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Writer, Editor, Designer

Posts tagged short story

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.

In case I haven’t mentioned it here, I’ve donned the mantle of Interdimensional Ethnograper Fiction Editor at the freshly minted Outlook Springs. We’re a biannual literary magazine posing as a small town in another dimension, or another dimension posing as a literary magazine. We’re on a safari to catch the elusive lovechild of Welcome to Night Vale and Tin House, if you can imagine such a beast. And if you can’t, try, write a story about it, then submit it to me.

Literature for your sad, corruptible, mortal heart.

Literature for your sad, corruptible, mortal heart.

For fiction, we’re thinking along these lines:
Send us stories we can’t put down. Our emphasis is literary fiction: “the human heart in conflict with itself,” as Faulkner famously said. But we aren’t biased against genre. To the contrary! Experimental, science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, magical realism, minimalist, maximalist, etc., etc., are all welcome into our home, so long as there is an emphasis on character and language rather than on cleverness and conceit. Let us reiterate: character and language are important. We want sentences radioactive with the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly—the world as only you see it. Surprise us. Break our hearts. Humor is always a plus. Humor and heartbreak together? Oh, boy. That’s a dream come true. Outlook Springs isn’t looking for merely competent stories—stories that are technically proficient but emotionally cold. Zap us with life.

So yeah, everything from gritty realism through lambasted absurdism, as long as it’s heart is beating so loud it travels back through time and drives Edgar Allan Poe to write a creeptastic story about it.

Welcome to Outlook Springs

Welcome to Outlook Springs

We’re a biannual print magazine. We do not charge submission fees. We pay our writers. We have big plans for our little town.

Check Submittable for nonfiction and poetry guidelines. Also, you can check us out on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram. Our official website will be up soon, but you can already sign up for our newsletter. Or send us a telegram.

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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.

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.

I’m excited to announce my story, “Punchline Number Nine” will appear in the February edition of decomP magazinE. I’ll also be recording an audio version of the story for them this week as well.

This is my first official publication since I started down this path in earnest and not too shabby for the third story I ever wrote, though it’s been heavily revised since that first rough draft tumbled its way out of me back in the spring of 2012.

"Transam Bird" by Russ Pekkonen

“Transam Bird” by Russ Pekkonen

Who knew, back then, that my little faux-noir story of a recovering alcoholic subpoena process server driving around in a beast of a TransAM looking for his artist ex-girlfriend would be my first publication?

I’ll update later when it’s live and you can see the beaut. Right now, I have to go update my CV and publications page and my Submittable bio.

As my son said, I’m playing on the pro courts now.

I did not win the 2014 Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. Nope. Lost! DID NOT WIN. But I was so excited about the results I told everyone, jumped around (figuratively), and had such a goddamn big smile on my face, that four more rejections that week did little to scuff my shine because I was a semifinalist. Which means I was in the top 25, that elite 1% of stories that made it to the final rounds. Holy hell.

Early in your writing career, the reward system of your brain gets rewired. We face so much rejection that even the tiniest wins seem monstrous achievements. We might break our legs over and over trying to ascend Everest and almost die of exposure, but you should see us dance when we actually step up a curb without falling on our asses.

We check RejectionWiki for the slightest chance that we got a higher-tier form rejection letter, something our published advisors have said is like trying to read fortunes in tea leaves. We brag to our fellow writers about that Raiders of the Lost Ark golden idol of a personal rejection—sure we lost to some pompous prick and were almost killed by Amazonians, but by golly, someone fucking noticed us.

So sure, I lost the contest and had stories rejected almost 40 times last year, but this time, this time, that Pavlovian response of dopamine is mine and I’m going to savor that son of a bitch.

I’ve come to realize that I have a hard time writing stories past the epiphany. Once the epiphany is there, I don’t care anymore; I don’t want a couple paragraphs of denouement. That feels more forced and writerly than anything. I’ve been told my stories end abruptly. And often they do.

I tend to write stories that are puzzles, stories where there are things to be figured out, problems to solve, mysteries hidden, under the surface stuff. Punchline things. The thing you lost is always in the last place you looked, because you found it. Why would you keep looking afterward?

I was told that for a while, in the 80’s, writing the perfect last epiphanic line was the soup de jour. Too bad I wasn’t writing short stories when I was six.

A story was rejected yesterday. I’ve had three or four rejections in the last few weeks. I haven’t been submitting long, and I know this is par for the course, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

A bunch of my cohort had dinner with the well-known writer who came for the writer’s series of readings. He gave us a lot of advice about starting out and advised that we shouldn’t even worry about submitting right now, that we’re not ready, that we should be first and foremost honing our craft. He even suggested that we take some time after we finish our MFA before we really get serious, to let those lessons settle in and find your center as a writer. I don’t think that advice is for me. And after one semester, there’s a tiny part of me that’s worrying that this MFA isn’t going to teach me much I don’t already know.

At the end of last spring, I was riding pretty high. I had been accepted into half of the MFA programs I applied to, my senior thesis, a short story collection, won two $1000 awards—the department’s fiction thesis prize and an excellence award. I finished off the semester with two of the strongest stories I’d ever written and things looked good.

But now, it’s almost the end of my first semester of grad school, I’ve had nothing but rejections (though one story was a semi-finalist in a contest) and the last story I wrote is probably the weakest story I’ve ever written, and I’m fearing that I won’t get much out of the MFA. I’m feeling pretty low at the moment and could really use a win. You listening, Universe?

On the other hand, I know that the quality of work tends to dip at the start of an MFA because of the soul-shifting that results from a new place, new people, new methods, new influences, and new pressures. I know that eight bazillion publishers rejected J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss and everyone who’s crazy famous now. I know all these things, but those things are no bandage on the little wound of they-don’t-like-me-I-suck festering on my heart.