles. 😜

In 2018 I was tasked with writing my first bio by a publication that required it for their print poetry anthology. It was supposed to be about 50 words. I toiled over that because I didn’t have enough to reach the requirement. 

Now, after just a few short years, I have a tough time narrowing it down for those lit mags that have a 50 word max. I’m now faced with deciding what’s important or relevant to include and what I can let go of. It’s a nice  problem to have. 

For one, it means that I’ve been somewhat successful in my attempts to get my poems published. I now have a healthy list of publishers I can reference in the standard sentence that lots of folks include in their bio about recent work. It’s also good to have something about how a person is or has participated in the industry at large besides just being published. For me, that is my involvement with The Good Life Review. 

As I stated, I’ve now been through many versions of my bio and it hasn’t been just because of the aforementioned experience. It’s partly because my personal life has had a lot of big changes in the past couple of years too. Marriage, moving, and transitioning away from working at a traditional job to name a few. I feel like life has been a fast moving train since 2017 and is just now starting to slow down.  

Though my move was not THAT significant (same state and general metro area, just a different city), it did warrant a tweak to the bio. I also finished my MFA in writing AND had to up the kitten count from 3 to 4 when we got Gus Gus last year (yes, the number of cats I live with is important! 😂). 

Though there have been many iterations of my bio, the first bit about who I am and where I’m from has not changed much. I mean, those things are not going to change. I have shorter and longer starter sentences based on the word count requirement and have gone back and forth about the importance of folks knowing the state or the general area I grew up in. No matter the verbosity and specificity I’ve landed on calling myself an “analytical Virgo” and that’s just stuck in all the variations. 

Back when I was a practicing IT analyst, I didn’t have to include that detail but now that I no longer have a career where it’s inferred, I’m somewhat compelled to slip it in there. My analytical nature and affinity for left brain tasks are near and dear to my heart. It’s a double edged sword—the “thinkers curse.”

The big benefit is my ability (and passion) for digging into a task like researching options for replacing our security camera system here at the Castle. If you’ve ever looked into such things you know that it is less of a rabbit hole and more of a dragon cave! I don’t often use the word “Saga,” as I have done in this set of posts, and would never do so lightly. 

This is the part of the post where I was finally getting to my actual point, and was really super excited to document for all-time and perhaps even provide some helpful insight and value to individuals stumbling across my blog. Sadly, I ran out of time. Even more sad than that is that I thought about the best way to transition into that “real” topic and came up empty. But the saddest of all was that I actually started writing this on June 12th (it is now June 15). Life is a fast moving train indeed. 

I suppose the conclusion of this particular post (like a lot of prequels) is anti-climatic and doesn’t truly have much to say since the meat of the real story hasn’t actually been posted yet. And, if I were keeping true to the definition of the word “prequel,” those other posts would come first. But that’s not happening either. #fail 

Hopefully, though, all that noise will be ready soon.🤞 I for one am super excited about my new cameras!! Stay tuned to hear all about it. 😂

With Peace and Love and Bubblegum Bath Bombs,
~Miss SugarCookie

2021-05-18 Music as Inspiration and Other Rando Crafty Thoughts…

I’ve had my new phone for over a week and finally.. FINALLY.. got my music library loaded. So now I’m officially down to using one device daily. 💃💃💃

This morning, instead of picking a playlist, I’m listening to the ultimate shuffle—all the songs that are in my library. Another advantage of my new phone is that it has space to hold all the music I’ve loaded onto iTunes on my laptop, which is a fraction of the songs I’ve acquired in my lifetime. I only load artists, albums, and songs that I want to hear so as to avoid spending time skipping a whole lot of garbage that I’m not into.

In any case, listening to the ultimate shuffle today began with Mrs. Potters Lullaby by Counting Crows. That’s a song I once got inspired to write a poem about. One of the few instances (besides my Fall Out Boy poem) where I remember the exact circumstance—where I was and when.

I was at the Panera Bread in Papillion on 72nd street and it was just after a meetup with my ex, Matt. I sat in a corner chair—one of the bigger lounge chairs that’s not at a cafe table. I had my laptop out and was writing when the song came up. I was immediately immersed in the song and stopped writing. I couldn’t remember hearing that one before and I’ve listened to a LOT of Counting Crows. 

After the song was over, I hit the back button to listen again. And then again as I began to compose a poem. I let the song influence the poem, both in meter and rhyme. Each time I listened I pulled a line or two out to mingle with my own thoughts and I repeated the song until I was satisfied that the first draft was complete.

I then closed my laptop and drove home. 

Months later I found it again, perusing my personal slush pile and worked on revising, with the limited knowledge I had at that point (still early in my MFA). I didn’t spend too much time on it though, dismissing it because of the heavy rhyme and all the lyrics I’d hijacked and twisted to suit my needs. I wondered if the poem was too much of the song. Would that be considered plagiarism? 

Fast forward about two years and I’m revisiting my slush pile again, hunting for something to submit to workshop for my final MFA residency. I had a lack of new material and really wanted to push the envelope with something I felt was good and worthy of workshop, but would spark conversation about rhyme and “stealing” lines. 

It did exactly that and I was pleased with the outcome, yet, I have not submitted that one for publication and as I write this, I’m questioning why not. 

Perhaps that should be one of the next poems on the agenda for revision and research. Research because sometimes it takes a little effort to find a place that the poem would be a good fit for. Many publications I research actually say that rhyming poems are a tough sell and honestly, the poem itself is lacking tension and that’s probably a problem.

But tension can come in many forms. The subject itself can be edgy, the writing can be such that it surprises, or the tension can be more subtle—hidden in the play between the fundamental elements of the poem. Interruptions in established meter or form, changes in diction, or juxtaposing simple colloquial speech with complex rhetoric can all be effective means to create tension. I just have to decide what my poem wants—what would work with what’s already there. 

But… it could be that this is just a learning experience and the poem isn’t meant to be out in the world. Many aren’t. 

Maybe the experience I can learn from happened years ago when I first composed the poem, leaning into a song for inspiration. Maybe the daily reading of poems for inspiration can be expanded to include whatever song I feel moves me the most. 

Right now I’m listening to a song by Justin Bieber and that’s NOT inspiring me to write anything. I like some of his songs but listening to the ultimate shuffle, I’m still left skipping through a lot of garbage. Ugh!

Times up now anyhow. The taco Tuesday train is about to leave the station. All aboard! 🚂 

Peace, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-05-17 Back in the Game… ✍🏻💕✍🏻✍🏻

Last year I went on a submission spree, submitting my poetry to all levels and types of publishers, from the very brand new organizations to the big-name long shots—print, online, anthology, full manuscript, chapbook, daily, monthly, quarterly journals and reviews. I think I maxed out at 80-something open submissions sometime in November or December. Oh, and I spent some coin too as most of those journals operate much like my Good Life Review in that they rely on the submission fee to cover the cost of operations. 

In January I started fresh but vowed to only submit to free places that month. Then I sort of lost my motivation and promised myself I would wait out for what was currently open to be declined (or accepted).. until my open number dwindled to around 50. I told myself I would pick it back up then and maintain that 50, as a goal. 

50 came and went, I don’t know when, and then 40, then 35, and 30. About that time I decided I would try to maintain 25, when I got there. With the last decline  I received I think the open count was down around 22 so I was clearly lying to myself. Among all the declines have been a few acceptances, of which only one is set for future release—summer 2021. 

Of course I still have that chapbook that’s going to be published later this year. Sort of anti-climactic to have that come through and literally wait almost a whole year to announce anything about it. Though I’ve thought about making it public anyhow, just to boost my writer spirits. 

Anyhow.. not sure what my lack of motivation was from. I tried to look early last week for potential places to submit but quickly lost interest. Maybe it has something to do with my lack of new material. 

I read my standard two poems a day and that’s been uninspiring. I’m reading all the poetry submissions for my lit mag’s contest and am also uninspired by most of it. I think I’m just not in the mood to write anything new. I ask myself if that is ok or if it’s a problem to be solved.

Hmmm. 🤔 

***

Recently I wrote about how my mood has taken a turn for the better lately and that I think the lack of obligations has something to do with that. I wondered briefly if setting an expectation that I continue to press hard on the publishing thing wasn’t a contributing factor in the grand equation of expectations and a feeling of self-worth, or purpose. 

Last Friday I dipped my toe into submittable and confirmed what I thought to be true. Sure enough I was sitting at 22 open. I resolved myself to bringing that number up to 25. But oh my, am I sick of looking at the same poems (especially the ones that have been rejected over and over). So I opened some fresher material and got to work on revising and polishing them. 

And wouldn’t you know what happened next is like magic. I got lost in it. I was putting these newer poems through a series of tests—syntax, form, vocabulary choices, passive voice, cutting unnecessary words, lines, rewriting others conpletely, etc., etc. It felt glorious. With each pass, I felt better and better about each poem and, in general, I felt better too. 

I continued to edit and felt good enough about a couple to submit. Then I thoughtfully toggled between research, more revision, and submitting again until my count was up to 25. That was only 3 new submissions, but it was 3 more than I had had that morning and hitting my goal was satisfying. 

Wouldn’t you know, I woke up Saturday to a new decline in my email and I shrugged an got out my laptop to work some more. This time, exceeding my goal. Now I’m up to about 27. Maybe my new goal should be 30? 

This is how it starts. 😉

I suppose the point of all of this is that I had to force myself to do something I enjoy, but once I did, it was extremely satisfying and now I’m back in the game. 

Now… maybe THAT has more to do with my improved mood than anything. It could be that the spell of depression and unmotivated mood I had been going through had to do with BOTH external obligations and the lack of nourishment of my soul. The part of me that needs poetry and that thrill of producing art that I feel is beautiful and full of love. 

Love IS the right word. 

Today is Monday and I’m steadily making my way through my house chores—dishes, cleaning the kitchen (after a weekend with a houseful of teenagers), litter boxes, grocery shopping, and laundry. So far so good. And I’m not even bent about it. I feel great about it actually. What a flip!! 

My mom is coming over this afternoon and bringing her dog. We are actively trying to find a new home for her as my mom can’t handle her with her current health issues. It’s just not feasible. I’m hoping today’s meet-up will yield a positive outcome. It would be one less thing she has to worry about (and by proxy, one less thing I have to worry about). 

I think that’s it for today. 

Cheers to Being Back in the Game, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-05-11 All of This Is True.. Or Is It? 😉

This morning I was listening to my “Gear Shifter” playlist—the one I curated with songs that are sure to pump me into a cardio machine mood. One of the songs that came up in the shuffle was Hoodie Allen’s “The Real Thing.” 

The end of the song is a clip I have to believe is an authentic message left in his voicemail. It’s some girl, presumably his girl friend telling him she knows he’s working hard on a new album but he needs to get his priorities straight and pay more attention to her. For real! 

When she left that message she probably had no idea that it would make its way into one of his songs that would eventually be distributed to thousands of adoring fans. What do I think when I hear her sharp tone and biting words? What a bitch. 

I was given advice once to always be careful what you say and write, always, lest some unsavory nugget make it out into the wide world. It’s a conundrum. We spend so much energy making our public profiles look exactly how we want people to perceive us. For better or worse, I suppose.

The flip side of this is the freedom of letting your freak flag fly and not giving two turtles what other people think. In my head it’s a balancing act. My hatred of social media helps tip the scales in favor of not posting anything, ever. However, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are obviously not the only places I’m putting myself out there.

My biggest public facing platforms are my blogs—in various levels and colors of “findability.” My newest website which is less of a blog and more of space for self promotion is the place I’m thinking (hoping) people find me if/when they are looking. I was told that all writers should have a website to promote themself and their work. That it makes publishing their work more appealing to potential publishers.

That blog isn’t really a replacement for my original shyspark blog which I still post on a few times a year. That blog is home to first drafts of poetry and is also the archive of poems and musings from all the way back to the beginning of my poetry writing (which incidentally was when I was about 12 years old). In any case, it still serves a purpose.

Here’s me finally getting to my point…

A few weeks ago I posted to that original shyspark.com blog, which is connected to my Twitter account and posts automagically to Twitter. I had written a first draft of a prose poem. It was more of a musing than a poem, but I’m gonna call it a hybrid piece.

In the poem I had embellished some details of the situation I was writing about, letting the imagination in my fingers do the talking. I had an argument with myself about whether or not to post it, worried what people might think. I ended up posting it. 

Fast forward a few hours and whatever part of me won the argument about posting it waffled and I edited the post, rewriting the details of the lines to smooth over any content that might cause someone to question my character. Doing that made me feel so much better about the poem. 

Fast forward to the next day when it was brought to my attention that my husbands ex-wife had read the post AND brought it up with her son AND had him look at the post. 

They didn’t find the original lines. As timing had it, by the time she was pulling him in to read what I had written, the post had already been changed. I chalked it up to a lesson learned. But what was the lesson?

This question is one I’ve been struggling with since then. Here is what I’ve learned:

  1. Given the timing, it’s clear my husband’s ex-wife (who I’m thoughtfully calling whore number 1) is somewhat stalking me. To have seen that post in the short time it was in its original state, she is either following my blog, following me on Twitter, or just looking at all my shit on a regular basis. Any way you slice it, it’s creepy. If you are reading this, Jill, get a life!
  2. I still, after all these years, struggle with the thought of people actually reading what I write, worried about their perceptions of me. I’m a good person, but obviously have flaws and problems and make questionable decisions at times, that are not so pure of heart. Can I let that go and should I?
  3. Does the poem have to be true or are embellishments ok? If I twist the truth to shine a light on the deeper meaning I’m trying to come to terms with, is that being dishonest? I think most seasoned and learned writers would say it’s ok. Still, I write so much that’s nonfic, it’s tough to spin anything else when writing poems.

In the end, I felt like I wanted to write about this incident because it upset me but suppressed the urge, in favor of trying to just let it go. Clearly I haven’t let it go because as I began to write about that voicemail clip in the Hoodie song, it’s exactly the incident my mind zeroed in on. I didn’t plan this.. it just happened. 

If I was more brazen, I would tell you what kind of person is semi-stalking me. I would tell you that I call her whore number 1 because in an email to my husband she called me whore number 3. She wrote it and sent it and she’s never even met me.

Yes, I am my husbands third wife, but if I’m whore number 3, that makes her whore number 1. Good gravy!! 

(Oops.. I guess I’m more brazen than I thought!) 

If I was bolder than that I would tell you all kinds of other horrible things this woman has said and done and written. But not today. I’ve already satisfied my need to vent about this situation and her and it would really serve no purpose. I guess that means I’m done. 

And it’s about time.. I’ve definitely gone way beyond my allotted time for walking today. 

Cheers to Getting Shit off Your Chest(Finally), 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-02-05 This One Time at Band Camp…

JK.. I never went to band camp. 

I did go to cheer camp like 4 times though. Sadly there are zero juicy stories from that. All I have to show for my four years of cheerleading in high school are a bunch of pictures of all my bad hair days, nightmares about perpetually being excluded by the other girls, and a couple of trophies for being the “most improved.” 

In a world where popularity and good looks were everything, getting the “good effort” award was like a serious gut punch. I did work my ass off to be a good cheerleader however and I suppose in the long run learning how to work hard to achieve something has served me better than any fragile friendships or being noticed for my looks. Though, damn, those would have been nice. 

These days, getting acknowledgement for my efforts from people I respect is so affirming. A few days ago we had a team meeting for the lit mag and one of our teammates threw some compliments my way and suggested introducing me to The Local Girls Gang which is a group of bad-ass women bosses and entrepreneurs. I was soooo flattered. Kind of speechless. One of my other team members spoke up and piled on. My oh my. 

Sometimes I’m just so unsure how I’m doing and what people’s perceptions are. And often I don’t know how to react to compliments. Some people deflect compliments or minimize them thereby coming across as very modest. The approach I typically take when I’m overwhelmed or dont know what else to say is just to respond with “thank you.” But I honestly don’t remember how I reacted or what I said. 

The zoom meeting was recorded and I’m still waiting on that being sent to the group so I could eventually play it back to find out. 

In other similar news, I recently contacted a professor of mine from a class I took at UNO in 2019 with a request to help spread the word about the lit mag and among the kind words he sent me in response was a comment about me being such a “hard charging dynamo.” Again I’m filled with pride. Sometimes it pays off to be the “most improved.” 

It reminds me that it’s ok to not know how to do something or to maybe not have a natural affinity for something and just work hard to be better.. I mean.. nobody knows how to do a thing until they try it. But if you work hard, you can get better and eventually people will notice. 

Statistically speaking, by this time in a blog post 99% of people have stopped reading. And sometimes that is the same amount of time it takes to get to my REAL topic. 

I suppose this might seem like a bad thing. I’ve lost all readers before I get to the point, but in this case (with this particular blog) it actually works to my advantage. I want to write about something I’m unsure of or worried what people might think. Why today’s REAL topic falls into this category is a mystery to me but it does. 

The same night as that team meeting I mentioned (which was incidentally also the day/night I was empty of energy and having concerns about my relationship) I found a message in my inbox just before I went to bed. It was a notification that a chapbook I submitted last year was accepted for publication. 

I’ve had individual poems published online, among a sea of other poets. I’ve had individual poems published in print anthologies with other poets/poems but this is new! This is an entire 30 page chapbook of poetry, just MY poetry that will be published in 2021!! 

Holy efffing shit people. This is such fantastic news I don’t quite even believe it. And I was so wrecked when I read that email that I don’t think i had the mental capacity to process the news. 

It was one of the things that kept me from sleeping that night however and was partially responsible for my getting up at 4am. I read it a few times to make sure I was sure about what it said. I subsequently updated my personal website with the news which isn’t much. I only know the publisher and since it had been a while since I researched them I mined their website again for more info. Publishing full length manuscripts and poetry chapbooks is their main thing. And they gave some recognizable names in their list of authors which makes me feel great. 

I have great respect for Terrance Hayes’s work and he has a book with them. Wowza!! 

So that was Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Now it’s Friday night and I have yet to tell another soul, save this blog. What the hell?? Why is that?? 

Now we’re getting to the REAL REAL topic. All thoughts converge on this question. 

As questions often do, it multiplies before it can be answered sufficiently -or- so it CAN be answered. 

Do I feel I don’t deserve this or that my poetry is not actually good enough? 

Am I just not sure how to react to this “success?”

Or am I worried about the other consequences if the poems being in print? That could be it. The focus/theme of the book is about relationships which is mostly benign however there’s a heavy emphasis in the second half on my new life at “the castle.” 

Besides the two mentors I had in the last two semesters of my MFA program, an friend who helped me edit, and my mom.. no one else has read most of these poems. 

I’ve not shared with workshop peeps, friends, or Jim. Especially not Jim. 

My 3rd semester mentor encouraged me to “give in to the destructiveness of a subject.”  I’m not sure I quite understood his point, until now. 

My moms reaction after reading was to be worried I’m not happy with my new life. I assured her things were fine. Still, I have elected not to share with my husband, who is my biggest fan and always wants me to read my poems to him, especially now the ones being published. 

It could be that I’m worried what he will think. That he will also take to heart the sentiments and that will throw a wrench into our relationship. 

To be fair, three years ago when we met I told him my passion was writing and that I was pursuing an MFA in poetry. His response was frankly that he never wanted me to alter my art or have our relationship cause me to change what I was writing about or how I was writing. I interpret that as “keep writing what is in your heart no matter what.” 

At that time I never dreamed we would get married or that I would be living this life of a doctors wife. I never dreamed that I would be compelled to write so much about my current circumstance. However, I could have predicted that whatever I would write about, it would not be the rainbows and butterflies. That’s just not my style. 

And thank the universe as rainbows and butterflies are not in fashion this century. “Today” poetry is all about free-verse with lots of tension and surprise. This pending chapbook (submitted under the working title “Unsuspecting Cinderella”) is all about tension and surprise and suggests that the house I live is inhabited by a dark force that gets into the heads of anyone living there and changes them (and not in a good way).

I do worry living the charmed life that’s virtually worry free financially will change me (and my children). The poems in no way implicate the owner of the house, but it’s not a large leap to get there. 

There’s actually very little mention of Jim. And maybe there’s something about that which is also concerning. Or maybe I just don’t know how to write a love poem. I have written a love poem about Jim and even took that to the MFA workshop. “Lack of tension” was one persons comment. Another said they didn’t quite believe the speaker and thought the poem was actually about the speaker missing being single. If that’s not proof I can’t write a love poem, then I don’t know what is. Good gravy!! 😜

I digress. Sorry bout that. 

“Girl, Stop Apologizing” 

So yeah, I’ve officially got a book coming out. That’s what’s up!!

Bringing this full circle.. I did work my ass off on those poems, revising relentlessly and arranging and rearranging tirelessly until the order in the book was “perfect” and working diligently to get the individual poems placed (which is key in the process/decision for a publisher in selection, I think). I might not get the extra-most-bestest award, but I certainly feel like I deserve an “A” for effort.

In this case, I’m pleased as punch with the result.

Now I just have to figure out how to navigate telling people. I suppose posting this blog is the first step. Haha! 

Statistically speaking, Friday nights are the lowest traffic time for this blog so it’s perfect!! 😜

Staying Frosty, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-01-12 On Being Smaug 🐉

I opened a book I got for Christmas; I was bound and determined to break out of the habit I’ve gotten myself into where I only read to learn things and can’t seem to read for fun or enjoyment. I remember those days. I remember reading the Hobbit in the bathtub when I was a kid. I loved that book and it has a water-swelled look that proves it. 

I swear I’ve lost the patience to read for no “productive reason”. I read two damn pages of my new book and had to set it aside. School broke me I think. Either that or I really don’t like what I was reading. What I need to do is figure out how to switch off the “learning” brain and just read something fun and adventurous or suspenseful. Perhaps a YA dystopian novel? 

Maybe deep down I really don’t like poetry. How cray would that be? A poet confessing that the only poetry she really loves is her own. I love all my babies. I think all my little darlings are precious gems and deserve good homes. Maybe the best home there is, is one I build myself? After a parade of rejections lately I’m starting to think more about that.

What can I do to unhinge my learning brain so I can just enjoy reading again? This diatribe about reading is a smoke-screen for what’s really bothering me.

Hinge and unhinge are buzz words. And the moon is still the biggest cliche that’s OK but not Ok.
Or I maybe I don’t care it’s Cliche. If the moon wants an appearance in my poem, who am I to refuse?

After all, it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

Yeah, it’s part of who I am. And my poetry is an extension of who I am.

I will keep working to make my writing better but won’t sacrifice my voice or preferred topics because who I am is not “marketable” or the “right fit.” (Nobody said I’m not marketable, but I’m not an idiot, the market has trends of interest).

I’m Smaug from the Hobbit, with all my gems and well armored against most assailants. Most. But last night felt stings from a well placed/well timed arrow. Right in a tender spot exposed in a weak moment.

There have been a number of rejections this week. I’m close to getting my period and that’s when I’m more emotional, more vulnerable and subject to injury. So far I’ve been pretty immune to the language of the thoughtless rejection form letter. The letter that’s says, out of the box, “thanks but no thanks.” What’s worse, when they send something like “not a good fit.” What’s a good fit is what I want to know. 

What’s worse is when I can tell they really just leave the Submittable default decline letter be their rejection message. Being on the publishing side, I know what that is. And also that it takes just a few minutes to craft something more personal. We did that for the GLR and I revisit this sometimes. It’s an important part of our Public facing reputation. Each human interaction, even rejection (maybe especially rejection), is important. 

Sometimes I feel like everyone else is doing all the work on the lit mag, and my contribution isn’t important, but thinking about it now.. the fact that I care so much about being kind and treating people with respect and being sympathetic to their situation does have an impact because I want every interaction to be a positive one. I know there are improvements I can make and those changes will make a difference. 

I think being on the receiving end of messages from potential publishers has made me better suited for the work I’m doing. 

With each new rejection my confidence wanes. I was sitting in my bed and updating the spreadsheet I use to keep track of my submissions and there’s so much orange sherbet I feel a sting. I selected a pleasant shade of orange to indicate rejection instead of red because red is so harsh. The color of blood or stop or don’t isn’t conducive to keep trying again. 

Still, after a while, even the light orange is bothersome. At the same time I’m reviewing the status in submittable I’m texting with my friend T and we’re conversing about rejection and self publishing and the lit mag. We both agreed the wonderfully written rejection was something to treasure. 

I’m down about the numbers but not sure what to do about it. I recognize it is mostly out of my control. If my writing is not a good fit, there’s nothing I can do. Find a place it is a good fit I suppose. But I was too tired last night. Too tired to read, to write, to research, and decided to call it quits for the day. 

It was supposed to be a good day, a “me” day but my mood was rotten all day and I just couldn’t feel accomplished or productive no matter what I tried. 

Then.. just as I was closing my laptop, I checked my email one last time. A new message in my inbox was a lovely email from a former mentor of mine from the MFA program. It was so generously encouraging I just cried. How did he know that was exactly what I needed? That’s some serious intuition. 

He said I was “a real deal poet” and to keep working. After I read that I closed my laptop and set it aside. I slid down under my covers, and grabbed a tissue to wipe my eyes. How did he know? 

I have more thoughts about that, but have gone on too long already about rejection and about typically being immune to the sting of it, and also about how there’s a weak spot in my “armor”. 

I’m not Smaug. I may be wounded but I’m not gonna die from those poorly crafted steel arrows. I will survive to live another day, do good work, and make my own mark on this life.

With my mentors kind words I was able to fall asleep with those thoughts instead of the others. And I woke up this morning ready to take on the day.

What did I find in my email inbox?.. Another poem has been accepted for publication. Well played Universe!!

Cheers to being Smaug but not really being Smaug, 😉

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-01-04 MFA Graduation Day 💃💃🎉

It’s about time. It’s about endings and beginnings, direction, voice, responsibility, and resolution.

Or at least it wants to be. Aspiration, experience, and discovering what life is trying to teach you. I mean me. When i say “you” I mean “me”. When I say “we” I also mean “me”. We’re all self centered. Humans. All pronouns are rooted in a center that’s concerned with self, with perspective, angle, intention. We’re slant. 

Sometimes this generative process I go through each day begins with fragments of thought. Most of the time I don’t have a lot of complete concrete ideas of what I want to write. I just have to begin. We all have to begin somewhere. We’re all alike in that. 

I suppose the difference between this writing and the production of poetry is that this writing begins and ends as an unedited first draft. All the fragments and incomplete thoughts, the “fluff” and mistakes are exposed. And I’m fine with that. I’m getting what I need from it and am satisfied. 

As opposed to the poems which go through a dozen (often many more) revisions. I’m way more concerned with mistakes, and turning every stone of the poem over to discover what improvements can be made, the tightening of the writing until it’s sharp as a blade. 

 Obviously in the MFA program we talk a great deal about this process. And in my last semester revision was a big focus of study as I was revising every poem in my manuscript. It takes a great deal of effort and even now, though it’s long been over, I look at those poems and see other things I could change to make them even sharper. 

Yesterday I attended a lecture about voice and how you can’t find your voice because it’s naturally in you already. Not a thing to discover, if you will, but instead something you just have to flex and grow. You have to hear yourself and also practice other voices. You have to go out on a limb. The metaphor the person giving the lecture used was that of a tree. The trunk and main branches are your natural voice. All the smaller branches, leaves, buds are extensions of that voice. But it still all comes from the same source. It was a great metaphor. 

My lecture was on voice too so I’ve done a lot of thinking about the topic, but the lecture yesterday opened my eyes to a few big pieces I’d not considered previously. 

First that our voice is sometimes something we’re suppressing because for whatever reason we’re taught it’s not correct. We lose confidence and try to change it, which doesn’t work. 

More importantly though, I had the realization that I’m kind of afraid of my own natural voice. Afraid may not be the right word. A better thing to say might be that I don’t trust my own voice. I think this is one of the  reasons public speaking scares me. I have to write out what I want to say because I’m afraid of my natural impromptu voice stumbling, being judged and laughed at. 

I literally wrote out and read my lecture (and my reading was just that too). When asking questions during zoom lectures I prefer to type my question into the chat and not speak out loud. This extends to other parts of my life too, specifically when it comes to my job and facilitating meetings. 

I’d much prefer to write out an email than  conduct a meeting. I’m much more comfortable with that. I’m not good at going out on a limb. I need to work on that. 

Today is the last day of the last residency I’ll have the opportunity to attend as a student. There are a few lectures left and one workshop. Later today there will be a virtual graduation ceremony highlighting all the grads. I’m not really nervous about it as I’ll mostly just be watching. The grads have composed a prose poem of sorts where we’ll each have our two lines to say in turn. That’s it. Then it will all be finally, officially over. 

I’ve had a lot of time to figure out what’s next and what my life will look like now. In truth, not a lot will change as I’ve already slid into not working a job and not having deadlines for school. My hope is that I can keep myself on task. Keep working on “going out on a limb” and pushing myself to stick with the endeavors I’ve committed myself to. 

I want to and think I will but it will be a matter if finding the right balance. Yes, it’s about balance too. Sleep, balance, time, health, direction, and responsibilities. More about that will likely appear in fluff in the musings of Miss SugarCookie soon (and always). 

My hour is up. Time to get going with the day. 

Cheers to endings and beginnings, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2020-12-24 A Perfect 4

I haven’t put on a dress in a while, but I’m pretty sure size 4 is still what would fit best. On a scale from 0-10, pretty sure my poetry is a 4 too. At least based on all these rejections. Another one popped into my in-box this morning. Like hello… merry fucking Christmas to you too. Who sends rejections on Christmas Eve? Whatever. 

I’m still letting my submissions ride through December. I’ve had three or four new rejections in the past week and one new poem get posted on a new site. 

That one I’m not particularly excited about (the journal not the poem—that poem is at least a 7 on the aforementioned poem scale). I’m calling this latest publication a lesson learned. Everyone makes mistakes you know and so this is a mark in that category. 

As I’ve come to conclude, finding places for your writing is a lot like dating. It goes like this…. 

Submittable is like that dating app. There’s a list of potentials you can do a bit of filtering on. You get a brief “picture” and bio of potential matches. You sit alone and scroll and scroll and click and read and if something looks promising, you might dig a little deeper on their website, you know, how one might google a person of interest. At this point in the game, you have to decide which ones are worth more effort. Like dating, it can be slim pickings at times. 

You might ask yourself if they are right for you and your babies. Oh that’s another thing, you are concerned about yourself but also your precious children, because they will be the ones inheriting the outcome if there’s a match. 

So you find a good one. You swipe right and fashion that first communication. You have to decide if you will be clever or just stick with the standard form letter greeting. Hi. I’m “so and so” and I’d like you to go to the prom with me. We don’t have to go to dinner. Yes, I have a fancy dress I can wear, I’m a size 4 (in case that’s important). I’ve been checking you out and I think we’d be great together. Not up for something long term? How about just a one night stand? Here’s a good poem. Take it pretty please with sugar on top. 

Too desperate? Makes sense… that’s what rejection does to a person. 

So as far as I figure, part of this dance is like determining what league you are in (and sizing them up too). Like see that hot guy over there, Mr. New York Times is a 10. Miss Paris Review is also a10. Unless you’re name is Ilya Kaminsky (who is also a 10), you should just forget about it. 

You have to know yourself. I’m not a good judge of myself. I think I’m like a 6 but I’m probably a 4. And I’ve been aiming all over the place. 1s, 8’s, and everywhere in between. I’ve even swiped on some unrated lit mags. Literally. Which makes them a 0. 

That was my mistake. Now I regret hooking up with that ZERO who misspelled my name when the issue came out and frankly was sloppy in their presentation. And I sent them one of my best babies… like one of my 7s. Ugh!! 😩 

The truth is, just line dating, after a lot of rejection you kind of lose confidence. I think that’s what happened. I just felt down about it and started sending everywhere and didn’t do the proper evaluation. I won’t do that again. 

From now on I’m going to evaluate what I have to offer and match that with the places I’m sending to. (I say in the wake of this latest mistake). But it’s a lot of work. Just like dating. 

For now though, and through the new year until after Res, I’m just riding out the swipes I’ve got stacked up already. Still hovering above 70. Maybe I should just ride it out until I’m back down around 50. We’ll see. The swiping can be addictive though. Hmmmmm… that’s just like dating too. 

Wonder if I’ll ever find a good match for my manuscript? 

Well..  I used Bumble once and hit the freaking lottery. So I guess anything is possible. 😜

“Why yes, Mr. Graywolf Press, you can have me. Just take me. Take all of me!” 🤣

Happy Hunting, 

~Miss SugarCookie