The Coil’s Best Books of the Year

Check out this list of the Best Books of 2017 from Alternating Current’s online journal The Coil, which features a number of instant classics like George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo and Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. And my book too, Kings of Broken Things, it’s on there too!

Thanks so much to Leah Angstman for her kind words and for putting together such a great list of books. We stock quite a few of these on our book cart and couldn’t agree more on the greatness of these books.

best books 2017

In the Contributor Spotlight with Midwestern Gothic

issue12Check out a new interview posted today on Midwestern Gothic, as I talk with Allison Reck about vulnerability, Bad Faith, and finding voice among a diverse cast of characters, along with my thoughts on napping and what is an appropriate time to eat supper on the weekend.

Friends of the blog may recall that my story “The Mercy Killing of Harry Kleinhardt” (the opening story in Bad Faith) was published in Midwestern Gothic 8 back in the winter of 2013. At the time I was also featured in their Contributor Spotlight, which makes for an interesting comparison with the latest interview. (It’s particularly funny that when asked what literary figure I would like to meet (living or dead) that I responded with George Saunders–as I had actually met George Saunders before. Maybe I forgot that I’d bumped into him at the Key West Literary Seminar in 2012–or maybe it was that our conversation then was limited to whether or not the pasta salad looked edible–but somehow that must have slipped my mind.) Thanks so much to Allison Reck for conducting the interview, and Midwestern Gothic for posting it.

Read the entire interview here, but in the meantime, here’s a highlight:

AR: In the advanced praise for Bad Faith, fellow authors hailed you for your “nuanced understanding of human nature” and said that your stories revealed the “malice, confusion, and ultimate frailty of us all.” Do you agree with this commentary, that your collection exposes humanity as confused, malicious and frail? What did you hope to convey about humanity in writing these stories?

TW: I didn’t really intend to write a mean-spirited book, and I don’t think it is. There’s something really compelling to me about vulnerability, particular those who are willfully exposed and those who try to cover up weakness by being cruel to others. There are a few malicious characters in Bad Faith — notably Aaron Kleinhardt, a criminal element who appears in two stories and seven between-story vignettes — but for the most part these are people who are vulnerable and different, but not really that interested in covering up their frailty.

The Second Half: The Millions’ Preview and Harper Perennial’s Big Deal

The Millions dropped its Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2012 Book Preview this week. In what’s becoming a biannual tradition, the list boasts a number of big-name authors, such as Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz, Michael Chabon, George Saunders, and David Foster Wallace. Not too shabby. Head over to The Millions for the full scoop, but here are some details on the books that look most interesting to me:

John Brandon‘s A Million Heavens focuses on an oddball cast that gathers around the hospital bed of a comatose piano prodigy.  …  Up-and-comer Charles Yu, who I saw in January at the Key West Literary Seminar, releases what’s been called a Vonnegut-esque short story collection, Sorry Please Thank You.  …  Jonathan Evison offers an interesting take on the road novel with The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, wherein a man takes off across the West with a boy suffering from Muscular Dystrophy who’s been entrusted in his care.  …  Zadie Smith gets back to fiction with NW, a class novel set in London.  …  Junot DíazThis is How You Lose Her arrives in September, a story collection that has apparently already been published piece by piece in the New Yorker.  …  America’s sweetheart, Emma Straub, breaks out with her first novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures. … Chris Ware collects his Building Stories comic strips in Building Stories.  …  Roberto Bolaño continues his impressive posthumous production with Woes of the True Policeman, which returns to the Northern Mexico city of Santa Teresa, featured in 2666. This is believed to be Bolaño’s final unpublished novel. We shall see.  …  Tenth of December is George Saunders‘ fourth humorous short story collection, many of which, I believe, were also already published in the New Yorker.

A lot to like there.

Meanwhile, Harper Perennial and One Story are partnering to offer the digital editions of some of their short story collections at the low price of $1.99.  Check out the details on Harper Perennial’s Facebook page. It’s no secret to readers of this blog that I’m a huge fan of Harper Perennial. In fact, of the books being offered in this promotion, I’ve reviewed Ben Greenman‘s What He’s Poised to Do, Lydia Peelle‘s Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing, Rahul Mehta‘s Quarantine, and Justin Taylor‘s Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. You can find the reviews here, here, here, and here. No matter your digital device, check out a few of these titles. You won’t be disappointed. (As far as I know, they also work in print. The discount doesn’t, however.)

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.

Good Friday News: KWLS, New Pub

Some excellent news to announce today!

First, my short story “These Things That Save Us” has been chosen to help launch the debut issue of Conversations Across Borders, an online journal that will feature literary writing and journalism from around the globe. The first issue will be available early in October, and will also feature work by Ilya Kaminsky (!), Sam Green, and Gary Lemons, among others. I’ll be sure to share some links and more information about CAB as it becomes more pertinent. From everything I’ve heard, it should be a pretty cool endeavor, and I’m excited to be in on the ground floor, so to speak.

Second, I’ve received a partial scholarship to attend the Key West Literary Seminar in January, 2012, and will be part of a workshop led by Robert Stone the following week! How awesome is that? I attended KWLS two years ago and am pretty amped up to be returning. (And I was scheduled to go three years ago to participate in a Robert Stone workshop, but had to cancel once we learned that Maddie’s due date was the same week. Looks like I’ll be getting a second chance at the workshop after all.) The theme of the seminar is, Yet Another World – Literature of the Future, and features Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, Rivka Galchen, Jonathan Lethem, George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates, Gary Shteyngart, and Colson Whitehead, among many others. They always have such a great lineup; this upcoming year’s is especially compelling. In addition to the literary program, I also get to spend a week on a tropical island during the heart of winter, which isn’t too shabby.

My view of William Kennedy, Russell Banks, and Joyce Carol Oates at the 2009 Key West Literary Seminar.

I’m also still up for a “named” scholarship, which would cover all expenses, including travel and a stipend.It would be nice to have everything paid for, of course, but I’m thrilled to have it all confirmed now, at least, with a large portion of it paid for by KWLS. I’m very lucky.

(Oh, and I apologize to anyone who might have been expecting ecclesiastically-themed content after looking at the post title. I have no updates on Holy Week at this time.)