counterfactual biographies Category
I will not be in Seattle for AWP this year, but my books will be! You can get a copy of Why We Never Talk About Sugar, my collection of short stories, at the Braddock Avenue Books table.
Or, you can grab a copy of my brand new chapbook, This Will Be His Legacy, from Lettered Streets Press at their table. This chapbook is a collection of my counterfactual biographies and it’s a split chap also featuring poetry by Alexis Pope. Grab it. You won’t regret it.
In other news, I’ve had some work appear around the web that I wanted to link to here. First, I did a month-long guest blog for [PANK] Magazine during January. I collected a bunch of “found Twitter haiku,” tweets that just happened to exactly 17 syllables long. They range from silly to poignant and circle back around to hilarious. You can read the whole lot of them here. And I hope you will.
Next, I’ve written a couple of short blog posts for Brain, Child’s web offshoot, Brain, Mother. This one, on why I don’t think my son is growing up too fast. And this one, on why I refuse to enlist in the Mommy Wars. I find I have a lot to say about motherhood, which probably shouldn’t be as surprising as it seems. More to follow on that front.
This month, a story of mine is being featured as American Short Fiction‘s web exclusive. There’s a also an interview with me on their blog. “Albert Arnold Gore” is the latest in my series of counterfactual biographies. It’s actually three mini-stories that make up one complete story.
Before this one, all of these stories had poured out of me with relative ease: I’d do some research, I’d discover an idea for a story, I’d write a draft in one sitting, polish, polish, polish, BOOM! Done. But “Albert Arnold Gore” was a story I really fought with. It seemed so massive and so complicated that I wasn’t sure I could fit it into the small space I needed to. And even if I could, I was having lots of trouble organizing it. It started out as one long section, focusing on Al Gore, Jr. (the former VP) and sort of talking about his relationship with his father and son. It was a mess. Then I tried it in his son’s point of view. No better.
It took me several drafts to realize that I could break it into three mini-stories (which was something I’d wanted to try with one of these biographies anyway). That was a very helpful discovery, but I still had to make a lot of decisions. I wrote a draft of the story with the pieces arranged in every possible order (rewriting each time for rhythm, continuity, and build) before I settled on the chronological order the story appears in now.
Because I did so much editing and re-editing and doubling back, I kept a word document of all my failed attempts called “Gore Outtakes,” which contains almost twice as many words as the actual resulting story. Looking back on these words, I feel really good about the final product. I wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t tried coming at the story from so many different angles. Plus, it’s good practice for when I get started editing my novel, as I know there’s a lot of work to do there. I expect a hefty “Novel Outtakes” document to be added to my desktop soon.
Here’s an excerpt from the finished version of “Albert Arnold Gore.” Head over to American Short Fiction to read the whole thing.
Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.
When Al’s father tells Al he has to go to war to save his Senate seat, it’s difficult for Al not to feel just a little bit like Jesus Christ. There is something solemn about the request, which comes on the day of Al’s graduation from Harvard. He is wearing a tie underneath his crimson gown. “Pomp and Circumstance” rings in his ears.
“I’m in trouble, Al,” his father says. “The kind of trouble only a son in uniform can fix.”
Al knows it’s for the greater good. He knows that his father wants to end the war, but that he can’t end it from the outside. He has to be in the room, and it’s Al’s job to put him in the room. All sons know that there are things you do for your father because he needs them. This is one of those things.
Today there’s a new story from my series of counterfactual biographies up at The Emprise Review. I have to send some thanks out to Amber Sparks for being the perfect history nerd for this story. This one’s called “John Sevier” and it’s about the one and only Governor of the lost state of Franklin.
Franklin existed as a state in the union for about four years, until it was absorbed into what’s now Eastern Tennessee. Apparently, there are several of these “lost states” that existed for a little while and then just…went away. The research I did for this flash is by far the most interesting research I’ve done throughout this project. There are all kinds of interesting things about Franklin and Sevier that just couldn’t fit into this story, so I recommend looking them up if you’re inclined. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the glimpse this story provides!
Here’s a sample:
What haunts him most, more than the ghosts of those he buried in Franklin who now rest in Tennessee, is that no one saw the greatness he saw. He was one vote shy of being granted statehood. In desperation, he even tried to negotiate a deal with the Spanish who, despite their lust for a foothold in the Appalachians, did not send the money.
And when it was time to fight for Franklin, to fight for freedom and liberty and the land beneath their own feet, his soldiers wouldn’t charge. They spared shots against their former neighbors, playing at bad aim and jammed rifles. Even when Sevier’s own sons were taken, his men would not fight. He had to retreat like a wounded horse, send an unarmed man to retrieve his boys.
New story from my series of “counterfactual biographies” up at the brand new Flywheel Magazine today. This is Flywheel’s first issue and the line-up is stellar, including Roxane Gay, xTx, Brian Oliu, and Sal Pane, among lots of other talented folks. Read the whole issue. You won’t be disappointed.
My contribution is called “Chairman of the Boards” and it’s about a certain basketball player infamous for his many “scores,” if you catch my meaning.
Here’s an excerpt:
What number she is, he isn’t sure. He might finally be somewhere around a thousand. But those are private numbers. When she asks (and they always do), he will tell her she is number 14,621. But he doesn’t want to think about numbers now. Numbers run his life. They scroll through his mind like the marquee in Times Square: average points, free throw percentages, wins, losses, his height, his weight, how much money his skills are worth this year compared to last, how many good years his legs could possibly have left, how long his heart can go on pumping blood through all those miles and miles of veins.
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!
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.
Today I have a new story up at Bluestem Magazine. This one’s called “Pinocchio” and (you guessed it) it’s about Pinocchio. I’m currently working a series of flash fictions I’m calling “unauthorized fictional biographies” or maybe “counter-factual biographies.” This piece is part of that series. I’m hoping it will make an interesting chapbook somewhere down the line (hint, hint, chapbook publishers!). I’m quite proud of this piece, so I hope you enjoy it!
Here’s an excerpt to encourage you to click over, read the story, and check out the rest of the quarterly issue:
Now that Pinocchio is finally a real boy, he understands that what he really wants to be is a woman. He knows he has to tell his father, Geppetto, who spent his whole life longing for a son.
“Dad,” he says, “I need to talk to you about something.”
“Amelia,” originally in SmokeLong Quarterly, is also part of this series. And there are many more to come. Stay tuned!