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Archive for May, 2011

As the heart of a student-writer’s story, growing up becomes an almost craft-resistant subject. The narrative is often generated in a gush of feeling barely controlled by point of view, and the thrall of the compositional act obscures the banality of the product. That is, the experience of writing a coming of age story banishes doubt and becomes a writer’s first experience as an artist. Invariably that confidence is reinforced in the workshop; no matter how manipulative the story may be, the writer’s peers are bound to love it. And they’ll be right, because the writer has managed to tap into her own damp and dreamlike past to create her most successful, well-formed story ever.

So we wait for the next story, and it doesn’t come. Or if it does, it’s rambling and superficial, no scenes, no characters, no reason. The ideal trajectory in an academic workshop is that the writer improves with each submission, either technically or in terms of invention. But when a student writes a coming of age story he might just as well give birth to his own writers’ block—because coming of age stories are autobiographical, at least in the emotional sense. That writer is going to need time to recover, psychically.

But there is also another problem, and it’s a biggie. Almost anyone can write a coming of age story—and by “write,” I mean start, develop, and end it—without learning much about how and why it works. Technique comes naturally, for better or worse.

As in instructor, I don’t feel I’ve succeeded with the usual formal/critical approaches to coming of age submissions. The only traction I gain is when I ask my students to question their impulses—why do you want to write about someone who doesn’t know half of what you know? And what I mean by that is, why aren’t you interesting to yourself?

The risk of getting my message across is that I’ll end up reading more college cafeteria stories, but that’s okay. I’d rather read a dozen fragmented scenes of English majors trading smarmy quips over curly fries than one perfectly shaped story about a middle-schooler who learns To Love after her drunkle drowns the cat. That story might hold my attention, but I don’t think those skills transfer.

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I’ve long admired J.A. Tyler  as much for his prolific and brilliant output as a writer as for his work as the founding editor of Mud Luscious Press. So, it was my great pleasure to sit down with Mr. Tyler to chat about the relationship between editing/publishing/ and authorship.

Q: Could you discuss the relationship between your own tastes and aesthetic as awriter and those of MLP?

A: My own aesthetic as a writer and the aesthetic  of Mud Luscious Press are super similar. I write in what I hope it a solidly experimental yet poetically readable approach, something that skirts a line, and what we seek with MLP in all forms (online, novel(la), Nephew) is that as well. However, I accept greater experimentation with MLP than I would personally write, simply based on how well the writers do it. Darby Larson’s The Iguana Complex is a great example of this – writing that I couldn’t pen myself but that is absolutely, without question, the aesthetic of Mud Luscious Press. It helps too that we have Andrew Borgstom on board as our Associate Editor, as he keeps my own aesthetic preferences from over-running any of those areas of Mud Luscious Press.

 

Has the rise of MLP influenced you as a writer? Editing in general?

Honestly, every aspect of editing has absolutely influenced me as a writer. Editors get to see first-hand the easy narrative mistakes that writers commit alongside the depth and complexity that great writers can achieve with techniques we wouldn’t have thought of ourselves. It is really an unbelievable and amazing learning curve. And editing-proper, working to hone an author’s final manuscript for print, is another layer to that beautiful education, teaching editors to see the concrete reality of their words, no matter what style or approach. Editing (and reviewing) is something that every writer should do for a least a portion of his or her life, it is an evolution.

 

I think of your work and the writing at MLP–both print and online–as being very distinctive–but you’ve edited for a number of different journals over the years and you’re very widely published. Does your approach change depending on a venue? Or has it developed over the years?

I like to believe that I’ve carried some of my own ‘distinctive’ editing style with me to those journal gigs. When I was editing for Pindeldyboz (R.I.P.) I was probably the most experimental leaning editor there, straying more often away from narrative than the others, though of course the diversity of selections was what made Pboz the great beast that it was.

As for my own writing, I often write with specific journals in mind – I am writing a book, so it has an overarching style or super-objective, but then in the small moments, in the beats, I write for specific submissions periods and/or journals, so that I’m close to hitting what they want while also furthering my book goal. I’m not sure if this is normal (or acceptable) practice, but I do it.

 

Has there ever been any tension between your role as a writer and your various roles as publisher and editor? How do you reconcile these?

The only tension between the editor/publisher side and the author side is that of time. There are only so many minutes in the day and when it comes down to it, I work on MLP projects first. Their books deserve the first time, to edit and design and publicize and sell, they are what I do before I do anything else. Their deadlines are the first deadlines, their demands the first to be sated. I write with what is left. It is that simple. And though this means that due-dates for my own work have to remain flexible: when you don’t have all the time in the world, when writing is imperative, you write better. Or at least I do. Or at least I think / believe /hope I do.

 

You have a series of releases coming out this summer (and beyond). And between Mud Luscious and your own work you have come up with a number of innovative ways of promoting interest and community–the MLP stamp stories, for one. Could you talk a little about the connection between creativity and marketing for indie presses and writers? Does the potential format of a release effect your writing process?

In terms of publicity, I try to do the same for my own writing as I do for our Mud Luscious Press authors, I just use a much louder voice for MLP. I believe it is imperative to make waves when you are releasing a book, whether you are the editor or the author, but I also know that you must believe in the publicity you chose, no matter the approach.

The Stamp Stories project that you mention came from the idea to publicize writers from small presses using the power of each press’ own mailings, asking them to include a Stamp Story with their shipments but also to suggest their authors for future Stamp Stories. For our first Nephew imprint title, Larson’s The Iguana Complex, we live-messaged on facebook our editing of the final design proof. We couldn’t speak enough about the book itself, it is so complicated and dense, so we thought why not post our favorite lines, favorite moments, questions we had about the text, and praise of it so that our facebook followers could see how much we love this book.

As for my own work, with the release of A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed from Fugue State Press, I decided to show readers how much I believed in these words by offering to write a new book, just for them, inside of that book, if they read it and didn’t like it. The idea being that I believe in my words and trust that if people read the book, they will enjoy it, and if they don’t, well, then they get something special and new. And as you mention, I have a handful of new books slated throughout the coming months of 2011, and I’m sure with each I’ll put my creative muster behind their publicity. Getting people to purchase and read a book is not easy, but there are ways to help it happen.

Earlier you mentioned “poetic” and “readable” as distinctive traits in your writing. I would agree with that assertion. How important is audience to your work and to the work you accept for MLP?

What a fantastic question, thanks for asking it. Audience is, to me, super important. There is obviously a point where you can say ‘fuck it, I wrote it and I stand behind it and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it’, but if we lose our audience, what do we have? I want, more than anything, to straddle that line with my writing. I want words and language that are thick and complex yet still enough to hold on to, still enough to pull you through its guts. And as an editor for MLP I want the same thing – works that challenge us to see language in its wrecked state, where it is broken but we still see in its damaged mass, the semblance of reality. This for me is the pinnacle of audience / writer connection, and I work towards it in all the writing and editing I do.

 

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This clip is from the documentary SEARCHING FOR THE WRONG-EYED JESUS, a film that explores southern literature, music, culture.  I recommend getting your hands on a copy.

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I realize the irony of this electronic post:  I expect you to read it online as I make a case for why I do not plan on ever owning a device which would allow me to digitally read virtually anything I want.  Why is this?  I’ve asked myself the same question multiple times.   It’s not that I’m electronically challenged —  I blog, I dabble in SQL, I know my way around a database, I use a blackberry…what could I possibly have against a device dedicated to my passion, the written word?

I’ll tell you why:  it’s tactile.  I need to hold a book in my hand.  I need to bury my nose in it and let it tell me if it’s from the library, the used bookstore, or that mega store in the burbs.  I need to be able to circle stuff, draw stars and exclamation points.  I need to be able to scan a line and mark the rhyme scheme.  I need to be able to let the book lie next to me in bed, even if I’ve read it ten times.   I want its spine showing on my bookshelf or in the growing piles I have around the house. I want to enjoy the artwork on the front, the colors chosen for the cover.  I want to see the author’s signature scribbled in the front with maybe a note to me wishing me the best on my own work.  When I get an idea for a paper or for class, I want to go straight to the book on my shelf, open it up, and get busy.

I want to see the stitching. I want to know that the book I hold is just as vulnerable to age as I am, but its essence has the potential to live on.  I want to hold a piece of history, as I do with the marvelous Pocket Poet Series book I have of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, City Lights Books, 1964, which has its price as part of the orange border on the back:  $1.25.  I feel closer to O’Hara, I feel in the moment, holding this “pocket” book of poems that is in remarkable condition and five years older than I.  Even if the e-reader one day comes with scents and the ability to circle and scan, I don’t want it.  I want the real thing.  I wanna hold it in my hands, live with it in its physical manifestation.  Yes. Oh yes.   Now let’s go pick up a book and read it like it was meant to be read, baby.  Let’s do.

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Ron Rash in The New Yorker

Ron Rash has a new story in The New Yorker called “The Trusty” about a prisoner, a woman and a drink of water.

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Review – Talismans by Sybil Baker (C&R Press)

I’ve been a fan of Sybil Baker’s writing for quite a while now. She’s witty, intellectual, and one of the most down to earth liberal female writers I’ve ever read. Her book The Life Plan published in 2009 through Casperian Books was filled with intelligent hilarity. Think Bridget Jones meets Carrie Bradshaw on a goose chase through Bangkok and beyond.

The recent release of Baker’s sophomore novel Talismans actually caught me off guard. Published in 2010 through C&R press, Baker navigates her protagonist Elise through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, intermittently throwing harsh tragedies at the protagonist. At the start of the novel, the reader’s given a glimpse into Elise’s dark family secrets. Since it’s told through the eyes of a little girl, the narration retains innocence and charm, something Baker pulls off incredibly well.

I definitely had to read this knowing that each chapter would harbor a different tone of voice from the next, as Talismans is a series of short stories moving the plot forward. That’s another one of Baker’s talents, she explores numerous voices and styles of writing, and executes them with precision and continuity.

If this book had a soundtrack, it would be A Fine Frenzy’s One Cell in the Sea. There’s a balance between the soft and delicate passages such as the opening chapter and grittiness of a life in San Francisco after the death of Elise’s mother. There are harsher passages filled with Baker’s inner angst, a voice I’ve heard in The Life Plan, but also resolution in the final pages of the final short story.

Sybil Baker exhibits some of her finest writing in Talismans, and I sincerely cannot wait to see what this fellow Casperian Books author is waiting to unleash next.

Review of Sherry & Narcotics by Nina-Marie Gardener (Future Fiction London)

There are many Danielle Steele and Twilight writers out there, but to a much lesser degree, female writers that tackle contemporary fiction like Nina-Marie Gardener. She has crafted a debut novel about a whip-smart editor migrating through a hardcore trip of loss, desire, addiction, and near death in Manchester in her debut novel Sherry & Narcotics. Though the protagonist suffers from an obvious substance abuse problem, she maintains a graceful eloquence in her narration and observations of the external world in a sort of Jane Austin meets Irvine Welsh manner. There’s sex, drugs, booze, drunk texts and email exchanges, and a “life flashing before my eyes” scene toward the end of the novel, moving the protagonist past current demons, but with great certainty, onto new ones. The formatting and pop culture references such as Starbucks or chart music, email and text exchanges reminded me a lot of Sybil Baker’s The Life Plan. Not necessarily chick lit or genre fiction, but true contemporary fiction with an attitude, an edge.

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The subject of this chat is Matthew Salesses . Matthew is the author of a slew of stories, a very tremendous chapbook (“Our Island of Epidemics”), the forthcoming The Last Repatriate as well as the fiction editor of The Good Men Project and the former editor of Redivider. And it was these various roles (that he handles always so brilliantly) that I wanted to talk to Matthew about.

My thanks to Mr. Salesses for helping out with this ongoing series of conversations.

Q: We both went to Emerson, although apparently you were there a little after my time. There’s such a close proximity there between the publishing and the creative writing programs that I want to begin there. From my point of view, I never wanted to spend any time with the literary journals or the publishing students (except for my wife, of course) because at the time I thought a writer should entirely focus on the craft of writing and conjuring the muse, so to speak. I wonder if to any extent you had similar notions or conflicts or if you entered the program thinking about the opportunities offered by writing and editing?

A: When I decided on Emerson, the publishing thing seemed a great asset. It probably was. I didn’t take much advantage of it. I never took publishing courses, though I had a friend who ended up in the publishing program, by chance (she claims), at the same time.

I did, however, get involved with Redivider rather immediately. Part of that was an immediate network of friends that were involved with the journal (I was lucky), and part of that was a desire to enter into a community, which I thought, and probably still do think, was the thing an MFA most had to offer. I actually applied to MFAs only in NYC, San Francisco, and Boston–I didn’t know anything about funding until after the acceptances came with paltry sums.

Redivider was fantastic. A great opportunity, and one of the two best things about Emerson–the other being Margot Livesey. It was so valuable to see the behind-the-scenes process, to see what made a submission rise to the top of the pile or get immediately put aside. I also met most of the people I know now (in the writing world) through the magazine.

Q: Did those behind the scenes processes drastically affect the way you wrote?

A: I think it helped me to keep in mind that someone would be reading what I wrote and looking for a reason to keep reading or to stop. To keep reading, a reader needs to settle immediately into a compelling situation and voice. To  stop, a reader needs only an out-of-place word, or action, or cliche. It’s easy to stop reading. This sounds obvious, but when you are buying books you already know you want to read, it isn’t obvious. It’s only obvious when you are reading in the face of time or obligation.

Q: Did any of the submissions you recieved or writers you worked with at Redivider directly influence your direction as a writer?

A: In issue 7.1, I did an interview with Alexander Chee (author of the amazing novel, Edinburgh). Among other things, he says,

It’s more like teaching people to stay close to their excitement. The thing that I see so many people do with their books is they break it up into all these nutty little pieces where they’re talking to me about character development and backstory. All these phrases that were really just meant to describe something have suddenly become orthodoxies. And they’ve lost their sense of the unity of the thing. They keep asking me, “How do I develop my character?” And I say, “Tell the story?” I feel too many people are working from the wrong end of the stick. They’ve got something very abstract they’re trying to make specific and exciting, and they’re doing it in this Frankenstein’s monster sort of way. So it’s like, “Here’s my backstory sewn onto my character development sewn onto my climax, and now I add the ending and apply electricity!”

This was when I was at the end of my time at Emerson, and to hear this was to articulate a lot of what I felt was wrong with workshops. I think it is eye-opening to hear an evaluation of writing as either exciting or boring (though of course I’m paraphrasing). Exciting/boring is something a reader thinks immediately, but writers are almost trained out of this thinking by workshops. I think that many times when a writer says, more backstory, or try a flashback here, or even I don’t believe this, really what is being said is: make this more interesting. Because if a piece of writing is interesting enough, all those problems fade away. There is a Lynne Tillman quote about how she hates backstory. I am interested in why a reader wants to know more about a character’s history or not, or why a reader questions a character’s believability or not. I think what happens is, if the reader is excited by what she is reading, then those questions never come up, and if the reader is bored, then she wonders why.

I am starting to think that the most helpful critique a writer can get is for her reader to say, these are the parts where I was bored, and these were the parts where I was reading happily. I also think this is a taboo thing to say in a workshop.

I’m not saying you can’t teach writing. I think the tools learned in workshop are helpful once you start thinking about how to increase excitement in the reader–through greater stakes, more conflict, etc. But often the “technical” evaluations made in workshop are made out of a sense of obligation to the workshop setting. It can be hard for a writer to hear her own voice in the chorus of suggestions. Part of the MFA experience is finding those readers you trust and staying in touch with them later.

Q: Earlier you mentioned the importance of finding a “community.” Other than cultivating that handful of trusted readers how has this idea of community affected your writing?

I think that handful of readers is the main way. I’m not sure the community affects one’s writing so much as one’s writing life. The people you meet can provide conversation, support, motivation, opportunities, etc. They might steer your writing in a certain direction if you let it be steered, whether through pressure to publish or desire to be accepted or by stoking interest in a certain style or genre, or so on. And maybe that has happened to me to a certain extent–I write more short shorts than I might have, for example–but mostly the effect is one of infrastructure or something. I’m not explaining this well. What I’m saying is, I *think* my writing is more influenced by what I read than by my personal relationship (if such exists) to a writer, or writers.

Q: To what extent are your decisions as a writer or an editor affected by audience or venue? For instance, has your approach changed at all with your work on the Good Men Project?

I think one’s audience should certainly influence one’s writing/editing. We all know who we’re writing/editing for, even if we say it’s ourself, and even if it is. There is an audience we have an mind. I wrote a thriller last summer. I paid a lot of attention to plot. I gave my characters guns. The whole thing would have been pointless if I hadn’t tried to satisfy a reader who likes thrillers.

Also, it’s not just the writer for whom an intended audience is important. I blew through all those Harry Potter books at about a hundred pages an hour. When I started reading them, I expected to read like a certain type of reader I am not when I read The Alexandria Quartet. We make these adjustments all the time. We are happiest when our expectations are fulfilled.

There was this study done (I was told this, so can’t cite) that showed that people were far more likely to see a movie if the trailer gave away the plot than if it did not. This might seem counter-intuitive–you might think we want to be surprised–but people are mostly interested in seeing things they expect to happen happen.

All of this applies to the Good Men Project, as well. I always want to push the boundaries of a reader’s expectations–that’s what makes a reading experience in any genre, including literary, special–but I don’t want him to feel as if his expectations were misguided.

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Phil Chambliss

A lifelong resident of Calhoun County, Arkansas and folk art filmmaker.

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Granted, LAST NIGHT, is the first book of James Salter’s I read, and maybe that’s why I feel compelled to say I’ve still yet to see anything with its power in my life, but I’m pretty sure Salter might be the greatest writer who ever gazed upon the alphabet.

No seriously.

Just listen to this:

“They ate dinner in silence.  Her husband did not look at her.  Her face annoyed him, he did not know why.  She could be good-looking but there were times when she was not.  Her face was like a series of photographs, some of which ought to have been thrown away.  Tonight was like that.”

Let me say here that all quotes in this post are from LAST NIGHT, just so we’re clear.

The pockets of Salter’s critics say, although the New York born wordsmith may be a great stylist, he is not an important writer, one that will have the lasting impact on his society as did, say, Hemingway.  But the mark of an important writer is how much insight into the human condition he can provide.  And style is merely a meter by which to measure how well that message is put across.  It’s the equivalent of saying, okay, this person can sing like a bird.  Okay, you listen to them sing and you get the story behind the song, if there is one, because the instrument that was used to communicate is beautiful and effective.  It’s the same thing with Salter.  His sentences are so beautiful and wonderfully designed, polished, as he says, like rare gems, each one, so as to communicate, without any sign of fat or excess verbosity, exactly the same feeling you might have had at one time in your life, or someone you might know.

And tension, don’t even talk to me about tension with this guy.

In the first story of this collection, Salter tightens the vice grip slowly and then just keeps twisting.  Here we have a couple in the story, “Comet,” who have married, but there are hints in the opening paragraphs things are just off center.  She wore a white dress, but Salter doesn’t just leave it at that, no, instead, he takes that opportunity to start planting seeds and building character.  “It had been a while since Adele had married and she wore white: white pumps with low heels, a long white skirt that clung to her hips, a filmy blouse with a white bra underneath, and around her neck a string of freshwater pearls.”  What’s happening here is that seed of tension is being placed, very gently by a practiced and clearly talented writer.  This isn’t just an ordinary marriage.  This is a second marriage and then later we’re given additional hints of the tension already building and the twisting yet to come.

“Behind her as best man, somewhat oblivious, her young son was standing, and,  pinned to her panties as something borrowed was a small silver disc, actually a St. Christopher medal her father had worn in the war; she had several times rolled down the waistband of her skirt to show it to people.”

Why is this lady essentially showing her panties to people during her wedding?  It’s an unsettling image for me, personally.  And this continues to build throughout the story with the woman’s story of her ex-husband, the one that Philip is forced to endure time and again, that has, itself, some unsettling details.

All of this tension suggests one thing, and it’s a theme I see throughout the collection – that of longing and regret.

Another good example of regret as theme and foundation comes in the short story, “My Lord You,” which depicts a woman unhappy with her current life/ husband and sees the possibility of something new and exciting in this poet character Salter ushers onto stage.  The quote at the beginning of this post is from that story and illustrates the indifference her husband has toward her.  There are some really painful moments earlier in that story where we see the husband makes little or no effort to offer attention much less discussion in regard to some of his wife’s longing and perhaps even lust for this poet character, Brennan, who pretty much stains not only the opening scene but the remainder of the story.  From the start, we know Brennen is will be a driving force in disrupting the fabric of these people’s lives.

“There were crumpled napkins on the table, wine-glasses still with dark remnant in them, coffee stains, and plates with bits of hardened Brie.  Beyond the bluish windows the gardens lay motionless beneath the birdsong of summer morning.  Daylight had come.  It had been a success except for one thing: Brennan.”

I can’t help but quote Salter in long form, he’s just too good.  Even writing the sentences Salter himself once sat and wrote bring a tingle to my fingers, at the very tips, magic somehow to even have the great honor of forming those common letters into the same passages Salter himself wrote with such care.

Read also: A Sport and a Pastime (the novel widely considered his masterwork).

Read also: Everything else he’s written.

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Is it safe to assume that “Queen Isabella Eats a Pineapple and Misses the Jews” is perhaps Cami’s most popular story? In part one I should have noted that I was setting this particular story (also from the For Every Year project) for a later post, because in not doing so it appeared as if I’d made a glaring omission. No, Snow Whale, I was saving it for later, like Fenway Bergomot’s grapes. In “Queen,” Cami hits a satirical high note as Queen Isabella finds that her first taste of pineapple—a gift from Columbus—makes her nostalgic for the Jews, whom she remembers like an old flame:

She had only just started to get over them, the Jews, with their stubborn, endearing habits, the way they’d circumcise their young and refuse to lift a finger on Saturdays, and could never ever say the name of God out loud. Infuriating. Adorable.

When Ferdinand intrudes on her reverie,”ready to start a day posturing over the spoils of the New World,” Isabella forces him to partake of the fruit:

But the scent of the fruit on her breath is too much for him, and he pushes his lips againsthers, causing her to lurch back and smash pineapple into his chin.

“All for the glory of Spain, my Queen, all for the glory of Spain,” Ferdinand says as he wipes his face with the napkin.

Perhaps it’s a little on-the-nose to signal the voracious nature of power via food and sex, but in this story those elements are completely ingenuous, which means we ride along the delightfully insane present of the story and save our horror for later. My question: is this story possible without Mel Brooks?

With a far less accessible message, “Made From Scratch,” from >killauthor, also features consumption and sexuality, but this time fed through the grinder of domestic realism.  Let me get this out here—anytime I encounter fecundity and meal prep in fiction, I think: fear of death. Probably not fair, but I’d say that’s the number one reason I don’t crack open a Best of American Short Stories without a gun held to my head. Cami’s domestic fiction is always riveting, though.

Told in multiple points of view—The Husband, The Wife, The Babies, The Family—”Made” describes the other side of the transaction featured in “Even the Smallest.” Once a year The Husband visits the pig farmer to procure meat and casings:

This bargain. As if knowing where their food came from, getting it, making it, eating it, right from the source, was enough to charm them against a past, a future, of stench. Or was it a penance of some kind? His wife could have everything she wanted—she would allow him to give her everything he wants a wife to want—if once a year he smelled this shit, she ground this flesh, they ate her meal. 

While The Wife is obsessed with preparing the meal, The Babies are obsessed with her:

We take things up. We bring them down. Noise. We see her, the One, smell her, and there is nothing else. We go there, we gather, we make her our center.

But it is only after they eat that The Husband can approach:

He swallows and starts toward her, but stops at the babies, still in their high chairs. Cock blocked again, they laugh.

There is something disturbingly charming in “Made From Scratch,” as muted as it is. For me it comes down to the piggy, raw desire of The Babies compared to the deferred desire of The Husband, all of whom seem to agree that The Mother is the meal, to be consumed nightly. Now that sounds like a horror story, right? I’m sure there are more generous ways to read this one, though.

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A Poet Reads Panels

 Recently I traded my poetry manuscript with a new friend who is writing a graphic novel.  I am not a regular reader of comics or graphic novels, and he is not a regular reader of poetry.  Yet we are both writers and always find something interesting to discuss when we have time to talk.  I was unsure what I was getting myself into, as I am visually challenged.  When it comes to direction on the page I flounder.   In grad school we had to read a screenplay.  It was one of my least favorite exercises, as I detest courier font and everything was so stripped down – but this is what a screenplay is supposed to be, right?  A set of directions and dialogue.  The actors and directors flesh out the storyline that exists on the page into a visual meal.  Luckily this is what happened when I read my pal’s panels.  Similar to a screenplay, the manuscript lists each panel and describes the action that the panel is to depict.  Sometimes there is dialogue, sometimes SFX (sound effects), and other times there is simply a detailed description of what the panel is to show the reader (reminiscent of the usual workshop advice:  show, don’t tell…).  The brilliant thing about this exercise of exchanging our creative work is that it pushed me and made me realize what goes into creating a graphic novel, which is a truly collaborative endeavor between not just the writer and editor, but also the visual artist.  For each panel described, I had to visualize what it would look like.  The words on the page told me, but my brain had to create it and suddenly I realized that when I return to Kick Ass (which my pal loaned me), I will be able to “read” the story much better because I’ve gone about it from this angle.  Like my own poems, where I describe a feeling or a moment, I expect the reader to visualize or feel it.  The graphic artists ask us to participate in a similar way, but we fill-in the narrative by studying the images on the page.  There is minimal dialogue in the panel, and the reader must interpret the expressions and body language of the characters.  We are expected to “read” each panel, whether it has words or not.   

While all reading is a participatory act between the writer and the reader, graphic novels use an actual image which those of us who write poetry or fiction create with words, asking the reader to fill in or flesh out on her own without a picture provided.  Graphic artists go about it in the opposite way – giving us the visual image, and only a few words.  All in all, this was a great exercise for me.  If you are interested in comics, check out my friend’s site.

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This is the first post in what will be an ongoing series of discussions with some of my favorite writers who also double as editors (or, some of my favorite editors who also double as writers). My focus will primarily be on the conflicts between these two identities and those moments of cohesion and influence.

My first post is a conversation with the ever great Rusty Barnes. I met Rusty several years ago when I attended his flash fiction and microfiction class. As a student, I was particularly impressed with the way Rusty understood the process of writing from both sides of the table, both as a successful writer and as the co-founder and editor of the well regarded Night Train. Recently, Rusty has started published Redneck Poems and has an upcoming story collection titled Mostly Redneck  as well as continuing his Fried Chicken and Coffee site, dedicated to his interests in rural and Appalachian related writing. So, it was my great pleasure to ‘chat’ for a little while with Rusty about these matters and more.

Q: Were you interested in writing or editing first? Was there any relationship between how they came about?

A: I was always interested in writing first. Although I ‘edited’ journals in high school and college and graduate school, my real introduction to editing came on the student newspaper in high school, where people started to actually remember and agree with what I had to say about their work. Most of them couldn’t write well under pressure, and the more pressure I had on me, the better the writing turned out.  That experience continued on into college where if I wasn’t writing, I wanted to be associated with writing in everything I did, so I wrote theater reviews, music reviews, editorials, small news stories and feature articles. Eventually I stopped doing that much non-fiction and turned to fiction and poetry almost exclusively. Maybe the shorter answer is that writing and editing were the only things I was interested in pursuing past a certain point, when I’d decided to get an MFA in fiction. Now it’s difficult to think of them separately. What reputation I have is as an editor, though by the end of this year I’ll have published four books and a couple hundred stories (mostly flash fiction), along with many poems and interview and essays. That’s OK with me, though I’d certainly like my stories and poems to be better known.

Q: To what extent is starting a journal or editing a creative act … a personal act? versus how much you are thinking about what will appeal to a particular audience? How does your approach change from Beacon Street to Night Train and Redneck Press?

A: I thought about the audience constantly when Rod Siino and I founded Night Train. Now I don’t think about it at all. I trust that if I do what I’m supposed do in promotion and in finding good material, readers will find what I do and support it.

I approached editing the same way in all of those projects: there were writers who deserved to be read, and I could help them find readers.

I guess I didn’t think of the magazines and journals I’ve worked at as creative acts or personal acts. I wanted exposure for my writers. I wanted to give something back to the writing community, and I wanted to know why I wasn’t getting published as well or as much as I liked. Reading for NT in particular cleared that mystery up in a hurry: I was better than most, not nearly as good as some and that was that. I found that I was good enough to get published, and eventually I was, though there’s a top tier of literary journal and small press to which my work simply doesn’t appeal. That hurts a little, but that’s OK in the long run too. Lord knows I gave them my best shot.

Q: In what ways has editing impacted your own writing?  And, in the opposite direction, how have your tastes as a writer affected your editing?

A: Editing has taught me everything I know about writing, pretty much.

My tastes were fairly wide-ranging, but editing has forced me to narrow them over the years. I own a couple thousand books again after donating many a few years ago. I read mostly poetry these days, and save room for my favorite novelists and short-story writers, and not much else. I have few to no hobbies: I read, I write, I edit. I don’t want to do anything else.

People generally don’t send my favorite kind of stories to NT, though,  so for fun I started a blogazine called Fried Chicken and Coffee which publishes only rural or Appalachian material or frankly, anything else I like. I think this has helped me keep my commitments to NT after almost ten years. Reading all those stories and poems can get to be a drag, especially as I steal time from my novels and poems to do so. Editing a journal will suck up every single bit of your time, especially if you seek grants and make decent money through donations and the like. All your time ends up spent on paperwork instead of actual editing and reading.

Q: Has there ever been any conflict between your roles as a writer and editor? Resentment?

A: Yes, there have been troubles sometimes. Not often, but sometimes you get a writer who seems OK on the page but turns into a raging editorial head case that you have to deal with months or sometimes years later.

Also, a few people have come straight out and told me people only ever published me to get themselves into NT. If that’s true, those folks could have gotten over far more easily if they’d just promised me hot sex. But, I know the editors of many journals, I have contacts everywhere, and I don’t get in everywhere I submit. So if there’s a squid pro ro (yes I know it’s quid pro quo, but I like Austin Powers’ pronunciation better) going on, I’m at the ass end of it, and terribly sad that my efforts at sucking the multi colored teats of culture failed me so badly
Q: Do you ever see yourself going with all of one or another in the future?

A: I’m on hiatus from NT until 2/2012. I’ll be working on Fried Chicken and Coffee until then. I have no plans to pick one or the other to concentrate on in the long run, but that might change. I’ve been editing for a long time.

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The Mimic’s Own Voice a novella by Tom Williams is getting a lot of good press (and here and here).   I recently read it and found it to be terrifically imaginative, funny, and yet somber and astute. 

I had a few questions for Tom and this is what he had to say:

How long did it take you to write The Mimic’s Own Voice?

It’s taken a long time to get to where it is now. I got out my notes and saw I first really started writing the book in, no lie, 2002. I think I had a completed draft by 2003 and tried it, in various places (as a part of a collection, on its own) over the years, often getting it out and tinkering and cutting and whatnot. It used to be called “The Impressionist,” but I got worried about Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist (with which it shares a similar allegorical spirit) and there was a book called The Impressionist that Amazon tells me came out in 2003, but I’m happy with the title, and I’m happy with the book. I’m glad to see it’s out in the world instead of my hard drive.

Was Douglas Myles a character you’d been batting around in your head for a while or was he purely an invention for this novella?

I always have loved performers and comics. Rich Little, George Kirby, Charlie Callas. I previously published a story about another biracial character of mine (a recurring little guy called Alvin) who does some impressions at a talent show. But The Mimic came about when I had the idea of writing about a performer who inspired a host of reactions but remained as unknown to his fans as he might have been to himself. When it occurred to me that I could do that through a parody of an academic biography, all the possibilities that I tried to explore started to reveal themselves, and I just couldn’t pass up the chance. I was creating a kind of alternative universe to the past fifty or so years of American comedy as well as creating a character that, frankly, I just love.

What do you like best (or admire) about Douglas? 

The purity of his art. He becomes so self-effacing that he almost ceases to exist when he performs. I know I’m always trying to show off in my fiction, remind everybody there’s a really smart or funny or philosophical fellow responsible for these pages. Douglas just performs. It’s almost as though that’s the only thing he can do and yet in no way does his performance reveal much about the person he is. He disappears.

What are some underrated books that you think deserve more attention?  

Jack Butler’s Living in Little Rock With Miss Little Rock. Reginald McKnight’s The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas.   Jim Robison’s The Illustrator and Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle.

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For a year I helped published the print journal Cellar Door Magazine. It was the early 2000s and we were full of piss and vinegar and ready to add to the already changing landscape of contemporary literature. It was a blast and we had a great time and had the chance to publish stories from many writers who are still working and doing well today. But we didn’t stop at literature. There were also some killer works of art included in each issue. Full series from graphite works to photographs. I’ll include some in this post for your consideration.

To introduce each of the four issues we printed we wrote a column called “From Pubs and Eds”. The following were the last two columns, written before we realized these would be the last we’d share with readers. And since there are no remaining copies of any of the four issues other than a handful we kept for ourselves, it further motivates me to share these columns.

There was no Issue Five due to the fact that we took part in a reading to launch Issue Four which resulted in an obscenity scandal. The college where the reading took place formally protested the content we shared, sending out mass emails to both faculty and students offering apologies to those who might have been offended by the Cellar Door reading.

At the time we had just been shipped more than 200 copies of the new issue. Normally, to keep the boat floating, we sold the copies to pay for the next print run. This time, we thought it would be a good idea to instead take all 200 plus copies and litter them across the college campus. We left them in bathrooms, on desks, in classrooms, in lounges, we left about ten copies on a stand in the college’s bookstore. Apparently the work study student running the front counter had missed the memo or didn’t care.

We made nothing from this move, not a cent. And Cellar Door Magazine was no more. But what a hell of a fine way to go out.

So here are those final two columns. You can see the piss and vinegar was still strong, and remains strong today. We didn’t stop publishing, we didn’t stop holding readings. We didn’t stop writing. We didn’t change a single thing about how we do things and why we do them. Never will.

Issue Three Column:

More and more since starting this magazine, we’ve been faced with rejection in one form or another. Parents have stowed free copies away, afraid to have guests stumble upon some horrible subject. Some have laughed and called the subject matter “pretty rough.” But the truth of it all is that what we’ve published is rough and horrible at times, but no more so than much of what you can see any hour of the day on CNN or more than a mile from your front door. And it’s not even as groundbreaking in terms of literature.

Before he sang about himself, Walt Whitman wrote a rare story about a student getting severely beaten for falling asleep in class. The story is full of delightful details about each lash the instructor inflicted upon the unresponsive student. It takes a painful number of well-placed strikes before the instructor realizes he’s been beating a corpse.

Literature has long touched subjects that others prefer to turn their faces from. Society, although instinctively prone to denying such work, actually need writers willing to answer the call. And this must be done in appropriate measure within the fabric of the given time period. The stories of D.H. Lawrence might seem bland by today’s standards, while much of the material that has raised eyebrows that we’ve printed or written is seen as radical. There’s some basic points to be considered with this.

The first, and most important, is that our stuff is not really that radical. There are several good writers and good magazines out there doing very much the same stuff. As John Wayne said in The Green Berets when a buck private complemented him on his skill at skeet shooting, “That’s normal.”

The second point is that none of it matters anyway. We don’t write stories or choose stories for publication because they seem radical or over the top or any number of other worn out ideas. We write stories or choose stories because we like them. They pull something loose from inside of our guts and then hold it up and ask questions we’ve never heard before and make us think of things we’ve never thought of before.

The idea of using striking subject matter and themes and images to convey deeper meaning is as old a technique as literature itself, but has never been more aptly described than by one of the greatest writers to ever string sentences together. We’ll leave you with the words of the immortal Flannery O’ Conner, who we should all thank for her courage and foresight in matters of the written word.

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”

Issue Four Column:

One year down, no scars

With this, our fourth issue, we now have a full year to our credit, no doubt about that. But our scars are few.

Sure, we miss Salinger’s first edition printing, sold to ensure publication of our maiden issue, but our struggles and sacrifices have passed unnoticed.

There’s a simple reason we don’t have war wounds.

We’ve loved every second of it. And without pain, there can be no scar.

Every minute we’ve spent working to better this magazine has culminated in some of our best hours and days. When those efforts resulted in success, we enjoyed it. When we stumbled and made mistakes, we appreciated the opportunity to learn more and do better the next time.

Still, a scar or two wouldn’t be such a bad thing. There‘s nothing like a ragged scar to get a good story started.

But then, hell, there’s always beer bottles and pool cues. Maybe there’s hope yet.

The Bible Belt. It’s where we live and work and play. It’s the reason we’ve never expected to gain local standing. Despite this, a few local bookstores have picked up the magazine, and for that we’re grateful.

Still, there was no home for what we do at home. Our work, and the work of writers and artists we valued, was doomed to be left unappreciated in our own backyard.

That‘s what we thought, until some locals showed up and shattered that perception like so many brittle bones.

So now that our kicking and screaming is spilling back into our own neighborhoods, let’s hope the waves crack against this small ship and challenge us at every turn. What can we say? We grew up in Eastern Kentucky reading books and writing poems. We’ve developed a decent right hook and an appetite for a good fight.

Here’s to the first year, and the fights yet to come.

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May is Short Story Month, and last night I dreamed about Cami Park, so it seemed natural to focus on her work for my May Plumb posts. But May is also the month I start back on Weight Watchers, and as I browsed through her remarkable catalogue of work, I could not help but notice that my favorite Cami stories are the ones that feature food & feeding in a big way. I don’t know what it means, but I can’t ignore it, either.

So to kick things off, here are four bite sized narratives that go great together.

Last Meals of the Saints

begins, “St. Frank sops gravy, forks greens along with beans and rice, crisps chicken skin between his teeth, dribbles the grease down his chin, and there is nothing, now, between him and this meal . . .”

From the For Every Year project, filed under year 1535, Last Meals is a marvel for its elegant management of the emotional presence of its four characters based on catholic martyrs dispatched by Hank 8. Cami gives them common names, common foods, and all too common understanding. St. Frank is avaricious and existential, St. Dobie is childish and pious, St. Earl is paranoid, and only St. Angelo is in and of the perfect moment.

Even the Smallest

begins, “SIX hogs come squealing to the trough, COUNT them, Mabel, Max, Bill, Sugah, Sincerity, Templeton . . .”

A Wigleaf story about meat and love and pigs that begins like a fairy tale and ends in an ecstatic sermon. Told by a child with a cosmology to beat back the darkness.

When You Heard

begins, “You were in the kitchen, reaching to the highest shelf, for the last can of chili beans needed for tonight’s supper. On your toes, the very edge of the shelf barely out of reach . . . ”

I almost didn’t include this one because I was on staff with Prick of the Spindle when we published it, but I remembered that Cami had said it was a piece that was close to her heart and that it had been so hard to find a home for it. This story of a woman trying to reach for a can of beans is sort of I Love Lucy meets JFK assassination.

Pete Jones’ Canadian Bacon Pizza

begins with a recipe for above. By now you may be getting a little worried, a little oogy, a little looking-into-the-abyss-y. Don’t worry. Finish with this Forklift, Ohio gag and one of the best last lines ever.

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Eclectic Pencil is 35 Years Old

When I open a document in a word processor there are two features that are so familiar I don’t think about them anymore. The document is on a white background. In some word processors the metaphor of a piece of paper is delineated by a bounding box the proportions of a sheet of typewriter paper with a drop shadow as if the paper is somehow lifted slightly off the a table. I have used a typewriter. When I open a word processor my major interaction with the word processor is to type. I type. The words appear on the screen. They unfurl from my mind appearing as a row of words accumulating on the virtual page. Unlike the noisy clatter of a typewriter on a desk with a hammer marking each letter, the letters on the word processor flow smoothly. In the early days there was some lag between my typing and what appeared on the screen. I would type a burst and then pause and the burst would flow onto the screen coming from the other major feature of the word processor: the cursor. The cursor blinks. At one time it was a colored box. Now it is a thin line that blinks and shows the mark between what I’ve have written onto the screen and what is still within my mind. The principle aim of the word processor is to capture that flow of text and store it in a document (a collection of virtual pages.) (more…)

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True irony: the other day, I said to my tattoo-ridden, Glee-the-show-loving, screamo-band-singing boyfriend, “Nothing shocks me anymore. Nope, not even you.” And days later, I picked up Graham’s Nothing or Next to Nothing ridden with hard-hitting tell-all sentences, and electrifying writing that kept shocking me from start to finish. Take one of these opening paragraphs: “We spent all summer digging for dinosaur bones at the  bottom  of  a  dried  up  creek  in  the  backwoods  of Dowagiac. Dirt and rock  and  large  picks  and  small picks and trowels and measuring tape and bruised skin and bloody bandages and blisters. There were never any fucking bones.” And he continues to work that opening paragraph with a distinctive contemporary voice that makes me laugh at how blatantly offensive his choice of words is, and yet, I am compelled to feel certain tenderness at the same time: “She  was  such  a  stupid bitch,  Sherry  was,  I  wanted  to  tell  her  that  there  were  no  dinosaur  bones  in  Michigan,  that  people would  dig  and  sift  for  a  hundred  more  years  but nobody would ever find them, that the movement of glaciers back and forth scraped away the layers of  rock  that  contained  all  their  remains.  And erosion you stupid whore, what about erosion? But I  loved  her  then,  or  maybe  I  just  didn’t  know  shit about paleontology, so I kept digging.”

In this novel, the protagonist Derek who, I won’t go as far to describe him as a misogynist but maybe more of a sociopath, and his half-sister (I’m praying I read some of these passages erroneously because if I hadn’t then there was a lot of taboo shenanigans going down), struggle to make it as near adults, migrating through crappy jobs, heartbreaking situations, sex, drugs, a cursed inheritance, junk food.

It’s definitely one of the most over-the-top books I’ve ever read. For some reason, girls seem to always be naked, a major focus is Derek taking shits, and there’s the outlandish nonchalant-ness in the dialogue, take banter between two strangers: “I’m going to Jersey. My sister thinks someone’s trying to kill her” and then “He tried to get me drunk and stick his hands down my pants. I played along then cut his dick off and left it on his lap.”And then there are the random bouts of sex, jerking off, story segues of people digging for fossilized treasure one moment then they’re holding guns in the next, panning for gold in one scene, naked in the next, and then there’s the odd bitterness toward McDonald’s, hatred for ’80s rock, a lewd comment about his mother’s chest mentioned in the same paragraph that describes how he found her dead. And then there were the moments when I thought “what the hell is going on” with all these animalistic descriptions and random flashbacks and nakedness and blood and unfinished sex scenes and then I have to remember that in this scene they’re on acid so it’s kind of believable.

Barry’s stories tend to read like bizzaro Twain or Steinbeck, but they seem believable because of his talent to write in grotesque detail. Some of his scenes made me shiver and crave a scalding hot bath with many bars of soap, maybe, to just wash out my eyes.

But as vulgar as everything was, I think there’s a closet romantic lurking inside Graham’s rough-around-the-edges-tough-guy façade and it definitely bubbles up from the caverns of his subconscious and emerges in his writing. Though the protagonist could be graphically describing intimacy of the most perverse nature, woven in between the obscene are gentle reminders that he really wants to find someone to love, “The river was shallow. We went further and further out until our hearts and our souls were completely submerged and only our eyes and lips were left above water. We held each other for minutes or hours or days until her left leg buckled beneath her and we both lost our balance and went under. The muddy water was thick and tasted like the bottom of a mop bucket and she closed her eyes and I kissed her on both eyelids and asked her to marry me.”

Graham’s definitely mastered the art of eccentricity and personal strife. I am interested to see what he has planned in the coming years.

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Christopher Higgs is one of my favorite minds and a real hero of art and literature. His output is constantly invigorating and thought-provoking from his brightstupidconfetti  curations, his series of posts on HTMLGiant concerning the nature of experimental literature, his short fiction, and his tremendous novel The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney. Recently Mr. Higgs and I chatted about some of the implications of his April 14th HTMLGiant post What Could Small/Micro/Indie Presses Learn From the Concept of Transmedia Storytelling? 

Q: We’re coming at this from the point of view of publishing, so, would you talk a little about where you see the text itself fitting in with the rest of the media? Does the other media offshoot from the text (as in an audio book or a trailer) or is the text potentially conceived as just one piece of a larger project? Is there any concern that the print becomes the forgotten part of the equation?

A: Yes, I would imagine the text being only one node in the overall assemblage.  Since different media offer different strengths and weaknesses, I imagine manipulating or pressing the boundaries might yield interesting work.  For instance, perhaps part of the transmedia story “takes place” (for lack of a better phrase) on soundcloud, while another part takes place on flicker, another on youtube, another on tumbler,perhaps there are fliers or stickers that add to the narrative, which the producer would arrange to have posted in various cities across the globe.  At this point, the threat of losing the text is real, but only if you think of it that way, only if you privilege the text.  I don’t see this model working successfully if the text is held as sacred. It almost requires that the text share the limelight.  Since it’s NBA finals season, this has got me thinking about the difference between a team that relies on one superstar player versus a team that plays as a team. Transmedia storytelling is like the latter.  You have to think of the project as a project, a team, rather than think of the text as sovereign and the other stuff as extra.  Thus, I see the text and the other media working harmoniously as individual nodes in a nonhierarchical assemblage.  In fact, this model doesn’t actually threaten the text, it merely extends the definition of “the text” to include other media.

Q: The Jenkins hand out you linked to mentions “expanding markets” and “action figures.” He does so in the context of allowing the audience to participate in new ways, but it does seem there is a fine line between marketing and an interesting, exciting way of telling a story. Is there any concern about becoming George Lucas—where aspects of a book are written not out of some artistic impulse but where characters or events in the original texts are conceived by how well the spin offs will sell?

A:  Small press attempts at incorporating transmedia storytelling would need to negotiate the relevance of expanding markets and producing action figures.  It seems to me that expanding markets is a good idea for any level of storytelling: the larger the audience the better.  But as far as merchandising goes, I’m not sure that applies to small press ventures, although it would certainly be interesting to see how these might emerge.  As far as “becoming George Lucas” (that’s agreat phrase, by the way) it would seem to me that small press folks by virtue of being small press folks would find more creative and interesting ways to manage spin-offs rather than defer to them, in other words I imagine disallowing the marketing end to dictate the creative production as a general rule.

Q: Jenkins uses the examples of large, multi-narrative tales. I’m writing a novel now with a lot of vastness in it—time and characters and events— and I’m excited about the possibilities raised by this proposal of yours—but I wonder how you see smaller novels or novels that focus less on stories and events or even what people think of as a ‘literary realist’ novel fitting into this approach?

A: I think the possibilities and potential for imbricating experimental fiction and transmedia storytelling is vast – perhaps even greater than conventional, or as you put it “literary realist” work, because experimental work approaches the idea of storytelling differently.  If the narrative is fragmented to begin with that would lends itself to spreading across multiple medias, I would think.

Q: Have you put any serious thought into specific ways The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney could be translated into different media? It seems like that particular novel would lend itself particularly well.

A: Yeah, I mean, Ken [Baumann, publisher of Sator Press] and I tried to do a little of this transmedia stuff.  We made various cryptic videos (one, two, three), we made a cryptic website that appeared before the official release of the book, which is now the official hub, but before it had a bunch of strange messages and pictures and stuff that tried to push this mysterious “who is Marvin K. Mooney” narrative, we also tried to do this blog comment bomb thing where Marvin K. Mooney showed up in various comment threads, all of this in the hopes of building a kind of pre-release, pre-reveal hype.  Also, there’s the audiobook, which is more a performance piece slash re-imagining of the novel than your typical author-reads-text-quietly type of thing.  All of this was an experiment along transmedia lines.  But it came before I had studied any of Jenkins’s work.  And it came after the book had already been written.  To really succeed at transmedia storytelling, I think the transmedia element needs to be part of the original vision, needs to be part of the creation process from the very beginning.

Q: The focus of your post was on small presses so I may as well ask to what extent funding as a limitation in all of this? Especially with the smaller small presses?

A: Creative thinking trumps financial shortcomings 9 out of 10 times.  Makes me think of the independent film movement that caught fire in the 90s: these people with no money started making movies that embraced the fact that they had no money.  Clerks, Blair Witch Project, etc.  They didn’t let the absence of funding stop them from making important work.  Same should apply for publishing.

Q: Where does the idea of authorship fit into all of this? Is this idea tending toward a series of collaborations with equal say over a story? Or would a publisher potentially become the “producer”? That makes me a little itchy—does it make you at all itchy?

A: This is a good question, with a bunch of possible answers.  I could envision a project where the publisher serves as “the producer” in the sense of orchestrating the various media components, with a single author or multiple authors producing the individual content.  There could be some interesting multi-author or team-author work.  In that sense, it would require a different way of thinking about authorship.  On the other hand, although it would be super challenging for one author to produce all of the various media components of a transmedia story, perhaps that’s the kind of challenge an independent writer or publisher might best be suited.

Q: I know along with film and television that musicians like Trent Reznor and Radiohead have embraced creative thinking in this direction. I wonder to what extent  this owed to the fact that writers are, generally, isolated with their work whereas TV and film and pop groups are necessarily collaborative on many levels? As much as this is about thinking about publishing in a broader way should writers begin thinking more collectively?

A: Yes.  Exactly.  Collaboration holds possibilities beyond the scope of what a single author can produce.  Recently, I participated in a collective project called Pushcorpse for the print journal No Colony.  Sixty-five different writers contributed something like 100 words to a single story, and the final product is a stunning ensemble of riotously diverse voices.  That’s just one example, but what it signals is that collective work provides a different scope.  Look at the potency of collective websites like Plumb, or the one I write for, HTMLGiant.  Individual identity is not lost or even compromised by affiliating with collaborative projects like these, in fact, I would argue that the power of affiliation magnifies the intensity of the individual writer.  That’s the first hurdle to overcome: acknowledging that we don’t lose when we team up, we actually gain.  I know for many writers this seems anathema: giving up sovereignty.  Put another way, I think some novelists and poets tend to be novelists and poets rather than filmmakers or musicians because they get sole creative control over their creations.  This works for a certain model of creation, but as I’ve said, transmedia storytelling lends itself best to those who are willing to give up sole creative control and instead embrace the power of collaboration.

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In celebration of National Short Story Month, a few words about an excellent collection that should be read by all.

Susan Perabo’s Who I Was Supposed to Be is one of my favorites.  I re-read it every year or so.  I’ve always marveled at the execution and smart storytelling in these stories – much in the same way I read George Singleton stories and learned the necessary building blocks and “how-to” of writing a good story.

Short story writers (and readers) often come in two breeds: those who hang the importance of the “story” higher than the prose itself, and those who worship at the altar of diction.   Who I Was Supposed to Be masterfully excels at both.  There’s plenty of imagination and playfulness to satisfy story types like myself, and a pristinely-built prose engine humming along, underneath it all, and one that would delight any wordsmith.

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Okay I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people who actually clicks on those astrology links. Thanks to doing so I now have my personal numerology reading, including my Life Path, Expression, and Soul Urge numbers.  I figure what the hell, even if it’s all off-base, it’s material I can use in my writing.  But the thing is, whoever writes this stuff seems to hit on a few things that are accurate.   What is it about astrology, our “signs,” which, if you take the time to read them, you’ll find something that resonates on about ten levels?  From any astrology-related website you’ll find yet another link which will claim to help you strengthen your psychic powers.  Which leads me to my train of thought:  good writers are psychic.  As a poet, one of the best compliments I can receive is from my reader and/or listener saying that the sentiment in my poem was exactly what she felt, experienced, or what the voice in her own head was saying.  Feedback such as this means I’ve successfully tapped into something universal, something that unites me and a stranger even though on the surface we may appear to have little in common.  Being psychic is not limited to seeing the future, it includes being able to understand the feelings of another without the other person saying a word – clairvoyance.  Writers are often intuits.  We can walk into a room and know the emotional dynamic without anyone speaking a word.  Our senses are open in ways others’ are not.

I only dabble in fiction, but I would imagine (and fiction writers, pipe in here) that those whose passion is doing so are psychic by means of seeing the future.  How so?  Through characters.  Through story line progression.  From the fiction folks I hang with (some really cool people, btw), it is evident that dreams and ideas that come out of “nowhere” inform plot and people in their creative works.  Tell me that’s not psychic.  In fact, the term clairaudience means hearing voices.  Can you “hear” your characters?  What they say, what they whisper to you?  I bet you do. 

I’m a Jungian (although I prefer Jean Shinoda Bolen to Carl – he wasn’t exactly pro-female) and one of the wonderful things about Jungian analysis is that it acknowledges that we all have many personalities roaming around in us.  If you read  Sybil or Three Faces of Eve, you’ll recognize what severe, early childhood trauma can do – forcing multiple personalities to take too much control, albeit for good reason: to survive.  And whether we choose to recognize it or not, we all take on different personalities to function in the world.  I argue that this is not only a part of being an individual involved in a greater world outside our own head, but a way of being psychic.  Letting our intuition tell us who needs to “be present” for the moment.  Being aware of our multiple selves can help us not only in the daily world, but in our creative worlds.  We channel voices and thoughts and actions through our characters, we serve as conduits to collective emotions through our lyrics, our persona poems.  We build worlds.  We see the inner workings.  We see the future.  We serve as the visionaries.  Wow.  I’m feeling pretty special.  How ‘bout you?  (and I already know the answer, btw).

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