On an ice-glazed morning, today’s reading thaws my cockles. Thanks again, Annie L:
When all is said and done, spring is the main reason for Wow. Spring is crazy, being all hope and beauty and glory. She is the resurrection. Spring is Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”
Buds opening and releasing, mud and cutting winds, bright green grass and blue skies, nests full of baby birds. All of these are deserving of Wow—even though I have said elsewhere that spring is also about deer ticks—and everywhere you look, couples are falling in love, and the air is saturated with the scent of giddiness and doom. Petals are wafting and falling slowly through the air, and there is something so Ravel, languorous, reminding me to revel in the beauty of things wafting.
Collage, fragmented, montage, segmented, lyric, sectioned: a mosaic by any other name was still a thorn in my flesh. The first mosaic I ever tried to write amounted to little more than a clumsy knockoff of a Richard Rodriguez essay assigned in my first MFA nonfiction workshop.
Three years later, I tried again. I picked up the same Rodriguez and works by Montaigne, inventor of the form.
I read and froze.
I re-read Rodriguez. I couldn’t grasp the peculiar features of the form firmly enough to do it myself. Reading Rodriguez did not help.
Stained glass makes sense, the image my professor used to illustrate the mosaic essay. Like stained glass in a church, each paragraph or group of paragraphs a single scene, which viewed with all the other scenes, make sense alone but make the most impact only when the last scene clicks into place.
But my own mosaic attempts continued to be stilted, round-peg-square-hole experiments. Shrinky Dinks in my mother’s oven.
More research. More reading. If I can grasp “the rules,” I can write a mosaic.
Montaigne, On Some Verses of Virgil. I meditate more on Montaigne’s words searching for clues. Of Books: “Let attention be paid not to the matter, but to the shape I give it.”
Nester’s Teaching Blog. Daniel Nester: “What Papa Montaigne means, I think, is that the form of the essay, the way the essay reflects the consciousness of the writer, is just as important, if not more, than what is addressed.”
Ned Stuckey-French lights a candle and guides me toward understanding in his characterization of Rodriguez’s Late Victorians. “(Appearing) as a mosaic personal essay – constructing a solid theme through bits and pieces of different subjects.”
Closer to clarity, I can’t think of a single topic to squeeze into a patchwork prose quilt. Maybe I’m trying too hard to get it.
I scour my public library, the Internet. Ninety-day diet.
I gobble up every mosaic essay I can find. Over three months, I rack up $10 in overdue fines for the convenience of Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies on my bedside table for multiple nighttime readings of the same mosaics.
Magic. Osmosis. Click. Eula Biss breaks through with pure, original mosaic, with only the faintest hints of Montaigne or Rodriguez.
Robin Black grabs me by the throat, her heartfelt essay reflecting the angst of parenting decisions in its own herky-jerky structure and section titles.
Ander Monson’s quieter mosaic offers another, contrasting example of how a fragmented essay can be daring in its structure, through the use of titles, tone and pace.
Dev Hathaway breaks my heart. “North Pole, South Pole, the Sea of Carcinoma” presents medical facts with deft restraint of sentiment.
All my favorites differed from examples left by the inventor of the mosaic and from one another; but they are all indeed mosaics. I immersed myself in these works. I stopped trying to apprehend the concept of mosaic and gave in to the experience of mosaic. And I got it.
The more I tried to comprehend the rules the more I realized that the key to mosaic is its suspension of the usual narrative rules. Nester’s rationale behind Montaigne’s approach to mosaic personal essay was the final tile in the mosaic of my search that made the form clear to me, at long last:
The demands of a narrative, of exposition, of having to explain everything can frustrate the writer who has other things to say. The desire to write a piece of nonfiction that lets other, perhaps nonlinear, factors affect its shape goes back to the origins of the essay itself.
Nester nailed it. I had other things to say. I scanned through my daily writing entries, found one with a topic that had eluded me for ten years, and started riffing. Riffing sans structure freed an essay to collage itself to life. I gave it permission to emerge in tiles that “tell a story individually and in the aggregate” with its its content and its form.
Me and Mosaic
In the process of grasping a form I’ve found a new friend, a secret weapon that helps me write about the most complex and slippery subjects from as many different angles as my mind can think to write.
With NaNoWriMo coming to a close, you might be wondering what the next steps are. Here is a handy list you can use to figure out how to query literary agents and to trace your path through the publishing industry.
1. Have a completed, revised manuscript.
This means you didn’t type “The End” and then declare the book ready to be sent to agents. Make sure you have other writers read it first to look for pacing issues, plot errors, etc.
2. Draft a strong, attention grabbing query letter. (See link below.)
3. Thoroughly research the agents you want to query.
Find the best agent for you based on location, how many clients they take on, whether they give editorial feedback, whether they give a lifetime contract or a single book contract, etc.
4. Follow agent submission guidelines as mentioned on their agency website.
5. Treat finding an agent like a business.
Start a spreadsheet of what you’ve sent to each agent and the date you sent it. It can also be helpful to record the date you heard back from them in case you want to query them again later you’ll know when to expect a response.
6. Wait. (And start working on something new!)
7. Revise your query/manuscript based on agent feedback.
8. Get an offer.
9. Inform all other agents that you have an offer.
10. If you receive more than one offer, select the best agent for you and negotiate a contract.*
*If you don’t get an offer with your first book, always write something new and start over again at step 1.
11. Sign contract and celebrate.
12. Revise based on agent’s thoughts.
13. Go out on submission to editors.
14. Wait some more.
15. Either get an offer or get a rejection.
If it’s an offer, celebrate. If it’s a rejection, decide if you should revise, and then submit to more editors.
Why Choose the Traditional Publishing Path?
1. An agent to bounce ideas off of and who knows the market.
2. Direct Access to the “big” New York publishers.
3. More time to write (because you don’t have to deal with the business side of things)!!!
4. Advance Money
5. More marketing and publicity support.
5) Query Shark
• See examples and get advice on query letters
Annie Sullivan graduated in 2012 with her MFA in creative writing from Butler University. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnel’s. Her novel won the Luminis Books Award at the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop, and she is currently working with her literary agent to get it published. She lives in Indianapolis and loves traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s working as the Publicity Coordinator at Wiley, a 207-year-old publishing company based Hoboken, NJ.
Connect with Annie Sullivan –
Roxane Gay is Katherine Hepburn pretty, easier and harder to talk to than you might expect, and has an adorable hint of a lisp that makes you want to pull her up into your lap, give her a peck on the cheek, and read to her the Eric Carle canon.
Writers, as you know from the first four installments of theEliza Tudor Survival Guide to Bridge the Worlds of MFA-Candidate and MFA-Wielding God/Goddess so graciously offered by Butler MFA-wielding goddess Eliza Tudor [this is the summary part with links to the brilliant Tudor tips you missed the first time]:
I trust you’ve benefited from the series and leave you now with Ms. Tudor’s final nuggets of wisdom from beyond the MFA . . .
I think writers should try and fit in a little exercise every day. It’s a sanity thing. If only Virginia Woolf had done yoga. It’s hard—especially for writers. You think, “I could be spending this time working” (especially if you only have a few minutes to fit everything in). After I finishedthe program, I dusted off the yoga mat, I started running more, and it helped. It’s time to think or not think. And, if Murakami does it, it has to be good.
7. FORGET ABOUT IT
Stop thinking about others as competition. It’s hard sometimes to ignore what others are doing, but nobody’s path is the same.
Do your work.
Try as hard as you can not to look over your shoulder.
This is the perfect time to take some new risks in your writing.
The United States has a new Poet Laureate, and his name is W.S. Merwin.
I must admit, as a proser I was unfamiliar with this two-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s work. In fact, I wasn’t aware that the United States even had an official poet. (How cool is that?) Thank you, NPR, for shining the light into my darkness. Listening to this story while sitting in my car, I heard this handsome octogenarian read one of his earlier poems. It has haunted me for days, and now I will share it with you.
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
After I heard him recite this poem, I craved more. So I looked for his work on the shelves of a local bookstore and found only one. I settled into a comfy chair, flipped open to the first poem in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Shadows of Syrius,” and read. As I read, a most unusual thing happened. My eyes welled up. Has that ever happened to you as you’ve read poetry? Poetry has inspired me before, but this was the first time poetry moved me to tears.
I didn’t have the money to purchase the book, so I left it at table near the front of the store and hoped someone else would pick it up and be so moved. When I got home, I surfed for more W.S. Merwin online and found the most marvelous site. UniVerse gives readers access to the most celebrated poets from countries all over the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Their work is a window into their respective cultures.
Representing the United States on UniVerse would be W.S. Merwin. From his home on an old pineapple plantation on Mauai, our country’s 17th Poet Laureate has performed his job as “ambassador of poetry” in the life of this one American. Thank you, Mr. Merwin. And God bless America.
In Seeing Art for the First Time, my friend Shawn, a regular guy in his thirties who has been blind since he was 10’ish, talks about his first experience with art, at the IMOCA. I always enjoy his perspective. Thanks, Shawn.