Wigleaf Top 50
Thank you to the editors of the Wigleaf Top 50 series for including my story, "Half the Battle" in their list of the best (very) short stories for 2014. The entire list is here. There are some fantastic writers (Michael Martone!?) on the list, and I'm incredibly grateful to have been included.
To celebrate, here is a YouTube montage from the G.I. Joe cartoon series that inspired the piece.
It is with a huge amount of excitement, shock, and joy that I am able to announce that I have been awarded a 2014 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose for my novel-in-progress, 1985. I am incredibly proud, and humbled, to have received this prestigious honor.
It is, honestly, something that I have not fully processed. I've known for quite some time, since I received a mysterious phone call from a D.C. area code incredibly early in the morning one day back in November, and ignored it. After checking my voice mail, I realized that it was something I wished I'd gotten up early for. I can neither confirm nor deny how much ecstatic giggling or celebratory dancing took place in my kitchen that morning, but you can probably extrapolate.
I want to express my sincere and most heartfelt thanks to the selection committee and everyone at the NEA for selecting my work. I would also like to thank everyone who has helped me get to this point--you are too plentiful to name now, but believe that you will get full credit in the Acknowledgements of the book...whenever I finish the thing.
Both the release and the full list including this incredibly grateful writer, are linked below.
List of recipients
Press Release Here
Liner Notes: "Man in Motion"
Today at Necessary Fiction, my short story "Man in Motion" is live. The story was selected by Jamie Iredell as part of his month-long stint as writer in residence for NF, during which he'll be focusing on Atlanta writers. I'm especially honored grateful to be included, as there are some real luminaries from the Atl. literary scene being featured there this month.
This story is named after the subtitle of the song "St. Elmo's Fire" by John Parr (better read the story before someone figures that out and removes it from the internet forever as punishment for my brazen lameness). The song is featured prominently in the film of the same name, which features prominently in the story.
"Man in Motion" comes from my just-completed, not-yet-published novel, 1985, but its roots go back a lot farther. About five years ago, my wife (then girlfriend) and I took a trip to Chicago for Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with some friends. We flew standby, which ended up being sort of an ordeal, made worse by the fact that I have a fear of flying. On the trip back, the two of us separated, and so I found myself alone, terrified to fly, wondering when Meagan would ever find her way back to Atlanta. After I touched down in the Atlanta airport, I was loitering near a Dunkin' Donuts, listening to my iPod, and I just broke down. The stress of the day (and the stress of what happened on a pretty disastrous trip) got to me, and I started openly weeping in the middle of the airport.
While I was crying, my iPod shuffled over to "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan. As a longtime fan of Dylan's, the familiarity of the song comforted me, and I sat listening to the song on repeat until my wife called to let me know she'd gotten on the next flight South. Later, this seemed ironic to me, that a song that had been written in protest had served to comfort some whiny dude who missed a flight. For years, I carried around this thought, this seed of an idea: art's dual role of making us uncomfortable about what makes us complacent, and comfortable when we feel lost. As someone who usually prefers the former type of art, it's an open question for me. Is it okay to let art comfort us, to console us?
It took many false starts and many failed attempts before I found a situation and a character worth using to exploring that idea. Once I found a way to attach those concerns to Manny (who I've already written about in several other as-yes-unpublished stories), the piece almost wrote itself. That's not a testament to me, but a testament to this character, who somehow manages to take me over like a benevolent demon from time to time.
Oh, and here's the video for "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)." Enjoy?
Fringe Magazine published its last issue this week. It's worth reading (as it always was), and worth reflecting on the great work they were able to do while running. One of the first online magazines I read that made me say, "Oh! I think there's something to this online publishing thing." It was one of a few starting points that led me into this wide wonderful world, beyond books by famous people like Thomas Pynchon and Toni Morrison and into writers who were writing now, who not that many people knew about yet (although for some, more and more would, very soon). It was part of my indie lit education, and a stop never to be missed on my reading rounds.
As so many small press and independent journals are labors of tremendous love and hard work by people who rarely get thanked for their efforts, I want to take a moment to say, Brava, Fringe editors! I will miss Fringe, and I know I won't be the only one. You were one of those sites that made the internet a more interesting, provocative, and exciting place to be reading and writing. Thank you.
Read the last issue HERE.
Review of "Bring the Noise" @ PANK
Over at PANK today, there is a thoughtful review of "Bring the Noise," the anthology I was featured in earlier this year. You can read it here. Reviewer J. Capó Crucet had some thoughtful things to say about the merits of the collection, balanced against a lack of diversity among the contributors. Over on Twitter, the anthology's editor, Tom McAllister (@t_mcallister), gave some interesting context about how the anthology was put together, and his recent efforts to improve the diversity of non-fiction in Barrelhouse. I was really pleased with the anthology, so I hope the imbalance won't dissuade too many from picking up a copy. As Tom showed in his tweets, he's conscientious about the problem and doing his best to address it. That's more than most editors can say, if the most recent VIDA numbers are any indication.
Anyway, my essay is one of 18, and I'm just lucky to be included--it was humbling to be inside a cover with some really great writers who could write me under the table any time. I enjoyed Crucet's one reference to my essay, which tells me that at least for one reviewer, I managed to capture the tone of Return to Oz:
"...that creepy Wizard of Oz sequel (which I’d blocked from my memory almost entirely until this essay brought it back in vivid, nightmare-friendly detail)..."
Exactly. That movie still gives me nightmares.
Liner Notes: "We Eat Plums"
Something wonderful is happening in Minneapolis. There is a room somewhere (I picture a room, but probably it's not a literal room) where this team of super cool women are making perhaps the best literary website around, Paper Darts. I met two of the wonderful editors briefly at AWP in Chicago...and by "met," I mean they showed me their amazing print magazine and I said, "Whoa, cool!" and probably asked dumb questions about Minneapolis or something. Now, over a year later, I'm extremely proud to say that my story, "We Eat Plums" is live on their site today.
"We Eat Plums" is a story that is about the Apocalypse, but what it is really about is love, and what it is really, really about is the absolute hopelessness of the Atlanta summers of my early twenties, sweating in a collapsing house with nothing but loving someone to get you through. Atlanta summers really are that miserable, and many of the details of "We Eat Plums" actually come from an actual house I lived in when I first moved in with my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time). The flies were real. The writing on the wall was real--the line of the poem I quote in the story is what was really written on the wall in our bedroom. The strange, schizophrenic former tenants were real.
The amazing thing about Paper Darts is that they produce gorgeous illustrations to accompany each story and poem that they publish online. This really sets them apart from a lot of other online literary magazines. They post several times a week, so if you're not reading it yet, you should be reading it from now on, and gobbling up the many, many pages of archives, and buying things from them and donating to them and everything. Enjoy the beautiful and creepy imagery of plums, flies, and boils.
Oh, and if you read the story, read it while you listen to this Mountain Goats song, which influenced me heavily in the writing:
There are moments that feel like real triumphs, and my essay on "Return to Oz" being included in this book is among them. Who would have thought as I watched this movie from some German guy's VHS rip on YouTube, in seven parts, with the sound often not matching up, scrawling notes on a series of Post-Its, that someone would say, "Hey, we want to publish this in a book." Now that it is in a book, I sort of regret not fitting in there that the director of the movie is the sound designer for Apocalypse Now! I have been published on several websites, and in (fewer) print literary magazines, but this is the first thing I've had published in a book. So, I'm going to drop the air of detached professionalism and just admit that when I get my copy, I will probably lie in bed next to it, and while it rests on my pillow I will touch it with my fingers and attempt to use astral projection to share the moment with my 15-year-old self while he cries about something stupid and writes a bad poem. You can read about the volume, or buy it, here.
Truth in Advertising
Chain reaction: Duotrope went paid, which means I've spent more time than I'd like reading through individual web sites of journals for their submission guidelines. (Not exactly a laugh riot, but better, I assume, than the days when you'd have no recourse but to sift through Writer's Market or go to the shelf and look at the back page of individual journal issues). For the most part, this stuff is so standardized that it would probably save journals time and effort if they just linked to one web site with a unified set of guidelines. Simultaneous submissions, check. Cover letter optional but encouraged, check. No genre, check.
There are always exceptions; the occasional journal that mixes things up by being particular strict or particularly open. (Tin House has annoying little requirements about how to format the manuscript--but then, they're Tin House, so they get to do that. PANK has no submission guidelines whatsoever, leaving it up to you to send them what you want). But in all my submission guideline travels, which are usually accompanied by a glass of whiskey and something brain-meltingly stupid on Netflix, the only journal whose guidelines have ever really surprised me---and I should give the little milquetoast reassurance that I like and admire the journal, blah blah blah--is Ploughshares. Check out their guidelines here. Anything strike you as...weird? I'm talking specifically about this:
News: ArtsATL Post
Very cool write up at ArtsATL on the Solar Anus reading series, and specifically the reading with Aaron Belz that I was lucky enough to be included in last month. They have a few kind words about my E.T. piece:
Matt Sailor, editor in chief of New South, read two prose works. The first, an essay filled with long, running sentences, addressed the “crash” of the video game industry in 1983, which was topped off with the failed “E.T.” game. Sailor smartly interpreted the crash as “a holy purge, the clean burn that leaves the forest smoking, but ripe for the taking root of fragile seeds.
You can read the full write up, including some background on the impetus for the Solar Anus series, here. Thanks to Scott Daughtridge for writing the piece, ArtsATL for running it, and of course to Jamie/Amy/Blake for including me in the event.
"The Flash!" @ NANO Fiction
Live on NANO Fiction today(ish), you can read a sort of craft essay I wrote for the publication's "State of Flash" series. I'm in a big debt to Sophie Rosenblum, NANO's web editor, for A) Inviting me to contribute to the feature, B) Being completely on board with my nigh sociopathic inability to make everything I write into some reflection on an aspect of pop culture, and C) Working with me to edit my first draft of the piece extensively, making it far better in the end product than it was in the initial execution. We also worked together on revisions of my flash fiction piece, "Dogs Playing Poker," which appeared on the site and in NANO's latest print issue late last year.
Honestly, working with an editor who is willing to push your work to the limit and make it better is not the nuisance it's often portrayed as in, I dunno, Brenda Starr comic strips? (Struggling for a popular representation of a reporter or writer on this early morning). In my experience, it always makes the work better, transforms it into something more than it was when it was just the undiluted product of a lonely mind. I've been working on New South issue 6.1 this week, and it's my third issue, and we've worked with fiction and essay writers to do more edits on this issue than ever before. (On my first issue, we did precious little of this, but it's only ramped up). I think this has without a doubt made the issues better. Hopefully the writers featured in the issue agree.
In any event, "The Flash!" is a piece about the imaginative potential of very short fiction, using The Flash's ability to jump from dimension-to-dimension as an extended metaphor. It is at least one product of an adolescence spent chastely reading comic books alone in my bedroom. You can read it here, featured on NANO's homepage for a time. Permalink here.
Matt Sailor puts words here.