Thursday, December 18, 2008

Houston, your pages have landed

By post I received a card confirming receipt of my pages in the Big Apple, with a promise of response "within four weeks." My FedEx paranoia is resolved.

I'm finding every extra minute will come in handy. There's still much to improve throughout the manuscript, some chapters more than others, some characters especially, like the protagonist hold-over (re-named and re-cast) from the last version, who seems to have dragged all that book's flaws with him to the new story. I think within a week I'll feel marginally comfortable with the draft.

It didn't help reading James Woods' great re-review of Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road in The New Yorker, where he writes of Yates' always-masterful dialogue:

...the same richly restrained prose, luxuriously lined but plain to the touch; the same anxious comedy; the same very cold, appraising eye; and the same superb ear for the foolish histrionics of speech. Out of the apparently diplomatic conformity of mid-twentieth-century American realism—the sort of style that made short stories commercially salable—bursts the monstrous ego of Yates’s male characters, smashing all the eggshell niceties. These men are vulnerable, easily provoked by female competition or resistance, and their theatrical, role-playing speech haplessly shrouds and reveals their anxieties, in clouds of unknowing.

Of course I thought, 'Oh shit, my dialogue isn't doing that!' I definitely should learn to shroud and reveal anxiety in clouds of unknowing before the next project.

Oh, and thanks to cool-mo Hoosier Poetess Micah Ling, whose first poetry collection, Thoughts on Myself, about the flyer Amelia Earhart, is now available for preorder from Micah helped me realize that the female pilot landing a seaplane at the fairground "amphibian airport" in Remedy Wheel not only could have been Earhart, but should have been. And so now she is.

Friday, December 12, 2008

working and waiting

I'm working and waiting nervously. This morning I checked the FedEx website and discovered my partial was delivered on time, but left "at the door" instead of with a signature confirmation. Normally I'd be fine with that, but in this case I embarked on a paranoid mind-trip about wrong buildings and sneaky saboteurs pilfering partial manuscripts from random doors on 19th Avenue. :-) I composed an email to the "info@" address for the agency, but my friend Jeff talked me down before I sent it.

To add more hopeful vibes to the affair, I secured the domain name. Nothing there yet, and I won't post anything until there's reason. Okay, back to work.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

working as if

I sent the partial yesterday. Odds are the agent will pass on the novel. That's not false modesty or some lack of confidence in my story or my own ability to execute it; it's just reality in the literary fiction game, especially in today's publishing environment. But I'm accustomed to making big investments on long odds in May and June and this is no different. I'm working on the rest of the manuscript now as if the agent will request the "full." The only difference is that I'm sleeping eight hours a night now. If I get good news from New York, I'll cut that to three hours a night until I'm done. Like the stormchasers say, I can sleep when I'm dead.

The revision process is good, but I'm not cutting enough words. Hopefully I'll have time for another pass through. In the process of readying the partial I cut 1000 words, and discovered this when I merged those pages back into the main file. That was a happy surprise. I like the ratio, 1000 words cut every fifty pages. It would bring the project down to the number I need. Okay, more later.

Wish me luck! I need it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Taking a short break from the partial and synopsis I plan to send tomorrow. The first fifty pages were already in decent shape; now they're better. It's a revelation what you can do when you focus like a laser, a fanatic. Basically I've cut my sleep budget by about 70% and, besides the Cowboys game (big mistake) I've done nothing else since Friday evening.

The partial is good. The synopsis is hell. Remedy Wheel as of tonight is a 405 page novel with four point of view characters and intertweaving plot lines, set in places like the World's Fair and Langley Avenue All Nations Pentecostal Church. It resists extreme compression; so do I. The great agent-blogger "Miss Snark" called novel synopses a "totally weird haiku on steroids." But that's the challenge.

When I finish, I'll write the cover letter, sometimes between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM, I guess. Tomorrow I print, re-read the partial (out loud), make more corrections, print again on good paper, and overnight the whole thing to New York. Then I'm going to sleep a few hours, catch up on grading at school, and go back into fanatical mode in the event of a request for the "full." Going to need more coffee.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A literary agent read my story "Lake Effect" in Yemassee yesterday and asked to see a partial from Remedy Wheel. It shows that agents still read the "little journals" and that they're still looking for books, even with the unpleasant publishing news of the last few days (layoffs, acquisitions freezes, etc).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I'm almost halfway finished with the first major revision of Remedy Wheel (v2). I told people while I was composing the draft that I was "revising as I go," which I was, but at the same time I didn't really know how much time it would save me later in the process if any. You can't escape the process. Why would you try?

What I've discovered now is that the material is actually in pretty good shape for an early draft. There's very little fluff or fat and I'm not, in fact, going to "copy edit" away the fifty to seventy-five pages I'd like to shave. The only way to make a serious reduction in page count is removing a whole storyline. But which one?

This is a good problem in the sense that it means the draft feels relatively "solid." The downside is that I know I have to make real cuts somewhere. It's just too long right now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The real fist bump

This was my favorite picture of the campaign. The boy must have been one of Joe Biden's grandsons, or else he was just smart enough to sneak past all the grim secret service. This image says a great deal about this moment in American history, an amazing and unexpected opportunity for renewal of our nation's promise.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Case for Obama

Lately I was reminded that I haven’t posted a rationale for why I’m voting for Barack Obama. Fair enough. In the mudslinging and fog of political rhetoric I forgot that some people are taking their time and giving due consideration to this choice. That’s the right way to handle the responsibility of citizenship. I’m a partisan, probably a partisan hack, but I’ve also supported the ideas that Senator Obama supports for a long time. That means the choice wasn’t as tough for me. All I needed was to be convinced about the man himself, and I have been, particularly in these last six weeks. So here’s my case.

Foremost I’m voting for Barack Obama because I think he’s a great American and the most compelling leader in a generation—and he’s from my generation. It’s our turn and this is our guy. But I haven’t always felt that way. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the Texas primary. I believe universal healthcare is a hallmark of an advanced and progressive civilization. I reject the argument that health care for all Americans would necessarily lower standards. I trust American ingenuity and would never rely on foreign examples as the final measure and I’m surprised any American would.

But that issue aside, in the intervening months since the primary, Senator Obama convinced me not only that he’s the most qualified candidate, but also that my early vote was miscast. While I still believe Hillary is a smart, capable leader, I should have voted for Obama. I hadn’t done my homework.

His opposition accuses Senator Obama of possessing less than an authentic American identity, but they couldn’t be more off the mark. He’s the son and grandson of an immigrant—as are many millions of us—and also the grandson of a rural Kansas couple, the grandmother he flew to Hawaii to visit. Madelyn Dunham worked in a factory during World War 2 while her husband, Obama’s grandfather, served in the military. Obama’s father was a scholar from Kenya who came to America for our superior university system. He immigrated because he saw opportunity, the same reason my own grandfather left Rome with his wife and several children early in the 20th century. Despite tough economic circumstances for his single mom, Obama excelled and finished his academic career as President of the Harvard Law Review and was later a Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago Law School. But I’m not voting for a C.V. I’m more interested in what it represents.

For me, Senator Obama’s academic career is evidence of real intellectual vigor—a capacity and passion for knowledge, and an ability to gather vast data and process them, a critical faculty we must require of all future presidents. The current anti-intellectual movement is an economically destructive impulse. Americans have always valued education. This is why Americans struggle to build college funds for their children. We’ve seen the consequences of an intellectually incurious leader; it’s disastrous for a multi-cultural and complex nation like the United States in the 21st century. We have to compete in a world market. We have to make an honest evaluation of who we are and that requires a leader who knows. We can’t turn back the clock to the mid 20th century. We’re a new generation and we have to make our own way.

Yet he is inexperienced. Senator Obama hasn’t been in Washington D.C. long enough to compile a record like John McCain’s. But all former presidents agree on this: nobody is ready to be president until they have the job. There’s no preparation from any public service, no evidence that success in the Oval Office depends on some length of tenure on Capitol Hill or in a governor’s chair. Abraham Lincoln, FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan: none brought extensive political portfolios to the job. What all three carried, however, was intellect and charisma. They were leaders. So how are we to judge?

Well, we’ve seen Obama’s management and leadership style during this long campaign. He picked Joe Biden, a VP nominee who didn’t come with immediate political gain. It was a choice Obama made to help him govern, as Biden’s expertise in foreign affairs is acknowledged in both parties, and he’s made more trips to Iraq and Afghanistan than any three congressmen put together.

Next, witness the Obama campaign organization. Democrat or Republican, any political pro will admit that his operation sets a new standard for organization and execution. From field offices, paid staff, canvassing strategies, message discipline, and coherence, we’ve never seen a juggernaut like this one. Of course they have plenty of money, but so did Hillary with her big Democratic donors, and she found the Obama team outworking, outgunning, and outsmarting her. Many insiders believe that Clinton’s top staff didn’t even understand the formula by which delegates were assigned from state caucus results. Obama’s team knew.

Last weekend, I got an email from the campaign asking me to call Italian-Americans in Pittsburgh. Amazing. They’ve perfected database parsing such that they can target individual ethnicities. I can’t imagine how this is possible. An algorithm to detect a higher incidence of vowels in last names? Barack Obama is the chief executive officer of this intensely-sophisticated effort. He has to get credit.

On the other side, John McCain is having trouble with just his and Sarah’s Palin’s close personal staff. In the last three days, anonymous McCain aides called Palin a “diva” and a “whack job.” What does this suggest about a potential McCain government? What does his selection of Sarah Palin suggest? A poll released today showed that 59% of all registered voters believe she’s not qualified to be president. Another McCain insider called her perhaps the most difficult candidate to prepare for the national stage in history.

We’ve seen Barack Obama under fire. Both candidates stood in the public eye when the stock market tanked and panic reigned on Wall Street. John McCain threw ideas around, shifted positions frantically, and reversed himself hour to hour (suspend the campaign/don’t suspend, no debate/yes debate, and, within a single day: the fundamentals of the economy are strong/never mind, we’re in a crisis). Senator Obama, on the other hand, gathered information from experts like Warren Buffet and Paul Rubin, maintained a cool demeanor (to keep investors calm), and laid out his positions on the “rescue package” and future moves. McCain never settled on a coherent response. He floated along with the tide of White House and Congressional solutions. Obama’s leadership substance and style was so superior to McCain’s it was almost shocking given McCain’s long career as a Washington insider.

Today the economy is our biggest challenge. Barack Obama intends to cut taxes for 95% of working Americans and eliminate capital gains tax on small business because this will grow the economy from the bottom up. Nobody making less than $250,000 will see a tax increase, period. We’re a consumer economy. When the middle class is broke, the whole country is broke. Rich people don’t do well when schoolteachers can’t buy cars, or firefighters move their families from a foreclosed home to an apartment.

Senator Obama also intends to invest in America. He wants to rebuild our infrastructure: roads, bridges, and electrical grids—projects to strengthen our economy by providing millions of jobs and improve our competitive position. Obama proposes serious investment in renewable energy sources, not only because it makes us energy independent but because it offers the chance to export clean technology that we can sell.

John McCain’s suggestion that investing in American infrastructure and ingenuity is “socialism” is proof that he doesn’t believe in what our country can do when we’re together and committed. It’s the same cynical approach that’s led to dilapidated bridges, roads, schools, and electrical grids. Span collapses and power blackouts. It’s a serious competitive disadvantage for America. We have to pitch in together and fix this. We spend $10 billion per month in Iraq; we can afford to invest in clean energy and fuel efficient cars and put Americans to work in the process.

On Iraq, Barack Obama was right back in 2002: it was the wrong war at the wrong time. We will have spent one trillion dollars before it’s over, depending on when we finally leave. With violence down and the Iraqi government sporting a shiny new $83 billion budget surplus, now is the time for an orderly redeployment of exhausted American troops. Through the brave work of our men and women in uniform, can withdraw from Iraq without causing a humanitarian crisis—something that looked impossible a few years ago— and we should do it before the situation destabilizes again. Our very presence maintains the conditions for that destabilization.

Meanwhile, Bin Laden lives, hiding in a cave, mocking us on Mini-DV tape, while his forces regroup. U.S. troops in Afghanistan are neglected by the administration’s fixation on Iraq. Barack Obama wants to refocus our mission to find the people responsible for killing three thousand Americans in 2001. We have to give our troops in Afghanistan the chance to achieve the way our forces have in Iraq.

In this cause we shouldn’t have to go it alone like we have under George W Bush. After September 11th, we had a treasure of political capital from allies and even nations more leery of our friendship. But by unilateral non-diplomacy, arrogance, and a blatant disregard of the human rights we championed for half a century, we squandered that goodwill. Every dime’s worth. Now we have no friends left who we don’t bribe. Even British Prime Minister Gordon Brown revealed his hope that Obama would win—a significant breach of the US/UK “special relationship” protocol.

John McCain laughs at Senator Obama’s popularity. But the reason Obama is cheered around the world is because he’s perceived as an American leader who can restore American leadership through a recommitment to our moral authority. It’s not because they find him somehow personally alluring. They want America to lead. But they want us to do so from a moral basis and not at the business end of a missile.

The America I was raised in didn’t torture anybody (or at least it wasn’t institutionalized if we did), or hold people without charges, or operate secret prison ships, or behave as if the Geneva Convention didn’t apply to us. We helped write the Geneva Convention. We were better than our enemies. At the end of World War 2, surrendering German troops raced toward British and American forces and away from the Russians. The country I grew up in balked when other nations refused visits to prisoners from the International Red Cross. An abomination like Guantanamo Bay was inconceivable. It poisons our moral standing in the world and serves a powerful tool for every Al-Queda recruiting officer on the planet. How short sighted and self-destructive!

George W Bush sold out American values, for which thousands had fought and died, at the first sign of trouble. Eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. Suspension of habeas corpus. We not only leveraged our economy; we leveraged a moral authority earned over decades. Barack Obama will bring tremendous political capital to bear in our international relationships. World leaders will follow him if for no other reason than his immense popularity within their own electorate. This political capital will help America recruit the partners we need against extremists and in the effort to reform global monetary systems.

Barack Obama’s ascendance to our highest office will subvert the arguments of our enemies, confounding those who insist that the United States is an immutably racist and unjust society, that our ideals are only window dressing for a more malevolent agenda. Why should we care about the opinions of our enemies? Because they recruit young men and women to blow us up, that’s why. Because the basis of any real authority as a world leader is a moral one. The current administration has no moral basis today. They have made us a world bully, despite how a majority of Americans reject this approach. When Barack Obama says he’ll sit down with foreign leaders, friend or foe, Americans recognize the power of this: we’ll tell them to their faces what we intend. We’ll get our message across.

This country is bitterly divided. Fifteen years of partisan rancor ignited a “cultural war” between liberals and conservatives, labels that have changed dramatically in the same period. The last “liberal” president reduced welfare rolls. Our current “conservative” president doubled the national debt and nationalized banks and insurance companies. If it’s possible for a president to bring us together, even incrementally, that’s the guy we need. How do we know if Barack Obama is that guy? Well, there’s some evidence. For one thing, he’s brought tens of millions of new voters to the political process—people who previously felt distant and disconnected from our public life are now waiting hours in line for early voting. Young and old, black and white, of all political and other persuasions. No problem is more intractable than apathy. He’s already gone a long way to beating that one and he’s not president yet.

Another way to unify us would be to solve some of these problems. We’re hiring a new president to fix things, not to reaffirm our personal identity politics. We need a smart, charismatic problem-solver, someone with the brains to understand the issues, the ingenuity to forge solutions, and the chutzpah to sell those solutions to an increasingly reluctant electorate. Obama demonstrates real skill in all these areas.

As a Democrat, I can recite a laundry list of things Ronald Reagan did wrong, but there’s no denying that he projected a new sense of the possible. When I was growing up, it was my first taste of that spirit. The election of Barack Obama will remind us on a daily basis of the inherent nobility of our unique experiment, and how our often-detoured but still determined struggle for the Jeffersonian ideals of the Declaration continues. This is what makes the world look upon us in amazement, even now; that despite our flaws and misadventures and outright injustices, the deep, permanent scars of slavery and genocide against aboriginal peoples, and support of oppressive regimes for economic purposes, our direction is still, always, inexorably toward those “radical” notions of equality and the rights of humankind. That “all men are created equal.” This is as amazing an ideal as it was when Franklin and Adams sat stunned reading Jefferson’s first draft. If we want to lead the world by example, we have to amaze it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the best tree description of all time

from Marilynne Robinson, Home (2008)

...It was a good house, her father said, meaning that it had a gracious heart however awkward its appearance. And now the gardens and the shrubbery were disheveled, as he must have known, though he rarely ventured beyond the porch.

Not that they had been especially presentable even while the house was in its prime. Hide-and-seek had seen to that, and croquet and badminton and baseball. "Such times you had!" her father said, as if the present slight desolation were confetti and candy wrappers left after the passing of some glorious parade. And there was the oak tree in front of the house, much older than the neighborhood or the town, which made rubble of the pavement at its foot and flung its imponderable branches out over the road and across the yard, branches whose girths were greater than the trunk of any ordinary tree. There was a torsion in its body that made it look like a giant dervish to them. Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread its arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa. There had once been four swings suspended from those branches, announcing to the world the fruitfulness of their household. The oak tree flourished still, and of course there had been and there were the apple and cherry and apricot trees, the lilacs and trumpet vines and the day lilies. A few of her mother's irises managed to bloom. At Easter she and her sisters could still bring in armfuls of flowers, and their father's eyes would glitter with tears and he would say, "Ah yes, yes," as if they had brought some memento, these flowers only a pleasant reminder of flowers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

wait there's more

Also linked to a copy of my interview with novelist Lee Martin, titled "Where the Real World Lies," featured in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers.

"Lake Effect" from Yemassee

For my friend Andrew Marsteller, the great Amazon fish slayer, and any other interested parties, I've posted my latest story, "Lake Effect," which appeared in the spring 2008 issue of Yemassee.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I've posted the PDF version of my essay from Missouri Review earlier this year, "Put on the Petty." The link is on the left hand side of the blog under the recent publications list.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

those damn internets

An article from the L.A. Times about the destructive influence of the internet on fiction writing. So true. Most pernicious is the way it disguises itself as an amazing research tool. How else could I have found, in less than fifteen minutes, the perfect one and a half story Queen Anne style home, built in Brooklyn in 1901, for a scene in Sandusky, Ohio set in 1934?

Yet I also googled a dozen other topics, answered FB notes, checked scores, and read the opinions of most columnists in North America on the financial crisis.

Not good.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop

I've been selected as a fellow for the 2009 Kenyon Review Writers Workshop at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, which runs from June 20 to June 27. The workshop is an intensive, seven day writing "boot camp" that focuses on participants generating new work each day and sharing it with the group. Should be a blast and the campus looks amazing.

Monday, September 1, 2008

her majesty's a pretty nice girl

I have one scene left to write in this manuscript. It's weird writing this close to the end because I'm well past what might count as a "climax," and the emotional resonance of the story (he hopes) is already installed and running, and all this is to say that if I've fucked it up there's nothing to be done about it in this final, relatively quiet scene. I can't save myself now.

I always enjoy reading final pages (as opposed to "endings" in terms of the final movement) because the language seems amplified and elevated, but the truth is that when that's literally the case it's probably bad. Rather the language should feel astonishingly rich because of everything that's come before.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

notes from the Dentonground

I wanted to thank Darien Cavanaugh and the editors of Yemassee who just published my short story, "Lake Effect." The story is the lead fiction piece in their newest issue which landed at my doorstep moments ago. Darien worked patiently with me to get the most from one of my weirder protagonists and I'm very happy with the final version, delighted with their new issue, and grateful for the guidance and encouragment.

I also wanted to thank Leslie McMurtry, ficiton editor for Swansea Review in Wales, for the kind words posted about my essay "Put on the Petty," which appeared in the spring 2008 issue of The Missouri Review.

I'm back teaching now, juggling four classes as a Lecturer at the University of North Texas. For somebody with my C.V., it's a great job and I'm grateful to have it. Four classes is a heavy load but I should be able to continue progress on the book and other small projects. I'm writing the last chapter of Remedy Wheel now. When I'm done with that I have to write a new opening then stash the manuscript out of sight a while before starting revisions. No more guesses as to when I'll finish. When it's done, I guess.

In the grocery store this weekend I noticed a boy sitting in one of those child-pod plastic nose-cones attached to the front of a shopping cart. The kid's mother was pushing the cart and heading straight for me as she scanned items on a shelf to her left. The child looked eager for her to keep moving, leaning forward in his seat as if he knew a collision was in the works but that he was safe in the Big Wheel plastic of his conveyence. He was out for blood.

I don't think these child-pods are a great idea. Shouldn't a nation with obese children at least require they walk around the grocery store? And no, the kid didn't get his wish. I stepped out of the way before his mother catapalted me into the taco sauce.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

David Milch lecture series

Milch on the set of HBO's Deadwood...pulling the sled to Woo's Ice House?

David Milch, the genius creator/writer of HBO's Deadwood (or the self-indulgent engineer of the train wreck called John From Cincinnati) holds forth in a series of lectures, which, coming from a self-indulgent genius are both maddening and fascinating. I think Milch understands more about the psyche of the writer than anyone I've heard on the topic. His life story is a composite of some 1950's writer-persona mythology (drunken, whoring, heroin-addled drifter), and the contemporary context: Ivy League wunderkind, Iowa MFA, struggling in a market increasingly intolerant of character-based fiction. Collapses into the refuse pile of police procedural television. One wonders how much of this adventure tale he engineered and how much his circumstances shaped him. What's certain is few can write damaged human beings better than Milch.

Here's a blog with a series of his lectures. The first, at the bottom of the page, concerns a writer's contentious relationship with the ordering structures of his or her life. It's rambling at times but worth the payoff.

The Idea of the Writer Blog

Friday, June 13, 2008

funny book nerd stuff

Funny post on The Consumerist about McCarthy's The Road. Which of course is being adopted for the screen--ugh. A work that singular and important should be left alone. But this is our culture. Stand by for the TV series and comic book in 2012.

I guess if it sends people toward challenging novels, it's not all bad. I taught The Road two years ago in a freshmen comp course and the students loved it. They enjoyed it even more when during that semester Oprah picked it as required reading for her Legions.

I guess Blood Meridian is forthcoming as well, though without Marlon Brando around to play The Judge, I don't have much hope.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I'm back from chasing and back to writing. I was away from the novel for three weeks, not a good thing. Rather than reading it from the beginning up to where I stopped, I wrote four one-page treatments of the four point-of-view characters, curious to see which turns of characterization (and plot) came to the fore. This helped me simplify the story and understand what needs amplification and what should recede. Now I just need to finish the fucking thing.

Here comes Election 2008. I want to suggest that if people are serious about electing Barrack Obama, they should arrange to spend time in a swing state during the last week of October or the first few days of November. The GOTV (Get Out the Vote) organizations are hands-down, no-contest, the most effective and efficient use of your political energies. Trying to convince so called "moderate Republicans" or undecideds is a waste of time. If they can't see the difference between these candidates and what's at stake, it's too late for them.

What YOU should be worried about are the people who know they want to vote for Obama, but wake up on November 2 and (a) forget [not joking]; (b) get stuck on the phone with their grandmother and run out of time; (c) find themselves in such a death-defying round of Grand Theft Auto that they can't be bothered [the reason why the "youth vote" is the most notorious illusion in presidential politics]. In a GOTV effort, you knock on doors, make calls, drive people to the polls, answer their questions about where to vote, and, most fun of all, growl at fat Republicans in business suits who illegally try to intimidate or misinform voters waiting in line. They run away pretty easily. You can throw things at them if you like, wrappers and such. I did this kind of work last election and it was a blast. (yes, even though we lost).

If you live in Texas or Indiana or some similar one-party fascist stronghold, don't waste your time. Get thee to a swing state.

Friday, May 16, 2008

I have been remiss. It's chase season.

"It's the dismal tide, Ed Tom. Not the one thing."

I owe this blog the origin story for "They Never Caught the Sun" (and a thank you to my friend Casey Boyle for linking the blog post about it) and some kind of riveting update on the status of my novel. Nothing so dramatic as writers writing about writers writing. Is the coffee cold? Will the cat step on the keyboard?

In lieu of anything remotely interesting, how about my latest creation: a curriculum vitae!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

some news

I only have a moment to post. Two items: The Missouri Review is creating an audio recording of my essay "Put on the Petty," read by a drama student at the university and which I presume they'll post on their website. I'll link when it appears.

Also, my friend Darin Bradley sold his novel Amaranth to Bantam/Spectra a few days ago. What a great moment the first *call* must be. Congrats to Darin and much success to Amaranth!

Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm behind on posts here but the novel work continues steadily despite the calendar and "attendant convection" as the meteorologists say. It's not as easy this time of year, what with tornadoes around every corner, but I'm finding a balance that should satisfy my late August deadline.

Meanwhile, I shipped a friend my last copy of the magazine RE:AL, which published my short story, "They Never Caught the Sun" in Fall 2007. But I scanned it into a PDF file first. Below is the cover and a link to the PDF, which, I must warn in advance, is 22 megs in size because of my ignorance of Kinko's scanning technology and a string of pouty, even more ignorant employees. Nevertheless.

PDF link for "They Never Caught the Sun"
(22 megs--right click and choose Save Link As)

When I return from a brief storm excursion tomorrow or Wednesday, I'll post about how this story found me four years ago on a side trip to one of the many ghost towns in the Texas Panhandle.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

My profile of Pulitzer finalist & former UNT professor Lee Martin appears in the current Poets & Writers, on the shelves now. Go buy all their copies! Well, you can, but it won't make me any more money. The issue also features twenty up and coming new literary magazines, some great new markets for writers. Also in this issue, the debut of Belarus poet Valzhyna Mort, and a talk with super-agent Nat Sobel.

Here's the cover:

Lee Martin's new novel, River of Heaven, is available in bookstores now.

(photo credit: William Bryant Rozier for P&W)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Rock Me on the Water" is a great song. I can testify to this as I've been listening to it nonstop for about two hours. The lyrics have a sly gospel theme, and there's a primitivist, southern-style church in my novel, shepherded by probably my favorite character. If Elder Lucy Smith had been alive in 1972, she would have been rocking to Jackson Browne.

I gifted the song to a friend of mine a few minutes ago. Browne's lyrics, at least on his debut record, Jackson Browne, weren't particularly poetic in terms of fresh or vivid imagery or language, but they sounded great, Browne's wonderful ear made the most of his diction, and they absorbed more meaning than they earned through their juxtaposition with his rich melodies and understated voice and range. Sort of a crooning Rick Bass, if you want.

I listened to The Pretender and Running on Empty a lot in the 90's. These are both among the most important records of the singer-songwriter turn of the late 70's. Of course my copies of those CDs disappeared into the same great, disc-filled void as over half my collection (we used to always blame this one guy we knew, a chronic music borrower, but he was an Axl Rose devotee who wouldn't have been caught dead with Jackson Browne). Now, through the magic of "the internets," I'll buy those records again, and call them records, and talk about the "tunes."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's a little known fact that the Chicago stockyard fire of May 1934 was started by one of the characters in my novel. True story.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The spring issue of The Missouri Review, which features my essay, "Put on the Petty," along with a cover photo from my storm chase on June 9, 2005, is now available. This is my first published "literary" nonfiction, which describes the aftermath of being struck by a tornado in Tulia, Texas last April, and the loss my close friend and chase partner Eric Nguyen to an illness later in the year.

A curiosity about this issue is that it features an interview with Charles Baxter, adding another chapter to our strange literary path-crossings (of which he is justifiably unaware, I'm sure). It all started in 2001 when Baxter had a story in Oxford Magazine, alongside my first published fiction. At the AWP conference this winter in New York City, I passed Baxter in the hall and on the street so many times, morning, afternoon, and even late at night, that it became a sort of game. I told Lee Martin after the second day of the event that Baxter must have thought I was stalking him, some lunatic fan taking the doppelganger theme of his newest book one step too far. Now, he and I are in the same magazine again. It's all too much. I'm going to read his novel and then ask for the meaning of it all.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I went storm chasing this weekend and have tried to recover my writing routine ever since. Apparently, working on this book is, for me, a little like walking a tightrope above the Grand Canyon. If I stop, I lose my balance and fall, smash against the rocky floor below, die, wait until my rebirth, reintroduce myself to the story and its characters, then haltingly, distractedly, almost unwillingly, resume my former position and pace.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

In my spare time, I chase tornadoes. Have for more than 12 years now. Two storm chasing friends of mine, Mike Hollingshead and the late Eric Nguyen, have a coffee table book which was just released from Thames and Hudson called, ADVENTURES IN TORNADO ALLEY: THE STORM CHASERS. A story about the book and its release appeared in today's Daily Mail, and The Drudge Report linked the story. This is amazing exposure. I reviewed a galley of the book and have since bought five copies; I highly recommend it for anyone interested in natural sciences. Mike and Eric are the best storm photographers in the world and these are their greatest hits.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It occurred to me a few days ago that the son of one of my main characters should have died about seventy pages ago.


That's not a bad thing to realize at this point in the process, and one benefit from having tried this novel-writing thing once before (for my MFA thesis) is that I know to sit on the idea, and keep writing the story as it stands (without killing him, and even including him in new material), until I'm utterly convinced such a thing is required or until the first major revision.

You can't stop working until you make up your mind, or write from this point forward as if what you're imagining has already happened. Even going back seventy pages and weaving the new event into the draft from that point doesn't seem like a productive course. Best to let it stew, get second and third opinions (by finishing the draft as conceived), in order to discover all the implications. I guess my primary change in approach is to avoid beginning any new, significant plot turns around this potentially doomed figure. But none were planned anyway; in fact he rather fades from view, probably because he was supposed to have died.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

As I suspected, providing content for a writer's blog is challenging. What do people talk about in these spaces? The process? The "biz"? I don't know anything about the biz and only enough about the process to recognize it makes for boring Internet content. (but riveting classroom fodder, the unemployed workshop instructor said)

How about numbers? Numbers I can do. At this moment I have 63,000 words in the rewrite of the novel I wrote for my MFA thesis. If I'm smart, I'll land the thing around 90k since anything more makes a debut novel hard to sell. Over 100k and many agents won't read the first sentence. That might not be true in genre fiction, but for the sort of "upmarket" literary drek I trade, it's mostly the case. Until it isn't, that is. If you wrote a stunning debut novel to follow your torrid run as a short story wunderkind, you could bang out any word count you liked.

My idea is to make my book not a single word longer than necessary. I don't think the story requires more than 100k, no matter what the market prefers. I'm shooting for 90.

As a rewrite of a novel I'd already revised, I don't consider the material in 'first-draft' condition. What I mean is that it's somewhat better than awful, benefiting from what I learned about the characters, their motivations and conflicts, and all the list slippers worn by their favorite clerks, etc, in the first book. You don't know until you write them. You may think you do. I also know their El stops, how many gigs you can buy in a "saddle," and how the sun peeks over Lake Michigan April mornings in Grant Park.

Remedy Wheel interweaves the lives of four Chicagoans in 1934: Candace Harris, a young woman working for Chicago Telephone, her father, Thomas, who owns a candy store in Bronzeville; Oscar Candelero, a teenaged son of Italian immigrants who leaves home in Upstate New York to see the World's Fair and have sex with the fan-dancer Sally Rand; and Haley Carter, a young woman from Sandusky, Ohio, running numbers to save enough money to bring her terminally-ill father to Dr. Frederic Bartlett, an English neurologist visiting New York that spring.

The characters run headlong into the competing faiths of the day: science and technology, trumpeted by the World's Fair as 'mankind's' salvation, the vibrant South Side storefront church scene, replete with hucksters and faith healers like the enigmatic Elder Lucy Smith, pastor of Langley Avenue All Nations Pentecostal Church, and plain old vice: the lucrative "Policy" games which generate so much economic activity, jobs, and violence.

It's pointless to say much more. I hope I finish it soon and sell it soon after.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Nine Ideas for a Happier Whole

This story, "The Nine Ideas for a Happier Whole,"(PDF) appeared in in Southwestern American Literature in Fall 2003 and then in an anthology of previously published fiction from graduates and then-current students of the Indiana University MFA program. The anthology was called The Habit of Art: Best Stories from the Indiana Fiction Workshop.

I wrote the first draft in a single sitting, and worked with Lee Martin, then a professor at the University of North Texas, on revisions. I can't remember how many times I sent it out, but not too often. I didn't think it was so great. This is back when I thought making people laugh in fiction signaled a lack of serious intent.

The narrator is a fusion of people I knew, including myself, and people on television. He's creepy but in a likeable sort of way. The girl in the story is based on someone I dated a long time ago. She never drove a car like that, but another friend of mine did. Sneaking into Oklahoma for beer is a rite of passage in Fannin County. It's what passes for high drama when you attend Bonham High School.

Once, on one of our "red barn" beer runs, a friend of mine leaned over and popped his glove box door to reveal a 9 mm handgun. Presumably he intended to show this to the TABC officer who made his living trying to nab Texas teenagers hauling watery beer back across the state line. Luckily for all of us, we didn't get caught.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Most fiction and nonfiction writers have blogs and websites. Websites are labor intensive and blogs are easy, so here's my blog.

I've listed forthcoming articles and stories below and I'll make periodic notes about current projects in this space.

These days I'm working on my novel, Remedy Wheel; also a piece of nonfiction intended for Isotope's special issue on Planetary Engineering; and a short story, "An Inside Joke Among the Damned," which I hope might land in Glimmer Train, a place I've long tried to publish.