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Writing—and Twinkies—Have a Long Shelf Life

Twinkie or Dead Sea Scroll—You Decide

I’d like for you to think of your writing as Twinkies—not for its abysmal nutritive content, but for the extraordinary vitality of its preservative army: your writing can continue marching on, even after it has bivouacked for a while. Twinkies, of course, have a reputation for staying soft and squeezy long past their recommended consumption date (if anyone recommends consuming Twinkies). Such is the less-sugary substance of your writing—you can achieve successes with writing that has been gathering hard-drive webs, by sending it out anew after its slumber. You can also redirect writing that you thought was a fruit, but really turned out to be a vegetable. (Note: Twinkies are not vegetables. Or fruits.)

Here’s what I mean: This past weekend I received an email telling me that I’d won a scholarship to the Wrangling with Writing conference in Tucson, Arizona, held this coming weekend. The award, which includes the hotel room, was given to me on the strength of an essay I wrote some time back—not for this conference, but for another online contest. Though the topic of the conference essay was pretty close to the online contest essay, I had to trim out some fat and slant it a touch to make it fit their guidelines. I really didn’t think I’d win, but I had the piece snoozing on my hard drive, so why not wake it from its nap?

Slot Machines on Ice: Melt Them
Another roll of the dice: I wrote a short story about Las Vegas in the 70s years ago. I’d prodded and poked that thing a bunch of times, sending it out to magazines and small literary publications. No jackpot. So, it sat with its slot machine unplugged for a while until I thought, what the heck—I sent it out earlier this year to the Labletter, and they were happy to publish (and pay for) it in in their annual journal of arts and literature.

And just one more example of how you can shave the grizzled beard of your writing to reveal the fresh face below. I wrote a short story in grad school about some high school shoplifting hijinks that was never published. Years later, I heard about the National Steinbeck Center’s short story contest. I thought it was a real longshot, but again, why not? I was shocked to have won, and still cherish the lovely glass plaque that was given to me. I cherished the $1,000 prize as well.

Naturally, I haven’t emphasized the bajillions of rejections I’ve received over time for my Tantric poetry muffin recipes, or that little matter of the novel that can’t seem to fit in any agent’s ear. But I don’t need to emphasize those, because they don’t matter. What matters is that you can’t succeed if you don’t keep sending the stuff out. Once in a while, those old Twinkies will still have a twinkle.

Bonus Twinkies Story
Many years ago when I lived in Seattle, I dated a nice woman whose high apartment windows faced out on a warehouse district in the city. One late evening, staring out at the cityscape, I notice some huge trucks—with big cylindrical carriers like gasoline trucks use—lined up against a factory building, with giant chutes attached. When I asked my pal what was going on, she said that those were sugar trucks, and that they were unloading their white wonder into the Twinkie factory! That gave me quite a thrill, since I have been a lifelong fan of sugared objects, and it was rather a hallucinatory sight to witness the eerie glow from the wee-hour factory lights, dumping massive amounts of sugar in the semi-darkness, destined to torque the brains of young children all over America. There was something criminally poetic about it all…

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10 thoughts on “Writing—and Twinkies—Have a Long Shelf Life

  1. Very cool. Maybe I will pull that novel I wrote up and send it out to a few places. I always though that having a book you wrote sit in your junk drawer was a strange thing.

  2. Wow; I know a writer who has been paid money for writing.

    I’ve been paid for lots of things, even sold a few copies of some books I’ve written. But not once have I sold my writing to someone else.

    Wait; I’ve never tried, either. Is there a correlation?

    What’s keeping you from independently publishing the novel? Do you believe you need the affirmation of a traditional publisher before sending your child out into the cold cruel world, or is it something less poetic?

  3. Matt, check out the Guide to Literary agents blog; he often lists the names and writing interests of new agents, the ones hungrily seeking new clients. Could work for you (and I hope it does). It’s at http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/ and there are other resources on the site too.

    Joel, the novel just hasn’t tugged enough at an agent’s sleeve, at least with the grip that says there’s some profit there. I’m on my last round of sending it out (and I’ve sent it out for a while), this time to some small presses, rather than trying for the random looks from the Random Houses of the world. I would like a traditional publisher, but am not wedded to the idea. And after this latest round, it’s Smashwords for me.

  4. Just when I think I’m getting used to your writing, Tom, you come along with “that little matter of the novel that can’t seem to fit in any agent’s ear”, and I realize that I will NEVER get tired of what you do with, well, not pen, but qwerty and a few commas now and then.

    Is there not a way now to self-publish and get something onto Amazon, then let the organic growth of customer reviews drive sales? I mean I would prefer not to gloat about it too much but I am pleased as pie that the Gatekeepers of the world have been knocked down a peg or 511 by the power of the connectivity of the Internet. Publishers, critics, the record industry, newspapers- all their whining points to a big-picture story of weakened Gatekeepers. We don’t have to ask permission so much as we used to.

    Ask Rahul- I bought his book on my Kindle and I don’t think he employed a major publisher at all.

    Weaker Gatekeepers. An idea whose time has come.

  5. Rick, I think I’ll be walking (or driving a battered VW bug) on some form of the self-publishing route soon for the novel, and that will be fine. I have a second one I began a while ago, and it holds more interest for me than shaving off bits of the dried clay of the first.

    You are right about the gates crumbling everywhere; the problem, if that’s the right word for it, is that there are many new cracks, holes, vents and chutes through the gates, so that it’s hard to tell if one should try POD, Smashwords, custom design, yodeling your book aloud from a church tower, what. But there are new opportunities, and that is a fine thing.

  6. I subscribed to The Write Word by email just now Tom- something about the phrase “RSS feed” just plain scares me, so I’ll be old fashioned and let updates come into my inbox. But anyway since you appreciate words so much, I thought I’d share with you the ones that I had to enter as I signed up and WordPress made sure I wasn’t a ‘bot. Here they are:

    futtosel and miquag

    What I find so fascinating is that the random word generator KNEW that a “u” should follow a “q”. So the software is random, but not too random.

    My hope is that you find a way to use “futtosel” and “miquag” in a sentence- preferably both words in the same sentence- on your blog, on Triiibes, or somewhere else. These words are just too interesting to let slip into oblivion, though.

  7. Really Rick, I’m surprised you don’t have long acquaintance with “futtosel” and “miquag.” A futtosel, of course, is the sharp intake of breath a robust Scottish lad uses to buck up to toss the caber just that much further in the Scottish Games (and toss a few Guinnesses after the games end).

    And it almost goes without saying that a miquag is a clever, peccary-like rodent, given to lurking in old libraries, where it feeds on antique books.

    An obvious example sentence would be, “The nasal whooshing of MacDuff’s futtosel indicated that his tossing of the miquag from its perch on Boswell’s ‘Life of Samuel Johnson’ would be prodigious.”

  8. Does a Twinkie deep-fried in vegetable oil count as a vegetable?

    Hope the conference is stimulating and air-conditioned.

  9. You do realize, of course, that there really ARE deep-fried Twinkies? They serve them at the beach boardwalk not that far from my house. Perhaps I should open a franchise.

    Conference to this point has been fab, ma’am, though it’s been nonstop from 7am until early evening both days, so I am bleary-eyed. Or maybe that it’s because writers like to tipple a bit, and I don’t want them drinking alone…

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