Thursday, December 31, 2009

Remembering the Ohs

I wanted to do a best list for the decade. You know, my picks for best movies and books and short stories and music and, I dunno, food trends. But I don’t really remember a lot of that – or at least I don’t remember it in any quantifiable way, in a way I can sort and post in a pithy list form.

So this is what I’m going to do. I’m posting my most memorable moments of the decade. Those personal moments that have stuck with me. Because, hell, it’s my blog. So, here we go:

I remember meeting my wife. A wine tasting. Too much wine but not so much as to dull. Not so much as to make that first kiss anything less than spinning, lost, thrown through time. I remember sitting on my stoop a week later and looking at her beside me and knowing I loved her. Knowing. Knowing, knowing.

I remember the births of both my children. The first long and fogged. Everything torn from me except love. The second like completion. Like fate.

I remember 9/11. I remember crouching in the bathroom at my office and crying because I could think of nothing else to do. I remember walking down 17th Street in DC that night and seeing all the bars full. I remember being able to talk about nothing else for weeks and singing the national anthem alone in my car.

I remember moving back to Texas. I remember my son, a toddler then, running circles in the empty living room and realizing this would be the first home he’ll ever know.

I remember poker. Which poker? I don’t remember. But I remember a lot of pocket aces and pocket seven twos off. I remember my heart beating my ribs as I waited on a stranger to call or fold. I remember the pride of a big stack. And the hollowness of a short one.

I remember a perfect double rainbow seen while in a traffic jam on I-95.

I remember my son reaching up and wiping a tear from my cheek as we laid my grandfather to rest.

I remember my dog falling through the ice in the middle of a lake and somehow living.

I remember a single bite of transcendent sushi from Bar Charlie.

I remember a lot more. New friends. Travels. All those kisses from my kids. All those walks. And all those nights spent awake into the wee hours as I tried to find that perfect word for that ultimately failed story. Hell, there is so much to remember. Just the other day I was joking with my wife that it’s a shame we didn’t do anything this decade. Really, I’m not sure we could’ve done more. Despite the troubles the world faced these past ten years, I’ll remember the ohs (the aughts?) for so many good things. So many personal things. Things that seem much more lasting than any movies or books or albums. As great as some of them were. As much as they deserve lists of their own.

Monday, December 28, 2009

20,000 Words

That's the length of my novel as of today. My goal is to have the first draft complete by the end of April. This would be so much easier if I'd come up with a small idea. As it is, I'm negotiating the fate of an entire city. Good thing I'm still having fun writing the beast.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Do Not Hit Delete

I used to write a lot of political commentary that appeared on various blogs of various acclaim. I did this for around four years before giving it up so I could focus more time on my fiction. But here’s the thing: if you looked at my opinions circa 2005 and then looked at my opinions circa 2009, you’d find a few inconsistencies. O.k., a lot of inconsistencies. That doesn’t bother me because those inconsistencies are really just a record of my political evolution. I like that I can trace my growth in knowledge and shifts in philosophy. So why do I sometimes feel different about my published fiction? Why do I occasionally want to delete the links to some of my older stories?

Here’s the truth: anytime anyone mentions they liked one of my stories and say they’re going to read all the stories I link to here, I get a palpitation. Seriously. What if they don’t like anything else I’ve written? What if they decide the first story of mine they read is the only worthwhile thing I’ve ever written?

But that’s stupid. And I know it. First of all, I’ve never submitted to a journal I don’t respect. So, if they published a story of mine (even five years ago), I gotta respect their decision. Sure, maybe I don’t write in that style that anymore. Maybe I think I write better now. Maybe a few of my stories now represent everything I’m trying to get away from in my fiction. Maybe, maybe, maybe. What’s the point of fretting? I wrote it. Someone I respect published it. Let it live as a record of my writerly evolution, right?

And that’s why every story I’ve ever published is linked to here. Because, after those palpitations recede, I really do want to keep that record.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Spent the last week and a few out in L.A. for my fourth MFA residency at the Antioch L.A. low-res program. I gotta say, there was a time in my life that I thought MFAs were pointless. But that's hardly been the case. Flat out, this program has made me a far better writer. I don't even know how to measure it.

Thought I'd put that out there.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No Good, Very Bad ...

I want to walk to the store to buy bread. And milk. But it's raining and cold. And in a couple of hours I have to go get a flu shot. Why do I feel like I'm in a children's picture book and should now threaten to go live in Australia?

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Fanboy Moment

Is it wrong for a writer’s blog to post about football? And is it extra-special wrong if that posting has no merit outside of fanboy blathering? Should I not leave such fanboyishness to the sports bloggers?

I think not. And here’s why: In the last six months, I’ve winnowed. One by one, I’ve dropped the distractions in my life, pulling everything inwards so that my entire attention is focused exclusively on my family, my closest friends and my writing. Except I can’t slice off every extraneous bit. There has to be something dangling free. And that thing is the Dallas Cowboys.

Why is this important today? Because it’s minutes from December. And while the rest of the world gears up for the holidays and parties and too many sweets, I’m bracing for the dreaded December Slump. Like the first cold snap of the year. Like mall Santa’s with fake beards. You know it’s coming and there’s no good way to avoid it. The team is 8-3 now. A 9-7 finish is not unfathomable. In fact, I can easily fathom it. If only I knew how to prevent it. If only the team knew how to prevent it.

Here’s my strategy: don’t be Charlie Brown trying to kick the ball. I’ll get excited if we’re still playing come mid January. Until then, Lucy can just hold that ball. I’ll watch but I got better things to do than get worked up. Because, hey, nothing says you’re indifferent quite like a late-night blog post.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Little Noise for "Quiet"

What I love about reading online fiction is the variety you can find – particularly in the realm of flash (a form that is very suited to the Internet). That’s all just a prelude to the praise I want to throw David Erlewine’s way. Specifically for ”Quiet”, his new story in PANK.

The story is under 250 words and has the weight of a story ten times as long. David does this so well in his writing –condenses the essential flavor of a narrative so that nothing is missed despite the brevity. In “Quiet”, he gives us the entire story of a mother/son relationship. Impressive not just in its ambition but in its effect. Its impact. Its success in causing the reader to pull in a long breath and wait a good moment before being able to move on.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Considering Brian Evenson

Confession: I’d never read a word of Brian Evenson’s until today.

I’d, of course, heard plenty about him. Most of the lit blogs I read speak of the man in breaths of pipapitating awe (yeah, I made that word up). I kept meaning to order one of his books. Still meaning too. But when I discovered via HTMLGiant that a story of his entitled “Windeye” was up at PEN America, I figured I’d better go see what all the pipapitation is about.

I was surprised. I have no idea if this one, brief story is representative of the Evenson style, but I really didn’t expect such clarity of prose and tightness of narrative. Frankly, I expected the story to be “difficult” – the kind of story that takes multiple reads to suss out an ounce of coherence. I don’t know why I expected this. Perhaps because there’s been a trend within certain quarters of the short fiction world (including the quarters where Evenson is praised) towards a kind of linguistical and structural experimentation that forgoes a strong narrative in favor of artistic impressionism. While I often find those kind of stories brilliant in their own right, I don’t often enjoy them as “stories” in any traditional sense.

I enjoyed “Windeye” as a story. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. And what did happen next repeatedly surprised me in the way a very good story can. But, what truly impressed me was how much depth Evenson manages to create in such a small, strange space. There’s a haunting quality to “Windeye” that is very rare in fiction this short. I could tell even after the first reading that the story was going to rattle around inside me and resurface in the months and years to come.

So, yeah, if this is what Evenson is all about, I get it now. No more procrastinating on reading more of his stuff. Orders will be placed very soon.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Not a Bad Monday ...

Two new stories up today.

"Beautiful Beast" over at Monkeybicycle.

"What Ever Happened to Sue Ellen?" over at Staccato.

Very glad to be a part of these great publications. Many thanks to the editors.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Submission Realization

Was reading submissions this weekend for Splinter Generation and came to a realization:

Man, this generation is lonely. Story after story about lonely people looking for connections. Is there a reason for that? Maybe every generation feels cut off. But I can't help but think there's so much more to be cut off from nowadays. Like, maybe loneliness increases the more you're aware of how many people you don't know. One of six point seven billion.

I'm going to go pour myself a drink and think about that for awhile.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Limits of Everything

And so, there is a novel.

It’s slipstream or cross-genre or whatever you want to call it when a story doesn’t exist in flat reality. No synopsis here because it’s in the early stages. Like a young relationship. All hope and sparkle eyes. No doubt the crafting of this will suck away my time for writing short stories. But that’s okay. It’s about the story, right? And I love this story. Like I said, a young relationship. Puppy love. Seriously, time to get a room.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Don Says...

A few weeks ago on the show Mad Men, creative director Don Draper told his protege:

"You've never done a thing for me that I can't live without."

Brutal. But it's been spinning through my mind ever since. Have I ever written anything the world can't live without? The answer is a clear no. Without intending to shit on my own talent, I just think writing something that the world can't live without is a goal few of us will ever achieve.

But it's now a thought I keep in the back of my head every time I sit down to write. Sure, I'll probably fail. But I think the writing will be better because of the trying.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Green-Haired Girl

Now live here at Storyglossia.

Very excited about this one. The issue is themed around musical obsession. Can't wait to make my way through the stories.

Strange Rejections

"Unfortunately we need to pass on it at the moment."

At the moment? So, maybe later, then?

Seriously, all a rejection needs to say is: "The piece isn't right for us." That's it. Move on. Most of us out here are capable of handling a hard landing.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Those I love:

plank, swollen, churn, sea

Those I hate:

apartment, magic, butt, chortle

Just saying...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stories that Sweat

I don’t write a lot of fiction that you’d classify as disturbing in a gut-swirling way. Maybe that’s why I have such admiration for those who can pull off a good skin-crawling story.

In the newest issue of Kill Author, Mel Bosworth manages to both shock and hit you in deep in the chest with Turn.

It’s the kind of story you can feel pushing against you. Sweating on you. Leaving you sticky. (And I mean that as a good thing).

What's In a Submission?

Over at HTMLGiant, Blake Butler wants to know if writers would submit to a journal called: While many of the people commenting are just having fun with the idea, I think Blake is touching on a really interesting question: why do we choose to submit where we do? What factors do we consider?

I don’t use a very complicated formula. It’s pretty much: 1) do I like what the journal is publishing? 2) do I have a story that fits their aesthetic? 3) will the journal give the story good exposure (a good number of good readers and a good chance the publication will still be around a week after my story appears)?

So, sure, I’d submit to if they met those criteria. But, um, you first Blake.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Invasion of the Realists!!

Via Matt Bell, I came across this article from Context that claims neorealism has a stranglehold on major American literary journals and that experimentation, while often given lip-service, is fundamentally discouraged.

The author, Daniel Green, does note that things might be better on the web, so I won’t call him to task for missing such places of invention like Diagram or 5_trope or many of the other online journals publishing stories with voices a good deal outside traditional realism. I’ll even give him a pass for overlooking Unsaid and Monkeybicycle et. al. because his focus is so specifically on journals like Ploughshares and Gettysburg Review and others known for having stories regularly selected in the prominent yearly anthologies.

Given Green’s narrow focus, the question isn’t whether or not he’s right (he is right that those journals prefer realism and anthologies/awards like Pushcart fill their pages with predominantly traditional stories – although not always). The real question is: does it matter? While journals such as Paris Review may help a writer land an agent, how influential and representative are they really? Most successful writers I know don’t pick their style based on what’s winning awards. They come to their style based on their own peculiarities. And that style is often hard to categorize with easy labels like realism or experimentalism.

If realist-leaning prose is popular with many journal editors, I suppose that’s because realist writers have something vital to say about our current world. And if less realist writing is bubbling up from the Internet and newer journals, maybe that’s because, in our incredibly confusing world, those styles have something vital to say too.

I know I’m being all accepting here. But, generally, I reject the assumption that literature is stagnant if it’s not being wildly inventive. A good story is a good story. Maybe I’m missing the point. But despite the fact that none of us can make a living writing short fiction, it seems to me there are more venues available for publication than ever before. That should mean more opportunity for all kinds of fiction to find its audience.

Transcript of Thomas Custard Carl ...

... is available to be read right here at Storyscape. It's issue number four of this really cool journal. I'm making my way through the stories and feel very lucky to have something of mine surrounded by such great writing.

Check it out.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Feeling Dirty

So, Vestal Review has put up their first group of Dirty Dozen stories, and one of three selected pieces in my piece "Dominatrix" (can you call a twelve word story a "piece"? More like a ditty. A word bauble?).

This is a fun feature. I'm already looking forward to what they select next month.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Schrodinger's Submission

That would be the scientific phenomenon of seeing an editor's name or journal's name in your inbox with the subject "Re: Submission" or some such. Until you click on the email, your story could either be accepted or published, a dead cat or a live one.

And speaking of dual-states of existence, isn't it odd how you can absolutely love a story, then it gets rejected by a journal you admire and suddenly the story reads like the half-ass work of a two-bit hack (which I guess makes it a one-bit story). I think that phenomenon needs a name too. The Law of Quality Deceleration or something.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fever Dreams

While sick, I went to sleep trying to think of the perfect story. I spent the whole night dreaming in colors, each thought a string of blue or red or green or orange flying away from me and then yarning up all around, out of my reach and yet somehow scraping against my head, pressing me inwards so that even more colored string burst out until I could see only shapes -- but not shapes like we're taught. Nothing measurable. Formless forms. A geometrical freakshow of thought baked at 103.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Force Me Down

A moment of complete honesty. I read a lot of online fiction (that’s not the revealing part). I’d say I stop reading 75-85% of the stories and never come back to them (sad but true). It’s not that they’re poorly written or that I’m such a busy, busy man that I can’t be bothered to keep reading. It’s just that – I get bored rather easily.

And then I think – shit, how many people never make it to the end of my stories? And that makes me think – shit, better write better. Sometimes, I actually do. Or think I do. And then I stumble across a story that forces me to read it in full in one sitting. Holds me down and forces. And I think – yeah, that’s how it’s done.

Roxane Gay has one of those stories up at JMWW. "His Name Is". Love it. And not just because it takes place in Las Vegas and I’m a sucker for Vegas. It’s got force. And it’s got lines like: “He scurries away, his short legs trying to keep pace with his optimism.”


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What's in a Translation?

Here’s a thought a writer friend and I had today when we both agreed we preferred Chekhov’s short stories to Joyce’s. Does Chekhov benefit from having modern translations while we still read Joyce in the original? Would Dubliners be more engaging if a translator whisked away the cobwebs?

Hard to know. But we agreed that antiquated language is not a sure-kill. After all, that Shakespeare guy is still pretty engaging. You know, if you like love, murder and betrayal.

King Lear, man. That’s all I’m saying.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Just Realized ...

We'll soon know what to call this decade. We're what? Three months away from the VH1 premiere of I Love The ____.

I hope we end up calling it The Ohs. I just can't see myself saying "aughts" like some Dust Bowl era sharecropper remembering the good ole' days.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Deep Sea Reading

Came across Squid Quarterly today. Their first issue was this summer and it’s great. All short shorts and prose poetry ranging from the more experimental to the more traditional. Lots of very lush writing. I particularly liked Michelle Nichols The Lament of the Fire Baton Twirler. But I read the whole journal in one sitting and am already looking forward to their next installment.

Check it out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Editors Vs. Writers

Via PANK, The Review Review as a great post up by Don Lee, former editor of Ploughshares. He’s talking about the animosity that exists between writers and editors. One part that caught my eye:

What makes [editors] dispirited is the us-versus-them mentality that has developed between writers and editors, linked to accusations that they aren’t open to new writers or that the system is somehow rigged … a hard truth: a submission might be good, but not good enough. This is what writers have problems swallowing. After getting a rejection, instead of taking another look at the story or poem and perhaps revising it or spending a little more time thinking about the most suitable venue for it, it’s much easier to rail against these editors
Good but not good enough. That’s a tough one for any writer to swallow. Obviously, in any good journal, good work will have to be rejected to make room for the really good work. But, as a lowly submitter, it’s so hard to know where that line is or even what criteria make up that line. It’s not like we sit down to write a story that’s just “good enough”. We try to write great stories. When they get tossed back, it’s hard to know exactly why.

I get the frustration. Hell, I feel the frustration. But what I don’t get is why some writers hate on editors (Lee describes some truly terrible behavior on the part of rejected writers). Sure, as Lee readily admits, some editors are idiots. But most aren’t. If a journal is good, the editors are probably good. And if the journal isn’t good, why do you want your work in there anyway?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Submission Purgatory

I think that's what I'm in. I have a bunch of submissions out right now but no one is responding. I long ago stopped thinking this was good news -- that my submission must have worked its way up to the highest levels of the editorial department and that's why it's taking three, four, five months to hear anything. Now I generally worry that my story is sitting beneath a box of take-out Chinese, sweet-and-sour sauce soaking down through the pages.

Then again, most of my submissions are via email or those online systems. There's not even the romance of a sauced-stained manuscript. The story is binary code on some soulless server in Utah.

Oh well ... I'm sure by writing this I'll get a shit-storm of rejections. You want answers, buddy? Here ya go.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sick Writing

I like stories that make me feel a little ill. Actually, I like stories that make me feel anything and I'm not upset if that feeling is of the skin-itching variety.

In the September online issue of PANK, Brandi Wells gives us "Instructional". It's a rape story. But not one you've read before.

It's sick writing, both in the sense of "not right in the head" and in the modern sense of "really, really good".

Monday, September 14, 2009

And Now ... Another Writer's Blog

I've blogged for years ... as a political blogger. But this is a new venture, a virtual home for the fiction writing side of my life.

Mainly, I'll post various thoughts and ramblings about writing and writers I like. And, of course I'll use this space to promote and catalog my published stories. Yeah, I'm not looking to revolutionize the genre of "writer blog". But I hope to provide some interesting thoughts from time to time -- and a way for people to easily find me.

Thanks for stopping by.