Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve Barker for the 76th edition of Ordinary Madness, his Arts & Entertainment podcast. We talked about novel writing, rejection, The Furnace, the effects of winning awards, and a bit about my time at McGill University in Montreal. I also read two short-short stories, one of which is quite new. Fun!
Behold, Seattle’s gloriously long spring, stretching from February to late June. In my youth, the colors of my birthday month featured gray slush and the unnatural blue icing on Carvel ice cream cakes. Now, there is a profusion of pink in all the azaleas, rhododendrons, early cherry blossoms, meaty camellias.
Speaking of meat, I’m reading at a”Moveable Feast” themed reading on Saturday, March 5 at 7 pm, alongside my fellow Jack Straw‘ster Bernard Grant and Emily Holt. They’re promising a themed cocktail and open mic to follow, so come have a drink and bring food-themed work to share. This will be at a private home in Madrona on 34th and Columbia, as a part of the roving Makeshift Reading Series. Incidentally, this is also the second time I’m reading at a private home, which is just a lovely experience. A few weeks ago, I read at a party Artist Trust threw for me (!), hosted by Gar LaSalle. It was surreal and delightful and an honor. Pictures here!
Then on Wednesday, April 6 at 7 pm, I’m reading at the third anniversary edition of Lit Fix at Chop Suey, alongside Anastacia Tolbert, Michelle Peñaloza, Sean Beaudoin, Gint Aras, and acoustic solo project The Wild. I’ll be reading nonfiction, a genre I’ve been diving deeper into in the last year or so, and which I’ve never performed before.
Lastly, on Wednesday, April 13, I’m returning to Castalia, the University of Washington MFA program’s monthly series at Hugo House. Details on the line up to come!
I’ll have copies of my chapbook I Loved You in New York on hand at each of these readings, for $5. You can also get them from alice blue books at the APRIL book expo on March 20, at AWP in Los Angeles March 31-April 2, or via Etsy.
Some people have been asking what I submitted for the Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storytelling Award. They were three short stories:
- “The Zoo,” published in Washington City Paper
- “Old Boyfriends,” published in Propeller Magazine
- “Sugar,” published in Gastronomica
I didn’t submit a novel excerpt, following the general grant-writing advice to use a work sample that has a beginning, middle, and end. I also strived to show a range in styles and put the sample together in the order above to modulate tone, starting with the sad/happy, getting quite dark, and then ending on a lighter note. Just putting my process out there in case it’s helpful! NB: Artist Trust gathers an amazing list of funding resources here. And here’s a post on writing artist statements.
In news that has made my year, I have been awarded the very first Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award! I am honored and overjoyed. This recognition means–so–much.
My deepest gratitude to physician, sculptor, filmmaker and author Gar LaSalle for generously donating the award and for selecting me from among the finalists. Many thanks to panelists Aaron Counts, Angela Fountas, and Samuel Ligon for moving my work forward. And many thanks to Artist Trust, for the all the amazing hard work they do on behalf of artists in Washington State.
Great news! My story “Cauliflower Tells You,” which appeared in Monkeybicycle in February (on my birthday, no less), has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I’ve never been nominated for a Pushcart, and this might just be the strangest story I’ve ever written to date, so that is very encouraging indeed. Many thanks to editor James Tate Hill for the nomination!
Italo Calvino wrote that “the moment an object appears in a narrative, it is charged with a special force and becomes like the pole of a magnetic field, a knot in the network of invisible relationships.” We’ll read Kate Bernheimer’s short-short story “Pink Horse” to see how she uses imagery and detail to bring out the psychic power of a particular object. Then we’ll do a writing exercise exploring a character’s relationship with an object. Register here.
Each week we’ll write 1000 words using big-picture and fine-grain prompts. In class, we’ll lightly workshop pieces, focusing on questions like “What creates energy in this story?” and “What do you want to know more about?” Stories may be part of a larger work or stand alone. We’ll also discuss writers’ thoughts on writing, from classics like Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” to newer essays like Rikki Ducornet’s “The Deep Zoo.” Students will leave class with 5000 new words. Register here.
Good liars know that selective detail, not a pile of facts, make a more convincing story. In discussing Chekhov’s exceptional use of detail, Francine Prose notes that we live in detail, remember in detail, identify, recognize, and recreate in detail. But finding the right detail in fiction takes a lot of sifting. We’ll look to excerpts from Chekhov for inspiration, then immerse ourselves in an exercise drawing on keen observations of our own experiences. Register here.
On December 3 at 7 pm, I’m reading from my novel PARALEGAL at the Jewelbox Theater in Belltown. This performance culminates a year+ of work on a project whirred forward by support from 4Culture and Jack Straw Cultural Center, for which I am very grateful. I’ll be joined by four fantastic Jack Straw Fellows whose work intersects with mine, on the topics of art, money, and desire: Bernard Grant, Emily Bedard, Matthew Schnirman, and Martha Kreiner. Please come!
My short story “I Loved You in New York” is being released as a chapbook in alice blue books’ fantastic series SHOTGUN WEDDING. It’s a story about cities (New York, Montreal, D.C.), bodies, relationships, history. It glances fleetingly at Coney Island, George Grosz, James Brown, and, uh, Marquis de Sade. This is the fourth volume of the SHOTGUN series, a special double issue which includes my dear friend and excellent poet Janie Elizabeth Miller, as well as Dennis James Sweeney, Lillian Ruth Nickerson, Amy Ratto Parks, Brian Cooney, Stephen Danos, Sarah Gallien, Will Gallien, Evelyn Hampton, Graham Isaac, and Ashley Benson.
I’ll be reading an excerpt from the story at Vermilion on October 22 at 6 pm as part of the Seattle Lit Crawl–our event is called Quick & Dirty. The chapbooks will be available at Fred’s Wildlife Refuge during the after party’s mini-book fair. You can also pick up a copy at the Seattle Center during Short Run, a small press and comix expo, on October 31 11-6. I expect the Seattle Center on Halloween to be super fun! Finally, you can also snag a copy via Etsy.
Many thanks to Amber Nelson for giving this story from my in-progress collection MORE LIKE HOME THAN HOME a home.
I picked up Alexandra Kollontai’s Love of Worker Bees at Boneshaker Books during the AWP conference in Minneapolis. Usually, I skip a book’s introduction, dive right into the fiction, and read the introduction afterwards. Kollontai’s work is a rare look at the Russian Revolution, and since I’m also reading Dr. Zhivago, I wanted to get some background on her. This may have marred my reading experience.
The introduction made me crave reading more history, and perhaps Kollontai’s nonfiction. Her fiction served to illustrate the feminist causes she fought for, and so in reading the short story “Sisters” I felt biased against the artistry of the story, about “a deserted wife and a prostitute who find a common bond.” (Let me back up and say I think if the explicit aim of the writer is to illustrate a political cause, it would be more effective to write nonfiction. That isn’t to say fiction must be apolitical. Pretty much all art is political. I believe a fiction writer should make story primary. The politics arising out of the story tend to emerge in a more complex, satisfying way when you don’t set out to illustrate a specific agenda. Let the story drive.)
Set in the 1920s, “Sisters” is a frame story in which someone at a “delegates conference” is being confided in. The storyteller has left her husband, has nowhere to go, and fears she may have to resort to prostitution. After her daughter’s illness, she was laid off from her job. Her husband, an executive in a government trust company, has taken to coming home drunk. She would like to work and he would like her to stay home. Things get worse when their daughter dies; he brings prostitutes home. The woman is horrified, humiliated, ready to run the second prostitute out of their house–but she sees a desperation in this sad young woman’s eyes, and as they talk, realizes she is an educated young woman without money or shelter, starving, anguished. The storyteller realizes that if she hadn’t been married, she’d be in a similar situation. She leaves her husband and…is at risk at being in the same situation. The story illustrates a pressing issue that Kollontai had to fight for relentlessly, that women’s rights are an essential part of the revolution. She ended up in diplomatic exile for much of her adult life.
The story is affecting, in the way that if someone you met told you that story you would care and be concerned, and want to do something. So in this way, the story achieves a goal. However, the story is mostly told in summary, in the way that someone might relate their tale in real life, not told in scene, with the kind of sensory detail that draws you closer to the humanity of the characters. It feels one step removed. And so I didn’t love the story, and I wouldn’t press it upon anyone unless they were digging into the subject matter–the issues of feminism and Communism, the struggles of people living in Russia after the Revolution. I’ll add as another caveat that is the third piece in the book. I did not read the first two and do wonder if the book is “front loaded” with stronger stories. So take my lack of enthusiasm with a grain of salt, check it out if it intrigues you, and let me know what you think.
This series on Women in Translation continues next week with a Duras novella and will finish at the end of August with a couple surprise books of contemporary poetry, review copies I was delighted to receive in the mail.