“Everything Must Go”–Read the Story First

Even serious readers, when they see a movie coming up that’s based on a work of fiction, face the dilemma: Do I read the book first, or do I just go out and see the movie? In the case of the new Will Ferrell movie “Everything Must Go,” there’s no dilemma, no excuse–it’s based on a very short story by Raymond Carver that takes all of a few minutes to read.

So honor Short Story Month by reading “Why Don’t You Dance?” If this is your first exposure to Carver, and you like it, check out the collection in which it first appeared, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Published in: on May 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jim Gavin in The New Yorker

As I just posted on Facebook, the next best thing to getting a story in The New Yorker (we can all dream, can’t we?) is to have a friend get one in.  “Costello,” a story in the current Dec. 6 issue, is by Jim Gavin, who was in an LA writers workshop with me for a short time.  Normally I might feel a touch of envy.  But it’s hard to be anything other than happy for a writer so good and so unassuming.

The story itself is both very sad and very funny.  And it presents a working-class slice of Southern California you don’t often see in fiction.  Pick it up at the newsstand if you don’t subscribe.  And check out an online interview with Jim at The New Yorker website.

Published in: on December 4, 2010 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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New Short Fiction Series: Suzanne Rivecca

Stories from Suzanne Rivecca’s stunning debut collection Death Is Not An Option will be performed at this Sunday’s New Short Fiction Series show–7pm (doors at 6:30) at the LA Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd; tickets $10 in advance, $15 at the door.  The event will also be a book launch, and is the only scheduled local appearance by the author.

This is one of the most striking story collections to appear in a while, and is being lauded by the likes of Lorrie Moore and Jim Shepard and Charles Baxter.  Local writer and blogger Callie Miller nails it in this brief review:  the book is kick-ass, and raises the bar for anyone serious about literature as a reader and/or writer.

And here is my own interview with the author, which confirms her as a major new talent and fictive mind to be reckoned with. (Also, my subsequent review of Death Is Not an Option at the terrific website The Short Review.)

Published in: on July 6, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friends Who Done Good (2)

A number of writer friends had good news to report last week:

  • Frances Lefkowitz has a chapter from her forthcoming memoir To Have Not in the current issue of The Sun. If this piece and another I heard her read (also published in The Sun) are any indication, this is going to be one fine book. Read a selection online; The Sun is available at many bookstores, and well worth a subscription.
  • Ron MacLean‘s story “The Night Dentist” is in the new issue of Drunken Boat (his collection Why the Long Face?–which I wrote about in a previous postis available through Swank Books).
  • John Fox took first place in Third Coast‘s fiction contest, judged by Ann Beattie.
  • Finally, I know a number of people in the current issue of Pank, Alicia Gifford and Andrew Roe among them (both fellow New Short Fiction Series alums, by the way).
Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  


A reader of this blog recently asked me to send cite ten examples of a novel-in-stories. And, somewhat to my surprise, Google searches along the lines of “novel-in-stories examples” are the number one way people who don’t know me have found this blog. In fact, if you do that Google search, my site is usually listed first. Who knew?

See my sidebar and click the page Claudia: a Novel-in-Stories for my own definition of the form–in particular, how it differs from a collection of linked stories. There is a Barnes & Noble listing that combines the two, and includes some books (like Annie Proulx’s Accordian Crimes) that don’t seem to belong. There are also multiple listings for a number of titles, and some significant exclusions, but it’s worth a look. And at his fine blog Perpetual Folly, Cliff Garstang has a series of Missing Links posts where he, too, throws the two forms in together. (He posted eight short reviews late last year and hasn’t added one for a couple of months–but he’s teaching and writing and promoting his own story collection, In an Uncharted Country.) The two forms certainly belong on the same continuum, though in my mind there’s a clear aesthetic distinction to be made.

All that said, here’s a not entirely unbiased list of mostly recent examples:

  • Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout (which won the 2009 Pulitzer)
  • Stones for Ibarra, Harriet Doerr (a National Book Award winner, published before the term was in vogue, but very much with that feel)
  • Up the Junction, Nell Dunn (also pre-dates the term)
  • A Brief History of the Flood, Jean Harfenist (who used to belong to a writers group I’m in)
  • Normal People Don’t Live Like This, Dylan Landis
  • More of This World or Maybe Another, Barb Johnson (which I’m reading and will later review for The Short Review)
  • Our Kind, Kate Walbert
  • Monkeys, Susan Minot
  • How to Hold a Woman, Billy Lombardo
  • O Street, Corrina Wycoff
Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm  Comments (7)  
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LitMag News

  • Electric Literature continues both to publish excellent writing (their last issue featured Colson Whitehead and Lydia Davis), and to make innovative use of the new media–offering (in addition to a traditional print subscription) distribution via a range of electronic means, including Kindle and e-book. They also produce some really cool videos previewing or riffing off their stories. Now through Dec. 24th, they’re offering subscriptions at a special Holiday rate.
  • Five Chapters is another terrific online journal. Most weeks they ‘serialize’ a new short story by a single author. This week they’re departing from that with a Holiday story, “Viva Lost Vegas,” by five different authors, Jerry Stahl among them. And on Saturday, they kick off their twice-yearly Story Marathon, sixteen new stories in sixteen days.
  • At the end of the month, more litmag news, featuring some new submission opportunities.
Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 5:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dylan Landis & Mary Otis

There are plenty of reasons to mention Dylan Landis and Mary Otis in the same breath. Both write wonderful short stories–dense with careful language, close observation, complex emotion, and a certain mystery. Both were mentored by much-loved teacher, writer, and Santa Monica Review founder Jim Krusoe. Both have connections to Tin House magazine: Mary’s 2007 collection Yes, Yes, Cherries was published by their book division; and the magazine was an early believer in Dylan’s work, publishing two of the stories from her recent collection, Normal People Don’t Live Like This. And the two will appear together, Thurs Nov. 19, 7pm at UCLA’s Hammer Museum.

I’ve been fortunate to become friends with both, and asked them to write a little about the other and throw in some choice quotes from the other’s work:

  • Dylan on Mary: The first thing I love about each story Mary Otis writes is that it breathes: her sentences have the same cadences, nervous laughs and tiny stunned silences as her characters–her inner ear is that finely tuned. A second thing I love is that her people get things wrong while trying to get them right; it can leave you weeping, especially in a story like “Unstruck.” A third thing I love is that whatever she describes, it’s always fabulously unfamiliar, as if you’ve never quite seen the world before.
  • A Mary Otis sampler: Then he kisses her and her insides unfurl, suddenly beautiful, like a lush bolt of fabric thrown out upon a table (from “Unstruck”). / A woman wearing a business suit hurried by, pulling a piece of luggage that was stamped Useless if Delayed (a passer-by at an airport, from “Triage”). / Iris pretends to wash the pavement with her hair (a frustrated child in “Five-Minute Hearts”).
  • Mary on Dylan: There are many things I love about Dylan Landis’ writing, but particularly the blend of elegance and danger. Emotion in her stories is always beneath the surface. Her prose causes me great delight–the beauty of her word choices, her unique and compelling character descriptions. Dylan once mentioned to me something about not starting to describe something until she can “see the grout in the tiles.” I love that, and it’s evident in her writing. Dylan looks long and deep at things, and the precision of her description floors me.
  • A Dylan Landis sampler: The Gospel of Angeline Yost is graven into desks with house keys and the blood of Bics; it is written in the glances of girls—low arcs of knowing that span the hallways and ping off the metal lockers (from “Rana Fegrina”). / She had the clipped walk of a person who pared herself to the essentials: muscle, bone, an eye for quality, calcium tablets for the nails, one pair of pumps, polished (from “Normal People Don’t Live Like This”). / Leah, home from school early, caught her mother in the act—fingers rustling in a Whitman’s Sampler, the box all bristly with pleated cups (from “Hate”).

If for some reason you can’t catch this must-attend reading, Dylan is doing two other readings this week: Tues 11/17 7pm at Cal State Long Beach (click on her name above for info); and then Sun 11/22 4pm at Village Books in Pacific Palisades (which includes a discussion on mother/daughter issues such as eating disorders, divorce, and teenage sex).

Published in: on November 15, 2009 at 7:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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Dylan Landis

Last night I went to a wonderful reading at Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood: Dylan Landis, reading from her new novel-in-stories, Normal People Don’t Live Like This. As a writer working on a novel-in-stories myself, one also centered on a difficult and complicated female character, and who’s been exposed to some of Dylan’s work, I have been keenly awaiting the arrival of this book.

Dylan read from the story “Underwater,” which revolves around, among other things, a charged friendship between the main character, teen-aged Leah, and her bad-girl friend Angeline. When Angeline brags to other girls how smart Leah is, “Leah glows as if Angeline has put a match to her.” They have one kind of dynamic in a group: “but when they are alone together Angeline is a knife under folds of silk and Leah can’t look away.”

More on Normal People Don’t Live Like This after I’ve had a chance to read the book cover to cover. Some of the stories have been previously published in journals like Tin House, Bomb, Night Train, Santa Monica Review, and St. Petersburg Review. The book has been praised by writers like Janet Fitch (White Oleander) and Elizabeth Strout (the Pulitzer-winning Olive Kitteridge).

Five Chapters

One of my favorite new online journals, Five Chapters, each week serializes a new short story over five days. (This spring they moved to WordPress, with a much-improved design.) From the start, founder Dave Daley (a former Details editor) has attracted some impressive names. (More from Dave HERE in a good interview with Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network.) They end the summer with a flurry: fifteen stories in fifteen days, starting today. Featured authors include Lori Ostlund (winner of this year’s Flannery O’Connor Prize), and Tod Goldberg (whose collection Other Resort Cities is due soon from Other Voices).

Published in: on August 24, 2009 at 2:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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