Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Charles Wonder Phenomenon

I saw Charles Baxter read once, in Minneapolis, I think. During the Q&A he mentioned that his early unpublished novels sucked, and when someone asked why, he said that he went about writing them in a little too Stevie Wonder a way. Then he mimed Stevie Wonder.

Closed eyes, lifted chin, lolling head. Fingers moving freely over the keyboard.

I thought that was funny.

I'm not going to say why the memory arises just now.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wow, and Wow Part II

I don't think I'd realized until this new one how much ass Six Little Things kicks.

And Caketrain--they have 14 (!) pieces from the new one online.

My Favorite xmas Gift Ever for Now

A while ago I saw that N and L were wrapping up washable markers and such to give to each other for Christmas and I thought, All well and good. And I thought that that was what was going to be in the tape-smothered rhombus that N presented me w/ on xmas morning--one of her own toys or implements. Instead she'd made these two awesome necklaces. Don't know if you'll be able to see. The longer one has a heart at the bottom. The shorter one spells out 'DADDY.'

Friday, December 26, 2008

N Pulls Back the Wizard's Curtain

The Magic 8 Ball, which came in her stocking, was put to the test in this way:

I didn't ask it a question, she said. Then I turned it over to see what it would say. I knew if it didn't say anything it was real. I knew if it said something then it was just saying things.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Heard on Fox News

"In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of dislike and scorn."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Very Momentous Day

This bulletin board is in the room where I just gave a final. They tear all the fliers off at the end of the semester, I guess.

Maybe the thing I remember most from the documentary Crumb is RC talking about how he could never remember how transformers and power-line architectures and such looked because he never really saw them when they were in his vision. He had to get somebody else to go out and take photos for him so he'd know how they looked.

Here's one of the passages you'd have had to ID if you were in my class:

"Then they said, but isn't death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of—

I said, yes, maybe."

B. likes to look at the IDs and see how many of them she can guess without having read the stories. This time she guessed 3 out of 10.

While my students were working I corresponded with Avery #4 issue-mate Jamie Iredell and coded for Wigleaf and evenutally added the new Lauren Becker stuff. I hadn't read her postcard carefully before today. It made me laugh.

When everyone was done I walked back across campus and saw this guy.

There were two guys there originally, standing in front of that truck. I guess they were w/ a third guy who was laying salt in a little motorized cart -- because they were looking in his direction. But they didn't look interested in the third guy, or in each other, since they weren't talking. As I got closer to them it seemed to me that they might be standing for a portrait, and I said that as I came up to them, I said, You guys look like you're standing for a portrait. Then it occured to me that I might be the photographer, so I got out my cell asked if it was okay. One of them, the one who would have been there to the right of the guy pictured, turned his back to me, chuckling, and walked off.

That made me feel like a partial asshole. A 15-20% asshole, maybe. The one who stood for the picture said, What's this for? And I said, I don't know. Maybe my blog. And he repeated that word, Blog, while thinking about how I was right then commodifying him and how he wasn't going to make a penny.

Maybe 25%.

I made that joke in a story once, the first version of a story called "Johannsen's Plant" which nobody except Steph at Avery and my grad-school friend Andrea Karafilis has ever appreciated. But they didn't read the first version. In the first version, this somewhat skeezy guy approaches a girl, who for some reason--I'm forgetting--calls him an asshole, to which he responds by giving her a stricken look and saying, Yes, I'm half asshole. My father was one. I didn't think people were still so prejudiced....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Top 50 Notes

* Longshortlist: over 250 already and growing..... (has to get down to 200)

* The excellent Ravi Mangla has posted a list of his Top 5 Wigleaf stories this year (the idea being that Wigleaf stories aren't considered for the W top 50). Go check it out! Leave comments!

* Darlin' Neal has signed on to be the Selecting Editor for the W Top 50 of 2009. She's a knock-out writer, as some of you know. Her story, "Red Brick," from SmokeLong, was chosen by Chad Simpson for the first Wigleaf Top 50, last year, and she gets all sorts of love from other prize outfits (her nonfiction piece, "The House in Simi Valley," has been selected for the upcoming anthology, Online Writing: The Best of The First Ten Years). Darlin' is an assistant professor of CW in the U. of Central Florida's MFA program, and has work in or forthcoming at some fine, fine places, including The Southern Review, elimae, Puerto del Sol, Juked, and Shenandoah. Oh, and Wigleaf (I can think of a few particular readers who would argue that her February story, "Powwow," should be added to Ravi's discussion).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

From the itunes Holiday Playlist

I wish they'd play stuff like this in the shopping mall. Or maybe I don't.

"That Was the Worst Christmas Ever" [mp3] (via Asthmatic Kitty}

J.W. Wang Interview @ 'Matt Bell'

Good stuff here. Pro work on both sides.

Here's something I loved, from John's reluctant answer to Matt's question about what might make a story work for Juked. I'd never really thought of stories in this way but when I read it it made perfect sense:

"I look for stories that demonstrate sympathy from the writer—sympathy for the characters, but also sympathy for the story itself. The writer has to care about the story and take it seriously, and I know that sounds obvious, but when you look at submissions you realize most people don’t..."

Oh yeah, the link.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Teacup Manifesto on Electronic Publishing

A couple days after "Progress: A Play in _ Acts" went up on Wigleaf, its author sent along an accompanying postcard. He wrote in the email that he understood if it was too late. But as FRiGG editor Ellen Parker once told me: on the internet, it's never too late.

This was a few days ago, around the time when I was posting Stefanie Freele's story, "Because Condoms Seem So Desperate..." At first I was thinking that I would recode, so as to have Sean's postcard appear in the usual place, beneath his story. Then it would have been sort of hidden, though, four spots down in the column. Plus it would have taken work (a technical issue, to do w/ photos being on the right or left side). So I broke with format. I put the postcard beneath Stefanie's story, where readers would usually expect a postcard, if there was one, to be from her.

That's two things that would never happen in a print mag.

Another: Matt DiGangi, editor of Thieves Jargon, recently removed Blake Butler's story and bio from the archive. He was pissed at Blake, apparently because Blake hadn't granted a request to link Thieves on HTML Giant. Anyway he removed Blake's story, then said so in a comment on HTML Giant, then received a whole lot of derision. If I'm sitting on my ass in the jury box here, I'm going to end up siding w/ Blake, who should be able to link what he wants for his readers. At the same time, I'm interested in what DiGangi did, and glad that he did it, in a way--because it gave rise to some revealing discussion.

Some of the comments @ HTMLG reflected the line taken by HTMLG contributor, Justin Taylor: "When an editor of an electronic journal... threatens or actually carries out such an action," he wrote, "what they seem to reveal to me is the cravenness and intellectual bankruptcy of their own enterprise. When you do this, you deal a serious blow to your project’s institutional memory, its continuity, and its integrity."

That last part I agree w/. For practical reasons I woudn't do what DiGangi did--because for readers and writers, the mag's integrity might be damaged. I wonder about the rest of what Taylor says, though. I don't think DiGangi's move was "intellectually bankrupt," or that it's fair to say that about Thieves. I mean, from the human side, you can say what you want--it was petty, it was bold, it was rash--but in terms of e-publishing, there's easily more intellect here than in 3 out of 4 net lit ventures. Think about it this way: DiGangi didn't delete Butler--which would have been possible. To bend Jimmy Chen's term, DiGangi 'ghosted' Butler. You can still go to Thieves and click on Blake Butler, and this is what you'll find. Is that not something? Really, who's not delighted by this? I'm pretty sure Blake is.

This all gets to how you think of e-publishing. I'm not a hundred percent sure what Taylor means when he talks about net mags in terms of 'institutional memory' and 'continuity,' but when others use such terms they're often implicitly comparing the net mag to the print mag, with the sense that the net mag has something to prove. A print mag--would the argument go like this?--is solid. It forms its own memory--no matter whose hands it gets in, or who reads it--because it is an object, and we tend to preserve objects, especially when care has been taken w/ them, that's in our nature.... So even if the print mag in question dies, even if you have no contributor's copy and know of nobody who does, you're 'published' there. That's for sure. That's immutable.

You know, maybe.

Without getting in to the question of distribution, I want to say this: a net mag isn't a print mag without the paper. A net mag isn't just the 'light' of the print mag, minus the absent body. If that's how you think of them (and Issuzu clearly does), you'll always see the net mag as secondary -- the image of something else.

No, man. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Look at Juked. Look at elimae. What you see here--real liberation from the concepts (many of them deriving from economic factors) associated w/ publishing in print. John Wang and Cooper Renner--they're alive to what the net mag can be.

For Wigleaf, if I can get back to that, one thing I love is that w/ each new posting, the publication 'is' something, on the main page, that it will never be again. Yeah, Jennifer Pieroni's kick-ass new story, "Now, Right Now," will be archived eventually. But for now it and its thumbnail are at the top. That story 'articulates' w/ the title of the mag, on the left, in a way that's different from how it will three days from now, when the next story goes up. For three days you have something that you'll never have again. That's net publishing. Sometimes I think it has more in common w/ performance than w/ publishing in print. Which gets back to DiGangi. Performance. Applause.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Have a Suggestion...

...about when to read Jennifer Pieroni's "Now, Right Now."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Meme Dimanche, Ca Me Dit Quelque Chose

I got added by the first of my unpublished novels on facebook a few days ago. Notice came in an email, which asked me to confirm that I in fact knew this unpublished novel. I went to facebook and hit 'confirm.' Then I visited my novel's profile page and was sad to see that it had added no picture of itself, that it was content to go by that creepy silhouette. On the plus side, the first of my unpublished novels had friends, people I didn't know, people I'd never heard of. Apparently the first of my unpublished novels had survived abandonment. It was doing all right.

Then yesterday, on my facebook home page, I learned in a notice that the first of my unpublished novels and the second of my unpublished novels were now friends. This was a strange and bad moment for me. I wondered if the second of my unpublished novels would discover me in the pictures of my first unpublished novel's friends, and if it did, whether it would decide to connect itself to me via the friending process. I suspected that the second of my unpublished novels--which was the most unruly, and which I secretly loved best--would probably not bother to formalize ties with me, and though this hadn't yet happened for sure, I was angry in advance. I wanted to hurt the second of my unpublished novels, but I couldn't. There was nothing more I could do to affect it in any way. I guess that was the point that the second of my unpublished novels was trying to make with me, by not immediately adding me to its facebook friends. I saw that, and I began to soften again towards the second of my unpublished novels. I decided that I would be grown-up about this. I went to its public profile page and with calm and decision clicked 'Add as Friend.' I don't know if the second of my unpublished novels is going to confirm our friendship, but if it doesn't, there'll be consolation, I guess. If it doesn't, I'll be able to see it as having to face up to how mean and small it is. You probably didn't deserve to be published anyway, I'll be able to think.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pre-orderable: AVERY 4

I can't write this up any better than Adam and Steph did, so here goes: "Avery 4 will be out by the end of the year, and it promises to be our flashiest, shiniest issue yet. Avery 4 features stories by Kevin Canty, Hannah Tinti, Edan Lepucki, Rumaan Alam, Samar Fitzgerald, Sophie Rosenblum, Scott Garson, Callie Collins, James Iredell, Jessica Breheny, Sean Walsh, Anna Villegas, and Michael Bourdaghs. The stories are about the following: sex, airplanes, cacti, haircuts, bugs, revolution, siblings, fish, term papers, adoption, shoes and more!"

You'll know which of those mine is about when I tell you the title: "In Lieu of My Final Paper." I'm happy w/ this title. Does it not seem almost as good as a Matt Bell title? I'm happy w/ the story too and thrilled about it being in Avery. Here are some of the things you will read about if you read this story: salad dressings, March Madness, the first days of the Iraq War, Calvino, Swarthmore, going commando, bikini tug of war and the study of laughter.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Best Thing I Heard on TV at the Hilton Garden Inn in Louisville

"Maybe scallops will fly out of me britches!"

--Mr. Krabs

Monday, November 24, 2008

2 1/2 Questions for Amanda Nazario...

...whose sure-fine story, "Big C and Lil Puppet," has just gone live @ Wigleaf.


SG: This story would seem to take its place in the slim niche of dogwalking literature. There's the Ann Tyler novel--Accidental Tourist, is it? The new woman, she's a dog walker, right? I read it a long time ago. Don't know why I keep it around because I'll pretty surely never read it again.... Then there's Arthur Bradford's debut collection, Dogwalker. Now there's a kick-ass book. Have you read it? The dogwalking material isn't as memorable as the mutant puppies material or the having-sex-with-dogs material, but still. Okay, so what's my question? Dogwalking? What you're reading lately? What your dogs are reading?

AN: I love Dogwalker too! Being a dog walker/writer with literate friends, I get asked a lot whether I've read it. Though it deals with dog walking almost not at all, I'm able to relate to it anyway -- Bradford's bizarre/cruel situations, softheartedness, and slightly weird narrative voice are all right up my alley. I think about "Chainsaw Apple," wherein a guy falls in love with a girl after accidentally chainsawing her face, about... once a week. However, my own writing is more similar to Anne Tyler's, if I have to pick between them. Her Saint Maybe is a novel I like; in my longer stuff I aspire to that level (depth? can you aspire to depth?) of sadness. That's a sad book, man. And the dog in The Accidental Tourist is a Corgi, which is my favorite breed of dog, so there's something else she and I have in common. Right now I'm rereading Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, which I read last summer and realized I had to read again -- its articulation of a desperate lifestyle, of absurdity and hilarity in desperation, is addictive. The dogs I walk live better than I do; I think some of them read P.G. Wodehouse.


SG: You're a deejay, and you're a writer. This means that if we ever met at a party and somebody started feeding me cigarettes I would try to talk to you all night about the many possible parallels between the pop song and the story, music and lit.... How would that conversation go (before you started focusing keenly on something beyond my left shoulder)?

AN: The first thing I'd say would be that deejays in clubs learn fast how to deal with drunks who won't shut up. This would make things awkward. I would apologize. Then I'd say I do notice endless similarities between music and literature, and I hope what I write can satisfy people the way a good pop song can. (I choose pop because that's the kind of music I know best; I could try to write a piano concerto-like story, but I doubt it would go very well.) It's exciting to imagine this can happen, that two artistic disciplines so different from each other can produce the same feeling in a person. As literary fiction continues to incorporate new stuff -- by "stuff" I mean drawings, verse, experimentation with visual space, etc. -- there seems to be a lot of room in it for music. Not that this is that new an idea. I'm thinking right now of Dos Passos's interstitial "camera" sections that have song lyrics in them. I guess I just mean I'm excited to see more of that, to see more of a conflation of music with literature, and not just because right now many of my stories contain copyrighted song lyrics that make journals not want to pick them up.


SG: How often do you daydream about...?

AN: Constantly. It's a wonder I get any work done at all.

Dawn of Twelve Stories

And it looks good.

Wigleaf connections: Molly Gaudry co-edits. Jimmy Chen has a story in it. Matt Bell has a story in it. And Steve Almond has a story in it. What's the Steve Almond connection? I know what his next thought is going to be after reading this. His next thought: I've gotta send something to Wigleaf.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Out of Control Line-ups...

...in these three print mags, just out or pre-orderable (by following links)

New York Tyrant

Quick Fiction

Keyhole (handwritten issue)

I could name names. But just trust me: out of control.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I was really slack once about subs. I'd lose my list of places I'd sent stuff to, then figure it didn't matter much anyway, because no one really liked the stories I was writing. But before I got to that place in my head -- before I came down from the high of the writing itself -- I'd think that I had the best story in the world and send it to like fifty places. As a result there was a story of mine that was once accepted at four different journals. And of course numbers 2-4 I can never send stuff to again....

Why am I thinking about this? Wigleaf has lost a couple stories in this way recently-- both to Quick Fiction, which I guess makes sense, since it's pretty much my favorite mag. One of the writers felt really terrible, and I wrote to her saying that I wanted to encourage in her the misguided idea that she owed me one. That writer was Molly Gaudry, and I guess I was successful in my appeal, because she wrote another, the fabulous "Come See the Monkey," which has just gone up.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sometimes It Takes Years for Things to Occur to Me

Like w/ the cover of Harry Nilsson's 1971 album here: is he holding a bowl? I looked at this the other day and looked again and thought, He's holding a bowl.

One time I sang "Coconut" in the car and B jumped in with the "Doctor" parts and from the back seat it was like, Do that again, Do that again, Do that again, Do that again....

Friday, November 14, 2008

Charles Lennox Stole the Title of this Blog Post....

...which was going to be, Sir, yes, sir!


No, SK and MH aren't in Issue #1 of SIR!.

But I am and Charles Lennox is. And lots of other people I like and admire. This wk has been hell but I will read it tomorrow and will like reading it, I'm 100% certain.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

2 1/2 Questions for Kevin Wilson...

...whose double-plus-good short, "Tommy Explained: Album One, Side One, Track Three: 1921," has just gone up @ Wigleaf. (Other pieces from the project are in the excellent new web journal Robot Melon. Check them out--and go to Kevin's blog for some entertaining background.)


SG: You've got a book coming out from Harper Collins next year, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. Man am I looking forward to that! Let me give people a little taste, this from your Ploughshares story, "Blowing Up on the Spot."

"I am not sure how my parents felt about each other. I think they loved each other. It seems like a reasonable answer. Still, they didn't like each other very much at all sometimes. I guess they were like any couple in that they loved each other and didn't love each other, depending on the situation. I really can't say."

Here Katie, an insomniac who each day counts the number of steps it takes her to arrive at the factory where she searches for Q's in mounds of Scrabble tiles, is considering her parents, who have the distinction of being, as she puts it, "the first recorded double Spontaneous Human Combustion in history." This is odd stuff, but as an author you seem to approach it in a fierce and direct way. There's more compassion, maybe, than is to be found in Flannery O'Connor, but I think of her all the same. You know what's coming now, don't you? The Southern Writer question. Does that label still mean anything, if it ever did? Or if you don't like that question, answer any of the others that could be derived from all this.

KW: I think of myself as a southern writer because I was born, raised, and still live in the south. Aside from two years in Boston and two years in Gainesville, FL, I haven't even lived outside of Tennessee. So, yeah, I'm a southern writer. I love Flannery O'Connor (so much it's unhealthy) and Truman Capote and William Faulkner and Barry Hannah and Padgett Powell. I don't think their work suffers or changes if you call them southern writers. These are writers who are/were obviously shaped by the oddness of their lives in the south (as opposed to the oddness of life in the Midwest or Northeast, which are just as odd but in different ways). I'm not some southern-by-the-grace-of-god motherfucker, but I know living in a tiny town in the rural south affected my writing and I'm happy about it.

That said, if someone called my work "southern" as a way to dismiss it, I'd want to kill that person.


SG: I could totally be wrong about this, but I get the sense that as a writer you work easily and happily within the short story form. Is that the case? And if so, what draws you to the short story, and what's there to say about the distinction between it and longer stuff, as you see it?

KW: I love the short form. I work with wacky modes and I find that it's better in the short story form. You can ask for suspension of disbelief with more confidence when the length is shorter. If I fuck up a short story, I feel like I can walk away from it without much incident. No one got hurt. Ten pages got spoiled. Oh well. The novel that I'm working on, if I mess it up, I'm going to drive my car into a tree.

Most of my favorite writers have a facility for the short story, even if they also write incredible novels. What's not to like? It asks of the reader less of a commitment in time but can offer as much emotional resonance as a novel.

I have a seven-month-old baby. I've been trying to read Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union for seven months and even though I like it, I'm not even halfway through it. There is no time. I have chunks of fifteen minutes when I'm not attending to the needs of the baby or buying action figures on ebay or hiding the action figures that I've won on ebay so my wife doesn't find them. It's just difficult for me to come back to the novel and pick it up with the same intensity each time. But I've read a ton of short stories in that time. I've been blown away by stories by Lucy Corin and Blake Butler and Alix Ohlin and Chris Adrian and Holly Goddard Jones and Matt Bell and a lot of other writers in the past seven months. How can you go wrong?


SG: Has it ever occurred to you that your career might benefit from your deciding to…?

KW: Honestly, Scott, if I had any clue what that would be, I would go do it. I'm shameless.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


* I've been worried about some of my friends' facebook statuses. If you were going to drive a car off a cliff, would you write something odd in your facebook status?

* That graffiti is in London, where I want to say I've never been. I have been there but I was eighteen and did worthless things.

* My friend and I had a third housemate once who was annoying. He came to stand in the doorway of my friend's room and asked him what he was doing and my friend said, Writing. And the third housemate said, Huh, in a cheerful way--I wasn't there but can imagine. Then he said, I'm going to Heckinger's. I'm going to buy a hose and some duct tape to hook it up to my exhaust with so I can kill myself. And my friend said, Have a good time.

* There's more to that graffiti painting. I cut it out. If you want you can see a detail from that other part when you read the next story in Wigleaf, which is by Frances Gapper. I don't know if Frances Gapper is from London, but she is British, I think.

* I almost never update my facebook status. It's like I'm scared of it. It follows me around asking, What are you doing now? And now? And now? What are you doing? Are you doing something now?

* I had a dream last night in which Mike Young sent me a mix he made and did up in a very professional way. He asked me not to sell it, because he hadn't got copyright on any of the stuff he'd put on the mix, but it could have been sold, because it had been done so professionally. The cover of the disc had a burnt orange tone, and though I don't remember the title, at the bottom it said "No Posit Records." This morning I'd like to correct that. Noo Records. Not No Posit. This morning I'd also like to listen to that disc. The packaging was innovative. There was no opening cover. Instead there was a slit in the side, like the slit for a DVD in a Mac, and if you hit a button the disc came rolling out. Thank you for that, Mike Young.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Amelia Gray @ Wigleaf

And if you want more when you're done w/ that, head over to Shelf Life, where's she's got another new one that's really really good.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sentences with 'Boy,' 'Girl,' and 'School'; or: My Kid's First Story

Can you see the boy?

Can you see the girl?

The school is on fire.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Four New Short Sets @ FRiGG

The Fall FRiGGis for sure the issue of the year if you're into shorts. There's a set by Beth Thomas, and three other sets by some great new talents: Ethan Bernard, Ryan Dilbert, and Fortunato Salazar. A whole lot of good stuff here, a mon avis....

Am I really the kind of person to end sentences w/ cute ironic bits of French?

p.s. I remember hearing Ellen Parker saying--I think over @ Kelly Spitzer's page--that she wasn't sure she was going to keep running shorts in this way, in sets--that she wasn't sure if it made sense. What I'd say: it makes sense, yes. I wish more places would do them this way.

Monday, October 27, 2008

2 1/2 Questions for Elaine Chiew...

...whose real-fine story "Chinese Equivalent" is just up @ Wigleaf.


SG: A lot of writers come to the short-short story by accident. How is it that you come to it? That's a brief question, but go ahead and be expansive if you like.


SG: I could be totally wrong about this—and feel free to shoot me down if I am—but I have the idea that you're one of those writers who, as a reader, engages happily in the study of fiction. If that's right, who have you been reading lately? And what are you finding?

EC: Good questions, Scott. I've reduced the answer to your 2 1/2 questions to 1 1/2. After the initial flurry of online Zoetrope/Gotham classes, I was hungry for instruction, but was in no position to get an MFA (I was busy making a family across the pond). But I started to read short stories analytically—first with the Best American Short Stories series, then basically any short story anthology compilation, moving onto individual short story writer collections. The most recent I've read is by Tobias Wolff, and he's amazing. I highly recommend Our Story Begins for Tobias' sharp economical prose and incisive moral quandaries. It didn't start out this way. but I don't read fiction to find perfect moral beings. I read them for the flawed ones, and you don't need a psychologist to explain why. They are far more interesting.

In the beginning, reading each short story was painstaking. It would take me ages to finish just one book! But all that work was worth it. It internalizes the form and the craft elements. The longer I read, the shorter my fiction got. From the usual 8000 whopper to somewhere about 2000 friable words. Reading short fiction is critical to developing your ruthless internal editor. I was happier slashing and burning my own prose when I was performing major reconstructive surgery in my head on the likes of Julie Orringer and Miranda
July. :-)

The move towards short-short fiction was therefore organic. Some stories were just that short and needed that starburst exhalation of breath to tell it. And the cloud they release was powerful. I think there are writers so natural at this form that I'm positively green with envy. But I began to read online fiction, and my respect and admiration for flash fiction grew. For me, it took experimentation with flash to get me down to the beauty of an individual sentence. Sometimes, that's all I want with my morning coffee.


SG: What are planning to do with…?

EC: What am I planning to do with this empty coke bottle I'm holding as I write a response for your blog? Finish the last drop. Recycle it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obscure Anniversaries: "Rock 'n Roll Animal"

Thirty-five years ago, Lou Reed revisited some Velvets stuff in an NYC concert that would be released the following year as a live solo record, Rock 'n Roll Animal. The safest thing to say about this recording is maybe that it's classic. Classic rock-y?Classicallly painful? Classically over the top? All of that, for me. But I can't hate it because I heard the remake first and listened to it for a good while before encountering the original. If you know the original but haven't heard this, you're in for some fun. It's 1973, right? Reed is probably doing a lot of blow and has gone glamvestite, and he's got a big fancy stadium band behind him, one that will remind you of the Allman brothers for its merging lead-guitar duets, Yes for its diddly rock symphony stuff, and the Dead for its sugary jamband underpinnings. Aquarium Drunkard posted an mp3 of the show starter, "Intro/Sweet Jane," not long ago. It's still there if for some reason you want it. Here's the Songza link:

Intro/Sweet Jane

Is that not something?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Saw that Myfanwy Collins put a real-time, to-the-second counter to election day up on her blog. I might as well do the same thing because in free time--i.e. time when I might write something here--I have trouble thinking about anything else. B and I invested in a hot tub this summer thinking we'd try to be less stressed during the school yr, and we thought to set up a rule: no talking about politics in the hot tub.... Yeah right.

I'm writing a story right now that begins w/ a line about people talking politics in a hot tub. It's a good story so far. I'll probably fuck it up....

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Tai Dong Huai's "Natalie" is up @ Wigleaf now.

The story is from a collection she's working on, I Come from Where I've Never Been. Other stuff from the project has appeared recently in some nice web venues, including jmww, 971 Menu, Hobart, elimae, Word Riot and Thieves Jargon. It's all good. Like, really good. After you read "Natalie," check out the Thieves Jargon story, "Ankles." Try forgetting that one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Out and In

Some decent webzines have died this year. There's Unpleasant Event Schedule, whose name should definitely be recycled by someone (they never did publish the Karyna McGlynn work they were promising). There's 3711 Atlantic, which ran some good stuff last year, and Steel City Review, which probably would have had one story in Wigleaf's next Long Shortlist if it hadn't folded (Dawn Corrigan's).

But if some web journals are biting it, a much higher number of them are just starting out. Roland Goity's LIT N IMAGE is a nice-looking new one, with work in its autumn issue by Barry Graham. The two BG pieces, incidentally, are both part of his new chapbook from Achilles--NOT A SPECK OF LIGHT IS SHOWING. The evidence points to this chapbook being damn good....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

2 1/2 Questions for Shane Jones...

...whose gem of a short, "Attics," is just up @ Wigleaf.


SG: The other day on your blog you, uh--expressed impatience with the idea of plot and character development. You wondered whether a novel could read "like a Rene Magritte painting looks and feels." I was interested in that for a few reasons. One reason is that you're pretty good at working character tensions, as the stellar title story of your Greying Ghost chapbook makes clear. Is there a question here? If there is, is it one that's answerable?

SJ: I'm usually just rambling on my blog, which is pretty much what I was doing when I made the Rene Magritte comment. I think the answer is yes and no. When I look at a painting by Magritte I feel the following things: confusion, delight, surprise, and excitement. That overall feeling is what I like in literature. I think a novel could feel like a string of Rene Magritte paintings, maybe. I'd like to read a novel that had that blurb on the back: "Feels like walking through a gallery of Magritte paintings." It makes me excited. As far as plot and character, I just don't care much about it, or at least I pretend not to. People get wrapped up in plot and character and talking about "narrative arcs" and it's just kind of stupid. When I'm writing I don't think about character development or how my plot is developing. Does anyone? I'm just trying to keep the energy in the language going. I'm stringing together sentences that surprise me and make me happy, for as long as I can.


SG: I'm probably too fond of drawing parallels between indie rock and indie lit, but here goes: in the recording industry, though major lables have tended to be middle-of-the-road, they've always kept an eye on the indepedents, which is to say that there's a kind of relationship. The majors often grab for the innovations that the independents have fostered. Geffen signs Nirvana--to use a skinny-white-guy example--and everybody makes money: Geffen, Nirvana, and Sub Pop too. Do you see anything of this sort on the horizon for independent lit?

SJ: Well, I think it can happen and it has happened. I really hope I'm not wrong with this, but I believe Zoe Trope's book Don't Kill The Freshman was originally published by Future Tense and because it became so popular, and the amount of "buzz," Harper picked it up and gave Zoe a six-figure deal (I think Zoe agreed to expand the book). That couldn't be more indie rock-star making it big. That's the equivalent of some indie band playing two shows and getting a huge record deal because 10,000 kids showed up. The problem is I'm not sure the audiences are the same. People who think they are reading indie-lit go to a local bookstore and pick up Don Dellilo or Jonathan Safran Foer and they think they are indie because of it. Also, the actual act of reading has become indie, and the bookstores are feeding them mainstream writers hyped as indie and cool and hip and. I wish it wasn't like that. It would be funny if Haper and Penguin and Random House started giving out six-figures deals to people like Blake Butler, Peter Markus, Chelsey Minnis, and about a dozen other I'd like to list. I think they all deserve it.


SG: Do you ever look in the mirror and think…?

SJ: I just looked in the mirror and thought "Wow, that's a lot of face." When I shave my face looks really wide. I kind of look like a turtle.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

About Lou

Maybe somebody like Dave Clapper or Chad Simpson will come over here and tell me I'm over-simplifying, but I'm laying all the blame for the Cubs being out of it on Lou Pinella. He seems to me one of those defensive types who refuses to acknowledge what he doesn't like. Like W, come to think of it. This is a very good way of making yourself stupid.

I'm referring in particular to Game One of the divisional series against the Dodgers. The Cubbies had been swept the year before--last year--and Pinella should have seen, but refused to acknowledge, how crucial a good showing in Game One was, especially given the expectations this year, with the Cubs having home field throughout the playoffs. So: fifth inning. The Cubs have a two-zip lead, and Pinella's starter, Ryan Dempster, gives up two shaky walks to load the bases. What's Pinella thinking? That there are two outs? That there's no reason to panic because he has the stronger team? Come on. Dempster's flailing. Anyone can see that. And this is the playoffs. And your players need this game.

I'm telling you, it's on Pinella. If he gets Dempster out of there, Loney--who's not Manny Ramirez after all--doesn't hit the grand slam, and the 'oh no' feeling doesn't work its way into the Cubs hitters....

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Lamination Colony

The graffiti is just something to look at. No official relation to LC. But it seems right maybe in its big splashy somethingness....

Well, I'm excited. The last LC was all sorts of fun, and this one's bigger.

I've got a story in there, "I Talk with the Mermaid." Here's the rest of the line-up: Amanda Billings, Joshua Ware, Phil Estes, Matt Kirkpatrick, Stacy Kidd, Jamie Iredell, Ian Davisson & Ryan Downey, Krammer Abrahams, Shane Jones, Angela Genusa, Daniel Bailey, Brandon Barrett, Brandon Scott Gorrell, Gene Morgan, Conn Thomas O'Brien, Thomas Cook, Molly Gaudry, and Matt Bell.

Skip Sands' Family Tree

I'm rereading M. Herr's Dispatches for a class I'm doing. Everybody stole from Herr, so DJ shouldn't be faulted, but man did I do a double take when I got to the part of 'Breathing In' relating to "spooks"--Western intelligence types in Vietnam.

"By 1967 all you saw was the impaired spook reflex, prim adventurers living too long on the bloodless fringes of the action, heartbroken and memory-ruptured, working alone together toward a classified universe. They seemed like the saddest casualties of the Sixties, all the promise of good service on the New Frontier gone or surviving like the vaguest salvages of a dream...."

Stylewise, DJ is of course a lot closer to Herr than to, say, Tim O'Brien. But that passage! Is that not Skip Sands?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rogue Post-Mainstream media

During Thursday night's VP debate, Sarah Palin used the phrase "mainstream media." To paraphrase, she said something like, "I'm not going to allow my comment/words/etc. to pass through the filters of the mainstream media, I will speak directly to the American people."

I happen to have recently had the displeasure of reading some posts and comments on several far right websites, and so the phrase set off an alarm in my head. On these far right websites, they use the acronym MSM, demonstrating their belief that the ordinary media outlets in our nation have been hijacked by some nefarious forces. Since we are talking about the right, after all, it's safe to say that they are not articulating a marxian critique of the corporate-owned media.

During the last eight years, certain phrases have become code understood mostly by Bush's right-wing evangelical base; phrases like "no more legislating from the bench" and the like signal a certain position on abortion and similar "values" issues. But what Sarah Palin did on Thursday was to use a code word that signaled to a particular, mostly underground, group of white Christian nationalists that she speaks their language. That's darn scary. You betcha.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Gentleman from Indiana

This is the 1899 first novel from Indiana native Booth Tarkington, and also the title of my new story over at Titular in the novels section. That dark spooky guy in the background there -- he's not in mine. The guy and the girl? Maybe.

Tarkington is probably best known for The Magnificent Ambersons, which won a Pulitzer and which I think Orson Welles made into a film. But Gentleman was made into a film too, and also a stage play. The gentleman from Indiana did pretty well with the Gentleman from Indiana. I hope to also. I expect a Pushcart, at the very least.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Obscure Anniversaries: "What a Wonderful World"

A 1968 recording. It's 40 years old.

Lynch probably twisted it forever by using it in the super-creeped last episode of Twin Peaks, but I think it still does what Armstrong wanted it to. I see it as a good response to Boethius, who sneers at his would-be happy self, "The fact that flowers bloom in spring -- what does it confer upon you?"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Small Strange Happening

Right before I left my ofc yesterday I pulled out a book, Willa Cather's Not Under Forty. There's an essay in there that I was thinking of maybe having my fiction class look at part of on Monday. But I never did get to the point of looking at it, because as I opened it I got snagged on the name written in smooth even cursive in blue ink inside the cloth cover. This book, I should say, is a first edition. I bought it for $4 in the unnamed used book store just off Washington St. in Lewisburg, West Virginia. It was a find--a 1936 Borzoi book, with higher quality printing and paper than you see today--but probably not worth much more than four bucks because there was no dust jacket and the cloth had been faded by mildew. Anyway as I opened it up I saw this name and got sort of confused. The name was 'Myfanwy Williams.' I'd only ever heard of one Myfanwy--Myfanwy Collins, friend of Wigleaf and super-sweet writer--and at first, since I wasn't really reading the name so much as seeing it, I got confused. For part of a second I was maybe wondering if there wasn't some crossover between these two elements of my fiction-writer life, something I'd missed. 'Williams' being somewhat similar to 'Collins' maybe contributed to that. This all happened fast, within like a second, but it was enough to cause my left hand to jiggle and the book to slip, and when I caught it something fell out of the pages, something old and folded and brown. This was also really confusing, because when I'd found the book in West Virginia and discovered that it was a first edition, I'd looked it over hard, as an object. I wouldn't have believed there might have been anything in the pages I missed. But there was: part of a folded telegram, dated 1936, the year of the book's release. It was a Western Union Holiday Greeting, with a rich print of a detail from a painting of a colonial New England Christmas: guy in a tri-corner hat and floating red scarf with a pine tree over his shoulder, two daughters trailiing in the snow, one shouldering the axe. The pasted-on telegram print, dictated by Charles someone (the last name was torn off) expressed wishes for a happy season.

At home later I googled 'Myfanwy Williams.' There is one, a young girl. Then I googled 'Myfanwy Williams Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania,' because that's where the telegram was addressed to. I found a pdf of a 1964 student newspaper from Wilkes College. In it there's mention of the new student production of Sound of Music. Somebody named Myfanwy Williams was assistant director....

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thinking about Print Mags and Contests and Things

Four print mags here, each of which runs full-length short stories. I'll list them alphabetically. Which ones would you most want to publish in? How would they rank in terms of that?

Avery Anthology
Crab Orchard Review
One Story

I'll give you my rankings in a second. I ranked them holistically, but here were the factors I think were most involved for me:


*Profile (i.e. will it look good on the resume, will agents maybe read it -- that kind of thing)

*Impact/Reception (not circulation numbers so much as this: is there editorial continuity and a known aesthetic? Do readers know what they're getting when they buy the mag? How much might readers want to read the thing before they have it in their hands? How devoted might those readers be?)

For me, it worked out like this:

1. One Story
2. Avery Anthology
3. Nimrod
4. Crab Orchard

I want to offer some thoughts on this but before I do a disclaimer: I've got a story forthcoming in Avery Anthology. If they'd ranked low on my list, probably I wouldn't have 'published' it; probably I would have chosen to replace them. Obviously, right? But if I had replaced them on this list with Keyhole or with Hobart (mags that would have fallen in the exact same spot, at #2), there'd have been the possibility of bias of another type -- because I've submitted to each in the past and would love to have stories accepted in those places....

Anyway.... One Story. They pay well. Agents read it. People have got NY book contracts out of a One Story pub. Related to this stuff -- hopefully, anyway -- is the fact that there's editorial continuity, and that people love reading it. One Story scores high across the board.

One thing that's interesting to me about Crab Orchard: besides One Story, they're the only one that pays. Not tons -- like $20/page or something. But pay is pay. So why would Nimrod rank above them? They do better in 'Profile,' I think. I woudn't mind having 'Nimrod' on my CV. But neither of these does nearly as well as Avery in Impact/Reception. Nimrod and Crab Orchard are both funded through universities. I don't know that there's rotating editorship, but I wouldn't doubt it.

In a way, I wish Nimrod were at the bottom of my list -- because they do the thing I really hate most: they're a university-funded mag, but they run contests each year: pay $20 to enter our short story contest; if you win, you get $2000; if you lose, you get a year subscription to our mag, which we are unable to sell to you in any other way!

I often wonder what on earth people are thinking when they enter these contests. They've got a story, right? A story they like and think is good. And they're wondering, Where do I send it? They're thinking about that. So many different outlets.... How to know what all these different mags are looking for...? Then they hear about a contest. I know! I'll send my story to a mag that wants to publish the 'best' story! I don't really need to know what they're looking for, because they just want the 'best,' for their contest..... Yeah. For sure that's worth $20, knowing that a place is going to be looking for the 'best' story...

I mean, what do they think? They think that readers at other places aren't judging their stories against others and picking the ones they like best?

I don't know..... Maybe they're right, these contest submitters: maybe readers who are selecting prize winners don't just choose the stories they like best.... Maybe they're thinking, We could pick this story that rocks our world, this story we love, but instead we're going to pick this other one, because it's 'better'...?

Back to the rankings: Seen from the selling-yourself-through-contest-funds angle, people at places like Avery Anthology are really the good guys: they've got a vision for the mag, they seem to love running it, they send long notes to people whose stories they don't take, even though there's not much economic advantage in doing so.....

Is there more to say on all this? Probably. BUt time to go....

Contributors' Notes for My Unwritten Stories: "The Channukah Gas Mask"

This story comes out of my experience working in the Barnes & Noble located in the northeast corner of the Westroads Valley Mall. I still work there, not happily, but maybe not as miserably as on the morning when inspiration for "The Channukah Gas Mask" touched down on me. I was in the stock room, opening boxes, checking in the latest order from Barnes & Noble's chief distributor, a corrupt corporate giant like Barnes & Noble itself. My soul, it's fair to say, was crying out in this dark room, and making things worse was the fact that Lisa Tillison, who is my age and single and beautiful in a way that not everyone might be able to see, was cheerfully perfecting the display of new novels stacked up by the mall entrance to the store. Why so cheerful? Does she not see the horrible spirit-puncturing fakeness of a store like the one where we are forced to work? If you and I, Lisa, can't relate to one another and in our connection find refuge from the general horror, what's to become of this world? Such were my thoughts pretty much on the fortunate day when I was lit through with inspiration for "The Channukah Gas Mask." News of the Sego tragedy had reached me, and into my creative mindspace came images of the poor miner, trapped by rock. In some sense, I, in the dark stock room, became the miner, and perhaps the miracle that readers have found so stirring in my story was inspired by some vague foreknowledge of the fact that Lisa Tillison, later that day, would ask me what the words on my neck tie said and would smile at me when I told her.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Two and a Half Questions for Meghan Austin...

...whose story, "Marla" -- great! kick-ass! fill in your own superlative! -- is now up @ Wigleaf.


SG: Your very short stuff is really unique in lots of ways – voice, progression, subject matter, shape…. This is to say that I think I'd recognize a Meghan Austin short right away, even without your name on it. Is there a question here yet? I guess not…. How about this one: how conscious are you as a writer of working within the 'form' of the very short story?

MA: Thanks. I'm interested in form but not all that concerned with rules. I like writing very short things because I feel less constrained by the illusion of time within the fictional world. A character can be born in one sentence and die in the next one. Or the reverse. It's more difficult with a longer piece to deny time and focus on other things, because there is the evidence/reminder of time, in the hours the reader spends with the book.

You could immediately recognize my stories by the presence of lemurs, ocelots or disastrous relationships that result in the destruction of dishware.


SG: I hear you're working on a novel. Is it set in Chicago? If so, what is there to say about setting a fiction in the same place you're living your life?

MA: It's narrated from an unnamed city, but there are allusions to cross-country killing sprees and the occasional inter-planetary spiritual journey. Some of it takes place in the state or country of Canada-Oregon.


SG: Is it true that one of your heroes….?

MA: I'm not sure I have heroes. I look up to people whose flaws are similar but more glamorous than mine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nizzle elimizzle

Snoop Dogg's got a story in the September elimae.

No. But wouldn't it be sweet if he did?

Instead of him you'll find these Wigleaf-associated people: M.T. Fallon, who's got a story on the WL main page now, and Tai Dong Huai, who's got one (totally killer!) coming. And me. And Randall Brown, who interviewed Chad Simpson about the WL Top 50 among other stuff. That's stretching for a Wigleaf connection, I know. But I can stretch even further: there's Elizabeth Ellen, whose BF has a story on Wigleaf now, and who I've tried to get to submit, via voodoo signals, but who never has.....

Also there are stories by people who can not be in any way connected to WL: Buzz Mauro, Peter Berghoef, Barbara Maloutas, AE Reiff, Sara Crowley, Jared Ward, and Dmitri Yegorov.

And there's poetry -- which I might read after the fiction.....

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wo Dude!

This is what you get when you go to the Pequin archive and click on the recent Steve Finbow piece, "Story." If you dig around on Google, you can find--also on Pequin but unlinked--the text that this was derived from. Did anyone see it when it first ran? Which one was on the main page?

In Mailbox

I think I had a bad dream last night about the Dogzplot FF annual showing up at the mailbox of my old place instead of my new one. Just a dream! Today it arrived. I will try to draw out the reading of it, but I'm greedy and will have no luck....

Hats off to Barry and Jamie and Peter because it looks great. There should be a big party on a commercial rooftop attended by everyone who's in this thing and everyone who supports DP by ordering it. A triad of people should run around this rooftop with a single wooden chair and tequila and triple sec and lemon juice and salt. They should run up behind people, knock them into the chair, grab their bangs, pull their heads back, and mix margaritas in their mouths....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Two and a Half Questions for Sean Lovelace...

...whose story, "A Sigh Is Just a Sigh," has just gone up at Wigleaf. I will use an unmasculine word to describe it: delightful!


SG: T-F: Poets make the best fiction writers.

SL: TRUE. There is no doubt poets make better fiction writers. Although they might struggle with narrative form, the poet's work will compensate with language. Quality language is about compression and care. Poets care about the word.


SG: What's the last book that's caused you to do giddy push-ups in bed? And what the hell's wrong with you, doing giddy push-ups in bed?

SL: Jim Harrison's Sundog.


SG: What on earth were you thinking when you…?

SL: Ran an ultramarathon. I wanted a new challenge and I guess I got one. The ultra was on March 8, 2008, and I have not been able to race since...Achilles. I should have stuck to marathons.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When I'm Rushing on my Run #3

I wrote a draft of a new story today. It's like 943 words long, and it's the best story ever written at that length. Find me a better story 943 words long and I will give you my next-born child. (I had a vasectomy.)

I didn't mean to write this story. I meant to work on a longer one I'm in the middle of, but I was thinking of the title of the shorter one, which is the only part of it that had been written. Here's the title: "Ode to a Bad Album: The Rolling Stones' Some Girls (1978)." Wouldn't you want to write a story w/ a title like that?

Maybe I'll send it to Hobart. I'll write, Dear Hobart, I hereby provide you w/ an idea for your next theme issue, music and stories, and to get you started, I hereby contribute this piece.

Think Aaron will go for that?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

This is Just to Say

I have eaten the plums
that you were saving....


This is just to say:
Go read somebody new:
Janell Cress

Monday, September 1, 2008

Two Photos

I won't comment on the second one, other than to say it's the view from the living room of the front yard. The first one? My 3yr old made that when I was in another room. When I saw it I said, Who did this? Did you do this? And he said, La. And I said, 9-11 has entered the collective unconscious. And he said, La.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Plus One....

Barry is putting the Writers' Playlist (@Wigleaf) on disc and asked me, since there's leftover room, if I wanted to contribute a pick too.

There's only so much temptation a dude can take!

"The Best of My Love," The Emotions

When I was a kid, my parents moved us from the suburbs (read 'White') to the city (read 'Mixed'). I have a permanent memory of Music class that fall. These three black girls performed a synchronized dance to the Emotions' big single, which one of them brought from home and had Miss Quinn put on the record player. These girls were awesome. I couldn't believe I was sitting there watching them in a school room. The dance, as I recall it, was slightly disco-inflected (this was the late 70s), but just slightly; it was more the stop, crouch, twirl, point, step, step, step stuff I might have seen (but didn't) on TV. It was awesome. I felt awe, and that feeling was upped later that year when one of the girls called that same teacher, Miss Quinn, an "old bubble-eyed bat" to her face.

[Scott Garson]

Did You See This?

Randall Brown interviews Chad Simpson at SmokeLong this month -- about Chad's writing and teaching and stint as Selecting Editor for the Wigleaf Top Fifty.

In his blog, Matt Bell drew some deserved attention to one of Chad's recent stories, "Let x" in Esquire. Here's another, a small gem from Dogzplot -- "Preparation."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Numbered Thoughts on Matthew Savoca

If you're like me, you loved Matthew Savoca's "Natural Seismic Phenomenon" in a kind of senseless way the first time you read it. I've read it more times than you probably. And I've reached a new stage in my relationship w/ it. I'm ready to do what I threatened to do in an email to Matt this spring – start offering some observations.

Maybe the observations will add up to something, maybe they won't…..

1. Concerning the prose: "I am sleeping. Tectonic plates shift somewhere. This happens because of a sudden release of energy beneath the surface of the Earth. Some kind of stabilization failure along what is called a fault plane. The ground shakes and so does the building. I wake up three inches from where I went to sleep. I get up and walk to the door."

I get from this a sense of equanimity. What's it derive from? Science is an obvious candidate. Rationality. They're prized, generally. Here, though, their appearance could be taken as ridiculous because things are—uh… Falling down.

2. So my first impulse is to say that maybe that the narrator's 'tools' are comically inadequate when it comes to coping w/ the situation. Science as a target of satire, I'm thinking. But then no. The tools are actually just fine. He doesn't panic. He protects his eyes….

3. What about those eyes? Cornea, retina, cornea, retina…. The song gets stuck in your head, huh? This aspect of the story seems very natural to me, and I love it. It is -- as people who don't like to think always say -- what it is. But since I'm thinking right now…. What interests me is that it's the eyes. The corporeal mechanisms for seeing, as named by the doctors of science. I start to imagine that to preserve them is to preserve the whole narrative, the whole way of being….

4. Then there's the electronic communications aspect of this story….. Do you realize that the narrator never once actually speaks, outside of his dream? He's in the middle of the ultimate upheaval, right? Literal upheaval. Communication might seem important, and narrator does communicate, but only through email and cell, then very placidly in comparison to the shouts of his dreams…..

5. Back to number 3: does the narrator want to 'preserve the narrative,' as I was saying – 'preserve the whole way of being'? I get the sense from the dream that he might not, and that he might not even know it. I get the sense – and I’m thinking of the drama and emotion of the dreamed TV reports here, the 'shouts of his dreams,' as I said in #4 – that on some level he might want to be shaken, to be opened in awe…. You might expect something of that kind at a time like this, right? What that would mean is that all this could MEAN something, if you see what I mean….

Doesn’t the narrator seem to want that? Or seem maybe to have misplaced the part of him that would want it?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dear English 398

Your professor and I go way back. Let me tell you about your professor. One time she and I were at this bar and –

Sorry. Forgetting myself here. On to business.

I'm tempted just now to use a fancy term to describe the writing of 'flash,' as people call it. Like all such terms, it loses in exactitude whatever it might gain in sex appeal, but I'll go ahead and use it: the art of the dive.

Whatever could I mean by this? Let's see.

For readers, the full-length short story might offer immersion, twenty minutes, half an hour's worth. This accords w/ that dictum of Poe's that you've all probably read at some point or at least heard about: the short story has to be readable in one sitting. What this doesn't accord with, at least in most cases, is the experience of writing a full-length story. It takes time. It takes some people (wince) a lot longer than it does others, but it takes time, and because of that many of the writers I know are liable to think of full-length stories as an investment, one that is made hopefully but that entails (sorry for the unpleasant terminology) risk.

I'm just about to arrive at some kind of point here. Hang on!

If you're a writer, and you're going to invest time in something you know from the outset might fail, there's going to be a temptation: work more carefully! Keep your eyes open! Catch mistakes before they kill you! But here's the problem. The part of your brain you stimulate when you urge yourself to take care is not the part of your brain that writes good fiction. (This might be one explanation for what people call 'writer's block'….)

So. A dilemma. For me at least, the very short story is one way out. It's a dive. An escape from the daylight of my brain, from my plans and ambitions, etc. Swoosh, I'm in the water. And I know that I'll be back up soon – so the investment-risk thing doesn't apply.

Yes, the analogy is cloying…. We'll leave it behind.

I'll say this: I think some of my own best stuff is very short stuff. In that category one of my personal favorites is a story that I wrote on a day when I was busy and not technically 'writing.' I was busy, as I say, but when I had a second at one point I read a short by Lydia Davis. I'm embarrassed not to recall the title just now, but I loved it. I wasn't sure why I loved it. I didn't immediately see what made it a story. But I loved it as fiction, and when I set it down my blood was fizzing. I wanted to write something, you know. And so I did. What I wrote hadn't been an 'idea' in advance -- or an image, a 'kernel,' any of that. It had been nothing.

Of course this is all simplified. I'm not suggesting, for example, that with shorts there's no rewrites (stuff in the first paragraph of the one I just mentioned ended up in the last paragraph of the final version). I'm not suggesting…..

Oh enough of this. You see what I'm suggesting, right?

Happy writes, all. Bedevil her for me,


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Dumb Car Names

Sean Lovelace mentioned one that had me tittering: the Ford Impact.

Here are some others. (Yes, I used to have a long commute.....)

Aspire (FORD)

I saw one of these recently. The name was in cursive, the paint job rose metallic. I thought, Women's underarm odor preventative.

Celica (TOYOTA)

Celica, Cellulite, Fat….
Celica, Silica, Silicon, Implant, Leak….
Celica, Cellophane, Crinkle….
Celica, Monica, Cigar

Acclaim (PLYMOUTH)

This name makes life an even bitterer joke for the poor individuals who have to drive this car.

And from my friend Piers, some more:

Odyssey (HONDA)

Because, when it comes right down to it, what could possibly be more like Odysseus' heroic struggle against
the Trojans and his remarkable battle against the Cyclops than you picking up your eight-year-old, Petra, from her Jazzercise class?

Avalanche (CHEVROLET)

Now, here's great branding: Link yourself up to a cataclysmic calamity that frequently kills people. You want some more correlated associations? Out of control. Deadly. Terrifying. Suffocation. Frostbite. Coming soon: The Tsunami!

Jimmy (GMC)

See, you're sort of backwards and dimwitted and no one wants you to play on their basketball team because you can't shoot, and the ball always hits you in the face, knocking your glasses off and leaving you bewildered and with a gushing nose bleed, trying not to cry in front of everyone and your mother will freak when she sees you, calling every one else's mom to complain how their boys are treating you so badly, and, later, they beat the crap out of you back behind a Dunkin Donuts and leave you huddled over a flattened bag of day-old jelly glazed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Radio Call-In: Dumb Car Names

DJ Mike: Ron, you're on Talk Talk

Listener Ron: I want to talk about this one, Mike. The Mazda Protege.

DJ Mike: The protege.

Listener Ron: Protege, Mike? The protege? Seems to me that if I'm driving down the road I'm not going to want to entrust myself -- right? -- to somebody's protege. Seems to me that if I'm driving down the road -- with my family Mike, my two little kids -- I might want to know that I'm in a vehicle that's already done its apprenticeship, shall we say. Protege? Well you're learning. That's good. Your somebody's protege. No shame in that. Everybody's got to learn, Mike. Everybody has to study under somebody who already knows. Go ahead, be a protege. That's perfectly all right. BUT DON'T TRY TO DRIVE ME DOWN THE ROAD WITH MY FAMILY!!! All right? Yeah, I'll stick my baby, my EFFIN' TWO-YEAR OLD, in a PROTEGE. Hopefully the protege will have learned something. Right. Give me the Master, Mike. The Mazda Master. Protege? The MAZDA EFFIN' PROTEGE?

DJ Mike: Good take, Ron.

Listener Ron: Protege. I'd like to know who the hell thought that one up. Protege. Some asshole getting paid to sip coffee at a sidewalk table.

DJ Mike: All right, Ron, thanks.

Listener Ron: Yeah I'll have a cafe oley with a fresh protege please.

DJ Mike: Susie, you're on Talk Talk.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fantasy Literature Basketball, or 'Crap out of My Ass #1'

saw a new one in a cover letter recently. You almost never see a new one but recently I did: the writer listed a couple names of OTHER writers s/he was in a certain issue of a certain journal w/.

this got me daydreaming a brilliant new game possibility: Fantasy Literature Basketball. How it works: you get to draft a starting five of writers you've been in issues/postings of journals with. Your starting five goes up against other people's starting five. How would the winner be determined? Maybe you can help me with this part. I'm more interested in getting together a mean starting five. Let's see..... Tao Lin (he gave me a cigarette to put out for him in an issue of Fourteen Hills, but there was a drag left and I took it...)

Mary Miller (she gave a line smile in a cell phone portrait I took of us in an issue of Storyglossia)

Kim Chinquee (she used my shades lens to check her lips w/ in an issue of Quick Fiction, and when she was done she brought her thumb to the glass and said, Here, you've got a smudge)

Keith Lee Morris (he kept a very kind look on his face while listening to me tell a story I'd told him before in an issue of Puerto del Sol)

And then somebody from the rock 'n roll fifth b'day issue of SmokeLong. Kinsella? No, I'll trade him for Blake Butler and a bunch of draft picks that will be kicking your Fantasy Literature Basketball team's ass in a few years' time.....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dialogue w 3yr old while Walking Down the Dock

L: What is it today, Daddy?

S: What's the day?

L: La.

S: Thursday.

L: Thursday?

S: Yeah.

L: That's a beautiful name.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Scott, Barry and Mary Lynn @ Five Star

T.J. Forrester is doing some great stuff on his newish review site Five Star Literary Stories. This week I have a bit there, speaking on behalf of Wigleaf, and Mary Lynn Reed reviews Barry Graham's "This Story Is Not about Ham And Cheese Sandwiches."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Nicolle Elizabeth for Prestidigident

She's got a fun story up @ Wigleaf this week. Fun as in it's a pleasure. Pleasure as in I read it and then go, yes, let's do that again.

I think she's probably the same one who had a story at Night Train a couple weeks ago. I'm pretty sure. And it looks like she gave them a little more in her bio. Will there be a hula hoop factory story, N? We'll fight Night Train for it. Oh no, we won't..... (see previous post...)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What I Didn't Learn in Anger Management Class

I punched out my boss once. This was a while back. My brother called not long after and answered my hello with laughter and said, "Living the American Dream." I was happy about that. But slugging my boss had been a bad idea. The dude was angry and did all he could to make the assault charge stick. I had to spend more money than I had then on a lawyer my sister hooked me up w/ (this was in D.C., and my sister worked for a D.C. law firm). She was pretty good, that lawyer, and got me off w/ a no-contest plea or something like that, some deal where it ended up legally expunged from my record. The only real consequence, besides the money I was out: I had to do community service and go to anger management classes. The classes were held in a big room on the first floor of a Ramada hotel. They were painful. I remember about the instructor that she was bored and overweight, and that she always talked about 'invitations' to anger. You will receive invitations to anger, she said. And like any invitation, you will have a choice. Do I want to accept that invitation or perhaps is this one I should decline?

She looked very silly, dramatizing this. I would end up thinking, Am I here? Is this actually happening?

But lately her advice seems less ridiculous to me. I still lose my temper too easily. And I think, when it's happening, that it's good, that nothing could be better than releasing my bad weather....

nothing could be better
than releasing my bad weather....

But then, you know, inevitably, I end up wishing that I'd fixed before me the image of that bored, overweight woman with red nails and powdery make-up, and that I'd repeated along w/ her: no, thank you. I see that you're kindly offering me an invitation to anger, but no thank you, not just now, thanks... I believe my datebook is full!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Very Brief Dialogue

me: you don't like my blog?

R: yeah but you're just pulling crap out of your ass to put on there.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

To His Underage Girlfriend

Who else knows the trip

of your heart and how really

unfair your mom can be?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

On Not Counting Stats

I don't have any way to guess about who you are if you're visiting this page. So if you're a Ruby Ridge type, be comforted....

Maybe I would have put a statcounter on this, at one point, if I could have easily. I didn't know how. Now I know how but don't want to. It's like, if nobody ever reads it, that's disheartening. On the other side, if this ever outdrew Wigleaf, even for a day.... again, disheartening...

I'm not saying that a journal automatically deserves to outdraw a blog. But Wigleaf is a lot better as a journal than this is as a blog....

That's the natural ending point for this post, isn't it?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Feel Free to Adopt This Cover Letter

Dear _______ Review:

Please consider my story, "___________," for publication in your journal.

In the past I have included biographical data about myself in letters like these. Most likely the writers you have been publishing include such data -- about publications and fellowships and such -- in their cover letters. Most likely you have been impressed with these writers before turning to their stories. That seems to me likely, because the stories themselves, though not without merit, are often forgettable. I happen to be a reader of your journal, and I can tell you, without particular emotional involvement, that the story that I am enclosing is far better than anything you've published within the past calendar year. I understand that I may not profit from such honesty, but I refuse to compromise my principles. I refuse to play your game. Perhaps you're not fond of the tone that I take. No matter. I call upon you to rise to my level, ___________ Review. I call upon you to read this story without prejudice, though I have no great faith that you will.



When I'm Rushing on My Run #2

I wrote a really good story today. A short one, just over 500 wds.

I don't always think my stories, long or short, are really good. Sometimes I read them after they're published and wince. But for now I think this one is great. I love this story. I would marry this story. I would kiss this story in a tree....

I tricked myself into writing it, actually. After it's published somewhere, hopefully online, I'll say more about how it came to be....

Switch of subject: I was just reading Matt's post where he wonders aloud what lit mags, print or online, are indispensible. Blake responded w/ a pretty nice list. He mentioned Unsaid, a print mag whose website I've been poking around lately because I had some shorts accepted there. Did you realize -- I didn't -- that the whole Unsaid catalogue is available online? I was looking through the last issue: Joanna Howard, Brian Evenson, Peter Markus, Robert Lopez, Cooper Esteban, Deb Olin Unferth....

I got fairly excited. And by fairly I mean rabidly.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Favorite Thing

I've got a 1951 Bantam paperback edition of The Great Gatsby. I found it ten years ago at a junk store in northwestern Iowa, among paperbacks like The Thorn Birds and Rosemary's Baby and such. On the cover illustration, Daisy is in evening wear, not looking very Daisyish, in my opinion: she's looking down cooly at a seated Gatsby. On the back there's a quote from John O'Hara, and that's the really priceless thing. It's 1951, remember. O'Hara says this: "All Fitzgerald was was our best novelist.... The stuff is here. The stuff is very much here, and it's mellow."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Concerning (eventually) Liesl Jobson

In shimmering fits of self-loathing I'll sometimes do stuff like watch a rerun of "Friends." There's a character Ross on that show. He's a white guy. Maybe Jewish -- is he Jewish? Jewish adds a little color. But he's a white guy, Ross, and one season he ends up dating a black girl. A black girl couldn't have been a Friend, I don't think. Because the Friends shared a demographic: educated, single, middle-class. White. But a Friend could date a black girl, and the "Friends" way to play that was to make no mention of race. The actress was a match for Friend women in many ways: she was educated, thin, beautiful; she spoke without recognizable accent. So Ross dated her. If there was any message on race in all of this, it was the now familiar one, about color-blindness: in the 90s, we were hip enough to move beyond race, to shed it like an outmoded style. It's all about the content of your character, right? Ross was a modern white. He was pathetic and lame and totally insecure, but he somehow never said to himself, Damn, I'm dating a black girl! Has she ever dated a white guy? What's she going to think when she looks me in the eye when we're...?

As a vision, that was probably better than what it replaced in white people's stories. Spike Lee still talks about Hollywood's 'Super Duper Magical Negro': the Will Smith character, for example, in Bagger Vance, who's more interested, as Lee says, in Matt Damon's golf swing than he is in bettering his own circumstances. In Richard Ford's eighties stories, there's something more subtle but akin: black people are always 'the other': they're there as mysterious tokens of meaning in stories that aren't their own. (Colson Whitehead touches on this in his review of Ford's 2002 collection, "A Multitude of Sins." There's a great gossipy story about this review and its aftermath. Google it if you're interested. But definitely read the review itself, which is easily the most entertaining thing I've ever read in the NY Times Bk Review.)

Here's why I'm thinking about all of this, I guess: I've been rereading Liesl Jobson's "Flaw," which is just up in Wigleaf. This is an important story, as Wigleaf's sometimes reader, R, said when we were discussing it. Jobson is a white South African. In this story, she's writing about race in a way I wish more white people would: by looking at white people, at how white people negotiate the construct of race -- whose effects Jobson's character is too honest to pretend to be blind to.

It's a fascinating read!

One Way of Thinking about Frank Black

If Kim Deal is everybody's favorite Pixie, one reason might have to do w/ how little she's changed. "Bang On" isn't exactly "Gigantic," but the lineage is pretty clear. I'd put both in my 'Twisted Party Rock' playlist if I had one.

Frank Black on the other hand. Who is this man? Somebody explain to me the path between "No. 13 Baby" and "I Burn Today," on the recentish Honeycomb album.

That's actually why I like him. Is he a heartsick songwriter hanging around Nashville w/ his guitar on his back? Or is he Johnny Rotten? What?

When writers vacillate wildly in what they do, it's usually said about them that they're still searching for a voice. Like, to do one thing well may undermine the authenticity of whatever else they've done well.

I guess I'd like to take issue w/ that mindest. I'd like to find a positive way of thinking about my own stuff seeming to be all over the place....

But Kim Deal is my favorite Pixie too. And Joey Santiago is probably second.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Self Interview on Word Count and Medium and Genre

I don't submit full-length short stories to web journals.


Because I don't read full length stories in web journals. Or not much. I read Elizabeth Ellen's "Fistful" in Dogzplot. I started reading it and couldn't stop. Usually though I can stop. I do stop.

Is it just that you don't like scrolling?

I like to sort of settle into the reading of a full length story. It's a physical thing. I like to have real pages in my hands. I stop reading sometimes, I start thinking about this or that, and when I start reading again my eye knows right where I've left off. That whole stop and start thing -- I don't end up doing that so much in the case of web stories. And l like doing it.

Do you read shorter fictions that same way?

Sometimes. With Kim Chinquee's work sometimes, for example. But generally no. Shorter fictions generally offer a tighter reading experience, is my sense. Too much stopping may mess w/ the flow. That's to say I have no problem reading shorts online, I enjoy doing it. And so I submit shorts to online venues. I usually prefer online venues for shorts, because I see the possibility of a wider audience and a more immediate reaction.

Does everything fall cleanly into one category or the other -- shorts or longer stories?

A thousand words is usually taken as the ceiling for a short, and that makes sense to me. Whatever you've got, if it's under a thousand words, it's short, literally. Between 1000 and 1500 words, though, there seems to be a sort of gray area -- both in terms of form and reading experience -- and I've been thinking a lot about that.


Well, I've written a few stories within that range lately, and have questions about how to categorize them, where to submit them....

What questions?

If I'm going to get anywhere here, I'll need to be able to refer to some examples -- some good stories between 1000 and 1500 words. I'll start w/ Gene Morgan's "Die Hard With a Vengeance," from Titular. It's just over 1000 words.

So is the 1000-word mark arbitrary, in the case of this story?

Pretty much, yes. As narrative, this one is 'classic,' in certain ways: right off, you have a clearly defined tension that gives rise to other, more interesting ones. But I read it as a short.


It's a scene, for one. It starts w/ the start of a happening, it ends w/ the end. It's got that compactness. And though there's more action than you're going to believe, it's 'scenic' action, in a sense. Action that reveals to us the state of things. That's something I associate w/ shorts.

'Scenic action' as opposed to what?

Save that question. Here's the next story I thought to look at: John Lowry's "The Diary of Li Na," from the Apple Valley Review. It's about 1200 words long. Like "Die Hard," it has kind of classic narrative pull, with immediate tension, but it's not a single scene; a lot of time passes within it. Also, Lowry breaks from the 'and-next-and-next' drive that he establishes to give details that don't technically move things forward, like the one about the dog that the narrator gives away.

So it works more like a longer story?

Not really, not to my mind. It's still very tight. Lowry's narrator doesn't ever seem to sink fully into what's being related. He puts it together for us from the outside, in a crisp telling. And of course it's one long paragraph. So, word count aside, I read this one as a short. On to the next: Tiff Holland's "Officer Friendly" (from Juked), which is also at about the 1200 word mark, reads more like a full length story to me. Here's the first sentence: "The last time Ray and I broke up, I flew my flag at half mast." Holland's narrator doesn't tell the flag story right off. There's a full immersion into the context. The story is written in expository paragraphs, which gives Holland a chance to explore and give us a pretty rich sense of the narrator as character. And the story doesn't turn out to have much to do w/ flags after all. If you take the first-person narration as a fictively 'actual' communication from the narrator, you might end up wondering if the narrator has tricked herself into revisiting the very private struggle she ends up revisiting here. That's an interesting question because the narrator on the surface seems very poised and frank.... All in all, a rich, complex story.

You wouldn't have sent it to web journals if it had been yours?

Probably not. I'll do one more: Andrea Fitzpatrick's "Dollface," from Lamination Colony. This one's a little over the 1500 word mark.

So not a short?

I don't read it that way. But it seems like one maybe to begin with. Here's the first sentence: "Our Real Love Dolls™ come certified by discriminating quality professionals." I want to take the story as satire then. Quickly, though, it breaks from that. There's the research scientist's odd aside -- a meditation on pleasure -- whose place in the story becomes fun to consider. Then there's the back and forth between the 'user' and Esmerelda, which is both sharply satirical and not at all. In the end the story is and does different things. It works me as a reader in different (and, taken together, interesting) ways.

Is complexity the distinguishing factor for mid-length or full-length stories then?

Well, shorts can be complex too. Look at Claudia Smith's stuff. But the KIND of complexity.... In the Fitpatrick story, you have different things being explored, in different ways and different sections. As a reader, I'm not ever sure what she's going to do next; the question of how everything fits together is an evolving one. And in the Holland story, you get two distinct and complicated characters, fairly fully drawn. Things between them are developed slowly. Maybe character is really the thing to focus on here. In both these stories, I end up pulling for people -- for the narrator in "Officer Friendly," and in a stranger way for Esmerelda in "Dollface."

And you don't do that in the case of the Morgan and Lowry stories?

Not as much. And not as much, as a reader, in the case of my own recent stories in the 1000-1500 word range. They're not shorts, but neither do they encourage immediate emotional involvement w/ characters.... I may have a hard time placing them.

You said to come back to this one: 'scenic' action as opposed to what?

As opposed to action in the Holland story, where you're put into a interior relationship w/ the character as she deals w/ what she has to deal w/ and does what she does.