New Poem in Buck Off Magazine

BuckoffMagI’m thrilled to have my poem “When You Turn Away” included in Vol. 7 of Buck Off Magazine.

Not only am I among great writers, the artwork in this issue is outstanding. Check it out!

This is the fifth poem I’ve written and the fifth one published. I’m shocked and awed. I wish I could conjure up more poems but, like with the stories, they come to me when they come to me.

I still don’t consider myself a poet. That’s just the form that the stories took when they came out. And I’m very lucky that they each found a place in the world.

I’ve Ruined Another Story

What began as a great idea has devolved into an utter mess.


I had a good draft of a story – first written about a year ago – and I’ve ruined it.

I’ve re-written it too many times and listened to too many opinions of other people. I smoothed out the edges and the story has lost its life.

It reminds me of a Spongebob Squarepants episode where he is urged to become “normal.” Eventually all his edges are smoothed away and his holes are gone and he is devoid of personality. He is completely dull.

That’s what my story feels like now. It doesn’t feel like me.

I’ll have to go back and look at my original draft and basically begin over. I need to recapture the impulse I first had to write the story.

This has happened before and all has turned out well, it’s just a frustrating way to get there.

To NaNoWriMo or Not to NaNoWriMo

Last year I worked on a draft of my memoir, Inland Empire Girl, for the month of November, aka NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.

NaNo014I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. Just get it down – 50,000 words in a month. No editing. Just writing, spewing, vomiting on the page.

The problem is that I am a short story writer. There, I said it.

I am a short story writer.

I’ve even published two poems. What I haven’t published is a novel, though I would very much like to.

I’ve written four novels but they each are missing something. Or have too much of something else. The problem, at its core, is that I am trying to write novels, not tell stories.

Unfortunately, when I write my novels, I disassociate from my storytelling instincts and try to write like a Great American Novelist.

My challenge, and one I keep putting off, is to tell my stories, just in novel length.

Luckily, my procrastination has been filled up with other stories.

I am on vacation this week and I have finished two new stories, and submitted three for publication. I’ve also drafted another new story.

I’ve done everything but crack open the binder of the novel I brought halfway across the country.

Okay, fine. You’ve guilted me into it. I’ll do NaNoWriMo.

Now with the World Series over (go Giants!!) and the darkness of winter descending, why not spend my evenings re-writing my novel into a short-story-collection-disguised-as-a-novel?


The 5 Stages of Rewriting

Some writers fear the first draft, the blank page staring at them.

writerNot me. I love it. This is me at my best – scribbling down my ideas, getting it all out on the page, only looking forward.

Then I put it away – pleased as punch with myself. I’m never a better writer than this first draft.

And then at some point I must go back and look at what I wrote. It’s never a pretty process but one I must go through to get to the second draft.

1) Denial

When I open the notebook or computer file, I believe that my first draft will be as good as I remember. Maybe it needs another proof for spelling errors, maybe polish up a sentence or two, but it definitely won’t need a rewrite.

2) Anger

Damn it. How did that happen? I swear it was much better than this dreck. Some stupid gremlin must have crawled into my computer and switched out my brilliant first draft with this nonsense. If I ever catch that guy…

3) Bargaining

Fine. I’ll take a closer look at that draft. Maybe it isn’t as great as I first thought it was but it can’t be all bad, right? Okay, the beginning is strong so I’ll just rewrite the ending a little bit. That will be enough to fix it.

4) Depression

Oh my God, I am the worst writer ever. I shouldn’t even be allowed to own a pen. I am throwing this story away and never writing anything ever again.

5) Acceptance

Okay, maybe it’s not ALL bad. The original idea was good, I just kind of mucked it up in the middle. And look at this sentence. Now that’s a sentence.

Let’s go get some coffee and get to work on the second draft.

Heartbreak in Room 7

I am no poet. To call me one would be an insult to all poets.

What is "The Poet Jen McConnell?" Things you won't ever hear me called.

What is “The Poet Jen McConnell?” Things you won’t ever hear me called.

But I can’t control how the story comes out – usually it’s a short story, often a novel, sometimes a screenplay, and very rarely a poem.

I have such admiration for poets. How they can convey so much with such economy of words. But I haven’t always liked poetry.

In college, I hated poetry – Ode on a Grecian Urn, The Rape of the Lock, etc. – I despised those weeks of classes.  I especially hated writing papers about poems. Why write a poem if I need ten pages to explain it? Give  me 900 pages of Dickens any day.

(I do admit, however, that I have always liked The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.)

But once I was in grad school, I listened live to the poetry of my classmates. It was there that I grew to appreciate modern poetry, about real life, about experiences and emotions I could understand at face value and didn’t need another person or Wikipedia page to explain it to me.

So I opened up to the idea of poetry. Stopped crossing my arms against it. And sometimes the muse speaks to me in poetry. Not often but just enough to remind me she’s there.

A few weeks ago, I looked back at a poem I wrote about ten years ago. Fiddled with a couple of lines and sent it off.

The editors of The Olentangy Review accepted that poem, “Heartbreak in Room 7,” just before deadline for their summer 2014 issue, which is now available online.

It’s weird to see my name under the poetry section of a literary magazine, but I am thrilled just the same!

It’s Over: Non-fiction is Not for Me

NaNoWriMo2013I’m a very goal-oriented person, so not meeting the 50,000-word goal for National Novel Writing Month is a little painful to me (though not very painful, which I consider personal growth).

I wrote 28,135 words of the first draft of my memoir. And then I got bored.

Yes, I got bored with my own life. Not particularly proud of that but there it is.

Maybe I’m more suited for biography – letting someone else tell my story. Though that doesn’t sound very appealing (I don’t like relinquishing that much control).

About three weeks into November, I stopped worrying about NaNoWriMo and stopped writing.

I missed writing fiction. So I revisited a story, The Uncluded, that I had submitted to a few places and was turned down.

I reworked a couple of sections and submitted the story to a literary magazine called The Oddville Press.

A few days later they sent me an email accepting the story.

To me that was a sign, confirming that fiction was it for me. Not that I needed another sign. I’ve never liked writing non-fiction (and I’m not very good at it).

If you want to know about me, you don’t need to read my memoir. You just have to read my fiction. My stories will tell you everything you need to know about me.

Excerpt from My Memoir: My Favorite Ten Songs

My memoir includes many lists. They are fun for me to write and give a snapshot into a particular facet of me and my life.

They also force choices . Stuck on a desert island, what ten songs would I never get tired of hearing?

LolaHere they are, in order of favorite (year of release is in parenthesis).

  • Lola, the Kinks. (1970). I didn’t hear this until college, but once I did, that was it. It has been my all-time favorite song since. The music, the storytelling, his voice – it’s all perfect.
  • Criminal, Fiona Apple. (1997). Saw her live in concert on her 20th birthday in 1997 at a music festival at the Shoreline Amphitheatre south of SF. She is a tiny woman but played that piano and sang ferociously.
  • Jolene, Cake. (1994). I love every song of theirs but this early one is far and away my favorite.
  • Nothing Compares 2 U, Sinead O’Connor. (1990). Perfect anthem for my angst-y heart in college.
  • Lose Yourself, Eminem. (2002). Not a fan of his but listen to this song and try not to get pumped. I try not to listen to it too often – I don’t want to dilute its power. It’s equally powerful for motivating me to write and run.
  • Billie Jean, Michael Jackson. (1982) That opening bassline. That’s all you need to hear. I pretty much wore out our copy of the record Thriller. Yes, we had the record.
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana. (1991). May seem old hat now – trite, even – but I was in my fourth year of college when this came out and it really did change the music scene instantly. It holds up brilliantly twenty (twenty?!) years later.
  • Someone Like You, Adele. (2011). Chills. Every time I hear it.
  • Hotel California, the Eagles. (1977). I heard this often growing up. Along with Janis Joplin (whose intensity scared me as a kid), the Beatles, Credence Clearwater Revival, etc. This song, though, is the only one I have never tired of.
  • Escape – The Pina Colada Song (1979). This uber-cheesy song didn’t become a favorite until after Dan and I got together. It’s more a sentimental favorite than because of any redeeming lyrical or musical quality. (Bonus: it appears in my all-time favorite movie, American Splendor.)