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.

Week of August 2-8, 2009

Novel Work
Doing the final work on the rewrite of Part I. It’s taken since March to get to this point, but I feel much more comfortable with what I’m doing now. Having gone from 100-pages of a third-person POV focusing on one character to 115-pages of a first-person narrator (who is a minor character) writing through the POV of three other characters, it feels like a pretty big accomplishment just to make it back to this point. Still not quite where I need to be, probably, but I’m getting there. Expanding the POV and playing with the notion of a first-person narrator acting as an omniscient third-person narrator has been very freeing in terms of character development. It came about from two main catalysts, the first being my agent’s suggestion that I had been writing the novel as if it were a really long short story—meaning, among other things, that I was locked too strictly into the limited POV of one character, ignoring potential angles other characters could add to the story. Second, was the need to kind of energize the voice, giving the voice of the story an angle within itself by allowing the narrator to have a stake in things, biases, etc. Basically, taking advantage of the big canvas I’m working with. The work seems to be much better and more interesting too. I’m looking forward to starting on Part II soon!

Dispatch from The Open City
“The animal pushed its pink nose out the sleeve to sniff the air, its rat nose twitching as Michael watched with disgust from a few feet away. Michael rubbed the knot on the back of his head, he ran his fingers through his hair, then reached back, realizing that books too can be weapons, tapping the bindings of the volumes near him until he found a thick one.”

Short Story Work
Put the finishing touches on a draft of “Never, Ever Bring This Up Again” and submitted it to the Esquire Fiction Contest just before their deadline. They mandated the title, by the way. I kind of like how it ended up, but it was a little frustrating to have to send off this version. With the generous help of one of my readers (Travis) it became apparent that the story should be set in the main character’s office building rather than his apartment. I’ll have to do a rewrite before the year is over.

Dispatch from “Never, Ever Bring This Up Again”
“The girl didn’t run when she saw Andy walking towards her, but held to the door handle dumbly, kind of pinching her legs together, bending at the waist. She wore old tennis shoes, the laces gray and dingy, and had a skinned knee, a bloody spot turned black on her dark legs. Up close, Andy assured me later, there was a dovish quality to her eyes. The girl had orange irises that flashed desperation.”

Kind Rejection Notes and Near Misses
Indiana Review for “How to Die Young in a Nebraska Winter.” McSweeney’s and One Story had previously sent very nice personal emails rejecting “The Current State of the Universe.” These near misses can often be misleading, but hopefully a big publication is on its way soon.

Just Finished
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, translated by Natasha Wimmer. After reading this novel, it makes me think that maybe 2666 was mostly finished after all. Bolano definitely has a propensity for ending narrative threads in an abrupt and ragged manner. Probably another “ambitious but failed novel,” but Bolano is just so pleasurable to read I didn’t really care. Great book!

Now Reading
Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle. About half-way through and really enjoying it, despite some reservations. In her Times review, Maria Russo notes that the collection is “remarkably consistent in pacing and tone,” which seems to be its biggest failing, in my eyes. Each story is great, but they all seem to hit the same notes and almost all are written from a first-person POV. Peelle is obviously adept at finding and inhabiting a character’s voice, which is a highly enjoyable aspect of her work, it’s just that when each story reads and feels the same, they kind of lose their power, I think. I’m hoping the second half of the collection offers a little more variety.

Up Next
White Noise by Don DeLillo

Also, please check out my story “The Uninvited Guests”  on the website of Johnny America if you haven’t yet.