Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Whatcha Want to Know?

So, Tres Crow over at Dog Eats Crow recently conducted an interview with me.

It's now live.

Everyone should be so lucky as to have someone else ask them in-depth questions about their work. Tres's questions really made me think about what I write and why I write it. I can only hope my answers lived up to the questions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"My Father Believes" at > kill author

Love > kill author and I'm excited to have a little piece in Issue 6.

It's "My Father Believes and it is surrounded by some incredible company. Really. Check out the issue. Good stuff. Thanks to the mysterious editors for letting me be a part of it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

AWP Highlights

A good few days out in Denver. Saw a lot of interesting panels. Bought a bunch of books. Had a few drinks. Heard many, many great writers read. A few highlights:

Buying Hobart 11 straight from Aaron Burch (and getting a free shot of whiskey with my purchase).

Meeting the great PANK people in person.

Attending DOGZPANK reading where 15 amazing writers shared their words.

Hanging with my Antochian friends.

Seeing Dan Chaon on a panel.

Seeing Brian Evenson on a panel.

Shaking Richard Bausch's hand.

Buying Kyle Minor's In the Devil's Territory from Matt Bell at the Dzanc table

And that's just a bit of it.

Will I go again? Maybe. I got my pass for free through my MFA program this year and Denver is easy to get to from San Antonio. I'm glad I got to go -- and got to meet people in person that I wouldn't have gotten to meet otherwise. Of course, it's good to return home. And now it's back to the writing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

And Away We Go ...

Heading off to Denver tomorrow for AWP. Never been. Don't know what to expect. Hope to meet in person people I've only met on line. And hope to meet all kinds of new people who've never heard my name. Mainly, I hope to talk writing. And listen to people read their writing. I probably won't do much writing, but inspiration is an invaluable thing. I hope to get me some of that while I'm there. Or, if not that, then I hope someone I've never before met buys me a drink. And lets me buy them one, too.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Conventional vs. Experimental -- SmackDown 2010

I love a good literary/writing discussion. Yesterday at HTMLGiant, Roxane Gay got one going with her defense of conventional narrative and Christopher Higgs hit back with a conventional narrative/realism sucks post. And, of course, hundreds of brilliant comments came flooding in. I never have time to get into comment threads, but I’ll get into the conversation here in my own little space.

So, in short, Roxane says some experimental writing just flat-out confuses her and that she still likes good stories, plainly told. Christopher says conventional storytelling has little worth because it’s too controlling of the experience of reading/story-creation. He also claims there is no such thing as a good story or a bad one and that all attempts to communicate through language are futile in their own ways.

(at this point let’s just note that we are working with extremely loose definitions of “conventional” and “experimental” but that should in no way slow us down – cool?)

Here’s the thing: some experimental writing is written in clear, direct sentences (that link up in strange, often non-narrative ways) and some experimentalist writing reads like a string of nonsense. I many not always “get” the former kind in terms of its meaning, but at least it gives me something to work with and build around and, more often than not, I enjoy this kind of writing.

The nonsensical writing is, in my opinion, interesting only in an intellectual way. Or a music-as-language way where almost all the meaning is stripped from the words and we’re left with a kind of musical response – the story feels like something but isn’t about anything other than that feeling. Those kinds of stories are pleasant enough in tiny bursts but it’s hard for me to enjoy more than a few sentences worth before I tire and decide that putting on Tchaikovsky would be easier. (In my less-generous moments, I think that nonsensical writing and the famously unclothed emperor might have something in common.)

As for conventional narrative, I love a good story with a traditional beginning, middle and end – if there’s something new/unexpected about the story. I have a strong dislike for the type of story that is often pejoratively referred to as an MFA-type story (although my MFA program has actively pushed me away from writing such stories). These are the ones where there is a mostly internal conflict, symbolism in every gesture, low-gradient rising action and a climax/conclusion that ends on a soft epiphany usually revealed through a beautiful, lingering image. And, most importantly, the style of these stories are interchangeable from one writer to the next. Voice is subservient to structure and rules of language. Ugh. I’ve written plenty of stories like that. And now I have a visceral repulsion to them (probably, in part, a self-hate thing for having written too many stories in that tired style).

If that’s conventional realism/narrative, leave me out of it.

But we all know Roxane isn’t defending cliché and mimicry. She is, I think, defending the idea that there’s still value in stories written in a manner that doesn’t require forehead-creasing consideration to comprehend (or that doesn’t require a belief in aforementioned magical clothing). I agree with Roxane on this. Plot has a purpose. Language that is not overly self-conscious has a place. There is room in the great world of literature for both the experimental and the traditional. Why wouldn’t there be? Why shouldn’t there be?

Final point: I reject the relativistic idea that there is no such thing as a bad story. That’s nice and pretty and progressive and all – but it’s wrong. We cannot give all things equal value just because we wish to place art on some higher plane. Judgment has its place. And arguing over what is good and isn’t good has its place, too. Saying such considerations are invalid is, in my opinion, a copout – not to the mention a strange aside in a discussion that seeks to rate the merits of experimentalism vs. conventionalism.

And that’s what I have to say about it.