Writing

Exhibit 1.9.5

Rider

 

A friend is coming to visit so we can collaborate on a project, and I asked him if he wanted anything. He sent me back his rider.

 

DM Rider

 

It’s my favorite thing in the world.

Comment / Posted in Davids, Riders, Writing

Exhibit 1.8.27

Work

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 9.18.54 AM

 

So I can’t remember what I’ve told you about, but I know these things have happened:

* I have a review of Lucy Corin’s One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses in the new Permafrost Magazine. It’s really good. Both the journal and the book.

* I have a short short in the newest Ninth Letter and it includes a really awesome card with a relevant phone number you can call if so inclined (872-221-0006). It’s easily the coolest, most unexpected thing a journal has ever done with something I’ve written. I made Dave call it in a bookstore in San Francisco when we found a copy there. He was not amused. I was.

* I answered some questions for Switchback when I was at USF for the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

* I finished my term as the Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong Quarterly with this piece here. It’s got a turtle in it. Thanks to everyone there for a great (if busy) year.

* I’m trying to use Instagram. Like the kids. Right here. I took that tree photo. You can expect lots of tree photos. I’m trying to warn you. About the trees. They’re coming. Slowly.

Comment / Posted in Fiction, Unanswered questions, Writing

Exhibit 1.8.10

Things

 

* I’ve got another short short up at SmokeLong right here and answered some questions about it here. This piece is mostly notable for having come from an old note I don’t remember making and, in the interview, give you a glimpse at the note next to it, too. I possibly have too many notes.

 

* I also have a few Sire Lines pieces up at a new journal called The Collapsar which you should read and submit to because those guys are going to do great stuff. My pieces come from the beginning and, well, that’s pretty much it. America!

 

* The Cupboard is open to submissions until the end of September so you’ve only got a little time left to get something together. So get something together already.

Comment / Posted in Fiction, Links, Writing

Exhibit 1.7.9

Things

* You don’t have a lot of time left to submit to The Cupboard’s contest. Deadline is now May 7th. Learn more here.

* Speaking of The Cupboard, I think we’re about to accept something from slush which always makes me super excited.

* Cupboard logo/t-shirt designer Rebecca Wadlinger has some awesome pieces up at Paper Darts. That’s some damn fine stuff at a damn fine journal.

* O, who am I kidding? Her name is Becca. She just publishes under Rebecca. Sort of like I publish under Adamela

* Adamela won a thing with a piece you can read alongside other awesome piece here.

* Seriously, the fact that Amy Hempel is the judge is the reason I sent and so it’s incredibly gratifying to think of her reading it. I’m pretty sure I’ve found a way to teach her in every fiction and literature class I’ve taught in the last few years.

Comment / Posted in Links, The Cupboard, Writing

Exhibit 1.6.26

Things, AWP and Otherwise

 

Courtney Maum’s Notes from Mexico is now available over at The Cupboard. One of my favorite things we’ve ever published.

 

 

My story “Another Castle” is up at Vol. 1 Brooklyn for their Sunday Stories series. Here. It’s mostly notable for (possibly) being entirely dependent on one’s knowledge of Zelda.

 

 

The Cupboard will be at AWP in the bookfair at Table X6 with SpringGun Press. They did The Flasher which, incidentally, is on sale until March 6th with free shipping. If you need to find me in Boston, I will be there be there as hard as I can until they tell me to leave.

 

 

We’re doing a reading together with other great folks on March 8th–my birthday, for what it’s worth–about which you can find more information here.

 

 

I’m also doing a reading with Laura Eve Engel of [SPOILER ALERT] for “We Are Homer: A Reading of Collaborative Poetry and Prose”  in the Hynes Convention Center, Room 303, Saturday at 10:30.

 

Comment / Posted in Conferences, Courts, Writing

Exhibit 1.6.14

My Morning

 

 

Was spent trying to understand this Wikipedia entry on apsis for a story–one that isn’t even about science–and I’m sorry, world, but I’m just going back to writing about made up things.

Like, what if there were ghost surgeons!

[furiously writes nonsense]

Comment / Posted in Orbits, Science, Writing

Exhibit. 1.5.26

On Bad Guys

So for a lot of reasons–reading dozens of books for comps, teaching a literature class, re-watching Fringe, Rex Ryan, everything else–I’ve been thinking a lot about “bad guys.” Previously, it had been an easy category to ignore in fiction or leave to movies and TV shows, forms of art where the old good vs. bad, white hat vs. black hat narrative structures exist a bit more clearly and persistently.

(Perhaps they weren’t quite as ravaged by modernity/post-modernity? Perhaps what we now call literary fiction, by definition, has always left these categories to whatever era’s popular forms? Or it’s both, that writers and readers don’t need or want a Dickens?)

In literary fiction, however, there’s rarely a clear antagonist, at least in the sense of being totally, irredeemably bad. It’s maybe a stupid distinction. Of course fiction still deals with these plots, just that those books tend to be bought at airports or marketed to children. There’s still the same impulse in genre work there’s always been–to entertain, thrill, titillate–and we still crave the escape of this even if now we prefer to take it over a screen with pretty actors. And, of course, a good deal of literary work does use and play with this same dichotomy, this same old plot, especially as every hot young (male) writer since Chabon seems to want to make a case for comic books and pulp novels as art.

Even then, however, things are rarely allowed to devolve into that clear relationship between good and bad. It’s simply not literary. Whatever qualities we want that word to carry–complex, layered, stylized–they’re the opposite of such a defined way of looking at the world and of plot. Anything else is genre stuff. And, as I said, it’s a binary that’s mostly breaking down–maybe one of the last after decades of trying to stomp these things out–but even as genre work creeps into the literary, it’s not able to bring the full starkness of contrast between its characters with it.

Far more often, the bad guy is anything but a person. The bad guy is government or a corporation or a religion or any other institution we’re comfortable calling into question when we know that to call a person such a word is silly and shallow and, with a few terribly notable exceptions, typically fails to grasp anywhere near the whole truth of a human being. And it’s not that there aren’t bad characters–there are–it’s that they’re caught up in the same problematic system as the protagonist and so their agency isn’t their own, they’re acting out learned behaviors, their sin is, unlike the protagonist, in being unable to see or separate themselves from what is corrupting them.

And this is interesting to me not because I care about having bad guys in literary fiction–and I know, I know they are out there–or even making a case for literary fiction as a category (which I certainly don’t care to do) but because the first thing most students seem to do is shift characters into these roles no matter how earned or unearned. It’s fascinating, both as a teacher and as a person who realizes how often this gets done in life as well.

For students, they typically don’t say “bad guy” but they often will come into class having read a complicated story without clear roles and say, “I was rooting for her.” or “He’s a jerk. I wanted bad things to happen to him.” And they say these things not because they’re misreading the story, but because most are coming from those genre narratives where these roles still exist and identifying them is the first step in understanding a plot.

(Teaching a class of high school aged students this summer who were obsessed with The Avengers, they would often assign characters–and themselves–the roles. So a particular strain of good guy would be “a Thor” and a bad guy “a total Loki”. For a few texts and films, it actually sort of worked).

So I was thinking about this when my class read A.M. Homes’s story “Do Not Disturb”, a perfect example of a story with a bad guy and of how literary fiction these days chooses to complicate that idea. It’s a story about how we lean on that narrative in real life, and it offers it to us itself in such a way that it’s almost impossible not to take the bait.

(Ha, I googled to see if the story was online–it’s not, I don’t think–and saw that Dave wrote about it here. I’m not going to read that yet, but I’m sure his thoughts are better)

In sum: wife is a mean person, gets cancer, gets meaner, husband tries to run away, can’t, the end. It is, frankly, a remarkably depressing story for anyone to read, especially for anyone who was in, is in, or plans to be in a relationship. And there’s this whole reversal of gender roles dynamic, too. The wife takes on all the traditionally masculine qualities while the husband the traditionally feminine. My students were so good at pointing out examples of this that I actually started to think a little less of the story. There are also times–the husband does not know how many ovaries a woman has; the version of femininity who finally comforts the husband is literally (though subtly) a French maid–where it’s more than a little ridiculous and on-the-nose.

It’s a very heavily constructed story in this sense, for good and bad. It begins and ends with a character writhing in pain and stuck on the floor, there’s the body of a husband who has jumped from a building our husband is compared to then later he gets the chance to jump from a great height himself, there’s a Ferris Wheel on which they are (again with this word) literally going around in circles, etc.

But to say these are fatal flaws or even flaws would be to miss the humor of the story. It’s very funny. And it’s meant to be over-the-top given that an essential element in understanding the story is putting weight on the husband’s narration. In his telling, the wife is certainly the bad guy. She’s uncommunicative, withholding, demeaning, sarcastic, cold, etc. All the words you might throw at a bad partner or hear from a friend post-breakup.

(I initially said post-divorce there until I realized none of my friends are divorced. Yet. See you back at the bar someday, guys!–is that a terrible joke? Feels like a terrible joke. Fine, fine, I’m the bad guy of my own blog post).

And god is she really those things. The students, rightly, hated her in the same way they hated a lot of characters who did far less to deserve it. She was the bad guy. The end. So I asked, does that make the husband the good guy? This they didn’t seem to want to grant–he’s whiny and ineffectual–but ultimately they decided yes, he has to be. She’s that bad and this is how these things work.

But it’s impossible that this is truly the case because if we accept, at the end of the story, that the wife is bad then we have to accept that the French maid is good. Call it a hunch, but I simply refuse to believe this is what A.M. Homes intends to say about what it means to be a woman. That the wife can really be summed up, as the husband seems to think and as she herself says, as simply “a bitch.” That what our highly sensitive, feminized male narrator really needs is for a sexualized woman to rub his feet and feed him chocolates so he can be a man again. I know in summary it seems ridiculous to think one could ever believe these things–that even by virtue of it being a “literary” story we know it can’t possibly be arguing for such politically incorrect reductions–but what allows that reading, what allows students (and I’m sure many others) to take the bait of hating her, is how completely that narrative pushes her into that bad guy role. And it needs her there because it’s only by coming to the brink of accepting that hate that the careful reader is able to see Homes’s far more complicated narrative.

And this, I suppose, is where we come back around to how bad guys are getting used most often in literary fiction these days. As a sort of a red herring, as one who throws those old narratives back into question. As critiques of institutions not people. Because the wife is unquestionably a selfish, awful person, but to fall into the trap of labeling her the bad guy is to miss the moments where is not those things. Her concern for having children. Her trauma of having that, and the very organs that make her a woman, stolen from her by her own body and a male-dominated medical establishment she’s a part of. Her own peevish, needy husband who wants something from her she cannot give, at least not now, maybe not ever. To miss these things is to deny her the full access to her own humanity. It’s to fail to understand that this is a story not solely about a sick wife or a put-upon husband but about a marriage.

And it’s not that to know this makes her anything but the bad guy or excuses her actions or her words. This is not some kind of “rewrite the fairy tale so the wolf is the victim” reading. It’s simply one that finds the subtle points among all the hyperbole because having even a modicum of sympathy for her throws the husband’s entire narrative into question. It’s to understand that structurally the story wants us to feel that closed loop suffocating both of these people. It’s to bemoan this marriage specifically, perhaps the whole institution generally, and certainly the ways gender roles, even if reversed, lead to trauma, miscommunication, and division. Her femininity is in crisis–likely always has been given her ambition and demeanor, her being “a bitch”–as is his masculinity (he’s not literally impotent–though god knows it wouldn’t surprise anyone–but he’s both denied sex and denies himself sex). Their marriage–all marriages?–is dependent on finding a balance in this dynamic and is, therefore, in crisis itself. The sickness only brings it to a head, cements their roles (her “bitch”; him “unappreciated caregiver”).

That his story has a bad guy, that it’s her, is not surprising. It’s still how we want to shape our narratives. We have to. We need to. I see it in both students in the classroom and in grad students understanding of a particular administrator. It’s simply easier than looking for the truth of the situation. More than that, it feels more natural when we’re all the heroes of our own stories. There’s nothing revelatory about that, I suppose–really, that Didion quote I gave the other day says more or less the same thing about shaping narratives only without the good/bad/selfish dynamic–but it’s an important thing for writers and readers of literary fiction to look for and be suspicious of.

And, of course, it’s an even more important thing for us as people to be suspicious of.

But for “Do Not Disturb”, understanding that impulse is essential to understanding the story and, if not accept or even forgive the wife, to see her (and not just her sickness) with sympathy she’s done nothing to earn and definitely wouldn’t want. We need to not take the bait of hating her because to do so is to accept the fantasy of definitions, the world as knowable, women as “Bitch” vs. French Maid, our struggles, our relationships with each other, as good vs. evil. We need to acknowledge that, once again, there are no bad guys though there are certainly bad things made worse, unthinkably worse, by being more complicated than that label. By being unfixable in all senses of the word.

3 Comments / Posted in Bad Guys, Fiction, Writing

Exhibit 1.5.23

Selling


I like any ad that’s pitch is basically, “Look, you probably want things you don’t really want. We’ll help you achieve those maybe dreams.”

Comment / Posted in Advertising, Good Ideas, Writing

Exhibit 25.17

Apologies

This recent gap in posts may be the longest in this blog’s history, and it’s all because of Boldface, the fantastic undergraduate writing conference I’ve been teaching at for the past week. I’m tired and full of sandwiches, but it’s been great. My students are embarrassing me with their talent. I’m teaching them how to introduce business lingo into workshops. Cost-benefit-analysis! Best practices! Synergy!

I’ve only said some of those things.

4 Comments / Posted in Conferences, Synergy, Writing

Exhibit 24.27

Story Prompts

I’m in a class where we have to write a short story every week. To accomplish this task, we’re given prompts which have ranged from very specific to very general. Now, to be clear, I think this has been sort of great or at least I would if I liked writing short stories more. I don’t, really, at least not at the moment, and I’m also not exactly hurting for writing projects.

On the whole, this experience has been positive if frustratingly distracting. I’ve written a few things I like, a few I just typed, and then there was this week’s where I literally looked around my apartment and wrote about things I saw.

I want to say this now because when you read my story about playing online chess and eating Dots in this year’s O. Henry, you’ll say, “Man, he really captured that Brett Pugly’s ennui.”

I so did.

Comment / Posted in Brett, Chess, Writing

Exhibit 23.21

On Editing A Novel #18

ACQUIRING THE PUBLISHING RIGHTS TO TOAD THE WET SPROCKET SONGS. You can’t. Forget about it. There’s only one way you’re going to get the emotional wallop of a Toad the Wet Sprocket song in your novel and that’s to write one yourself.

Find the places in your novel where you used Toad the Wet Sprocket songs to explain all the main character wanted, how they were pondering the moment of their collapse, and how exasperated they were at the world’s consistent imperfections. You can find these moments quickly by searching for the phrase “It was 1991-1994 and in the background Toad the Wet Sprocket sang on the radio…” There will probably be three or four places where you used this phrase. That’s okay.

The first step is to name the band something that exactly suggests Toad the Wet Sprocket but isn’t Toad the Wet Sprocket. Do that before reading on.

Next, you’ll need to invent a singer named something generic like Todd Robinson and invent a Sprocket-esque background of his having formed a band with his high school friends. Find a singer with the name you made up then learn how to play the bass guitar for the tour. After the tour, lose a battle to your addictions but redeem yourself by releasing an acoustic solo album that maybe isn’t great but really shows what you can do without smack and Todd Robinson.

Return to your novel and look at those places you highlighted to add song lyrics and think man, I don’t want to live in the past. Start a memoir that’s really going to tell the truth about things, especially Todd Robinson. You’re done.

1 Comment / Posted in Editing, Toads, Writing

Exhibit 23.8

The Two Things I Had to Look Up on Wikipedia While Writing Today

1) Toucans
2) Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Fiction. Catch the fever.

Comment / Posted in Fevers, Fiction, Writing

Exhibit 23.3

Destruction Myth by Mathias Svalina

I don’t think there’s another writer that I stole as much from when I was deciding what kind of writer I wanted to be. If Mathias weren’t so nice, he probably would have punched me in the face by now. There’s still time, honestly.

I remember how blown away I was when some of the “Creation Myth” pieces that make up the bulk of Destruction Myth started appearing on his blog (I did not steal his blog’s tendency to be interesting though he recently appears to have borrowed my blog’s commitment to dog photography). A combination of verse and prose, of birth and death, Destruction Myth is a book I have spent years waiting for and it does not disappoint. It is hilarious and smart and sad, and it is the 3rd amazing book of poetry to have come out this year from someone who was in Lincoln during my tenure there. Naca, Zach, Mathias. I was very, very lucky.

If you haven’t ordered the book yet, watch Elisabeth’s video interpretation of one of the book’s best pieces and become convinced:

Creation Myth from nocoastfilms on Vimeo.

Pick the book up from CSU here or Amazon.com here.

Oh, and if you haven’t gotten it–Mathias’s Play from The Cupboard is super great. That series is the full-length I want to see next.

Comment / Posted in Alma Maters, Poetry, Writing

Exhibit 20.25

Recycled Content

Well, not recycled, exactly, but just the best I can come up with while living a life that consists mostly of staring forlornly at unsold furniture and poking the wood filler I used on the apartment’s backdoor and wondering when it’s going to dry.

It’s possibly this move-ennui that led me to turn into Raymond Carver during a company creative exercise (as opposed to the time I turned into Ruth Bader Ginsburg during a company basketball game). This month’s creative exercise involved drawing a character, setting, time period, and plot then taking 15 minutes to write a story about it. This should have been perfect. I mean, I’ve read stories. I drew:

New mother
City park
Just after a fight
Someone has been embarrassed

I don’t know, maybe there’s something funny there–everyone else did something funny–but instead I spent those 15 orange juice and pastry fueled moments writing the following cheery piece. I then took pictures of what I wrote because I’m taking pictures of everything these days:

If history is any guide, I will now attempt to sell these notebook pages over the Internet before ultimately deciding they aren’t really worth $10 and dropping them off at the Goodwill. They will then be sold and worn as a Halloween costume by some graduate student. When asked what he’s dressed as, the graduate student will say, “A pretentious, flawed attempt at passe minimalism written by someone wondering whether a co-worker is going to eat that entire cinnamon roll or if he might go halfsies if offered a set of matching coffee and end tables.”

Comment / Posted in Companies, Exercises, Writing

Exhibit 17.18

While we’re at it, you should also pick up the new Alaska Quarterly Review which is so gigantic and beautiful I don’t quite know what to do with it. For the moment I’m mostly just playing a game of hide and seek with it around my apartment. I’ll set it on the coffee table and find it in the kitchen. I’ll move it to a bookshelf but wake up with it underneath my pillow.

It’s an issue. An issue I’ll read carefully.

My story is mostly notable because Dave Madden once criticized the opening scene as “Big Chill-esque” which would have been an insult if I’d seen The Big Chill (and if I didn’t like Tom Berenger so much, making it a sort of compliment). Also, it’s probably sort of true. As long as The Big Chill is about a guy who finds a heart in front of his house. Is that what it’s about? I’ve always assumed as much.

Slightly less notable: the family in the story’s original last name was Peterson because I couldn’t think of anything else to call them. This was awkward. I changed it.

Nobody wants to read about Petersons who aren’t murdering people. Or are they murdering people?

No, they’re not. At least I don’t think so.

So who wants to come over and watch The Big Chill? I’ll keep the lights on so we don’t get too scared.

4 Comments / Posted in Journals, Petersons, Writing

Exhibit 17.15

On Editing a Novel #13

REORDERING CHAPTERS. It’s a problem that your hero dies on the first page. Try to imagine this happening in any other work of literature and you’ll see what we mean. What if Gatsby jumped off that dock in the first sentence instead of the last? What if Godot died on the first page? What if Hans Gruber shot McClane in the first paragraph instead of somewhere around an hour and 34 minutes into the book?

It’s probably just been awhile since you’ve read these classics, so you’ve confused the endings for the beginnings, but we’re here to get you back on the right track. No, you certainly don’t need to rewrite anything. All your current chapters should work beautifully once ordered according to the by-laws.

The chapters in every published book follow these conditions:

Chapter One
1. Must be the second most important scene as long as that scene is not
-a death
-a marriage
>Note: marriage is allowable as long as it’s not the main character’s marriage or as long as said marriage of main character is to be an unhappy one as long as your book is about your main character’s unhappy marriage
–>Sub note: If your book is about your main character’s unhappy marriage, disregard #4, 2
-a sword fight
>Note: See Shakespeare/Cormac McCarthy exemption in the appendix
2. Must be shorter than Chapter Two but longer than Chapter Three
-unless there is a preface
-but not a prologue
-Clause 4b applies if there is an introduction

Chapter Two
1. This should be your third least important scene
2. There needs to be at least one conversation about two of the following six:
-The trees
-Who might be good/evil
-What happened to Larry
-The upcoming event
-Who hasn’t died or gotten married but might get in a sword fight
>Note: See Shakespeare/Cormac McCarthy exemption in the appendix
-How much it hurts

Chapter Three
1. This chapter is a flashback to Chapter One
-Always
>Note: See the Berghoff Axiom for exceptions

Chapter Four-Chapter Fourteen
1. No one cares about these chapters
2. Order should begin with the nearest character’s birthday
3. Order should then proceed using the Hennigan System
4. Ms. Morrison has requested never to have a Chapter 13
>Note: To make up for this, she gets two Chapter Nines
->Sub-note: Similar requests will be sent to the heralding magistrate

Chapter Fifteen
1. This should be the most important scene as long as that scene is not a
-kindergarten graduation
-conversation about the inconsistency in shoe sizes across brands
-a tetherball game
>Note: See Appendix D for list of exempt authors
–>Sub-note: Kickball may be substituted for tetherball in times of war
—->Sub-sub-note: But not civil wars
2. All endings must extend beyond the apocalypse
->Note: But not into a post-apocalyptic wasteland where bands of survivors fight over the scant resources
–>Sub-note: Ms. Morrison is allowed one dream-vision of such a future as long as the dream-vision takes place in the second Chapter Nine
3. If a comedy:
-One character gets a rose
4. If a tragedy:
-Two characters get a rose
5. If it ends well:
-No one will notice the fire

Comment / Posted in Editing, Magistrates, Writing

Exhibit 17.14

There was a question asked in the comment section of the last post. Shockingly it was not ‘Who is Julio Pimental?’ but instead a sincere question about writing. I am much more qualified to answer the question about Julio Pimental, but, sadly, these things aren’t up to me.

The question:

Do you think that if one is an aspiring writer and his or her writing style is more like that of Meg Cabot (author of The Princess Diaries) than of anyone else, he or she should abandon all dreams of literary greatness and resign himself or herself to a life of prosaic high school teacherhood?

Anonymous in Albuquerque

Okay, so I made the name up. Still, while I could have passed something like this onto Anders Landers (who would be equally adept at fielding the Julio Pimental question, by the way), I decided to answer it myself. It’s a good question.

My answer:

Hmm.

Well, I would say there’s no dichotomy there. Teach high school. Don’t teach high school. Write literary fiction. Write popular fiction. None of these things (even the last two) are really mutually exclusive.

Nor are they necessarily things one should ever have to resign oneself to. The only bad choice, at least as far as writing is concerned, would be to do something that doesn’t interest you (a different, smarter person would probably substitute “make you happy” for “interest you”).

The rest of it just stuff (stuff to pay the bills, stuff to satisfy your ego, stuff to keep you busy, etc.) Most of the time the writing is just stuff, too, but if you’re writing what you want to write, it will at least be your stuff. And if it’s your stuff, you’ve found a way to put a little bit of yourself into the world.

I have no doubt most people find something similarly special in their lives (more than a few from teaching high school, no doubt).

It’s a good thing though, the only true thing, really, and it exists outside of publications or conceptions of “literary greatness” or even whatever one does for a paycheck.

You do that, you’ll be alright.

Thus ends the first installment of my new favorite segment on this blog: Adam Peterson answers random, anonymous questions.

I’m not in any way being facetious. I enjoyed this.


So that was my answer. I thought I’d post it because, like I said, it’s a good question and I didn’t figure anyone would ever see it in the comments. I also know others probably have answers they’d like to share. Okay, I don’t know this or even suspect it, but it seems like the thing to say.

Feel free to ask your own random, anonymous question on future posts. If you don’t, I’ll just keep writing about clowns.

I’m still sad about the clowns.

3 Comments / Posted in Answered Questions, Julios, Writing

Exhibit 17.8

If you like, I have two short-short-short things up on Opium‘s website here. You probably don’t like. I’m pretty on the fence myself, but I am very grateful to Opium (which rocks).

My things are mostly notable for having truly awful titles

While writing these many months back, I remember this being a point I was trying to make. I can’t imagine why. It seemed important at the time. You know, sort of like how parents name their kids something really horrible as a statement then wake up one day to realize they have a five-year old named “Moving to Texas.”

What do you mean that’s not a thing?

I think that’s a thing.

4 Comments / Posted in Bad Ideas, Titles, Writing

Exhibit 16.23

Possible Reasons Why Someone Is Selling a Used Copy of My Untimely Death for $53.91 Plus Shipping at Amazon.com

1. It’s a rare copy with the following inscription: To Mom, I love you. Thank you for pushing me to follow my dreams. Please don’t sell this to a used book store in Jacksonville. Your son, Adam.

2. I’m going to die very soon. Possibly at the hands of the book’s owner who, even as smoke is still rising from the barrel, will have gotten his outrageous price. His to-do list will then look like this:

  • Artificially inflate market for unknown writer to reap fame and profit
  • Murder someone
  • Spend profits on digital television converter box

And he will feel very glad he got to cross off two things at once as he drives toward the Best Buy.

3. They haven’t read it.

4. This is the first step in what will soon be a chapbook-based economy. In 2064, everyone will be telling their grandchildren about how they used to be able to get a new car for four Cohens, two Svalinas, one McCrae, half a Schomburg, and 1,800 Ware/Chavez/May/Gannon/Perrys and how they’d put their change in the Give-A-Peterson-Take-A-Peterson bookshelf.

So invest. The chapbook-heavy portfolio will always pay off for the literate investor.

5. The bookmark inside is The Fantastic Four Annual Number 2 from 1964.

Comment / Posted in Chapbooks, Profits, Writing

Exhibit 15.6

“The End Copy” / © 2008 Randy Thurman

The new issue of NOÖ is up right here. There’s a lot of good work to start the year with, work that is all kinds of awesome from people you like.

And me, too, though I think we all know how you feel about me at this point. Don’t let that stop you from checking out the others. I’ll just be over here thinking about football while you’re away.

[whistling]

Comment / Posted in Alternatively Self-Congratulatory/Pitying, Journals, Writing

Exhibit 15.2

Why not support The Los Angeles Review?

I received a copy of the new issue yesterday and it’s chock full of good work that deserves your attention and a story of mine that does not.

My story is mostly notable for not being titled “Spotty” despite the insistence of one Dave Madden. Its actual title, “The Third Time I Saw a Spot,” is possibly an even worse choice, but I’ve never had a harder time titling a story and after a certain point I just gave up. Here’s the plot: a man develops a large spot in the center of his vision that won’t go away. What does one title a story like that? Apparently not “Spotty.”

(What does one title an essay about pet taxidermy? Definitely “Stay,” right? Right.)

I wouldn’t mind retitling the story for my own sanity’s sake so if you have suggestions, feel free to pass them along. Oddly, I had the perfect title when I first thought of the story until I remembered that Mark Haddon had already used A Spot of Bother.

Oh, while I’m at it, I might as well embarrass myself with some of the other titles I tried. Off the top of my head:

“A Spot”
“The Spot”
“A Bale of Turtles”
“Daniel Tersi” (ed note: there is no one in the story named Daniel Tersi. Ugh.)
“Spot (Singular)”

Awful, just awful.

2 Comments / Posted in Journals, Titles, Writing

Exhibit 14.19

On Editing a Novel #11

USING SIMILES IS LIKE USING GOLD. You may have noticed that the title of this segment on similes is like a simile except it’s not because it actually is a simile so is therefore not like a simile at all.

Similes are like word friendship bracelets. When you put one on it’s as if you’re creating a team of superheroes and when that team of superheroes goes out to save your readers it’s like punching the doldrums or like mule-ing a donkey and a horse or like eating Thai food as if you’ve never eaten Thai food like a starved person before.

Not just any writer should use similes, however. Here’s a quick test to see if you’re one of the writers who should:

A) Are you not a court reporter?
B) Are you Michael Chabon?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, it’s like you were conceived to use similes!

But you may only use these similes in your novel:

…ducks as if nickels
…The Netherlands is like an impish Denmark
…fast as Lent
…Lent as a pauper’s pockets past payday
…”The Other Side of Summer” is, like, totally my favorite track off Might Like a Rose
…cousins are like elbows, everyone’s got two plus or minus
…Colorado is like a sunglasses case filled with dim hope
…alive as dead won’t be
…who as a blindfolded birthday party
…dictionaries are like books of words
…love is like jazz and/or a bottle of gin
…positive as the other side of the battery
…March is like an impish October
…a voice like purple
…hungry as a Pope
…Magnetic Fields references are like impish, wounded deer
…wasteful as Thanksgiving night
…tuft as dapper snails
…eyes like a suitcase filled with white shirts and a circle of sort of hazely shirts on top
…as accidental as a Tuesday noon
…bees like empty soda cans
…dinosaurs as if kindergarten recess

And that’s it. There are no more. Ever.

2 Comments / Posted in Bees, Editing, Writing

Exhibit 13.14

On Editing a Novel #10

MAKING YOUR NOVEL A BOOK OF HOLISTIC CURES. As you’ve been searching for a publisher for your novel, you’ve probably noticed that there aren’t publishers anymore but only pharmaceutical companies. This might present a problem to less enterprising writers and the reading healthy, but you can take advantage of this situation if you take the proper steps to convert your novel into a book of natural cures. It’s easy!

Instructions
1. Make a list of the foods you don’t like. These foods cause arm cancer.

2. Turn your sentimental and unconvincing title into something sentimental and convincing. Instead of “My” say “America’s.” Instead of “of” say “Cures Stolen from a.” Instead of “Love” say “Native American Shaman.” Instead of “Summer” say “Chi Cleansingist.”

Thus, your horrible title, My Summer of Love, becomes America’s Chi Cleansingist Cures Stolen from a Native American Shaman.

3. Grow a beard. Or, if a woman, overcome an abusive spouse.

4. Turn the antagonist in your book into a person called They. They is all of the people you don’t like. They is the jerk who doesn’t hold the elevator. They hates America. They loves foods that cause arm cancer. They keeps secrets from you. They is sort of cute but you’re not, like, into They. They pals around with terrorists. They is full of anti-anti-oxidants. They drinks blood, but not the good kind of blood. They never calls. They doesn’t want you to know. They is far away. They is cold when They sleeps, even under the covers. They never stops reminding you. They fights back. They is okay. They hates cures They doesn’t create with chemicals. They doesn’t know about Susan’s fibromyalgia. They needs a cure They’s self.

5. Include recipes from a Betty Crocker cookbook but replace sugar with ginseng and flour with fish oil in all of the recipes. If people later complain that the recipes don’t turn out, tell them, “I don’t know, I thought that made for a perfectly drinkable cake.”

6. Most of your novel you can probably leave unchanged as long as you update the chapter titles to things like, “It’s a Phact! Ph Levels and Lupus.” Everyone will assume that your narrator’s decision to tell Carla that he loves her is really a metaphor about coping with alopecia.

7. Sell your book at the fair.

8. Ride the Tilt-O-Whirl at the fair. If someone asks what this cures, tell them, “Your insufferability.” If the person cries after this, pour them a nice cake to make it up to them.

If you follow these steps exactly, you are probably read to skip ahead to #16 USING YOUR NOVEL TO START A RELIGION.

Comment / Posted in Editing, They, Writing

Exhibit 12.7

On Editing a Novel #8

STARTING A NEW NOVEL. You asked me to be honest, so here it goes: it’s clear what you have isn’t working. Look, you gave it your best shot and maybe, well, maybe it’s just time to try something new. No, I don’t think this is quitting. Think of it as a fresh start to write the kind of book you wanted to write before that other one got away from you. Oh, Jesus, don’t be like that. I’m not saying you’re not any good, just that the book…no, no, wait a second, that came out wrong and you didn’t let me finish. Yeah, fine, storm off. That’s what Tolstoy would do, isn’t it? You’re right, let’s just calm down. I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry. I’m going to try again. What I want to say is that you keep working on a book that doesn’t seem to be making you happy and maybe a new book would make you happy. No, it’s not that you’re “polishing a…” oh, hell, I can’t even say it. Let’s stay classy. If you used your gift for similes a bit more in your novel we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Yeah, well, use this in your novel. Okay, can we just get through this? Fine. I think you have two options here. You can–don’t even say it again–you can keep editing your not-at-all-turd-like current novel or you can start another one. How should I know what you’d write about? You’re the writer. Allegedly, I don’t actually see a lot of proof. Yeah, well, we’ve both said things we’ll regret. Maybe you should do a children’s book. I don’t know, kids like bunnies, right? These things pretty much write themselves. It’s not permanent. Think of it as something to clear your mind while you think up an idea for another novel. Oh, that’s great. Let’s hear it. No, that’s awful. Seriously, I don’t want to go through this again. Keep thinking about it. In the meantime, I’m telling you: bunnies. I don’t know what to do with the last one, maybe just toss it in a closet and try to forget about it. Yeah, well, that’s only if there’s space in the closet that isn’t occupied by your father. You go to hell, too. You know how hard I’ve tried to help you with that awful book? Sometimes I don’t even think you notice. Of course I’ll be there to help with the next one. I didn’t mean all those things, I’m sorry. Let’s just move ahead to #9 FINDING A VANITY PRESS AND CONVINCING YOUR PARENTS TO ORDER HALF THE PRINT RUN.

Comment / Posted in Editing, I'm Telling You: Bunnies, Writing

Exhibit 11.10

On Editing a Novel #7

TURNING YOUR NOVEL INTO A BOOK OF POETRY. It’s likely that you’ve come to the conclusion that your novel just isn’t working out. If that’s the case, it’s time to take the necessary steps to exploit the lucrative and rewarding world of poetry. Many of your smarter friends’ favorite books of poetry are actually novels converted into verse. For example, everything Robert Creeley wrote was originally intended to be about globe-trotting mercenaries. When he just couldn’t make his technothrillers set in a erotic hellscapes work, he’d delete words until he passed out drunk. This is called poetry.

Let’s take a look at how his unpublished novel South American Murder Trail became the poem “America” through the deletion of a few choice words:

South American Murder Trail ->
“America”

“It’s not South America! It’s a code for subverting reality!” ->
America, you ode for reality!

“Give back the people you took!” ->
Give back the people you took.

“We can’t let the son kill her! Shine light in his eyes! Well, do it again.” ->
Let the sun shine again

“I’ve killed children on all the four corners of the world.” ->
on the four corners of the world

“You thought of it first, but do not be so sure we won’t discover the Camarillo Axiom.” ->
you thought of first but do not

“We’re on our own. Or are we? Let’s keep quiet like the mutes even if it’s an inconvenience.” ->
own, or keep like a convenience.

“People are your own responsibility. You gave your word, Mendoza! You did!” ->
People are your own word, you

“There’s not a weapon invented that can kill locusts. And it’s a problem. What kind of problem? Long-term.” ->
invented that locus and term.

“The crystal is here you said? And, say, is that voodoo?” ->
Here, you said and say, is

“Where we are, no one’s going to give love back. Probably.” ->
where we are. Give back

“What was that? Guerillas or gorillas? We are screwed. So are these people. Your travel agent made a big mistake.” ->
what we are, these people you made,

“I believe in us. And there’s nowhere for me but where you are…um…to be. I could have said that better.” ->
us, and nowhere but you to be.

What was clunky and even highly contrived dialogue is thus turned into a beautiful meditation on what America has lost in both people and spirit by fighting wars. Creeley isn’t the only failed novelist turned poet. John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror was originally Battlestar Galactica fan fiction, for one.Through careful deletion, you too can be Poet Laureate.If it doesn’t work out, skip ahead to #22 TURNING YOUR BOOK OF POETRY BACK INTO A NOVEL BY ADDING ADVERBS & SUPER VILLAINS.

3 Comments / Posted in America, Editing, Writing

Exhibit 10.10

I have a story in the new Madison Review which you can order by clicking here. This is also an older story, but one of my favorites since it’s a) titled “Carom” and b) one of two stories I wrote at the time that really had me feeling like I’d figured something out about how I wanted to write. Of course, the other one–which I like even more–isn’t published. I should send it somewhere. You can have it, if you want. Maybe I’ll post it here.

“Carom” is about a guy named Smith who wakes up and realizes his roommate (and exactly everything his roommate owned, down to half of the things they purchased together) has disappeared. Oh, and the guy’s girlfriend finds her biological parents after years of searching and realizes that her last name is Smith, too. Oh, and he thinks his ex-girlfriend might have had his baby without telling him. She’s remarried to a man named…Smith. So there’s a lot going on. I should have made it a novel. Maybe later.

It is my only story inspired by a kid with the last name Smith I used to work with at Holiday Trav-L-Park. His sister married a guy also named Smith, but he told me they researched it beforehand to make sure there were no shared relations.

I remain unconvinced.

Comment / Posted in Fiction, Smiths, Writing

Exhibit 9.20

On Editing a Novel #6

SETTING YOUR NOVEL. It’s likely that your first draft took place in an uninterrupted white landscape without any detail whatsoever. Or possibly a castle. When redrafting, your goal should always be to do more: more uninterruptions, more white, more spires.

Think of the world of your novel as your playground. That’s not to say you’ll only need teeter-totters–though you will–but also trees, clouds, grass, war, benches, buildings, etc. Still not getting it? Let’s see if a simile helps (see #11 USING SIMILES IS LIKE USING GOLD). Think of it like television, like black and white, one-dimensional television.

But not just any setting works for any novel. Ask yourself some questions about your characters to get a sense of what time period they’re living in.

Do they say ‘thee’ and ‘zounds’? If so, you’ll need some armadas.
Do they eat dinosaur? You’ll probably need some larger than expected mosquitoes.
Do they wear armor? If so, you can just stick with the castle.
Do they shoot people with lasers? That’s so awesome.
Do they ride horses? You’ll need some saloons and consumption.
Do they wear poodle skirts? Describe a clean neighborhood of ranch houses (but only in black and white)

Once you have your setting nailed down, populate it with things you see around yourself like toddlers, light, and floor.

Comment / Posted in Editing, Unanswered questions, Writing

Exhibit 9.11

The new 580 Split has a lot of fantastic work in it and at least three pieces by current Lincoln residents including my good friend Tyrone. His pieces are great (as are Josh’s poems), and it’s only my story dragging down Team Nebraska. The story’s about a town that floods when a dam breaks which is something that was always promised when I was a kid but never actually happened.

I also have a story in the new Southern Indiana Review which continues my trend of appearing in journals with ‘South’ in the title. There’s also a lot of great work in this one, and it’s a really beautiful journal, too. Oddly, my story here also mentions a flood, but it’s really about chicken rearing and fire starting. Appropriately, it’s titled “The Pyromaniac’s Chickens” and is a very, very old story. Like heating up Easy Mac in a dorm room old. Like excited about a new Weezer album old. Like smuggling beer in a duffel bag old.

You probably get the idea.

You should really pick up those journals for the work of the other writers and the fine editors who put them together. I feel very lucky to have appeared in those journals at all. Like smuggling beer in a duffel bag lucky.

Comment / Posted in Fiction, Journals, Writing

Exhibit 9.9

So The Cupboard is back as a quarterly pamphlet series, and while I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot more about it in this space, I thought I’d post our call for submissions in case you didn’t see it elsewhere. Please send us your work or help us spread the word.

By the way, I think this call for submissions is the first time we’ve said who our first author is going to be. We couldn’t be more excited about it. It’s going to be a really incredible volume and we feel very lucky to get to share it.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

The Cupboard is a quarterly pamphlet of creative prose published in Lincoln, Nebraska. Each volume features a body of work by a single author in a uniquely designed chapbook format. Our first volume will be out in June and features Samedi the Deafness author Jesse Ball.

We are currently looking for prose submissions of anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 words. Submissions can be composed of one piece or multiple pieces. We make no demands on content or genre with the exception of verse poetry, which we don’t publish. We read fiction and nonfiction and are happy to see collections that include both.

There is no reading fee for submissions, and simultaneous submissions are allowed. All submissions should be sent as email attachments to submit [AT] thecupboardpamphlet.org. For more information, visit http://www.thecupboardpamphlet.org.

Comment / Posted in Journals, The Cupboard, Writing

Exhibit 9.8

So if you care about such things, VQR got themselves in trouble–at least as much as one can get oneself in trouble in the tiny little world of literary journals–by posting snarky comments their readers had made to slushpile submissions on their blog. They’ve now been removed, but take my word for it when I say the comments were petty, smug, inane (one claimed that the inclusion of a prose poem was a personal affront), and probably a more or less acurate representation of what gets said at most literary journals swamped with submissions. The difference is, most journals have the decency not to make a public spectacle of mocking their target audience with wholly unfunny faux-revulsion written by nominally qualified undergrad/graduate students.

That’s not to say the comments themselves bothered me that much. It’s not what I would allow to be written about submissions if I edited a journal–and I obviously wouldn’t make any comments public–but in my time reading for a journal I probably said worse things to other bored, frustrated readers. In that sense, I think Mr. Genoways’s couching of his apology in the journal’s frustration at inappropriate submissions is fair enough. It’s hard to read 20 short stories in a sitting and have 5 be offensive, 5 be genre work, 5 be insanely boring, and 5 just be insane.

But pretending that the frustration about the kitten poetry and wish fulfillment stories the journal receives is actually a larger frustration with American literature is just disingenuous. He writes, “However, I do think that the comments, if not their public airing, are a fair response to many of the submissions we receive and accurately reflect the righteous indignation that we often feel as readers.” Again, it’s not my journal to run, but I find it callous to say that mocking your audience is “fair” whether or not the authors ever read it. That’s small potatoes, however, to the ultimate point of the response which seems to be that VQR and their army of undergraduate and graduate student readers are the last bastion of hope in American letters. That’s certainly overstating it, but I have a hard time believing that anything about this insensitive but very small misstep calls for a “mini-manifesto” or a dialogue about “what ails American literature.”

I like VQR. I’d probably like their staff. I hope they keep trailing the zeitgeist with issues about superheroes or robots or whatever for a very long time. I feel bad about my own smug last sentence. What I don’t like, is pretending that doing the arduous work of weeding out the 9/10 submissions that are all some level of crazy leads to frustration about the state of American literature rather than frustration over the fact that someone in prison sent in their Ninja Turtles fan fiction and there is an obligation to read it. That has nothing to do with American literature.

I read at a journal that received a large number of submissions, and in my time there I didn’t say “Yes” to single story I read. And I read a lot of stories. Probably some of the same ones that some poor soul at VQR had to read. There were some crazy ones. There were some competent but dull ones. None of it had anything to do with what “ailed” American literature and even if it did, I certainly didn’t think myself, as a graduate student, capable of being able to pinpoint the story or poem that would fix it. Which I guess is the point. If VQR is frustrated with their submissions, they should stop taking them. If they want to try to shake up literature, god bless them. I hope they do.

But those “indignant” comments weren’t trying to do that and nobody should pretend they were.

The thing Mr. Genoways doesn’t seem to get is that nobody wants the self-satisfied, juvenile writers of the mean-spirited comments to decide anything about the direction literature is headed. And, thankfully, they won’t. It’s a lot of fun to be an MFA student guarding the gate to a venerable institution, but by the time those students are submitting stories that earn curt rejections from journals, their ideas about what literature should and can be will have either changed or they’ll have stopped writing completely.

What Mr. Genoways wants in writing is out there. It may not be in every piece published by the Virginia Quarterly Review (ed note: or on my computer), but maybe he should ask himself why that is rather than fretting about the state of American letters. After all, if his readers are so prescriptive about what is good that they can’t imagine it being in the form of something like prose poetry, then VQR is fostering the problem not fighting it.

5 Comments / Posted in Journals, Turtles, Writing

Exhibit 8.13

On Editing a Novel #5

CREATING AN ANTAGONIST. Okay, first, you should probably just choose a Nazi. If you do choose a Nazi, skip ahead to #41 CHOOSING THE ANCIENT ARTIFACT YOUR NAZI ANTAGONIST BELIEVES WILL UNLOCK THE ULTIMATE POWER.

However, if you are writing a science fiction novel set in a Nazi-less alternaworld or a historical novel set in a pre-Nazi past (and you are unable to use a comparable fascist lizard alien or Victorian proto-Nazi, respectively) you’ll have to try harder. Without an immediately identifiable bad guy, your readers will immediately choose one based on the distance of a character’s birthdate from their own.

Once the decision has been made, it can’t be undone, so make it easy on your readers by doing any or, preferably, all of the following:

1. Have the antagonist’s name rhyme with Bad Foe (for example, Chad Lowe).
2. Have the antagonist intermittently and loudly express hatred of baby giraffes.
3. Have the antagonist tip less than 10%.
4. Have the antagonist have an antagonistic pet.
5. Have the antagonist express Nazi sympathies, even in the hypothetical (“Even though I’m an Arthurian knight, I can imagine a future where Germans or fascist lizard aliens share my genocidal and authoritarian political philosophies. I’d be as for that as I am against baby giraffes.”)

It should be noted that you may already have an antagonist and just not know it. Read through your novel and note if any of your characters have scars, canes, capes, antagonistic pets, unusual heights and/or weights, glass eyes, henchmen best friends, or an abnormal fondness for precious gold. If one does, that’s your antagonist. If you thought that character was your protagonist, you were wrong.

1 Comment / Posted in Editing, Ultimate Power, Writing

Exhibit 7.18

I’ll be reading this Saturday in Boulder in connection with the good folks at Subito Press. It’ll probably just be some MUtDs and assorted shorter pieces. I’m not sure which ones to read from the little book, so if you have a favorite, let me know. Otherwise I’ll just read the same one over and over until the audience leaves.

Anyway, the details:

Kristin Abraham & Adam Peterson
Subito Press Poetry & Fiction Contest Winners
6:00pm
Norlin Library, Irish Studies Room
University of Colorado

There is even another fantastic reading afterward with Cole Swensen, Paul Hoover, and Linda Norton. In fact, there are great readings and panels all weekend in connection with their Small Press & Translation Festival. I have no reason to think anyone reading this lives in Colorado, but you should come anyway if you have access to a car, horse, or zeppelin. As always, a boat will do you no good.

Comment / Posted in Boulder, Readings, Writing

Exhibit 7.16

A new DIAGRAM is up. I have a small flasher piece in it and say something absurd about my mother. Plus, a lot of other stuff you’ll like even more. For example, I think Amelia Gray’s “The Cottage Cheese Diet” is awesome. I think that either despite or because I find cottage cheese a little gross.

I’m glad we can share like this.

Comment / Posted in Cottage Cheese, Journals, Writing

Exhibit 7.2

I have a short story in the new issue of CutBank which you can learn all about here. It also features work by Tomaz Salamun, Matt Hart, Dennis McFadden, and many others. Plus, cool silhouette art by Andy Smetanka. I haven’t had a chance to read it all yet, but so far it’s fantastic.

My story is titled “The Department of Calamitous Events” and is notable for being my only story inspired by Heather’s car. See, her car has a very idiosyncratic way of automatically locking the doors when you least expect, and I like to imagine what scenarios the engineers foresaw where this would be a safety feature rather than a confusing and threatening inconvenience. Of course, it is a VW and it’s possible the random locking and unlocking of doors is the number one crime prevention technique in Germany. This is probably what fahrvergnügen means.

After that thrilling description of its origins, I can’t imagine anyone will ever read that story. I’m okay with that as long as you read the rest of the issue.
Comment / Posted in Cars, Journals, Writing

Exhibit 7.1

On Editing a Novel #4

TURNING YOUR NOVEL INTO A LEGAL THRILLER. It’s probably become clear that the painstaking fictionalization of your adolescence isn’t nearly as emotionally tortured as you hoped. If publishing your novel is less important to you than accurately describing your junior prom, you should skip to step #18 ‘ACQUIRING THE PUBLISHING RIGHTS TO TOAD THE WET SPROCKET SONGS’.

If you are interested in seeing your novel published, it is probably time to turn it into a legal thriller.

First you’ll need a plaintiff. And then a defendant. It’s not important that you know the difference, only that you make one of them someone big and evil while the other is small and scrappy. This is best done by making the bad guy literally three or four times as big as the good guy so that there is no confusion. The judge should still be normal sized.

To complete the transition, simply do a find and replace for the following phrases:

Tea Biscuits -> Legal Briefs
No -> I object
“I want to tell you something.” -> “If it pleases the court.”
Stabs -> Files
“You can handle the truth.” -> “You can’t handle the truth.”
Her -> Habeas Corpus
Home -> All the Way to the Top
“I need you.” -> “We need to find McMurphy!”
Prison -> Law School
Love -> Jurisprudence

Now your sentimental tripe is a daring legal thriller.

Comment / Posted in Editing, McMurphys, Writing

Exhibit 6.18

The new La Petite Zine is available.

I have two My Untimely Deaths in it, and you should read them if you’re curious to see what they are all about. If you are interested and want to order the little book, information can be found in this post right here.

There’s some really great stuff in LPZ including this from Stefi Weisburd:

Scenes from a Little God Childhood


A little god, wrapped in popsicle sticks, feathers
and tape, is dropped from a second story
castle turret along with a dozen
eggs bundled, by little hands,
in bubble wrap, springs and letters of love.

That’s just an excerpt from the beginning, but now you understand why you should read it.

Comment / Posted in Journals, Synergy, Writing

Exhibit 6.16

On Editing a Novel #3

DESCRIBING YOUR PROTAGONIST. Your first draft probably described your main character with a series of adjectives once in the first sentence of the novel and never mentioned what he or she looked like ever again. So how do you turn “Tom was tall, kind of orangish, teary-eyed, a sno cone lover, short, smelled like Tab soda, awesome, haptic, a good tipper, a SWMDDF in his personal ad, sort-of medium-heighted, salty, and not entirely sure who killed his father.” into a novel’s worth of powerful description?

All you have to do is search for every time the character’s name get used an insert one of your adjectives in front of it. Just watch:

I never though I would step foot in this Arby’s again, awesome Tom thought.

Watching the woman carefully, Tom smelled like Tab soda.

Professional writers might even work the adjectives into speech to make your descriptions come more naturally:

“I’m starting to think no one killed Tom’s father,” she said. “But Tom is a good tipper.”

If you run out of adjectives, look around the room and take them from items around you (e.g. a cup of coffee on your desk could add some “steam” to your character’s personality or some “Colombian Dark Roast” coloring to his eyes!)!

Comment / Posted in Coffee, Editing, Writing

Exhibit 6.4

On Editing a Novel #2

RENAMING CHARACTERS. You’ve undoubtedly named all of your characters after your former spouse and his or her family. This is what you were supposed to do. Good work. You can move on to step #3.

If you’ve never been married, you borrowed the first names of your favorite childhood television characters and used the college you went to as a last name, or, if you never went to college, used the first name of a ’80s-era world leader and taken the last name from the company that makes your favorite commercials. So you’ve name your characters things like Optimus Clemson and Muammar Pepsi. These are fine names, too, but they are names for boys or girls with progressive economics professors for parents. Yours is a classy book set in the 1800s so you might need girls names in case you add a ball scene in this draft (see step #24 ‘THE ADDING OF A BALL SCENE’).

Girls names are even easier. If you are a girl, simply use your own name and call the book autobiography. Do not go on to step #3 or any further steps.

Otherwise, you’ll need a blindfold. Without peeking, taste everything in your kitchen (even if it smells bad or is obviously a cleaning product). Then try to guess what the item might be called in Spanish. These guesses are girls’ names.

Blindfolded, you won’t be able to write down these names so you’ll probably need a personal assistant to do it for you. If the personal assistant you hire is a girl, you can also ask her what her name is and use that.

If her name is Optimus Clemson because her parents are progressive economics professors, you probably won’t be able to have girls in your novel.

Comment / Posted in Editing, Optimuses, Writing

Exhibit 6.3

Three new journals that I have work in:

I have a story titled “The Way Back” in this issue. This story is notable for being:

1) The only story I have ever written that takes place in Kansas despite my having been born and graduated high school in The Sunflower State.

2) The only story I have that takes place in 1996. Bizarrely, it doesn’t even mention Weezer.

3) The longest story I have ever published at somewhere north of 9.5k words.

The issue is fantastic (much better than my sad story), and you should be sure to check it out. I’ve always thought IR had some of the best design of any of the standard format journals, and now I’m convinced. I can vouch firsthand for how hard they work to make sure everything is perfect. They really care. It’s pretty cool.

So, they don’t actually put covers of the issues up on their website, but I figured the state seal of South Dakota would get the idea across. More great stuff here, some Midwestern themed, some not. It features Lincolnite Cody Lumpkin with a poem about squirrel metaphysics and my poet doppelgänger Allan Peterson. I hope Mr. Peterson doesn’t get confused with me all the time like I do him.

You: Are you the poet Allan Peterson?
Me: I’m the fiction writer Adam Peterson?
You: Are you not sure which one you are?
Me: No?

My story is titled “Miss Nebraska” and is notable for:

1) Having had, by some great margin, the shortest length of time between when I wrote the story, when it was accepted, and when it was actually published and in my hands. I’m actually not even sure I’ve finished it yet.

2) Taking place in North Platte, Nebraska, the town where I lived between the ages of 6 and 15. Although all place names (I think) are made up, the essence of the town is not.

3) Being the only story of mine where someone is entered into a beauty pageant. Let’s just hope this doesn’t send me off on a Sufjan Stevens-like quest to document how all 50 states select their Miss America representative.

Also notable is that the state motto of South Dakota is apparently “Under God the People Rule” which strikes me as having a ‘when the cat’s away the mice will play’ sort of logic to it. This will be explored further in my story “Miss South Dakota” which should be out circa 2034.

There’s not much I can say to demonstrate Ninth Letter‘s thorough awesomeness. It’s a fusion of design and text unlike anything else out there, and I feel lucky to be in it at all.

When the first issue came out I was opening mail for a journal and wasn’t sure what it was when I opened the copy they sent us. Flipping through it, it became clear they were doing something completely different than anyone else. Now on their 8th issue, they are still making an exciting and beautiful journal. That I am just as in awe when I see Ninth Letter as I was the first time makes me really happy.

My piece is another My Untimely Death which you can see my previous post about here or just order by specifying the title and sending $10 to this address:

Subito Press

Department of English

University of Colorado at Boulder
Hellems 101226 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0226

Notable things about my shameless self promotion:

1) I feel bad about it.

2) I wish I could give you a copy if I haven’t already.

3) It only benefits the good folks at Subito Press.

2 Comments / Posted in Journals, Shame, Writing

Exhibit 5.27

On Editing a Novel #1

HOW TO BEGIN. You take your favorite notebook and you fill it with leaves from trees you need to describe better and hair you’ve cut from people who look like your characters and soup from meals you think might be served at your novel’s climactic banquet scene. You then leave the notebook at a swimming pool.

You never go swimming again.

Comment / Posted in Editing, Swimming Pools, Writing

Exhibit 5.20

A few journals that have recently come out.

Handsome.
This is Handsome‘s first issue, and it’s pretty much fantastic. A large magazine style format? Check. Old-timey art? Check. Two poems that take stock of buoyancy? Check mate.

Jeff Downey:
Shortfall pulls glitter from the ground
Sort of drawstringing
An entire encore buoyant in winter
Dead marine words but fleetingly
How has it I have never been to the ocean

Julie Doxsee:
Only nylon
buoys you

I’m telling you now, you’ll want to make sure you get in on Handsome at the beginning.

Redactions.
This issue of Redactions contains an exceedingly well done tribute to W.S. Merwin. They even have a special font. Good stuff.

Redivider.
Despite the picture, this one isn’t actually tiny. In fact, it’s full of big ideas and big words. Some words from this new issue of Redivider:

Thirsts
Rawness
Overcooked
Flagellum
Appaloosa
Wheezing
Pussytoes

I have MUtDs in all of these journals, but I’m only dragging them down.

Comment / Posted in Appaloosa, Journals, Writing

Exhibit 5.16

My Untimely Death by Adam Peterson is now available from Subito Press.

My little book My Untimely Death is now out. You can order it by sending $10 to:

Subito Press
Department of English
University of Colorado at Boulder
Hellems 101
226 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0226

I assume you should include a note asking for my book specifically though I imagine you’d be thrilled with any of them. You can also check out their website here though be warned: it’s absurdly cool yet nearly impossible to navigate your first time. Using it is literally harder than learning to fly which, incidentally, you’ll need to know how to do in order to use it.

The book is perfect bound, 56 pages, and has an ISBN number of 0-9801098-1-7. The folks at Subito did an amazing job, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Please support them by picking one up and then let me know what you think of it. I’ll have some pictures and maybe a short excerpt or two up later.

Oh, and don’t tell my Grandma about this yet. I mean, if you see her.

4 Comments / Posted in Little Books, Thank You, Writing

Exhibit 4.6

So this is bizarre.

I apparently now have a page on Creighton University’s Nebraska Center for Writers which is a little embarrassing as I don’t really have anything to offer anyone–including the two of you reading this–and certainly shouldn’t be mentioned as a representative (no matter how insignificant) of any municipality or state.

I’ve been to the page recently (it is, sadly, a good way to spend the last hour of work) and I certainly wasn’t on there before. Ignoring for a second the question of who told them about me, I really want to rewrite my bio so it doesn’t mention my tiny moments but instead mentions my sterling Nebraska credentials.

Things I might mention:

  • Really like Amigos.
  • Once had allergic reaction at Fort Robinson.
  • Know that Kanye West’s song “The Good Life” is about Alma.
  • Have been to Alma.
  • As a boy, worried that Omaha would get blown up by the Soviets due to SAC.
  • Can say things like, “Is that by Alliance?” with credibility.
  • Have also been to Alliance. (It’s by Alma).
  • Have seriously looked forward to going to the Sidney Cabelas then felt slightly out-of-place when given complementary rubber worm.
  • Told a joke about Scott Frost getting angry and throwing a Coke at a reporter but overthrowing him by 5 yards. (1995)
  • Once stood in line at a grocery store to get Scott Frost’s autograph. (1998)
  • Know that Alliance isn’t really by Alma.
  • I can pretend to like Runza.

I mean, those are pretty solid credentials. Can you beat that Mignon Eberhardt?

4 Comments / Posted in Nebraska, Who's Next? Minnesota., Writing

Exhibit 4.2

I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that I have a chapbook of short prose pieces titled My Untimely Death coming out this December from Subito Press. It’s a pretty slick looking website they’ve recently put up, and I’m excited to see how the book turns out. I want to give you one. You and your parents.

I’ll probably mention this again. I apologize in advance.
2 Comments / Posted in Chapbooks, December, Writing

Exhibit 3.18

Novelist, short story writer, and the generally amazing J. Robert Lennon also responded to Stephen King’s essay in The New York Times. You can read it here.

Needless to say, his is better than mine and contains far more swears. That last sentence may have been redundant.

Comment / Posted in Fuck, Swears, Writing

Exhibit 3.12

So Stephen King has an essay in The New York Times about the short story. You can read it here (at least for the moment). I’d like to imagine someone writes an article like this every day. Some writer who is frustrated by the lack of the impact, other than that sweet C.V. credit, each of their published stories has. Some writer who feels conflicted about writing short stories when there are novels and screenplays and blog posts to be written. Some writer who then sits down and writes a short story.

Well, consider this as close as I’m going to get.

The short story isn’t dead. It isn’t being killed. It isn’t, as King says, not “well.” The short story gets about what it deserves, honestly, which is to be read by those that write them. It’s hard to imagine what’s wrong with that, but King seems to think that writers only read other writers in order to “get an idea of what sells.” King laments this as “copping-a-feel” reading, but from my perspective it’s a rare misstep by the usually self-effacing King which somehow ends up insulting both writers and readers.

Here’s the thing: short stories don’t sell. If The New Yorker were to accept one of my stories tomorrow, the transaction would be less like selling a car and more like winning a school raffle (incidentally, I would totally sell my car to The New Yorker if they’re interested). The short story simply isn’t a commodity anymore–nor was it probably ever–so it’s naive of King to suggest that most (or any) writers spend their time working on short fiction in order to become famous or even get a little cash. Then, frustrated when they are unable to do so, give up or start pandering to what’s popular. As no short fiction is popular, this seems particularly absurd.

I can tell you from the stacks of envelopes I opened while working at a journal and the stacks of envelopes I send out myself, the short story is certainly not hurting for writers and so should not be hurting for readers. That many of these writers don’t read (and, more importantly, subscribe) to every journal they submit to is no doubt a cause of great concern for those journals’ editors, but it hardly signals the end of the short story. Rather, it means writers (and journals) should reassess what kind of fiction they seek practice. Once we stop lamenting that short fiction isn’t in the Saturday Evening Post, maybe we can finally stop seeking Saturday Evening Post short fiction.

(My favorite part about King mentioning the SEP is that it completely ignores the fact that the publication has ceased to exist at all. I’d like to think that this week the Washington Post or whoever will publish an article by a famous painter bemoaning the state of hyper-American, realist magazine cover art. Then, on some snooty art blog no one reads, someone else will write a post about how we should be happy that anyone still does hyper-American, realist magazine cover art. My guess is that this happens once a year for every single part of the Saturday Evening Post, including the recipes section).

King begins to make the point in the article that it’s the stories that are bad, but by the end of the article he backs off this point in favor of a fairly broad critique of our short-fiction-ignoring culture. (Or, perhaps more accurately, King suggests it’s the culture that leads to bad short stories. In any case, King doesn’t seem willing to blame the writers). But again, this seems almost nonsensical to me as it is nearly impossible to imagine a writer being self-interested enough to care that their work will bring little financial benefit yet self-destructive enough to waste their time anyway.

It’s interesting that some of the writers King chose for this year’s Best American were writers who have had much more success with their short fiction than with their novels. If anyone should be bitter, it’s probably a writer like Jim Shepard who everyone seems to know is great but can’t get the recognition he deserves. Still, it’s hard to argue that there was a time when short stories alone could make a writers’ reputation. Sure, there’s Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever and Raymond Carver. But we have Aimee Bender and George Saunders, not to mention dark horses like the previously mentioned Mr. Shepard. They may not ultimately get the respect of the former, but when it comes to dedicated short story writers, no generation has had more than one or two cross-over to the mainstream anyway.

None of this is meant to be an attack on Stephen King, who I can say without embarrassment showed me what it meant to be a writer in On Writing. But I do think there is a disconnect of status–not to even mention the generational disconnect–that leads him to his conclusions. Why get upset about what’s at B&N? There are still hundreds of venues for short fiction in this country alone and that’s without considering online journals (or anonymous pamphlets).

As with most things, poets have done a much better job of creating venues that cater to poet/readers. Breaking down the distinction between the reader and the writer for short stories is the first, and easiest, step for writers in a position of power (like King) to be making. Instead of acting like any writer who reads a short story is some grubby-handed molester, we should try to cultivate stories that do things writers admire. Not surprisingly, writers will admire many different things, which is how a dead, dying, “not well” form like the short story can be vital.

4 Comments / Posted in Not Popular, Popular, Writing

Exhibit 3.10

Fun with the GRE Literature Subject Test.

I took my first practice test yesterday, and while it mostly 2.5 hours of soul crushing inanity–interrupted by brief glimpses of the romantic sublime and the warming of my feelings for somebody’s mistress who, frankly, seemed a little fey–a few questions stood out as particularly mocking the very idea of this test in the first place. The worst example:
  • “Are you not happy in Hertfordshire, Mr. Raskolnikov?” asked Elizabeth. “Would you be happy,” he replied, “if you had killed a miserable pawnbroker?” “How easily may a bad habit be formed!” cried Elizabeth, and with this in mind, though she hoped he was not in earnest, she very soon afterwards too leave of him.
  • Which of the following titles would be most appropriate for a work containing this passage?
  • (A) Murder at Thirteen Rue de Toot
  • (B) Elizabeth and Anna Kremlina
  • (C) The Importance of Being Elizabeth
  • (D) Pride and Punishment
  • (E) The Golden Fawn
This was from a real test, by the way. I love the idea that somewhere deep in the heart of ETS, presumably in a room with only one light to illuminate the smoke lingering over a large conference table, a group of adjuncts from local universities meet, exchange the secret handshake, and proceed to throw out title puns for hours. Howards End of the Affair? Accepted. A Room With A View To a Kill? Rejected – reason: Too many Bond questions already.

At times, this test doesn’t test how much you know about literature as much as how good you are at Before and After questions on Wheel of Fortune. This may, however, actually be a greater indicator of future success.

Another:
  • His hero Septimus Harding, a benign clergyman, plunges into a crisis of soul when the sensational press unjustly assails him as an avaricious wastrel. No sooner has this tiny storm abated than the new bishop, Dr. Proudie, arrives with his despotic wife and slimy, ambitious chaplain, Obadiah Slope.
  • The passage above is from a discussion of novels by:
  • (A) Dickens
  • (B) Trollope
  • (C) Fielding
  • (D) Thackeray
  • (E) James
According to the answer key, only 17% of test takers answered it correctly, tying it for the most difficult question (and making it the most difficult not tied to an excerpt).

Sadly, I didn’t know the answer either. You?
6 Comments / Posted in B, Bond, Writing

Exhibit 3.8

D(usty) has a great post which evolves into a discussion of the phenomenon of quirk fueled by this article from The Atlantic. In between sunburn induced wincing and the adjustment to a life where shirts hurt and no one can ever touch me again, I was able to move my eyes enough to read both and suggest you do the same. Anyway, I’m stealing his topic.

I feel a deep ambivalence about all things quirk (including that phrase, which I’m only using because apparently someone at The Atlantic decided its the phrase for this movement. Frankly, I would prefer something that uses the words “Precious” or “Wonderment,” but that’s just me. Also, I think it’s odd Hirschorn, the article’s author, doesn’t mention the whole ‘new sincerity’ crowd which seems inherently linked [sigh, by which I mean the McSweeney’s-ish set rather than the anti-irony, post-9/11 critical set, although maybe them too]).

If my mom got to label this movement–and who’s to say she shouldn’t–she’d call it “cutesy.”

It’s not that I find the work of the filmmakers, writers, etc. that Hirschorn writes about to be uninteresting or ineffective, if anything I find it too effective at pulling my strings by a well-placed song or perfect pop culture reference. So too, those artists that eschew pop culture references in favor of unadulterated (but profoundly nonthreatening) oddity, win me over with their perfect combination of precociousness and absurdity. These artists view the world and its denizens as machines of coincidence oiled by awe. Or, if that rhetoric is too much, at the very least the work often seems to be vaguely existential only instead of leading to absurdist meaninglessness it leads to a shy, vulnerable hope.

The hope often seems to be a promise made good, however. Characters in these “quirk” stories generally turn out okay, often by making an improbable connection with another quirky character or by discovering a deeper problem than their own malaise. The stories work because they’re reality crooked enough to turn the mundane into something strange and wonderful.

They are remarkably insincere.

Or at least most are. I’m trying hard not to mention names here, but let me just say that some of the artists who fit these labels I enjoy to the point that I would defend their work against said label. Others, I enjoy but as a bit of an emotional guilty pleasure (sort of like listening to an emo song and getting all angsty). Some I think are shallow and manipulative. For many of the artists mentioned in Hirschorn’s article, I feel all of these things.

The insincerity is what I can’t shake and what keeps me from committing to the idea of so much of this “quirk.” That the movement–and it is a movement unless we’re willing to call it a great coincidence–misreads itself as being sincere is what is profoundly frustrating to me. I remember when someone introduced me to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and I flipped through it at a party, getting only so far as the long preface, and stopping completely when I got to the part that said, “This is a picture of a stapler.” next to, in fact, a picture of a stapler. That was it for me.

You could argue it’s sincere insomuch as it’s a picture of a stapler and not, say, a puppy next to the text, but the gesture of identifying something so meaningless and unimportant is insincere, and, to me, it’s enough to make me want to spend my limited reading time elsewhere.

(For what it’s worth, I’ve enjoyed some of the other Eggers I’ve read, especially his short stories, but haven’t read much McSweeney’s or The Believer for the same concerns about sincerity. I’ve heard What is the What is amazing, but again there are just enough questions with motive and authenticity [why is it called a novel? why is this even Eggers’ story?] that I feel reluctant to pick it up. Every time I think about buying it, I can’t help but feel like I’d be better served reading one of the other hundred books about the Sudan. I’m probably wrong).

I guess I just like my absurdity to be a little more dangerous and done with the tools of the art (e.g. the prose or the camera work). This is one of the reasons why I think poetry handles this sensibility better. Free from the obligations of character and setting, the absurd/surreal can be sincere in a really powerful way. For prose, George Saunders and Aimee Bender, for example, take askew glances at the world and make them seem like dark possibilities, a reality we just haven’t visited.

In film, David Lynch manipulates with color and haunting (rather than pop) music, and his worlds always seem delicately balanced on top of some deep evil. What those artists do not do, is let their sensibility get in the way of confronting something that isn’t precious or adorable. Take Me and You and Everyone We Know. The fact that one person spends the film trying to sleep with pre-teen girls goes completely unjudged because he does it in such a strange, funny way. That when the girls seem to agree to the act he hides apparently excuses him, but it doesn’t take the violence out of the previous flirtation.

I liked the movie well enough, but it was tough to ignore this scary inner conflict in favor of July filming her own feet.

It gets to the heart of the problem for me, because no one in the quirk examples mentioned seems to need anything except to be acknowledged and accepted for their own eccentricities. If they can connect with someone with a matching set of eccentricities, all the better. Zach Braff paralyzed his mother, takes a lot of anti-depressants, but all can be redeemed when he meets an epileptic who murders gerbils.

I’m not much of a Marxist, but there also seems to be something highly consumer oriented about these stories, and not just because they’re normally about the upper-middle & middle class. Not only do characters seem to be able to obtain happiness wholesale, as if they were buying a lamp at Target, but a lot of the manipulation of the world seems to be done in ways that have more than a little to do with advertising principles (lots of nostalgia, “in” jokes, highly targeted demographics, etc.)

What a lot of this quirk means to do is show and then correct a character’s numbness. This is supposed to be sincere since we all sometimes feel lonely and disconnected from the world. What these stories usually do, however, is taunt a gray-tone world with a pastel one. That the world in these stories is highly artificial and manipulative is what makes them insincere, and even the non-fiction is highly edited to remove any problem truly insurmountable. It leads to sadness without desperation which isn’t, of course, sadness at all but rather just a melancholy expression of numbness.

It may be cathartic, but it isn’t eloquent.

6 Comments / Posted in Future, Poetry, Writing

Exhibit 3.6

Citizen Of by Christian Hawkey

In this book there are skies, skies with clouds. In this book there are mouths, mouths with lips. For a book of great abstraction, there is a pervasive entanglement with the things of the world, an entanglement which keeps the work from the muddle and lets it engage the contemporary world in ways that I found surprising. From the morality of nation building to the lamentation of a confusing and disappointing election, Hawkey makes his surreal, fragmented imagination surprisingly topical. It’s still an abstract book, but it’s not ethereal.

That is not to say that this is a political or even particularly culturally engaged work. Many of the poems here read to me as more notable for their language than for their meaning, but Hawkey has enough of the politically engaged poems to force a second look at what can initially seem shallow (which is probably a reading unique to the poems being collected). I can imagine coming across the poems in journals and thinking they were funny. Or interesting. Or fantastic. But as a book, especially one with the word ‘citizen’ in the title, I kept looking for more of the world in the poems. Sometimes it’s there, sometime it isn’t.

What is there, is a certain magic. These poems are like Rube Goldberg machines that through some carefully designed and sequenced conflagration of nouns, adjectives, birds, and colors a little happiness is produced. These tenuous machines work more often than not, and I’m entirely willing to admit that when they didn’t, it was because I was the one pulling the lever.

2 Comments / Posted in Entanglement, Poetry, Writing

Exhibit 2.26

On Revision

I’ve had a new batch of short stories I’ve been working on recently, and as the editing process stretches into its second month I’ve been trying to understand if I’ve gotten any better at editing since school or if I’ve simply slid from being forced to toil on my own writing to a state of slothful ambivalence about my own work. These are among the first stories I haven’t workshopped at all, and while initially nervous about how I would know when they are ready, I’ve come to the opinion that that is exactly the wrong question.

After graduate school, where the impetus is to write to please an audience of 10 or so other writers who must say something, I found myself reading my own work through that fractured, schizophrenic paradigm. Each sentence or movement that might need a defense in a workshop would be given one in the text. Each character would have to be guarded against inevitabilities like How does that relationship grow? or I really want more time with _____. That commentary can be (and often is) valid, but it also can (and often does) lead to cluttered, stagnant writing in various forms of self-competition.

This is not to suggest graduate school, the workshop, or the writers in those workshops are not great tools for editing a story. Certainly they are, and I have little interest in attacking creative writing programs, specifically in all of the usual ways about producing boring, homogenized work. (More than anything, creative writing programs [and the journals they’ve brought with them] have seemingly increased the number of writers, or at the very least have increased our exposure to said writers [which, regardless of quality, is a positive]. But naturally, some of those writers write boring, uninspired stuff. Some don’t. Sadly, I’m firmly in the former [as evidenced by these absurd parentheticals]).

And so I’m relieved to feel like I’ve finally begun to shake off the workshop when it comes to reading my own work. With these new stories, all of the awfulness can be read with a personal rather than a public embarrassment, and the rare moment where something seems to be working–and the moments are rare, about as rare as having two sodas fall from a soda machine with only one dollar–can be read without the unnecessary pull towards consensus. These stories have problems, decisions are made, and the product is pushed out the door in manila envelopes for slush piles across the country. For now, I’m finished with them. And unlike my earliest submissions from graduate school, I feel comfortable saying that.

One of the primary lessons of the workshop is that a story is never “finished” or “perfect.” There’s always another draft, another opinion, another change, etc. These are all fine things to say, and certainly I would say them to students. What gets lost in making that point, however is that stories are finished. As writers, it’s perfectly natural (and probably helpful) to view all work as incomplete. What I’ve published still itches me when read in a journal (I want to write every single person who’s read the story an apology, promising to send them a new copy of the journal with an edited version of my story taped inside). As readers, however, the story is a finished product and thank god. The worst reading I did in my life was done while under the misguided, workshop-inspired notion of the inherently flawed text.

In a workshop, a story is read as a draft, but this is not and should not be how stories are read outside of the workshop. As important as it is for writers to understand they need not stop, it is equally as important to understand that someday they must. I’ve never been in a workshop that’s pronounced a story complete, and I can’t imagine it happens very often. It’s shallow criticism to say that a story like “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” would probably be critiqued by graduate students for its shocking twist of tone in the end–the very thing that makes it such a fantastic story–but it is worth saying that it’s the workshop’s imperative to find fault and, if the author is considerate of the workshop’s comments, he or she will be pulled toward revision and incompletion. And, if you want to make the argument, mediocrity.

So, like a little boy who just learned to use the potty, I feel an absurd amount of pride in doing what I am supposed to do when I make a choice, edit the text, and send a story out the door. It’ll come back, and I’ll take another look at it someday, but I no longer feel compelled by the notion of revision as mythical story-maker.

Maybe all of this is a rambling way of saying that the workshop privileges revision over writing, and I think that’s at best wrong and at worst harmful. Revision is essential, but it’s not the sort of thing that should hamstring a writer or make them consensus dependent. For me, post-graduate school, I’m starting to think revision’s a thing best done like a long drive, alone or with one or two others after having made a clear decision about where you’re going. (That last sentence may be the worst thing I’ve ever written, but everyone else has writing metaphors and I want one too).

I am, of course, probably wrong about everything.

5 Comments / Posted in Bad Writing Metaphors, Tears, Writing

Exhibit 2.19

Some of my favorite moments and lines from Autobiography of Red:

“Black central stalled night. He lay hot and motionless, that is, motion
was a memory he could not recover
(among others) from the bottom of the vast blind kitchen where he was buried.”

“He thought about how delicious it was, how he liked slippery foods, how slipperiness can be of different kinds.
I am a philosopher of sandwiches, he decided. Things good on the inside.”

“…Geryon
caught her other arm, it was like a handful of autumn. He felt huge and wrong.”

“He had not realized until he found himself stranded in it high above the Andes
halfway to Lima that the novel he’d bought
in the Buenos Aires airport was pornographic. It made him furious with himself
to be stirred by dull sentences like,
Gladys slid a hand under her nightgown and began to caress her own thighs. Gladys!”

“New Ending.
All over the world the beautiful red breezes went on blowing hand
in hand.”

1 Comment / Posted in Gladys(exclamation), Poetry, Writing

Exhibit 2.18

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

This is the first in what will, ideally, be a continuing series of poetry books and chapbooks that I’ll be reading in the coming months. It’s either appropriate or a little bit of a cheat that this book is “a novel in verse” according to its cover and while that may just be publishing house shenanigans, it seems appropriate even if it doesn’t really mean anything.

There is a narrative here, sure. There are also characters who change, dialogue, length, and probably whatever other surface level concerns people who go about deciding what’s a novel and what isn’t use to make their distinctions. Even the verse is very near prose, and the experience of reading the book was to this reader a very different thing than reading a book of poetry. There is much beauty, but very little opaqueness. If anything, there is a hyper-specificity to the language which fulfills the promise of Stesichorus’ use of adjectives that Carson notes in one of the pre-poem appendices.

Calling it a novel then seems completely natural and completely false. It has a novel’s story but a poem’s soul, with most of the pleasure coming from the language and the playfulness of the contradictions. It’s a novel, but it’s not a novel. Geryon is a monster, but Geryon is a boy. There are appendices, but it is as if the poem is appended to them in both order and intention. There are translations of Stesischorus, but they are clearly false and anachronsitic.

Carson’s project then seemed to be to make a book out of the muddle that includes: a mythological red monster murdered by Herakles; Volcanoes; a Greek poet who wrote the definitive work on the myth, apparently in a meandering way that did little to glorify Herakles and much to humanize the red monster; translations of the surviving fragments of the myth; an interpretation/reimagining/modernization of the myth as being about love, specifically homosexual love (possibly due to Stesischorus’ other writings); Canada; and, finally, Stesischorus’ as meaning-breaking author.

What’s surprising is how seamlessly these disparate pieces and competing purposes become a book. Put at the end, the appendices would be reference material for a modernization novel and prompt a reading about Geryon as victim. At the beginning, however, they inform the reading as an act of translation, both of the Greek into English and of Geryon into man. The interview with Stesischorus that concludes the book after a somewhat enigmatic ending to the story proper, but in a way it simply does it’s part to make the book itself as much a collage of the real and unreal, poetic and prosaic, and mythological and contemporary as the source material.

One can imagine Anne Carson looking at the fragments of Stesischorus’ Geryoneis and wanting to translate not just the words but the feeling of being a monster in a world of men, of being scraps in a world of novels.

2 Comments / Posted in Monsters, Poetry, Writing

Exhibit 2.15

There is a new The Cupboard availabe. This one features:

1. A non-fiction piece on invented games, swimming pools, and murder.
2. A collection that could have been 401 characters or 399, but instead are all 400 – as they must be.
3. Something about using furniture to make trees.

Oh, and you should submit to the upcoming theme volume on prose adaptated from movies adapted from books. It’s not meta, it’s awesome. Go.
Comment / Posted in Swimming Pools, The Cupboard, Writing

Exhibit 2.9

Poetry Reading

I haven’t, you know, read any yet, but my first two books of poetry are going to be:

Anne Carson Autobiography of Red
Christian Hawkey Citizen Of

Thanks to everyone who suggested a book. By which I mean Heather and Chris.

Just the moment I read these two I’ll post some thoughts up here.

3 Comments / Posted in Of, Poetry, Writing

Exhibit 2.4

So in a conversation with a poet and a fiction writer last night, it became embarrassingly clear that the fiction writers–or at least this one–haven’t read nearly as much poetry as the poets have fiction. There are a lot of explanations for this, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. So I’ve decided I’m going to try to read one book of poetry a week for awhile. I suppose I’ll give my ill-informed thoughts about them right here as it will give me something to write about and keep me from hating this blog more than I already do.

(Seriously, this blog is awful. Are they all like this? Does everyone write about their fantasy football teams and candy bars or are those just the topics my sad mind drifts towards when given a blank canvas? Sigh. At least someone offered me nude pictures of Richard Tyson. That never happened before the blog. [Ed note: I predict many hits now from the phrase “nude pictures of Richard Tyson”]).

So this is where you come in. By you I mean Heather, but also any other people who read this blog and want to suggest a book of poetry. Just leave a comment with one or two books I should read, and I’ll read them. Contemporary or modern or Romantic or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Chapbooks are cool too.

It’s like a contest everyone wins.

4 Comments / Posted in Poetry, Synergy, Writing

Exhibit 1.27

So, someone posted The Cupboard to metafilter (which was nice. Thanks, anonymous stranger) and suddenly the page is being swarmed with hits and a few emails have started to come in about the “misspelling” of ‘alterior’ in our cover text. What is strange about this is that no one ever said anything before. Did people get that it was a pun? Are our readers bad spellers or just really in tune with our aesthetic? I should ask all four of them.

In any case, the pun was a bad idea for innumerable reasons and will probably be the last one to appear on the cover. At least after next month’s one about leafing home for the fall and our special Halloween volume on wherewolves. You know, like wolves that are lost.

Comment / Posted in Puns, The Cupboard, Writing

Exhibit 1.22

I found this list on the poet Adam Clay’s blog a year or two ago so I’m not sure if it’s current, but it’s a big help. Normally I’d just link to the post on his blog, but I can’t find it anymore. In any case, if you know any more, please comment:

Creative Writing Ph.D. Programs

Florida State University
Georgia State University
Ohio University
Oklahoma State University
University of Calgary
University of Cincinnati
University of Denver
University of Georgia
University of Hawaii
University of Houston
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Iowa (PhD in English w/ creative dissertation)
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
University of Manchester
University of Missouri
University of Nebraska
University of Nevada (at Las Vegas)
University of Newcastle
University of Southern California
University of Southern Mississippi
University of Tennessee
University of Utah
University of Wales
University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
Western Michigan University

5 Comments / Posted in School, Wales, Writing

Exhibit 1.9

On Commas

Let’s say, hypothetically, a story of mine was given an intense edit by an editor at a journal in which it will appear. Let’s also say that this hypothetical story is some 27 pages long–approximately 9.7k words or so. So, as part of the intense edit, the editor made comments to the Word file, returned the file, and then I was to actually make the changes and email a corrected file back. Hypothetically. How many commas would you guess were added to those 27 pages?

If you guessed 150-some, you are correct.

Now I can’t stress enough how appreciative I was of the editorial attention or how bad I felt for the (hypothetical) editor who had to insert 150 (hypothetical) commas, but it did get me thinking about the comma in prose, specifically if/when choice should trump the publication’s style guide. Here are examples of the type of commas I omitted that were added:

  • At home (COMMA) June baked cookies.
  • He opened the door (COMMA) and the wind blew it back against the house.
  • “Pick up some milk (COMMA) so I don’t have to.”

Now, it’s not that I don’t know that I comma should be after an introductory prepositional phrase or that there should be a comma before a conjunction with an independent clause behind it, but I really think there are times (apparently at least 150) when they’re not necessary in literary fiction. Short prepositional phrases don’t seem to even have a natural pause, sometimes the sentence needs to be rewritten so that the independent clause (and the comma) aren’t necessary, and sometimes in dialogue commas seem out of character or insert an unnatural pause.

I rewrote some sentence, gladly made the changes on others, and resisted a few where I felt strongly about it. It’s funny though, this is the only journal that has ever done anything like this, but I don’t think it’s because the others weren’t doing it. I think they just did it without seeking the author’s input at all. Since I never look at a piece once I check to make sure they didn’t call me ‘Petersen,’ I really have no idea if this is the case or not, but I can imagine some poor graduate assistant pouring over my working with hundreds of commas on the table sprinkling them like pepper over my rough manuscript.

I feel intensely bad about this.

When I saw how many changes the hypothetical editor wanted to make, I wanted to email him back and call the whole thing off. If I don’t have the grammar to get within at least 100 commas of correct, I probably have no business appearing in any journal. If this were a high school English class and each comma missed was minus a point, I would have gotten a negative 50, making it my worst grade since my 36 on a test in College Algebra. (Oh, and there was even partial credit points given on that algebra test.)

Now I’m on total comma lookout, having added several to this post I might have otherwise ignored. Had I known how much work commas were–and had time to run it by the ARC (Apocryphal Retort Club)–I might have just emailed back: Yeah, well, your mom needs 150-some commas.

That would have been sweet.

3 Comments / Posted in Commas, June, Writing