Well, I didn’t forget you. In the last few months, I made my way through summer vacation, went to the Tennessee Writers’ Conference (a magical experience, I have to admit), suffered through the remainder of a hot and humid St. Louis summer, adopted a new dog, and have continued to fight my way through a house build (a long and somewhat painful story for another time). Free time for any kind of writing is at a premium right now, but I did write a very short (like, a paragraph) for The Drowning Gull at the invitation of the charming Katelyn Dunne. Check out the good work that’s being done at TDG and give them a shout.
It’s July. July? Once again, the summer is getting away from me, though this one is a little worse than most. For the last couple of years, we’ve been planning and then building a house (pictures to come) and we’re now at the part where decisions have to be made every day concerning, well, everything. Every. Little. Thing. It’s overwhelming, but I can’t complain. This house has been a 25+ year dream in the making and, once I’m there, I’m not going anywhere. This will be my last house.
Not surprisingly, building a house and having two teenagers at home hasn’t been great for the writing routine. For now, I’m just catching what time I can for my own work, but for the first time in years, I’m having serious trouble with focus. Happily, I go to what I can best be described as “grown up summer camp” at the end of the month. I’ll be attending the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a Tennessee Williams Scholar, a fact that I still can’t believe. I’m dreading the workshop (because I’m terribly under-confident about the beginning novel chapters I submitted to be reviewed), but I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and listening to so many that I really admire. This will likely be my last post until I get back, so, until then, check out all the great details about the conference. Happy summer, everybody!
Sometimes, as a writer, you go for long stretches where it seems that no one knows you exist. No one is reading your stories, no one is returning your emails, no one is accepting your work, no one remembers you have something good to contribute to the world of words. Then the drought breaks and you get an acceptance or a kind note or an invitation to read. When you’re really on a roll, you might even be granted more than one of these, which is what happened to me recently. My friend and an incredible poet, Elijah Burrell, asked me to drive over to be a part of a special English honor society event. That was last week and I had a fantastic time (note: if you’re in Jefferson City and you’re looking for a good place to eat, try Prison Brews, and if you’re looking for truly hilarious company to join you, bring along the English Department–and one member of the Math Department–of Lincoln University). I read a story for them that is currently out in the most recent edition of Natural Bridge, titled “This Trailer Is Free,” and I hope they enjoyed hearing it as much as I did reading it.
But as luck would have it, after Eli asked me to visit Lincoln, I received an invitation here in STL to read at an issue launch party for both Boulevard and Natural Bridge. Happily, I will once again be reading “This Trailer Is Free”. This event will be at Dressel’s in the Central West End (Dressel’s is one of my favorite local pubs and was featured not too long ago on “Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives”) on May 25th, 6:30pm. You’ll want to hear the other readers, too, including my MFA professor, Mary Troy, and another poet I admire, Adrian Matejka (the other poet is Travis Mossotti, and I’m excited to learn more about his work). All the details can be found right here.
I just realized that I haven’t posted here since December 19th and I honestly don’t know what to say for myself. To give you a quick update, the holidays are usually a nightmare around here (we start out with Thanksgiving, roll into my oldest kid’s birthday, skid into Christmas and New Year’s, then waddle toward my youngest kid’s birthday, by which time we’re all feeling bloated and somewhat pickled), but this year I added running my own fiction workshop to the mix, which began the last week of January. I loved doing it and I had what was probably the best mix of workshop participants I’ve ever had, but I find teaching to be fairly all-consuming and, before I knew it, it was March. The workshop is done now and, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been jumping back into my novel, “Travelers,” and enjoying being in the world of the Arkansas delta, 1930. The biggest writing battle I’m fighting right now (besides the constant struggle to find the large chunks of time that I crave, but rarely get) is to forgive myself for taking such a long time to complete this novel. Truthfully, I really love writing short stories and I enjoyed taking some time off from the novel in 2015 to complete two stories that were published shortly thereafter (“Not From Here” in Carve Magazine & “This Trailer Is Free” in Natural Bridge). But as I wade back into the novel, I’m remembering how much I’ve enjoyed it, too, even though the process of discovery has been a long, dark road. I’m telling myself that this is normal. I’ve never written a novel before and the experience has been humbling, to say the least. Still, I’ve come back to it and, happily, with a clearer vision for what it was supposed to be. For now, it’s the best that I can do.
Actually, the issue is no longer imminent, but is out! My story, “This Trailer Is Free,” can be found in the print edition of Natural Bridge, which you’ll need to order to read (or wait until it’s available on JSTOR). This was my other experiment in first person and I’m glad it found a home at Natural Bridge.
I’ve been slow to post again, mostly because I’ve been busy hustling to relaunch a workshop organization called the St. Louis Writers Workshop. After inheriting it from its founder and my friend, Denise Bogard, I’ve spent the fall updating the website, having a new logo designed, recruiting instructors, and learning about things like W9’s and 1099’s and business bank accounts and buying advertising and, well, you get the picture. My plate stays pretty full with taking care of my family (which includes two teenage boys) and writing, but I have to admit that teaching has become a valuable part of my life. The weird thing about teaching as a writer is that you find yourself looking at things from different angles, from different points of view you hadn’t considered before. Plus, it’s exciting to be in a room full of people who are as enamored with the written word as I am, who have taken those first steps in trying to figure the mystery of what it is we do, how we make meaning in fiction and poetry and essay. In truth, I’m learning right along with my students and directing St. Louis Writers Workshop gives me the opportunity to keep on doing just that, while also having more freedom to explore and offer the opportunities I think my local writing community needs most. Beyond that, since we’re offering one-on-one coaching, as well, this means I can work with writers who aren’t in the St. Louis metro area, too. How cool is that? If you’re so inclined, hop on over to the STLWW website and see the classes being offered this winter 2016 in short story writing (me), flash-fiction (Heather Luby), and poetry (Emily Grise). Maybe you’ll join us?
If you’re not sick to death yet of reading about my short story, “Not From Here,” check out this lovely little review of it over on Ann Graham’s blog. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a story get this much attention before, which I’ll credit to the good folks over at Carve Magazine. Many thanks to Ann Graham for giving my story a read and review!
I admit it: sometimes, I do a Google search of my own name. You’d be surprised what you can turn up about yourself, especially if you’re a writer, flinging your work out there into the great, wide, literary dark hole. I’ve been lucky enough to find a person or two writing about my work and what they liked about it, but this is the first time that I’d discovered an entire podcast of people actually arguing about something I wrote. (This is not the first time I’ve had work be the subject of a podcast, though; Stephanie G’Schwind and the good people at Colorado Review sat down and discussed my first published story, “Animal Lovers,” on their regular program a few months ago.). Anyway, I was out there spelunking through the Internets when I stumbled onto this little gem. Even though all three of the hosts did not agree on the quality and meaning of my story, I still take it as an incredible compliment to have anything of mine pulled from the piles and piles of published work out there and carefully read and then discussed…for an entire hour! Anyway, if you’ve got some time on your hands and your phone handy, put in those earbuds and give the crew at Literary Roadhouse a listen. And drop them a line to tell them what an awesome job they are doing of keeping short fiction in the spotlight. Seriously, they’re doing us all a favor with this very thoughtful program.
My newest short story, “Not From Here,” is out in the Summer 2015 issue of Carve Magazine, a really terrific online and print journal. I don’t usually write in first person, but this story was sort of an experiment in taking on that voice and I’m pleased that the good people at Carve enjoyed it enough to put it into print. This is also one of only two stories that have made it to print that take place in my real “home”: southern Missouri. I’m not sure why I’ve been so hesitant to set stories in this place that I know better than anywhere else in the world, where my own family has been since early in the 19th century. I think that a lot of us from southern Missouri have a love/hate relationship with home, especially if we left. The Missouri Ozarks brings with it images of hillbillies and backwoods witches and everything else Branson can market and sell, most of it completely fictional. It’s not uncommon for people to believe that the hills are filled with highly superstitious, mystical people, a stereotype that I’ve come to believe is actually grounded in our deep and abiding love for stories, including ghost stories, and practical jokes. Every native family has stories to tell of the pranks pulled by their immediate family and ancestors to scare neighbors and friends, hoaxes pulled off sheerly for the entertainment value. In short, native Ozarkians are more into having a good time than actually believing in magic, but people believe what they want to believe.
In any case, I’ve made my return in fiction writing to the Missouri Ozarks and I’m hoping this is the beginning of a greater, deeper exploration of home. If you’re looking for some additional insight into the writing of this story, pop over to the “subscribe” button on Carve and buy yourself the print edition. Carve does something really incredible for its featured writers by following up with an interview and giving information about the rejection history of every piece–a comfort to anyone slugging it out in the lonely business of literary publishing.
What a great surprise to have my friend and first editor, Stephanie G’Schwind, contact me last week to tell me that my story “Animal Lovers” was the subject of Colorado Review’s May podcast. Stephanie and Anitra Ingham, with host Kylan Rice, break down what they liked most about the story and then dig a little deeper into what is really going on within the piece. It’s a real treat to hear these astute readers and writers talk about a story that has been so special to me (it was my first publication and continues to be one that folks find online and seem to enjoy). I hope you enjoy it, too.