Monday, December 29, 2008

um, boo?

forgot to note that I read The Man In The Picture, by Susan Hill--very readable and pretty little book (the paperback is checkbook sized), but it doesn't really do anything new. But to be fair, not everyone needs new when it comes to ghost stories. In fact, TMINTP reminds me very much of the old Night Gallery episodes, especially since it is a 19th century style frame tale (ha ha) that features a haunted painting. If you want to write one of these, here are the parts (sans frame):

1) weird object at the center of weird doings
2) weird person claims knowledge of object, but really just has an experience of its effects from the past--doesn't know the why, but fears the how
3) new events mirror past ones, protagonist or protagonist loved ones doomed

The moral being that we must respect the unknown and its unknowability. which is silly, of course. I'm no fun.

Friday, December 26, 2008

next to normal

xmas with family is good, as long as it's not my family. hung out with friends & their kids yesterday. A highlight? the 12yr old observed: "giant space wasps are homophobic" (we were watching doctor who and eating toffee)

oh, and I'm not usually a whiner about these things, but who sends out rejections on christmas day? lump of coal in my email . . .

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

6 sentences

too much fun. too distracting. thanks david-

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

mmm, delicious kool-aid

I’m fresh off a couple of conversations with new or rejuvenated writers who are positively giddy about the indie fiction scene and their own successes within it, and predictably, doubts prowl the perimeter of these exchanges, taking the form of familiar rationalizations about net vs print, short vs long, etc. It might be a tired subject for those of us who abandon or embrace the values of our MFA programs when it pleases, but the anxiety for other writers, including those not in or fresh out of academia, is still pretty real. And so permission, even from an asshole, is a powerful thing. I yearn to move beyond my canned responses about industry and technology shaping the aesthetic to get to a discussion that is not so freaking circumstantial: flash on the net—at least the best of it, which is a lot—manages to reclaim written fiction as essential. It is fiction that must be itself form-wise, resisting subjection to other forms. I know: duhhhh.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I win!

I'm the last woman in my family on my mom's side who still has a gallbladder.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Story at elimae!

Render, or to transmit to another
(contest: where would you place the word 'dewy'?)

massive issue with massive people--I'm pretty thrilled and can't wait to read it. but I may have to wait--the holiday is imploding. Mom in hospital, low enrollments, the tax document is hinky ($800 for a title search? really?), and we still haven't worked out the in-law visit.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I read Midnight Picnic

Just read Antosca’s Midnight Picnic, which is based on the (correct) observation that the West Virginia woods are lousy with ghosts. As a weekender with a cabin in the WV panhandle I can confirm that we spend our nights in battle against the restless dead; our days are spent smiling and agreeing with our neighbors that it is “so beautiful and peaceful here.” So that’s the novel’s irresistible launch point, and what follows is action that feels continuous and lyric save for those moments when the main character, Bram, transmits the memories and emotions of other characters.

Psychological horror sucks because in narrative art, psychology is tyrannical: take a pill, get some therapy, have a break-through moment with the parent-fiend, and all the monsters fade away or at least settle down. If not, become the monster. However, Antosca eschews conventional emotional entry and exit ramps, preferring instead to dive right into an environment of terror and staying there, pretty much. We don’t really have a coherent sense of Bram’s BIG PROBLEM prior to the start of his dark adventure, and the overwhelming majority of experiences are interpreted within an alternate realm, using that realm’s rules. My own dramatic expectations are provincial, so I resisted Bram’s immediacy at first (some evidence points to the draft having spent time in first person), and I wanted him to do more to earn my attention. But soon I began to appreciate Bram’s facility: he was designed to channel the sadness of the other characters. Their stories, more showy than Bram’s, are focused and startling. Also inevitable. As soon as we meet Marian, for example, we know what’s in store. Suspense about her fate is not the point.

For me, the novel’s most major accomplishment may be one that no one else cares about: Antosca writes about the influence of nightscapes, particularly those of the rust belt and Appalachia, on the lonesome mind. I am no less than rocked by certain details, like the glow of a distant strip mall, the constancy of which is as troubling and spooky as shadows in the woods. The strip mall is a haunted place—well of course it is.

That’s all I want to say right now. I loved the book, and it surprised and pleased me. I have a lot of questions though, probably because I consumed it in one sitting, with my own fussy dogs harassing me as if they knew how the damned thing ended. If you like dogs, dads, and dead kids, this book is for you.

ps--yes I read a copy that was hard to read. Still enjoyed it though. Big time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

revision strategy or superstition?

I rarely do simultaneous submissions. Nothing moral about it, I just can’t keep track. I do send out to a second place if the first place is taking for-fricking-ever to respond, since I can’t recall having something out there for 2/3rds of a year producing an acceptance. Regardless, if I haven’t gotten and answer or I’ve been rejected, I always make some sort of change to the piece before I send it out again. Sometimes this is in response to an editor’s criticism, and the change is substantial. But mostly it’s a little tweak, unnoticeable to anyone but me. For example, in the story I have coming out next, I removed the word “dewy.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pull tab to open

seriously, follow the instructions on the envelope, no matter how excited you are about getting your hands on a copy of Nick Antosca's Midnight Picnic. Because then you won't get all those packing boogers everywhere like I did when I just ripped the envelope open.
Can't read it tonight, though. I'm on my own with the dogs.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

oh happy sunday

I just learned that I'll have a piece in the December elimae

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Weapons grade holiday food

Insane amount of work coming my way via email tomorrow (yeah Sunday), so tonight I hope to write. I don’t know what about, but the title I’m playing with is ‘hey. I have something for you.’

But first, it looks like women are supposed to put recipes on their blogs. Here are the only ones I know. I’m sure they are not original. For the meat dishes, roast in 350-475 degree oven for two to nine hours, and for God’s sake, don’t wander off.

for Christmas day: Mom’s beef stew
2 or 3 packages of stew beef (weight watchers can get away with 1. Makes no diff, all you will taste is salt. yummy,yummy salt)
1 can soup each flavor: tomato, cream of mushroom, french onion, beef broth
hunks of onions, carrots & potatoes (2part onion to 1part each other veg, in the proportion that fits in the pot. do not peel the potatoes, you wuss.)
chopped garlic (cook’s choice)
probably some water (a cup or two? ish)
definitely some cheap intense red wine, like Carlo Rossi Paisano, although I have no idea what you can do with the rest of the jug. It’s pretty nasty.
1 small can corn (Warning: do not ruin this stew with peas)

combine everything except corn and cook until the beef is your bitch—oven or stovetop is fine, but watch the liquid. When done, mix in the corn. Serve with rice first day, over French fries all subsequent days.

New Year’s or your Father’s Wake: Pork Roast and Knedliky

The roast is a no brainer, but you need one of those big pork loin roasts with actual fat on it—not a tenderloin. If you are cooking for someone over the age of 38, please remember that he/she grew up when trichinosis was still a concern, and firm, sliceable pork is repulsive. This roast is not done unless the meat explodes and collapses at the touch of a fork. In fact, to be on the safe side, wait until the meat is so defeated that you can eat it with a spoon.
Garlic , Salt. Pepper
Some liquid, to about ¾ inch of the bottom of the pan—I’m a recent enthusiast for Progresso Hearty Tomato, but you may be getting tired of my canned soup promotion, so water will work fine.
Half stick butter
Roast all this forever under a tight lid, but watch it any way. When done, remove roast from pan to platter—this should be extremely difficult if you’ve cooked the thing properly. And the plattered meat will look like a nightmare. But the most important thing is: SAVE THE POT LIQUOR. My grandmother called it some Polish or Czech or maybe even secret nazi term that sounded like vuh-muss-tik. You pour the vuh-muss-tik on the klen-necky. Which I have since learned is actually

6 eggs, sure
one or two boiled mashed potatoes (peels removed this time)
4 to infinity handfuls of flour
teaspoon of baking powder
again with the salt, whatever
milk to work it—1/2 cup?
mix all together and knead until just elastic.
Form into golf-tennis ball size dumplings and boil. They will rise before they are done, so test one before you drain and keep testing until you find a cooked one. These are heavy, chewy dumplings that you cut with a knife and fork. In fact, they will be significantly more authoritative on the plate than the pork roast. I suppose you could serve a veg with this. Dad liked creamed corn. ugh. Next morning cut up the leftover dumplings and fry up with scrambled eggs.

Friday, December 5, 2008

end of semester note to self

course proposal: 'reading and writing weird tales'
targeting sophomores, non majors. reading scads of short, strange prose for the first half of the semester-discussion, quizzes, short essays and reviews. Then writing/modeling original tales second half semester. small group workshops and blackboard discussions.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fiction Weekly

It'll be interesting to see how this venture works out: Fiction Weekly, coming out of Lake Charles, LA. Neat idea, attractive design. I'm still working through the stories to get a sense of things, though.

Plus, this week's story is by Ryan Crider, PhD candidate in English and Creative Writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette--one of the best schools in the world for that sort of thing. Go Ryan!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

found it!

interesting poetry, not all of it, but some. enough for now.

holidays are for bs

Just back from 2ndary thanksgiving with three poets, and over two pies we all agreed that new fiction has gotten/is getting very interesting, but poetry seems to have gone soft in the belleh, having grown reliant on sentimentality at the expense of interesting language. This conversation came on the heels of an IM chat with a friend who has to review three books of poetry for her grad class and is hating it every step of the way. She has concluded that she hates poetry period (citing exploitative, whining content) and doesn't buy my argument that she's really only been exposed to the most accessible (and therefore most teachable?) examples. Shocked to hear a grad student make the kind of statement that I only hear from sophomores--and I took her seriously so I'm thinking I should take the sophomores more seriously as well--I went diving around the net to show her something new and interesting that relies on word tension and not so much gimmickry or confession, but I came up short when went to my usual sources. And then the dog had some sort of gas attack and then . . . I felt bad because for a moment poetry was Santa Claus, and I really wanted her to believe (the IM friend, not the gassy dog).

Oh well, I can always put her on the Buck Downs postcard list.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The. Very. Thing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My characters did what?

Just received a rejection from a big deal journal, and the guy writing to me went out of his way to praise my concept before he explained that the story meandered too much. It's a fair cop. He even asked me to send again, which was unexpected. But then he added that he really liked it when my characters cooperated at the end for a righteous purpose.

I was weirded out by his interpretation of my characters' actions. Because they didn't have a righteous purpose at all. They were trying to kill a guy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Potty Mouth

I’m not very sensitive to foul language unless it is excessively body function-y and/or so evocative that the metaphoric intent is eclipsed. I curse a lot, and my characters tend to think in swears. When we lived in Athens, Ohio our downstairs neighbor was a British radio DJ named Mike and he used some very colorful language. One day while raving about conniving American Dentists and his need to find a clean recording of “Tallahassie Lassie,” he referred to his rotted tooth as a “dirty foreskin.” This after he insisted Dean examine his mouth with a flashlight. Made sense, as Dean has a PhD in Poetics. I don’t think I threw Mike out of the apartment, but I might’ve come close.

I’m thinking about dirty words, partly because my current fiction workshop is pretty swear-y, and I’ve taken no steps to control it. To be honest, I hardly notice, except when one of the women in the class makes a face. My class is made up of 4 women, 17 men—the men do all the swearing. The women don’t swear, but they write about rape and childbirth in ways that make the men squirm. I had a filthier workshop a few years ago—again, it was men doing the swearing, but in that instance it seemed obvious that the f-bombs were being dropped as a nervous reaction to the presence of assertive Muslim women in the class. The English major is now more diverse, but not too long ago the presence of opinionated women in scarves scared the living shit out of our usual population of fat athletes, ADHD preppies, and the home-school refugees.

My current class is pretty sweet though, despite the fact that they should not be kissing their mothers with those mouths. For example, they know that phlegm imagery makes me gag, so if the subject comes up (and you’d be surprised how often it does), they substitute specific references with the letter X—as in, “He wiped the X from his face.” I feel guilty about that, but only a little.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I also have relatives named Ervin, Vada, Norris, Alva, etc.

The majority of this post was cut for crimes of indulgence. What's left is this:

About a year ago I learned that my family on my mother's side were Quakers before they became Methodists, which feels so right I can't describe it. I also learned that I had a relative named Boyd Carlisle who tied his horse's lead around his leg because he couldn't find a tree. He wanted to stop for a smoke. At the sound of the match strike the horse bolted, dragging Boyd Carlisle for a long time. It took him about three days to die. This was in 1934 in Indiana. 'Uncle Boyd' has been characterized (by other dead cousins) as a naive speaker and different to the extent that he was not permitted to manage his own money. He was 62 when he died.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I (don't) Wanna Go Backwards

Last night we saw Robyn Hitchcock performing his 1984 album I Often Dream of Trains, and it was a great show. I’m not nostalgic, but I do like the idea of albums becoming set lists as a way of reasserting the necessary relationship between songs, even if, and perhaps especially, the songs are performed out of order. If we operate from the assumption that all albums are concept albums, the whole album concert shouldn’t just be about returning to the past.

Hitchcock is still does his trippy patter between songs, having never made the Peter Gabriel transition. Gabriel used to tell weird stories between songs when he was in Genesis, while the band tuned their instruments, but when he went solo he abandoned fantasies for secular parables. I’m not complaining about that. Gabriel’s sermonizing directly influenced the Sun City and Band Aid projects which led to heartfelt embarrassments like Live Aid and We are the World and on and on. However one feels about the nebulous agenda of Live 8, early on in the cycle it did feel like activist concerts provided concrete responses to concrete problems. I mean, Sting cured Apartheid, right? Oh where have I gone with this . . . Robyn Hitchcock never changed the story he tells, and I suppose his political/social influence is nonexistent, but as I listened again to his excellent love songs about transportation and infrastructure I couldn’t help but think how brilliant he would be on the Fairfax City Council.

Hitchcock did not play “Furry Green Atom Bowl.” I think all of the encores were Queen Elvis era and later. I woke up this morning pissed at the Beatles for being such greedy bastards.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Story up at Storyglossia!!!

"Felly Stories"

sooooo excited!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Focusing NaNoWriMo

I tried NaNoWriMo once, sincerely. Failed very early in the process because my head, like yours I bet, is jammed too far up my own hole to free write any more. Now I sponsor and host NaNo events for the Mason community because I admire how the event provides 1) permission to be creative & 2) loopy constraint for those who need it. A more specific reason I like NaNo is that it demystifies novel writing by reducing the activity to just that, activity. It may be a lie, but exposing the process in this way provides an experience we can’t offer in academic workshops, not really. (I tried last year. My understanding is that most academic novel writing workshops devolve into support group sessions) We train students to write short stories because that’s what we can manage within the physical realities of class size, semesters, etc, and isn’t that just as artificially constrained as reasons for not teaching novel writing? Worse, students come into fiction workshops believing that short stories are easier to write because they are, er, shorter. I always stress writing in the form that one reads for pleasure, and that the forms have different aesthetic shapes that are far more important than word counts.

But back to the demystification angle. I’ve never met a successful novelist who described novel writing as anything other than painful. I’ve never met a student novelist who described novel writing as anything other than joyful. I’ve never met a novelist who could tell me how to write a novel. Or maybe they can and they don’t wanna? So we learn by doing, doing, doing. In the absence of any other willing authority, NaNo exhorts us to do, do, do. I know this sets aside the old whiskey breathed chastisement, “A writer writes”—which may be true after all—but that’s not a good enough answer to any question. It’s certainly not education.

The Recovering Novel

Just finished Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson, and it took me a while, but I have to say I did truly enjoy the book once it got going. I stopped early on because it looked like the conceit was keeping me at arm’s length, and that I was going to be subjected to a parade of tragic circumstances that I would be forced to observe from a frustrating, cool perspective. But as soon as the unifying character, Jackson, appeared, the narrative began to gel. And in the end, lots of relief all around, and even if that relief wasn’t really believable, so freaking what. I think one review called the book a “noble failure,” which suggests a kind of march towards defeat, but I think the failure, if any, is at the front end with its stagy premise, and that the thing pulls itself together more than nicely for a satisfying finish.Which is most important to me, as books rarely end right.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Gilbert & Sullivan

Nice surprise at the mid point of our 20 mile bike ride on the Maryland Rail Trail. Tacked to the info kiosk at the halfway point, a bit of delight from the Lyme Disease Foundation (which I hope I remembered correctly): “The best tick check takes place in private, with a full body naked tick check.” I love nature prose.

To serve Man

So I want to acknowledge the influence of two teaching poets, Skip Fox and Carolyn Forche, on my fiction writing. They really don’t hang out in the same prose very often. Because Skip was interested in my husband’s poetry he was tolerant of me, and when he found me browsing through the library stacks at the University of southwestern Louisiana (now UL), he pointed me towards the works of Kathy Acker, Leslie Scalapino, and all those amazing folks included in Andrei Codrescu’s Up Late anthology. Later, after encountering Forche (yes, skip is skip and Carolyn is Forche, even though I am closer to her than him), she too cited Scalapino and French surrealists, making us use all the toys of chance composition available in Behn and Twitchell’s amazing The Practice of Poetry. These exposures were more memorable, and so I assume more significant, to my most recent writing than say, Best American Stories, or my conversations with fiction writers during the same time.

And speaking of writers in dialogue, I’m going to try to go on an HTMLGIANT dot com diet, see if I can’t go the whole weekend without checking in on the laddish banter, which is starting to creep me out and certainly distract me. For example, the Sam Pink urgency may have gotten to the point where they will start posting recipes on how to cook him for Thanksgiving. And now we’ve come to my point: I wanted to put Pink, Fox, and Forche in my labels.

Off to ride my bike along the C&O, then back to the cabin to work on the novel.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Voted early so I could get to work, where 35,000 students, faculty, and staff members were the amused/angered recipients of a hoax email from our Provost, informing us that the election had been rescheduled for Wednesday the 5th.

Later in the day I met one of those "undecided" voters; I'd honestly thought they were creatures of myth. This person played Bartleby for a while before confessing that the lack of civility in the whole process was too much to endure. I can almost see that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

ooo, NaNoWriMo is good for me

Saw Hillary speak last night, which was super cool, but I'm going batty with the stress, possibly because the fate of the world depends on whether I get up in time to vote at 6am tomorrow. Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.

But in the middle of the day today, I took a break to host a NaNoWriMo write-in (the first of 10), and I have to say that was a lovely, peaceful, and creative 90 minutes. Reject negativity.

Si Se Puede, babies.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pinball! Let's Play!

Getting interviewed about pinball today, because we own an Earthshaker! machine, and because the Department has hit bottom in its search for interestingness. I blame the election for this desperate effort.

machines I want but can’t have for space & financial reasons:
Cactus Jack (Tex-Mex cantina theme German Cacti exhorting you to throw fruit)
Bad Cats (lady hits cats with broom)
Whodunnit (actually attempts a narrative)
Wipe out (ski theme with surf music)
Funhouse (played this at a noisy festival in Houston, but we’re sure that Rudy [the heckling head] called me a bitch and dean a fucko)
Orbitor (fun with magnets)
World Cup Soccer 1994 (awesome and I don’t suck at it)
Cirqus Voltaire (give you strange feelings)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

the mood

So three stories that tickle my fancy lately--"Sister Hayes Takes Up a Serpent," by Roseanne Griffith reminds us what we already know about spiritual passion, but in a force-of-nature way that is irresistible. "The Two of You," by Jack Kaulfus sets my hair on fire and is the perfect maturation of all the things that made the Friday the 13th movies even remotely watchable. Finally, there's a new Barry story called "Mountains," at Pequin that I haven't seen anyone talk about yet, which is odd, so let me throw a wild punch: think "Good Man is Hard to Find" without all that sticky Catholicism and grace.

anyway, these pieces form an emotional set for me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

pet names

In historical order
Wobert (big boy cat)
*DaNiece (shepherd/collie mix, could smile)
*Evil Roy Slade (baaaaad ass black cat)
*Flower (calico cat, hung out with neighborhood dogs, barked)
*Charmin (probably retarded cat, fell down the stairs all the time, from Flower’s first litter)
*Wayne Newton (half feral tortie, ran with bunnies, convinced a young possum to come home with her)
+Sheba (fat doxie, once chased emus around a pen)
*Sue & *Andy (feces eating shih tsus)
Buster (cat, outlaw)
+Tink (cat, snored and chewed scalps)
Monkey (half-feral cat, vocal, almost blinded brother in law)
Fig (terrier, looked funny, pooped on the sides of trees about a foot up)
+Daisey (beagle, best nap buddy, 4k+ in back surgery)
+Newton (Chihuahua-dox, wrestler, angry at leaves)
Einstein (Chihuahua-dox, uulater, wants to sleep inside you)

okay, that’s done.
*named by my mother
+named by prev owner

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rent due on my Ivory Tower, plus a fascinating Priest

Owing to a recent publication in Behind the Wainscot (red-headed stepchild to Farrago’s Wainscot), I now enjoy “SF tidbit” status, linked at sites with names like Quasar Dragon. SF web culture is rapid response and twinkly, and many of the sites are, um, busy to say the least. Also, producers of SF cultural objects still believe there’s money to be had out there, foregrounding distinctions between paying and non paying markets in a way that rattles my dusty academic sensibilities. Maybe I’m quaint. Maybe they are. Sometimes it takes me several years to write a story right. Proper compensation is impossible, so why ask? On the other hand, if you aren’t using that bucket of money . . .

I finished reading Ken Bruen's Priest , and it was stellar, so I'm planning to consume many more Bruen novels ASAP. However, before I can start on those, I must pick up Atkinson's Case Histories again. One of Bruen's publishers contacted me to say, yeah read my guy's stuff, but the Atkinson book deserves another look. And because I have a thing about being obedient to strangers (editors take note), I've gotten far enough into CH that I love it now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

All fiction is fantasy (where are we, part 5?)

Bought this "Young miss" for one dollar at a junk shop and found this letter folded inside.
It looks practice love letter, given its nonspecific passions. This phantom lover was one lucky pretend boyfriend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

aaargh. NaNoWriMo is a Ninja

what? it's oct 15? just two weeks to go? yikes. over the past two years i've volunteered to coordinate a few nanowrimo activities (National Novel Writing Month)for students at George Mason University. This year, being insanely busy, I forgot about NaNo, and now I'm getting messages from students and faculty about what we're gonna do this year. We've tried a few things, but what the people really want are write-ins--time in a room together writing. I find it weird, completely at odds with the loneliness of noveling, but really fun to observe.

Chris Baty visited mason a year ago to talk about NaNo, and he did a really cool routine about the tyranny of revision impulse and how everyone has a perfect first chapter.


ugh. I'm pretty sure I'm addicted to <HTML Giant>, as I'm hitting it more frequently than I look at lolcats. I know I've stopped reading anything else. and they're all so freaking juvenile . . .

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

blue meanies

so i sent out a story at the advent of mean, weak, and then started sweating it. then, I got a rejection in about 24 hours--a really super sweet rejection that felt like, well, acceptance. now i know why boys get so confused.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Very Long

Been meaning to argue with Garson and others about their own statements concerning online readability and length of stories, mainly because they seem to be over confident in their digital attention deficiencies. I admit to being attracted to shorter works, but when I inventory my short fiction reading over the past year I can confirm that these are my habits:

1) I only read short fiction online.

2) While I may gravitate toward briefer fictions, I end up reading an even mix of long and short-short.

Online fiction is much more vital, engaging, and exciting to me. I become depressed by the preserved aesthetic that pervades stories appearing in traditional lit magazines. (I hear this is changing, though, so I will endeavor to keep an open mind). As for length, it turns out that I will stick with anything that catches me with the title and opening paragraph, and I am less inclined to read anything, no matter how brief, that plods or is muted/coy.

Very Short

I love reading flash. love writing it. But I have zero idea of what I’m doing or what’s good when I’m done. Every time a flash of mine is accepted for publication, I’m stunned.

and no, I won’t read a book about how to write ‘em. However, I might read a flash about how to write flash . . .

My latest technique, and it’s a deeply flawed one, is to watch the blog discussions and try to write with a particular editor in mind. It’s a decent start gimmick that inevitably unspools and gets away from me, and I’ve never sent the finished work to the editor I had in mind.

My flash confidence is in sharp contrast to my confidence in my conventional short stories. I know how to build those, finding the biggest challenge is making them interesting to me. Once I have my own attention, I tend to be able to place the story in a nice home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

begun and tossed

On Facebook IRead should have a category for books started then set aside or thrown across the room. I just set aside Kate Atkinson's Case Histories to pick up Ken Bruen's Priest , because hey, a priest gets decapitated in the confessional. I think that's awesome, but Dean, raised Catholic, is unimpressed. He says that's where that kind of thing gets done.

Also fixed my time stamp so it no longer looks like I'm posting from the west coast.

Friday, October 3, 2008

new toys, ready to rock

I have a new porch toy (yes I know it looks like a sex chair, thanks), and I've worked out some stuff for the end of the book. An outline won't work, hence the indecipherable whiteboard. No I probably won't kill Elvis. Jackie the dog is visiting for the weekend.

I really want to write, but I bet I'll end up reading instead.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why I Miss My Beagle

I'm not a portents and omens gal, but this is not a good start to the morning. And if chihuahuas were proper dogs,
I wouldn't have had time to take a picture of my nitwittedness. Just heard that my story will appear in the Nov 15 issue of Storyglossia, which was what I was thinking about when I held the egg carton by the lid, extracted one egg, and dumped the remaining four to the floor. It's as if I had never encountered an egg carton before, and I was unprepared for its physics.

But enough of this grieving over lost breakfast and competence. Go read Paula Bomer's brilliant story, "Reading to the Blind Girl." That'll fix everything.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's the foot rub, stupid

I've had a great writing weekend despite heightened workplace stress and the collapsing economy. Last night was me at the cabin, sipping wine, listening to jazz on the XM, and sailing past page 200 in my novel draft(the Louisiana book). The end of the book revealed itself to me, and I'm both frightened and thrilled by its complexity. Hope i can live up to it. I also wrote a seduction scene that culminates in a post-coital foot rub, included as evidence of my main character's genius with women, an instinct that has been dormant all his life because he's humiliated by his weight. I think the foot rub has been sadly underutilized in mainstream erotic writing.

There's really no sex in my other novel (the West Virginia book), which is complete but without representation. Probably not smart of me but I wanted to avoid rom com cliches, and write about a mature woman who could have adventures without leaning on a romantic partner. Instead of lovers she has friends who find her independence frustrating, and of course they are always trying to get in her shit.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Austin! You're a Reader!

--was that from a hooked on phonics commercial? Back in the 4th grade the cutting edge technology was this gizmo motorized clamp that let you see only a few lines on the page of a book and slid down, forcing you to READ FAST. Because everyone knew that READING FAST was crucial.

I read Sweetheart this weekend, Chelsea Cain's (stripper name?) follow up to Heartsick. It was pretty good, much more simply constructed, short, etc. Less torture, more porn, which is always my preference. Cain's wrung her concept dry though, and I hope she moves on. Learn the Dexter lesson--two is great, three is wearying.

I also recommend Erik Secker's "The Red Door," a super neato short story in Farrago's Wainscot. All you need to know is that it features a brain dressed up as a meatloaf. Reminds me of the video for Gnarls Barkley's "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?"
bio note claims this is Secker's first fiction publication--that's great.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

a pivotal moment in my education

Alan Cheuse: here, Laura. read this.

Me: um, okay.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

cheap thrills

To celebrate my impending world-wide fame, my man took me out to the breakfast buffet to get our thwok on before going to a movie that is receiving disintegrating reviews, so naturally I was looking forward to the front end of the day more than its middle, but did I ever get that all wrong. On my way to the hot cinnamon rolls I was over taken by a mother trying to quick march her kid to a safe zone. They didn’t make it. There’s a reason why mom doesn’t serve you Fruit Loops in chocolate milk at home. The substances, both magical, are highly reactive. The kid got sick everywhere, and colorfully. I quease easily, but kid sick isn’t all that gross, mainly because they don’t chew their damn food. I say this every time: this is my last dance at the OCB.

Then in the theater lobby we were treated to the sight of a man wheezing, sneezing, and hacking all over the butter and salt station. So yay for dry popcorn! Dean had none, so traumatized was he.

Things picked up as the trailers ran, and we were derisive and rude, especially during the promo for “Nights in Rodanthe”—really? Are they serious about this? Rodanthe? Had any of the film’s makers ever been to Rodanthe? Did they think Rodanthe sounded exotic? I guess “Nights in Salvo” or “Nights in Duck” didn’t cut it, and “Nights in Frisco or Avon” would set expectations too high. Dean made shot-gun loading gestures on behalf of Diane Lane’s character when Richard Gere asked, “But who takes care of you?”

And then the movie, “Burn after Reading”—this thing was fantastic, and not just because my breakfast sucked. I concede it isn’t for everyone—remember when Fargo first came out and some people reacted very badly to the wood-chipper scene? I’m just saying that if jolts upset you and you need to know why things are happening when they do, then you may fall into too deep a concern for message.

Friday, September 12, 2008

WOO HOO! Barrelhouse Future! And Storyglossia!

Barrelhouse Invitational: The Future
The "contest" ended today, and I just got word that one of the stories from my Louisiana novel made it!!! When S read a draft he commented: "What a fun way to examine the grotesque desires of humanity"

And while I'm being undignified I might as well spill it--I placed a story in a future issue of Storyglossia as well. It has been a BRILLIANT week for me.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

it's reward an eejit day

heh. story accepted, despite my boneheadedness. (don't submit drunk, kids) Is there a good taste thing I'd be violating if I said where? Because I REALLY wanna say.

in other news, crimey writer and friend art taylor has a new blog, wherein (so far) he tackles narrative strategies and rhetoric WITHOUT cursing or invoking the Illuminati. This is a coffee in the morning blog.

I should really set up a blogroll. Maybe I'll do that right now instead of work, yeah?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

well I'm an eejit

just sent out a story to a web journal that I love fiercely, but it was one of those deals that wants the story pasted into the message as well as attached as a doc. I sent the story, but I attached the wrong file--notes for the story that prove I have no idea what I'm doing, artistically. seriously, I feel like I just mailed the editor a whitman's sampler and some old underwear. I'm sorry, universe.

Friday, September 5, 2008

McGuffined again by Tana French

Just finished reading The Likeness. Um, the first 100 pages took me weeks to slog though. The next 300 were utterly thrilling. then the last 70 or so . . . well, let's just say I now have serious trust issues with French.

In other news, I'm pretty happy with my new set of students and their creative agility, especially as concerns the Flash fic unit we're into at the moment. We read the wigleaf top 50, and at least one student has proclaimed flash as his new fave form, and Garson has written a letter to my class about process. Despite the fact that I feel about as crazed as Dalek Caan, things seem to be off to a lovely start.

Monday, September 1, 2008

pick-up trucks and academics

Home in VA now, where I will watch Gustav make a run towards Lafayette, one of my other favorite places. After my husband won a fellowship to take his PhD in Poetics at ULL (back when it was still USL), we left drought parched Ohio for rain drenched Louisiana in a heartbeat. Well really, in a battered Datsun that gave up the ghost shortly after we settled in. I determined that we needed a pick-up truck (we didn’t), and we chugged over to the nearest used lot where I selected a seriously under-powered Ford truck. Because I had made photo copies of Consumer Reports buying guides, I was considered to be the foremost expert car buyer in our family. It’s important to note that I don’t drive. We were encouraged by the approval of our friend, Cole Thompson, then a pre-novelist and drifting scion of an entrepreneurial Texas oil family, because he had a pretty blue Ford truck and declared our engine “nice and clean.”

The tail lights fizzled out before we got the vehicle back to our apartment. Luckily, Cole diagnosed it as a simple fuse issue--the first of many issues. My brothers, Doug and Sam, are both master auto mechanics. It never occurred to me to ask their advice, but if I had I’m sure they would have told me that Ford trucks are well built, they’re just a little cursed.

Months later Cole took us to his family’s 100+ year old vacation home on the Texas Gulf coast, where we got to watch his pretty blue truck slide down an algae slick boat ramp and into Aransas Bay, pulled there by the family fishing boat. That truck filled up to the dash and beyond. The groceries floated. Cole dived down to tie a rope to the truck, and when he came up a big jellyfish (cabbage head or moon) sat on his head like a beret. Cole took a lot of abuse that weekend, from his brothers, his fiancĂ©, and the insurance lady (“well honey, those things don’t float you know”), but Dean and I had a great time. We didn’t have to be the grown ups. There was also quite a bit of southern masculine interpersonal junk--the other guys at the boat launch, the not-very-loquacious guy who towed us home--all of which blew right by us.

Not sure where Cole is now, but the last we heard is that he moved "up north," which is, I guess, a euphemism for landing a university job?

Gustav and the nearest future

I'm sitting here watching (well, not watching, since there is no tv reception in WV, so let's say on dial-up and listening to xm radio), as Gustav slaps into the only city I ever loved. I'm writing a novel about new orleans, post katrina with a magic realist/speculative bent, and I feel stupid for being so surprised by another storm.

the lady just said category 2. and Anderson Cooper says Ali Velshi is tethered to something in Grand Isle. is that hot?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I'm weirder now

It has been a brutal week so far, and it's only Tuesday. But I met my students today, and they seem quite keen. I also heard from Behind The Wainscot ("weird fiction, weirder writiers"). They have accepted a story of mine for the next issue. Super news, especially since it looks like they are closing down open subs for a while. I'm excited, as this piece will be my first SF publication. Or wait, maybe it's horror? I'm not really sure. All I know is that the stories about which I am most insecure seem to be the ones people like best. My "straight" stories are getting rejected left and right.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Number 9? Number 9?

o happy day.
  • syllabus--done
  • big messy pile of documents into small neat stacks--done
  • learned how to use the tech in my classroom--done
and as a reward, the mail carrier delivered my copy of shane jones' chapbook today. I got #9. I think ryan call got #51, so I'm either 42 better or worse than he is.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chihuahua eating watermelon

today's tip: syntax is very important.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is it me? and the hot-sick

So sometime back on this blog I went ga-ga over Jody Madala’s story at . But only recently did I find Julie Britt’s “Ricky’s Condition” at the same site, and it’s also terrific. Britt’s narrator has let the wind blow her into predictable hook-ups that culminate into a sturdy, working marriage now about to end due to her husband’s terminal illness. I especially warm to the way the necessity/ubiquity of prayer in the characters’ lives doesn’t connect to worship. You pray, just like you brush your teeth, and transcendence/transformation, if only momentary, is the job of sex not Jesus. Each paragraph is uniformly smallish, and anderbo’s format gives the story the look of an epic poem. The links between the Britt and Madala stories are ones that I can’t ignore—both cure the grief of cancer with erotic restoration. Is this a sub-sub-genre I’ve been avoiding all my life?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

fish are not metaphors

why did I not find this before?!?!? Read "The Absence or Addition of Fish," by Scott Wrobel right now.

yeah, new design thing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Duffers of the Apocalypse"/Heartsick

Lotta stuff to read this week, including a draft chapter of a novel by a guy I'll call "S," (because his name is Sam.) More on the draft later, what I really want to write about here and now are Victor Gischler's short story and Chelsea Cain's novel, both of which I CONSUMED very recently. "Duffers" is, shockingly, about golf and the apocalypse. I don't know why I expected the title to be metaphorical. Neither is a subject that attracts me, although I am hugely amused by's exhortations to "explore the apocalyptic community" whenever you pull up Gischler's novels. But back to the story--despite my low level interest, Gischler's prose is

I stop here to remind the world that I am a rabid fan of Poe's unity of effect and all it's repercussions (I can see "S" wincing), and I am religious concerning how a short story is read. Poe tells us that reading a short tale should be an uninterrupted experience. Students often interpret this as an instruction to the reader, but really it is the writer's responsibility to create an object that captures the reader and holds her for the duration--making discipline unnecessary.

--Gischler's prose is immediately riveting. I saw that when I printed the freebie and read the first line. So I saved it for a hostage situation. Waiting room at the doctor's office today. Fox TV blaring. Repulsive sick people. Perfection. I'm not sure one should read this story in any other setting. When the worms kick in the drama really starts to rock. I left the pages in a dog eared copy of Golf Digest.

Tana French's sequel to In the Woods is just out, but Chelsea Cain's Heartsick has already done the job for me. This book needs no promo from me so I'll just say that from a writing pov, I was intrigued that the big hot-sick scene actually happens at the end, and not two thirds of the way through which is the way so many pervy thrillers play out. What that means is that book actually has a cool ending. I never say that. Caveat: whole lotta pawwp psychology goin' on.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Yellow Medicine, a Book Report

You’ve already seen reviews that tell you what Anthony Neil Smith’s Yellow Medicine is like, so I’m going to focus on my own interests. I just finished this fast paced thriller, and yet the stuff in it—bad cops, terrorists in the heartland, and general all around punkliness—is not as interesting as its complicated narrator, Billy Lafitte. To put it bluntly, BL is full of shit for two thirds of the book, making a lot of claims about what kind of guy he is, trying to invent a belief system to rationalize his nearly equal capacity for love and violence. He’s so consistently full of shit that the characteristic becomes the crucial vulnerability through which his power is filtered—a feature that makes this book vibrate.

Then, on page 167, Billy does something truly horrifying, and does it with an efficiency that is so unsettling I would argue he is insane until the end of the book. His uncertainties and bluster coalesce over an unspeakable transgression, and from that point on he has “no filter,” as the character Drew, the object of his most tender feelings, puts it.

Three craft notes: 1) allowing Billy to tell his own story is a big, bold move. I’m still mulling that choice, because while he is a fascinating observer, he would also be fascinating to observe. 2) Smith gently manipulates chronology, using a bit of film rhetoric that pairs nicely with Billy’s habit of frequently referencing TV and movie models of behavior. 3) Short book, short chapters, wild mix of sentiment and blood. Yes, that’s how to do it.

oh, and I almost forgot--a perfect last paragraph.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Why Fiction Matters/All fiction is fantasy part eleventy

Shane Jones wants me to give him about 10 bucks for his new Greying Ghost chapbook, which will have to come out of my donation to the Democratic Party of Virginia. Hope he’s happy about that. So if VA goes red again, blame Shane.

People I have terrorized in the past have been quietly promoting my stories, much to my pleasure and shame. Thanks Mike and Ryan. Sorry about those MWF schedules. I will strive to become a better person.

And finally, Barry-I'm-not-a-monk-Graham says he loves me, but he also says he loves this chick, so I'm not picking out china patterns yet.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

home again, home again, jiggity jig

We escaped the flies and then the mosquitos, and now we are home and nostalgic. sent out a couple of stories, and i requested a copy of "Duffers of the Apocalypse" from Gischler, who is giving away really sweet little pdfs of the story, complete with art and blurbs from the anthology in which it appeared--Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir.

Eager to read it, but there is a down side to reading fiction by any of the PWG alumni. I start talking like I just walked out of an episode of Deadwood, which is, as anyone can tell you, unbecoming of a layyy-deee.
Didn't manage to write a lot while we were away, and you can tell because I have a tan. For shame.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Last day of vacation, and it looks like Beelzebub wants me to spend it writing and reading-I put the dogs outside this morning only to find the cottage consumed by a cloud of flies. Then the flies covered the dogs. And me. Don’t know if the flies are this thick all the way to the beach, but there is definitely an apocalyptic ambiance.

So, obedience. Blake Butler wants us to write more, read more, write about what we’ve read. More. Will do. This morning:
Barry Graham’s “Cats and Dogs; Like Rain” from Thieves Jargon. The story violates my ban against substituting animal vulnerability for human complexity, but I loved it anyway for three reasons. 1, the image of a dog eating scalloped potatoes from the trash, 2, the noisiest character has the most to hide (I fall for that trick every time), and 3, the larger idea that negligence is so incredibly violent.

“Smoke and Mirrors,” kindly sent to me by the author Paul Byall –this story placed first in the New South fiction contest. A really fine piece of work that doesn’t summarize well, but it describes that condition of investing too much in a hollow relationship. You know it’s gonna be sad, substantial, and possibly-but no guarantees-redemptive, but what keeps me reading is the voice-a narrator who is all “I’m in control for ninety percent of this journey.” This tale is a heartbreaker, complete with a Crystal and a Kevin and a kitchen table scene to make you howl.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"But you said you wanted to see ponies"

That was the most frequently muttered line of the morning as thousands of us stood in the marsh muck awaiting the arrival of some several dozen wild ponies made to swim from Assateague over to Chincoteague to be auctioned off. Pony Penning is a Big Event, but our travel timing is not deliberate, so we hemmed and hawed quite a bit before forcing ourselves out of bed and onto our bikes to watch the landing. I’m glad we did, it was actually kind of thrilling.

But what we also witnessed, over and over, was an almost perfect miscommunication between fathers and daughters—men, bright eyed and grinning with excitement (lookit them stallions fight!) while their little sweethearts lost pink plastic sandals in the muck. A lot of tears, but not a lot of sympathy, not even from me. OMG Ponies indeed. Books are always better than the real thing. At least that’s how I feel right now, cooling my well scrubbed heels in a waterman’s cottage that looks like Dr. Caligari’s vacation home.

Having an awesome time, writing a little, reading even less. The naps are powerful, profound.

Friday, July 25, 2008

rejection beach and stress city

aargh, going away tomorrow, but my work-at-the-beach vacation just went all pear-shaped as my must-get-done list tripled today. now the whole thing is just gonna be tele-work. and yet, I know that if i truly had free time I wouldn't use it to write. with work piling up, just begging to be neglected, I'll feel very creative. We are behind on prepping for travel and final grades though, so i'll be missing the reading at Politics & Prose tonight celebrating the Paycock Press release of Stress City: A Big Fat Book of Fiction by 51 DC Guys, ed. by Richard Peabody. Sorry fellas.

got a big, cold rejection yesterday, but one that occurred at the same time that I received a really swell attaboy from a reader, so the picking-up-and-dusting-off process went very smoothly.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

why I’m not a reviewer/bookmarks

done finished that Down River. not as much action as King of Lies, lots of painfully revealing discussions, and then a bunch of neat stuff at the end. one character I thought for sure was going to die, but it didn’t happen. so that’s cool.

bookmarks. I will no longer use uninteresting bookmarks, like bookstore receipts or pieces of paper or leather designed to be bookmarks. I have a pack of drink coasters with British sports and beer logos, and those work great.

bookmarked in this photo--Christy Zink's story, "Taking Cover," from Electric Grace; Still more Fiction by Washington Area Women, and page 23 of ANS's Yellow Medicine. no, i do not plan to read these books simultaneously.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm going to grocery store hell

so what i really wanted to blog about today was the culture of privacy and the kerfuffle over at Helix, but I lost my head of steam when I stopped into my neighborhood supermarket and noticed that they were playing Christian pop music--again. What a drag, especially since this is one of those Asian super stores with amazing stuff and colors everywhere, and up until this week, sound tracked with loopy, upbeat tunes including a lot of '80s b-sides. So I worked up the nerve to call the manager and complain--gently. She sounded terribly surprised that the music was Christian at all, asking me a couple of times, "Are you sure?" Which made me feel even worse, because of course it's not so much the Christian-ness that drove me out of the store, it was the major suckiness of the music. Had they been playing Mahalia Jackson, I'd be all over that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Favorite New Yorker Story

Too bad so many people are rising to The New Yorker’s bait. New Yorker cartoons can’t provoke for the same reason they fail to amuse. They’re just too obvy.

My resentment for the New Yorker goes a long way back and has everything to do with its influence on literary fiction, especially during the ‘80s. Someone once gave me a stack of New Yorker mags (hey you write fiction, you’ll like this pile of white man sorrow), and one of the issues had some music doodad insert that tweeted out a holiday song, like a musical birthday card. On New Year’s Day (we may have been under the weather) the chime went off on its own, so naturally D grabbed a large knitting needle and pounded it through the stack like a stake through a vampire’s heart. That’s my favorite New Yorker story.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

what i'm reading for

urrg. the writing is coming slooooowly, and by slowly I mean three to five word clumps. not even sentences. I think the problem is that I’ve entered a very plot-ty area and I am resisting its obligations.

so I write a bit, then take a break and read a little of John Hart’s Down River. Don’t ask me how the book is, you can’t trust my opinion. (So far the main character is having a lot of cryptic convos with old men. Oh, and he’s recollecting his painful youth) I read Hart because I noticed while reading his breakthrough novel King of Lies that I make a lot of the same writing choices he does, so much so that I can almost predict what the main character is about to notice or reason out. Content wise, I have nothing in common with Hart. And his characters are incredibly humorless and daddy-conflicted. But there is something eerily familiar about the rhythms, the imagery, and the attention. Maybe I’ve read all the same writers he has but came away with a sunnier disposition. Flannery O’Connor was funny, man.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Well Obama is in my town today, which has me feeling democratic so I thought I'd go over to the StorySouth Top 10 to consume a few more stories and maybe even vote. Deadline is July 17. But now I'm stuck. I just love that XJ Kennedy story, "Grinder," and I really don't wanna. And I think you know why. Right now the story has 1% of the vote. dang dang dang. Oh, and I miss John Edwards too. I'm a sap.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008


I took a few years off from writing short stories so I could work on novel projects, and as I ease back into the online fiction scene I am thrilled by the new flavor of feedback I’m getting: I read your story instead of doing work.

4 or 5 years ago response to my fiction was a little more serious, a little more practiced, a little more practical. More about what I’d accomplished than what the reader experienced. Even my rejections are more gut level: an editor recently wrote that my submission “just didn’t do it for me. I don’t know why.”

I’m working on a theory, and it doesn’t have much to do with me.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I’m not sure I want to write about this because I’m feeling both insecure and excited about the Louisiana novel, but I don’t want to be superstitious and I don’t want to forget this moment. Earlier this week I was overcome when I realized several parallels between my plot and that of Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven. I had to do the inventory a few different ways before I convinced myself that the similarities were not so substantial—after all I’ve never even read LoH. What followed then was a rush of new ideas, all of which are careening into the absurd, and as far from serious science fiction as I can scramble. What am I talking about? Well, for starters I’m bringing back Elvis and I’m giving women a third eye. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

stuffed animus

my paid duties are light these days but when something needs doing it announces its urgency like a ghost slap to the face—think poltergeist administration. you’d think the down time would be good for writing, but the randomness of work-work has me on edge, distracted. And more than a little dull. Still, I have it together enough to mix vice with virtue—I added at least three miles to my walking routine by looping out to the bookstore to buy a new noir before going out to the second nearest liquor store instead of the one that’s pretty damned close to the bookstore. On the hike home I was kinda hoping that if I was destined to be hit by a car that today was the day. Imagine the paramedics opening my backpack to find murder book and bottle of Bacardi. Any other day, I’d be carrying student papers.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New Writer: Jody Madala

I just fell for "I HAVE CANCER! I HAVE CANCER!" Hard. The story is by Jody Madala, featured at and while it covers familiar territory and familiar materials, it seems to do so in a completely energetic, irresistible way. Plus, the story is followed by Madala's long bio which reads like an essay for match dot com. "IHC " is her first short story publication, apparently (way to hit one out of the park), so she probably has no idea what an author's note typically contains. Or, and I like this idea better, she is treating the author's bio as a form worthy of interrogation.

Okay, this question is for the world's workshop: That title?!?! What does it do to your reading?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

early summer action

just when i think everybody is shutting down for the season, Smokelong Quarterly comes out with a double issue whopper to celebrate their fifth birthday. All the kool kids are featured, and if you want to know what fiction is right now, read these stories and chase down the writers' links. I have a lovely virtual scrapbook of rejections from SQ, by the way.

Also, two trade paper copies of Anthony Neil Smith's novel, Yellow Medicine, showed up on the Mystery/Crime shelves at my local. I'm going to buy one today. Pretty book, and being named Smith places it in very close prox to Martin Cruz Smith, which has to be a plus. Plot summary on the jacket is almost unintelligible. Cool. Maybe it's a Joe R. Lansdale kinda thing?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Story South Top Ten

they're up and ready fer votin'! I'm a little bummed that Shane Jones' "I Will Unfold You with My Hairy Hands" didn't make the cut, but congratulations to all the fine writers on the list. Nice range of journals, too.

Also, just finished reading Tana French's In The Woods. Dang, it's good, even if . . . sorry, no spoilers here. But I will say that the narrator is a flirty, charming Irish detective who enjoys giving foot rubs to his partner.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Pura Vida

I think I like the idea of being a “regional’ writer, even though my native region—Northeastern Ohio—lacks the detail required for fiction. I have one very long Ohio story that queases me out so much I identify the setting as Indiana. I strongly prefer to write about places I’ve visited, from the point of view of permanent visitors (moved there, or are returning after a long absence)—characters with the privilege of critical margin. I have to admit though, that I favor characters who can vacate their regions without losing identity, and I am keenly aware that my drama is limited by the escape hatches I install.

I learned this week that Hobart online has accepted one of my stories. Don’t know when it’ll go up, but I’m thrilled. The story is about Belize, Guatemala, and the perilous romance of travel. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bad Brain

These feel like related issues in that they flirt with superstition and mystic irrationality but really speak to the fact that my psychology hates me—

1) I dreamed about the West Virginia novel being published and immediately turned into an indie film, and conditions I thought were crucial had been altered with no loss of effect—main character male not female, the setting was a village in northern England not rural West Virginia, things like that. The dream bugs me because I’m always harassing my students to make sure, even in their so called genre or pop writing, that their choices are always essential, in-extractable and un-swappable.

2) I’m going back through the first 100 pages of the Louisiana novel and I’m really surprised and pleased at how naturally it writes itself. Even when I don’t want to write, I know that I can open up the file and it will change my disposition.

Check out youtube clips of Derren Brown’s stuff. It helps.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sort by . . . or the Anxiety of Anthology

The myth of theme as anything other than an open container for intelligence has always interested me. I love arbitrary organization as long as it remains permeable and aware, and the best literary collections tend to be the ones that play with their own assumptions of content or push the extremity of formal restriction. The theme is interrogated from page 1.

At the same time, I’m deeply attracted to narrower venues that promise certain emotional outcomes, as in permanently dedicated horror or crime collections. I wish I could claim to be a reliably “Noir Writer,” but my dark fiction is more opportunistic than it is seriously crafted for excitement.

I have earned other labels though, as I’ll have a story in an anthology for Washington Area+Women Writers. Delightful, but these are two identities I don’t really inhabit or understand from an aesthetic point of view. I know what DC means in terms of food and interior decorating, but beyond that I’m clueless/curious.

I am reminded of my colleague's experience with a library assistant who refused to copy several essays and place them on reserve for students to check out. The librarian wrote that he could not execute the request as the collection "would make an anthropology."

Saturday, May 31, 2008

why it's important to google yerself

According to the Paycock Press "Forthcoming Titles" website, I will have a story in the anthology
Gravity Dancers: Even More Fiction by Washington Area Women, due out in Spring 2009. This is the 4th volume in the series, put together by Richard Peabody, whom you know as a poet, fiction writer, teacher, and editor of Gargoyle Magazine since its inception in 1976. Here he is in a WETA interview about the series.

How this kind of thing happens: on the recommendation of The Happy Booker (aka Wendi Kaufman), RP invited me to contribute, and he did say something to the effect of "if you're invited, you're in," but I'm always expecting takebacks. Now, did he like the story I sent him in January? Or is he gonna ask for something else?

it has been a cool weekend, yeah?

Friday, May 30, 2008

an indelicacy


"what your cat thinks of In Rainbows" up at dogzplot's flash blog.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


We're back from the beach, and while it was too cool to swim, we were treated to some heartbreaking sunsets. As far as the novel goes, I didn't write much new material, but I did manage to whack some sense into my chronology. so far each "chunk" has been drifting in time, but now I have begun the messy but grown-up work of writing the story in order--you know, with some respect and concern for dependency.
I also need to bite the email bullet, but before that happens I must scrub the sand and salt out of my chiweenies.

Friday, May 23, 2008

the plot doctor

dean, bird scoping gear slung over both shoulders, on his way out to the bug-infested dunes of hammock hills: "remember, in the kind of loose futures market of the type you're imagining, as soon as any two parties collude, the system starts to collapse."

This, with emphatic finger pointing.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I did a little good writing today before moving into a long bout of bad writing wherein my main characters have a long, tagless argument about a plot point I don't quite understand yet. Like my friend used to say about The Olive Garden: a whole lotta food, not a lotta yummy.

meanwhile, back home where the ocean is just an idea and the mattresses are not so lumpy, my most sentimental student is trying to arrange a BBQ for his classmates. the semester concluded last week, and I am afraid he is about to learn that summer break is more powerful than comradeship.

Monday, May 19, 2008

beach reading and writing

so we're here, after a long, hard semester:

and it occurs to me that we've never rented a cottage that didn't have a copy of Ira Levin's Boys From Brazil on the shelves. French fries and beer for lunch. See ya--

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kathe Koja and Lia Matera

I miss Kathe Koja, the horror writer. She used to write gruesome, sexual, psychological dark fantasy novels with artists as main characters, and the books were all pretty much the same, but each sort of lurched the argument—whatever it was—forward in giant, sloppy, steps. I think of her as splatterpunk’s Flannery O’Connor, in that she seemed to be writing the same problem over and over again. I guess that’s why she had to stop. Now she writes for the “Young Adult” market and her website doesn’t even name check those lost novels, The Cipher, Bad Brains, Skin (I think the critical favorite?), and Strange Angels (when she overstayed her welcome.) A collection of short horror, Extremities and an erotic novel Kink (unreadable) capped off the 90s and her work for an adult readership.

Lia Matera is one of them there lady-lawyer-writers. What I specifically miss are her Laura Di Palma mysteries, which were super-short and power packed. And they somehow managed to make an iffy cousin-love situation kinda hot.

Beach in 4 days

I haven’t made many entries lately because I’ve been sick for almost two weeks now, and every shred of focus is going into comments on student writing. I’ve got my grades in, but with the novelers, grades are almost insultingly meaningless. My friend S said, when I mentioned a colleague picking up the bar tab for a group of writers: “I know students are strapped, but they really want your time and attention much more than they want your money.” Grades are like money, to my mind. And the whole thing reminds me that this was a very tough semester, beginning with me un-hiring a boatload of excellent instructors because enrollments were too soft. It was a frustrating time, and we weren’t getting accurate information or appropriate support from the administration, but when I tried to explain myself to the incoming chair he misunderstood my rant/wail as a threat. Wanted to know if I wanted more money. I told him I wanted more time, could he get me some of that?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Undergraduate Novels--I Am Fearless

In addition to teaching my conventional short fiction workshop, I’m also piloting an online novel writing workshop for eight students, most of whom are continuing projects begun in f2f seminars I called “Imagining the Novel.” ItN was all about giving undergrads permission to try what was really in their heads and to expose them to what it feels like to write in the long form. I also wanted it to be a genuine workshop wherein the writing was discussed as it was produced. From what I’ve heard, many novel workshop sessions are about writing and not necessarily about the writing. By the end of term, each ItN participant had written a stack of 80-100 pages that had been read and remarked upon. A handful of those writers really felt they were onto something, and so the online continuation was set up. The course was designed for collaborative teaching, but my partner hasn’t been able to participate, which is a drag. However, the energy of the writers has been outstanding, and they are reading each other’s works with voracious passion. I am officially exhausted.

It’s not that I am in any way qualified to teach novel writing to groups of undergrads, but I’m the only one in our prestigious program who is willing. I came up with the workshop scheme after meeting so many recent freshmen who claimed to have written one or more novels already. Which lead me to wonder, just how do we learn to write big books anyway? And does that process have to be more private than short story writing? And why offer the opportunity for serious community only to grad students?

Yeah I know the answer to that last question. So there are a lotta ponies and wizards out there. Big deal.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

well, okey dokey then

Made it through a query barrier, and tomorrow I send off two hard copies and a disc copy. I'm behind at work and quite sick too, so that helps me keep things in perspective and not get too encouraged.

I did get mom an awesome blouse for mother's day. I think it's way better than a tempurpedic pillow.

crawling off to croak now--

Friday, May 2, 2008

Plots With Guns is a zombie?

In case you haven't heard, Plots With Guns is back from the dead, with Anthony Neil Smith editing. This is great news for those of us who despaired to see so many excellent noir lit venues sort of shrivel up over the past few years. Smith is a terrific, nimble writer, and his story "Louder Gospel" from Storyglossia made the "notables" list, quite deservedly. He's also a very sharp, generous editor, as I learned when I submitted a bloated draft of "Petey Prickles vs. Funeral Steve" for his crime issue of Mississippi Review. That experience was so positive that I wrote "Folk Hero" just for PWG, something I'd never done before. Shortly after that story was published, PWG ceased operations. Smith's blog, Crimedog One, is also fun, so check it out.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

odd week already

2 rejections
1 acceptance
154 royalty bucks
1 productive cough

can calamity be far behind?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ah!!!! do I freaking LOVE this!!!

Shane Jones' "I Will Unfold You with my Hairy Hands"
from the notables list. (cheered up now)

they're up!

The year's notables!

First impressions, a little grumpy--James Terry gets a nod for "Weed Man," but not for "Orgasm," a much more sophisticated, less exploitative story. And by exploitative I refer to the main character's limited dramatic agency. In "Orgasm," everyone has all the critical tools they need, it's an even field. I feel the same way about "Mammals," by Nick Antosca, but in this case I'm just being a big ol' squeamish girl.

I have no horses in this race--haven't published in a couple of years since I've been working on the novels (how's that for a presumptive excuse?), but I did make the list three times before. It's a great feeling, and my congratulations go out to all the authors and eds!

oh wait--"Orgasm" was published in '08, so not eligible. note to self: remember for next years nomination . . .

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

9pm? we'll see . . .

Notable Stories list on its way?

just a sliver of good news please, I'm on a diet

Someone likes twenty four words I wrote—thirty nine with title plus “by Laura Ellen Scott.” (More on that the realer it gets.) But in the mean time I’m reminded that fiction writers can get hung up on quantity, an illusion of substance that inevitably leads to anxiety. The poets I know don’t fret about limited resources and commodity with regard to things made out of words. But with every semester I meet batches of new writers trembling under the weight of something—is it foggy careerism? So I ask them to embrace two notions, even if it’s just pretend: 1) it’s okay to be a big-letter-A “Artist,” and 2) you will never run out of stories.

They believe one of these things but not the other.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Garson, slow the f**k down

If Margueritte Duras was a sports nut in the midwest with a very short attention span she'd write
"Diversion," and publish it in FRiGG.

Also enjoyed "Young Frankenstein," but it made me weepy (just back from New Orleans which always amps up the 'mones). No heart to read "Ditched," just yet.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Research Mission (Wish me luck)

We’re going to Jazzfest this weekend, and that makes me quite happy. We go to New Orleans at least twice a year, and our favorite music spots are Snug Harbor to see anyone and The Spotted Cat to see The Jazz Vipers. My current novel project is set in New Orleans, as are two short stories that I have out for consideration. Wouldn’t it be cool if StorySouth organized link lists of their stories sorted by locale for us desk-chained tourists?

This pic was taken last August during Satchmofest. The statue is called "Old Man River." He was fully naked on Friday, but he was draped with a sheet Saturday morning. A tourist from Minnesota enlisted my help ("That's not right, that's art"), and while we attempted to disrobe him, her husband looked on. We failed, managing to yank the sheet even lower, making OMR look pretty hot.