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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Wigleaf is officially back on the first but I'll probably move on it a few days early. There's some stellar stuff lined up for August and September, including (not in order of publication) work by Liesl Jobson, Janell Cress, Matthew Savoca, Andrew Roe, J.W. Wang, Gail Siegel, M.T. Fallon, Christine Boyka-Kluge, Kim Chinquee, Thomas Cooper, Claudia Smith, Clifford Garstang, Nicole Feldman, Jimmy Chen, Aaron Burch and Sean Lovelace. If Wigleaf did issues, this one would be, as Steve Miller used to croon, 'sure-fine'.....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Open Letter to the McDonalds Corporation from my Six-year Old Daughter

(ed's note: McDonalds' staff ring Happy Meals up as 'boy' or 'girl')

Dear McDonalds:

Yesterday you gave my brother and me different toys in our Chicken Nuggett Happy Meals. My toy was just a duck in a pond. My brother's toy was an airplane machine. I didn't like the duck in a pond because it was just a duck in a pond. It didn't do anything. I liked my brother's toy. It did lots of stuff. It could fly, it could turn, it could make stuff, like people. You shouldn't have given me a duck in a pond. That's something silly. Next time you should give me something like a machine or something like an airplane. I was mad at McDonalds yesterday because you gave me that stupid toy.


N.E.S. Garson