The Southern Review Shipping Now–featuring “The Missing”

Late on Friday I heard from The Southern Review that their autumn 2015 issue (featuring my story “The Missing”) is currently shipping and should be out in the world soon. If you’re already a subscriber, keep an eye out this week. Otherwise, TSR is offering a “friends & family” discount that I’m able to share here for 25% off the purchase of single copies of the journal or any subscription. Use this coupon code: FRIEND514.

The issue also contains fiction by Erin Flanagan, Steve Amick, and Matthew Baker, and poetry by Floyd Skloot, David Kirby, Fleda Brown, and David Wojahn, among others. (Check out the table of contents here.) I haven’t seen the issue yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. Some exceptional company to keep, as I’d expect.

Here’s what I wrote when “The Missing” was originally accepted for publication back in January, if you’re interested in some deeper background. In short, “The Missing” follows a young father who runs off to visit a friend in El Salvador rather than face the prospect that both his wife and daughter-to-be could die during childbirth. This story represents a couple different progressions for me. One being an engagement of a more dynamic style, something I worked on extensively while on fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude last summer while working on a new novel. And the other development being that the story addresses issue of fatherhood and anxiety about childbirth and responsibility from that point-of-view. Usually it takes me a long time to digest things emotionally–so a five-year lag between becoming a father myself and being able to work on a story like this isn’t so bad.

Thanks again to Fiction Editor Emily Nemens for taking the story and for all her hard work editing “The Missing” into the best shape it could be.

Soaking it up down at the beach.
Costa del Sol, El Salvador.

This is going to be a good week, I think. I had a great time at the Omaha Lit Fest this weekend, and held my own during my panel. (Thanks so much to Timothy Schaffert for putting everything together this weekend, and to Douglas Wesselmann and Marilyn Coffey for sharing the panel with me.) Plus, Notre Dame beat USC in an entertaining rivalry game; the Royals are up 2-0 in the American League Championship Series after yet another huge comeback and could clinch a World Series spot in the next couple days. We harvested a bumper crop of carrots and beets from the garden today. My contributor copies of The Southern Review are on their way. What’s not to like?

Pub News: The Southern Review!!!

Some exciting news to pass along this week: The Southern Review has accepted my short story “The Missing” for publication!

I’m beyond thrilled about this. First, because The Southern Review has felt like it might be my white whale as far as lit journals go. A journal that is nearly unrivaled in its strong contemporary reputation and oft-cited tradition. (Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks were famously among its first editors in 1935.) For a few years now my stories have felt like they were getting closer and closer without getting there, despite some very nice feedback and encouragement from former editor Cara Blue Adams that kept me trying. Thanks so much to fiction editor Emily Nemens for taking a chance on the story.

Second, I’m very pleased to find such a good a home for “The Missing,” a story that marks a more ambitious path for my work, begun last year with this story (after Key West) and continued while writing a new novel of a similar bent during my fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude. More episodic and fragmented, voice-driven, stylized prose used as characterization, and, in this case especially, writing candidly about the anxieties of fatherhood. There are much bigger risks to take in life than writing a new way, of course, and much bigger tragedies than having your work being poorly received. But, still, I worried, and am ecstatic to have this story on board with TSR.

A bit about the story: “The Missing” follows a young father who runs off to visit a friend in El Salvador rather than face the prospect that both his wife and daughter-to-be could die during childbirth.

Here’s an excerpt:

Worthy told him wild stories about El Salvador. Bus rides up chuck-holed alleys into ghettos where even police were afraid to go because gangs controlled that territory—that San Salvador was the murder capital of the world, no matter what claims were made by Kabul or Baghdad or Tegucigalpa. Worthy told about getting drunk on something called coco loco. And girls dancing in clubs where the Salvadoran Geddy Lee played bass with one hand and keys with the other. And girls dancing in clubs who were on the hunt for American men, for the green card, but were often left behind in San Salvador if pregnant, and there was little recourse for a woman of that kind. In long phone calls Worthy told about girls dancing in a nudie bar called Lips that had a taco bar next door that was also called Lips. Worthy was persuasive. Even the plastic baggies filled with soft, slimy cheese that Worthy bought on the street, that was called queso fresco, even that sounded attractive when Worthy talked about it. Even when the Mrs grabbed the phone and told Worthy that if anything bad happened she’d know who to hold responsible.

Do you understand? the Mrs told Worthy. If he doesn’t come back, I will come down there and fuck you up.

This will be my 26th published short story, and joins a group of forthcoming publications for 2015 that includes “Shame Cycle” in Gargoyle, “Attend the Way” in Heavy Feather Review, and “Forget Me” on Cosmonauts Avenue, along with the February release of On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown, a chapbook published by Edition Solitude. Things are going to be busy.

Special thanks to CCB, Amber Mulholland, Dave Mullins, Ryan Borchers, Drew Justice, Amy O’Reilly, Charlotte Spires, Felicity White, and everybody else who helped this story along.


An American Werewolf in San Salvador

View from the balcony at CCB’s apartment.

Last week I had the pleasure of heading down to visit my old friend Country Club Bill at his diplomatic post in El Salvador. It was an exciting trip. Some good times were had, a summary of which is below. I was surprised, pretty much daily, both by how modern and how impoverished San Salvador is. This was my first trip to a third-world country, so I was expecting some of this. Yet, it was still harder than I thought it would be to get used to some things. The smell of burning garbage, for one. El Salvador has some great people, though, and I really enjoyed my time there. Back in undergrad I did some study of the Salvadoran Civil War, so I knew a bit about how nasty things were down there back in the 1980s. Really, the country is pretty remarkable, even with the devastation of the civil war, and the gang wars that rage now.

Day 1 (Saturday): I flew in this afternoon, catching a nice 5:45am flight out of Omaha. Wasn’t too bad getting through immigration and customs, despite getting stuck in the gringo missionary line, and then bumped over to the non-English-speaking line at the last second for some reason. I didn’t have the address where I was staying, which caused them some consternation for a while. There was some negotiation, mostly trying to decide who was asking a question and who was supposed to answer. Finally, a senior agent stepped in to ask me if the friend I was staying with had a house or apartment. Apparently my answering “apartamento” satisfied them. They let me in. CCB said their version of Homeland Security leaves a little to be desired. Although arguing with dumb gringos all day will wear anyone out. …

CCB enjoying a few Pilseners at the Merliot Market.

Customs at the airport was pretty sweet. They had this set up with a traffic light. You held this button, after a few seconds the light either flashed red or green, depending on if your soul is bueno o malo, I guess. It was a pretty exciting ending to the process. I wish US customs had as much flair. … So in my travel-dazed confusion, going out to the Paseo El Carmen in Santa Tecla was quite an experience. I met the Salvadoran Getty Lee, then saw he and his band play a solid set of Rush and Van Halen covers and an Irish bar that served no Irish beer. It was pretty good actually. The quality of cover bands is far superior in Central America than it is in the states. … Was still getting used to the near constant presence of armed guards and armed police. CCB let me know that the armed guards are usually just window-dressing for new shopping centers and gas stations, uneducated locals paid to stand out front with a shotgun. (Although those shotguns occasionally go off accidentally, with hilarious results.) … Earlier in the night we watched the Notre Dame-Boston College football game from the patio of a mountainside Bennigans, overlooking the valley while fireworks randomly shot off. Sufficiently surreal for my first night in country.

The crater (cauldron?) at El Boqueron.
Day 2 (Sunday):  We took it pretty easy the next day. Hiked up El Boqueron volcano. Went to Merliot Market for chorizo y limonada. That night, trying to track down some pupusa, we ended up at some family night gathering at Plaza Beethoven. There was some pupusa to be had, with stuffed plantains. There was also some good hefeweizen and bratwurst, a bit surprisingly. (Maybe they saw me coming?) So we ate and drank and watched the karaoke pros entertain the crowd.
Soaking it up down at the beach.

Day 3 (Monday): We headed out of the city, out to Costa del Sol to celebrate Veteran’s Day with a crew of foreign service pros at a swim up bar and on the beach. Not too shabby, although the Pacific Ocean did its best to slam a bunch of volcanic sand into my ears. (A nice souvenir to bring home to Nebraska.) … On the way back from the beach, when we pulled off so I could relieve myself at a gas station, I somehow forgot that there would be an armed guard there. It was quite a shock when a young guy, shotgun in hand, popped out of the shadows to greet me, my belt half undone. CCB had a good laugh about it. Just because the guard’s pointing a gun at you it doesn’t mean he’s not a friendly. In fact, he was very encouraging, merely there to watch my back as I urinated on his gas station. … That night we went to Pampas Argentinian steakhouse. It was pretty good, although nothing close to The Drover. You do get a nice cup of broth when you sit down, however, to help fortify your constitution against the harsh plains. That’s a nice touch.

The scenic view of Ataco.

Day 4 (Tuesday): A day after private beach clubs and steakhouses, CCB decided we should cruise the Rutas de Flores up into the mountains and backwood villages. We found a Portland, OR-themed bar in Ataco. (Although the Salvadoran beer and sandwich with six different kinds of meat on it that I had for lunch didn’t make me feel like I was in Portlandia too much.) In Yuajua we saw the black Jesus statue and took a tuc-tuc car up into the mountains to see the waterfalls. I didn’t swim in the freezing water. The little kid between us two gringos in the back of the tuc-tuc was crushed on the rough passage, but he had a good attitude about it. … On the way back we stopped at Trench Town, a reggae and pizza club outside San Salvador. The bar staff was hopelessly disappointed in my inept pot-hipster handshake. Eh.

Fields of sugar cane with volcanoes in the background. It’s no corn fields and endless flat, but it was okay for a few days.

Day 5 (Wednesday): I twisted my ankle walking down the steps of the slick new shopping center where we had breakfast. Better there than on the edge of a chasm the day before, no doubt. I enjoyed the steers that grazed on the roadside medians around the airport. … Trying to order lunch at the airport Subway was maybe not the best choice by this point. With my accent and awkwardness, the vegetarian sub I tried to order turned into an Italian meat feast. I was just happy to get a sandwich at that point.

In sum, everybody was very nice; even if they were just happy to relieve me of a few centavos. Better than a lot of placed I’ve been, where they’ll take your money but refuse to be pleasant about it.

Summer in Review (2012)

It’s been quite a while since I last offered up a review of my activities. All the way back in April! A few things have gone down since then, such as…

-I finished a draft of my novel, The Uninitiated, that I’m very happy with and sent it off to agents for consideration. (Read here about the finishing.) So far I’ve heard back from two of my top five choices that were queried, with one passing and another asking for full manuscripts on both my novel and short story collection! Who knows if anything will come of this–as the one who requested the fulls did so despite not technically considering new clients at the moment–is that a good or bad thing?–but I’ll take good news when I can get it. We’ll be heading off to New York for a few days in October, and it would be nice if I had a couple meetings/interviews to add to the itinerary by then. We’ll see.

-Not a lot of travel over the summer months. A trip to Niobrara for a few days, a weekend in Kansas City for my mom’s graduation from seminary school and Clara’s first Royals game, a week of commuting to Lincoln for the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. The fall should offer a bit more excitement. NYC, El Salvador. (!!!)

-I was tipped off recently that my story “Welcome Home” from Best New American Voices 2009 and Boulevard was taught at Southern Connecticut State University this fall. I know of three other colleges where the story has been taught–Penn, Drexel, and City College of San Francisco as part of a program for returning veterans–in addition to a high school in Illinois. This is so cool, and delights me to no end.

-My novel was also named a finalist for Tarcher/Penguin’s Tarcher Top Artist writing competition. I haven’t seen or heard anything about a winner being named, so I guess it still is a finalist.

-I left Prairie Schooner after four years plus of service. See post-mortems here and here.

-My book review of Shira Nayman’s A Mind of Winter can be found here, and of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich here, or Richard Burgin’s Shadow Traffic and Ron Rash’s The Cove here. My review of Yannick Murphy’s The Call is in the current issue of Pleiades.

Sporting: As the final couple weeks of regular season major league baseball wind down, the KC Royals look to have a solid hold on third place in the AL Central division. They’re still pretty mediocre (owing to long stretches of horrible play in April and July) but at least haven’t been nearly as disappointing as the Indians and Twins have been for their fans. Or for Tigers’ fans, for that matter. That’s something, I guess. Life in the AL Central isn’t so much about winning games, it’s about being less miserable than your rivals.

Notre Dame is off to a rousing 3-0 start, their best on the gridiron since Ty Willingham’s 8-0 start in 2002. With a home game against Michigan tomorrow night, and with Stanford, @Oklahoma, and @USC still on the schedule, this team could still easily go into the tank. That being said, I’ll still predict an Irish victory over the Wolverines this weekend. I’d feel a little better if ND had a few mini-Ditkas on the team, but I’ll stick with my gut here. Notre Dame 87, Michigan 2.

Dispatch from The Uninitiated

“Fred was the one who found him face down in the creek, over on the other side of their claim. He drank horse cleaner. That’s how he did it. It must have hurt horribly. His eyes lost their pigment. Hair fell from his head. Fred came and got Jacob. He showed their father unmoving in the creek. They wrapped his body in a blanket and brought it to the barn. They didn’t dare bring it in the house. Neither said this, but they both understood. The body stayed in the barn until the Pfarrer came out with the J.P. to get it.”

Just Finished

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy. A readable and well-done book. Nice suspense. I really didn’t like the epilogue, although I pretty much never like epilogues. A good book, though, certainly.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This book had been hyped so much before I read it that it couldn’t quite live up to everything I’d heard about it. It was good, but I think This Side of Brightness was better.

A Mind of Winter by Shira Nayman. A post-war mystery set mostly in Shanghai, Long Island, and London in the 1950s, A Mind of Winter offers plenty in the way of sex and drugs, mistaken identity, and ill-fated love affairs. These are characters who believe, explicitly or not, that the rules of society do not apply to them.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. A compelling novella about the life of a rambler and the struggle to tame Idaho in the early parts of the last century.

Now Reading

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. Loving this so far. It’s been a long while since I had time to tackle a broad, long novel like this.

Up Next

The Dark Corner by Mark Powell. Not yet released, but I’m looking forward to it.

KWLS 2012

So I’m back after spending eight days at the Key West Literary Seminar and workshops, and am still getting back into a home state of mind. The week was amazing and hectic. I met a lot of great people. I stayed up too late, drank too much, woke up too early. I was on a boat. Below are some highlights.

-I should mention something about the lineup first. The seminar featured George Saunders, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead, Joyce Carol Oates, Gary Shteyngart, Michael Cunningham, Jonathan Lethem, among others. It was such a strong string of lectures, readings, conversations, cocktail hours… It was really great.

-It was topped off by a four-day workshop with Robert Stone. I learned a bunch from Stone, mostly in listening to how he analyzes a story and his take on history and the history of literature–but I also learned quite a bit from the other writers/instructors talking about their experiences with Stone and his exploits, stories they’ve heard about the things he’s done. The guy has lived an interesting life, to say the least. Many of us in the workshop really treasured our time and felt lucky just to be in the same room as him. A very gracious, intelligent, and fascinating man.

-Highlight: George Saunders talking about having to get rid of his “Hemingway boner” in order to start writing his own good fiction. Saunders ruminating on his experience as a young writer was pretty special.

-Highlight: Jennifer Egan discussing PowerPoint as a medium, and going through some of her story “Great Rock and Roll Pauses.” By the way, Egan has the actual PowerPoint story on her web site if you’d like to read it. (Do this!)

I was on a boat.

-Egan also talked some about Gothic fiction, which I found very interesting. She mentioned “The Turn of the Screw” as the perfect Gothic novel. And, apparently, Michael Cunningham is adapting the novella for the screen. Or trying to at least.

-An agent sympathetic to the cause (political, not literary) from El Salvador flew over for a couple days to visit. No state secrets were compromised.

-I went on a sunset cruise on an old schooner.

-With a few other guys, I happened into a cocktail party hosted by Lee Smith and Hal Crowther. They’re so nice. The party was at a beachfront condo where (or next to where) Jimmy Buffett used to stay. It was pretty swank. There was an observation deck on the roof where we simultaneously watched (1) the sunset, (2) a lightning storm over the ocean, (3) heavy winds batter the beach. It was pretty intense up there, with the wind, the visuals. The wine kept splashing out of our glasses from the wind gusts. Still, the conversation never faltered through any of this. It was very invigorating. Something I don’t imagine I’ll soon forget.

Our pink home. The William Skelton House.

-We had a party at our house the last night of workshop. It was a lot of fun. We stayed in a big pink house just off Duval Street. There was a private pool in the back. I slept on a futon the whole week, but it could have been worse. Thanks to Eric, Spencer, Denton, Mark, Claire, Sabra, Emily, and Brad for being great housemates. (I hope I haven’t left anyone out. I don’t think I have.) Also, to Cat, Linda, Vanessa, Diana, and Jacquira too. We had a pretty strong crew going. Careless Whisper.

-If you get the chance to attend the KWLS some year, you should definitely do it. They give out a ton of financial aid, with no application fee. Why not try for it? Next years topic: “Writers on Writers.” This year was my second trip down, and hopefully not my last.