Those of you who check in with me here know that I’ve been submitting my short story collection around to small presses for a while. The collection has gone through some changes–big changes–since I first started sending it around and, thanks to my friend, Michelle Ross (There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, Moon City Press), it finally came together in a form that makes sense and I hope is more satisfying and entertaining to readers (which really is the most important thing). Happily, WTAW Press has scooped it up and it is slated for release in October 2018! If you’ll be in Tampa for AWP, I’d love for you to join me and other snazzy writers for a reading on Thursday, March 8 @ Irish 31 Hyde Park from 6 to 7:30PM. Then I’ll be signing copies of a new chapbook at the WTAW Press table at the book fair on Friday from 9 to 9:30AM. The whole point of AWP, as far as I’m concerned, is to meet up with all the friends I wish I could see every day and to make new ones, so I hope to see so many people there. And after a couple of months of a gray, Missouri winter, I’ll admit that getting some of that Florida sunshine sounds awfully good, too (even if I’ll be painted in sunblock).
I love a long story and that’s what I write most, but I’ll be the first to tell you that they are very, very difficult to place in a publication. When it comes to print journals, that paper is at a premium, so most journals have pretty hard and fast word count limits and most online journals hold to the idea that people reading on their computers or phones can only read so much on a screen. Happily, my favorite online publication, storySouth, doesn’t believe in limits and encourages the submission of longer pieces, which is how my story, “Unnatural Habitats,” finally found a home. This is the third and last story in my bobcat trilogy; parts 1 and 2 (“Animal Lovers” and “Retreat”) were both published by Colorado Review. Of the three, though, this last one is my favorite, in large part because one of my most unlikable characters, Layton Vines, meets his match in his teenage son. With a 14 and 16 year old in my house right now, this makes sense to me.
I’m also happy to announce that after a couple of years of submitting my story collection (also titled “Unnatural Habitats”) to contests and coming up empty, I have finally made a long list. I just found out yesterday and am really grateful that I took the advice of my friend, Michelle Ross, to change up the order of my stories and to knit them together in a more cohesive fashion. Michelle is the author of one of my favorite new story collections, “There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You,” published by Moon City Press. I’m hardheaded and slow to make changes, but this has shown me that even work I think is finished is never really finished.
I have never spent much time on flash fiction, but I wrote a piece this winter that was recently published at Necessary Fiction. Can you guess who it’s about?
Well, I didn’t forget you. In the last few months, I made my way through summer vacation, went to the Sewanee 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.
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.