Just a little water, right?

During February, Pittsburgh was more or less buried in two feet of snow.  My house was encased in ice, which melted and dripped down the side of the house where it refreezes and creates rather beautiful and intense stalactite-like icicles.  But it also drips into the house.  It drips through the walls and into the ceiling and plops down into the giant white bucket we set up in the master bedroom to catch it.  From what we could tell, that’s all it did.  Just dripped in through the ceiling and through the window panes on the second and third floor.

But we were wrong.  Last night we found out water had been seeping into the third floor library room, half of which sits above the gutter (currently frozen solid).  Okay, no problem, right? So what, the floor’s wet.  Well, so is everything that was sitting on the floor there.  Like my books.  Like my signed, personalized copy of Michele Morano‘s Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain.  The copy she signed after flying in to Pittsburgh from Chicago to sit on my thesis defense committee on pretty much the biggest day of my academic career so far.  The copy she signed “To Kelly, with admiration.”  With admiration.

When D.J., my fiance, came down and told me that a few of my books had gotten wet, but that none of them looked irreplaceable, I thought, oh, bugger, that sucks.  As I climbed the two flights of stairs to the third floor, though, I felt a growing sense of dread.  And then I looked down and saw the yellow cover of Grammar Lessons.  “No, no, no,” I said.  I picked it up.  I turned it over, and over again.  “Goddammit,” I said.  I felt helpless, but I carried the book downstairs and soaked up what water I could with a paper towel, then left it out to dry once I’d stopped crying and regained my composure.

It’s not ruined, but now the pages have those wrinkles to them paper gets when it’s been wet and then dried, and the back of the dust jacket has a brown stain at the top left-hand corner.  Okay, no big deal right? The book’s not ruined, I can still read it, and more importantly, the page with Michele’s signature didn’t  get wet.  Perhaps it’s silly of me to let myself get so emotional over a little water stain, but that book is important to me.

I worked for about a year and a half on my own travel memoir on Spain, and having Michele fly out to Pittsburgh, read my work and truly enjoy it has been one of the most important moments in my writing life.  It will always be important to me.  The day that I presented and defended my manuscript will help define my writing and who I become as a writer, because it opened my eyes and my mind to new options and ideas. Being forced to think about writing in a strict academic context is not something a lot of writers have the opportunity to do, and I’m very grateful that I had that chance.

And the fact that another travel writer, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s MFA program no less, who also wrote about Spain, was there to be a part of that transformation (because transformation it was) floors me.  When I think about how lucky I am to have gotten this kind of intense feedback on my manuscript, I know I have to work as hard as I can to become the best writer that I can be–because it’s important, because I want my writing to change people for the better, because there are people out there who already, in my new, new career as a writer, believe in me and want to see me succeed.

So, silly it may be, but that particular copy of that particular book is the best physical representation I have of all those feelings, all those hopes, and all the encouragement my entire defense committee gave me–which kept me going, and still keeps me going, through my darkest moments.  “With admiration” may only be two words, but they are the two most important words anyone has said to me about my writing.

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An exercise in idealism and how to achieve it

Right now, I make about $11,000 a year, rent a house, work a 9-5 desk journalism job and run a blog that gets between 2 and 20 hits per day on average.

By January 2011, I will make $25,000 a year, own an historic home, have a book deal  and freelance my way through my MFA at Chatham University while running a successful blog that gets 1000s of hits per day.

Sound like an unrealistic goal?  Excellent.  That’s what I was going for after reading Everette Bogue’s blog post “How to Succeed by Being Completely Unrealistic.”

Step one of that post was to set at least one unrealistic goal for yourself.  To take it a few steps further, I’ve set four and a half (make a living on freelance writing, own a historic home, have a book deal, run a successful blog and go to grad school).  Grad school is the half, since it’s not entirely unrealistic, but there’s still a chance I won’t get funding, and I’m not willing to pay for an MFA.

Even if you’re satisfied with your life, earnings and job right now, this is a fun exercise.

Step 2: Visualize your ideal life

I want to live in a gloriously renovated and gorgeous brick house in Pittsburgh and travel as often as I like to wherever I want.  I want to be able to afford a nice car and a motorcycle, and I want to make my living solely on writing novels, travel essays, travel memoirs and whatever other random topics catch my fancy.  I want to run successful writing workshops for other writers and have a giant library with beautiful leather-bound books.  I want to blog and attract a large following.  I don’t want to be famous, but I want people to read my books and come away from their reading experience changed in a positive way.  I want to help people grow and explore their potential.  I want to spend quiet evenings with my (in three months) husband and our dogs in the library drinking wine and reading or just talking.  I want to be able to take my friends out to dinner to thank them for supporting me and for being awesome.  I want money to be no issue; I want the world at my fingertips.  Not so that I can spend, spend, spend, but so that I can do the things I enjoy doing (like travel) in comfort and so that when I see a need I can help address it.

Step 3: Devise a plan to become the best in your (new) career in one year

This is the hard part.  “Writing” encompasses so many things, but since I do more than one type of writing, I’m going to have to shoot for the stars.

  1. Cold call major newspapers and magazines to pitch awesome story ideas.  Offer to write an article or two for free in return for feedback and input on my reporting and writing–hone my craft.
  2. Revise travel memoir and novel.
  3. Increase blog following and visibility through guest posts, networking, commenting and social media.
  4. Pitch and/or cold call magazines I want to write for with awesome story ideas and start making $1 or $2 per word.
  5. Submit short stories and personal essays to literary magazines and collections.
  6. Pitch publishers and agents on memoir and novel.
  7. Pitch Ruby and the Moon to agents and publishers as a YA book.
  8. Become a top-paid, highly sought after freelance writer by 2011.
  9. Publish a novel, a travel memoir and a YA book by 2011.
  10. Make enough money to buy and renovate my dream house.

Step 4: Sink or swim

After my term of service with AmeriCorps ends May 21st, I will not look for a new job, so I’ll have to make my writing dreams happen or I’ll wind up destitute and living with my parents.  Terrifying.

Step 5: Things I don’t need

A house (a room to sleep in and a bathroom would be nice though), nice things, a car, internet access, a cell phone, television (I already have no cable), my collection of Star Wars things, any of my other collectibles (like comic books), expensive tea, eating out.

Step 6: Learn a new skill

For me, this would have to be publishing and graphic design so that I could self publish PROFESSIONALLY if I needed or wanted to.

Steps 7 -13

These “steps” give advice on how to achieve these unrealistic goals.  If you’re curious about them, you should read the original post.

Feel free to come up with your own unrealistic goals and let me know what they are in the comments, or with a link to your own blog!

Campus censorship and independent student journalism

This blog post is a response to Greg Lukianoff’s discussion of how censorship and the limitation of free speech on college campuses harm our national discourse and contribute to our current “armed camp mentality.”  To fully appreciate my response, please watch Lukianoff’s video on YouTube, which is the second link below.

This is my entry into the New Threats to Freedom Scholarship Contest (yup, it’s that time again… getting ready to start my graduate degree in writing at Chatham University this fall).

Word count: 479

Campus Censorship and Independent Student Journalism

George Lukianoff in his New Threats to Freedom video argues that censorship and the limitation of free speech inhibit college students’ ability to engage in discourse and public debate after graduation.

When someone confronts you about your beliefs, asks you “why” and presents another side, you are forced to think about why you believe what you believe.  This discourse is essential in a democratic society, and without it, we are reduced to, as Mr. Lukianoff puts it, an “armed camp mentality” in which members of each camp fling nothing more than insults at each other.

College is a modern day right of passage for many young adults, and it is essential that these young adults learn how to debate, discuss and share ideas civilly if there’s any hope for the continued prosperity of our country.

These institutions will not change unless they are forced, and the only people who can force that change are the people that make the institution possible: the students.

Enter student journalism.  The media is often called the fourth estate, with the first, second and third being the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the United States federal government.  The fourth estate informs our country’s citizens of what’s going on in the world and what our government is doing.  As a working journalist and former student journalist, I believe that the fourth estate is essential in keeping the government honest.  It’s much harder to keep a secret with a reporter constantly nosing around your office.

Independent student newspapers can and should serve the same function on college campuses.  At the University of Pittsburgh, I worked for The Pitt News as a student journalist.  I was lucky, because The Pitt News is not only daily, but independent.  The school administration has no say over what is printed, no matter how critical of the administration a story might be.

My time at The Pitt News taught me to look at every angle of a story and ask the hard questions.  I no longer accept things at face value.  I do my research, and I know why I believe what I believe.  I learned, not only through The Pitt News but many of my classes at Pitt, how to engage in open discourse, how to share ideas and how to learn from ideas that differ from my own.

The ability to express opinions freely, to criticize a school administration, to debate with my peers: those things have made me a better person, and a better American citizen.

Many school newspapers aren’t independent, but I believe that is the best place to start in the fight to end campus censorship.  If your student newspaper isn’t independent, start a campaign to make it independent, and make sure you involve your local newspaper.  Once you establish the fourth estate on your campus, the administration will have a tough time squelching opinion.

A Self-Portrait

 

Click for a larger version. Drawing and text (c) Kelly Lynn Thomas

I drew this for a scholarship contest for my MFA.  I’m really pleased with how it came out, so I decided to share it.  I rarely draw, but I think I’m going to have to start doing it more often.  As long as I have source material to reference, my drawings usually turn out okay.  I will never be a famous artist or anything, but I do have a lot of fun drawing, and in high school I did it all the time (mostly I copied CLAMP drawings…).  I think having various creative outlets are a really good thing.  Mine, aside from writing of course, are sewing, calligraphy and drawing.  What are yours?

 

P.S.: I am soooo not a poet! I like the images in this one, though.

Grey Sparrow receives award, book reviews, travel memoirs and Japan

Spring is on the way, and I'm ready for it. Photo courtesy stock.xchng.

Last month Grey Sparrow Journal won the Council of Editors of Learned Journals’ Best New Journal Award!  I’m really glad that one of my short stories contributed to the overall quality of a great new literary magazine.  You can read more about the award on Grey Sparrow‘s website, here, or check out my short story “La Catedral” here.

I’ve also been having a blast writing reviews of young adult novels for The Figment Review.  My reviews are published on the first Thursday of every month, so be sure to check them out, and feel free to make suggestions.  I recommend subscribing to their RSS, because all the reviewers there are pretty awesome and well deserving of recognition.

(In case you missed the boat, Figment is an awesome website for teens and young adults ((and older adults too)) to share their writing with peers and friends.  I beta-tested the site over the summer, and while I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to hang out over there, it’s an awesome site and I highly recommend it.  The community is friendly and open, and there are some great stories.)

What I am most excited about this year, though, is getting my metafictional travel memoir, The Goddess España, out into the world.  I’m working on my final revision, which involves polishing the prose and trimming the text to get rid of some dead weight.  I’ve already written a query letter and have picked out a few choice agents to whom I plan to send said query letter once I’ve completed this final final revision.

I’ve spent two years polishing and refining this book from a more academic-oriented experiment in how to combine fiction and nonfiction to a beautiful travel memoir with wonderful short stories scattered throughout. I say that not to brag, but because I’m confident that this book can and will do what all travel writing should do: open a reader’s eyes to a new place, new people and new experiences.  In short, I believe in my book!

(And okay, I’m also really excited about our upcoming trip to Japan!  My husband D.J. and I will be heading off to “glorious Nihon” (as I like to call it) at the end of March for a visit to our good friend Emily who is in Osaka with the JET program.  I plan on doing a lot of eating, especially of regional favorite okonomiyaki and, of course, SUSHI.  D.J. also plans to drag me to an Osaka Pro Wrestling show, and I’m sure it will be an experience.  If you’ve been to Osaka or Tokyo and have a favorite restaurant or tourist/sight-seeing spot, please leave a comment with your recommendation!

Resolutions, charities and secret anouncements

 

University of Alcala, Spain. In 2010 I finished my travel memoir about Spain. In 2011 I hope to publish it! (Photo by Kelly Thomas, 2011)

 

Well, 2010 is officially over and that means we’re all looking forward to a whole new year.  2010 was a great year for me: I got married, was published for the first time, gave my first public reading, became an assistant editor of a newspaper (albeit a very small one) and grew a lot as a person.

 

Resolutions

I hope 2011 will follow in 2010’s footsteps.  I never used to be one for resolutions, but I made two last year and since I kept them achievable, I was able to keep them.  I’m doing the same for this year, although I’m building a bit on last year’s.

Last year I resolved to get published (which I did!) and to read two books I already owned for each new book I bought.  I was 95% successful on the second one, and that’s pretty good (especially if you know how many books I buy in a year).

This year, I have a few more resolutions, but a few of them are basically the same:

  1. Get my book published.
  2. Read five books I own for every new book I buy.
  3. Post once weekly at my blog about storytelling and metafiction, The Narrative in the Blog, as part of WordPress’s 2011 Post A Day challenge.

I am confident I’ll be able to achieve these goals!

Charities

In 2011 I also hope to continue supporting the great literary institutions I supported in 2010, including City of Asylum/Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  I also supported National Novel Writing Month in 2010 by coordinating the Great NaNoWriMo Book Drive here in Pittsburgh, and had a great time doing it, but in 2010 I’d like to focus on the “home team” so to speak.  NaNoWriMo is an incredible event and I’m so pleased to have seen it grow so much in the four short years I’ve been a participant, but both City of Asylum and my library have big plans for the new year, and I want to help them achieve their goals, because they are my neighbors and a great resource for us Pittsburghers.

To that end, starting January 8, I’ll be participating in the Carnegie Library’s 2011 Winter Read -a-Thon.  I hope you’ll consider sponsoring me!  I plan to read for about 50 hours during the course of the event.  If you sponsor me for just ten cents per hour, it comes out to a $5 donation–and every little bit helps!

Here are my suggested sponsorships:

  • $.10 x 50 hrs. = $5
  • $.25 x 50 hrs. = $12.50
  • $.50 x 50 hrs. = $25
  • $1.00 x 50 hrs. = $50
  • $2.00 x 50 hrs. = $100

You can also make a one-time gift.  Drop me a line at kelly.lynn.thomas[at]gmail[dot]com if you’d like to sponsor me!  I’ll post more about my Read-a-Thon plans in the near future, as well.

Secret announcements

On January 8 or 9 I have great news to announce, so look out for that.  I wish I could post it now, but I’ve been asked to wait until an official announcement is made.  So until then….

Happy New Year!

“La Catedral” online, City of Asylum reading

“La Catedral,” published over the summer by Grey Sparrow Journal, is now online as part of the magazine’s online Fall 2010 issue.  You can read it here, and check out the rest of the fall issue here.

Photo (c) City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. Used with permission.

Back in September, I was invited to give a reading as part of City of Asylum Pittsburgh‘s “I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t speak my mind” reading during the Mexican War Streets’ house tour.  If you’re not familiar with COA, I highly recommend checking them out, reading their magazine Sampsonia Way, and donating to help support their mission of giving asylum to writers from around the world who face persecution, imprisonment or death for speaking and writing their minds.

While this wasn’t my first reading, it was my first public reading, so I was nervous! I read “Los Caídos,” which is a story about two people dealing with the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.  A group of students from Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts middle school read before me.  They were absolutely fabulous, and I wish I would have arrived a little bit earlier to hear more of them read.

While I was reading, I couldn’t read the audience.  I had no idea what anyone was thinking, whether or not they were bored, enthralled, wishing they were anywhere else but too polite to get up and leave, or what.  So I plowed through the story, constantly reminding myself to look up at the audience (which I still should have done more of!) and read at a reasonable pace–not too fast, not too slow.  At the end, which seemed to me to take absolutely forever, I was exhausted, and still had no idea what the audience was thinking, despite some applause.

My husband assured me I performed wonderfully, and said a woman walking by stopped dead in her tracks to listen, but I’m still not entirely sure I believe him. He assures me it’s true, but surely she couldn’t have been that interested in me!  One of the CAPA students complemented my story, so I suppose at least one person (aside from my husband, of course) enjoyed it, and that’s plenty enough for me.  Regardless of audience reaction, it was a wonderful experience (as was COA’s Jazz Poetry concert, which I had the privilege of writing about for my newspaper), and I’m proud to support COA’s mission!

For an excerpt of “Los Caídos” and my article on the Jazz Poetry concert, click the “Portfolio” tab.