It Took a Long Time

Some essays come together in a flurry of draft writing. Others take a bit longer to conceive.

My new essay, “And She Was” (Argot), took about two years to write, re-write, submit, face a few rejections, re-write some more, pitch a query, clean up the prose before hitting send… and finally find a home. It is one of the essays I’m most proud of putting out into the world.

After a few months of fussing around with the opening paragraphs in 2015, I pulled together the first 1,500 words of the essay for a March 2016 workshop in Asheville, NC that I was invited to attend by Ariel Gore. I wrote another scene for that same essay later that summer in a Women on Writing online workshop taught by Chelsey Clammer. I knew I would have to thread those parts together, but it wasn’t until August that I had a full draft ready for submission.

Part of what helped me gather the courage to write this essay  one in which I confront the internalized biphobia of my early 20s, acknowledging the wrongs I perpetuated against a woman I loved (and still love) — was the HippoCamp ’16 keynote speech “Don’t Be a Hero” by Ashley C. Ford. During the Q&A, I asked, “What if you’re struggling to write an essay because you’re the asshole in your story?” Her spot-on advice propelled me forward:

After the keynote, I walked over to say thank you and she was not only entirely warm and gracious, she even posed for this:

ashley c. ford

(Notice how Ashley C. Ford looks happy and composed… and I look as if I am in dire need of a hairbrush!)

Once “And She Was” went out into the world, I waited… and waited.. and waited some more. Narrative essays that are neither political/pop culture hot takes nor written by famous authors have a hard time finding placement online. I was turned down by a few literary magazines, and then I sent a missive into a writing group: “Where can I send a 3,500-word queer essay?” I was fortunate to be pointed into the direction of Argot, a non-profit publication dedicated to creative writing, smart analysis, and art across mediums that centers queer culture, the feminine narrative, and marginalized communities.

Thank you, Ariel Gore, for telling me, “I think it would work perfectly as part of a novel.”

Thank you, Chelsey Clammer, for telling me, “Keep going with this one.”

Thank you, Ashley C. Ford, for all of the advice on being brave in the writing, even (and especially) when you’re the asshole in the story. And thank you for posting this on Twitter:

Thank you, Laura Bogart, for reading multiple drafts and telling me, “Find a place that will pay you.” I’m so thankful that I did.

And most of all, thank you to Liza Winthrop, the center of “And She Was.” The girl down the hall who accepted my friendship in 2006 and helped me to accept my full-fledged bisexual self. The woman who reconciled with me over a dance at a wedding and I’m so glad that through all of the ups and downs of our past and even the writing of what we went through, she remains one of my dearest friends.

Summer 2016

The last time I wrote here, I was in the middle of a pitching slump that wouldn’t quit. I sent my best ideas to editors, only to hear the disquieting cricket chirp/existential Sound of Silence by way of a reply. It was dispiriting  and it’s a cyclical reality that every writer and artist faces. So I kept pitching.

And then The Establishment picked up an essay I wrote about Roxane Gay: her recent comments on NPR’s “This American Life: Tell Me I’m Fat” and my own narrow judgments of her more recent writing on being fat and female, as well as how my body image has changed, and changed, and changed again. My piece “Roxane Gay, I’m Sorry I Wasn’t Listening” found an audience. It was shared by Roxane herself, which is such an honor. A week later, my name and a portion of my essay were both featured in The Atlantic column “This Week in Pop Culture Writing,” a list that started with none other than Pulitzer Prize-winning Emily Nussbaum and ended with… me. I reacted, of course, as any rational person would:

what-is-happening

Once the joyful reality set in, more good news came — Tegan and Sara had shared my essay on their Twitter page!

tegan-and-sara

And then, well… let’s just say that:
I don’t need air
I don’t need to breathe

tegan-and-sara-gif-tegan-and-sara-17405376-400-224

I kept writing about my body all summer long. I wrote about accepting my stomach at the sensory deprivation spa, my summers as a plus-size lifeguard and whether it’s easier to be fat, proud and in a relationship for Ravishly. Then, I wrote a short essay for Role/Reboot about another plus-size writer/actor Tami Sagher and how her fat’s unremarked-upon presence in the film Don’t Think Twice was an act of feminist revolution .

And now, my fifth contribution to an anthology the essay “How About a Hug?” is available in ebook and print form in How Does That Make You Feel: True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch (Seal Press), which is officially out and in the world. You can order a copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and Powell’s Books please support feminist publishing!

Bonus good news: my 2015 essay in Autostraddle, “She Wouldn’t Give Me Up which is a riff on Fatal Attraction, alcoholism, co-dependency and one of my first queer relationships was featured in the site’s round-up, The Autostraddle Guide to Queer Mental Health. You can read an excerpt below and the entire essay here:

she-wouldnt-give-me-up-excerpt

All the writing news from last fall – now

Suffice it to say, a lot’s happened since October.

My first writing residency (October 12-19) in The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow wildly exceeded all of my expectations. On my drive from the airport, I rode in a red pickup truck with one of the colony’s former handymen. His white handlebar mustache hid a sly, shy smile.  He asked where I was from and I said Baltimore.

“The woman I picked up yesterday is also from back east,” he said. “I believe she’s an Oprah’s Book Club author.” And that’s how I learned that I’d be at the same colony as Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of the very first Oprah’s Book Club title, The Deep End of the Ocean.

As it turned out, she was teaching at the colony while finishing up her book Two if By Sea. It’s equal parts ghost story and excavation of a man’s soul. I felt privileged to hear Jackie read a portion of the book to our captivated audience in Eureka Springs. And I thought she was so kind to extend an open invitation for company into town to get a mocha latte.

I certainly didn’t expect that coffee date to turn into a two-hour chat. Or toasting glasses of cranberry wine. Or dinner at an Italian restaurant with an attic full of board games on Saturday. Or yard sale shopping. Or breakfast in a crowded diner. Or sipping tea on the back porch of a moonlit night in Arkansas.

“This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” she said.

The immediacy and warmth of this connection — when I felt so far from home — cannot be overstated. She’s a generous reader and a thoughtful friend. While I was at the residency, I’d started working on an anthology submission for Sherry Amatenstein. Her anthology for Seal Press was about the dynamic between therapist and patients. Jackie read through the notes from Sherry and helped me to make sense of my next draft. The final essay, “How About a Hug?” will appear this September in the book How Does That Make You Feel?: True Confessions From Both Sides of the Couch.

Dear Jackie: I owe you more than I can say. Thank you for everything, everything, everything.

how does that make you feel

And from there, India. The Panchgani Writers’ Retreat. In Maharashtra, India, Panchgani is nestled in the middle of five hills (known as a “Hill Station”) in the Sahyadri mountain range. The week proved transformative: mornings of yoga and meditation. Three daily home-cooked feasts of the most decadent Indian food. The company of other writers each night, drinking tea and listening to music from Manu’s laptop as we wrote in our journals. Rose petal baths and aromatherapy oil massages. Strawberry fields in every direction. Strawberry wine.

I returned home with a glow and new energy to write.

I wrote about tattoos for Vox First Person. I wrote about inactive bystanders during rape and DJ Tanner and swimming with sharks on my 30th birthday for Ravishly. I interviewed author Zoe Zolbrod for Hip Mama.

In March, I was invited to attend a workshop taught by Ariel Gore at Firestorm Books and Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina. I listened to her read from The End of Eve and “Blood-Red Bougainvillea” and “The Stranger’s Plot.” We went to a salt cave and ate pizza at Mellow Mushroom and drank way too much iced coffee. Thanks to Ariel, I got 1,500 words into a new essay that is still not finished, but also needed a real start.

I signed up for a four-week writing class that starts in June (“How to Write a Personal Essay that Reaches Beyond the Personal Experience“) with Chelsey Clammer.

I applied to another residency program, Azule in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Today, I received my acceptance letter to attend November 1-8, 2016.

There are other projects in the works, but I am so grateful for everything I can report on thus far.

 

Residency and a Retreat

October: the month I get to go away.

I’m leaving for my first writing residency on Monday, October 12. I’ll fly to Arkansas and catch a ride to The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow (WCDH)  in Eureka Springs for a week in the Muse 3 Suite, one that is “tucked away downstairs and has a writing room with huge windows looking out at its own patio and a wooded area beyond. It has a private entrance.”

I’ll fly back to Maryland on Tuesday, October 20. The plan is to wash my clothes and pack for my flight on Wednesday morning to Mumbai, India. I’m going to a writer’s retreat in Panchgani, which is a five-hour drive from Mumbai and looks like a hidden paradise in all of the photos. Now that I have my visa and vaccines, it feels real. I’m going to India.

I come home to the U.S. on Friday, October 30. Three weeks to write and work and live my dreams. This morning, my teacher Chloe Caldwell posted some thoughtful, excellent advice for how to make the most of my time. Whether it’s from other writers’ or people in my life who are always in my corner, I feel completely supported.

I think I’m just about ready.

New work from September 2015

September: a productive, exciting month for writing.

I published my first essay with Autostraddle. It’s a riff on the 1987 film Fatal Attraction — in fact, the original title of this piece was “I’m Not Going to Be Ignored, Allison.” In this current iteration, it’s called “She Wouldn’t Give Me Up.” I started writing this last February as a submission for an anthology on battering in queer relationships. But abuse isn’t always physical — and so I decided to write about an obsessive relationship with someone I am no longer in contact with. As I re-read my old journals, I started to uncover a lot of darkness that I wasn’t necessarily attuned to in my teens and early twenties. The anthology I submitted to is currently on hold; none of the pieces have been accepted or rejected (the editor told me that reprints of previously published material are fine). Still, I felt like I was onto something — so I kept working. The structure of the essay weaves quotes from Fatal Attraction and an analysis of the movie in with my experiences. I know that it’s a movie many feminists derided back in the 80s, so it’s been interesting to try and write about both the film and my life from this queer, personal essay lens.

I also wrote a book review. My review of Mai’a Williams‘ chapbooks No God But Ghosts + Monsters and Other Silent Creatures (Samsara Press) for the publication Hip Mama can be read here. Ariel Gore came up with the byline and it’s the best: “Allison McCarthy is an excellent freelance feminist. Her work can be found on xoJane and beyond.

 

My new site!

This project has been in the back of my head for a few years now. In the past, when friends or editors have asked to see clips of my writing, I’d send them to the archive pages for wherever I’d recently published. It wasn’t exactly the best system for tracking my work. I am so thrilled to have a site designer like Carmen Sambuco Odell in my corner. Over the last few weeks, she took my half-baked ideas on what I wanted to include, then made a functional AND beautiful site. Carmen, you rock!!

I’m not sure what form the  blog will take on just yet. Obviously, it makes sense for the blog to promote my new writing. But I’d also like to use this space to connect with other writers. I’d like to talk about the literary events I attend in Baltimore and D.C. or wherever else life takes me.

Thank you for supporting the site and I look forward to sharing my writing with you!