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? Anderbo.com and the hot-sick

So sometime back on this blog I went ga-ga over Jody Madala’s story at anderbo.com . 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 amazon.com'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.