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Writer, Editor, Designer

Posts from the fiction Category

A reminder! My story, “Must Believe in Ghost” will be appearing in the spring issue of The Normal School. If you want to read it (YOU DO YOU DO YOU MAY NOT KNOW IT BUT YOU DO) you should order a subscription now! mustbelieveinghostpicIt’s only like $12 a year. CHUMP CHANGE! Flaunt your affluence! Make it rain! Then, when April or May rolls around and I’m all getting in your grill to go buy my issue, you can be all, hey man, I’ve already been grooving on these sweet, sweet narratives!

Also, the cover of the first issue of Outlook Springs (for which I am the fiction editor!) has been leaked and the issue will be out on April 15th. You can get your hands on a copy (or a subscription!) here. 12113385_1580959672229693_7282374238860411513_oIt’s chock full of amazing writing and interdimensional weirdness and existential heartbreak and esoteric malapropisms.

Oh, and we’ve opened submissions for the next issue, so transmit us your wordwork!

I’ve been fond of saying recently that until someone agrees to publish the inside of my book, I’ll have to settle for designing the outsides of other peoples’ books. I’ve been getting some great recognition for that lately.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 7.24.58 PMYesterday, I found out I won (was one of three winners, but yeah, I won) the Harvard Book Store contest to design the cover for their latest short-short story anthology, Microchondria III.

Then, today I found out that my design for Christina Stoddard‘s Brittingham Poetry Prize-winning collection HIVE is a finalist for The da Vinci Eye Award for superior book jacket design. Stoddard_Hive_hires_RGBIt’s also been entered in the AAUP Book Jacket & Journal Show, so my fingers are crossed for both of those awards.

Can I get a huzzah? Want to hire me to design your book cover? I’m this close to being an award-winning book designer. THIS CLOSE, Y’ALL.

Our first reading period has officially closed and we’re nearing our final line-up for our first issue, which we’ll be announcing soon. In preparation for this momentous event, we’re fundraising to supplement our costs—printing, website, Submittable, paying writers!

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Skip the lines and pre-order the first issue!

Our mission is simple: we want to publish the best fiction, poetry, and non-fiction from all nooks and crannies of Space/Time. Readers and writers alike will shape the mythology and history of the town by voting in town elections, writing news stories, submitting patents for various inter-dimensional inventions, et cetera.

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The perks are perky!

One of the perks of our Indiegogo Campaign is as simple as pre-ordering the inaugural issue.

There’s a ton of other stuff: stickers, t-shirts, movie posters from Outlook Springs-only films, like Moon Tuba. There’s a special Mystery Box from our Mayor, Judy Hernandez, who is in no way a cat. You can also buy a crooked politician or a local business.

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Be the most fashion-forward of your lit clique!

Right now, we’re running a raffle to win a FREE Fashion Fish T-shirt or a Buried in Books T-shirt: find us on Facebook and share this post for a chance to win. (No purchase necessary! Valid in all contiguous dimensions!)

Help us get this amazing wordwork out into the multiverse. Support an emerging literary magazine. Never mix bleach with ammonia. Vote early, vote often. Eat kale. Let literature plug the leak in your sad, corrupt, mortal heart.

As I wrap up my MFA (which means a new subtitle to this blog is in order!) there have been a lot of lasts lately, like my last workshop which is this Thursday, my last day of teaching, my last Read Free or Die, the last time I’ll see people from my cohort who are going off to wherever their careers are taking them. (I have it on good authority that the place everyone goes to during the first several post-MFA months is Deep Depression, and from there, on to their careers.)

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Making words with my lips and teeth and tongue at Read Free or Die.

But there’s also some firsts which is ending my MFA years on a rather high note. As you may have seen, I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and I just found out on Tuesday that my story “Must Believe in Ghost” has been accepted for publication in The Normal Schoolwhich is a magical magazine and if you’re not reading it, you should. I met them at AWP last spring and was immediately impressed, got a subscription, and began avidly reading their fantastic work (which is beautifully designed, by the way.)

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“Must Believe in Ghost” primarily concerns the content of this photograph.


I MUST BE IN THIS!
, I said, and sent them the one story I had that I thought would really fit their aesthetic. DING! DING! DING! (See, kids, it pays to read a journal to understand its editorial inclinations and target your submissions, rather than carpet-bombing your story to everyone.)

I’ll update later when it’s out and available, or you can order a subscription now! It’s only like $12 a year. CHUMP CHANGE! Flaunt your affluence! Make it rain! Then, when April or May rolls around and I’m all getting in your grill to go buy my issue, you can be all, hey man, I’ve already been grooving on these sweet, sweet narratives!

 

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Literary accolades from a farmer’s market always taste fresher than store-bought.

decomP magazinE, which published my story, Punchline Number Nine, published back in February, has nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. I’ve heard writers “joke” that everyone has a Pushcart, implying that they’re meaningless, which would make a nomination eve more meaningless—a tiny pocket void filled with lint sort of off to the side in the armpit of the regular void, I guess.

A) Say that to the Pushcart people.
B) This was my first publication.
C) I’m twenty-three lightyears away from thinking of myself as a successful writer.
Therefore:
D) I’m ecstatic as all heck.

This is the appropriate facial expression of subdued excitement, correct?

This is the appropriate facial expression of subdued excitement, correct?

However, I have no idea how to behave about these things. I’m bad at accepting regular, everyday compliments. How to properly demur, show the appropriate level of both humility and excitement—that fence-balance between of-course and I-can’t-believe.

I know the chances of actually winning are pretty low, but I am proud of my little nomination. And come to think of it, the writers that joked everyone has a Pushcart didn’t have Pushcarts. Interesting.

The cycle of submission and rejection continues. Which I’ve acclimated to, for the most part. The rejection never gets easier, but some rejections are easier than others.

For instance, I got a really nice and encouraging rejection from ZYZZYVA which absolutely made my day. Cloud 9. (A phrase which incidentally comes from the 1895 International Cloud-Atlas in which, of the ten cloud types, cloud No. 9, cumulonimbus, was the biggest, puffiest, most comfortable-looking.)

On the other hand, there are other rejections which make me want to blow raspberries of confetti from my mouth and throw up my hands in mock-surrender.

I had a story rejected from a journal for being eighteen words over their guidelines which, sure, I understand, even if that seems incredibly anal. But they also have a one submission every six months rule, which meant I couldn’t even resubmit it eighteen words shorter.

Another rejection came 196 days after submission where they said they’d recently made the decision to limit all prose submissions to 1000 words. That decision was made over three months ago. So for the first 100 days there was a chance, but for the almost next 100, was basically eh, no hurry.

And I get it. New writers must seem like zombie hordes to lit journals. Hundreds to thousands of drooling, groaning, gross corpses slobbering at your door and all you want is to let in the few remaining, good, living humans into your fortified compound.

On the bright side, with a single publication, my acceptance rate is “higher than the average for users who have submitted to the same markets.” Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 11.05.43 AMWhich means that either I’m doing better or am just luckier than most of these writers or the people getting published in these markets don’t use Duotrope to track their submissions. My bet is on the latter.

So ends my dispatch from the trenches. I’ve got twenty submissions out, seven stories in contests, and a nice clean suit and a confident strut so no one can mistake me for a zombie craving the brains of slush pile readers and fiction editors.

My first story, “Punchline Number Nine” is now up in the latest issue of decomP magazinE. Read it. Or listen to an oddly, extra-bassy me read it to you. It takes eighteen minutes. It took hours and hours to write and revise. Think of the time compression. Think of how dense an experience it is that you’re digesting. Reading a story is, by this analogy, one of the richest experiences. Like the difference between a thousand calories of kale versus a thousand calories of cake. Same calories, but cake is the dense story of the two. Have some cake. You deserve it.

For Throwback Thursday, I’m posting an in-class assignment from my sophomore year of high school creative writing class. It’s about the last box of candy canes left on the shelf after Christmas, narrated by a broken candy cane.

Sitting here, strapped into a cardboard cell, I suffer. I sit alone, waiting for my destiny. My pride and self are broken, similarly with my cellmates. My captors hold me for ransom just to make a buck, constantly marking me down, as iftumblr_n85dcx1caB1qhyj0po1_1280 my life is worthless the more I suffer.

I lie here, unable to communicate, longing for an escape back to freedom. Many other cells of my companions have been rescued in what appeared to be a raid. I sit and wonder why my friends haven’t come back for me. I wonder of their fate, and pray that mine is a long-lived one.

Weeks, I sit and wait. Many times, people have the chance to rescue me, but they don’t. I wonder what harsh evilness is hidden in their heart that would make them turn away in disgust, and not help and injured being and his friends.

Finally my cell is moved one day. We are placed in a dark pit. Many hours pass. I wonder if I am being rescued or if this is an execution. The pit closes. The air runs low. I pray that this is not my destiny, to suffocate in a large bag. I wonder if this was the fate of the many other cells of my companions who were “rescued.”

But as I take my last final breath, I realize I will never know.

In my continuing series, here’s the beginning of a short piece from 2011 that never went anywhere…

§

Jack French was a London tourist and he was running.  And he kept running.  He wasn’t wearing the appropriate gear for running.  One might think someone running like that would be wearing athletic shoes and perhaps shorts because the weather was so unseasonably warm.  One would be wrong.  Jack was wearing a Valentino three-piece and a pair of Crocket & Jones oxfords.  It is not recommended to run in oxfords.  Oxfords have no traction.  Jack French knew this of course but there are times when such conventions are impractical.  For instance, when one is being chased through the streets by gibbering madness, one is permitted to run anywhere, at any time, at any speed, and in any shoe one desires.  One may even forgo shoes entirely.

§

It is almost Oxforth of Ordmount.  The fourth moon still lingers above the cherry-hued mountaintops that ensnare this valley.  The other three moons have set and yet my wife still sleeps.  Her cranberry velvet legs twitch, a jerk, a twinge, a lumbering hare chasing prey in the Other.  Her time is near.  Soon she will birth us a son.  The fetus is ripe and the last stage of gestation is procurement of a soul from the Other.  It is a delicate maneuver.

§

She put the finishing touches on her painting though she did not sign it, no not yet.  She dabbed a gangrenous shadow across the mountain, the shadow of a cloud, a harpy of a cloud.  The slow, dense, black crepuscular mass that frightened children with its immensity, sent them scurrying into the house with its burbling momentum, an infection rumbling across the pristine sky, devouring robin blue like a cancer with a hideous laugh of thunder deep in its bowels threatening to shit freezing hail and lightning onto the cars of housewives and homemakers.  She wanted the mountains to fear the cloud.  She imagined the mountains retreating in panic from this cloud.  Plate tectonics did create mountains.  Mountains fleeing this mass of condensed water, dirt, and dust sent the plates rushing in fear for far shores.  She stepped back from the canvas and felt something close to Shangri-La shudder from her sacrum to her crown, a serpent of flame unfurling from a long nap, a yawning yearning to incinerate every cell, to realize the potential in every atom, a reactor in every cell division, a furnace in every molecule.

§

Jack skid to a halt at the end of a dark alley.  He never understood why people being chased always ran into dark alleys.  He’d cursed them as bloody fools in films, but when in the same situation, he’d done the same bloody thing, past dark dumpsters and bins, slipping on God-knows-what in £800 shoes.  He listened, waiting for the gate-crashing thunder of his cardiovascular system to retreat from his ears.  The opening of the alley was clear, the streetlights shining on the cobblestones.  Whatever was pursuing him was gone.  The sounds of the night came back like skittish rabbits returning to a lawn after the bark of a dog.  An ear here, a twitch of a nose there, a pair of round black eyes like traffic the next street over, like a telly three flats up blasting the news out an open window.  Jack’s own belabored breath.  One might have heard his adrenaline recede, his autonomic nervous system go offline and refuel.  His testicles dropped and sensations like thirst, hunger, and sex returned accordingly.  He inched back out of the alley still leaping at every aural oddity, his awareness amped and alive.  He was a dead man ten minutes before when the madness came at him with slavering jaws.  As he reached the light-bathed street, his pupils constricted and he realized that in all of his forty-six years, he’d never been alive.

§

“Where have you been?”  Jack couldn’t quite place her mood.  Somewhere half between boredom and annoyance.  There should be a word for that.  Boreyance.  Annoydom.  Neologisms danced before his eyes, obscuring the woman he’d been dating for eleven weeks.  Her name was Penelope and she was an artist and completely out of his league.  Though his friends said it was quite the opposite, that she was the lucky one who’d wrangled a fabulously wll-to-do banker to support her quote-unquote art.  Jack didn’t support her art, at least not financially.  She’d never asked for a pence to be quite honest.  She’d clocked him straight away.

It was Penelope’s first major show at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.  The owners of the gallery had recently expanded due to a loan he’d been able to arrange and they’d invited him to the grand reopening.  As soon as he saw Penelope, he’d fallen madly, hopelessly in love, which, Jack would agree, was always a very bad sign.

“I’m not a manic fairy dream girl,” she said in a distinct Welsh accent.  Jack had only said hello.  She wasn’t following the correct social cues at all.

“What?”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t quite hear me.  I’m quite sure you did, but you mean what as in you don’t quite understand what I’ve said.  To be absolutely transparent, I’m not a manic fairy dream girl.  It’s quite obvious that you’ve seen me and fallen head-over-oxfords in lust with me, which you, in your upper-middle class upbringing has confused with love.  I am absolutely not your type, you’ve never felt this way about anyone before, et cetera.  And I will tell you right now so we are absolutely clear: I am absolutely not going to be the free-spirited artsy-fartsy tart that’s going to break you out of your stick-in-the-mud, uptight bullshit.”

“You’re awfully full of yourself, aren’t you?”  He handed her a martini.  “It’s not drugged, I swear.  I’m quite capable of seducing you without narcotics.”

“Are you now?”  She finished the martini in a single swallow and handed the glass back.  Penelope spun on her heels, a simple one-eighty, and inject herself into another conversation.

§

“Apologies, Penelope, the service was late arriving with a car.”  It was a good excuse, better at least than the truth.

“Cars are so pedestrian.”  She affected an accent.  Queen’s English.

“How droll.”  Jack took a seat and ordered a drink.

“I finished the painting today.  I think I broke myself.  I put on the finishing stroke this afternoon and I’ve been wonky ever since.  I’m not even sure you’re here.  It’s entirely possible that you’re not and I’m having a boring nap at the loft.  Perhaps I’ve had a stroke and you’ll find my corpse on the floor when you finally get out of the office.”  She yawned into the back of her hand.

“It must be your luck day,” he said, taking in the rest of the restaurant.  “I can quite assure you that I am indeed out of the office. I am very much here.”

“How can you be sure?  I haven’t been sure of anything all afternoon.”

“I’ll tell you what.  Let’s get out of here.  We’ll go back to the loft and you can introduce me to this masterpiece of yours.  If you’ve had a stroke and you’re in a heap on the floor, we’ll find you and get you to a hospital or a morgue or something.”

“That is a fantastic idea.  You, sir, are a genius.  Call the Nobel committee.”  She handed him her coat.  Jack held it while she spun and slipped into it, a single remarkable movement, a fluid grace despite her fluid intake.  Jack motioned to the waiter for the check when the madness stepped out from behind the bar.  His heart broke from his chest, throttled Penelope’s empty glass which shattered against the tabletop.  Amorphous and thundering it slunk across the restaurant.  it moved through instead of around diners who shivered unaware.  They instinctively looked toward the door expecting a cold breeze and returned to their lobsters confused, unable to process why they were cold on such a warm day.

“Jack,” Penelope prompted.  “Jack.  Are you alright?”  She followed his eyes across the distance.  The madness vanished, swirling away like fog exposed to sunlight.  “Darling, you’re absolutely soaked.  Come.”  Penelope thrust her arm through his and ushered him from the restaurant.

“Did you see it?  You saw it, didn’t you.”  His voice was a whisper, sand shuffling over glass.

“If you’re referring to the cloud of fearsome madness that was causing all that ruckus in the restaurant, I saw no such thing.”  Penelope thought about her painting and that horrible crepuscular mass.

§

The fourth moon wanes.  My wife wakes.  I watch her starred pupils dilate, adjusting to the crimson twilight.  I can feel her disappointment in my heart.  She is close.

“I have anchored into the Other.  The net has been set.  He will be ours and our son will be ensouled before the next moon of Oxforth of Ordmount.”

I wrote this back in 2005 for a 250-word comedy story challenge.

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To my dearest DeeDee,

I know when you arrived home this evening, you were surprised I wasn’t here, huddled under an afghan, watching my soaps. If you haven’t already discovered it, you’ll be still more surprised to discover that your clothes are gone. Yes, your clothes. I can’t think of an easy way to put this, so I’ll just say it. I’m leaving you.

Remember when I went in for that tonsillectomy? And remember how upset I was when they accidentally switched charts and gave me breast implants instead? And now it’s been months, but my lawyers haven’t gotten anything done and I haven’t planned to have them removed? Yeah, um, because it was no accident. I got them on purpose.

This is years in the planning. I’ve been skimming off the top of my Social Security check since before I met you. The circus pays twice what I’m getting from the government! And I’ll feel fulfilled. Since I was a boy, whenever I saw a bearded man, I pictured him in a dress. Like a fuzzy Laura Ingalls.

I know this is hard to understand, and I don’t expect you too. I also don’t expect you to try and find me, knowing who I really am. See, I’ve had this dream, since as long as I can remember… to be in the circus, as the bearded-lady. I’m sorry I lied.

You must be asking yourself, WHY? I can’t answer that. Call it fate, destiny, call Jerry Springer.

Love,
Sammy