Gargoyle to Publish Shame Cycle

The good news continues this month as Gargoyle has agreed to publish a short story I’ve written called “Shame Cycle”!

The story will appear in Gargoyle #61 during the summer of 2014.

“Shame Cycle” is something I’ve been working on for a while. In fact, it’s a distillation of my first attempt at a novel, a Best of that defunct project in a way. In that context, it’s especially nice to see this work come to light.

The story also features a fictionalized version of the 49’r Lounge, which was torn down to make way for a CVS a couple years ago–a fact that may interest a few locals here in Omaha.

Here’s an excerpt:

Anna was sixteen when she approached you at a downtown record store and you began seeing her not long after that. This was the summer before your freshman year of college, when she invited you out and claimed possession of your body. She paraded you around the smoky rooms of parties. You considered it a move up in social scene from the part-time Nu Metal rebels you knew in high school to this career class of punks. The hard-drinkers, veteran sludge rockers and sometimes transients who pocked the city so visibly in those days. These were people Anna exposed you to, her friends. Hipsters who spoke of NYC so constantly and fluently that, besides the fact that they were born here and lived here, they seemed to have never heard of Nebraska. Their mouths were always full of Brooklyn. They hitchhiked to Williamsburg and ran drugs from the Mexican border for South Omaha gangs; they bought their own tattoo guns; they had shaved-in mullets and handlebar mustaches; they screamed swear words into ice cream parlors as protests against capitalism. These people were the real deal as far as you were concerned—or as close to it as one could get in Omaha.

It was all so blinding. You were an honest, unable-to-hide-it geek; Anna was stylish and sexy in a way you couldn’t comprehend. She wasn’t like the athletic blonde girls from high school or the sweat-shirted young ladies at college pre-registration events. Anna had her own system of gravity, an atmosphere of nitrogen. The grim reaper tattoo had been her idea—the ink that runs from the inside of your wrist to the vein-popping crook of your elbow, a black robe draped half-off its skeleton body—just as wardrobe changes and haircuts were before that. You were desperate to keep her, that’s why you were marked so shamefully. Even after she left, you still took a lot of pride in your appearance, because it was something Anna gave you. You followed her around like a puppy and she made a mockery of your affection. You had fun that summer, though, you certainly remember that. Hard liquor parties and hand-rolled cigarettes, house shows in boiling hot basements, nights drinking underage. It was a renaissance of delinquency, a rebellion against the kind of common sense embodied by the men of your family. You are different from them now, because Anna changed you.

This will be my twenty-first short fiction publication. Different versions of this story were previously finalists in Matrix/Pop Montreal’s 2010 LitPop contest and PRISM international’s 2012 contest. So Canadians (and Canadiens, for that matter) like the story; you probably will too.

Thanks so much to Richard Peabody and the other editors at Gargoyle for accepting the piece. This is a place I’ve been trying since I starting sending out stories to lit mags, so it’s pretty exciting to break through. The summer of 2014 is shaping up nicely.

Shame Cycle Short-Listed for PRISM Fiction Contest

Out of more than 300 submissions, my short story “Shame Cycle” has been selected as one of ten finalists for PRISM international‘s 2012 Short Fiction Contest! Read PRISM‘s news release here. Jessica Grant will judge the finalists. Final results are expected within a couple weeks.

This is the second time “Shame Cycle” has been short-listed for a Canadian fiction prize. The story received finalist consideration in Matrix Magazine‘s (Montreal) LitPop contest. PRISM international is based out of Vancouver and published by the Creative Writing Program of the University of British Columbia. Apparently Canucks enjoy my tale of shame and transgression. God love ’em for it.

Wish me luck!

Weeks of July 3 – Aug 4, 2010

This last weekend we spent some time in Niobrara, Neb. at the Blankenfeld family reunion. As you may know, I’ve been working with my Grandma on some ancestry projects over the past year, and it was nice to share some of the fruits of that labor. I’ve also been using some of the Blankenfeld family lore as a model for Jacob Bressler in my novel-in-progress The Hyphenates of Jackson County. In this regard, the trip was especially significant for me.

On the Blankenfeld homestead with my Grandma Cleo and Mother Marta.

We were able to visit the original Blankenfeld homestead site, where Jacob and Maria settled in 1885. Although no structures remain—there was a hill where the original dugout had been—it was pretty cool to just stand there and appreciate the terrain. The area hadn’t seemed especially rocky and hilly before, in my previous trips to the area, until I imagined trying to cultivate it by hand. Later, we stopped into a museum of sorts that was made from the preserved farm of my Great-Great-Grandfather Henry Blankenfeld. He’s the model for Jacob in the novel–visually, and some of his history as the son of immigrants–so it was really exciting to walk through the house and barn he built himself, to eat an apple from a tree he planted, to descend the staircase his wife descended on the day they were married.

It’s always difficult to appraise how valuable experiences like these will be to my work. For one, who knows where the writing is going to take me. Will I need to know what the grass smells like? The flora? The fauna? Or how the sky there has its own unique blue, the air a particularly humid cloyingness? Also, in Hyphenates, Jacob comes from a different part of the state, one with a terrain closer to Omaha’s than Niobrara’s. So it isn’t like I can just sit down and make a sketch of the landscape to use in the novel.

The Blankenfeld homestead, originally settled in 1885.

Mostly it’s just helpful to be there, to be put in a spot that’s loaded with memories specific to my family, and where events took place that were crucial to my very existence. I’ve always had the kind of memory that retains periphery details well, so it’s a great benefit to just listen to stories, especially while smelling the grass and listening to the leaves in a tree. It isn’t that I necessarily came away with anything specific that I can add to the story—and I’m not saying I didn’t, I just don’t know yet—but it feels like I’ve gained a much better appreciation of what it was like to be alive in a time other than my own, even if it isn’t the exact era I’m writing about. And that’s something that can’t really be replicated in an archive or by looking at old photographs. It’s getting caught up in other people’s memories, and not just that, but doing so while standing on the very ground where things happened.

Dispatch from “Shame Cycle”

“Anna was sixteen when she approached you at a downtown record store and you began seeing her not long after that. This was the summer before your freshman year of college, when she invited you to a party and claimed possession of your body, parading you around the smoky rooms of parties. You considered it a move up in social scene from the part-time Nu Metal rebels you knew in high school to this career class of punks. The hard-drinkers, veteran sludge rockers, and sometimes transients who pocked the city so visibly in those days. These were people Anna exposed you to, her friends. They hitchhiked to New York and ran drugs from the Mexican border for South Omaha gangs, they bought a tattoo gun to save trips to the parlor, they had shaved-in mullets and handlebar mustaches, they screamed swear words into ice cream parlors as protests against capitalism. These people were the real deal as far as you were concerned then—or as close to it as one could get in Omaha.”

Maddie and Cocoa up on a Missouri River vista.

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

BOMB for “On a Train from the Place Called Valentine”; Zoetrope: All-Story for “The Current State of the Universe”; Cincinnati Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Indiana Review for “The Housekeeper”; Caketrain for “The First Night of My Down-and-Out Sex Life.” My story “Shame Cycle” was a finalist for Matrix Magazine’s LitPop Awards, but it did not end up winning. There was no consolation prize.

Just Finished

What He’s Poised to Do by Ben Greenman. An outstanding collection. Highly recommended. I liked it so much that I’ve written a glowing review of it, one that will hopefully be published soon.

Windmill at dusk.

Now Reading

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed.

Up Next

Death is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca.

LitPop + Montreal Pop+ Twheele = Street Cred?

A story of mine has been short-listed for Matrix Magazine’s LitPop Fiction Contest!

Wish me luck. The winner receives round-trip travel to Montreal, a stay at a bed-and-breakfast, honorarium, publication, a reception, and VIP pass to the Pop Montreal Festival.  All of this is pretty exciting and I’m thrilled to be up for final consideration. There’s something about free travel being included in a prize that really gets me going–and returning to Montreal would be that much more special.

This is the fifth time I’ve been short-listed for a short story contest, with a previous win of Boulevard’s Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers.