Summer Loving

This summer I’ll have at least two new publications out: My story of high-octane American childhood grief, “A History of Burning” will be published by Midwestern Gothic and “The Bangor Crows”, a tale of a woman overwhelmed by depression and the mystery of the chthonic evil that inhabits the town that Stephen King calls home, in Longleaf Review.

I’ve only just finished grading for the semester, a taking a quick jaunt to Wisconsin for my dad’s 60th birthday, then returning home to write a goddamned novel if it kills me.

It’s been two years of depression and writer’s block and it’s time to get busy writing. I’ve found ways to keep engaged: teaching writing and editing for Outlook Springs, but I’ve hardly written anything, paralyzed by the gap between how great I felt finishing up my MFA and the harsh reality afterward of my blank screen with the monsters of what-is-art-for-especially-in-the-face-of-advancing-fascism chanting, chanting, chanting, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” and shutting down all avenues of escape.

Creating characters, a whole world, is like getting into a new relationship: you have to be ready for the deep dive, to learn another person completely. But since the end of my MFA and the aftermath of the election, I have this bandwidth problem, this lack of signal, this literary attention-deficit disorder where I can’t pay enough attention to do the deep dive, to put in the time and attention of making people. There’s enough horror in the world; why should I torture fictional people too?

And suddenly, I am inspired to write a story where everyone gets exactly what they deserve.

 

 

Ghosts Online

My story “Must Believe in Ghost” which appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of The Normal School has arrived on their website. mustbelieveinghostpicFind out how exactly “human consciousness is a long, sadly ignored, fundamental force in the calculations of quantum mechanics” or see how “even the cobwebs were old, as if the spiders in the house had long run out of insects to eat and had absconded to a more plentiful promised land” and find out what happens when an out-of-work journalist tries not to monetize someone else’s grief.

The semi-finals are different than the final semi.

Good news: My short story collection, And When the Ghost Has Vanished, was a semifinalist for Black Lawrence Press’ The Hudson Prize. So that’s kind of a big deal.

The collection, which is comprised mostly of my MFA thesis stories, also includes “Must Believe in Ghost” which is being published by The Normal School in their fall issue. (You still have time to subscribe before it’s out!)

After a long slog of rejections (though, some very positive) it felt very nice to know I’m up to something good.

In the meantime, I’m going back to teaching composition (and joining the “long line” toward teaching creative writing courses) and expanding my book design work into independent and literary presses.

Important Subscriptions

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!

Support Outlook Springs!

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!

FBad_1
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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 2.07.34 PM
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.

irt1wm7p6fbmgtx2mb7l (1)
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.

State of the Read

About a decade ago, I worked third-shift as a communication assistant at a relay center for the deaf, which meant that I mostly got paid to read books and watch television on my girlfriend-now-wife’s laptop because with the exception of awkward live phone sex internet radio shows and pranksters singing Grease songs, the deaf don’t make a lot of late night calls. Thus, I read something like 60 books that year and was very proud.

So when I saw that I’d only read 27 books this year, I was disappointed. But I made excuses! I was finishing my last year of grad school! I had so much other reading to do! Oh yes, other reading.

Of those twenty-seven books, six I read twice for a form & technique class. One of those I read four times (Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn—51AmSd4FyZL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_probably best book I read this year.) That brings us up to 36 books.

I listened to The Martian on road trips twice, so that makes 37.

I’m a reader for New England Review and read about 20 short stories a month. That’s 240 stories at about 15 pages each which is 36000 and at an average book length (thank you, Goodreads) of 300 pages, that comes to another 12 books. 49.

Another 175 stories for Outlook Springs, (whose line-up for our first issue is looking amazing) so that’s another 8 books. 57.

An average of two stories per week for 30 weeks in workshop, each read twice. That’s another 6 books. 63.

outlook_duocoverAnd I can’t even begin to quantify the random stories I read this year, here and there, in journals and magazines I subscribe to. And hell, I took a class about The New Yorker with Nicholson Baker and read large swaths of that magazine’s history.

And my own thesis, nine stories I read at least a dozen times a piece. Should I tack on another twelve books for that?

I think, what I’m getting at, is that the feeling I had that year when I read sixty books is a feeling that I’ve strived to replicate in my life—to be surrounded and infused by literature—and that I think I’ve done, with this incalculable sea of words in which I now swim. Only now, my interruptions aren’t deaf people calling technical support in Indonesia.

Reading Free, Free Readings

READFREE_11-19-15
I made this.

Later this month, I’ll be reading at my final Read Free or Die event. This is also, almost, my favorite poster that I’ve designed since I took over that duty.

Then, next month, I’ll read from my thesis as the last act required before I am officially a Master of Fine Arts, or, as I’ve been corrected, a Mother Fucking Author.

Thesisposter_JerEmJay
I made this too,

After that, I’ll be on by own, writing without a deadline, trying to make ends meet by designing books and their covers so I don’t have to get a jobby-job, maybe teaching if I can swing a fiction gig, fingers crossed that I’ll start getting stories published, and begin work on the novel.

I’ve gotten seventeen rejections in the past month. All of them felt pretty awful, except today, I got my second tiered rejection from the New Yorker. Since they usually don’t even respond to the slush, I’m considering that a big win.

Insert pithy last line to round out this post which has ostensibly no connective tissue.

Redefining Normal

I’m not interested in a literary fiction versus genre argument, because that argument is basically dead and lovingly illustrated by Edan Lepucki: literary fiction is a genre with its own rules and conventions just like any other genre. The overly-long title and adultery are litfic’s version of the YA love-triangle and chosen-one narrative.

But what I do want to do is use this example to talk about cis straight white guyness. For a long time, genre was genre and literary fiction was literature. It was the sort of neutral category. Hell, it basically is. Go to a bookstore. There’s the literature section, which takes up much of the store, and mystery and scifi and whatnot have their own little sections. But it’s changing. Surely but slowly, those lines are blurring and good. And all the better that we continue to define literary fiction as its own genre.

The problem that’s been bouncing around my head lately is how that’s a great analogy for what’s going on with social justice movements and discussions of privilege. For a long, long time now, we’ve had the privilege of our society treating us a neutral, as normal. Cis, straight, white, maleness is the literary fiction of culture. We’re just literature. Everyone else has been relegated to the sides of the store.

But now, people are actually starting to have conversations (and really, have been having these conversations for a long ass time, but some of us are just finally starting to listen) about the privilege we get from not being “genre.” Just as Lepucki outlined the conventions of litfic, the conventions of cis, straight, white, maleness are starting to be defined, outlined, discussed. And so far, the results have not been pretty.

Sure, there’s been some good rib-tickles, like Stuff White People Like, and we laugh. HAHA, I *do* like camping and Moleskines! But when men as a group are discussed, suddenly we have #notallmen belittling women’s lived experiences. We get GamerGaters doxxing and sending death and rape threats to women gamers, developers, and journalists. When discussing the very real danger black people face just leaving their houses, white people have to hedge the criticism of institutional racism with #alllivesmatter.

purpose (1)There’s a part in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions where Kilgore Trout goes into the bathroom and someone has written on the stall door, “What is the purpose of life?” And Trout writes underneath, “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator if the Universe, you fool.” Which has always invoked to me that I should be mindful about what I’m telling the Creator of the Universe. Because we are defining ourselves and the kind of world we live in every day with every decision. Every word, every action, every stupid, insensitive tweet, defines the Universe and tells the next humans in line what kind of a culture we have here.

So when I see cis people being shitty to the non-cis or gamer dudes threatening women, or white people shitting on black people for daring to speak out about how our culture has been shitting on them, I can’t help but think, “What the fuck are you doing? What are you telling the Universe?” Really? At a time when being white, being straight, being a man, is finally being defined in and of itself, and not generally accepted as neutral or normal, this, THIS is how you’re choosing to define yourself?

Listen up: we are not neutral anymore. We don’t get the best placement in the bookstore anymore. We’re sharing with genre now, and it’s about goddamn time. We were never special except by our own often violent insistence. Culture is renovating, redefining and we can help or we can see what’s left when all is said and done. Because if we don’t start defining ourselves now, in a positive way, in a way that doesn’t reinforce the imbalanced status quo, we’ll be left with the scraps.

So If you don’t want “white” to be synonymous with “racist” then do something to stop racism and stop making excuses for it. If you don’t want “male” to be synonymous with “sexism” then stop being sexist and stop making excuses for sexism. If you don’t want “straight” to be synonymous with “homophobic”. . . then start sharing your shelf space.

I Smell Cigar Smoke

Hey kids,

This is the close-but-no-cigar, always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride post.

I’ve gotten really nice personal rejections from places like ZYZZYVA and I just received a tiered rejection from The New Yorker, which I was overjoyed about when one considers that they don’t even respond to something like 70-80% of their slushpile submissions. I’ve been a semi-finalist for three major contests. Slowly, my publication and accolade list is less and less resembling the wastelands outside Night Vale.

Of course, this is balanced against the dozens of nearly wordless form rejections. But nevermind those. They’re not the ones that throw me off my game.

Emily Hahn smoking a cigar in 1964.
Emily Hahn smoking a cigar in 1964.

It’s the almosts. It’s the 300+ day rejections that made it through three reads and onto the final editor’s desk. It’s those yellow envelopes and emails that come with a hint of cigar smoke and no cigar.

I know it shouldn’t matter, that those should be the ones that make me think, YES, I’ve got this, and push harder. But they’re not. They’re the ones that make me think that maybe I’m not actually good enough at all.

I think of it as smart kid syndrome. You can coast for a really long time with minimal work by just being smart. Writing is the first thing that I’ve really applied myself to long after it stopped being easy, long after I had to put in actual work to be good. And for that effort to feel wasted, to still not be good enough, that’s the hammer.

The best description of writer’s block I’ve ever heard came from Dan Harmon who said all it is is the gap between how good you are and how good you want to be and the only way to bridge that gap is to prove yourself right. You’re a shit writer and you’ll never be amazing. Prove it. Write shitty. Because writing shitty is the only way you get to where you want to be.

And I have to remind myself of that every time one of those close calls come rolling in. Because they’re the reminder of that gap, of how much more work I need to put in to build that bridge. Because no one’s wandering around handing out cigars. You have to make those fuckers by hand out in the hot sun.

So hey, let’s get rolling.

Year Two: COMPLETE

2015-05-04 18.32.11-2
My empty office, which will be torn down this summer.
Reading my short story,
Reading my short story, “Those Peculiar Galaxies” for UNH’s Graduate Research Conference

My second year of my MFA is over (in case you weren’t able to pick that up from context clues in the title of this post.) There’s one more semester left, another writing workshop, a form & technique class focusing on putting together a story collection through the lens of recent successful collections, like Kyle Minor’s Praying Drunk and Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn, among others, as well as teaching another section of freshman composition.

This summer will be spent, between feminist science fiction conventions (Wiscon!) and Quaker-Marxist weddings, putting together my thesis, that collection of short stories that’s supposed to prove I learned something here, or that, at the least, I was productive at putting words on a page. It’s actually pretty close to done already—125 pages of the required 150, so my main goal is to get everything in order and write another two stories.

One, I already know and have started. The other, I know what story I want to write. The question is, can I figure it out, make it compelling, and not feel contrived—it needs to do a lot of things, first and foremost, fulfill all that was promised by the opening story and echo and illuminate everything that was built in the subsequent stories. Tall order for a story of whose shape I only have the fuzziest shadow.

Dorm life is caput.
Dorm life is caput.

And so I look forward to a new semester in the fall in a new office, teaching a new batch of freaked-out freshmen, in a new apartment somewhere around seacoast New Hampshire with a whole new host of weird issues to contend with. It’s almost as if two years isn’t really long enough for an MFA, but simultaneously, I can’t wait to be done. Some chapters are short, some are not?

Ultimately, it’s that odd combination of end-of-a-good-book sad and end-of-a-good-book excitement, and I’m trying to savor the end of said good book, but I’m already starting to think about what book to read next.