Submission Hell


Okay, that may be a wee bit dramatic. Perhaps “Submission Limbo” would be a better title.

For the past week, whenever I’ve needed a break from SW, I’ve focused on revising poems– some ancient little things, leftover from my MFA days, others very new, only just squirmed onto paper. I haven’t spent a lot of time in this genre of late, and it was invigorating to delve back into the nuances of sound and language, view my poems as fresh beasts. And beasts some of them were. <shudder>

I figured, since I was already at it, I should also check my poetry submission log, the excel worksheet I use for tracking all my poems and chapbooks out in the world.


If computer programs could get dusty, this one would be riddled with mites.

It was time to reenter the publication circuit.

I threw together a few different submission packets, sent them out to maybe a gazillion different journals and magazines.

It’s been a few days now. Most of my submissions are still swimming out in the ether, as expected. But it’s nerve-wracking, folks. Even though I’ve been an editor on a couple journals and I remember the time + energy this process takes, even though I know I won’t receive notification for weeks, if not months, I still have to force myself not to obsess and check the submission managers 29 times a day.

(Yes, 29. Yesterday I failed. And I counted.)

How do you handle the submission process? What strategies do you have for thickening your skin during the painful publication/rejection wait?


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Battles …(plus reference to delicious baked goods)

It’s not often that I have an entire 24-hour period free of responsibility or strict plans. Holy mackerel, I’ve been looking forward to today for weeks: I envisioned sleeping in, delving deep into my story without needing to watch the clock, maybe baking some heal-the-sick-amazing double-chocolate chip cookies. Mmmmm. The day was going to be perfect.

Of course, though, reality is never so pretty.

1. My neighbors decided something desperately needed hammering at a very early hour. Very early. And it had to take place on our shared wall, which butts up to my bed. …Grrrrrr. (I don’t know what it is about my neighbors and pounding things.)

2. I’d been in denial about chores. They’ve piled up for a few days, and the dutiful, practical me insists I complete them before any writing take place.

3. Just checked my cupboard. Completely out of sugar. Uh huh.

Now, none of these hurdles is insurmountable– Meijer’s is just down the street, after all, and there are plenty of hours remaining this afternoon for laundry AND writing. But the day has certainly not progressed flawlessly.

I learned the same lesson this week with my story. You may know what I’m talking about: The characters will not cooperate. Originally, I had all these plot-points and plans for the long-term shape of the book, but noooooo, my characters had to go and grow personalities, and now a few of the scenes I’ve written no longer fit, and the protagonist insists on walking down a nasty, garbage-stricken alley when I know she should really be on the other side of town, and she stubbornly won’t say what I want her to say, and now she wants a tattoo, and man, I have to re-sculpt my plan for the book. I’ve lost control over my story.

In the bigger picture, this isn’t a bad thing. The writing is growing organically, rather than sticking to a potentially-lifeless imposed script. I like that my characters are mouthing back.

But in this moment? Half of what I know about the plot and setting and characters will be chucked. It’s unsettling.

Who knows how this story will end up? Certainly not me.

Guess I’m in for a ride.

Yeah, I’m gonna need those cookies.


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Plotting Euphoria!


For the past week, I’ve found myself very easily distracted by the smallest, sometimes craziest of things — the type of car making that awful racket down the road, the smell of a banana three days overripe, the precise date a local department store put out Christmas decorations and supplies. I’ve felt a bit like a puppy:

Oooh! A bunny hopping into the brush! What the heck is it doing in the city? See how it — wait! Look! Kids doing tricks on bicycles! Cool! I wonder if they’ve ever jumped off  — what is that crazy racket next door? Gosh, it sounds like someone hammering the wall, or maybe they’re throwing heavy gym bags around, or maybe it’s that dance game on Xbox’s Kinect and they’re jumping up and down and that was so much fun for me and my brother the other night, I wonder what would happen if the jumping caused a 2 liter of pop to spill, or something broke off the table, maybe it was an antique lamp that came from Norway and…

You get my drift.

Here’s the thing, though: Every single detail I am connecting to my story. 

It’s as if I can’t turn the volume down on my creative self. Since I reopened the box on this new writing project, everything I observe or do inspires a nonstop brainstorming session. That bunny mentioned above? It moved into a scene for my main character, hiking alone. The kids on bikes? They’re now part of a flashback to my protagonist’s first day of high school. That banging sound I heard broke into several scenes which practically wrote themselves.

It’s not always this easy. Shoot, it’s never this easy, at least for me. And I’m not even convinced that these moments will enter into the larger picture for the story. But I’ve been so caught up in that world, learning my characters and the reasons they act the way they do, discovering molehills and mountains in the potential plot line itself, it feels as though I’m seeing the real world through a split lens.

Last night, I chatted with my dear friend Corey about our respective writing projects. (Corey is an absolutely amazing novelist — check out her blog at When I mentioned my insanity, she replied, “You’re definitely in plotting euphoria. Everyone goes there.”

Woooo-eeee, I hope so. And I hope my creative volume doesn’t turn down any time soon (even if I have people at work waving hands in front of my face and asking if I need to lie down).

So, what happens during your plotting euphoria? Does your creative self demand attention, too? How long does it usually last? And isn’t it kinda glorious? 🙂

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They say that time is a construct…


…and apparently I haven’t constructed in some time. 😉 A lot of major life changes have occurred over the past year and a half: I moved cross-country, taught first graders the rules of Bossy R, moved (again) cross-state, started two new jobs, and became a very devoted and frequently embarrassing aunt. (To strangers in the check out line: “Ooooh, look at this new photo of my nephew! He’s exactly 187 days old now, you know. Isn’t he the most beautiful and amazing baby in the history of the world?!”)

In the midst of all these changes, though, I lost my writing.

Okay, yes, there was the occasional poem composed for friends’ weddings, plus that night I freewrote about aliens before bed to clear my mind (you don’t want to know)… but overall, I’ve watched writing dissolve into that type of acquaintance-friend we all think about fondly but never seem to call.

Well, enough. No more blathering on about what-ifs and shoulda-beens, stories I found but didn’t have the creative gumption to explore. Today, this very moment, I am jumping-up-and-down-like-a-little-kid-at-Christmas ecstatic to begin a new writing project, one I’ve been brainstorming on randomly for a few years. It’s a young adult novel, and here are three very important points you need to recognize: 1) Young Adult is an entirely foreign writing genre for me; 2) Novel is an entirely foreign writing form for me; and 3) despite my irrepressible excitement, I’m scared witless about it. I’ve decided that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as November) is just the push I need to jump back into writing with both feet and an arm, reconnect with that vital part of my creativity I left behind, and overcome my long-standing reticence on the project.

I’ll be updating much more frequently now, guaranteed, with all this actual writing taking place. 😉 We’ll see what problems, debates, questions, triumphs, fears, and never-thought-I’d-ever-write-this discussions arise!

I hope you’re as exhilarated as I am! 🙂


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Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

I’m not talking about the band. Or the Usher song. I’m just a wee bit embarrassed because I swore I’d keep up on the blog, and … errrm …. Yeah. I know. There’s one more New Year’s resolution out the window.

Before I delve into recent thoughts and dilemmas and writing, though, here’s a publication update:

Check out the new issue of Ruminate Magazine! My poem “Song of Husks” lives about halfway through. The issue itself is absolutely gorgeous– and ooooh boy, what amazing poems and stories! I’m incredibly proud to publish next to such talented writers. 🙂

(To order a copy, go to

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Promise I’ll Be Better… Plus, Fantastic Giveaway!

The title is a little bit deceiving– the giveaway isn’t mine. 😉 But if you head over to, the lovely ladies there are doing a drawing for a brand new Kindle Fire– and ooooh, baby, I want. You should want too. It’s so pretty. Check it out! The contest only runs for 12 more days, I believe, and hey, you never know….

In other news, I have failed to keep you abreast my writing habits and progress, and for that, I apologize. There *is* much to tell of late, so the next post will be a long one.

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Poem in Poet Lore!


OH! The latest issue of Poet Lore was waiting in my mailbox today, and it contains one of my poems, “Five Hundred Crows.” The volume is gorgeous and very intense, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy! =P

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Work and Writing (…Not That Writing Isn’t Work)


Well, it is now OCTOBER. (I’m a genius at stating the obvious.) September disappeared beneath a mess of job applications and job interviews and the early days of the new job. I’m now a few weeks in, and may I say, HOLY MACKEREL. I enjoy what I do (I work with grades 1-5 on literacy), but I barely have the energy to drive home and fall (incredibly gracefully) onto the couch after X – many hours of chasing ankle-biters. For the past few years, while I was completing my MFA, most of my focus was on writing; during my undergraduate years, too, it was eas(ier) devoting blocks of time to playing with language. And now…. Hehe. My friends, this is a bit of an adjustment.

We’ve all asked ourselves the age-old question, overhead in many a 24-hour coffeehouse and writers’ conference panel: How do we balance work* and writing?

I admit it, so far I have failed. I’m determined, though, to discover the secret– and begin employing it.

We’ll see how next week goes! And in the meantime, do you have any balancing tricks you’d like to share?

PS- I once used energy drinks to add productive hours to my day. Yeah. Once I started seeing small forest critters running across the floor and Tinker Bell wannabes spinning around my head, I figured I should find other ways of working. 😉

* “Work” = a day job. Gotta have alliteration, folks.

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Upon Learning My Work Was Read By Naomi Shihab Nye

… I squealed. Loudly. Hehe.

Just got the email from Ruminate Magazine that my poem “Song of Husks” is a finalist in the 2011 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, one of 16 poems out of thousands– and yeah, I didn’t win, but holysmokesNaomiShihabNyereadmypoem! And now Ruminate is going to publish it in some as-yet-undisclosed issue.

This is my face: =D

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Welcome! … and What I’m All About


It is past time for me to build my own website, or so my good friend Hannah VanderHart (an absolutely brilliant poet in MD) informed me a few weeks ago. I admit, when she first uttered these words, I was a wee bit intimidated. Building a website seems difficult, and besides, who would really want to read about me? <Answer: Only my family. But I’m not informing them of this site. They already know too much.> What wise and oh-so-powerful ideas can I share with the world– or more accurately, the google generation? <Answer: Writing is scary. Do it anyways. … Yes, this idea is completely unprecedented and revolutionary, I know.>

When it comes down to it, though, the latter is exactly what I have to offer: my wandering thoughts on writing, the writing process, being a poet and novelist in the early 21st century when poetry is not widely read and publishing a book is a marathon on a sprained ankle against a multitude of Olympic gold medalists on the hottest day in July. What it is to be a reader. What it is to be a jealous, I-would-kill-to-have-written-this-first reader. The struggle to create images on paper or in a blank Word document. Heck, the very struggle to discover words. This I understand. And you know what? I’m learning more about it every time I sit down at my oh-so-cluttered desk and mumble to myself, “Okay, Dempsey, time to write.” I’ve come to believe we need to share our battles and successes, contribute to this writing community in which we claim citizenship.

Here is my website. Here are some of my words. I hope you enjoy the ride.


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