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.
The #MyWritingProcess blog tour combines the best elements of writing a chain letter and having a conversation with yourself. It works like this: You get an invitation from an author-blogger to answer four questions about your writing process. When you do, you also invite three more writers to answer the same questions to pass the torch onward.
I was given the chance to participate by the inimitable author and activist Diane Lefer, whose work includes The Fiery Alphabet, California Transit, and Nobody Wakes Up Pretty. If you're not familiar with her work, I'd suggest you treat yourself to some good reading and settle in with a handful of her titles. You can check out her Writing Process blog post here.
At any rate, on to the questions:
1. What are you working on?
Right now, I'm working on a sequel to my debut novel, The Last Good Halloween. Typing that sentence gives me pause because I never thought I would be the kind of writer who does sequels. It just so happened that, as I was going through the (lengthy and tedious) process of finding a publisher for my novel, I realized that there was another part of Kirby Russo's story to tell.
This new novel, which does not yet have a title, picks up two years after the conclusion of the first one. Kirby is seventeen now, and it's been quite a challenge to adjust his voice accordingly. The same words sound very different coming from a fifteen-year-old versus a seventeen-year-old. After a few starts and stops, I think I've finally gotten his new voice down, and I'm ready to tell the rest of his story.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Genre is a tricky concept for me because a lot of folks have been wondering if The Last Good Halloween was young adult or just a regular novel. The back-cover description sounds YA, but the writing and story involve some pretty sophisticated and adult-type situations. My responses to those questions usually take longer than a page to explain – even then, they mostly conclude with, "I'm not really sure. What do you think?"
As such, I guess that tells you all you need to know about how my work differs from others of its genre. It's a story about a teenage boy, but it dares to treat him, his problems, and his worldview as very much parts of the adult world.
3. Why do you write what you do?
The only reason I ever write anything is because I'm interested to see what a particular set of characters will do in a particular situation. If it doesn't make me nervous, I'll probably stop writing it.
That doesn't mean I'm writing about international espionage or serial killer stuff. Those are fine, but not the kinds of thing that interest me beyond a superficial level. What really makes me nervous is finding out what a child says to his stepfather who has decided to move out, or what a husband says to his wife when it seems like all hope for their love is lost. Those are the kinds of things that make my palms sweat, the kinds of things I want to explore in my writing.
4. How does your writing process work?
My writing process is highly ritualized. I like to light a candle and maybe a stick of incense. Then I sit down at a special writing desk that's small enough to NOT be able to accommodate any sort of computer or laptop – electronics are a huge distraction to me during this first step and, as such, must be limited as much as possible, by force if necessary.
I write everything out longhand using a fountain pen. Writing by hand slows me down just enough to allow me to consider the words I'm writing and helps make sure what comes out is reasonably decent. If I were to type my first drafts, I think I'd have to sift through a lot more garbage on the subsequent edits.
For any given project, I like to have one pen that I use to write the bulk of it. Thus, I can point to the Waterman I used to write my first manuscript. Or the Pelikan I used to write my most recent novel. Right now, I'm using a delicious Mont Blanc, which my father gave to me as a Christmas present. Writing with it feels like driving a 1978 Cadillac with spongy shock absorbers. It's a treat for my hand.
This is what a typical first draft looks like:
After I've written a first draft, it's time to enter it into the computer. Lately, I've been using the program Scrivener as my go-to word processor. It's been a little scary switching away from the old reliable Microsoft Word, but I'm sticking with it and I think it's finally starting to pay dividends. With Scrivener, I spend a lot more time thinking about the words than the formatting, which seems like a good trade-off.
Well, that's it for my blog post. Next week, I hope you'll tune in to the efforts of these fine individuals.
1. Gerald Brennan is a self-described corporate brat who’s lived all over the eastern half of the continent but currently resides in Chicago. He earned a B.S. in European History from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University. He founded Tortoise Books in 2012 to provide a new outlet for quality authors who haven’t found a niche in the traditional marketplace. He’s the author of Resistance, Ninety-Seven to Three and Zero Phase: Apollo 13 on the Moon. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Good Men Project and Innerview Magazine; he has also been a frequent contributor and co-editor at Back to Print and The Deadline.
His post will appear on the Tortoise Books blog space: www.tortoisebooks.com/whatshappening/
2. Natalia Sarkissian holds a BA and MA in art history, an MBA in international finance and an MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has worked as a curatorial assistant, a management consultant, an English teacher, a translator, and a writer. Her writing and photographs have been published in the US and Italy by, amongst others, the University of Texas Press, IPSOA publishers, Corriere della Sera, The Huffington Post and Numéro Cinq where she is on the masthead. Natalia divides her time between Italy and the United States and she blogs at Postcards from Italy.
Her post will appear at: http://www.nataliasarkissian.com
3. Alex A.G. Shapiro is DEEP in the research phase of a torrid exposé related, but not limited to, modern fatherhood. He is a graduate of the University of Montana MFA program. His fiction has been published in the Crab Orchard Review, MAKE Magazine, and Identity Theory.
His post will appear on his blog: http://shapishap.tumblr.com/
The Bygone Bureau rounded up a series of reactions to the release of the fourth season of Arrested Development. And I was happy to be asked for my thoughts. It just went up today. My piece is somewhere in the mix there. Click here to check it out!
Just having a little fun here today. I've posted the first chapter of my novel The Last Good Halloween on my novel page. If you're curious to find out what it's all about, go the bottom of the page and click on the "Read Chapter One" link.
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.
A while ago a friend who runs the audio literary journal WordPlaySound asked me to try recording a story of mine and last week I finally had the time to sit down and give it a shot. Here are a few of the takeaways from the experience:
1. Garageband, which is the program I used to mix the audio, is incredibly complex but once you get a feel for it, it's also maddeningly addictive. The more I toyed with using different tracks and inserting sample loops and varying the volume on the individual tracks, the deeper down the rabbit hole I fell. Then, once I'd learn some other new trick or doo-dad, I'd want to go back and add it to all the previous stuff I'd recorded. The final mix ended up being kind of a Frankenstein's monster, which likely got better sounding as it went along.
2. It's super disorienting to record your voice. As a kid, I always thought my voice sounded strange when I'd hear it played back. Such instances were usually limited to home movies of birthdays and Christmas mornings, so at least they were a natural representation of my voice. It's a different ballgame when you're recording yourself for the purpose of being played back. I found myself weirdly over-enunciating certain syllables to a point where I sounded like I was talking in this absurdly affected British accent.
3. If you want to improve your writing, read it out loud. This is something I say to my composition students all the time and one of the tricks I use when I'm tutoring developmental writing students in the writing lab at school, but it applies just as equally to advanced fiction and nonfiction writers. Something about hearing yourself read your own writing helps cut right through the most wooden-sounding dialogue and spotlights the weakest turns of phrase. I can't recommend it enough.
This is a repository for all my semi-filtered thoughts on... blah, blah, blah.