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I’m pleased to announce that my short story “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” was accepted for publication in the great, and newish, literary journal Midwestern Gothic! The story will appear in their next issue, which I believe will be Issue 8, Winter 2013. More specifics will be forthcoming, no doubt.
Here’s an excerpt from “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt”:
Aaron never actually knew his mother, not in any real way. When he was a boy he fantasized about her coming back to rescue him from Nebraska, to take him with her to LA, New York, Chicago, wherever she’d landed. Aaron knew so little about her that these dreams seemed like they could be real. His dad never told him what really happened to her. Harry would say, “She’s alive,” if Aaron pestered him enough. “That’s all you need to know. That woman you like to call your mom is still breathing somewhere.”
Aaron didn’t learn much about the world outside Jackson until later, but even as a boy it seemed pretty obvious that things were better elsewhere—and that this was the reason his mother left. There was an old joke about how Jackson was the only town in this free Union state to be named after a Confederate general, and that about summed up how out of step Jackson was with the rest of the planet, Aaron thought.
More than likely his mother met some men in Sioux City and took off from there. Maybe another woman hooked her into a hot lead for some quick money, some liquor or drugs, or a chance to work a back room at a horse track. Over the years, Aaron convinced himself of a thousand scenarios other than those that were likely. He dreamed, at different times, that she was a nomadic bounty-hunter in Texas, a piano teacher in Vienna, a pilot for the US Navy, an Amazon explorer, an African missionary. There was a long string of them. That she was the wife of an extraordinarily rich man was a recurring theme. They were ridiculous dreams. Aaron didn’t have much to work with in creating them.
There is plenty of overlap in this story with my other work. That’s always fun. For starters, the story is set in Jackson, Nebraska; the same Jackson County as is featured in my novel, The Uninitiated. (Read here for an explanation of how my Jackson, Neb. is different from the real Jackson, Neb; and how Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, OH differed from the real Winesburg, OH in similar ways.)
Most of the crossover, however, stems from the fact that “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” is part of my Bad Faith series of stories, all of which have been published now. The Aaron Kleinhardt of “Mercy Killing” is the same from “Kleinhardt’s Women” (Fogged Clarity, Dec 2010) and “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” (Boulevard, Spring 2012), which shares characters with “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” (Confrontation, Fall 2011) and “The Man Who Never Was” (Weekday, Summer 2010).
This is the first time I’ve written a series of connected stories so long–maybe testing my stamina before writing a novel?–and it’s exciting to see all of the stories find a home. But with so much murder, sex, drugs, alcoholism, adultery, betrayal, and deception in the cycle, it’s little wonder they’ve found an audience. Midwestern Gothic is a fitting end to this stage of the stories’ publishing life, and an apt home for “Mercy Killing.” I’m glad to have the story picked up, of course, and particularly glad that it was Midwestern Gothic who laid claim to it. Cheers!
“First Night” is part of a series of stories I’ve been working on the past couple years. The other stories include “The Man Who Never Was” (published in Weekday), “Kleinhardt’s Women” (on Fogged Clarity last December), “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” (forthcoming in Spring 2012 from Boulevard) and a story I’ve rewritten more than a handful of times and only recently seem to have a handle on, “The Mercy Killing of Harrison Kleinhardt.” All four stories are in my unpublished collection of short fiction, How to Die Young in Nebraska. “First Night” is my first published work that’s written from the point-of-view of a woman.
Here’s an excerpt:
It was after a show at Sokol Underground. I’d been driving up to Omaha once or twice a week that semester and having a few drinks near the back of the room while the bands played. Nothing serious. Not like some girls. Just a g-and-t or two in that smoky basement venue under the gymnastics club, listening to the bands. I bought their albums, stuck their pins to the strap of my bag then drove back to Lincoln when the show was over. Things changed when I saw the Zapruder Films.
Information for ordering the issue can be found on Confrontation’s web site. The current issue is $12, a steal for the nearly 300-page journal.
Also, I’d like to issue a huge Thanksgiving salutation to the readers and commentators who helped revise this story and the others in the cycle–Amber Haschenburger, Lucas Schwaller, and Travis Thieszen. Thanks so much! And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Jonna Semeiks (Editor of Confrontation) and her staff for putting together a great issue, and allowing me to be a part of it.
Some excellent news today, as I learned that my short story “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” will run in the Spring 2012 issue of Boulevard!
This will be my sixteenth published short story, and the third of mine to appear in Boulevard. My work has found a home in the journal, and I’m grateful for the support of its staff, especially editor Richard Burgin. It’s a real privilege to connect with a prestigious journal multiple times like this. Previously, “Welcome Home” ran in the Spring 2008 issue of Boulevard–as winner of their Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers–and “The Approximate End of the World” ran in the Spring 2010 issue.
Similar to when I mentioned that “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” was selected by Confrontation earlier this year, “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” is part of a series of short stories that I’ve been working on the past couple years–which combine in my short story collection (How to Die Young in Nebraska) as the novella “Bad Faith.” The other stories include “The Man Who Never Was,” which was in Weekday a year ago, and “Kleinhardt’s Women,” which was on Fogged Clarity in December. “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” is a psychological thriller that follows heroine Amy Gutschow after she jumps a freight train outside Aurora, Nebraska and through her confrontation with a pathetic but effective ladies man, Aaron Kleinhardt, after she hops off the train in Valentine, Neb. This story is one I’m very proud of, and I’m ecstatic to know that it will be taken care of by a stalwart like Boulevard. Cheers!
More news this week:
Late yesterday evening “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” was accepted for publication by noted literary journal Confrontation! Based out of Long Island, Confrontation has been running since 1968 and has published seven Nobel laureates and helped launch numerous careers over this span. And now they’ll be putting out my work too!
“The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life” is part of a series of short stories that I’ve been working on the past couple years. The story is set in popular local tour spots like Sokol Underground and a dorm at UNL, and features a band called The Zapruder Films. It is not autobiographical, however, for anyone who might be wondering. The other stories in the cycle include “The Man Who Never Was,” which was in Weekday last summer, “Kleinhardt’s Women,” which was on Fogged Clarity in December, the currently available “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine,” and a story I’ve rewritten more than a handful of times but have never made work called, at present, “The Mercy Killing of Harrison Kleinhardt.” It’s been a lot of fun to work on these stories, to reference and overlap them, and I’m glad that now two of them have found good homes. Also, “First Night” will be my first published work that’s written from the point-of-view of a woman.
As for the numbers, this is my 14th story accepted for publication, and will be the 17th short story publication overall, counting stories that were anthologized. My first pub was in the spring of 2007, so that’s not a bad four-year stretch to begin with.
The debut issue of Portland, OR journal Weekday came out last week and features my story “The Man Who Never Was.” Copies can be ordered at this link or purchased (and printed!) from the Publication Studio storefront in Portland at 717 SW Ankeny.
Weekday is the official journal of Publication Studio, “an experiment in sustainable publication” that prints and binds books on demand while tending to the public space of the book in ways that go beyond how we typically think of the market. It’s a pretty cool idea.
Looks like my story “The Man Who Never Was” will be appearing in the inaugural edition of Weekday!
This is a journal of art and literature out of Portland, OR and I’m very excited to be a part of it.
“When you read proof, take out the adjectives and adverbs wherever you can. You use so many of them that the reader finds it hard to concentrate and he gets tired. You can understand what I mean when I say ‘The man sat on the grass.’ You understand because the sentence is clear and there is nothing to distract your attention. Conversely, the brain has trouble understanding me if I say ‘A tall, narrow-chested man of medium height with a red beard sat on green grass trampled by passers-by, sat mutely, looking about timidly and fearfully.’ This doesn’t get its meaning through to the brain immediately, which is what good writing must do, and fast.”
-Anton Chekhov in a letter to Maxim Gorky
I’m usually a bit leery of prescriptive revision techniques, maybe because they seem like a hard way of doing something I might not want to do in the first place. However, there’s one such strategy I’ve really come to rely on in revision. I’m unable to track down whose idea this is, but the basic idea is to cut 10% of the length from what you think is the final draft. This is generally a pretty hard thing to do but it puts a lot of pressure on each and every word and description to pull its own weight. Typically it starts off cutting unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, as Chekhov advises above, although there usually aren’t enough of these to meet quota, so it becomes clearer that a certain paragraph is kind of superfluous, or that the third flashback is a bit indulgent. The rule seems a bit too arbitrary on its face, but it’s never really done me wrong. It requires a lot of hard work and difficult decisions, of course, but that’s the point. You can’t be soft anymore: you have to kill your darlings. And assuming the core of the story remains, it almost always will be better as at eighteen pages than it was at twenty.
For most of the past four months I’ve been at work revising the first part of my novel. This includes many different styles of revision, from writing freely within the document on the computer to expand scenes and explore point-of-view in new ways, to writing new scenes with brand new characters in order to find ways to recast the emotional feel of characterization and scene, to using crude statistical measure to rethink structure, to letting the ink flow freely on a hard copy edition. At one point Part I had grown to 160 pages. This was much too long, but I wanted to lay all my cards on the table, so to speak. Coming into last week I’d pared it down to a much more manageable 112 pages, which is where the 10% rule came into play. You’ll have to excuse me, because I only made it down to 104 pages, four short of my goal. But it still feels pretty good, I must say. There’s more to do, but I don’t want to get carried away at this point.
I’ve been plugging away at Part II as well, mostly revising the first forty pages or so to present in workshop for the class I’m taking right now. I really like how this part is coming together. I’ve been working here with a much looser outline and feel like it’s a better strategy for me. Instead of plotting out each move, I set a goal to meet in each chapter (something like getting a character to a certain place physically and emotionally) with a group of benchmarks to achieve throughout. (This is how I outline short stories as well, by the way.) This way I can follow the characters more, let them move more freely, without too much of a constrictive superstructure. All’s well that ends well, but the overly specific outline used in Part I will probably have to be scrapped for the most part. It will be useful for setting goals and benchmarks, as most of my ideas are in there, even though it seems stupid to stick so closely to something when the story wants to go elsewhere. Yes? Hopefully this will save a lot of time in revision if I’m not fighting things in the drafting stage.
Dispatch from The Open City
“It worried Esther, the way Michael was terrified of cars. She’d seen him walking many times (anyone who drove in midtown with any frequency would have seen him, a constant pedestrian of city streets) and she had an idea of the misery he struggled with. Esther had secretly watched him jump back from the street for no apparent reason, startled by the rumble of a passing truck or the screech of bald tires on an oil slick road. Or how he was sometimes compelled to walk in the grass strips that fronted small businesses when he sensed the dark energy of an impending collision, dreading that moment of terror when an oncoming motorist jerks their wheel suddenly away, remembering almost too late that they’re not the only one on the road. Michael only rode with Esther when absolutely necessary, angled tensely in the passenger seat. It wasn’t healthy, this behavior, but Esther didn’t know what she could do to help.”
Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Near Misses
Opium for “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life”; Cream City Review for “The Man Who Never Was”; South Dakota Review for “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter”; and Copper Nickel for “From Indiana.” And as previously noted in this blog, my review of Lydia Peelle’s short fiction collection Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing was accepted for publication by Prairie Schooner!
Exiles by Ron Hansen. I wasn’t into this so much at first but the final eighty pages or so were really quite good. Hansen spent an awful lot of time on the history lessons of the novel, something that pushed me out of the story. Much of the Kulturkampf stuff was pretty interesting, however. Once we actually got into the action of the sinking of the steamship Deutschland and the tragic series of events that led to the early demise of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins the book became intensely engaging. It surprised me how much I felt for Hopkins and his plight as a Jesuit priest, being transferred around and misunderstood.
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. Just started this one yesterday and read nearly a hundred pages, which is pretty good for me, a slow, slow tortoise reader. Aside from some questionable exclamation point usages, this one really has me on the hook.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
Link of the Week
Duotrope’s Digest. An unsurpassable database of literary journals, magazines, webzines, and other publications looking for submissions. This is a must for any writer looking for new markets, and was how I found homes for my work in Flatmancrooked and Johnny America. The random market feature is kind of fun too.
Prairie Schooner. Since we’re going with Duotrope up top, lets go with an old standard here. And since I’m now a Senior Fiction Reader at PS, go ahead and send us your very best work soon. Our reading period is currently open.