Saturday, May 26, 2012

No Country

To celebrate the Memorial Day weekend, I am reposting my poem "No Country", which can be found in Heavy Hands Ink Volume III.

No Country

This is no country for old men.
We prefer our heroes dead-
chopped down, bloody and hollow,
victims of their own generosity.
We mourn them, gleefully,
our pious words ignore their faults,
lift up their actions and revere them
long after their good has faded
or been exposed.
No, this is no country for old men.
We honor the dead as we spit,
in the faces of living, broken men:
those who did the dirty work,
who followed their leader into hell,
who marred their souls while the heroes
became sainted in death.
There is no country for old men,
and they wander with aching limbs,
they cradle grandchildren with scarred hands,
and whisper stories no one cares to hear—
No, no, this is no country
for old men.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Print Magazine Released!

Amoskeag, the Southern New Hampshire University Journal, has released its 2012 edition, featuring my short story "A Letter to My Father". Copies can be purchased by following the instructions found here. The site lists my story as an essay, but as the theme of the story is the fluidity of memories and identity, I find that appropriate. There is always Truth in good fiction, and non-fiction can have Truth without factually accurate information. At least, that's my take on it. What's yours?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Preparing Short Story Manuscripts for Contests and Publication--AWP12 Panel Notes

Preparing Short Story Manuscripts for Contests and Publication (Saturday March 3rd, 10:30am)
·         Christine Sneed (Best American Short Stories 2008, Pen/O. Henry Prize, Grace Paley prize), Anthony Varallo (Fiction editor of Crazyhorse, NEA Fellowship), Douglas Light (2007 Ben Franklin award, 2010 Grace Paley prize) Lori Ostlund (2008 Flannery O’Connor, Lambda finalist)

·         DL: A collection of stories that have continuity, not just thrown together. “What is the essence of these pieces?” Looked at successful stories and figured out what worked. Often, writers have just one or two stories to tell, and are just trying to get it right. Structured the collection itself in an engaging way. Selected the first and last based on the strongest ones to convey the theme, then spaced stories in between based on length and gravity. Individually, you have a great piece, but as a collection things need to be cohesive. (For example, one “great line” that is repeated in several stories.) Pulling together collection revealed a lot about his own mind, what he has to say, and the process of writing.

·         LO: Life triangle, personal life, writing life, teaching life. If two are on track then things are good. Decided to give up writing, enrolled in paralegal classes and started teaching remedial classes. First day home, she had a message from University of GA Press and had trouble calling them back because of lightning. Had to talk to them next day and found out she won. She didn’t know much about it when she ordered them initially. FO’C editor helped her with ordering them. Look at POV, setting, tone, theme in ordering. Marketing, they send you a questionnaire, pay attention and don’t put it off. She was told to send stories to journals, say she won the prize, and ask for a quick response. From acceptance to publication, all but one were published in journals.

·         AV: I’ve lost so many contests…and I’m giving advice to people? My record is terrible! 2nd collection was rejected 15 times, including 2 times Drew Hines, and won the third time. Doubt is the first obstacle to overcome. Read stories aloud as you assemble the collection. Why do you want to include it? What do you like about it? The first half are the ones you most want to read aloud, those should “greet” the reader. Not shock, overwhelm, etc. There should be dark and experimental ones, but not before greeting the reader, entertaining them. 1st or 3rd person, sympathetic narrator, and that had a strong narrative drive and got off to a quick start.

·         CS: Do I really need to spend $25 to get a rejection letter? Stories sent out 20-50 times before getting accepted. You have to be persistent, you don’t know who will be a screener. She ordered them by picking stories she liked. Don’t just put ones that have already been published, pick ones that haven’t been published and go with a common theme. Some stories were older (2007). After picking them she realized they were all female narrators. Trust your instincts. Also may get input from one or two readers. Pick stories that you had fun writing, that had an element of joy. She hired her own publicist locally and it was a big help and worth the investment.

·         DL: Dos and Don’ts: Founding Editor of Epiphany magazine. “Wow, that has horrendous… and I do the exact same thing”. Query letters: Be professional. Don’t just drop a text message, send your best work. Electronic submissions can result in an easy “send” button. Help is only offered when you no longer need it—your work has to be “there” in quality first.

·         LO: Imagine someone who loves short stories and is absolutely overwhelmed. They are disoriented and tired, so she goes into it with the mindset of looking for a reason to say no. When looking at beginnings of things, can I switch the burden so they see that I am doing the work for them, and they can sit back, relax, and enjoy the work. As a screening judge, submitters need to look to see what the readers and judges are looking for. You NEED a table of contents. Read the first story completely, then may skip around. They are advised to read maybe 4 stories and then pass on the 12 best collections per screener. Instinct to start with something “writerly”…No. Forget about the italics and start with story. Best work first. A clean manuscript is incredibly important. Nancy, FO’C judge, “I care about the work, not who you are.” “Be practical,” “When she gets a “quiet” collection, she puts it aside until she can be in the right frame of mind.” She uses great literature as a yardstick. (Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, etc)

·         AV: Don’t need to order collection by POV parfait—1st, 3rd, 1st, 3rd. Don’t try to outfox your manuscript. Best work first. Don’t order based on rank of journals. Judges won’t care and neither will you. Don’t send unpublished stories to the back, just evaluate the quality of work. You don’t have to publish everything you write, or your collection doesn’t need to be every single published story you have. Don’t save the best for last. You can do that after you win. You are a writer, so you may write the same short story two or three or four times. Don’t be depressed about it, but don’t include two incredibly similar stories in the same manuscript. Don’t base if the judge would like your work on what the judge writes, just send it in.

·         CS: Don’t rush. Writing rewards the long view. Was out of her MFA program for 11 years before she won the Paley. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Think I love this, not I want to be famous.

·         Q/A: What about writers who use other languages in the manuscript. Should it always have a translation followed with a dash? LO: you don’t want to pull the reader out, try to make clear in context. If it’s important info translate it, but if a random word doesn’t stop the flow or pull you out of it is fine.

·         Q/A: Specific strategies for selection publications in individual submissions? CS: Read the journal, O’Henry, Pushcart. LO: Send to the journals you like to read.

·         Q/A: How do editors look at previously published? Depends on publisher for lit mags, but for book contests it’s fine.

·         Q/A: Do you need to get the publisher’s ok for contest entries? CS: No, they want that to happen.

·         Q/A: How long should a manuscript be? LO: The rules usually say how much, usually 150-2something.

·         Q/A: How old should/could the story be? CS: As old as you want, as long as it’s good.

·         Q/A: Advice for writers preparing linked collections? CS: Go for it, maybe be careful for chronology.  AV: Sometimes anchor stories and some smaller vinaigrettes, so group the anchor stories first, even if that’s not the initial arc, and re-arrange once you’ve won.

·         Q/A: Is it a problem to have a long (40 page) story in the collection? LO: no, CS: Recent winners includes a novella, probably shouldn’t lead with it though.

·         Q/A: What about Non-Fiction? CS: recommend the same sort of ordering and send out to journals, just look for nonfiction contests.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Writing Historical Fiction (AWP12 Panel)

Thinking with Your Own Apparatus: Fiction Writers and History (Thursday 3/1)
·         Joyce Hinnefeld: Henry James quote, “thinking with your own apparatus”. Much historical fiction like science fiction facing backwards.
·         JH: “a more profound sense of the ‘real’” in novels. 

·         JH: What is the apparatus? Experiences (a huge spiderweb in the conscience, the very atmosphere of the mind), body

·         Nalini Jones: Fiction as a way to discover the Other. She recommends Carol Philips, esp “The Nature of Blood”. Fiction is unlimited. Delilio says “fiction…is our second chance.” We understand character through setting and place.

·         NJ: Experience is firmly rooted in setting/place/historical context. Loses meaning without it. All individual, noteworthy events impact entire life (ripples in a pond). Always Presumptuous to enter into a character, not just in historical fiction.

·         NJ: Research is key—begin with sensory detail. Field research to get tone. History enters into the work through character; the fabric of their daily lives.

·         Eugenia Kim: Two greatest challenges: writing true family story as fiction, depict a historical period and write about a foreign country/culture/language.

·         EK: how authentic is your cultural identity? Imposter syndrome: She looks Korean, has some background through her family, but really isn’t Korean at all. Is frequently asked, "Why don’t you speak your language?”

·         EK: Driven to be a writer by the small crushed pearl of anger (Delillo) Only way to access truth is through fiction. Non-Fiction was limited by apparatus—constant doubt challenged because of her feelings of self adequacy. Needed to be fiction, not non-fiction to be emotionally deeper. Once believed that “Fiction was the illegitimate child of truth” Confusious: our goal is “not to relive the past, but recreate it into a new reality”.

·         EK: Specifics on Writing: Used a more formal syntax than natural to reflect deeply imbedded morals and culture. Language eases up as the Japanese occupation changes Korea. You have to be aware of the norms in both cultures to be able to express that culture. Understand etymology. Was that word part of English vernacular when the narrator is alive? Know rhythms in the native language, they come out in your writing.

·         EK: Two things happened w editor: Included a glossary for words and conventions, and included a historical note.

·         Dolen Perkins-Valdez: How much historical detail to include? Very easy to get sidetracked with researching details. Detail should be the last thing you think about. The central concern is the emotional core of the story. The reader has to care. If they don’t care about the story the details will clunk regardless. How do you know how that person felt? Take yourself out of your modern apparatus—outside your contemporary self.

·         DPV: Best resources are primary documents. Avoid newspaper accounts and secondary sources if primary ones are available. Are pictures or paintings available? Looking in their eyes sparked an emotional connection.

·         DPV: Historical fiction not just capturing the right picture, but capture the feeling.
                                        The Question and Answer session:

·         Q/A: How do you fight the personal feelings of emotional connection that lures you to the time period in the first place? DPV: Embrace the personal feelings, turn it into passion. Don’t ignore the emotion, harness it and integrate it into the novel.

·         Q/A: Issues with reader backlash/commentary from people about whom you’re writing. NJ: If you’re faithful to the original passion and need to say something, you won’t go too far wrong. Her collection of stories was received well in India, but in America there was more controversy.

·         Q/A: How much of reality do you bring in when research washes away your story? DPV: You don’t need a million tiny details, only what’s directly relevant to your story. EK: History requires certain truths that have to happen. The big, major things. The rest of it, it’s about the Character. What impacts your character’s life?

·         Q/A: Problem with editors/agents imposing 21st century mores on the literature? EK: In her story, the characters are very Christian, part of their daily life. Agent said too much religion. Took out. Editor said not enough religion. Put it back. Readers come with apparatus too.

·         Q/A: How much straying/tweaking details can you do without losing Truth. JH: You can’t, really. Not so much the details but the emotion that is the challenge. You want to be as accurate as possible, but don’t obsess and lose the emotion. NJ: Made a fictional suburb in a real city. All books create their own world. If it’s real, or fiction, you’re still recreating it for that exact moment. Be true to the spell you’re creating. EK: Built this whole city in her imagination, then viewed through power viewers across the border into North Korea. The topography of the city was exactly the way she’d imagined. Something about the genetic roots of history will help inform that.

·         Q/A: Have you had to face emotion relating to racial hatred in the story? DPV: Not Hate, but Rage. Tar Baby by Toni Morrison is a good example of racial rage, and proves it is possible to write a high caliber book with the subject of Rage. The question is how, but as a writer, you have to have some fearlessness, don’t worry about being published but don’t shut people down.

·         Q/A: What point in the writing process did you focus on historical sensory details? NJ: Not just “historical details” to drop in the text, but character building. “Sensory details” means being in the moment, understanding how it feels, smells, etc. Not for those details to be in the novel, but so that she can have a point of entry to understand the characters. EK: Found fascinating details, but who cares? A whole book about food is distilled to “the meal was balanced in the traditional way”. Plot character’s details to timeline (woman who was pregnant for three years in one of her early drafts). JH: Even writing about the 80s and 90s is difficult now. “If I write about yesterday it’s historical fiction now.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

AWP and Grad School Hunting

First of all, I am counting down the days to the AWP conference in Chicago! I am going to try to post the coolest/weirdest/oddest/most helpful information and advice on here.

Second, and somewhat related, I am currently searching for an MFA program and have learned that there isn't a lot of helpful advice out there. Terms like low residency, studio versus research, stipends and scholarships all pop up casually, like you're supposed to know what they're talking about. Since I have no idea, and have to do research, I thought I'd pass along my research to my readers. I'm going to create a second tab to keep all grad-school related questions handy.

Let me know if you have any suggestions, resources, or questions!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Exciting News!

Hello, all,

I want to update you on two things. My poem "Saying Goodbye" was chosen to represent Camroc Press Review for Sundress Press's Best of the Net Anthology! You can find the poem here.

Also, I will be participating in NaNoWriMo this year! It's not too late to start yourself; you can find more information here.

Happy reading!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Revisions" up at Metazen

Hello there,

I just wanted to let you all know my short story "Revisions" is up here at Metazen.

I have also received two very exciting rejections: I made it past the slush pile for Camera Obscura, and I got a rejection from Cream City Review saying they "really enjoyed these pieces". I've been focusing some of my better work on higher end publications, so although I haven't been getting as many acceptances lately, an editor from a publication on the "Challenging (bottom right)" or "Extremely Challenging" lists at Duotrope taking the time to send a personal rejection makes me feel pretty good.

I will have a few pieces of poetry up at Eunoia Review in November, and next spring I will have some more poetry at The Stray Branch. I'm also thinking about doing a donation drive for Duotrope sometime soon, so keep an eye out!