You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘writing’ category.
[Please excuse any and all verbal cheersing-myself that may occur in the following.]
More great news to share, as I’ve been awarded the Marianne Russo Award by the Key West Literary Seminar!
Here’s the official announcement on Littoral, the seminar’s blog. (Also, you can read more about the KWLS scholarship program here if you’re interested in applying next year, and you should be. No entry fee=no worries.) As if ten days in Key West during January wasn’t enough, the prize includes tuition to both sessions of seminars and workshop programs, airfare to and lodging in Key West, and some spending cash, along with the opportunity to present a reading of my work during the conference (on Sunday, January 19, at 11:40am, to be exact, if you happen to be in the neighborhood). It’s really a very generous award and a great opportunity. I’m thrilled to be headed back, this time with a little hardware waiting for me.
I feel like I’m telling people all the time what a great experience KWLS is. It truly is the best there is and an indispensable part of our American literary culture, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks so much to Miles Frieden (Executive Director of KWLS) and Arlo Haskell (Associate Director), who do such a great job every year. This will be my third trip to KWLS. (Here’s what happened last time I was there.) My first seminar dealt with historical fiction, the second with speculative fiction. This time the theme is “The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime & the Literary Thriller.”
The schedule includes events with Robert Stone, Percival Everett, Joyce Carol Oates, William Gibson, Carl Hiaasen, John Banville, among many others. I’m not really all that familiar with crime writing, frankly, and that makes this even more exciting. I wasn’t really all that interested in historical fiction when I attended my first KWLS–and certainly didn’t anticipate ever spending half a decade writing a historical novel myself.
While odd-numbered years can often be a cruel mistress, 2013 has without a doubt been good to me. There have been contest wins, publications (here, here) and acceptances (here, here), honorable mentions (here, here, here), an international fellowship to summer abroad, travel (here, here), along with the fact that we moved into a new house and love living in Dundee. I’ve enjoyed myself quite a lot this year and am not exactly looking forward to a new calendar, knowing how things tend to turn around. The party has to end sometime, right? Luckily, some more good luck has come along that guarantees, if nothing else, my 2014 will begin in style.
Thanks so much KWLS. See you soon!
“…drugged with heat I lay in the brown grass of the forest, half in the shade of a fir, while Jakob pulled the horses evenly, and something from inside me suddenly asked Is it true Jakob about the concentration camps? days I’ve never been able to think of as: yesterday, and tomorrow it will have been the day before yesterday, or: that was ten years ago; in the meantime, I’ve learned much more about monopoly capitalism as a form of imperialism and can look at the past with the eyes of today. Those days never pass. Every minute I’m thirteen years old before Jakob’s wide-spaced motionless face with the half-closed lids, and I hear him say Yes it’s true. Impossible to live with that. It’s useless. How can you answer for that? How does it fit with the wet rustling beech leaves under our feet, with the swaying circling fir tops overhead against the gray night sky, with my wretched life, with Jakob whom I can’t see in this black high-walled ravine, he shouldn’t walk so fast, is this how I wanted it? that’s how I wanted it. That’s what is worth wishing. What had it to do with Jerichow that was lying at our feet as we emerged from the thicket on top of the hill and halted, Jakob and I standing silently side by side: a somber lump in the hollow, its church tower pointing and a light on in my father’s house: what did I want in my father’s house?”
Mutmassungen über Jakob by Uwe Johnson (translated by Ursula Molinaro).
Some excellent news to share on this Friday, as the marvelous online journal Five Chapters has selected my short story “Impertinent, Triumphant” for publication!
If you’re not familiar with Five Chapters, it’s a pretty unique publication, as they serialize a single short story every week, running the piece in, you guessed it, five chapters, one per day, Monday to Friday. And they’ve been doing so since October of 2006. (Read an interview of FC Editor David Daley here for more info.) To go along with that impressive consistency, FC’s authors include a who’s-who of young writers, winners of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, PEN/Faulkner award, among others, like Jennifer Egan, Ron Rash, Lauren Groff, Julie Orringer, Nam Le, Rick Moody, Peter Orner, Ben Greenman, Samantha Hunt, Patricia Engel, Lori Ostlund, Dean Bakopoulos, Jami Attenberg, Marcy Dermansky, Teddy Wayne, Jacquira Díaz, Molly Ringwald…really, so many great writers it’s foolish to try and list them all. You get the point: a very high quality fiction publication on a small scale. I couldn’t be happier that “I,T” will find its way into these ranks in a few months, sometime around March.
As for the story itself, “Impertinent, Triumphant” is sort of a newish one. I haven’t put as much time into my short fiction the past few years as I used to, as the novel took more and more of my focus. That being said, I did manage to give a good deal of attention to this a few other stories along the way. This one in particular was fun to write, as it started off as an homage to Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog,” a style of drafting I’ve never really tried before.
Here’s an excerpt:
“She looked beautiful, of course. She had a long neck and a small face, lovely gray eyes. That’s why I kept looking. Her hair was wavy from some chemical treatment, and a dull, dull orange meant to be blond. She wore a terrycloth shirt, khaki shorts and leather sandals. She was really quite common. Modest chest, soft legs, a little bump where her stomach rose. I’d never seen a grown-up look so bored before. She was childish. I thought she was stunning.
“There was a toy radio she listened to at her table, a tier below me on the hotel terrace, three patio umbrellas over. I noticed because the radio wasn’t an iPod. It was just a yellow plastic toy with a drawstring that fit over her hand, black rubber grips, and built-in speakers so everyone had to listen to what she played, a political call-in show.
“I couldn’t turn away. Her face was round. Baby fat on her cheeks made her look younger than she was. She was nearly thirty, I’d learn. Her skin was firm and limpid as she sipped an Arnie Palmer with lips imperceptibly open.”
More on this later, of course, when the story starts to go up. Special thanks to David Daley for selecting the story, along with Amber Mulholland and Country Club Bill for their help in pounding this story into shape.
As part of my making acquaintance with the German-language canon, this week I’ve been reading Franz Kafka’s The Castle. And while my choice of novels isn’t directly in response to the on-going federal government shutdown, Kafka does provide a pretty cathartic read given the recent sanctification of bureaucratic dithering. One brief line in particular (bolded below) from The Castle stuck out this morning that I’d like to share, along with a longer contextual set up.
‘This letter is in no sense an official communication, but only a private letter. That can be clearly seen in the very of address: ‘My dear Sir.’ Moreover, there isn’t a single word in it showing that you’ve been taken on as Land-Surveyor; on the contrary, it’s all about state service in general, and even that is not absolutely guaranteed, as you know; that is, the task of proving that you are taken on is laid on you. Finally, you are officially and expressly referred to me, the Mayor, as your immediate superior, for more detailed information, which, indeed, has in great part been given already. To anyone who knows how to read official communications, and consequently knows still better how to read unofficial letters, all this is only too clear. That you, a stranger, don’t know it doesn’t surprise me. In general the letter means nothing more than that Klamm intends to take a personal interest in you if you should be taken into the state service.’
‘Mr. Mayor,’ said K., ‘you interpret the letter so well that nothing remains of it but a signature on a blank sheet of paper.’
A great line, isn’t it?
“At the time, I felt nothing but hatred for him, and hatred shines too bright a light on things, depriving them of relief. I saw him merely as a vindictive, wily rat. Now I see him above all as a young man playing a role. The young can’t help playacting; themselves incomplete, they are thrust by life into a completed world where they are compelled to act fully grown. They therefore adopt forms, patterns, models–those that are in fashion, that suit, that please–and enact them.
“Our boy commander too was incomplete, and he suddenly found himself at the head of a group of soldiers he couldn’t possibly understand; if he was able to come to grips with the situation, it was only because so much of what he had read and heard offered him a ready-made mask: the cold-blooded hero of the cheap thrillers, the young man with nerves of steel who outwits the criminal gang, the man of few words, calm, cool, with a dry wit and confidence in himself and the might of his own muscles. The more conscious he was of his boyish appearance, the more fanatical his devotion to the role of superman, the more forced his performance.
“Youth is terrible: it is a stage trod by children in buskins and a variety of costumes mouthing speeches they’ve memorized and fanatically believe but only half understand. And history is terrible because it so often ends up a playground for the immature; a playground for the young Nero, a playground for the young Bonaparte, a playground for easily roused mobs of children whose simulated passions and simplistic poses suddenly metamorphose into a catastrophically real reality.”
-from The Joke by Milan Kundera
Also, I love this quote on the cover of my copy, from John Updike’s review:
“A thoughtful, intricate, ambivalent novel with the reach of greatness in it.”
Doesn’t that sound like the perfect novel? Or what to strive for, anyway.
I propped my book open and stared listlessly at the page of the ‘Georgics’ where to-morrow’s lesson began. It opened with the melancholy reflection that, in the lives of mortals, the best days are the first to flee. ‘Optima dies…prima fugit.‘ I turned back to the beginning of the third book, which we had read in class that morning. ‘Primus ego in patriam mecum…deducam Musas‘; ‘for I shall be the first, if I live, to bring the Muse into my country.’ Cleric had explained to us that ‘patria’ here meant, not a nation or even a province, but that little rural neighbourhood on the Mincio where the poet was born. This was not a boast, but a hope, at once bold and devoutly humble, that he might bring the Muse (but lately come to Italy from her cloudy Grecian mountains), not to the capital, the palatia Romana, but to his own little ‘country’; to his father’s fields, ‘sloping down to the river and to the old beech trees with broken tops.’
Cleric said he thought Virgil, when he was dying at Brindisi, must have remembered that passage. After he had faced the bitter fact that he was to leave the ‘Aeneid’ unfinished, and had decreed that the great canvas, crowded with figures of gods and men, should be burned rather than survive him unperfected, then his mind must have gone back to the perfect utterance of the ‘Georgics,’ where the pen was fitted to the matter as the plough is to the furrow; and he must have said to himself, with the thankfulness of a good man, ‘I was the first to bring the Muse into my country.’
Willa Cather. My Ántonia. 1918.
Recently I was profiled on a sort of promotional page for Creighton University’s College of Art’s & Sciences, going over my background, some of my experiences while a grad student there, and my career since graduation. (Thanks to Rain Sissel for setting this up.) They have quite a few of these profiles up now–of current and past students, and faculty. As an alumnus these things are interesting, but maybe they’re not if you’re not. If you do like these sorts of profiles, check it out here.
I’d also like to point out that Creighton is now offering an MFA degree in Creative Writing, which is exciting news! (Read all about it here.) The new program starts this fall, and is accepting applications through July 15. If you know anyone who’s still looking for an MFA program to join in the immediate future, please pass along the link. In addition to being part of a great university in an increasingly hip city (one that’s still very livable with a low cost of living) the profile linked above can attest to the kinds of success CU can help set its students up for. Plus, they’re offering 5 fellowships to incoming students (3 of them with full tuition reimbursement and stipend)! Anyway, there’s no need for the sales pitch. It will be a good thing.
I’m a little slow on the uptake here, but I should note that New Stories from the Midwest 2012 (aka Best of the Midwest) has been released from Indiana University Press and is ready for your consumption. While none of my work is included in this fine anthology, “The Approximate End of the World” (published by Boulevard of all places) is included as one of “Thirty Other Distinguished Stories.” Never let it be said that I wasn’t distinguished in defeat.
The anthology does include work from such luminaries as Dan Chaon, Charles Baxter, Anthony Doerr, Lee Martin, Christine Sneed, and Mark Wisniewski, among other great writers, and was guest edited by John McNally. According to the jacket copy, “The stories, written by Midwestern writers or focusing on the Midwest, demonstrate that the quality of fiction from and about the heart of the country rivals that of any other region.” Damn right!
Be sure to check it out if you’re interested. Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham do a great job putting this together, and it’s surely something Midwestern writers in particular should support.
I’m checking in a little late here, but I still wanted to sincerely congratulate Mark Powell on the publication of his latest novel, The Dark Corner. Way to go, Mark!
Mark and I met in Key West last winter at the 2012 Key West Literary Seminar when we were part of the same Robert Stone-led workshop. (We also were housemates in this old pink house.) I very much enjoyed working with Mark then, and it’s no surprise that The Dark Corner is a great book.
Here’s the jacket copy:
A troubled Episcopal priest and would-be activist, Malcolm Walker has failed twice over—first in an effort to shock his New England congregants out of their complacency and second in an attempt at suicide. Discharged from the hospital and haunted by images of the Iraq War and Abu Ghraib, he heads home to the mountains of northwestern South Carolina, the state’s “dark corner,” where a gathering storm of private grief and public rage awaits him.
Malcolm’s life soon converges with people as damaged in their own ways as he is: his older brother, Dallas, a onetime college football star who has made a comfortable living in real-estate development but is now being drawn ever more deeply into an extremist militia; his dying father, Elijah, still plagued by traumatic memories of Vietnam and the death of his wife; and Jordan Taylor, a young, drug-addicted woman who is being ruthlessly exploited by Dallas’s viperous business partner, Leighton Clatter. As Malcolm tries to restart his life, he enters into a relationship with Jordan that offers both of them fleeting glimpses of heaven, even as hellish realities continue to threaten them.
The Dark Corner is one of three books written by people I lived with and/or workshopped with at KWLS that came out last year. That I know of, anyway. (You should also check out Eric Sasson’s Margins of Tolerance and Jill Koenigsdorf’s Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall.) Not too shabby. The folks down at the KWLS, in addition to bringing together a large group of talented writers, the famous and the yet-to-be-famous, always put on a great program. For 2014, the program is titled The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime & the Literary Thriller.
How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
Almost all of my work is set in Nebraska, in the small towns and urban communities I’ve lived in or been to. I’m intrigued by the way geography and local history form the spirit of small communities—whether urban or rural—specifically from the lingering effect of historical trauma. So it’s become important to know local history, to recognize how different people identify themselves and others, and why this is so. Writing is mostly conjecture and projection, but, with my experience of living here my whole life, hopefully my work is an informed version of conjecture and projection.
Check out the full interview here.
And if you haven’t yet secured your copy of Midwestern Gothic 8, featuring my short story “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt”, you should do so in either print or digital format, whatever’s your yen.
Thanks so much to Jeff and Robert for publishing this story, and now for featuring me in their blog spotlight as well.