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.