Last night, I had the pleasure of reading with an awesome lineup of writers at one of the coolest new bookstores in Chicago -- Volumes Bookcafe in Wicker Park. The occasion was the launch of Tortoise Books' new anthology entitled "The Pleasure You Suffer: A Saudade Anthology." For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word Saudade (as I was), here is the definition cribbed from the preface:
Saudade reportedly has no direct English translation; it’s a Portuguese word describing the nostalgic longing for something that may never return, or may not exist. This feeling can be strangely comforting; author Manuel de Mello calls it “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” It permeates the music of Brazil, another nation steeped in slavery and sadness and the hope for a better life. Yet this heartsick yearning’s actually very familiar to those of us born and raised in North America; we often call it “the blues.”
Choosing a story to submit for this anthology was a challenge -- one that first required me to ponder what saudade really is. In my mind, the past colors the present, and the present clouds the past. Like two lovers trying to communicate but who more often than not wind up with crossed signals. Those crossed signals, between the past and present, for me, are what saudade is. And my story, "Homefront," tries to give voice to that.
When I found out my story was accepted, I was thrilled. Now, after getting a chance to hear some of the other authors from the anthology read, I'm positively giddy. It's a veritable all-star lineup of writers I admire (which, like any good all-star lineup, means all offense and no defense, i.e. lots o' fun!).
If you're looking for an interesting mix of stories and poems that strives to interpret this omnipresent itch-you-can't-scratch, you really ought to pick it up. Right now, the best place to get a copy in a brick-and-mortar store is Volumes Bookcafe. For those looking to order one you can do so through Amazon, or through Tortoise Books' website. Buy it!
I'm pleased to let folks know that a new short story of mine just went live in The Adirondack Review's Spring Issue. (I'm going to assiduously avoid any mention of seasonal ironies here...)
Anyway, when I say short story, I do mean short. This one weighs in at just over 1,100 words. I won't say too much about it here except that I think it's one of the funnier stories I've ever published. And it clearly is the product of reading a lot of reviews of merchandise online.
If you get a chance, go ahead and check that sucker out. It won't take long and I pretty much guarantee you'll enjoy it.
It's been a tough year, publishing-wise. It started out with high hopes and
a swirl of good news, only for it to slowly evaporate as the months dragged
on. Dark times call for soul-searching. As I was wandering through the foggy corridors of the interior, I came eyeball-to-eyeball with a surprising (to me) fact: I have been submitting stories, essays and novels to literary journals and agents and contests on a consistent basis for almost twenty years. That means for nearly half my life I've been on tenterhooks, awaiting responses on submissions -- trapped in a perpetual state of hope.
I'm starting to wonder if hope might not be an addictive substance, as damaging as the most seductive narcotic. Does that sound cynical? Perhaps. But bear with me as I examine some side effects of hope. I find myself constantly checking email, waiting for a response. Good news, when it comes, is inevitably buried under drifts of bad news. And even when there is good news, the high it produces is never as strong as I imagine it should be. Through it all, what does hope imbue me with most? Paralysis -- a sense of constantly waiting for things to change. I'm a hope-junky.
So it's time to go cold turkey. My resolution, if that's what you want to call it, is to go for an entire year without submitting one piece of writing. No contests, no lit journals, no queries. There's still a backlog of submitted pieces, which should take a few months to work its way out of the submission process bloodstream -- so it probably won't be until this summer that hope will be officially purged from my system. Then I'll be able to experience life without hope. I'm calling this experiment a submission-fast. (My freelance work is exempt from this fast due to the fact that I'm not subjecting those pieces to judgment. They're already commissioned, so the people paying me for them don't really have a choice. And I don't have to hope that they'll get accepted.)
What do I expect to accomplish from this? Aesceticism aside, the expectation is that by spending some time with absolutely no thoughts of submission, of purging the notion of hope from my psyche, I'll see if in fact it's better to live without it. Do I feel better day-to-day, not needing to check my email? Do I sleep better at night, not thinking if I should have put something else in a cover letter? Most importantly, will I be more productive with my time, not having to spend hour upon hour looking for submission sites and preparing the submissions? A positive side effect might also be to get back to writing for the sheer thrill of it. After all, if you don't expect anyone to ever see what you're writing, that can be liberating to write whatever the hell you want.
That's why I'm doing this. I'll report back as the year unfolds.
It's been a while in the making, but I've finally gotten my latest short story polished to the point where it's ready for submissions.
This story's been interesting from a process standpoint, in the sense that almost all the key elements of it have been on the page from the first draft, but the order and emphasis of those points were what I had to toy with in revisions. Which secondary characters do I need to play up or play down? At what point should this character do X? It's been the kind of story that plays to my sense of experimentation and tinkering. Probably the biggest change has been the title. From fairly early on I was calling it "Parachutist," which was a title I like for its obliqueness and originality. But very near the end of my revising, I realized that that title reflected a facet of the story that had long been revised out and to keep it would only serve to confuse. Thus, I switched to "The Tourist." Not as bold, perhaps, as my earlier title, but it definitely reflects what the story is now about.
Funnily enough, in my Tumblr blog a long while back I posted the opening paragraph of this story and was all braggy about how good I thought it was. Turns out I've kept only a fraction of the language in that original intro and it's now buried somewhere on page 3. Just goes to show that you have to be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of your stories.
Anyway, the first sortie is now away! (Gotta love electronic submissions!) Now, for me, it's back to the freelancing. Stay tuned for responses.
I recently picked up a freelancing opportunity where I'll be writing introductory essays for literary anthologies. One of them is the Literature of Propaganda and the other is the Literature of Manifesto. The essays themselves are heavily proscribed pieces, in which every paragraph has a specific thesis and strict word count. Writing them ends up being more of a puzzle-building exercise than any kind of creative process. But the challenge is fairly enjoyable so far.
Of course, the fiction has had to take a backseat because of this project. Which is turning out to be a bit of a sacrifice because I've got a new short story working its way through the pipeline and I'm itching to get it wrapped up. Fortunately, most of the big short story outlets seem to be closed to submissions until the fall, so I'm hoping to get the time to put the finishing touches on it this August and start sending it out in September.
I'm happy to report that my new audio-fiction story is live on the WordPlaySound website. You can now go there and listen to it through your web browser, or you can download it as a free podcast from the iTunes store. The story, My Beloved Monster, is an old one that I originally wrote back in graduate school. Over the years, I'd open it up, take a look at it and tinker for a bit. It wasn't until this past winter that I felt like I finally got it to a semi-finished state. Then, when Ryan Singleton, the editor of WordPlaySound, contacted me about recording a story, I figured this would be a good candidate. The results… well, you can listen to them now.
I just got word that the audio short story I recorded for WordPlaySound has been accepted for publication next month. Actually, I'm not sure if publication is the proper term for a recording… Maybe I should say my audio short story drops next month. Anyway, the upshot is that people will be subjected my superfluously enunciated podcast diction and my nascent audio mixing skills. Should make for an interesting listen.
This is a repository for all my semi-filtered thoughts on... blah, blah, blah.