Both of my AWP panels could not have gone better, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow panelists (Nick, Rahul, Aimee, Alexandra, Cyndi, and Nava) all of whom had thoughtful and provocative things to say. At the end of both panels there was a Q&A, and during said Q&A some questions came up that deserved a more sustained answer than I could give off the cuff. I figured I’d blog my expanded responses.
From the Wreckage of Reason panel, the final question asked each writer to cite her influences, the more obscure the better.
My (ever expanding, incomplete) list of favorite experimental women writers (beyond the women writers featured in the two Wreckage of Reason anthologies, which is certainly a great place to begin) would include Joanna Russ, Jean Rhys, Anaïs Nin, Maguerite Duras, Kathy Acker, Lydia Davis, Joyelle McSweeney, Clarice Lispector, Lynne Tillman, Susan Steinberg, Kate Bernheimer, Anna Joy Springer, Megan Milks, Shelley Jackson, Shirley Jackson, Kij Johnson (especially Fudoki and her story collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees), Kelly Link, and theorists Hélène Cixous and Donna Haraway. I’m trying to avoid the totally obvious (Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Woolf), though many of these authors are anything but obscure (Nin, Acker, Jackson). I know I’m forgetting many luminaries, but perhaps this can serve as a starter kit.
From the Give Us Your Fae panel, several audience members wanted more in-class exercises. Here’s another two:
1) For practicing sustained attention/observation, I give students an entire class period to wander the campus by themselves and return with one sentence. This sentence should be rhythmically beautiful, with attention paid to assonance, consonance, alliteration and other rhetorical devices. It can involve metaphor or simile so long the comparison is fresh/unusual. The sentence should be a single observation of an object or event that also contains an emotional charge. Note that descriptions can contain melancholy or joy or rage (feel free to provide examples — I use ones from a text we’ve recently read in class). Aim to describe something that gives you an emotional charge, in such a way that other might feel it too. The idea here is to focus students’ perceptions. One sentence. Thirty minutes, for one perfect sentence. Tell them to jot down ideas, take notes, observe many things and then pick the best one. Tell them to revise the sentence. Mix up the order of the words. Try writing a long sentence with lots of punctuation. Then try to condense it. How does the length of the sentence alter how it makes its meaning? Try to surprise yourself; try to take a risk, connecting an image to a very far distant emotion. Then we return to the class, circle up, read our sentences, and offer brief reactions to them.
2) I also run a retold fairytale exercise. First we read two to three riffs on a single tale. [I recently taught Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, Joyce Carol Oates’ Bluebearded Lover, and Helena Bell’s Variations on Bluebeard and Dalton’s Law Along the Event Horizon; Theodora Goss’s The Rose in Twelve Petals alongside any Sleeping Beauty variant would also work. Retold fairytales are legion.] The exercise asks students to retell the story from the perspective of any other character or object appearing in the tale. Free them from the constraints of sticking to plot and setting — how would the plot change with a different protagonist, or if the story took place somewhere unusual? Ask them to consider how the main character might gain agency — what does this peripheral character want? How might they get what they want? Fairytales seem to provide enough scaffolding that students can work freely inside their constraints; just make sure the scaffolding doesn’t become a cage. I encourage them to work with lesser-known fairytales, too, and I’ll sometimes bring in several large anthologies and let them choose a story (Calvino’s Italian Folktales is excellent for this, as are all the colors of Fairy Book. Perrault and Grimm are also standbys).
If you are stopping by the blog because we met in person at AWP, I’m pleased to meet you, and thanks for looking me up/attending one of these panels/stopping by The Account table.
Here is a picture of the view out our Seattle hotel room, along with about half of the books I bought (they wouldn’t all fit on the sill). Reading material for the next few months.
My Cthulhu-lives-inside-a-nose story, “The Sneeze,” is in the February issue of 713 Flash over at Kazka Press. I’m particularly pleased this piece finally found a home, as it was one of my Clarion submission stories. Be forewarned: it’s a weird, dark ride.
I’ll be moderating one panel and serving on another. I’ll also be manning The Account’s table at the Bookfair. Please come by and say hello!
Friday, 10:30-11:45am, Room LL4, Western New England MFA Annex, Lower Level:
F156. Give Me Your Vampires, Your Fae, Your Bulbous Alien Masses Yearning to Breathe Free. (Rachel Swirsky, Rahul Kanakia, Brooke Wonders, Nick Mamatas) Realist and experimental fiction writers often express nervousness about allowing their undergraduates to submit fantasy and science fiction to workshop. Some go so far as to ban such work outright, a tactic that can defuse young writers’ enthusiasm. Join writers whose work has appeared in both literary and genre publications as they discuss how a successful undergraduate workshop can include teaching serious genre fiction.
Sat., 10:30-11:45am, Cedar Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor:
S135. The Wreckage of Reason: Contemporary Experimental Prose by Women Writers. (Aimee Parkison, Alexandra Chasin, Brooke Wonders, Cyndi Reeves, Nava Renek) Writers from Wreckage of Reason 2, an anthology of contemporary experimental prose by women, discuss challenging traditional modes of storytelling, subverting narrative and language, and exploring provocative subject matter as they follow in the footsteps of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, and Djuna Barnes at a time when experimental writing by women has been virtually shut out of the mainstream publishing market.
Have not been feeling the blogging love of late, I fear. No resolution post (a standby, I know). I do, however, have A List which may be of interest. I kept a book log of my reading habits for the second year running. In defense of the log, I do seem to read more when I’m tracking my reading. Ninety-two books is not unrespectable, I suppose. I was hoping to break 100, but this doesn’t count the many online magazines and critical journals I read, nor does it include the many friends with whom I trade work. There are many words read in 2013 that are unaccounted for here.
A round-up: This year contained more fiction than nonfiction, more books written by friends and colleagues, and fewer terrible writing advice books than in years past. A few poetry volumes, a fair number of critical works (especially re: fairytale, allegory, and capitalism…which makes sense in terms of how my interests have shifted this year), and a bizarre Stephen King phase that lasted for most of the month of June and for which I can offer zero justification other than that it was summer and King’s nothing if not compulsively readable when the temperature breaks 90 degrees. I tend to get my recommendations from other blogs I read, and from friends on Facebook: many of the works listed were reccs from Matt Bell, Rahul Kanakia, Kij Johnson, Virginia Konchan, or Nick Mamatas (and I’m sure I’m forgetting people…oh of course, Saskatchewan Review’s unfinished book reviews!). So for those braver than I who regularly post reviews of what they read, here’s one devoted reader who much appreciates it. It so helps when deciding which of a million worthy works I ought devote my time to reading.
Weird how much this feels like oversharing, like flashing my undergarments, when in fact it’s just my book list. One’s tastes are private…but of course, since I don’t comment on my reads, those tastes are still mostly concealed. They’re pretty mundane anyway. Beige-neutral undergarments, really.
Note: I track haphazardly. I’m probably missing some books, possibly many. I may have duplicated some reads from last year (I reread with fair regularity) that are unmarked herein. Without further preamble, the list:
1. The Flamethrowers
2. Stop-Time, Conroy
3. Patrick Melrose/Never Mind, Aubyn
4. Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (unfinished)
5. The Circle, Eggers
6. Zizek, Sublime Object of Ideology
7. Jennifer Silva, Coming Up Short
8. Allegory: Theory of a Symbolic Mode, Angus Fletcher
9. Little, Big (unfinished)
10. There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced…
11. In Search Of and Others, Will Ludwigsen
12. The Girl Next Door, Ketchum
13. XO Orpheus (unfinished)
14. We, A Reimagined Family History, C. Vance
15. Modern Allegory and Fantasy, Hunter (unfinished)
16. Finding a Form, William Gass
17. Shirley Jackson, Come Along with Me
18. The Tales (Les Figues Press)
19. Anna Kornbluh, Realizing Capital
20. Dani Shugart, The Sound of Secrets
21. 9.5 Theses on Art and Class
22. Thinking, Fast and Slow
23. Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
24. Krughoff, My Brother’s Name
25. ETA Hoffman, Best-of Collection
26. The Interestings
28. Electricity and Other Dreams, Micah Dean Hicks
29. More Than Human, Ramez Naam
30. My Work Is Not Yet Done, Ligotti
31. In the House upon the Dirt… Matt Bell
32. Luthi, Once Upon a Time: on the Nature of Fairytales
33. Luthi, On the Form of Folktale
34. On Writer’s Block
35. 100 Apocalypses
36. Ozick, Metaphor and Memory
37. Wizard and Glass
38. Wolves of the Calla
39. Song of Susannah
40. The Dark Tower
41. Ocean at the End of the Lane
42. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
44. Millhauser, Knife Thrower
45. Gluck, Wild Iris
46. Tampa, Alissa Nutting
47. Face in the Frost
48. Jane Austen Book Club
49. The Gunslinger
50. Drawing of 3
51. The Wasteland
52. Kate Zambreno’s Heroines
53. Andy Duncan, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories
54. Von Franz, Interpretation of Fairytales
55. Sensation, Mamatas
56. Lukacs, Theory of the Novel
57. The Repeat Year
58. Ancient, Ancient
59. Bridge of Birds
60. The Flame Alphabet
61. Financial Lives of the Poets
62. The Stars My Destination, Bester
63. The Fault in Our Stars, Greene
65. Mr. Fox, Oyeyemi
66. The Future Is Japanese
67. Patricia Hampl, Collection
68. Red Mars
70. Zoo City
71. Propp, Morphology of the Folktale
72. Caliban and the Witch (unfinished)
73. Tongue Lyre, Tyler Mills
74. Bettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment
75. Amy Hempel, Collected Stories
76. The Vanishers, Heidi Julavits
78. Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion
78. Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl
79. Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen (reread)
80. Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove
81. Alex Woloch, The One V. the Many (reread)
82. George Saunders, The 10th of December
83. NW, Zadie Smith (reread)
84. Marcia Aldrich, Companion to an Untold Story (reread)
85. David Lodge, Art of Fiction
86. The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
87. The Magician King, Grossman
88. Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects, Valente
89. Joseph Heller, Something Happened
90. Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark
91. Amazing Adult Fantasy, A.D. Jameson
92. Master and Commander, O’Brian
Spent fall break revising and submitting new work, in between job applications and eating Pilgrims. I feel caught between. Projects, places, books. Only a week before I head to AZ to visit with family and friends, so any new routine I start will be disrupted. Bah! The spring semester will be here before I can sneeze, though. I’m teaching and/or TA’ing the entire survey of British Literature between now and July. This fills me with deep joy, knowing that I’ll be rereading novels/stories/poems/essays I adore for at least the next seven months. I have no idea what full canon immersion will do to my writing, but my breakthrough/first publication (Brevity) happened during the last semester I TA’d a literature survey course, so I’ll be writing like a mad thing and hoping for osmosis.
On the publication front, I’ve had a piece accepted at Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. The magazine is a beautiful, serious upstart (less than a year old), and their editors are all poets. Full of admiration for the weird and wonderful fabulism they selected for issue one. They picked up the title story from my collection, an oddball nighttime logic flashfic — acceptance received on Thanksgiving Day, too. Something to be thankful for (the list is long).
Happy Thanksgiving/fall break to you. Have an articulated hand turkey.
Friend, critic, and fellow fiction writer M. Shelly Connor has returned to the blogosphere with a post on American Horror Story: Coven and fat shaming. Check it.
The other project that’s been keeping me busy:
This past week, myself and a pile of writer-friends launched this.
I’m absurdly proud of it. I was mostly working on the prose side of things (although the poetry is absolutely excellent). Liner notes: I’m very happy we’re part of Davis Schneiderman’s [SIC] project, which pushes on the utility and bounds of copyright law. Nicole Walker is a mentor and friend, and her microessays are playful critiques of the ascendancy of flash-everything. Jared Sexton’s story ends on an arresting image that critiques the “white dude has marriage problems” brand of literary fiction. And Jen Phillis’s criticism engages with both the aesthetics and politics of contemporary poetry to conclude that: “Art, for Bedient and Goldsmith, only has meaning or value once it becomes part of the world. For art to count as art, they believe, the audience must respond to it. That is, they believe that the poem—whether a conceptual poem or a poem of affect—is ultimately defined by the audience, not the poet….In other words, both Bedient and Goldsmith define meaning as if it were a property of the body or of a community of consumers. As such, they cannot simultaneously believe that the art of poetry is an autonomous aesthetic activity. If that’s the case, we can go ahead and do without poems altogether, can’t we?”
Why aren’t you reading the rest already?
Art by Kelda Martensen.
[Post originally written in September. This is the purest evidence of how thoroughly this semester's gotten away from me.]
So many happy things to announce that I don’t know where to begin. I won a prize! The complete story will appear in an anthology out from Mixer Publishing this year. I am particularly pleased because I very much like Paul Tremblay’s work, as well as the post-genre aesthetic that Mixer cultivates. 1.
Also, my work will be appearing in the September/October joint issue of Matter. I’ll post a link as soon as it goes live. 2.
Last night I went to a book launch party 3., and the weekend before I went to see Neko case. It’s been (much like this post) one thing after another. I’ve completed one round of physical therapy and am nearly through a second round; I’ve changed pretty much all of my writing routines so as to better protect my body 4. It seems to be working: I’m back to writing and revising consistently, on top of teaching (which is always a joy) 5. I have no idea where I’ll be or what’s I’ll be doing in the next few years, but I love when I get to do now, and maybe that’s enough? 6.
1. This really was thrilling. After exchanging a series of giddy emails, I wound up going out for coffee with one of the editors, Rebekah, and we had a fabulous conversation about the state of creative nonfiction, affirmative culture, and the backstory of how she and Steven Owen started up Mixer. They are good people. I’ll likely be giving a reading at AWP Seattle as part of a Mixer lineup. Can’t wait.
2. This piece has been out for a while now, and I’m terribly happy it found such a good home. Thank you to Virginia, Glenn, and Michelle for curating such an excellent and thought-provoking journal.
3. My friend and colleague Laura Krughoff’s book, My Brother’s Name, came out in September, and she’s been book touring like a mad thing. The book itself is brilliant. From a writeup that I posted over on Facebook: “The two POV characters are the caretakers of a schizophrenic, and the book explores how their lives are shaped by him, for good sometimes, but ultimately mostly for ill. He’s never given a POV of his own. Which is to say, I found the book to be extremely emotionally accurate to my experience. I was a well-intentioned but clueless wannabee caretaker of someone whose mental illness was far beyond my powers to help. I probably made things much much worse, actually. The book’s mostly about what it means to have your identity shaped by a desire to caretake someone who’s desperately ill. It spoke to my experience, and I’m grateful it exists.”
4. I completed two months of physical therapy and now have a rigid routine involving wrist braces, icing, painkillers, and timed breaks. The pain is mostly managed now, and I’m back to writing consistently. Three new stories drafted this semester (two of them already run through Luis Urrea’s workshop), plus revisions to older work. I’m relieved that the new routine seems to be working, and I’m slowly ramping back up to my pre-cubital tunnel rate of production.
5. I’m teaching a fiction workshop, and I’m in love. My students are phenomenal: hyper-engaged, thoughtful, willing to take risks, but also (and perhaps most importantly) able to offer kind criticism to one another. I’ve been putting more time in to my teaching than is probably reasonable, but who knows when I’ll get to teach fiction again? I’m going to savor every second.
6. I’m on the academic job market, which is a time-consuming endeavor, nevermind the paralyzing fear of the unknown that comes with it. My writing life has never been anything but a cobbled-together combination of hopes, dreams, fears, a barely livable wage, and a troughful of elbow grease. This process is just more of same.
“I’ve been reluctant to produce much of a net footprint (blog/comment-fielding/interviews, etc.) bc I’m paralytically aware of what good intentions can devolve into on the web, a space, like every other cultural space capital permits and maintains, that’s characterized by brevity and disposability and by the reaction-attributes that accompany brevity and disposability: speed, loudness and, often, aggression, contempt, caricature, branding, etc. It’s not that I don’t think mutual regard and atelic inquiry can happen in the thereless there, they do, but not often enough and not thoroughly enough for me to see it as a peculiarly exciting public space for thinking about poetry with others. And it’s hard for me to risk thought about poetry with such uncertainty about fellowship.”
–Geoffrey G. O’Brien
I spent the past two weeks taking an honest-to-goodness vacation. When I was 11, we had a foreign exchange student from Germany live with us for a year. Well, she’s getting married this month, and although I couldn’t make the wedding, I was able to visit her so as to meet her husband-to-be and two adorable children. She’s living in Zürich now, so we spent our days by the lake or walking the town, and on the last day did a short hike in the mountains. Then I met up with my parents in Amsterdam, home of the house-hook:
When I was 16, we lived there, and I made friends with another student at the Dutch high school I attended. Judith was also getting married this month, and we arrived in Amsterdam just in time to attend her wedding. I visited the Stedelijk Museum and the Rijksmuseum, ate delicious Indonesian food, and spent time with great friends while failing to remember much Dutch beyond “alstublieft.” It’s been a very long time since I took an actual vacation, especially one where I wasn’t still working most days. Given the state of my wrists, though, it seemed like an opportune time to give myself a real break.
Wrists are feeling a bit better after many days away from the computer, and I’m happy to be back in Chicago where my dictation software lives. No travel plans from now until the MMLA conference in November, hooray! After months of much travel, I’m looking forward to the semester starting (I’m teaching a fiction class and a science-fiction themed composition class) so I can settle in to my usual routine. James is thousands of words ahead of me. Must catch up!
Two pieces of happy news: I had a panel picked up for this year’s AWP in Seattle, WA: “Give Me Your Vampires, Your Fae, Your Bulbous Alien Masses Yearning to Be Free: Teaching Genre in the Creative Writing Classroom.” It will feature Rachel Swirsky, Cat Rambo, Nick Mamatas, and Rahul Kanakia. Our panel description:
“Realist and experimental fiction writers often express nervousness about allowing their undergraduates to submit fantasy and science fiction to workshop. Some go so far as to ban such work outright, a tactic that can defuse young writers’ enthusiasm. Join writers whose work has appeared in both literary and genre publications as they discuss how a successful undergraduate workshop can include teaching serious genre fiction.”
I owe an enormous thanks to Rahul, without whom the panel wouldn’t have happened. I’m very excited to discuss genre pedagogy with such a stellar group of writers, and the range of perspectives should make for a very interesting conversation. If you are planning to attend AWP, I hope you’ll stop by!
The second piece of happy news: after Clarion, the first major goal for many (most?) alums is qualifying for SFWA. A bunch of my classmates have already done this; I’d hoped to pull it off within a year of finishing Clarion. That didn’t happen, but I can’t whine too much, since apparently my reprint sale to Prime Books counts as a third qualifying sale (thanks to Alisa Alering for pointing this out). I finally emailed Kate Baker at SFWA to check on my eligibility, and lo, I was indeed eligible. Filled out the paperwork today and am now waiting to hear back. One more life goal I can cross off the list.
Both of these things have been added to my resume, just in time for job application season to begin. Couldn’t have come at a better time.