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Last week, several of my very favorite blogs helped me get the word out concerning my collection/essay.

Literary agent wunderkind extraordinaire Nathan Bransford noted it, along with several other terrific links (especially the ones to Swivet) in his routine This Week in Publishing roundup.

Dani Torres mentioned essay and collection both in Reading Notes over at A Work in Progress.

I discovered that my former classmate and fellow writer/blogger the illustrious Mister John Fox was actually there, that day, as well, when he mentioned it over at BookFox. Funny, that; John and I both taught in the same writing program and studied with John Rechy, and yet it never once came up between us.

Over at Book Addiction, Heather, who was a high school senior that day (no, I don’t feel old. Why do you ask?) mentioned it.

Besides the interview he ran over at Lulu Book Review, Shannon Yarbrough, author of Stealing Wishes, which is just flying up the charts at Amazon, mentioned it on his personal site.

Chartroose posted the essay in its entirety at the sublimely named “Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage!

Trish, whose birthday is Dec. 7th, another day of infamy (I see you opening Wikipedia in another tab. It’s the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack) wrote about it at “Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?” and she’ll be happy I got the punctuation right.

Chandler Craig maintains Fumbling With Fiction and mentioned it in a post concerning book memory. She called me a nice aspiring writer, and she’d know; she’s one, as well, who writes Young Adult fiction and whose novel, Scout, just landed her representation with Daniel Lazar. If she weren’t so damned enthusiastic and didn’t totally deserve it, I’d be batshit envious about it, but I’m not, because it couldn’t have happened to a sweeter gal.

And finally, I’m mentioning this one last because it prompted some thought on my end. World Fantasy Award nominee Will Shetterly mentioned it at It’s All One Thing, (the WFA nom is for The Gospel of the Knife, and meanwhile, in a fun turn of events, his wife Emma Bull is also nominated this year, for Territory) and in the same breath noted some issues with the United way– that it’s not the most efficient charity out there and that it’s famous for paying its executives a whole lot of money.

I chose the United Way because I, personally, go way back with them. My father used to work at a local Mobil refinery and volunteered with the United Way when I was a kid; I remember, some summers, he used to get to use a van for a few weeks, though I realize now, thinking about it, I haven’t a clue why. Also because it was one of the reasons the Boy Scouts of America began to change its policies regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation. For a long time, the BSA denied membership to anyone gay, but some units actively began to defy national tenets in favor of keeping United Way funding.

That means a lot to me. The Boy Scouts was one of the most influential organizations in my life, and I value that every bit as much as I hate their discrimination policies.

Anyway, that was my mindset going in. And this is the mission statement of the United Way NYC:

United Way of New York City creates and supports strategic initiatives that address the root causes of critical human care problems in order to achieve measurable improvement in the lives of the city’s most vulnerable residents and communities. Throughout our work, we partner with neighborhood agencies, government, business, foundations, volunteers and others so that collectively we can achieve more than any one organization working alone. By leading programs that get at the root causes of problems in these five key areas, United Way of New York City creates lasting, systemic change: homelessness prevention, access to healthcare, education, building economic independence, and strengthening New York City nonprofits.

But now that I think of it, really, I realized I should put the question to you. Because it is, after all, your money. Is there somewhere else you’d like to know it went? I’m wondering if donating it to the American Red Cross might not be a better idea, as that would actively help other people affected by very similar tragedies, and Lord knows it seems to come up every year anymore.

Thoughts?

And to everyone who mentioned it (I went by WordPress’ incoming links widget, so if I missed yours, let me know, or put it in the comments, please): thanks again.

For a long enough while that I can no longer recall when it began, I’ve been reading lamentations about the current health of the short story, or, more accurately, the complete lack thereof. Seems a lot of people think it’s dying or already has done, that it’s gasping its final breaths and all that’s left is the death rattle. For example, this post on After the MFA (which further links back to a post on Galley Cat), about anonymous e-mailers who wrote to the latter site “asserting that the short story is, in fact, six feet under in their literary world. “Valid career” go the anonymous cries, as in you can’t have one writing short stories.”

I yet wonder about ‘valid careers’. Since when has writing ever been a valid career choice? It’s difficult, long, time-consuming, and quite possibly the least valued of the various media; people seem to think very little of dropping a hundred bucks on a single evening at the cinema (parking, ticket, popcorn, soda, etc.), but few of them seem interested in dropping $30 on a hardcover novel. Heck, even I rarely do (I buy from Amazon marketplace. You’re awesome, Amazon marketplace). Books very rarely sell more than a few thousand copies (with obvious notable exceptions, so put your hands down Messrs. Brown and King. You too, Jo Rowling); most sell substantially less. 15,000 or so is usually considered pretty successful. Meanwhile, the albums that top the Billboard charts often move more than 200 times that in a week.

And then AMFA offers a terrific suggestion for the reason: “Maybe it’s because all of our stories suck?”

Boyhow.

He asks readers when was the last time they read a story that blew their mind. I’m sure some people, like my colleague, the illustrious Mr. John Fox over at BookFox, could probably cite one off the top of his head, but I’m also certain most people wouldn’t be able to. Heck, I know I couldn’t. If I had to think of really recently, I’d probably re-peruse Gaiman’s Fragile Things. Beyond that? Besides Ray Chandler or Stephen King, I draw a blank.

This isn’t to say I haven’t skimmed issues of The New Yorker recently. In fact, one of the assignments in one of my classes with Shelly Lowenkopf required us to edit one of the stories contained therein; I chose one by a woman named Tessa Hadley, “Married Love”, and covered it with marks. I see on searching her name that she’s had three stories published in the magazine since Feb. 2007, and I say, “Really, New Yorker? Really?”

But this is the current way of the short story. This is the sort of fiction/voice students in MFA programs (and their faculties, too, for that matter) strive for. It’s tedious and homogenous at best, and just plain crap at worst.

It’s sad, because short stories are fun. Short stories can provide a venue for the kind of experiment one can’t sustain for the length of a novel. Two of the stories in my collection concern C. Auguste Dupin investigating the death of Edgar Allan Poe; I don’t think such a conceit could sustain a novel’s length (it’s arguably too ‘gimmicky’. Two novels whose titles I can’t recall tried it, in fact, albeit, from the reviews I read, unsuccessfully). Some of the stories were inspired from songs; certainly not a conceit for a novel.

(one reason I chose USC’s Master’s program was that its teachers were known for their novels, and not their short stories)

One other thing I think works against short stories is the way they’re published, i.e., pretty rarely and in obscure places. Because, seriously, who reads literary magazines except writers who are hoping to publish in them, and what sort of market is that? It’s not so much that the form is dead, perhaps more that its medium has changed; when most magazines’ content can be found online anyway, what’s the point of the newsstand? Why buy the newspaper when The New York Times is online, for free. And this isn’t an argument for buying the cow; this is a real question in terms of market and audience. As the aforementioned Mr. Lowenkopf noted in this blog post, “many individuals who like to think of themselves as writers have the singular goal of publication,” which is a bit backwards because publication is one of the slightest aspects of writing, and in the age of the Internet and POD, what’s ‘publication,’ anyway? Who’s the arbitrary arbiter of quality that decided Miranda July’s collection was worth so much attention last year (and whose mind did it blow, really)?

Last month’s issue of Wired featured a story on free (it’s free, here, in fact, which is fun). Short stories are, traditionally, a basically free medium; they have historically been published in magazines, so it’s almost bonus content. $5 pays for the whole magazine, of which the story is merely one feature.

Short stories won’t die, because writers will always write them, but I think the trend will be toward freedom.

When that comes to fruition, however, one thing to keep in mind: we as readers should demand awesome and never again settle for any damned less.