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!

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.

Must Believe in Ghost

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!

 

Reading Free, Free Readings

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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.

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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.

Year Two: COMPLETE

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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.

Death to Death of the Author

A few days ago K.T. Bradford wrote a piece for xojane challenging her readers to not read white, straight, cis male authors for a year, following a similar thread of such challenges to expand the diversity of voices in our reading lives.

Because traditional, mainstream publishing (and hell, even smaller-scale publishing as well) is heavily skewed toward the very demographic Bradford is asking us to avoid.

But I keep seeing people making the argument that the demographics of the writers shouldn’t matter, that we should merely judge the writing by the merits of the writing itself, that we’re “obsessing about authors” and  how it’s “pretty juvenile” to make “arbitrary assumptions about authorship.”

At first glance, I can see merit in this sort of divorce of the author from the text. It makes sense, right. Of course you can judge a book without its cover, without its context. After all, literary criticism has been doing that for years, the whole “death of the author” movement.

However, as Adam Shapiro points out,

The school of literary criticism that emphasizes the text alone as something that can be assess as a thing itself independent of the identities of either the author or the readers emerged as a specific movement largely among White Male Americans, largely from the South. It was a self-conscious effort to make the qualities of literature typically found in [mostly] white [mostly] Southern [mostly] male authors into the “objective” standard against which something like the “quality of the text” can be judged.

There are problems that arise with not seeing works of literature as products of the cultures that create them. But there’s the additional problem that claims that there are objective standards to judge the quality of literature can only work if one sees their own culture as a universal standard.”

It’s the literary wing of the invisible knapsack of privilege in which the first privilege is to be able to be unaware or ignorant of your privilege. In the case of using the death of the author in this way, it’s deliberately turning a blind eye.

And personally, I’m more concerned that if someone is reading primarily texts from one tiny spectrum of human experience, in this case, white male straight cis, we’re missing out on a huge swath of what its like to live on this planet, millions of different approaches toward the questions that literature concerns itself with. And primarily, most people are reading—and the publishing industry is primarily concerned with—that one tiny spectrum of human experience.

I continue to think of it in terms of empathy. Study after study has shown that reading literature increases empathy in its readers. When we live lives through other people’s words, we see them as individuals, which makes othering, that very important step in dehumanizing our fellow people, all the more difficult.

Because othering is what leads to discrimination, war, and that whole host of human ugliness that shames us as a species. Think of what John Hersey’s New Yorker article about Hiroshima did to humanize the victims and contextualize what it meant use such a weapon, or how the media bringing the up-close-and-personal ugliness of wartime Vietnam into our living rooms brought that war to an earlier close, or how Daryl Davis is converting KKK members merely by talking to them.

Because it’s this power of narrative that drives empathy—to get downright cliché about it—it’s the other man’s shoes thing. And all Bradford is saying is that we’ve all, consciously or not, been walking around primarily in one pair of shoes for a really really long time, and maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t hurt to wear a different pair for a while, to try another path. Just try it.

It won’t hurt anyone if some people choose to concentrate on perspectives they may not usually read, voices not often trumpeted by the status quo publishing industry. And I’m saying this as a straight, white cis male author early in his career who needs as many people as possible to read his work. I should be the first at the regressive picket line arguing about how authorship demographics shouldn’t matter. But I’m not, because it hurts no one. There are plenty of voices, plenty of readers. And such challenges may just help some people who prior to this, only read from a narrow spectrum of the human experience, which frankly, isn’t healthy for us, as individuals or as a species.

You’re about to be schooled. Fictionally.

This fall I’m going to be teaching an undergraduate class, an introduction to fiction writing. Which is a whole new level of badassery I can barely understand nor contain. There’s a tiny part of me that still squeaks, “Who the hell are you to teach anyone anything about writing!” I don’t listen to that voice much. Mostly because it’s like the one guy who says something sarcastic when the room is the loudest because he doesn’t think anyone else can hear him. I should know. I’m that guy.

The rest of me is ridiculously excited and has been planning a syllabus in my head since I got the news. It is amazing how night-and-day my attitude to teaching fiction is compared to teaching composition. I realize I give zero shits about composition and rhetoric. Maybe I don’t appreciate it because it’s something I’ve always been pretty good at, whereas with fiction, it’s something I love that I’ve had to work spine-crushingly hard at to get where I am. Maybe it’s ego, maybe it’s love, maybe it’s Maybelline.

But yeah. I’m going to be teaching fiction writing. I’m going to be constructing my own canon. I get to decide what to teach, what stories get read, showcase what I think is important about literature and storytelling.

Shit, I just scared myself.

A Rebuttal of Myself

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Jeremy Parker reading from “The whisper of such a correction.”

To rebut the everything-sucks thesis of my previous post, here’s a photo of me giving my first public reading last week. I am told I did a great job. And as much as I fear public performance and scrutiny, I have discovered that I love to do readings. Especially after two or three gimlets.

The Voice Will Not Whisper

I’ll be doing my first public reading tonight for the Read Free or Die, A Free Monthly Reading Series Created and Hosted by Students of the UNH MFA Program.
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Advanced Reading Skills

There are times when one has to read a novel and for whatever reason, you’re just not into it, you’re not in the mood to read it, et cetera, you can’t seem to read, your mind wanders and the reading isn’t getting done. But you’re on a deadline. You need to be able to discuss this novel for your graduate seminar tomorrow!

What do you do?

I’ve discovered that if you download the audio version, listen to it at 2x speed while following along in the book, you can burn through, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned in about six hours.

The speed is a little slower than average reading pace, but having a narrator whose mind doesn’t wander and procrastinate, it more than makes up for the slightly slower pace. This also works spectacularly for Shakespeare. Can’t get into it? Listen to a performance and follow along.

I wish I’d discovered this much much earlier in my educational career.