I’m happy to share that today is release day for Amina Gautier’s newest collection of short fiction, Now We Will Be Happy, which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction and is being published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Amina and I met this January at the Key West Literary Seminar, where we were in the same workshop. She’s a fantastic writer, a fellow Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts alum, and I’m excited that we get another of her books. Her first collection, At Risk, won the Flannery O’Connor Book Prize and came out in 2012. At Risk was one of the first books that was reviewed on Briefly Noted when I co-edited the feature with Claire Harlan-Orsi for Prairie Schooner‘s blog.

Here’s the jacket copy of her latest:

Now We Will Be Happy is a prize-winning collection of stories about Afro-Puerto Ricans, U.S.-mainland-born Puerto Ricans, and displaced native Puerto Ricans who are living between spaces while attempting to navigate the unique culture that defines Puerto Rican identity. Amina Gautier’s characters deal with the difficulties of bicultural identities in a world that wants them to choose only one.

The characters in Now We Will Be Happy are as unpredictable as they are human. A teenage boy leaves home in search of the mother he hasn’t seen since childhood; a granddaughter is sent across the ocean to broker peace between her relatives; a widow seeks to die by hurricane; a married woman takes a bathtub voyage with her lover; a proprietress who is the glue that binds her neighborhood cannot hold on to her own son; a displaced wife develops a strange addiction to candles. 

Crossing boundaries of comfort, culture, language, race, and tradition in unexpected ways, these characters struggle valiantly and doggedly to reconcile their fantasies of happiness with the realities of their existence.

Way to go, Amina! Congrats!

Cover art for TFQ August 2014 by Stephen Mead.

Check out my short fiction piece “In Her Place on Capitol Ave, 1917″ that’s live today on The Four Quarters Magazine, an online literary journal from India with varied tastes and global consciousness.

This is the second excerpt I’ve placed from my historical novel, The Uninitiated, along with a longer piece that came out in Boulevard last autumn. Overall this is my twenty-second short fiction publication, with two more forthcoming later in the year. Out of all those, however, this is the first time I’ve had a story published overseas. Something notable, I think, even if it is published online overseas. I’ll take it though, seeing as expanding my global awareness is pretty much the theme of the summer.

Thanks so much to Nabina Das and the other editors at TFQ for making this possible.

paris brunch

Brunch in Montparnasse.

Nicole and the girls stopped by for a three-week visit recently. Here are some highlights:

-We met in Paris and stayed four nights. It didn’t seem like the best idea to jump into such a bustling world metropolis right off the bat, but things actually worked out better in the end, I think. We had an apartment in Montparnasse through AirBnb–so there was a kitchen, separate rooms for adults and children, and the flat usually was home to two boys the same ages as our girls, so there were toys and appropriately sized beds that allowed for a long nap once the family arrived. Maybe I’m remembering things rosier than they actually were, but the time difference wasn’t such a massive problem as I feared it would be. For one thing, we kept finding ourselves stranded from the apartment late at night. Since we didn’t bring along car seats, this meant long walks through the city after midnight. Maddie put in a lot of miles over a couple nights, with complaints that seemed to taper off as the routine of getting lost and marching, marching, marching took hold. I think she was a little excited/scared to be out so late too, even if it only felt like late afternoon to her body.

I had one night in Paris before the family arrived and also spent the night wandering around Montparnasse. As someone who’s spent a lot of time walking at night, Paris after dark was irresistible.

Notre Dame along the Seine.

Notre Dame along the Seine.

In general the girls got along pretty well in Paris. Everything was new and exciting. We had that on our side. Look, the Eiffel Tower! Look, Notre Dame! Look, Van Gogh’s Starry Night! Look, jugglers on a Seine quay! Only about every twenty minutes did one of us stop and ask, “What the hell were we thinking?”

Clara developed an interesting habit of shouting out dire warnings at inopportune times. Like, “Everybody get off this airplane now!” And, “Oh, no! The Eiffel Tower is falling down! It’s broken!” Luckily she doesn’t actually have the shining. None of her visions came to pass.

I was pleasantly surprised how helpful a lot of Parisians were too. Like when we kept getting trapped in Metro gates because there isn’t enough time to push through two small kids while carrying luggage, stroller, etc, so the backpack or an arm gets clamped in the gate. Or the lady at our neighborhood bakery understanding my broken Franglais, sometimes sprinkled with Latin, sometimes Spanish. The waiters in the cafes we visited were particularly helpful. Very surprising. Checking three times if, “Yes? You know steak tartare is raw meat?” before being served at Au Pied de Fouet. Getting high chairs and complimenting Nicole’s French. Always having special desserts for kids–ones that didn’t have egg wash baked on top, so Clara could eat dessert too, even with her egg allergy. Not batting an eye when Clara knocked a glass of water over the table. (Even though I haven’t gotten over the fact that she washed the au poivre sauce off my steak. I’d been waiting my whole life for that sauce!) I feel like most places in Paris (within our price range anyway, which maybe pointed us in the right direction) were pretty accommodating.

-Next we took the train to Stuttgart. After sweating it out in the city, the castle and surrounding forests at Solitude were perfect. We ran around the tunnels and corridors of die Schloss, hiked in the woods, went to the city for dinners, kicked a football around the lawn. We also napped.

Maddie contemplating Solitude in the fog.

Maddie contemplating Solitude in the fog.

It seems like we didn’t do a ton in Germany. As Solitude was home, we mostly tried to recover from Paris and prepare for an upcoming trip to Rome. There were a few events around the Akademie, including an exhibition of fellow Samir Harb’s comics Introduction to [Arch]comicology about Palestine. There was getting groceries and walking out to see the horses that live here. There was finding snails and slugs and frogs on the hiking paths. Getting stuck in rainstorms on the way to Bärenschlössle im Rotwildpark, twice! Mostly we just enjoyed Solitude. It’s an amazing place up here and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with my family.

-Then there was Rome. We stayed four days at Lido di Ostia, a beach resort community on the coast. This is technically part of Rome, about an hour away by train, and was the seaport of ancient Rome. More recently, the area experienced a boom in the post-war years as a tourist destination for modern middle class Romans, and apparently hasn’t been redecorated in quite some time. Everything was so wonderfully 1960s, when Federico Fellini and other Italian cinema icons transformed this stretch of beach into the Roman Riviera. Between a couple days at the beach and strolling the boardwalk, we took the train to the city and saw some sights from ancient and modern Rome.

The girls on Lido di Ostia.

The girls on Lido di Ostia.

Italy kind of surprised me. I guess I’d always thought of Italy as more-or-less the same as Western Europe, with some Southern European flair. The loud cousin, right? However, I was reminded much more of the Middle East than anything being there. This makes sense, as Italy is the gateway between Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Just walking the streets. The attitudes and postures, the way people spoke and argued. I found it very interesting.

-A few more days at Solitude followed before a return trip to Paris by train. We stayed at one of the American style hotels by the airport. The girls were besides themselves they were so happy. Room service. Big rooms with hideaway couch beds. Showers with drains that worked. Kids’ play rooms off the cafe. Maddie wasn’t shy about letting me know that this was what she expected when we told her we’d be staying in some hotels in Europe. Duly noted, kid.

-Below are some more photos. (The good ones were taken by Nicole.) Just a couple more weeks before I head home.

 

 

A couple publication updates from the last week to share.

First, you can now preorder the summer 2014 double-issue of Heavy Feather Review, themed “Vacancies.” The issue will feature my story “Attend the Way,” along with work by a bunch of others. Check out the full roster here.

Second, because of an overload of work, and a switch from being an annual to a bi-annual, my story “Shame Cycle” has been moved to issue 62 of Gargoyle, which should arrive around Christmastime.

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Reading on the steps of the castle during Solitude Night. (Photo by Kai Linke.)

A few highlights from the past couple weeks:

-A big one being that I read as part of Solitude Night here at the Akademie on July 5. The experience was a pretty cool one, not the least because my literature compatriots–Irish poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin and German playwright Anne Habermehl–shared their outstanding work. Also, the stage was built on the steps of die Schloss, with the reader facing the castle and the audience seated on the steps, facing the valley. I read from two pieces, some of “On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown” and the opening of the new novel I’ve been working on here. It was kind of nerve-wracking to present work that was written only a few weeks ago, but I feel like it went over okay. A number of people have told me they enjoyed the reading–and since they’re passing on good news, I have no reason to doubt them.

Thanks so much to Claudia Gehre for setting up the reading so beautifully and introducing us readers. And thanks to Akademie Director Jean-Baptiste Joly for selecting me to read on the big night.

-Also, if you haven’t seen, Akademie Schloss Solitude is now accepting applications for its next cycle of fellows, with residencies from 2015 to 2017. Residencies are typically pretty long, 6-8 months or so, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. Stipends, lodging, and studio space are provided, along with some travel and project expenses. Writers, artists, dancers, musicians, mathematicians, chess players, art administrators, philosophers–it’s a pretty big tent out here. I’ll vouch that Akademie Schloss Solitude is certainly an amazing place to write and create, and hike, and is pretty centrally located if you’d want to do some sideline travel while in Europe. The deadline is Oct 31, 2014. Here’s a list of conditions and benefits for the fellowship. Check it out.

-After Jordan I didn’t do much traveling the past two weeks. Explored more of Stuttgart on foot, found new areas of the forest to hike, managed to turn a two hour leisurely walk to the bank into a five hour power-hike after I took a wrong turn in Wildpark. Oops.

-Today I did venture out of Stuttgart again with a trip up to Landstuhl. There really isn’t too much there, except the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, with Ramstein Air Base also in the area, so it has certain significance to recent US military history–and more to the point, a character in my new novel (Jim Allen from my story “Welcome Home” is a big character in the book) is sent to the medical center for a brief time. So it was kind of research for the novel, kind of just being curious to see what a US military town in Germany is like. I wasn’t sure if I should still go up there. There are a million other places to visit here that offer more in the way of culture and sights. The trip itself was longish, about three hours each way by train, although a lot of that was through the scenic Rhineland area, so not much to complain about there. So I went.

landstuhl

Landstuhl, stadtmitte.

This morning I was surprisingly emotional about going to Landstuhl. The medical center served as the primary hospital to treat injuries suffered in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it’s seen a lot of traffic in the last decade. I read last night that the hospital was for several years among the world’s most active hubs for organ donations. A sort of benign fact on its face, but devastating in its implication. This really stuck with me this morning.

I didn’t do much while there. Walked up to the medical center and around its gates. Everything is secured so there really wasn’t much to see besides dozens of signs promising that bad things will happen if you take any pictures of the facility. (Note: I really admire those who live by the edict that when someone tells you to stop filming, that’s the most important time to be filming. Further note: I’m not one of those people.) So nothing profound, but I’m glad I went. Like a lot of things, the process of getting somewhere is most of the trip. And I did get a few details that will make it into the first draft of the novel.

-Arriving back into Stuttgart was pretty interesting this evening. There was a big Palestinian demonstration going on all along Königstraße, a pedestrian drag through the main tourist and cultural part of the city. A little different from what I expected walking out of Hauptbahnhof train station. Lots of flag waving, some chanting, many head scarfs, a few burqas. Polizei in full-on paramilitary gear, berets, rifles, some with riot gear handy, just in case. (I’m assuming a lot of the police presence was just in case a group of fascist, anti-immigrant thugs showed up for a confrontation–something becoming more common in some places–but I’m not really sure.) Meanwhile, the Schlossplatz (castle square) is hosting its annual week of free jazz performances. So, while the the protest wraps up, there’s a jazz quintet on a bandstand playing “Everybody wants to be a Cat” from Disney’s The Aristocats (you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried) with a bunch of hipster swing kids strutting their stuff. Kind of a strange dynamic. And a nice little microcosm for how this whole trip has gone.

 

 

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Sunset at the Dead Sea.

I met up with friend-of-the-blog Country Club Bill this weekend in Jordan, where he’s been the past couple weeks. While not on the itinerary going into this summer, the opportunity to check out Jordan during the first days of Ramadan was too good to pass up. Also, with my first month at Akademie Solitude coming to a close, it was nice to reconnect with a familiar face and take a second short-notice trip to the Middle East this half decade. (See: Tel Aviv, in 2011, for the other.)

-Started off with a couple days at a Dead Sea resort. Was unable to sink myself in the salty waters, which was pretty cool. Coated up with healing mud, so I now look much younger and vitalized. Probably the coolest part about the Dead Sea was how much little kids screamed after their parents forced them into the water. If you have any cuts or scrapes, the water really burns. My nipples were so chafed after twenty minutes or so. Plus, with the high saline factor in the water, it evaporates extremely slowly–so the kids couldn’t get the burning off. Really cool though. The sea itself is pretty narrow, and shrinking rapidly, since its feeder (the River Jordan) is all sucked up by local agriculture. A guy could probably float across over to the Israel side in an afternoon if he was so inclined. In lieu of that, the lights of Jerusalem were easily seen at night beyond a ridge on the other side.

View of Amman from Wild Jordan cafe, with the Citadel in the distance.

View of Amman from Wild Jordan cafe, with the Citadel in the distance.

-After dominating CCB at foosball, I felt pretty good about myself and considered trying to hustle some of the German guys who were at the health spa part of the resort. It’s a good thing I didn’t. (In full disclosure, CCB did win the billiards portion of our bar sports competition with a nice comeback effort in an epic 35-minute game of eight-ball. That’s one game, 35 minutes. It was not pretty.)

-Walking around Amman was great. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, this being my first time in the Muslim world, but everyone was really cool. Sure, walking around the Old City at midnight on the first night of Ramadan carries with it a fair amount of anxiety at first. (Is it okay to walk by the Mosque? Yes. Is it okay to take pictures? Apparently. Is the secular cafe we went to that serves food during fasting times and alcohol at night going to get shot up? No.) All of this amplified by the fact that there were a couple pro-ISIS rallies in Amman [CORRECTION: the rallies were in Ma'an, a city in a southern province that is known to be less stable than Amman.] the days before I arrived; with the ISIS advance on Baghdad being the very reason CCB was relocated to Jordan in the first place. So some vigilance was in order, sure. I feel like we stuck out quite a bit, although it wasn’t really a big deal in the end. We were respectful of them and they respected us. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is known as an exception in a region of great upheaval.

Food in the Old City of Amman is so good that it apparently made my right eye go lazy. It returned to its normal state after digestion.

Hummus at Hashem in the Old City of Amman is so good that it apparently made my right eye go lazy. It returned to its normal state after digestion.

-Hearing the muezzin’s first call to prayer from a minaret during Ramadan was amazing. We were out on the patio at Wild Jordan cafe, which has some of the best views of the city. Unforgettable.

-On my last night we returned to the Old City for some hummus and pickled veggies in an alleyway restaurant. I guess the big feasts don’t start until later in the month, but even the “snack” version was too much for us to finish. Jordanians sure can eat! We also stopped in at a speakeasy to watch some World Cup before I headed to the airport for my 330am flight back to Germany.

-Back to the grind here in Stuttgart now. My family is coming soon and they’re expecting a book when they get here. I’m on it!

 

 

 

I’ve been keeping pretty busy and working hard on a new novel–stories of love abandoned and disrupted in the context of domestic spying. It’s been an interesting project (finding the voice for this has been a lot of fun) and has taken up most of my time here, along with my two daily hikes and all the presentations and performances of the other fellows. Lots of interesting stuff going on. (Check out the Akademie Solitude blog for a taste of life at die Schloss.)

I did sneak in a couple trips the last couple weeks, however. A day trip to Mannheim and Heidelberg (cities near Stuttgart) and then a few days last weekend in Munich and just across the border in Salzburg, Austria.

More to come later, but here are some photos for now:

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Congrats to FiveChapters Books and editor David Daley on their recent great news. Just in case you haven’t heard, the small house released two debut fiction collections last fall–and last week both were short-listed for highly coveted PEN Literary Awards! Two for two. Very impressive.

Nina McConigley’s Cowboys and East Indians is a finalist for the PEN/Open Book Award for the best 2013 book by a writer of color.

Ian Stansel’s Everybody’s Irish is a finalist for the PEN/Bingham Prize for the best 2013 debut collection of short fiction or novel.

The winners of all PEN awards will be announced on July 30.

 

No worries. It's all uphill from here.

It’s all uphill from here.

I’ve been settling in after arriving for my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart.

Some things from the first week:

-First and foremost, they take their foosball very seriously here. If you’re going to step up to the futbol table, you better bring it.

-Lots of weddings at the castle. This is my sixth day here and I’ve spotted four brides so far–including two this morning. Besides all the art and music and interesting collaboration going on, this place would be a wedding crasher’s dream. Free champagne four times weekly! On the other hand, it seems like a lot of the wedding parties merely come here for pictures and have the reception elsewhere. So far, four brides, but only one beer delivery truck. Caveat emptor, wedding crashers.

-TSA took my toothpaste, so one of my first tasks in Germany was picking out a new tube of toothpaste. I probably should have made more of an effort to learn functional German. Seems to have worked out okay, on the toothpaste score at least. My teeth are intact, and only a little gritty.

-Really enjoying all the courtyard cafes. I’ve noticed a few biergarten, but haven’t stopped in yet. Mostly I’ve been getting by on bread rolls, salami, and granola bars. There’s lunch here for fellows during the week, which is something to take advantage of whenever possible. A bus runs right by the Akademie, but it’s kind of expensive to make a bunch of casual trips. Otherwise it’s at least a thirty minute hike down to the village supermarket. Maybe double that coming back, as Solitude sits at the top of a pretty heady incline. I get the feeling that not many of the other fellows are hiking as much as I’ve been, as I haven’t seen anyone else drenched in sweat all the time, huddled over with shin splints. Oh, well. With my spartan diet and all that hiking, hopefully I won’t be so doughy by the end of summer. Or I could act like a normal person and just take the bus.

-I haven’t done a ton of writing so far. One short story is drafted, a story I’ve been trying to write in some form or another for nearly a decade–I think I found the right form and voice this time around. That seems like good production for what’s been a pretty fraught week. Been doing a lot of thinking about the new novel I’m starting, while hiking, before and after napping. I’ve been reading a lot too, which usually precedes writing output. Anyway, nothing comes easy when mostly I’ve been moping around feeling bad about what an asshole I am for being here in the first place. It was very hard to leave home.

-I’m thinking of doing a little side trip, maybe next week. Friedrichshafen sounds nice. It’s the home of Zeppelin University, which I will repeatedly mispronounce as Led Zeppelin University. Imagine how different my life could have been if, when deciding on colleges while in high school, I’d known (mistakenly) there was a Led Zeppelin University. Anyway. Lake Constance is there. There’s a company that does Zeppelin elevations and rides. It’s pretty close and would be an easy way to test myself on the regional trains. I should do it, right?

-Enjoy these photos.

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With the centenary of Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo coming up this June 28, one would think World War I will be much more in the news soon–at least in the US and Britain. (Here’s how Washington DC plans to celebrate, if you’re interested.)

I’ve been keeping an eye out for possible commemoration events to maybe attend while in Europe this summer, but have mostly come across apathy and an urge to forget among Germans. Something that’s perfectly understandable when I think about it. (Here’s a dispatch from Berlin about why Germans no longer celebrate the history of belligerence the way other countries do; and an article on tensions between Britain and Germany over centenary celebrations. Lots of good reading out there now.) That being said, it looks like there will be a fair amount of events in Europe, particularly in Bosnia, Belgium, and France. Centenary News has the lowdown and is keeping a running itinerary.

Of course, while in-person events and the unveiling of monuments is interesting, what’s coming out on the web now is more compelling, at least to a more historical, less political perspective.

The Atlantic has launched a ten-part photo archive from Alan Taylor called World War I in Photos. It’s awesome. Definitely recommended. The depth of the selections is striking. I particularly like how the images are pulled from the different sides. It seems like most of the stuff I’ve seen before has been very American-centric and jingoistic, although this isn’t always the case, the History Channel aside.

Interesting stuff.

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