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.

Down and Out at the NSWC

Demonstrating how to cultivate suspense with fellow workshopper Julia Lee McGill.

I was lucky to spend a week in workshop with Lee Martin earlier this month down in Lincoln at the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. The workshop was great. It was a lot of fun and helped crystallize the main issue of what’s lacking in the first twenty pages of my novel. I’m excited to get to work on resolving that issue now and getting the manuscript out to agents by the end of the summer. I couldn’t have asked for more, really. The group I worked with was very giving; Martin is a skilled workshop leader. I won’t get into the details too much here–although a dispatch of my experience was published last week on the Prairie Schooner blog if you’re interested. Read Lee’s recap on his blog too while you’re at it.

A very nice experience it was. If you have the chance to attend the NWSC in the future, or work with Lee Martin, don’t pass it up. Many thanks to conference director Timothy Schaffert and his ace lieutenant, Sarah Chavez, for having me down there. It was worth the drive every morning, and then some.

Taking Stock at 30

At 12, this sign is what I wanted to see each night before going to bed, for the rest of my life.

We celebrated my thirtieth birthday a couple weekends ago. It’s a pretty weird age to turn, at least as milestone ages go. It isn’t really all that old–so people who are older still scoff at you, as probably always happens–“you think eighty is old, wait until you turn ninety!”–but it sounds pretty damn old to anyone in their twenties. I suppose it’s an adult-sounding age, the age by which you have settled into a life path of sorts, or not. Supposedly forty is the new thirty, but I don’t really think that’s the case for me. Thirty is pretty thirty. I kind of like adult life. Marriage, kids, a full-time job, these aren’t things I want to avoid. I try to find myself within them, not outside.

I did point, in the past few years, to being thirty as a sort of edge for my goals. I had a few informal “To Do By Thirty” lists. Most of the advice I received from friends who recently turned thirty ahead of me was to avoid thinking in terms of things that I wanted to accomplish by now, but didn’t, as that can only lead to disappointment. I’m going to anyway.

Ned Beatty, getting misty-eyed.

My main goal was to have a book published by thirty. It didn’t happen, and nothing is on the horizon either. I think this is my main disappointment, I guess–although I’ve published short fiction in lit journals more widely than I really expected too, frankly, if there’s mitigation here. I’ve still never seen an Irish game in Notre Dame Stadium, although I’ve seen games in Lincoln and Colorado Springs. I wanted to have an MFA degree, or be working toward a PhD, but that didn’t really pan out. I’m mostly okay with that. I do have an MA, and I really enjoyed the experience of earning it.

I became a world traveler this summer when Nicole and I went to Tel Aviv in July. Of course, if one really did all the travel they wanted to during their twenties, there wouldn’t be time to do much else.

I’m married, and we have one incredible daughter with another on the way. These were things I didn’t really plan on. They’re the great surprise of my life.

This is not me. I'm okay with that.

I haven’t fulfilled what I foresaw for myself when I was twelve–living in downtown Kansas City with Royals season tickets, working as a plotter of X-Men comics. I have not fulfilled my dream of being a spokesmodel for Hungry-Man Dinners.

In sum, birthdays are always overblown. After the hangover was hydrated, I actually felt quite a bit better than I had in a while. What I manage over the next thirty years is what will matter more, after all.