A Forest of Dead Trees

by | August 26, 2018 | General | 1 comment

[Note: living trees look more inviting.]

by Jean Roberta

The most recent topic of discussion on another writers’ blog, “Oh Get a Grip,” was “chaos.” Each contributor interpreted this term differently. Some discussed the chaos in the world which can be inspiring to a writer, some described the chaos in a writer’s mind which can lead to unexpected connections which form a plot, and some talked about the apparent randomness of a writer’s luck in getting published (or not).

I’ve been dealing with the physical chaos in the second-story bedroom that my spouse and I call “the library.” It used to be filled with books in bookcases made of particleboard that were buckling under the weight. When I got a new, shelf-lined office in the university where I teach, I moved our whole fiction section there, along with much of the non-fiction. The empty bookshelves at home were so decrepit that I took them apart and recycled them.

Taking three-quarters of the books out of the “library” should have created more space, but it simply cleared more room for more stuff. At this point, I can’t remember how I managed to keep all my stuff in an apartment.

The home library has become an unofficial storage unit for stuff that doesn’t clearly belong anywhere else: paid bills (which might be needed as proof), framed artwork (which we haven’t decided where to place), two sewing machines (one a treasured antique from 1916 which first belonged to my grandmother), thread, ribbons, pins and fabric, a filing cabinet for important legal/financial documents, musical instruments (spouse comes from a musical family), greeting cards, stationery, envelopes, etc. Every few years, I reorganize, yet my organization plans don’t last.

Lately, I started sorting out the stack of papers related to my writing. One of my filing cabinets in my office at school contains numerous containers for correspondence with various publishers. One of my shelves is labelled “Dead Publishers,” and it includes material I can’t bear to throw away.

In the home library, I have two envelopes for two publishers I’ve dealt with at home during my time away from the classroom. One of them is Excessica, the writers’ co-op run by Selena Kitt where I have several pieces for sale, and really should post more. I also keep a running list of calls-for-submissions with deadlines which I keep updating and reprinting. Under that, I keep a list of my fiction pieces (short and long stories) in alphabetical order with word-counts, listed by content (het erotica, lesbian erotica, bisexual and ménage erotica, gay-male erotica, realistic-contemporary, historical, fantasy). I keep two lists of submissions: fiction and non-fiction, with dates and the places where I’ve sent them. When/if one of my submissions gets accepted or posted, I circle it.

Atop all this, I had a large pile of blank sheets of paper on which I had scrawled useful information: email addresses of writers and publishers, buy links for books, event listings, promo information, research notes. In the last week, I’ve managed to turn most of this handwritten material into files in my “Documents” on the home computer.

I probably sound well-organized, but I still feel lost in a paper forest. Any serious writer needs to stay on top of the business of writing while also making time to write and revise material for publication. I’ve noticed that several of my stories have been rejected once and haven’t been sent out again. Clearly, that needs to change, but I need to decide whether to revise them, and if so, by how much.

The last three years’ worth of fiction submissions show me that several editor/publishers gave me vague promises that they wanted to hang onto my stuff for publication sometime in the future. How soon should I send another query, and when should I give up hope and send these pieces somewhere else?

Or should I put everything else aside to write stories that need to be submitted SOON because deadlines are speeding toward me? I don’t have much time left before I have to start teaching three classes and marking assignments.

The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas described writing as a “lonely craft,” and I’ve seen it visually represented by images of empty boats and boats with one person in each, surrounded by vast bodies of water. These visual metaphors are not encouraging.

However, writers’ groups such as Erotic Readers and Writers bring writers together to critique each others’ work, kvetch, inform, and compare notes. I’m curious to know how other writers organize writing-related material so that everything can be found when needed.

Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica (http://excessica.com). Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, www.eroticanthology.com. Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links: www.JeanRoberta.com http://eroticaforall.co.uk/category/author-profiles

1 Comment

  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Jean,

    I use my email system (which is a local Thunderbird installation, not on some distant server) as my most important organizing tool. I have folders for different publishers, folders for my blogs, folders for specific readers and writers with whom I tend to have frequent conversations, and so on. To some extent this folder-based organization is mirrored on the hard drive of the computer I use for my Lisabet Sarai life (which gets backed up every night, by the way!) though it’s really not as parallel as I’d like it to be.

    For tracking submissions, I have a spreadsheet. Sometimes I forget to use it LOL. These days, I’m self-publishing most of my work, so submissions aren’t as relevant.

    I do have a filing cabinet drawer labeled Lisabet, but these days I hardly ever print anything out, except contracts I need to sign. It’s much easier to search through the digital world than through piles of paper (as I gather you’ve discovered.)

    Anyway, don’t give up. We’re all battling against entropy!

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