Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Review of 2666 on Bookpunch

My review of Roberto Bolano's 2666 is live on the cool site Bookpunch. Many thanks to Micah Ling for the invitation!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pushcart Prize XXXIV in stores

A few developments. I'm up to five agents now holding full manuscripts of Remedy Wheel. Surely one will offer representation, if only by accident. Fingers crossed.

Also, the 2010 Pushcart Prize anthology has dropped, available now by Amazon or, better yet, your local bookstore. This one includes my essay, "Put on the Petty," originally published in The Missouri Review. It's available both in hardcover and trade paper and probably makes a fantastic companion text in a writing or short story lit class, too--not the original intention of the series by any means--but a good way to help keep it alive in difficult market conditions. In any case, you should go buy it. I can't say enough about how humbled I am to have work appear in this venerable series and how grateful I am to those who encouraged me during the writing of that difficult essay, especially Jeff Doty, Scott Blair, Kristen Keckler, Speer Morgan, and Lee Martin, who picked the title out from a description I gave him over dinner in October 2008. Thanks, all.

On a side note, author Cliff Garstang has long maintained a ranking of those magazines whose fiction either appears or is cited for special mention in the Pushcart most frequently. It's an interesting exercise, not intended to be critical at all, but an arbitrary way to gauge the quality of fiction from the various "little magazines." Here's his latest ranking with the 2010 results included.

Friday, October 30, 2009

as if two committee meetings and job market prep wasn't enough

Yesterday someone parked about six inches from my driver's side door. I found this after I finished teaching my morning class, outside a building some distance from where I teach next, and I'm accustomed to grabbing some lunch between the classes and then parking again much closer to where I spend the balance of my day. When I saw the other car, I knew it was tight, but I thought the opening was wide enough that I could squeeze inside without much trouble. At least that might have been the case fifteen years ago.

After three tries to wedge myself between the door and the frame, I backed out and decided the umbrella I was holding (due to the tropical nature of North Texas weather this fall) was preventing me from contorting successfully enough to negotiate the gap. I threw it in the backseat and was soaked seconds later, and still fared no better jamming myself into the car. Now I was really pissed.

You see, in less than two hours, I was scheduled to be observed by another faculty member. These evaluation sessions happen once a year and I was acutely conscious of this as I noted my drenched shirt and slacks and the odd scuff marks under my belt from where I'd rubbed against some part of the door. In another few minutes I would spot a strange red dye smeared above my right knee, from what I have no idea.

When I was convinced I couldn't get, I retrieved the umbrella and stood by my car a moment considering the options. I could wait, of course, and hope the obnoxious Chrysler owner showed himself, but that might have been counterproductive since nothing came to mind to say that wasn't composed entirely of the most vulgar profanities I could imagine. It was likely a colleague from another department--we were both in faculty/staff parking spaces. I imagined a trip to the Dean's office. Disciplinary committees. The disappointed puzzlement of my department chair.

Of course the best choice would have been to gather my things and start the modest walk to my next destination. But I like to hit the drive-through of our locally famous Asian-fusion joint, Mr. Chopsticks, and grab a shrimp fried rice or cashew tofu for lunch between classes. I teach four classes on Thursdays, capped by a three-hour night class, and it's hard enough staying energized without skipping a meal. On the day I was scheduled for evaluation, it seemed even more important to stick to my routine, rude driver or not. At last I climbed in the passenger seat and studied the problem of sliding over to the driver's side, no small task in my 4Runner. I have a laptop computer stand, part of the permanently-installed storm chasing paraphernalia, not to mention Toyota's abnormally high center console--both significant obstacles.

I thought of starting the car and putting it in reverse, with my left foot or even my hand on the brake pedal, to back away from the offending car, but thought better of operating a vehicle in a way I was familiar with from only my weirdest, most panicked nightmares. They never seem to turn out very well.

So I tried to make the leap from one side to the other. My first try was a complete failure, I found it impossible to swing my legs around the main pole of the Jotto Desk. So I removed the upper portion of the stand and threw it in the back. My next attempt was almost successful, but the lid of the console felt as if it was about to snap, so I aborted the effort and removed the lid, throwing it in the backseat as well. On my last try, with my butt sliding across the now open console, I realized that what was likely to happen--what seemed almost certain given the importance of the day and the already comical nature of my predicament--was that my pants would catch on the exposed hinge of the console and tear the ass right off. I stopped moving and considered what I could do to stop this, but at the same time I was calculating the distance to my house, how long it would take to change clothes entirely and return to campus. I slid another inch, two more, three, and then plopped down in the driver's seat, pants scuffed and soaked but intact.

In triumph I called Mr. Chopsticks and ordered my stir-fry veggies in advance. Back on campus I ate lunch in front of the oscillating fan in my office, drying out and calming down. What a week.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

big success on her first try

Friend of a friend Alice Miller saw her first published short story, "The Windmill," awarded New Zealand's prestigious BNZ Katherine Mansfield competition, with a $10,000 prize. The story treats the love affair between a young composer and her imaginative but intense partner, and the choices they make to preserve their separate futures. Miller says,  "It's a story about admiration, about what happens when you meet someone say with an amazing imagination and that's incredibly enchanting and can make you giddy, but can also threaten to take you over."

Here's a video report from a national station in New Zealand, and various print reports regarding the celebrated award. Thanks to Jeff Doty, who attended Iowa at the same time as Miller and remains a close friend, for pointing out the news.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kind words on Cynthia Shearer's Thimblewicket

A very generous piece about my Pushcart essay, "Put on the Petty," and my novel-seeking-a-home, Remedy Wheel, by  Cynthia Shearer, author of The Wonder Book of the Air and The Celestial Jukebox, which appeared first on her fine blog, Thimblewicket, and then under the Literature tab of Oxford American Online.

Thanks, Cynthia, for the kind words!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ajahn Brahm returns

For fans of  Ajahn Brahm, the funny and quirky storytelling monk has returned from a three-month retreat and posted a new talk entitled, "Why Me?" about the calamities life can offer.

Friday, October 2, 2009

first publication for student Frisco Edwards

A student of mine, Frisco Edwards, landed his first publication this morning, a story called "Escape Hatch," in the online journal Denver Syntax. First pubs are always memorable events, so congratulations to Frisco!

Monday, September 28, 2009

a letter from Lee Martin on The Letter Project

My friend Lee Martin, finalist for the Pulitzer in fiction three years ago, was approached by the The Letter Project blog, an online journal which collects and presents letters from authors and other artists. They require the letters to have actually been mailed to the named recipient, and Lee sent his letter to me, written in response to a Facebook message I'd sent a few days earlier.

Here's the link to Lee's letter as it appears on The Letter Project website.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Eric Nguyen (1978-2007)

My friend Eric died two years ago today. He was an artist of the highest caliber, a landscape photographer of storms and tornadoes whose work endures in galleries, books, magazines, and most of all in the imaginations of those whose conception of the natural world was changed by his imagery. For those of us lucky enough to know him well, he was a terrific friend.

One of the last times we hung out, at my old house on Jasmine Street in Denton, we'd been drinking wine and talking about a December trip to Rome and Florence when Eric grew restless and wanted to walk around the block. I didn't know at the time that a new medicine he was taking gave him bursts of energy, and I was tired from a big Italian meal earlier that night with our friend and fellow chaser Robert Hall. The wine made me drowsy and unenthusiastic about the August heat. But Eric insisted and so we set out to parallel the railroad tracks along Jasmine, turned up Highland Avenue and back down Wisteria, pausing at the corner under a street lamp to examine some bugs and give the yapping dog across the street a long look at us.

This was the first week of August 2007. I was about to quit my job in a few days, resign my teaching post to spend the upcoming academic year finishing a novel and writing some nonfiction. I worried about the decision. I also thought, in those days, that I was supposed to move to New York City in order to sell a book. Networking, I thought. All this was on my mind as Eric and I continued down the street, a slight breeze from an open field offering the only relief from the humidity, and he asked about my plans, what I envisioned for the distant future rather than the more immediate changes I'd discussed with him for weeks. When was I was going to make time for a family? I didn't have good answers for him.

It wasn't small talk; Eric wasn't very good at that kind of chatter. But nor was it his habit to engage in deeply personal conversations and stay with them. There was something else going on. I can't say what my friend imagined for himself that night, about two weeks before his hospitalization and almost a month to the day before we lost him, but looking back on it now his words rang of some solemn foreknowledge, an attempt to put things in order. And if he had some notion of his own troubles which lie ahead, then the way he steered our conversation, about my plans, and how he asked if we could make a second lap after we'd finished the first, or follow the railroad tracks into the night so we could keep talking, is why I tell people he was one of the most generous spirits I've ever known.

Friday, July 10, 2009

novel-writing kit

Two blog posts I wish I'd seen a long time ago, about how to format and approach the novel synopsis (as much fun as having wisdom teeth removed sans anesthesia) and the other, a light-hearted but substantial post called "Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Novel in 1000 Words."

Thanks to blogs by Nathan Bransford and the "Guide to Literary Agents."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

why I like Bing

No, not Bing Crosby, though he was cool enough to do a song with David Bowie when Bowie was, shall we say, incongruous with Crosby's family-friendly image, but I digress. I'm talking about the new Microsoft search engine, which the New York Times claims is superior to Google in many ways I don't care about. What I care about is what happened when I "binged" myself (what else would you do the first time on a new engine?) and instead of some stormchasing link topping the hit list, this blog--my dear old writers blog--poorly maintained and often neglected, emerged the winner. Which likely means my chasing board has shed nearly all its viewers over time, from a similar lack of new content, but still, it's a milestone.

So for all three of you who visit this space regularly, thanks!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

dispatch from Kenyon Review Writers Workshop in Gambier, Ohio

I'm having a blast at the Kenyon Writers Workshop this week in Gambier, Ohio. This is a charming campus with a great, hard working staff who make the conference a memorable and, more importantly, productive experience for everybody. My role here is as a Peter Taylor Fellow in Fiction, assisting with Lee Martin's workshop while also producing the same amount of writing as regular students. We hold 4 hour workshops each morning and the students have individual conferences with Lee and I both. Everybody performs at least one reading from brand new work. The emphasis here is just that: generating new material to carry you through the summer. Tomorrow I'll post about what I'm working on. Meanwhile, goodnight from Gambier!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians

"I am not surprised by what they are doing. I know very well the weight that insinuations and nuances can be made to bear or how a question can be asked in such a way as to dictate its answer. They will use the law against me as far as it serves them, then they will turn to other methods. That is the Bureau's way. To people who do not operate under statute, legal process is simply one instrument among many."

"No matter if I told my interrogators the truth, recounted every word I uttered on my visit to the barbarians, no matter even if they were tempted to believe me, they would press on with their grim business, for it is an article of faith with them that the last truth is told only in the last extremity."

-From Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee, 1980

Monday, May 18, 2009

sending pages

Off goes a full manuscript of REMEDY WHEEL to an agent who liked the partial. Fingers crossed. And the request comes only hours before I'd planned to pack up the computer and printer for Wednesday's move.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Put on the Petty" wins a Pushcart

I learned tonight that my essay, "Put on the Petty," published in the Spring 2008 issue of The Missouri Review, has been awarded a 2009 Pushcart Prize. It's a huge honor and particularly gratifying given the circumstances of that piece. I have to thank Speer Morgan, whose amazing edits created resonance and meaning I didn't know was possible, and my friends Jeff Doty, Kristen Keckler, Lee Martin, and others who helped me shape the story. And to Scott Blair, also a close friend of Eric's, who encouraged me to keep writing and to submit it, even before he'd read it, because he said he knew it was the right thing to do. Thanks, everybody.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"they're already here"

So a few minutes ago I saw the preview for the new Terminator film. Isn't it ironic that the country which produces so many scary depictions of robot/human conflict, like Battlestar Galactica, the Terminator franchise, and others, is the only one currently using robots to kill other humans in combat? We even have a scary name for them: Predator Drones.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Oceanfront Drive, Newport Beach

The opening night of Eric's photo exhibit, Adventures in Tornado Alley, was a big sucess. This photo is from early in the evening, before Art Walk crowds packed the small Todd/Browning Gallery inside Polyester Books (211 W 5th in L.A.).I visited with my friend Dana Johnson, and hung around answering questions from people who were amazed by the images.

For a little added excitement, 12 cops apprehended an apparently important perp right out in the street. All the police drew their sidearms and two brandished shotguns. Just like the movies!

Eric Nguyen photo exhibit opens

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Adventures in Tornado Alley: Photography by Eric Nguyen" at the Todd/Browning Gallery in Downtown Art Walk

The Todd/Browning Gallery, where the late Eric Nguyen's photos go on display next month, is part of the larger Downtown Art Walk, during which 40 galleries draw between 3000 and 4000 people every second Thursday of the month. Eric's show, "Adventures in Tornado Alley" coincides with the Art Walk opening on March 12. The gallery is planning a preview on the evening of March 11th also.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Isotope Magazine accepted my essay "The Sharpest Fall" for publication today. The piece describes an experiment some friends and I conducted to test the integrity of the pressure sensor which Eric Nguyen and I unwittingly drove into the Tulia, Texas tornado. Another friend was preparing a scientific paper on the Tulia data and we needed to test some failure modes for the instrumentation. The surprising results of our experiment are interwoven with the recollection of a strange radar vehicle we encountered a few years ago in the plains.

The essay should appear in the magazine's "planetary engineering" issue, but there's no release date as yet. I've been a fan of this journal for years so it's gratifying to land something here. It's a cool meeting place of science and literary writing. Check it out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

no dice

The famous agent passed on Remedy Wheel. I'm disappointed, no way around it. But the feedback was positive in several areas, and the primary objection to the plot is one I hadn't expected and which few early readers have felt was a problem or even mentioned. It's a fundamental premise of the story and one I think I can reinforce. I'm not sure it will be a common complaint, and that gives me reason for hope, if it was truly the fatal flaw for this particular agency.

We'll see. This is the beginning of the road.

Our job candidate on campus today talked about how he had queried several dozen literary agents before hooking one for his story collection. It was a testament to perseverance. So, onward.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Exhibit: Adventures in Tornado Alley, Photos by Eric Nguyen

The Todd/Browning Gallery in Los Angeles, California will exhibit a collection of Eric Nguyen's photography from March 12 through April 4. Eric was my close friend and chase partner and our experiences in 2007 were the subject of my essay "Put on the Petty" in The Missouri Review.

The Todd/Browning Gallery specializes in vintage and contemporary photography by both emerging and established artists from the USA, United Kingdom, Europe, Japan, Australia, and elsewhere. According to gallery director William Eiseman, this will be the first exhibition of storm photography ever in Los Angeles.

Much of Eric's family is from Newport Beach and they're looking forward to sharing his work with relatives who still live in California. We're all proud of him and gratified that he's receiving such well-deserved recognition.

Monday, January 19, 2009

sort of finished

In many ways I've finished Remedy Wheel, at least until such time as a beta-reader or agent or editor (I hope) describes the surely extensive revisions necessary to make it presentable. In the meantime, I feel okay about it. It beats the hell out of my MFA thesis, that's for sure, a document I intend to have found and destroyed by Republican ninjas.

What's next? Revising the synopsis, which I threw together literally overnight for the package that went to New York last month (still waiting). And, despite having a very kind client referral waiting in queue, otherwise known as plan B, it's probably wise to begin imagining a a query letter. In other words, the accouterments of schlepping a novel up and down the metaphorical mean streets of the city.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Good news. Remarkable news, actually. From today's NYT:

Fiction Reading Increases for Adults

After years of bemoaning the decline of a literary culture in the United States, the National Endowment for the Arts says in a report that it now believes a quarter-century of precipitous decline in fiction reading has reversed.

The report, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” being released Monday, is based on data from “The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts” conducted by the United States Census Bureau in 2008. Among its chief findings is that for the first time since 1982, when the bureau began collecting such data, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

no news is not news

I'm a bad blogger. I know this. I can't find anything compelling about the painstaking revision of a big novel. The process simply doesn't make for the stuff of story, in my mind. I made a few really positive changes today, but how would anyone reading here know that without having seen the material both before and after, without having read the entire manuscript to see how smoothly (I think) the new material fits into the image systems and schema [i don't know what that means but I have a feeling about it, like a color] of the story, or how certain deletions juxtaposed material so intuitively and "organically" that I instantly recognized their value? See? You can't.

But we have to blog apparently. We have to give good platform.

And the drama of my "partial" has really stretched about as far as tension can go without thinning into the sleepy funk of vigil. I'm still waiting to hear back from an agent who contacted me. I still hope he wants to see the rest of the book. I'm working as if he will, taking advantage of the winter break to revise revise revise. My beta-readers have saved my bacon.

In a few weeks I start teaching four classes at the University of North Texas, one of which is a senior level literature class. Preparation for these courses will consume much of next week, so I have to get what I can out of the next five days. I'm a good multi-tasker, however, and my own writing has never been neglected.

In other news, I noticed Matt Drudge was all crazy that Ann Coulter got bumped from an NBC program. Good for NBC. I was thinking of her just the other day, after watching the German film "Downfall," which called my attention to how much like Joseph Goebbels Coulter is, both in her constant spewing of hate, and how that hate is not directed outward but inward toward other Americans, seventy million Americans, to be precise, who voted for Barack Obama. The hated liberals, about whom a whole coterie of half-assed political hacks have a made a career describing various means to loathe them. Goebbels hated Jews. He wrote about this extensively, articulated it in fine detail (he had a PhD in literature), offering a ready made "intellectual" basis for the most violent crimes of the most violent century. He didn't care if they were German or not. It didn't make any difference to him if they'd been decorated officers or upstanding citizens. In this way he was as anti-German as Coulter is anti-American, hating more Americans in terms of aggregate numbers than probably any leader in the world besides Osama Bin-Laden. Bin-Laden purportedly hates 303 million Americans; Coulter comes in with a respectable 70 million. Not bad!