Site Update

In the menu to the right, under My Stuff, you will see a couple of additions–two stories originally published in online journals that appear to have gone under:  ‘Secret World,’ an entry from Claudia, my novel-in-stories (in progress); and a very short piece, ‘Run A Yellow Bleeding Red.’

And, in the summer issue of The Short Review, a great online site devoted exclusively to short story collections, is my rave review of Suzanne Rivecca’s Death Is Not An Option.

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Published in: on August 4, 2010 at 11:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Writing Resolutions 2010

  • The aim this year is to develop a sturdier, deeper writing practice. A big part of that is combating distraction–and, not having a TV, a lot of my distraction lives in my computer. Much more on this later, but the basic plan is: begin the writing day with paper & pen, not at the computer; no e-mail till at least noon; no internet till somewhat later; no social networking like Facebook till late afternoon; and, crucially, a “computer Sabbath” from Sat PM to Mon AM.
  • Another element will be to develop a more focused, regular routine. The above will, I think, go a long way towards that. Much more on this later as well: but I’ve come to believe that a writing practice can be buoyed greatly by a spiritual practice. Writing is very much a form of meditation–and a deep and difficult one at that. One can simply thrown oneself into it (which may work for some); or one can consciously develop the various ‘muscles’ (physical, emotional, spiritual) that go into sustaining a writing practice. I’m opting for the latter.
  • Helping to ground that daily routine is a rough yearly plan. Basically what I’ve done is break up the year into thirds (I was tempted to go with quarters, but that makes for a lot of goals, and three months is a time period, it seems, that can really get away from you) and sketch out not only writing but reading goals for each. I’ve allowed myself to become far too unfocused and undisciplined a reader.
  • One reason for the importance of a better routine this year is I’m going solo–withdrawing for the time being from writing groups and workshops. This is not to dismiss all I’ve gained (and may yet) from such group learning and collaboration. But there comes a point in a writer’s life where you’ve accumulated both some solid instincts on what makes a story work, and a critical mass of story ideas and ongoing projects–and where it may make sense to lean on those instincts, largely alone, and see how far you can take them. As a wonderful teacher once cautioned me: there are distances in a writer’s life, and in each individual story, that must be traveled alone. More on this, too, in a future post.
  • But writing entirely in a bubble doesn’t sound like much fun, and so community will play an ongoing, if different, role in my writing life. I will continue to read for a small group of fellow writers: having a circle of trusted readers is essential for most of us. And when I make a commitment to read I will do so promptly (I was prompt for a couple of people last year, but not for others)–sharing work is a kind of sacred trust. I’m also hoping that limiting my time on the internet will generate greater focus and purpose for that time. The distractions of Facebook and other sites have caused me to neglect the deeper writerly connections offered at places like the Zoetrope Virtual Studio and the Poets & Writers Speakeasy.
  • No definite goal when it comes to submissions (though if you are someone who hasn’t made submitting a regular part of your writing practice, that may be a good idea). At this point, 100 seems a minimal goal, and I expect to hit that. I have ten stories (a couple done, a few needing a polish, the rest a significant rewrite) I expect to send out in the first few months of the year: I’d like to have a bunch of stories in the till when I get to AWP in April. And I hope for another big run of submissions in the fall.
Published in: on January 5, 2010 at 8:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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Year-End Report 2009

On balance, a solid literary year for me. I had five stories published, my best year by far in that regard. In print: “Call It Beautiful” (New Madrid) and “Fred” (River Oak Review). Online: “Secret World” (Sotto Voce), “Harold Digs His Way to China” (580 Split), and “Rocks Against My Window” (Metazen). Plus, I wrote three reviews of short story collections for The Short Review.

I got off to a solid start on the submissions front–hitting the 100 mark mid-way through the year–but then slacked off considerably, finishing at 110, down from 187 in 2008. And only two story acceptances: “Rocks…”, published right after it was accepted; and “Head in Bag,” due later this month in Confrontation. Also, a theatrical monologue, “Brick,” was performed as part of the Encinco Theatre’s Monologue Festival.

In study, for the fourth year in a row I attended the Tin House Summer Writer’s Conference, this year studying with the incomparable Dorothy Alison.

coming up next week: a previously promised post about upcoming Submission Opportunities; my Writing Resolutions for 2010; and Litmag News & Notes

Five Star Literary Stories

… is a very cool site I’ve written about before. They invite editors of online journals, or print journals with online content, to nominate a favorite story from their archives. When a story is chosen, the editor introduces both the journal and the story, and a guest reviewer writes a short review, followed by a short bio. So you get introduced to a journal you may not know, and likely two writers as well. And it’s all about celebrating great short stories.

This month, I review Raleigh Holiday’s “Artificial Light,” a story published in Wag’s Revue.

Published in: on October 2, 2009 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jen Trynin & ‘Rocks Against My Window’

As a writer I’m hardly alone in sometimes turning to song lyrics for inspiration. In part because the words are married to music and thus able to sneak past the logical mind, a lyric can attach itself like a burr without your realizing it. I’ve launched a number of stories on the energy of a song lyric, and just published one, Rocks Against My Window,’ at the new online zine Metazen.

The story started with a phrase, bouncing around in my head for years, from the song ‘Writing Notes’ by Boston rocker/writer Jen Trynin. In the mid 90’s, Jen’s first CD, Cockamamie, produced a modest indie hit, ‘Better Than Nothing’ (one of the best songs of the 90s), and a good deal of industry buzz. There was a bidding war for rights to her next record, and some insiders declared her The Next Big Thing. It didn’t happen–for a tangle of reasons Jen details in her terrific rock ‘n’ roll memoir, Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be.

It’s not surprising Jen’s a fine lyricist. She studied creative writing at Oberlin, and the Boston Phoenix printed an excerpt from one of her stories. Maybe we’ll all get lucky and she’ll start publishing some. In the meantime, check out her book and CDs at her website.

Live from Tin House

The week-long Tin House Summer Writers Workshop is wrapping up, and I wanted to file a brief report before heading out on a hiking trip. It’s my fourth year here, each more than well worth it.

At the online discussion board established so students can download each other’s work and introduce themselves, the conference coordinator dubs each workshop leader with a title. I studied this year with Dorothy Allison. Her title, the Shepard, could not have been more fitting. She is tough, but it’s out of love: love for you, for the characters, for story. She’s a keen reader with an eye both for detail and for what I can only call a larger cosmic vision of where writing fits in the larger scheme.

The week juggles morning workshops with afternoon seminars and evening readings–and then all the informal stuff that makes such a conference so valuable. Highlights included, as in past years, Charles D’Ambrosio packing more challenging thoughts into one hour than many teachers might in a whole week (more on this later, sometime); Bret Anthony Johnston introducing writing exercises from his fine book Naming the World; a very good panel on beginnings (“the beginning is a question for which everything that follows is some kind of answer”); a talk by Aimee Bender on “fructification”; and a party marking the magazine’s 10th anniversary (a lifetime in litmag years) where, among other things, Steve Almond treated us to a tour-de-force deconstruction of the Toto song “Africa.”

Harold Digs His Way to China

A story originally published online in the literary journal 580 Split (and now posted here as a separate page–see ‘Other Works’ in the menu to the right), ‘Harold Digs His Way to China’ has beginnings I’m fond of, and which illustrate just how little you need as a writer to be launched into a world not your own.

Having owned an independent bookstore, I am fierce about supporting them. But I do enjoy browsing the Amazon site, not so much for the reviews as for the lists. One day I was researching graphic novels, and came upon the reading list of a precocious high school girl who clearly felt she wasn’t getting a compelling education at school, and so had set about putting together her own alternative education–which included everything from Classics to graphic novels. Here is her Amazon profile:

I’m Kitty, a 15-year-old girl built for speed and eating chocolate. Dad says I have an artist’s fingers so I must create constantly. I’m not the best artist, but some of my work is very nice. I draw manga and anime for a hobby, and to get extra money I write books, but none are successful. All I’ve ever gotten are rejection letters, so if you look up Kitty W in the author search… I won’t be there.

I simply couldn’t get this girl’s fierce, singular, restless voice out of my head. Though the story ultimately became more about the father, she was my way in. Thanks, Kitty, wherever you are.

Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 9:03 am  Comments (2)  
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Emerging Writers Network

A nice mention of New Madrid and my story “Call It Beautiful” in Dan Wickett’s February 20 post at the Emerging Writers Network blog. Both at EWN and Dzanc Books, Dan is a tireless champion for new literary voices, and has a particular love for short stories. He edited a recent anthology called Visiting Hours published by Press 53, another independent press doing great work.

The Short Review

This is a terrific website devoted exclusively to reviewing short story collections, and started by a friend from Tin House, Tania Hershman (herself the author of a new collection, The White Road & Other Stories–more on that later). It has a number of great features, including author interviews, links to other reviews, and a big push on buying independent. There are ongoing reviews of both current and older titles, and a blog.

I have my first review up now in the February edition of the The Short Review–of A Happy Man, by Axel Thormahlen–a book I wanted to like more than I did. But it’s worth a look, and it’s published by a Los Angeles press, Les Figues, doing some very interesting stuff.

Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sotto Voce

I have a new story out in the second issue of this fine online journal. It’s called “Secret World” and is one of my Claudia stories.

A few things of note about Sotto Voce. From the start, they made a commitment to pay writers. It’s not a lot, but it’s more than a token amount, and they’ve already upped their rate from Issue 1. They also have a feature that allows readers to vote for what should be included in their print anthology. Finally, instead of the standard form rejection, they send writers brief notes from each editor/reviewer who read the piece.

Journals that show such respect for writers deserve our support. So check them out; vote for your favorite stories & poems; and order the print anthology when it comes out.

Finally, read a fascinating interview with editor Emily Thorp on Sotto Voce‘s unique review process, and some very humbling number crunching.