Monthly Archives: April 2011

New Story: “Michael Collins” & Guest Editing at SmokeLong!

Brand new installment of my series of “counterfactual biographies” up at Monkeybicycle today. This one is called “Michael Collins” and it’s about the Apollo 11 astronaut, not the Irish revolutionary.

Here’s a taste:

NASA announces Apollo 11 and he sketches a cartoon bald eagle landing on the moon’s surface, the Earth rising like a star in the background. The crew list goes up and he is on it, along with Neil and Buzz. Of the three of them, Michael has the most EVAs. Neil, the most experience as command pilot. Michael can feel goosebumps popping up over the scar on his back. He is going to be the first man to walk on the moon.

At home, he rinses off the dinner dishes and tucks the kids into their beds as if none of this is happening. He does not spend hours gazing at the moon, as he’s sure everyone imagines. He doesn’t even look at it. He keeps his head down, focuses on the complicated sequences of throttles and thrusters, how long it takes him to get in and out of his spacesuit, and keeping his stomach still during aerobatics.

When they tell him he’ll be the command pilot, that he won’t even board the lunar module, he doesn’t cry. He tells Pat late in the evening, after the kids have gone to bed and she, once again, channels all of her giddy energy into conjuring sad eyes for a long moment. Whether this makes him love her or hate her, he doesn’t know. For now, he can only feel this one feeling.

In other news, today starts the beginning of my week-long tenure as guest editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. SmokeLong publishes some of the best flash fiction available on the web, so if you’ve got something awesome, send it my way! You can find full guidelines, as well as their submissions manager here. Looking forward to reading your flashes!

Where to Send Your Experimental Writing

Last weekend, I facilitated a workshop all about experimental writing as part of Dzanc Books’ National Workshop Day. During the workshop, I talked a bit about publishing experimental writing and gave the participants a (very incomplete) list of venues that are particularly amenable to this kind of writing. Below is this list. Of course, what is categorized as “experimental” varies largely from person to person, but each of these places in interested is work somewhere along the spectrum. As always, check out some writing from the magazine itself to see what they’re into. Happy sending!

What did I miss? Leave other possible markets for experimental writing in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Falling in Love With the Wrong Men

Today I read this interview with Michelle Herman about write/life balance and finding a partner that will support your writing. The whole interview is interesting, but I got hung up on this sentence:

After many years of falling in love with precisely the wrong men, and using up the time and energy that I might have spent writing any number of books that will forever go unwritten, I met my husband.

It kind of wormed its way around in my brain for a little while until I realized that I have never fallen in love with the wrong man. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t fall in love very easily, or because I was never much good at dating, but there it is.

I’ve been in love three times. One ended badly, with fear and yelling and a spontaneous cross-country move. It was my fault. I told him I wanted to marry him, but I didn’t. I don’t think I knew I was lying at the time, but sometimes that is the worst kind of lying. When I finally told him, it broke him in half. He hated me for a while and then, I think, convinced himself he never really liked me anyway. Now he’s getting married for real and I’ve heard that he’s happy. I hope so.

The next one ended beautifully, with a night of tears and long, sweet hugs. We told each other everything we loved about each other, everything we would miss about each other. When I started to cry, he brought me a towel. We spent the rest of the weekend together as planned and then gently parted ways. I still count him among my very best friends. The love there never went away; it just changed a little bit. He will continue to fall in love with a series of amazing women and then, if he decides to, he’ll pick one and live happily ever after.

One hasn’t ended. Some people might say it ended in marriage, but I don’t. He’s still my boyfriend, I still have a crush on him. I still giggle when I catch him getting out of the shower.

None of these was perfect, but none of them was wrong. In fact, I think they were all exactly right. The first guy taught me about poetry, that I am repelled by jealously, and how to fall in love. The second one taught me everything I know about music, that I look good with short hair, and that some things are worth working hard for. My current partner taught me how to cook tofu, that I can ask for things and get them, and that it’s okay to cry even when you’re mad.

All of these men are writers now, but they weren’t when I met them. The “co-writer” relationship went really differently with each of them. One loved everything I wrote, unabashedly and joyfully. One gave me thoughtful encouragement with a critical eye. And one sort of stayed away from my work all together. All of this was okay. My writing is about me. I think I could do it, and do it well, no matter who I was with or if I wasn’t with anyone at all. I hope so anyway.

I’ve been in love three times. Maybe that’s too many. Maybe it’s not enough. Maybe it would have been better for my writing if I’d fallen in love more easily or more often. Maybe a couple of wrong guys would have given me more or better stories. But I think falling in love, like falling generally, is one of those things you can’t really control. And I wouldn’t want to, even if I could.

Fixed Form Narratives

Reposting this piece on Fixed Form Narratives from my monthly column over at Flash Fiction Chronicles. I have a new column there on the first Monday of every month. Here’s April’s!

In my English classes in high school, I was never one for sonnets or villanelles. I found them to be a bit too restrictive and concluded that I must be a fiction writer, because fiction writers like their space. So you can imagine my surprise when the students in my flash fiction class in the fall almost unanimously reported that our unit on fixed form narratives was their favorite.

A fixed form narrative is basically a story that has rules that dictate its structure.   Think of them as the prose equivalent to poems that have prescribed lengths, rhyme schemes, etc. In prose, these fixed forms can be “organic” (like a story that masquerades as a series of Facebook status updates), or “abstract” (built around specific criteria, like word count, sentence count, and so on).

The more I thought about my students’ attraction to fixed forms, the more it made sense. Writers love writing prompts because they help generate ideas. But rather than offering students an idea to respond to, fixed forms help shape their work stylistically. This kind of play allows them a chance to be adventurous, forces them to try on new types of sentences, and refuses to let them settle for the first phrasings that pop into their heads.

In class, we tried out a few forms from Bruce Holland Rogers’ list (which is great, and can be found here). Then I asked the students to group up and invent their own fixed form narrative, complete with a name, a list of rules, and an example written by their group. Each group presented and we tried them all on for size. I wrote along with them and found my old fear of rule-based writing melt away.

I don’t know of any magazines that actively seek fixed form narratives (anyone?), so for now the added challenge of taking on these forms is that the resulting stories have to be brilliant in their own right, not just as examples of the form, since editors may or may not even know what you’re responding to. But fixed form narratives are also great for generative play. Once you have the idea and a few lovely images or sentences in hand, you can knock out the scaffolding and re-write the piece sans constraints.

I’ve got my eye on fixed form narratives as something I imagine we’ll be seeing more of as time goes on. Do hop over to Rogers’ website and try a few out on your own.

New Story: “The Nine Innings of Morrie Rath”

I am Hobart-ing it up this month with stories in both the web and print versions of the magazine. The story in Hobart Web,  “The Nine Innings of Morrie Rath,” is part of their annual baseball issue to kick off the start of the season.

Morrie Rath was the Reds’ player that was hit with the first pitch of the 1919 world series to signal that the fix was in and the White Sox were taking a dive. I picked Morrie as my hero because I wanted to try approaching this famous historical episode from a new perspective. The more I learned about Morrie Rath, the more fascinated I became by him. Of course, I couldn’t fit his whole life into a piece of flash, but (if you’re inclined) you can learn a bit more on his wikipedia page (where I began my research). I really think someone needs to write an actual biography of Morrie Rath (I necessarily did some fictionalizing here and there). The more searching I did about him, the more interesting stuff I found.

The Nine Innings of Morrie Rath” is part of my series of counterfactual biographies (where you at, chapbook publishers?). You can read others stories from the series here and here. Here’s an excerpt:

Inning 3:   He doesn’t learn until weeks later, when everyone else does, that hitting him with the ball meant the fix was in. His team hadn’t really won the 1919 World Series. It had been handed to them. What to do with this news, Morrie doesn’t know. He’s already felt the heady rush of victory. Already been hoisted up high by the Reds when he threw out Shoeless Joe to end the series. He cannot unfeel these feelings.