Monday, February 18, 2013

With a student in my office moments ago, I nearly drove myself crazy looking for this Alice Munro quote on the Google Machine. My student left before I could find it, but now I want to post it here so that it will never be lost again, or at least not until I forget I've posted it on my blog.

Which I've probably done before.

"Anecdotes don't make good stories. Generally, I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A student asked recently for a definition of "literary fiction," not an uncommon question. I said all the usual things about the term simply denoting yet another genre, though literary writers would object, but I added ideas like "choices people make under duress" and internal conflicts that mirror surface plots, etc.

The other day Narrative Magazine emailed information about their next fiction contest, and among the submission requirements was this description of the sort of work they admire and want to publish. I think it's a great substitute for what I normally characterize as "literary." Here it is:

As always, we are looking for works with a strong narrative drive, with characters we can respond to as human beings, and with effects of language, situation, and insight that are intense and total. We look for works that have the ambition of enlarging our view of ourselves and the world.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hello, high lonesome blog. I've linked to my most recent short story publication, not so recent anymore since it's from last year, but now available for clicking on the left side of this page. The story is called "Saturday Children" and appeared in the great Redivider's Spring 2011 issue. Thanks!

PS: I don't know why it opens to the last page or why it's 10mb in size. The creation of PDFs has always been a mystery to me.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

At the coffee shop this morning, my friend Eve, a barista there, noticed the crickets at the front of the shop near the door were making a terrible racket. She was right; the loudest insect was only a few feet from my corner table, in fact. But I hadn't heard it, somehow, until she pointed it out. Now the thing sounded as if it had found a megaphone.

While Eve lunged for the crickets between potted plants on the windowsill, I thought about how ambient noise in a place like that is often exactly what I need to concentrate. Maybe that portion of the 'chattering mind' that otherwise distracts me during a writing session finds itself distracted by the sounds and sights of a public cafe. 

I don't worry so much about teasing out how or why certain locations promote productive writing sessions. I just go where the momentum is and move when it leaves. I don't ask questions. This morning I settled into a groove after two hours' scratching around, and found the elusive entrance to the scene I was writing about the same time as Eve trapped the last of her cricket tormentors in a paper cup and set it loose on Hickory Street.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My review of Hillary Mantel's newest, BRING UP THE BODIES (current finalist for the Man Booker Prize) went live on Ringside Review's Bookpunch (famous for their reviews in 200 words) today. Read it here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hi, blog. I didn't win the Amazon contest, as you might have guessed, and then I retreated to a mountain cave for over a year to meditate on the poisonous influence of Amazon on literary art.

No, none of that.

I had started a new book even before last year's Amazon news and the slight stir of agent interest that followed. The new book is now a nearly-complete first draft, which sounds great--and it is--but it's also the equivalent of forging the granite block you intend to chisel into some appealing shape. Can't start without the block. Can't rush the chiseling. In other words, there's a very long way to go. I can't imagine this novel will be ready even for my loyal cat to peruse for another year.

I will recommit to small, almost Twitter like updates to this blog. I can post about the oddities of the novelizing habit and some sense of the story's context. I don't want to write about the story, though, not because I think you'll steal it, dear sleepy blog, but because I'm superstitious about how many times you can tell or write about a story that isn't finished or even fully imagined yet.

Long entries in this space are probably counterproductive since they might make think I've actually accomplished something at the keyboard.

The new novel is set in London between the summer of 1909 and late 1910, and also partially in Wahoo, Nebraska. The main characters are a young American couple who get caught up in an obsession that takes them far from home and even farther from who they thought their lives would make them.

The story has nothing to do with the weather, but metaphorically it is finally the "stormchasing novel" my friends have suggested for years that I should write.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Amazon says circle the wagons

In the event REMEDY WHEEL does not advance to the final round of the Breakthrough Novel Contest, the free excerpt from my novel and all the warm hearted reviews and comments will disappear like tomorrow is...oh, well, never mind.

So for safekeeping I'll post the two official Amazon reviews here. But you should definitely download the excerpt for Kindle and Kindle apps which is free of charge.

Reviews: Review

It is very impressive. The whole setting and the character Haley are well developed and interesting. I would love to read this book or short story. The author seems to have well developed his/her setting, their character and has a strong feeling for where he/she wants to go with the story. Review

I loved it! I feel as though I'm just repeating myself. There were so many little things I liked about this excerpt. Number one: the protagonist was a skinny female who is fighting to get help for her sick father. That touched the heartstrings. Number two: the author touches on a bit of history that has been pretty much neglected. Blacks migrated to Chicago in order to find a better way of life, and yes a lot of them got involved in big churches that had charismatic leaders of dubious ethics. Plus, the author mentioned Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer whom a lot of people respect. I'm really looking forward to reading the finished novel.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Remedy Wheel at the Fair: Amelia Earhart & the Dymaxion Futurecar

An entertaining part of writing REMEDY WHEEL was discovering all the bizarre, futuristic electronics and vehicles which made their debut during the "big show by the lake," the 1933-34 World's Fair in Chicago.  The Dymaxion Car was designed to negotiate the narrow lanes and limited parking areas in newly congested cities. Part of the message of the Fair, of course, was that economic recovery was so assured that soon everyone would have a car, and such problems as parking would become universal. Prosperity was right around the corner. Designed by archietct and inventor Buckminster Fuller, the sleek, bullet car looked much like the airborne "pods" of the Skyride which lifted passengers back and forth above the lagoon, a perch from which they could see four states.

Here's a quick description from Wikipedia: "The Dymaxion car was a three wheeler, steered by a single rear wheel, and could do a U-turn in its own length. However, the rear-wheel steering made the car somewhat counterintuitive to operate, especially in crosswind situations. The body was teardrop-shaped, and naturally aerodynamically efficient. The car was twice as long as a conventional automobile, at 20 feet (6.1 m) long.[4] Drive power was provided by a rear-mounted Ford V8 engine, (See: RF →) which produced 85 brake horsepower (63 kW; 86 PS) through the front wheels. The front axle was also a Ford component, being the rear axle of a contemporary Ford roadster turned upside-down."

Even Amelia Earhart, who made a surprise landing in Lake Michigan during the Fair, took a joyride in the Dymaxion. You can see her in the backseat during this video clip. Luckily she wasn't onboard when the Dymaxion suffered a fatal accident during a later exhibition. The prototype flipped over, rolled a few times, and killed the driver. Investors quickly lost interest.

Earhart fans should check out my friend Micah Ling's beautiful poetry collection, Three Islands, which revolves around the enigmatic figures of Earhart, Fletcher Christian and Robert Stroud.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

connecting the system of tubes known as the interwebs

An unexpected benefit of the Amazon contest is my Goodreads account was upgraded to an author profile, and that allows me to cross post this blog to the blog module there.

However, I noticed  a problem from the posts I imported, and I'm using this post to see what I can do about it. So though I'll mention another web location I'd like you to visit, namely Amazon's page for the Remedy Wheel Kindle/Kindle app excerpt (free! whee!), I'll omit the URL because that seemed to cause a problem in the last post. Can't live with that, of course, so troubleshooting will commence presently.

For the sake of new content, I'll say that I'm surprised to find myself promoting a Kindle and Kindle app product. E-books and online delivery don't scare me all that much, and I don't know enough about the economics of Big Publishing to understand Amazon's effect on the industry very well. I've tried to focus on writing well, frankly. I'll learn more as needed, but my sense is that content and delivery paradigms will work themselves out and it will look very different than it did ten years ago, unrecognizable from thirty years ago. Some people won't like the change. Others will thrive. Humans will read narrative prose no matter what because that's how we're wired; we're storytellers. We're narrative beings. And people will always buy and keep books--real books, with beautiful covers and crisp pages that smell like your father's office. Just perhaps not in the numbers they did before.

Trees will celebrate.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

REMEDY WHEEL is semifinalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest

My novel REMEDY WHEEL is a semifinalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest! Pretty exciting. The big surprise for me was a review by Publishers Weekly, who called the book, "a highly literary tale... a grand old story." You can see the full review on the full editorial review page.

The Amazon page I've linked includes a free excerpt of the book for the Kindle and Kindle-based apps, such as for iPhone. Please download (and write a review!) if the spirit moves you. I believe the excerpt they've posted is the first 50 pages of the book.

In a month, three finalists will be chosen and then, in June, a winner selected by Amazon customers. I'm still learning how all that works, but the final result is a book deal with Penguin, an outstanding house.

Well, since I have plenty of room here on my own blog (how does one post without character limits??), I'll post the full review from Publishers Weekly:

"It’s the spring of 1934 in Southside Chicago, a mostly black area hit hard by the Depression, a little before the opening of the World’s Fair. Haley Mitchell, 19, and white, is running numbers for the Kings, a gang too ornery and peculiar for the Capone operation to trouble with. Haley, like every character in this sprawling, highly literary tale, needs a remedy—in Haley’s case, for her possibly brain-dead father. Black store owner Thomas Harris, a strong family man, wants to get out of his neighborhood and away from the Southern blacks, or “migrants,” and move to an all-white enclave near the university, but the most moving scene in the novel portrays the death of his sweet young son, after Thomas has made the move. Sorrow, and muted triumphs take over the novel therafter. Young Oscar Candelero, new to the city, naive and shrewd at once, saves the day. Impressed by the healing ministry of Elder Lucy and seeking the love of Haley, he invents a brand-new game, bringing together both ministry and numbers on the neutral ground—outside Chicago’s jurisdiction—of the Fair. From a souvenir of the 1893 Fair he fashions the remedy wheel, and remedies result, sort of, for everyone. A carefully researched, slow-moving, old-fashioned, and grand old story."