February in Review (2012)

I’ve decided to fly in the face of Leap Day and post my review of the past month a day early. (Try to have a safe holiday out there today, folks. We don’t need a replay of four years ago, with all the accidents and alcohol poisonings. Use the extra day wisely!)

February was a month of good news. There was my appointment as Web Editor at Prairie Schooner. I’m still not sure my family believes that I actually get paid to work for a literary journal now. Actually, I’m not entirely convinced myself yet, direct deposit aside. The job has been a lot of fun, although a bit frustrating at times. It’s been a long time since I started a new job. There’s a lot to learn. Hopefully I’m picking it up right.  …  Next came word that two of my published short stories will be mentioned among the “Thirty Other Distinguished Stories” in the New Stories from the Midwest anthology series. “The Approximate End of the World” (Boulevard, Spring 2010) will be noted in the back of the 2011 edition. “The Current State of the Universe” (The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2011) will be noted in the back of the 2012 edition. This is a new series, but one that looks very promising. I’m excited to break through in some small way with them. Hopefully it’s only the start of bigger things.  …  That same weekend I learned that my review of Yannick Murphy’s novel The Call was accepted for publication in the Pleiades Book Review. This is my second review Pleiades has taken, and it will run in their Summer 2012 issue.

March brings a lot of promise. There’s AWP in Chicago. Spring is here, apparently. (Our daffodils have breached!) ZZ Packer is the writer in residence at UNL and will make a couple public appearances in Lincoln. Also, lil’ Clara Lynne is due to join us.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Sometimes I scuffled with Neal Davies and his brothers. I ran track with the two younger Davies boys. They weren’t so brazen about what they said, not like Neal had been outside the store. Mostly it was Neal who mumbled something, standing off to the side to watch us run. Neal Davies was short and podgy. He had blonde hair that laid very flat and smooth on his round skull. His brothers looked at me and laughed when Neal made remarks. I’d tackle one of them into the grass, the Davies brother who was slowest getting out of the way. A punch or two would be thrown, but that was all. Other kids would break it up. Whatever happened was chalked up to bad blood. Since I didn’t know what they said, there was nothing more I could say about it. There was lots of bad blood in Jackson County in those years, the war years. It was wrong of Davies to tease me about the ways my folks died, I’m certain. I’m not certain if I would have teased him about such a thing if the roles had been reversed. I might have. I had to give him that in my calculations. He still had his parents, if nothing else. I did not. Sometimes we believe these things are so for a reason.”

Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks

Alaska Quarterly Review for “Forget Me”; Indiana Review for “Attend the Way”; and “Lycaon” by Midwestern Gothic.

Just Finished

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. A remarkable book about a Gypsy boy’s travels and travails in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust, based upon Kosinski’s own life story. A remarkably brutal book.

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño. About the ways people confront (or confronted, it was written and it is set in 1980s Spain) the lingering presence or (non)presence of Nazism in European culture. It’s not quite in the stratosphere like 2666 and The Savage Detectives, but is still very good.

Jonah Man by Christopher Narozny. A very solid first novel about murder, drugs, and the intrigue of 1920s vaudeville performers. It comes out in May. I will be reviewing it.

In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway. A rereading of this classic after hearing George Saunders and Robert Stone talk about it at the Key West Literary Seminar.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway.

Now Reading

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak.

Up Next

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon.

Three Questions for Adam Peterson About the Kansas City Royals

Lucky for all of you, fellow writer and baseball fan Adam Peterson and I decided to do a review of the KC Royals season–and in the ever-popular blog crossover format!

The Royals finished 71-91 on the year, which was good enough for 4th place in the perennially weak AL Central and a four game improvement over last year’s record. That’s not good, of course. But anyone who’s paid attention to baseball this year knows that the intrigue surrounding the Royals these days has little to do with their current record and nearly everything to do with the young players who look poised to lead a resurgence. We’ll see if KC can actually make the playoffs again in the next few years–which would be their first appearance since 1985, sadly–but there’s an excitement surrounding the team that we haven’t seen in quite a while. One, I felt, warranted the first ever sports post here on the site.

Below are three questions I asked, answered by Adam. On his site, Stock Photography Museum, you can find the three answers I provided to questions asked by Adam. Pretty simple.

Without further ado, here are a bunch of words about the Royals.

Adam Peterson is the co-editor of The Cupboard, a quarterly prose chapbook series. His series of short-shorts, My Untimely Death, is available from Subito Press, and his fiction can be found in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review, Indiana Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.

TW: On a scale from 2-70, how good has the Royals starting outfield been this year? There are all the doubles (136 combined), all the outfield assists (49!), the stolen bases (59), the consistency. They’re averaging a 20/20 hitter with plus defense, and all this from a group who came into the season without much in the way of positive expectations aside from Alex Gordon’s often mocked promise to “dominate.” One he followed through on, by the way. Personally, I would have thought it was more likely that all three of these guys would be playing in the minors or Japan by now than what we saw on the field. It seems improbable that Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francouer will all be able to sustain their production after all three had career years this summer. Perhaps the better question, then, is which of the Royals outfielders will regress back to the mean next year, and by how much?

AP: Well, I think you did a pretty good job of illustrating exactly how good they were this year, Gordon especially who might (and certainly should) get some down-ballot MVP votes. Advanced stats have him being as valuable to the Royals as Melky and Francouer combined which is pretty remarkable when you think that both were also having career years. Now, if I can have my own Gordon-like moment of redemption, here’s what I wrote about him before this season started:

Here’s what I’ve been saying about Gordon recently: he’s either going to shock people or fall apart completely. And this is the season. I don’t think he’s going to be just average. There’s too much talent and too much that says his problems are mental. I think he either becomes a .280/.370/.500 guy or is somewhere in Nebraska hanging out with Eric Crouch next year. And, frankly, I still think he’s going to put it together. Yes, I know this is stupid, but I don’t care.

Well, well, well, look what wasn’t stupid. Alex’s line on the season was .303/.376/.502. Yes, I predicted Alex Gordon’s remarkable season to within .08 of his OPS (though, and I’ll take full responsibility for this stunning failure, his actual numbers were slightly more batting average driven. I’m sorry). I’m just kidding about my stunning prediction—well, not really, I feel pretty good about it—but what I didn’t predict would be the much lower offensive environment this season and how it makes Gordon’s numbers even better. Over on Royals Review they’re arguing that he put up the best season of a Royal since Beltran in 2003 which was itself the best season by a Royal since Brett in 1985. Yep. We should all be talking about this more: Alex Gordon is one of the best players in baseball. Finally. If I were him, I’d be screaming it at everyone in Kansas City. Hell, I’m not him and I’m still bragging about predicting his numbers.

Which I did. I totally did.

But next season is next season. I’m not worried about Gordon (except in getting him resigned). He may not be this good again, but he’s a player who could play a key role on a contending team and the Royals need to hold onto all of those they can get. Frenchie has already been locked up—for some reason—and I’m honestly okay with this. Nothing about his season seems like it couldn’t be repeated and there’s no one in the system that he’s blocking anyway. And hey, maybe he figured something out and will continue to walk a bit more and stay away from stupid pitches. (I have no confidence in this happening. I want to get him and Miguel Olivo in a room then lower a baseball from a ceiling to see which one swings at it first).

Melky is a different story. I want Lorenzo Cain. I love Lorenzo Cain. I love his name, his attitude, his scouting report, everything. Melky is the one outfielder most likely to regress and a smart GM would take this opportunity to sell high and try to get back some starting pitching. He’s a terrible defensive CF (despite the arm) and Kauffman stadium requires someone with some range out there. I don’t think he will be traded and Cain himself seems more likely to go (as does, gulp, Gordon). I hold no ill will towards Melky. He was great this year at the plate and that signing was by any accounts a brilliant one by GMDM, but he’s got to go.

Gordon, Cain, and even Francouer could be a part of a competing Royals ballclub in 2013 but Melky won’t be. The only way he resigns to the type of deal the team would want would be if he struggles and if he struggles, what would the point of having him on the team this year be when there’s a perfectly capable player at AAA? Hell, Dyson is a perfectly capable player at AAA too. Melky needs to go, and I have every reason to believe this won’t happen and instead he’s out there again next year only without the bat to justify his waddling defense.

TW: Should Steve Balboni be nervous about next year? (He holds the Royals single-season record with 36 home runs, in 1985, for those who don’t know.) I know you’re on record saying that Billy Butler is due to hit 30 some day, and there are three other guys I see as capable of hitting 30 or more homers—those being Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas. Is 2012 the year that the Great Balboni’s record falls? And, for bonus points, do more than one guy surpass Balboni’s total the year his 36 comes off the books as the Royals’ best?

AP: He should certainly be nervous, but I’ll go ahead and say that next year isn’t the year. You named the three players capable of breaking his record (and, yes, I’d optimistically add Billy to that list as a darkhorse candidate), but only Gordon seems particularly likely of making it happen next season. But I say he hits 31 and we’re all very happy.

That’s not to say Hosmer and Moustakas aren’t capable of doing it next year. I mean, Hosmer this year showed remarkable power when he came up, and I don’t think anyone was expecting so much so soon. Could he keep it going and shatter the record? Absolutely. Will he? I don’t think so. Something tells me that, while he’ll be great next year and solidify himself as a future star, he’s still going to have moments where he struggles and there’s a reason why this record, even though it’s pathetic, has lasted so long. Kauffman Stadium is just unforgiving on homeruns and while Hosmer will get his 36+ one season, I don’t think it’s next season. He still seems like Adrian Gonzalez 2.0 to me—though he certainly started faster—and just as Petco sapped Gonzalez’s power, I think the same think will happen to Hosmer. Still, Gonzalez managed to hit 36 or over twice there, and I’d expect the same from Hosmer.

Moustakas, actually, might have a better chance, as stupid as that is to think (and it is stupid and yet I do sort of think it). He’s all power, and is certainly capable of having one of those Hank Blalock-y kind of seasons where he hits .250 with few walks yet somehow ends up with 30 homeruns. You know, the sort of hitter Mike Jacobs was supposed to be. Let’s stop talking about this, actually. It’s making me sad.

To sum up: I think two of three will hit 36 homeruns someday while in a Royals uniform, but I don’t think any will do it next season.

TW: Of all the great rookie performance in 2011, which excited you the most? There’s a lot to choose from here. The game-changing, all-around play of Hosmer; Moustakas finally coming around to show the kind of hitter he is; Salvador Perez arriving a year early and looking like he’ll be an All-Star catcher sooner rather than later; the bullpen throwing fire, and showing great depth; the fact that Johnny Giavotella is not Chris Getz. A lot to choose from, a lot to like.

AP: Absolutely a lot to choose from but I’m just going to go ahead and ignore the bullpen. Not that they’re not great, just that, you know, they’re the bullpen. I’m certainly going to be happy to have them when this team is ready to compete, but I’m so concerned with the rotation that my enthusiasm for guys like Holland and Coleman and Tiny Tim Collins is a little bit tempered. It was, however, great to see Crow come up and perform. I have no idea what this means for his future—I’m not sure the Royals do either—but you’ve got to move him to rotation. I don’t even think it’s a discussion.

So Hosmer, obviously, excites me the most. One of the other smart things I said before the season was that Hosmer was our best prospect because guys like him never miss. And it’s true (it’s also what everyone was saying so I’m not going to take too much credit). I already threw out the Gonzalez 2.0 which is no faint praise no matter what people in Boston are currently thinking about him. Hosmer is good. He will likely be great. It would shock no one if he’s one of the best players in baseball as early as next season, and any reasonable observer should have him in the top-2 of his Rookie of the Year ballot. (Which he certainly has a shot at winning, but he’s not a sure thing given when he came up. A small part of me hopes he doesn’t win it for motivation/curse reasons, but he probably deserves it).

I’ve already talked about Moose, but I should say this: I’m not resigned to him being a .250/.300/.480 hitter, but I think it’s a distinct possibility. That’s still a useful player, especially if he can play a serviceable third base. But, unlike with Hosmer, I think there’s a real chance that line is in play and possibly even optimistic on both his on-base and slugging percentages. I think he can still put up great numbers and be a legitimate clean-up hitter, but next year is going to be telling. Can he make enough contact and can he walk enough to be a star? The jury is still out, obviously, but there are some question marks with him both offensively and defensively that there aren’t with Hosmer. If nothing else, it might just take him longer to get it figured out. I still want him to be Butler with power and the ability to play third. We’ll see. That potential hasn’t gone anywhere.

Perez? Who knows, honestly. Nobody thought he was going to perform like that offensively. The Royals love the kid and I sort of do too. I don’t expect him to hit nearly that well going forward, but if he’s even average, then he’s a great young player and can lead this team from behind the plate. I’m a fan. Future all-star? It’s possible though something tells me he’ll have problems standing out on this Royals team. If this were a bigger market? Absolutely in play.

Giavotella is really the hardest to predict. He certainly didn’t set the world on fire when he came up though, you’re right, not being Getz is its own special skill. I don’t think the Royals are very high on him, frankly, and it’s not hard to see why (though it does make me wonder what they thought they were getting when they took him in the 2nd round a few years back). I’m rooting for him, and there was certainly a time when I, like any fan, thought he could be Pedroia-lite but…I don’t know. He’s still a trainwreck defensively (though it does seem to be mental as much as anything) and offensively his skill set might be a tougher sell in the majors than it was in the minors (doubles power with a high batting average). Could he be a .300/.350/.420 hitter? Sure. I’m not holding my breath, however, and I think the Royals would love for Colon to step up and take over 2nd as soon as he’s ready (sadly, that doesn’t seem to any time soon).

And let me end by putting in a good word for Lorenzo Cain. I like Lorenzo Cain. The last and least smart thing I said in my Royals preview was this: He sounds like a guy who beat up a train. Like, in a folk song. Who wouldn’t want that on their team?

Don’t forget to check out the other part of this literary, Royals, TW, AP, crossover event here, at the Stock Photography Museum and blog. We both had a lot of fun putting this together, and hopefully a few of you enjoy it too.

Weeks of Nov 8 – Dec 5, 2010

So, as of my last post, “The Housekeeper” was a finalist for the 2010 Flatmancrooked Fiction Prize, but I hadn’t yet learned if it had won or not. It did not win, but the story will be featured as an online feature and in the forthcoming anthology Flatmancrooked 4. With this acceptance and with “Kleinhardt’s Women” appearing soon on Fogged Clarity, I’m up to thirteen short stories that have been published or are forthcoming. Pretty sweet! It’s also the sixth time I’ve received honorable mention in a contest.

The seed for this story came from reading about how famous B-move director Ed Wood died. I’d seen the Tim Burton biopic many times and, wanting to learn more, came across the story of how Ed died, in which he supposedly lay in bed screaming for help for ninety minutes before his wife came and found him dead. (Of course, he’d been known to fake heart attacks on many occasions before, so it makes all the sense in the world that his wife would doubt him, tragically.) Anyway, this interested me and I tucked the idea away that I could use this in a story some day—a writer of lurid outré novels and other kinds of smut who ends up so isolated from his loved ones that he would die in a similar fashion as Ed Wood did. Nearly a year later Nicole brought to my attention a series of classified ads that was running in the Omaha World-Herald, all placed by a woman who was trying to start up this giant Christian charity based out of her house. She was advertising things like petting zoos, silent auctions, cherub choirs, parades. It was all very bizarre. She created her own system of currency for her enterprise (CC Bucks) and ultimately wanted to host a rally at the Qwest Center that would feature Sly Stallone. God told her to do all this in a vision. Once I saw these ads, I knew that I’d found a match for the Ed Wood character that I’d already sketched out.

-Also, do take a listen to Myfanwy Collins receiving the good news from FMC editor Elijah Jenkins. It’s always tricky accepting good news over the phone, I think, but Myfanwy does it exceptionally well. I always sound like a phony in those situations, unable verbalize my excitement and gratitude. Myfanwy and I have known each other, in an internet sense, for a number of years now. As an undergrad I often participated in the Zoetrope Virtual Studio, and had the pleasure of trading reviews with Myfanwy on several occasions. We both had stories in FMC’s 2009 anthology, Great New Writing Done During an Economic Depression, and our nominated stories will both be in the upcoming Flatmancrooked 4, due out late in 2011. Anyway, there are few people out there more deserving than Myfanwy Collins and I’m very excited for her victory here. If anyone was going to take the prize over me, I’m glad it’s her.

Dispatch from “The Housekeeper”

“Scott was a rational person, after all. It was just that being home made him panic. He’d moved on, he’d left the weirdness of his youth behind. It wasn’t fair that his co-workers might discover these things about him in the newspaper. If they knew his mother claimed to have visions of God it would ruin all of the cachet Scott had built in life, in his real life, the one that started the very second he moved out of this house. And if his friends knew about Peggy, it would only be a matter of time before they found out about Frank, the weirdo writer, the dishonorably discharged fairy who spent most of his bizarre life locked in an upstairs bedroom committing his wet dreams to paper. And if his friends at work knew about his father—if his church somehow found out—then it would be all over for Scott. All he wanted was to have his own life, to go on without being weighed down by the oddity of others, to be of and from nothing and no one.”

Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks

Michigan Quarterly Review for “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine” and Alaska Quarterly Review for “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life.”

Now Reading

Rivers Last Longer by Richard Burgin.

Weeks of Jun 7 – July 2, 2010

Big Sky

Since returning from AWP in early April, I’ve been preparing to query agents, and I’m happy to report that this week I’ve finally reached the end of this process—and the beginning of the next phase of actually finding new representation. It’s taken much longer than I anticipated, mostly because of a few rewrites that became necessary in these middle stages of editing. (With big thanks to my wife Nicole for helping me to see how the shape/plot arc of Hyphenates Part I was not all it could be.) My first-choice agency requested full manuscripts almost immediately and is now deliberating. Wish me luck! Coincidentally, I received an out-of-the-blue email from a pretty big-time agent at the end of last week requesting some work. That was pretty cool. Maybe I’ll be sending him something before long, depending on how my first-choice responds.

It’s been somewhat of a weird process the last six months. My first agent left her agency right before Christmas last year, which left me without representation. It was kind of jarring at first, to be let loose like that. I’d probably put too much stock in having an agent, let my sense of self-confidence become too large based upon the fact that, like Don DeLillo, Al Pacinco and A-Rod, I had an agent out there stumping on my behalf. We worked together for over a year on my story collection and, what turned out to be failed, first novel. There were a lot of good things that came from the relationship–such as the idea to switch focus to the historical thread I’m telling with Hyphenates–and I feel much richer for the experience. But it was nice to move on, frankly, to have some free space to work out exactly what I was doing with my books, to dig deeper into myself, and to do so as a writer, rather than as a producer of potential market share. It reminded me of the reasons why I really love doing this, having the chance to indulge daily in the small acts of creation and destruction that eventually tease out a story. These six months have given me the opportunity to refine my projects considerably. And I’m thankful for them. But now, it’s time to get back in the game, to pursue book publication with all I’ve got, and to provide for my family as best as I’m able.

Next week it’s back to work on Part II, which is nearly completed in rough draft form. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll have it in some kind of acceptable shape and can move on to actually finishing the book by the end of this year. Not to jinx myself or anything.

Thanks a ton to all my readers who helped work my manuscripts into shape before I sent them off, sometimes on very short-notice. Amber, Bill, Mary Helen, Nabina, Nicole, Travis—you’re the best! And likewise for Jonis, Brent, Gregory, Justin, and Timothy, for giving advice and being advocates on my behalf. All of you are also the best.

-Nicole, Maddie and I were off in Fort Collins last weekend at a wedding. The photos in this post are from the trip.

Maddie really loves weddings.

Dispatch from The Hyphenates of Jackson County

“She was in the same clothes as before, the heavy red dress, torn and dirty by then. Her hair was thin, unpinned and breezy about her face. ‘Is that her?’ Strauss asked. ‘That’s the one you were on about last week?’ Jacob said, ‘Yeah,’ still with his hand on the Pfarrer’s shoulder, their faces close together as they stared at the girl. She was only twenty yards away from them, steadying herself against the trunk of a locust tree, one of the trees Jacob had slept under his first night in Omaha. ‘Her betrothed skipped town,’ Strauss said. It was obvious that the girl lived on the street now, that her family had turned its back on her, or she’d gone crazy and willingly exposed herself to the mutilating fractions of a city.”

Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks

Electric Literature for “The Current State of the Universe”; Alaska Quarterly Review for “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine”; Nashville Review for “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life.”

Just Finished

The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak. The first novel of a beloved Creighton professor, this one is highly enjoyable. A kind of folksy post-modern historical novel that seems largely drawn from family history and deals with the tumultuous love lives of our parents and grandparents before we knew them. MHS has a second historical novel coming out this fall, by the way.

We drove up into the mountains in a thunder storm and didn't run over any of the many bicyclers!

Now Reading

What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman.

Up Next

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall.

Books That Came in the Mail

What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. Novel History by Mark C. Carnes. Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky. Three Delays by Charlie Smith. The Great Lover by Jill Dawson. Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin.

Catch Up Time: November 1 – December 13, 2009

Novel Work

Over the last month I’ve been trying to immerse myself a little deeper in books and movies that take place within the same general time period that my novel is set, using 1900-1935 as a wide range of years to pull from, as the events of my novel occur over 1918-1919. The idea here is to, for one, gain a better understanding of the traditions, practices, and standards of the historical narrative form. I believe this falls under the due diligence umbrella. The second reason for this immersion is to acquire something of an ear for the way people spoke at the time. It’s always struck me strange when characters speak so differently than we do in historical pieces—thinking mostly of characters with vocabulary dominated by slang who speak in nasally, affected tones—but how am I to know how people really spoke in, for example, 1920s Kansas City. My main hesitation then, during the drafting process, has been trusting my intuition against what I see is a practice of accentuating slang in historical forms to give it an “old-timey” feel. (It’s also important to note that typically only teenage or early twenties characters from lower economic classes use this thick slang. In It’s a Wonderful Life we only really see Ernie the cab driver speak in this affected way, certainly not Potter, or the grown version of George Bailey. Or in Robert Altman’s Kansas City, mostly it’s Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character with the period accent, and the black gangsters to a degree, but certainly not the kidnapped Senator’s wife.)

One of the ways I’ve been trying to bridge that information/experience gap is by reading local newspapers from the area on the microfilm collections of Omaha libraries, mostly the Evening World-Herald at this point—an idea I picked up from Ron Hansen. Now, this is a somewhat formal medium, so the language used there isn’t exactly street, but I’m not sure that’s something I want anyway. (If I don’t use a lot of slang in my contemporary stories, why would I do so in my historical ones? Plus, my main character is a country boy from a rural immigrant community and probably wouldn’t have been exposed to too much popular culture anyway.) What I’ve really been struck by in doing this kind of research is how little things have changed in the past ninety years. Surprisingly, the most obvious evolution in tone and style has actually developed in the hard news stories, because the Public Pulse letters are eerily consistent in tone, language, style, and even content if you replaced Germans with Muslims and German-Americans with illegal immigrants. I’m not really sure what I expected to see, but the similarities were striking.

So there is a tension in the writing process between authenticity and expectation. From what I can tell, people in 1918 Omaha didn’t really speak too much differently than we do in 2009 Omaha—or they didn’t write much differently, at least. (Again, this is focused mostly on middle-class white communities who were/are engaged in civic, political, and cultural issues.) However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that my book’s audience would accept dialogue that doesn’t sound “old-timey.” More than likely a balance must be struck between what I decipher as authentic and what the tradition tells me an audience will expect. What that balance means exactly will probably have more to do with my own ear (going with what looks and sounds the best) then anything else in the end.

Dispatch from The Open City

“The United States National Banking Company had been the first place Jacob stopped in at, a white sandstone building with large columns in the heart of downtown. The bank lobby was a bustling place, so unlike the sleepy office of the Jackson Building & Loan, where the farm deed was held. There were several stations here that one must wait in line for in order to be served. Each of them had signs indicating their purpose, Drafts, Pass Books, Deposits, but Jacob didn’t know which one to approach. He’d never had to find a job before; he’d been a family farmer up until this point. The lobby was packed with impatient people—suit-and-tie men with derby hats, holding packets of receipts for inspection, gloved women in ankle-length skirts and fine, flowered hats, clutching small purses—and the stuffy enclosure was stifling with the odor their colognes and perfumes. The bank’s one large room was divided by the cashier’s cages, heavy brass frames that held glass plates, a slot at the counter where documents and money were exchanged. There were cages in the back too, these made of heavy iron wire, containing adding machines and quick-fingered clerks whose only job was to note figures from morning til night. Beyond them was the heavy steel door of the vault, tilted open as a matter of reassurance. In the middle of the lobby stood a pot belly stove with a smoke stack the reached to the top of the twenty foot ceiling. Jacob gravitated towards the stove because it was the only place where people weren’t clustered. The metal was cold against his skin, his hands brushing against it.”

Personal Rejection Notes, Requests for More, and Other Nice Versions of No Thanks

Alaska Quarterly Review for “The Current State of the Universe”; Mid-American Review for “These Things That Save Us”; Hunger Mountain for “Let Your Hair Hang Low”; The Collagist for “You Know That I Loved You”; Grasslimb for “From Indiana”

Just Finished

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. As important as the first stories seemed, the final few seemed just as trivial. The conceit of having each story involve Olive in some way really wore thin on me. I still enjoyed this book and would recommend it, but give me Winesburg, OH any day.

Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor. Like the teenage and twenty-something characters who people his work, Taylor seems to be aware of what might be the limited shelf-life of these stories, but he risks irrelevance in the future because of the confidence that what he writes about has a broader significance. That despite the pop culture references and out-of-style fashion, there’s something vital simmering under the surface.

The Best American Comics 2009. My favorites include “Justin M. Damiano” by Daniel Clowes, “Indian Spirit Twain & Einstein” by Michael Kupperman, “The Company” by Matt Broersma, “Berlin” by Jason Lutes, “Jordan W. Lint” by Chris Ware, “Freaks” by Laura Park, “Antoinette” Koren Shadmi, “Glenn Ganges in Pulverize” by Kevin Huizenga, and “Papa” by Gilbert Hernandez. My absolute favorite was Art Spiegelman’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@#*!!”

Now Reading

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.

Up Next

Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne.

Link of the Week

Nathan Bransford Blog.   A cool blog by a literary agent attempting to demystify the largely secret processes of book publishing. A very nice resource.