Grateful and gratified to have a little story of magical realism in the latest issue of Eleven Eleven. The story, "U+2204," is part of a larger ms. of stories titled Paper Bird Ash. One of these days I'm going to get around to seeing about having the ms. published in its entirety. Meanwhile, I like seeing the individual stories getting into print one by one.
You don't have to know what "U+2204" means to appreciate the story but if you google and find out, it will add to your enjoyment and/or deepen your understanding. I hope.
Okay, it's established: I'm not a blogger. Some people blog and then pull together a newsletter from their blog posts. I don't do that. I put together a newsletter. Maybe now I need to take info from the newsletter and put it on this so-called "blog." It's a thought. The more time that goes by between posting something here on this news page/blog, the less I feel like changing that, which would seem to imply that I spend time thinking about this, when in fact, I don't.
In any case, here's something that needs sharing, and seems to insist on its own dedicated space. Yesterday, Tupelo Quarterly launched its first issue, and I'm proud to have my story "An Uncle" in it. The lit mag promises to be fabulous, with Jessamyn Smith as editor and Elizabeth Eslami as senior prose editor. This is TQ's foray into prose, and I'm thrilled to have been asked to contribute something.
Happier still, to have Elizabeth Eslami's comments about my story, which appeared on the TQ Facebook page today. She's a fine writer and astute editor, and that makes her remarks all the dearer. Here's what she said:
I love this story…Where “An Uncle” succeeds, for me, is voice, which is so hard to pull off and which she does so beautifully. And that’s where this story has to live or die, because…nothing much happens except the cracking open of a window into this girl’s life. She’s clearly at a transitional age, and Peg nails that shift, from a narrator who slaps Barbies against her sister’s arms to one who lets her mind go there, romanticizing that uncle who isn’t so much older than she is. Antonya Nelson writes about making the most of transitional ages, not only capitalizing on their “built-in” associations – first periods, dating, sex – but especially working against those associations, and damned if Peg doesn’t do that. There are a million ways she could have been predictable here, but she isn’t. What is real is a pre-teen who at once doubts she’ll be able to learn those dances but who also has the maturity and prescience to simply smile with the hope that Uncle Lew will see her, that something like a smile will shape how he sees her. …I truly think this is one of our best stories, one that I’m proud to publish in the first issue.
"One of our best stories," she says. Thanks so much to Liz, Jessamyn, and TQ. I'm inordinately fond of this story, for reasons I don't care to analyze, and so happy that it's had some readers.
Check out Thaisa Frank's discussion of her novel in progress, currently entitled Light and Transient Causes. Great title -- find out from where it came, and from where her idea for it came. (Hint: "pneumatic tube of the imagination" is involved.) Thaisa also provides a great definition of literary fiction.
Ilana Simons' work-in-progress
Ilana Simons is an amazing writer who I met through the publication of one of her beautiful short stories years back. She's also a psychotherapist, teacher, and painter. Oh, also a marathoner. She's the author of the wonderful A Life of One’s Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf (Penguin Press, August 2007).
Currently she's working on a novel with the working title (today) of Is Clara Burns a Narcissist? I'm fascinated by the sounds of this work-in-progress and appreciate her generosity in sharing her process. Example: I’m a psychologist who doesn’t like being in therapy but trusts that my disciplined routine of fiction writing taps and organizes my unconscious.
Check out her share. Extra bonus: photos and art.
More of The Next Big Thing soon, with Thaisa Frank next!
Rayme Waters is the author of The Angel’s Share. Today she discusses her novel, Quicksilver, which is a young adult novel this time, and concerns a family that moves from San Francisco to an upscale Bay Area suburb for better schools, but find out the town is cursed, they are in grave danger, and only the daughter of the family can undo the spell.
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book? Quicksilver.
Where did the idea come from for the book? The children’s library in the city where I live is a little gem: charming, hidden away and complete with a “secret garden” in the back. Passing it for maybe the hundredth time, out of nowhere came the question: What if the library was enchanted? Would the librarian also be enchanted? How about the children? What would it take to break that spell? Those were the initial questions that grew the idea for Quicksilver. In the novel, the entire town, built on top of abandoned mercury mines, is enchanted. The locus of the spell is the library and things both wonderful and evil flow from below it.
What genre does your book fall under? Young Adult fiction, but I hope to create enough literary layers to interest readers of all ages.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Most fun question ever! Elizabeth Banks would make a fantastic Lillian Flint. Amy Adams as Julie Flint and Ryan Gosling as Mr. Phillips because I can picture the chemistry working between them. Julianna Margulies as Esperanza’s mother. Any number of young actors could play the 15 year-olds at the heart of the story, Esperanza Bennett and Arden Flint.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A family moves from San Francisco to an upscale Bay Area suburb for the school district, but discovers the town is under a spell; the fifteen-year-old daughter of the family has the power to lift the curse, but will she make the tremendous personal sacrifice to do so?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I am represented by an agent and hope to sell the novel to a traditional publisher.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I’ve been working on the book for about six years. My first novel was eight years so I’m hoping to finish this one a little faster. Maybe the next one will only take four years.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? My imagination triggered the process; but once I started getting ideas down on paper and doing research, the story took over. As I’m editing I find myself getting excited about what is going to happen next—as if I didn’t know.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? Several of my trusted early readers think it has the feel of a break-through novel.
Rayme has tagged Sabra Wineteer who will post Jan. 31 about her novel, The Measure of Memory, which tells the story of a Nashville chef on a quest for his identity which allows him to discover his humanity.
Ten Interview Questions for Rob Yardumian:
What is your working title of your book (or story)? My novel is called The Sound of Songs Across the Water. It will be published in June, 2013.
Where did the idea come from for the book? When I lived in Los Angeles, I used to run around Silver Lake in the mornings. It’s about three miles around the lake, which is actually a reservoir behind barbed-wire fencing. Anyway, the story for this book came to me on a run around the lake one morning. By the time I got home, I had the whole story, and it never changed very much, thought it did take nine years to finish.
What genre does your book fall under? Literary fiction
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? This is actually an exercise I spend quite a bit of time on, as it helps me imagine characters. But Riley, the main character, has resisted all attempts to pin an actor on him. Weird. Lena would be played by Angela Bassett, back when she was 35. And Will Taylor would be played by a guy I knew the summer I spent weaving hammocks in Nags Head, NC. I don’t remember his name, but everyone called him Big Daddy.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? It’s about melody, lust, and the ghosts we can’t outrun.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Neither. It will be published by MP Publishing, an indie press with offices in San Francisco and the UK.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 2.5 years
Who or what inspired you to write this book? I wouldn’t say there was any particular inspiration for this book. I was looking to move beyond short stories into novels. I had two stories I liked for the novel, and after a lot of whiskey and consideration with my friend Michael Ritterbrown, I chose this one. It was the “easier” of the two to write, which seemed a good idea at the time.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest? There is an album of songs at the core of the book, and those songs exist in real life. I’ll be recording the album this spring with some friends here in Portland, and will have the record to market along with the novel come summer. Come see me read—I’ll play some songs, too!
My next Next Big Thing participants:
Sara Rivara. Sara will be writing about Lake Effect, a chapbook of poems that explore loss and rebirth amidst the harsh and stunning landscapes of Michigan.
Lisa Croneberg. Info to come; stay tuned!
I’m pleased that Christine Hale asked me to participate in this project and primarily because I admire her writing so very much, I decided to give it a try. Her Basil’s Dream is a wonderful novel and from the sounds of her blog post her memoir In Your Line of Sight: A Reconciliation will also follow suit. You can read an excerpt of it at Spry.
When I first read the phrase "The Next Big Thing," the words didn’t give me pause: the manuscript I’m working on is my big thing, for sure. It didn’t occur to me to think of the project as meaning the next big thing for the world. Only as I started asking my other writer pals if they wanted to play along did I realize that they got it: they were thinking of the phrase as if were they to take up the challenge they would be declaiming their work as the next big thing and were loathe to make that claim. They didn’t have the hubris.
Interesting. There’s a level of seriousness involved there that I don’t quite share, I suppose. While I’m not one to talk out a work-in-progress and find I need to keep much of it to myself, to dwell in the mystery, and let the words go toward the creation of the work itself, I also think it’s possible and helpful to share certain ideas. In any case, it’s been fun to talk about my work-in-progress and with any luck it may be fun for whomever reads about it. And if Blow the House Down becomes the next big thing of the universe, well, hey! You got a little glimpse into its very early gestation.
Without further reflection, here’s my “interview.”
What is your working title of your book?
Blow the House Down
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Exactly where the idea originated is hard to pinpoint. A set of characters – a pair of siblings – suggested themselves to me at some point over the past year and it became clear to me after a while I was writing a long piece about them. Around the same time I came across a book called For Girls Only: The Mysteries of Womanhood Explained, by a doctor Frank Howard Richardson published in the 1950s. The index listed such evocative topics as “Friendships, Abnormal,” “Narcissism,” “Mothers Try to Understand their Daughters,” and the book dispenses such wisdom as the necessity of girls cultivating popularity with boys, among other – suggestions is too mild a word – directions and admonitions, let’s call them. On the inside leaf, an aunt has written a letter to her niece about why she’s gifting the girl with this book, and that seemed to add another dimension to my imagining my protagonist Shelly (short for Michelle) as a girl. I’d also been reading The Chemistry Between Us: Loves, Sex, and the Science of Attraction (by Larry Young), which discusses epigenetics and lifelong effects of lack of mothering and oxytocin on children. In the manuscript the parents of Shelly and her older brother Tommy are most notable for their absence in the sibs’ early days. I liked the idea of exploring an intense bonding between a brother and sister, in which they’re really in their own universe separate from adults, and how that informs them throughout their lives.
What genre does your book fall under?
Contemporary lit fiction. It’s a novel-told-in-stories, and the stories are very very brief: flash.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Tommy: handsome, intense actors such as Johnny Depp, Ryan Gosling, or possibly James Franco (I’m a little off the last since reading his recent chapbook Strongest of the Litter, no matter that the title would seem to imply a good fit between the poems and my evolving manuscript; however, I’m hoping his upcoming Graywolf book of poems will make up for my current disappointment). Shelly is harder to cast. I’m not sure why or what that says other than I don’t watch enough movies maybe.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Too early to say.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Represented. An excerpt has just been published by one of my favorites, Joyland Magazine. Read it here.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft continues to evolve and is far from finished.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Dare I? Some of its trusted readers suggest Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever and Justin Torres’ We the Animals. I like those comparisons a lot. In terms of structure, I think other good comparisons are Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and The Ticking of the Bomb, though those books are of course memoir. Also, perhaps, Thaddeus Rutkowski’s Haywire and other novels.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See above answer to where did the idea come from. I have a passion for writing flash fiction; I love the form. I’m fascinated by how miniature stories can have the explosive or resounding or far-reaching effects that they do, and particularly interested in when they are structured to form a larger manuscript how they accumulate both in what they say and, much more so, in what they don’t say.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
There are no vampires. Well, I think that’s a plus. Seriously, one thing the flash form does better than other forms or genres is to more nearly approximate life, in that it’s made up of moments lived one at a time. What Shelly does is what we all do, live moment by moment and decode, over time, the individual moments and what they become. It’s an emotionally, maybe even brutally, honest exploration of siblings. And it’s funny sometimes. If you like your humor with a little edge to it. That’s what I think today. As the manuscript nears completion I may have different thoughts, hopefully more complex and erudite thoughts. Though I doubt they will involve vampires.
Check out the next five writers I’ve asked to participate in The Next Big Thing.
On January 22 Michael David Lukas, author of the award-winning The Oracle of Stamboul, will post here about his forthcoming The Forty Third Name of God, which tells the story of an Egyptian Muslim family charged with guarding the Ibn Ezra Synagogue in Cairo and its famous Geniza (a treasure trove of medieval Jewish manuscripts found in the nineteenth century by Solomon Schechter). A multigenerational chronicle of the al-Raqib family, this is a novel about Muslim-Jewish relations in Cairo, the hidden secrets of the Kaballah, and the sometimes conflicting ties of family and religion.
On January 24 Rob Yardumian will post here about his novel The Sound of Songs Across the Water, coming out in June, which traces creation and betrayal, joining and fissure at a time when lovers still made mixtapes to show they cared. Rob is a wonderful musician as well as writer so there’s no doubt this book will rock. (Nobody says “rock” anymore but the novel is set in 1995, okay? And he totally does.)
On January 26 Rayme Waters, author of the wonderful The Angel’s Share (Do you know what the angel’s share is? This novel has one of the best titles ever), will post here about next novel, Quicksilver, which is a young adult novel this time, and concerns a family that moves from San Francisco to an upscale Bay Area suburb for better schools, but find out the town is cursed, they are in grave danger, and only the daughter of the family can undo the spell.
On January 25 the sublime Ilana Simons, author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf, painter, and short story writer extraordinaire, will post at her blog about her work-in-progress that she’s titled “Little Narcissistic Clara Burns” and “Who in the World is Clara Burns?” and will title something else yet. The range of those two titles – moving from one to the other – already has me fascinated.
On January 29 when Thaisa Frank, author of the award-winning Heidegger’s Glasses, takes a break from her travels she’ll post on her blog about her current work-inprogress of which the title is secret. What you are permitted to know at this moment is that the novel is set in a house that is under surveillance in an undisclosed country that is having a civil war and explores how the conundrum of personal identity is brought into bold relief by war.
Please be sure to read what these wonderful writers will so generously share with you about their works-in-progress. I know you won’t be disappointed.
I'm thrilled an excerpt of my novel-in-stories, Blow the House Down, was published at Joyland Magazine. I knew it was coming, of course, but now it's actual and that feels great. Joyland is doing great work, and I really appreciate being included. Thanks to editor Kara Levy.
I really appreciate this blog entry from Bryan Furuness, editor of the exciting new Pressgang, in which he discusses thoughtfully how he learned to edit. He's spot on when he says it's somewhat of a mystery -- which I agree with. But, luckily, he goes on to try to break it down. I particularly like:
4. I read a thousand stories. Maybe more, I don’t know–but at least a thousand. Read that many stories and you get a sense of different moves a story can make. Read a thousand stories and you develop what Sondra Perl calls “felt sense.”
The term, she writes, “calls forth images, words, ideas, and vague fuzzy feelings that are anchored in the writer’s body. What is elicited, then, is not solely a product of mind, but of a mind alive in a living, sensing body.”
Felt sense links the body to the mind. If a sentence or a story is on the right track, it will feel right and satisfying. But if a line or the narrative design is off, you’ll be able to feel that, too.
Felt sense. Here's a link to Sondra Perl's "Guidelines for Composing." (Look for a future workshop based on these.)
Furuness sounds like a great editor to work with. And guess what? Pressgang is on the lookout for their next book. As of today [May 4], we are officially open for submissions. Fiction and creative nonfiction, long and short form--all creative prose is welcome here. If you've got a manuscript, we'd love to take a look.