the next writer in the series: july 1, 2014

fenton johnson

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

the next writer in the series: june 1, 2014

photo 4

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

the next writer in the series: march 1, 2014

tumbledown

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

the next writer in the series: november 1, 2013

Best American Short Stories

In  The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote, I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we … Continue reading

watching the sea

My writing group just finished reading Colm Toibin’s collection, The Empty Family. Although some people in the group loved it, I didn’t. I’ve started giving away the books I know I won’t read again, and this one will be sent on its way–hopefully to a new reader.

Still, some of Toibin’s passages took my breath away, like this one from the title story, with its building of emotion by the use of repetition and the cadence of the words:

And all I have in the meantime is this house, this light, this freedom, and I will, if I have the courage, spend my time watching the sea, noting its changes and the sounds it makes, studying the horizon, listening to the wind or relishing the calm when there is no wind.

And from the same story:

It came to me then that the sea is not a pattern, it is a struggle.

I’ve come back to this line several times–the ocean as a struggle.

***Actually, if anyone would like me to send the copy (a hardback with my marginalia in pencil) his or her way, just leave word in the comments before I head to the post office on Monday, and I’ll email for your address.

gargoyle 57

Gargoyle 57 is now out with lots of new work, including a flash fiction story of mine. Here’s the opening of “Mackenzie”:

“I waited ‘til you got home,” Rim said, as I came into the den. He was standing by the open front door. I had just come in through the back, Mia in my arms. At the sound of his soft voice, I stopped where I was.

“Why?” I asked, wondering if the waiting was for him or for me.

To read more, click on Gargoyle 57 and order a copy. I’m sure Richard will be happy to include one of the cool postcards you can use as a bookmark.

await your reply 2: nods

In the surprisingly interesting Reader’s Guide at the back of Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, Chaon writes:

As a writer, I feel like I’m always in conversation with the books that I’ve read.

Yiyun Li, the author of The Vagrants, feels the same way: “I believe a writer writes to talk to his/her masters and literary heroes.” About William Trevor, she wrote:

I write stories to talk to his stories. And a story can talk to another story in many ways–a line, a character, a few details, or sometimes it is the mood of the story, the pacing and the music of the story…”

I found two of these nods by Chaon as I was reading Await Your Reply. When I found two, I got such a warm feeling inside. Here they are:

On page 81: “She might’ve been a good mother, Miles thought, if their father had lived.” >>>Flannery O’Connor, from “A Good Man is Hard to Find:” She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” [Here's a very cool link to Flannery O'Connor reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find" at Vanderbilt University in 1959--amazing]

On page 203: “Your jitters are starting to rub off on me. I’ve got the fucking fantods, man.” >>>David Foster Wallace throughout Infinite Jest.

A lovely practice.

~2nd in a series
~cross-posted at Contrary Blog

summer reading

Summer Contrary is online with new fiction, essays, and poetry, as well as reviews of these books :

Poetry: Northerners by Seth Abramson

Essays: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer and A Journey with Two Maps by Eaven Boland

Fiction: And Yet They Were Happy by Helen Phillips, You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, and The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Here’s the beginning of my review of The Bird Sisters:

When they were teenagers, Milly hoped to marry and have children, while Twiss hoped to stand on the Continental Divide and “to be the world’s most interesting spinster.” Rebecca Rasmussen’s debut novel, The Bird Sisters, opens at least half a century later with Milly and Twiss living together in the house where they grew up. Perhaps, as Twiss concludes, they just didn’t want those other things enough.

To read more…

the writing life

For the last couple of months at Hunger Mountain, Claire Guyton, former Art +Life editor, and I have been working together to expand that section of the journal into The Writing Life.

Here’s what’s up and coming at

THE WRITING LIFE:

1) ANOTHER LOOSE SALLY - Hunger Mountain’s blog about writers and writing anchored by Claire Guyton (check in every Thursday!)

~june 16: The Catch / june 9: Shape is the Thing / june 3: Envisioning Concrete Pianos /may 26: New Writing Rule

2) AUTHOR VISITS  - interviews with the Hunger Mountain contributors

3) CRAFT SHORTS & ESSAYS - large and small doses of craft (online submissions for both forms now open)

~first short: On Endings: 11 Strategies by David Jauss

~May essay: Conjuring the Magic of Story by Stephanie Friedman

4) LISTS: LITERARY & LAUNDRY - coming soonpostcards from the organizational side of the writing brain

5) WRITER, INC., debuting in September, memos from the business of the writer’s life 

6) REVIEWS GONE SIDEWAYS - coming soon – anything but your mother’s reviews.

Check us out here

and

stay tuned!

this won’t take but a minute, honey

If you haven’t visited the Harvard Book Store,

take a minute and pop over there.

Watch the shutters open and the store come to life.

See what books fill their front windows. Click for a close-up; double click to look inside a book. With your mouse, you can zoom in or out. Amble to the side street, just right of the two vintage-looking mail boxes. The site is almost almost as much fun as being there in person.

The Harvard Book Store is independent and has been family-owned since 1932. And green, green, green–offering same-day delivery by bike.

And they have a book-making robot–the Espresso Book Machine–nicknamed Paige. It can print a book in about 4 minutes, and you can watch. It can switch between different covers if you have more than one. It costs an author about $5.00 a book.

Steve Almond‘s book, This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey, which is only available from Steve or from the Harvard Book Store, is created by Paige. In May of last year (I’m a touch behind writing this post), I called the bookstore, and for $9.41 + $5.00 postage, I was soon holding a copy. It’s a nice quality paperback, 6 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches. Turn it one way; it’s 30 stories. Turn it the other; it’s 30 essays.

I highly recommend the book. Most of the stories and essays are no longer than a page. My favorite story was

“I Want to Buy the Guy a Drink Who” 

In the dead of a scowling New York January spots my great aunt Meta on 64th and Central Park West staring doubtfully at the icy crosswalk…

Overall, I preferred the essays to the stories. In “Bullshit Detector,” he writes, “Writing is decision making.” In “POV:NBD,” he writes:

POV is nothing more than a tool, a way of getting close to the turmoil of your people.

And in “Fuck Style, Tell the Truth,” he writes:

…your artistic unconscious is about ten times more powerful as an imaginative tool than your conscious mind. But it only comes out to play when you forget yourself and focus on your people.

In the July/August 2010 Poets & Writers, Almond calls himself “Self-Publishing Steve” and explains why he chose Paige for this book of his: “smaller, more personal books should move into the world in smaller, more personal ways.”

In the Spring 2011 Third Coast, Steve gives a Craft Talk, where he is again asked about his decision to self-publish this book:

The book isn’t a commodity; it’s an artifact. And when I do a reading, if people want it, then I hand it to them, and they hand me ten bucks. It’s a really nice feeling. I’m not going to get rich off of it. That’s not the point. The point is to get the work out there, the ideas and emotions.

And about publishing literary fiction and non-fiction in general:

…the whole model of publishing is changing. There aren’t enough readers of books–certainly not enough readers of literary fiction and non-fiction–for it to be a going concern at this point. And so it feels to me like getting a corporation involved is incredibly inefficient…this is one way of doing it that makes more sense.

Oh, and the telephone number for the Harvard Book Store is 1.800.542.READ.

Cross-posted at Contrary Blog

inch

Inch. Do you know this tiny journal? I discovered it at AWP. Small. Gray. Thin. Tiny poems. Tiny fiction. A single issue costs $1. Bull City Press publishes 4 issues a year. Ross White is the Editor, and guess what? Robin Black is the Fiction Editor. I didn’t even know that.

Winter 2011: Issue 15: Fiction this issue by Andrew Scott. Poetry by Jasmine V. Bailey and Mike Puican.

Tiny post. 

rock & sling, poetry, arroyo, ecotone

One I’d heard of before. Three I hadn’t. Some were free at AWP; some were not. In each one, I found something that made me glad I’d lugged it home–either connecting with the words of writers I didn’t know or finding new poems and stories by writers I did. Two of these journals have stunning covers that will make me incapable of putting them in the recycling bin even after I need the space for new ones. So two I will send to a friend. Two I will take to the local high school library. Here are some highlights from the four literary journals I brought home from Washington a few weeks ago:

Rock & Sling–a journal of witness. Published twice a year by Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Volume Six. Issue One. Winter 2011.

“Chalkboard” by Jeremy Clive Huggins:

I was in the 10th grade when it first registered: I will be someone else some day…Two decades later, I fail to remember that I will be someone else, not just some day, but next year, next week, next day, next anything.

“Mud Flats” by Ray Amorosi:

Clams hiss through pin holes a few feet down.

Poetry. A publication of the Poetry Foundation. Volume 197. Number 3. December 2010. The Q & A issue. Cover art by Sam Martine. “Faces (detail), 1997.

Charles Baxter on his poem “Some Instances” is asked if poetry is an escape from narration: “My answer is a respectful “No”…Like many fiction writers, I began my writing life as a poet, and what I sometimes miss in my own fiction is the high-velocity association of ideas and events and imagery that poetry makes possible.”

Jane Hirshfield on her poem “Sentencings” is asked about the image of “putting arms into woolen coat sleeves”: “I might, I suppose, have written a different poem, about my late sister’s coats. They are lovely. But I wrote this.”

Arroyo. Department of English, California State University, East Bay. Hayward, California. Volume 2. Spring 2010. Cover art by Jonathan Viner.

Dorothy Allison interviewed by Jacqueline Doyle. 15 pages.

Life goes so fast and we lose so much. We can barely even hang on to memory. But if you’ve got a story, a stunned moment story, that moment lives forever.

Ecotone–reimagining place. Department of Creative Writing and The Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. 10. The sex and death issue.”Ecotone and the University of North Carolina Wilmington are proud to print this entire issue on 100 percent postconsumer fiber paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.”

Benjamin Percy on James Salter’s “Akhnilo”:

Suspense is the engine that drags a story forward…They [my students] misunderstand suspense, believing that it hinges exclusively on plot points, rather than on human urgency.

This story is a case study on the mystery outside the character and the urgency within…the true pull of the story comes from the desire the man feels, the desire we feel alongside him…

I support literary journals. Support art–any way you can.

Crossposted at The Contrary Blog

I spent the day with Chekhov

Last Saturday I spent the day with Chekhov. I don’t know how many of you notice what I’m reading on the sidebar, but it seemed to me that I’d been reading this small old-fashioned-looking book–A Doctor’s Visit: Short Stories–for quite a long time. I started it before I left for Colorado on September 5th but read none of it while I was gone because I was busy reading manuscripts.

On the “what i’m reading now” Page (on which, as of today, I will add the day I start the book), I was surprised to read what I’d written about this collection, “I’ve read a little Chekhov here and there, but I want to spend some time with these stories–really get to know them.”  That’s what Saturday felt like, when I decided to “buckle down,” as my mother would say, and finish these stories.

In his forty-four years, Anton Chekhov wrote over 200 stories (as well as plays). This particular volume, with an introduction by Tobias Wolff, was recommended by my adviser David Jauss. You will find “Neighbors,” “A Gentleman Friend,” “The Bishop,” “A Doctor’s Visit,” “Gusev,” The Lady with the Pet Dog,” “Gooseberries,” and “About Love” as well as five different translators, among its nineteen stories.

In “The Legacy of Anton Chekhov: What it Means to say ‘Chekhovian’ & Why his Stories still Serve as a Blueprint for the Stories we Write Now,” (The Writer’s Chronicle, Vol. 42 No. 3, 24-34) Rick Reiken writes:

The simple answer to this question is that Chekhov, a practicing physician and playwright, more or less invented what we in the U.S. have come to understand as the conventions of character-driven literary short fiction.

On Saturday, not only did I finish the collection but I also wrote a rough draft of my essay for my next packet. I knew I wanted to write on some aspect of these stories, but I struggled a bit with which one. In the end I chose to write about the preponderance of words telling rather than showing emotion. I reread. I circled words. I compiled lists.

While counting terms in “The Lady with the Pet Dog,” I had to restart a number of times. One of its passages articulates so beautifully the difference between the various lives we live that I would get lost in it every time and forget to scan for telling emotional terms (none in it, as it turns out):

He had two lives: an open one, seen and known by all who needed to know it, full of conventional truth and conventional falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life that went on in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental combination of circumstances, everything that was essential to him, everything about which he felt sincerely and did not deceive himself, everything that constituted the core of his life was going on concealed from others; while all that was false, the shell of which he hid to cover the truth–his work at the bank, for instance…–all that went on in the open. Judging others by himself, he did not believe what he saw, and always fancied that every man led his real, most interesting life under cover of secrecy as under cover of night.

On Sunday when I was reading Francine Prose’s review of Yiyun Li’s new collection, I ran into Chekhov again:

…Nabakov’s description of Chekhov’s narrative style: “The story is told in the most natural way possible…the way one person relates to another the most important things in his life, slowly and yet without a break, in a slightly subdued voice.” As with reading Chekhov, one is struck by how profoundly important the lives of ordinary people are made to seem, and by what a sizable chunk of existence–an entire life or several lives–has been compressed into a few pages.

Chekhov. Highly recommend.

crossing borders

Black Maps, a collection of stories by David Jauss, won the Associated Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction in 1995 (Lorrie Moore/judge). These nine stories–with only one in present tense and the rest in past, and four in third person and five in first–all deal with the crossing of borders. In addition to each story, the book as a whole has a story to tell.

As Robert Frost said, “If you have a book of twenty-four poems, the book itself should be the twenty-fifth poem.”

David Jauss writes of his collection, “The book, then, moves thematically from negation to affirmation, from the blackest of maps to one that shows the possibility of light.” After understanding this, it was no surprise that I preferred the stories toward the end of the book.

Each story is extremely well written. The first story, “Torque,” takes a limo and turns it into an intrinsic symbol, one that acquires its meaning from the story.

If he had a limo, everyone would see that he wasn’t who they’d always thought he was…

And then later in the story,

He wanted to prove to her that he was the kind of man who made his dreams come true, the kind of man who deserved a limo.

The fifth story,“Firelight,” starts with a moment and then takes us back in time and leads us up to it. In the story are 3 repetitions of the word “firelight,” and then the words “fire” and “light” separate in the last paragraph.

“Brutality” includes this metaphor: “thinking thoughts she didn’t dare let bleed into words.” It deals with the idea of a continuous life:

And who you were is a part of who you are, isn’t it?

In “The Late Man,” allowing the character to imagine what he could have done adds depth to the story.

“Glossolalia,” the last story in the collection, was chosen by Alice Adams for the Best American Short Stories in 1991. It also won a Pushcart Prize. In it, a son tells the story of his father’s breakdown. The first words of the story “That winter” prepare the reader for the very effective jump in distance later in the story in a paragraph that includes the phrase “…our life together after that winter…” Then there’s another jump in perspective and distance on the last page: “Perhaps if I had said yes, we might have talked about….” Then what did happen in such a beautiful sentence using an echo:

But I didn’t say yes, and in the seven years that remained of his life, we never came as close to ending the winter that was always, for us, an unspoken but living part of our present.

Then a return to a specific moment as well as a narrowing of time from a season to a night, from that winter to that night, echoing the opening. And a last paragraph again with repetition of that night. Wow.

not searching for structure

I’m trying not to search for structure. I’m trying just to write. I wrote a few pages this morning.

With the other things I’ve written, I’ve seen the structure from the very beginning. As I type these words, I realize: I’ve also seen the story from the beginning too. So, hmmm…

Anyway, I’ve just read a few pages in Mark Rose’s Shakespearean Design. I spent ten minutes taking apart Pam Houston’s Sight Hound–8 chapters within which 12 different narrators have sections, some speaking only once.

Now I’m on the floor, playing with books. I’ve taken all of Ellen Gilchrist‘s books off my shelf–all 22 of them. I quickly return to the shelf her 1987 and her 2000 versions of Falling Through Space (her journal), as well as her book on The Writing LifeAnabasis (her novel that takes place in ancient times), her Collected Stories, and my hardback copy of The Anna Papers.

After a second’s glance, I also return to the shelf her two lives-in-stories: Nora Jane and Rhoda. I love these two books in which all the stories she wrote over twenty years about Rhoda are collected in one volume and those about Nora Jane, in another volume.

That leaves me with three stacks: her six other novels, her nine other collections of stories, and her one collection of novellas.

I start with the novels. The first one I pick up is The Anna Papers–possibly my favorite. There’s a Contents page:  a Prelude, and then five named parts. I skip the prelude, read the first paragraph of Chapter 1, skip to the second to last page of the first part and read. I turn the page to Part II, then another page to read the beginning of Chapter 15 (so the chapter numbers continue through the parts). I want to catch the reason for the separate parts. I read two and a half pages and am swept away.

That’s when I hopped up to write this post. The Anna Papers is one of the reasons I wanted to learn how to write. To do this. What she did.

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