Short Stories – Submit It or Quit It Presentation and Press Coverage

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation at the Jersey City Writers group titled Submit It or Quit It: Short Stories, followed by a panel discussion with two other writers, Nancy Mendez-Booth and Meg Merriet. The panel was hosted by Adriana Rambay Fernandez.

L - R, panelists include: Meg Merriet, Nancy Mendez-Booth and me

L – R, panelists include: Meg Merriet, Nancy Mendez-Booth and me

Our panel moderator, Adriana Rambay Fernandez

Our panel moderator, Adriana Rambay Fernandez

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We were lucky enough to get press coverage for the event, and The Hudson Reporter published us on the front page yesterday under the article title A Gathering of Scribes.

http://hudsonreporter.com/view/full_story/25085939/article-A-gathering-of-scribes–Jersey-City-Writers-talk-about-how-to-get-published–?instance=latest_story

To begin my presentation, I did a reading from Etgar Keret’s Suddenly A Knock On the Door; specifically I chose to read The Story Victorious, which was well received and got the laughs it deserved.

Making a funny face while reading The Story Victorious by Etgar Keret

Me making a funny face while reading The Story Victorious by Etgar Keret

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Me hugging Rachel Poy, the co-organizer of Jersey City Writers for all her help on setting up the event

Me hugging Rachel Poy, the co-organizer of Jersey City Writers for all her help on setting up the event

Then we had an excellent panel discussion facilitated by Adriana, followed by questions from the audience.

My message on submitting short stories was simple … if you work at your craft and are persistent and put in the time to submit to journals, you will be rewarded by getting published eventually.

I offered suggestions on how to stay organized by maintaining a spreadsheet / submission tracker. I mentioned Duotrope and Poets & Writers as places people can go to search for potential journals where work can be submitted. And I also told folks that many journals use Submittable, and that setting up a Submittable account is easy and free for writer-submitters.

None of this is rocket science, but it does take time and effort to cultivate a pipeline of finished pieces you want to submit, then select multiple markets, read submission guidelines and send your work around… then track all the results.

I’d been meaning to put up a posting covering the event, and now that we’ve gotten local press coverage I realized the time is now to post a few photos and to say thank you again to Rachel, Jim, Adriana, Nancy and Meg for all of their support in getting this event together and participating.

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A Review of Etgar Keret’s The Nimrod Flipout

I’m always on the hunt for great short story collections, and in the last few months I’ve purchased several. As I finish them, I’ll review them here in case you are also looking for examples of finely crafted stories.

Etgar Keret is an Israeli writer who has had several short story collections published, and translated from the original Hebrew into many languages. Thank goodness for that.

I procured 3 of Keret’s compliations including The Nimrod Flipout, The Girl on the Fridge, and Suddenly A Knock on the Door.

I relate strongly to Keret’s work. His stories are written succintly, and with great humor and a sense of the surreal in the everyday.

The first story in The Nimrod Flipout is called Fatso, about a man who meets the most beautiful woman and dates her. Eventually he finds out she has a secret … that when she falls asleep, she becomes a large, fat hairy guy at night. Fatso likes to watch soccer on TV and go out drinking. In Keret’s world, there are no boundaries for “what can happen” and in this story, the boyfriend continues to love the beautiful woman during the day, and befriends Fatso at night, coming to enjoy his company and root for his favorite soccer team.

In another story, Bottle, a man comes into a bar and meets a college student and a musician there, and the man puts the musician inside a bottle, as a trick. This story is only three paragraphs long, and was originally published online at KGB Bar and Lit Journal, so if you want to read Bottle and 2 other Keret stories, you can click here:

http://kgbbar.com/lit/fiction/three_stories_bottle_pipe_asthma_attack

And while most of Keret’s work is funny, some of it digs at the difficulties Israeli’s face in their culture. In the title story, The Nimrod Flipout, several friends are “flipping out” and dealing with bouts of mental illness as they remember their friend who committed suicide. You get the idea that these men are dealing with the aftermath of having served in the Israeli military together. Each of guys deals with the situation in his own way, but they all go a little crazy, one at a time.

I would strongly recommend The Nimrod Flipout and Keret’s work. Although I haven’t read the other two collections yet, I will. Nimrod was written in 2006, but the stories are self-contained and I think they will stay fresh and unique in their perspective because of it.

Ozone is coming and other news

  • Camroc Press Review editor Barry Basden has reached out to let me know “Ozone,” a story he accepted a while ago, has been assigned a publication date of October 16th. When the story goes live I will post the link.
  • In other news, I had the opportunity to revisit the work of Goran Djurovic and will be creating a second blog post dedicated to additional images from his show Prime Time, along with an explanation of how I came to acquire the images. Stay tuned that will be coming out shortly.
  • A good friend of mine is visiting his family in Europe, finalizing a novel mss he’s been working on for a while and which I have been helping him edit. I’m on tenterhooks now that we’re in the end stages with the mss. I can see a time in the near future when the book will be published. I’ve been working alongside him on this project for a few years now and I’m ready for it to be completed.
  • Also, while in California recently I had the opportunity to visit the bookstore in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. That building is probably the least tourist oriented building on the waterfront, thank goodness. The store is called Book Passages, and I purchased a short story collection by Joan Wickersham called The News From Spain based on a recommendation from one of the staff. I’m about halfway through it. One thing I like about it is that every single story is titled “The News From Spain” and it manages to work that idea into the story.
  • But I wanted to mention the bookstore too, Book Passages, because it is so well curated from both a selection and staff perspective. I want to talk to someone who is reading a lot, and knows what I’m talking about when I say I like “Lahiri but not Proulx so much.” Bookstores like that are hard to find anymore. We all know Powell’s in Portland, OR is a national treasure, and The Strand in NYC too. These are established places of literary worship and we’re losing them to hand-held backlit screen devices that can deliver the content of a novel, but that cannot deliver the experience of reading an actual book and those devices definitely cannot replace the encyclopedic knowledge of an amazing bookstore staff. Nuh-uh.
  • Call me old fashioned if you want; but I consider myself a “Gutenberg-ist.” (Yes, I just coined the word.)

Book Review – Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue

Of the three Michael Chabon novels I’ve read (The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay which won the Pulitzer; The Yiddish Policeman’s Union; and now Telegraph Avenue) I enjoyed Telegraph Avenue the least among them.

Telegraph Avenue weighs in at a whopping 625 pages, which is a big reading committment for one book. An author increases reader expectations tremendously when a book exceeds 500 pages, in my opinion. You expect more of every aspect of the book – the characters, the plot line(s), and the resolution of those plotlines.

The book is about two guys who own an old vinyl-based record store and their families, friends and enemies from the local neighborhood in Oakland, California (next to Berkeley.) One owner of the record shop is Nat, a white Jewish guy; the other is his best friend Archy, a black guy.

Telegraph Avenue has so many characters that I failed to keep most of them straight for the first half of the book, especially the two owners of the shop – our main protagonists! Chabon failed to sufficiently distinguish their personalities from one another and by failing to provide a basic description of the characters.

I kept reading, hoping things would become clearer, but…

Chabon doesn’t tell us Nat is white or that Archy is black directly for the first third of the book and yet, it is one of the most important elements of the story because there is a white/black dynamic running throughout the book.

As a reader, it is tiring to try and remember no less than a dozen main characters, especially when it’s unlikely someone will be able to consume a novel of this size in one sitting. (It took me a month to get through the book.)

Characters include Nat, his wife Aviva and their son Julie … Archy, his 2nd wife Gwen, and Archy’s illegit son Titus, Archy’s father Luther, and Luther’s girlfriend Valetta … and the main guys from the neighborhood Mr. Jones and his parrot Fifty-eight, Mr. Flowers, Mr. Singletary… and I could go on and on just naming characters. That is not a good thing.

There are several plot lines running through the book as well, and I didn’t find them compelling enough. The main plotline is Nat and Archy’s business, their record store, is failing. A guy named Gibson Goode, who used to be from the neighborhood and left to become a famous football star now living in Los Angeles, decides to come back and build a huge record store in the neighborhood.

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this if you want to read the book. Gibson Goode never winds up building the record store, and Nat and Archy break up as partners by the end of the book. The lack of tension around this issue in the 600 pages that preceed these events nullify their impact. It isn’t the “payoff” for the reader that it should be given the build up. Other plotlines meet a similar fizzled-out fate.

By way of example, one of the characters, a parrot named Fifty-eight whose interesting idiosyncracies keep us wondering about what he might say, flies away with a strongly implied promise to the reader that the bird will return or its whereabouts known later through several references. This is especially important when the bird’s owner, Mr. Jones, dies. But no, the bird never returns and the bird’s influence on the story is just dropped.

Chabon’s writing has always required a certain patience because of the level of description he provides, but this is also his genius as a writer. When used to build drama, this kind of writing can be exciting and assist the reader in populating the complex world Chabon creates, like the kind you’ll find in the Yiddish Policeman’s Union set in a fictional version of Sitka, Alaska. In Telegraph Avenue I found myself much more impatient with these descriptions because they weren’t adding up to a cohesive whole, and became more of a stylistic distraction – the very last thing you’d want from a really long novel.

To conclude, I would not recommend Telegraph Avenue. It’s bloated at 625 pages, and could have been edited down to create better pacing for the reader. (This novel had “saggy sections.”) It’s characters are too numerous and difficult to tell them apart. Plotlines are not compelling enough given the resolution to many of them (tied too neatly with a bow) at the end of the novel.

If you want to experience the a much better example of the stylistic writing of Michael Chabon, I would recommend the Yiddish Policeman’s Union instead.

 

Three Short Story Collections I Recommend

A few weeks ago while wandering the isles of The Strand in New York City, I picked up Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls her collection of short stories.

I brought the Schappell collection with me for my travels recently to Bozeman, Montana for work. While in Bozeman, I had an opportunity to walk the Main Street where they have two independent bookstores. (As an aside, Bozeman is a pretty cool town considering it is in a rural part of the plains, and a short drive to the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park, but apparently the nearby ski resorts bring a lot of tourists and outside influence to the place. You can get organic salads from the local food co-op near the bookshops, for example.)

The Country Bookshelf was inviting, and the three women working there were all helpful when I asked about short story collections they’d recommend. I explained I was reading Blueprints, and that I’d be open to recommendations of local Montana talent as long as all the stories did not involve cows and horses. They did not disappoint, and handed over Aryn Kyle’s collection Boys and Girls Like You and Me, along with Maile Meloy’s Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

Both Kyle and Meloy originate from Montana, but Kyle moved east to New York City, and Meloy moved west to Los Angeles. It seems Montana could hold neither of them.

What’s so interesting about the three collections, which I read in succession, is how similar they are in their subject matter and selection of main characters. I was actually surprised by this because I was expecting each to have distinctive writing characteristics, but for me these tomes blended together…with some exceptions.

In the case of Schappell, her writing is more finely polished than the other two… although don’t get me wrong, all three of these women are very talented story tellers.

Schappell’s women scared me a little, some of them wanted to be sexually used or humiliated, others were dealing with the aftermath of rape, or they were anorexic and just generally fucked up. Most of them drank heavily or did drugs. I do not assume these women were stand-ins for the author, but there was a level of… depravity… in the Schappell collection I wouldn’t have necessarily expected. I’m no prude, but it made me wonder why the stories had to be dealing with topics so extreme.

Meloy’s collection was very tuned into the emotional aspects of loss and despair, and many of her characters were cheating on their partners, or having family problems of one kind or another. I think the strongest story in the collection is Spy vs. Spy, a story about two brothers who don’t get along, but the older and more responsible one (a doctor) has a daughter that the younger brother (ski instructor) is always trying to impress as a way to one-up his brother by being good to his niece. The ending of the story (which I won’t give away) was a perfect balance to the relationship between the two brothers and the people that surround them. Some of the other endings were similarly adept. Overall the writing was very strong.

Kyle’s characters were mostly adolescent boys and girls dealing with issues of growing up, sexual awakenings, and similar fare. I found the endings to some of Kyle’s stories to be problematic (for me) in that she would be telling the story and going along in the present, and then within the last page she would zoom out and have the character looking back from a great distance of time. I suppose that technique could work for some stories, but it was a conceit I felt she used too often and it jarred me out of the reading and intimacy with her characters. I don’t like it when the writer is showing me she can pirouette in the story. I don’t want to be able to “see” how she’s writing the story while I’m reading it, that doesn’t work for me.

To be fair, some of these stories – from all three collections – had excellent emotional resonance and I could feel what the characters were feeling (or I imagined I could, I should say.) It’s more important to feel something about a story than to have it written and executed perfectly, so I can be forgiving about certain endings, etc.

Perhaps of interest to the writers among us (most of you reading this?) is that all of these women were published by big names for their collections. (Is there hope for short stories after all?) Meloy was pubbed by Riverhead Books, a Penguin imprint; Kyle was pubbed by Scribner, a Simon and Schuster imprint; and Schappell was pubbed directly by Simon and Schuster. Not too shabby. Yeah, and both Schappell and Meloy were reviewed in the New York Times Book Review too.

So if you’re looking for interesting women characters written by contemporary women writers, go out and acquire these three collections. And no, I’m not getting a kick-back from these ladies, I just like their work. I think you will too.

A Comment on Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

First I’ll start off by saying I have read the first hundred pages so far… so please, if you’ve read the book (which is a detective novel) do not post spoilers in the comments section! 🙂

As you frequent readers of this blog already know, if I’m going to read fiction it’s pretty likely to be a Pulitzer prize winning novel. (Sadly, this is really a comment on how infrequently I’m reading these days because I have not even gotten through the past 10 years worth of fiction winners yet.)

Also, you might imagine if I’m mentioning Michael Chabon and Pulitzer Prize… I’m mentioning the wrong title. His Pulitzer winning book was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It also just so happens that when the airport bookstore is out of pulitzer prize winning novels, and you’re staring down a 6 hour flight from one coast to another, you might decide to purchase an alternate title by an author in that “P” group. Well, you might not do that, but I did.

And now for an aside from my aside… how come nobody ever challenges me on why I’m sticking to Pulitzer prize winning novels and instead singing the praises of an amazing author who should have been nominated for a National Book Award, Pulitzer, or is just a genius with words? Come on peoples, tell me at least one of you has read a totally amazing novel this year where you were blown away by the story, the writing, the characters… something? (For the record, I’m very far behind on my contemporary literature reading. Even I know that reading a prize winning novel from a decade ago isn’t the cutting edge… but I’ve got to dig in somewhere.)

Okay, enough. Back to the topic at hand, Mr. Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

I’m in love with Chabon’s writing. Some of you out there, the writerly writer types, might hate his flowery, adjective filled long strung out sentences… but I whistle and moan in admiration with some of his descriptions.

Try this paragraph:

Litvak makes an impatient or petitioning gesture with his hand. He takes from his breast pocket a marbled black notepad and a fat fountain pen. He wears his beard neatly trimmed, as ever. A houndstooth blazer, tassled boat shoes, a display handkerchief, a scarf strung through his lapels. The man has not lost his sporting air. In the pleats of his throat is a shining scar, a whitish comma tinged with pink. As he writes in the pad with his big Waterman, Litvak’s breath comes through his great fleshy nose in patient gusts. The scratch of the nib is all that remains to him for a voice. He passes the pad to Landsman. His script is steady and clear.

Do I know you

Now, I don’t know about you, but how can you not swoon at phrases like “a scarf strung through his lapels” or “in the pleats of his throat” or even “the scratch of the nib is all that remains to him for a voice”?

This is one random paragraph, mind you. The book is a cornucopia of such phrases (okay, sorry, I can’t help myself…).

What’s especially interesting to me about this book is an interview Chabon did with the New York Times which is reprinted in the back. In it he says that he remade his writing style in order to take on a Chandler-esque detective novel because he shortened his sentences considerably to write this novel. And, oh yeah kids, he had written a 600 page manuscript as a first draft of this book, decided he didn’t like it and chucked the whole thing and re-wrote it from scratch.

I admire that about the guy.

Whether or not you decide to read this book is not the point of this particular post. For me, this post is about craft. Meticulous craft. And I’ve gotta hand it to Chabon in this novel, his loving care about his subject and his characters just oozes out of every page.

Did I mention I’m only 100 pages into this 411 page novel? Well, I am. As for the remaining 300 some-odd pages? I’m going to savor them, nice and slow.

P.S. We will return to your previously scheduled Hurrican Sandy installments in future posts.

Buried Under My Books

One of these days I’m not going to be able to leave my house because it’s been filled to the top with books. I’m exaggerating, of course, but probably like many of you, I’ve got oodles of well worn tomes hanging about on shelves and tables, stacked up and tossed, margin noted or not.

I’ve got a decent poetry collection, and a whole shelf of books on Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy, I’ve got non-fiction biographies of physicists (Feynman and his books especially) as well as books on cryptography and the NSA. I’ve got art books. And cook books – don’t get me started. I’ve saved books I read when I was a kid (Harriet the Spy anyone?) and I’ve got picture books I love. I’ve got books about people who cook and their opinions about gastronomy (especially cooks and chefs from NYC).

And then there’s the short story collections. Oh boy, do I have a ton of those. Best American Short Stories, and Pushcart and invididual authors and more. And then there’s books about writing… writing plays, screen plays, writing short stories, and crafting characters and no plot no problem and the rest of it. (I still say Stephen King’s book On Writing is one of the best.) No book collection would be complete without a bunch of dictionaries, and I’ve got those too.

I haven’t even talked about novels, because it’s so obvious I’d have a gazillion of those, right? Everything from the classics to recent Pulitzer winners to dollar finds on the sale rack and everything in between.

Although I’m surrounded by all these books, I must admit most of these books I have not read twice. Why do I keep all these books I love, just because I read them? I don’t know, but I know it’s what I’ve always done. I read a book and think, oh that was wonderful, and put it on the shelf and enjoy looking at the title knowing I read it. Then I forget it’s there because I’ve moved on to my next book…and the next.

But I don’t know how to part with my James Joyce Reader, or Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (actually I read this from time to time.)

A friend of mine and I were recently discussing Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. I instantly knew I had a copy of it, although I have not picked the book up in two decades. I’m not kidding (about either fact…) And it got me to thinking, why do I need a copy of Winesburg, Ohio? I don’t think I do. And I don’t think I need every single book I have on my shelves either…but where to begin in parting with them?

How do you deal with this, dear reader? For some of you, if space is a severe constraint, have you boxed your books and put them in storage? Do you only use the public library? Do you read the books you buy and immediately give them to someone else, donate them, or discard them (perish the latter)?

Even if space is not a severe constraint, how are you handling the dozens, or hundreds, of books you’ve accumulated?

I think it’s time for me to seriously consider a partial divestiture…

Potpourri Post: Metazen, Letters in the Mail, Zouch, The Artist and more

Today’s post is brought to you random topical inspiration.

My story Baby Crazy will be published by Metazen on March 6th. That’s only 2 days away – yay! I’ll post the link on Tuesday.

Do you subscribe to Stephen Elliot’s Letters in the Mail over at The Rumpus? I started getting them recently, and I like them. He sends one email a day and it has his personal observations about things going on in his literary circle, he talks about events he may have attended or promotional things he’s doing, and of course he talks about pieces on The Rumpus site. He uses a very casual style which is appropriate since the email is supposed to be like a personal letter. Anyway, if you haven’t checked out The Rumpus, you probably should.

Zouch Magazine recently followed me on Twitter, so I followed them back. Then I went to their site because I wanted to find out more about them. Turns out two artistically inclined Canadian guys who are into music and literature decided it was time to put up their own site and do their own thing. I notice the site is very visually inclined, so some stories are represented by a picture and you have to click on the picture to get to the content. Also, they are very actively looking for people to submit content so if you’re looking for a new market to check out, they’re a place to look.

A few days ago I got an email from an editor I’ve only submitted to twice (a third item had to be withdrawn when it was accepted elsewhere) but she was so nice, I want to share what she said to me:

I really enjoyed this story.  What did you send me last time? I know that I liked it as well.

I don’t think this is quite the story for [  ] either, but I have no doubt that one of your stories certainly will be.

I was like, what…me? You only read two stories and you liked them both? But what was funny is that she never told me that in the original rejection slips. Good lesson for me kids, behind those rejection slips people are forming opinions – even when they don’t share them.

And she was SO nice, she even offered to re-read the first piece and provide more detailed feedback. I need someone to love that story as much as I do, because I’ve been trying to get Family Picnic published for years. Nate Tower just accepted the only other story I had from that long ago, so The Paperboy found an adoptive dad, maybe if things go well Family Picnic will soon have an adoptive mom. Or at least, maybe it’ll have an adoptive aunt to provide feedback that leads me to the right editorial parent.

I’ve noticed something funny is going on now with my rejection slips – most of them are getting personal responses now, and in some cases they’re saying things like “this is well written” “I like the crisp language” or “this flows well” (all comments I’ve gotten recently, by the way) even though the pieces aren’t getting accepted. Believe me, this is a significant development for me…I feel like some invisible tide is turning.

When I consider how important it is to be published in places like PANK, Metazen, Foundling Review, Spilling Ink, Bartleby Snopes (twice), Dogzplot, Right Hand Pointing, etc. I think these brand name journals are helping me tremendously as I make forward headway. Then again, I don’t put all those names on my submission cover letters but let’s be real, I always put a few.

That takes me back to something Jacob Appel said in that Tips article I mentioned in my last post… he said a twenty-something MFA student slushpile reader might dismiss you out of hand if you have no recognizable pub credits but they’ll think two or three times if you’ve got heavy hitter names, maybe a Pushcart nom, or something. Ahh, back to their hierarchy of talent, right?

I don’t know.

I’d like to believe, and I do believe, that my writing has improved over the past two years too. I’ve had so many great editors give productive feedback and I’m listening – I swear I’m listening very closely to those snippets of feedback – and maybe my nose to the proverbial grindstone, plus my successful story placements, plus the ongoing goodwill of new editors equals the promise of further placement.

Hmm. This set of observations could be influenced by the sun shining and it’s Sunday and I can go out and enjoy the day too.

Finally, movies. Or, a movie. The Artist, in fact.

I recently made some very snide comments about how would it be possible for a French film to win over an American film for Best Picture. (By the way, j’adore Paris and Viva La France…) Then I went to see The Artist.

Yeah, it’s good. It deserved Best Picture over The Descendants.

Also, now I understand why Jean DuJardin (Mr. John Garden, for those of us who speaka de English) got selected for the lead role. He has a certain je ne c’est quoi about him that does strongly remind you of old Hollywood. He was able to use his face so wonderfully, and he must be dangeously charming in France, where he speaks the native language.

But… and there is a “but” here…

Movies just ain’t what they used to be, I lament to you, dear reader.

In two years from now, I’m not going to be talking about The Artist. I’ll still be talking about how phenomenal The Departed is, and it’s destined to be a classic. I’ll talk about the wonder of The Royal Tennenbaums, the razor-sharp and inspiring dialogue from David Mamet’s Heist (“Don’t you want to hear my last words?” “I just did.” BANG) and how far ahead of its time Close Encounters of the Third Kind was as a film, yes, these movies I will watch again and again along with my romantic favorites Good Will Hunting, The Piano and Groundhog Day.

But The Artist will, to me, be like Shakespeare in Love… it was a movie I saw, and liked, but I probably don’t need to see again and again and again.

The Chronology of Water – an Un-book Report

As a writer, a woman and a human being I’m finding it hard to know what to say about The Chronology of Water, a memoir written by Lidia Yuknavitch.

Maybe I’ll start with this: this woman has had an incredibly messed up life, some of which was completely out of her control, some of which was in her control (but she spends most of the book telling us she’s been out of control for most of her life, regardless.)

Here’s the litany: she was sexually abused by her father, had a severely alcoholic mother, dropped out of school, did drugs, drank, slept around (no really, really slept around) and did just about everything she could to self-destruct. (In one chapter of the book she describes how she was drunk, got in her car, and hit another car with a pregnant woman driving. She never tells us what happened to the pregnant woman or how the accident was resolved.)

I don’t read many memoirs, but whenever I’ve read memoirs or auto-biographical material, I usually get the impression the author is trying to convey events as they happened and that, to the best of their ability, they are telling us the truth. Throughout Chronology of Water, the author tells us she is not telling us the truth about certain details. She’ll say one thing, then she’ll add something like but it didn’t happen that way or similar verbage to let the reader know she’s blurring the lines between what happened and what she is telling us happened. She wants us to know she is untrustworthy, which is a strange trait to want to convey in a memoir.

Also unusual is the lack of linearity in the book. Like water, the chapters ebb and flow between different parts of her life. She’ll drop something very casually in one chapter somewhat out of the blue and then tell us later the background of her casually dropped previous comment.

As a reader and a writer, I think it’s brave to talk about yourself ‘honestly’ on the one hand and focus on how the messed up events in your life have shaped you, but on the other, the book (with few exceptions) is almost entirely about that. By the time I got to the end of the book, I wasn’t sure I liked the “character” (?) of the writer or person who was speaking in the book.

I didn’t find these anecdotes describing a “strong” woman, even though I wanted the book to be about that. It was more like someone who has been through hell in her family, something horrific I’d never wish on anyone, to someone who had those experiences and then spent 30 more years killing herself with marathon drinking, drugging (including heroin) and the most irresponsible sexual behavior.

I could say some of the writing is lovely, and some turns of phrases are interesting and clever. That would be true. My comments aren’t about the writer’s ability to write well, which she does.

What I’m struggling with, and still struggling with, is what to make of the book. Honestly, I still have no idea what to make of it. I take that as a sign I need to think about it more, and consider the ramifications for writing about such brutal content in such a straight forward way – albeit with a writer’s voice that we’re told many times throughout the book, is unreliable.

I am not cool

I’m not cool. I’m not a hipster. I don’t live in Brooklyn. I’m not hipster enough for Brooklyn. I’m not a lesbian. Lesbians are cool and hipster. They get extra points if they have tattoos and multiple piercings. I don’t have any tattoos (or multiple piercings). I’m not sure what kind of tattoos I’d have if I got any, but I probably wouldn’t get cool ones if I did. I’d probably get a tattoo of a butterfly and then my hipster friends from Brooklyn (I don’t really have any) would tell me that’s SO 1980’s. Yeah, that’s probably what would happen.

An editor friend of mine, (in other words, an editor I befriended by sending them lots of emails and they graciously answer,) recommended I read The Chronology of Water. Another editor friend of mine said it’s a fantastic book and she wants to know what I think of it when I’m done reading it. (I just started reading it.)

After two pages of reading it I have an opinion about me, not the book or the author. I thought, yeah, I’ll never be able to write like this. I’m not just un-cool, I’m so far out of the loop on what is cool it’s a freaking miracle any of my writing has seen the light of day. She starts the book by describing how she delivers a stillborn baby. It’s a fucking memoir. Non-fiction. Yeah well, game over, check and check mate. Mad respect to the author, for sure, and I’ll continue on in my un-coolness.

And then, THEN, an author friend of mine sent me an email telling me about that whole Adrien Brody kerfuffle over at MuuMuu House. So I went and read that thing and I was completely horrified and disgusted by it. I guess now when a 21 year old girl (yes, GIRL) decides to be self-destructive and publish her self-destructive sex-capades for all to read like a car wreck happening in slow motion, we’re all supposed to read it and clap and say how cool it is? Well I’m not. It wasn’t cool and I’m not cool about it. And shame on the 40+ year old pervert asshole who took advantage of the situation. That girl needs adult guidance, role models and help, not publishing.

Maybe this blog post is really about how I can’t keep up anymore. I just started reading The Rumpus, and I’m getting hooked on HTML Giant and I regularly read PANK, Word Riot, Wigleaf, Dogzplot, and many other talented writers – and editor-writers too – and I’m running out of time and room in my brain for what’s cool. All these things I’m mentioning are cool, I know they’re cool and THEY know they’re cool.

How does a writer without an MFA and without connections to Brooklyn or Berkeley or any other cool place get known? (Am I worthy of being known…yet? I keep asking people to read my stories, so clearly I’d like to be known.)

And since we’re being honest, I don’t even really know who is cool. I know who I think is cool but even that is my own limited knowledge based on where I’ve been stumbling around on the internet to do my reading. I know what I LIKE and I know what I RESPECT – but is that good enough? I wish I knew the answer to that question, but as I’ve already said, I’m not cool. I don’t know the answer.

I want to hang out with the cool kids, and be in their company, but I think they might think I’m a poser. A wanna be.

I feel like a poser when I look at my stories and their stories. I don’t want to write what they write, I want to write what I write – just better.

I want to be good enough to write the stuff people say…wow, did you read that? That was cool.

Where is Farley’s Book Shop, What is Press 53, and Who is Curtis Smith?

I was in Farley’s Book Shop in New Hope, PA and it is a relatively rare kind of bookstore because it has whole sections of it’s front shelving dedicated to independent presses. I’d also recommend Farley’s because they have regular events, and I like the way that shop is curated.

One shelf in Farley’s is dedicated to Press 53, out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina (yes the same Winston-Salem of cigarette fame.) http://www.press53.com/About_Press53.html

Much to mydelight, Press 53 specializes in publishing short story collections. From their website:

Short Story Collections: Since we published our first book in October 2005, Press 53 has gained a reputation for being a champion of the short story. We publish 6-8 short story collections each year.

So there I was, perusing the Press 53 shelf when I came across a signed copy of Bad Monkey by Curtis Smith. And while I had never heard of Curtis Smith before, I came to know that he’s been nominated for a half dozen Pushcart prizes.

Regardless of his pedigree, I decided then and there that it was my sworn duty to support fellow short story writers so I dished out the $14 bucks to support Mr. Smith, Press 53 and Farley’s Book Shop all the way down the line.

I’ve read several of the short stories in the Bad Monkey collection, and they are very well written, and have an emotional resonance that I like.

Since I am a short story writer myself, I really relate to the idea that there are so many unsung, relatively unknown writers out there and thank goodness for independent presses like Press 53 who are ready, willing and able to champion such writers and works.

So – go to your nearest independent bookstore and look for an independent press label. Take a chance and buy such books, and find treasures that perhaps no one has heard of but that are worthy of better recognition.

And if it’s a short story collection, so much the better.

Two New Stories Published!

Hi all, I’m back from my trip to Mexico, and I will have numerous postings and pictures to share – BUT – in the meantime while I was away, I’ve had two new stories that had been accepted for publication get put up on their respective online journal sites.

I’d love to know what you may think of them, PLEASE FEEL FREE to leave comments here on either of the stories.

The first story is a flash fiction piece called The Return of the Lone Ranger, published by Bartleby Snopes. This story is a kind of snapshot character study, and a bit of a melancholic homage to the kinds of innocent shows that were on television in the 1950’s and 60’s.

The second story is also flash fiction. Lancaster has been published by Halfway Down the Stairs.  I have visited the city of Lancaster, PA many times, and it is nothing like the Amish farming community nearby. It is more gritty and urban. In the center of Lancaster you will find an art school, and there are many art galleries sprinkled around the downtown area. This story is about a man who comes in contact with a free spirited artist, and what happens as a result.

Thanks for reading!!