Story Things, Bodega, Slice Conference, & Other News!

I was going to start this blog post by writing that my mother once said “The truth will set you free.” But this isn’t true. My mother said this many times, and recently I’ve been considering the adage more closely, and I have realized it is not true. The truth cannot set you free. The truth can keep you free, but when you’ve lied, your only options are: (1) to reveal, and in doing so to explode the awful bomb of the lie, its shrapnel hitting all sorts of unintended targets. Or (2), to live the lie out. You can decide to uneasily fold it into your identity. You can try to make it somehow true. But even that, we all know, can never work.

A lot of my recent stories examine characters who choose the latter: to live out their lies, to even make a point to prove them to be true, sacrificing too much of their own identity in the process. “I Know You Know Who I Am,” the most recent, is about this exactly. An excerpt, as the narrator describes it:

“It wasn’t that I’d never lied before, or even that my lies weren’t frequent: they were. The problem was that I’d made this person, this ghost, who could walk through the walls of my life, disorienting and rearranging, forcing me to recalculate every time Luke asked about him, which was often. And even more of a problem—it was working: Luke believed me. If I wanted him to think I was generous, I could work into conversation that Finn had been in some trouble with his landlord and I’d bailed him out. If I wanted him to think I had self-control, I’d explain that there had been another incident and Finn needed to learn I couldn’t do everything for him. After a few months, I had given Finn his own, terrifying breath.”

The story means a lot to me, not only because this is all stuff I used to struggle with (as I think many of us do), but because I feel like I’m making progress as a writer and a person. Basically, I’m starting to write the stuff that makes me uncomfortable. Writing a first-person narrator who we know from the start is a liar was especially hard, too, for somewhat obvious reasons. And so the charge became trying to tip off the reader via external clues which parts of his story are lies, and which are the bleeding, sorry truths.

Other news! Bodega Magazine recently accepted a brief piece, “Paid Vacation,” for their upcoming issue. Thank you, Emily Pan and Melissa Swantkowski!

I also got word I received a scholarship to attend Slice Magazine‘s conference this fall. So I’m pretty jazzed about that. The drive from Indiana to New York will be long. I will drink a lot of coffee and listen to a lot of 80s Pop Pandora Radio. Which, by the way, I highly recommend.

I’m nearly done with my workshop syllabus for the fall, in which I’ll teach amazing stories by (among others) Carol Anshaw, Kate Walbert, Amy Bloom, Vincent Scarpa, Catherine Carberry, Elise Burke, Roxane Gay, Rebecca Makkai, Karen Dietrich, Jennifer Egan, Jen Michalski, and Megan Mayhew Bergman’s astonishing first collection, Birds of a Lesser Paradise. I’m so excited. I’m so grateful. I’m really looking forward.

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The Journal, Day One, SmokeLong Guest-Editing

I’m so, so excited that my story, “I Know You Know Who I Am,” will appear in The Journal! Many thanks to Brett and Preston for their time with the piece, and to the rest of the crew over at The Journal; they put out such beautiful issues filled with smart and big-hearted work. That this is likely the title story in my first collection (which is still in-progress!) only adds to my excitement. What an honor!

My story, “River Is to Ocean As ____ Is to Heart,” will be out in Amazon’s Day One in early/mid-June. Carmen Johnson, a fiercely talented editor, is to thank for this. Thank you, Carmen! Look for and read it on your Kindle app. if you want (and if you have one). It’s a real privilege to have work appear in this journal. I love the stories and poems it’s featured (Ann Rushton, Michael Conforti, among others). Looking to treat yourself? Subscribe.

Carmen helped tumble the rock that was this piece, which means a particular lot for what this story means to me. A lot of the story is in me in some way, though I’ll make a point to mention I’ve never cheated on an exam (as Ty did)! Also: that’s not a lie (as Ty is also a frequent liar).

Other news: I guest-edited SmokeLong Quarterly a while back and chose–to my surprise–a piece by my close friend, Vincent Scarpa. I’ve been a fan of his writing for, I can now say it, years. The judging was blind, and there were truly so many great contenders. I’m psyched to have you read his story. You should read it now. Find it, oh, here.

I’m working hard on a longer story that likes to fall apart on me. But it’s getting there, I think. It’s on its way.

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Pieces Online at Tin House & McSweeney’s!

So. Yesterday was my birthday. I didn’t eat cake, but I did read some of my favorite stories and do some writing. I worked on my humor book. Progress is being made. I aim to have a full draft by the end of the summer.

My short story template is up at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. And my brief story, “The Vanishing,” is up as a part of Tin House‘s flash series. What an honor. Many thanks to Chris, Masie, and Thomas for their time with my work.

Other exciting news: I’ll be associate editor of Indiana Review next year (and editor the following year!).

So grateful for this news. For now, I’m back to reading and revising, readjusting to warmth and sun in Bloomington.

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“Master’s Thesis” in Columbia Journal

I’m honored to have my story, “Master’s Thesis,” appear in Columbia: a Journal of Literature and Art. Thanks to EB Bartels and the Columbia crew. One of the characters, Luke, keeps showing up in my stories. He’s an enthusiastic, failed photographer. I’m not sure the reason for the reappearances. I barely know anything about photography.

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Post-AWP Post

So. AWP was in turns informative, exciting, exhausting, and fun. I briefly met one of my favorite writers, Rebecca Makkai, and heard her read. She’s brilliant and read something brilliant about bog mummies. The gathering was fancy. Everyone in the room was beautiful and articulate and kind. What a highlight.

My piece, “Aim for the Heart,” is in part inspired by her “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship,” one of my very favorite stories. It also has its roots in the memory of my grandfather, who loved deer and hunted them all his life, and a high school friend, with whom I am no longer close. It’s a story that matters to me deeply, and meeting and thanking the editors at AWP was important to me.

I also tabled for Indiana Review and Electric Literature, during which time I got to meet a lot of great writers, play blackjack, hand out swag, and appear less tired than I was.

When I got back, I withdrew a good number of stories from submission. I’ve been sending out two longer stories, but I recently realized (mid-AWP panel, actually) that only one of them holds for me that shine of a story I feel I need to tell, that I want in the world. I’m trying to be more discerning about this because in the past I have not been so discerning. I just want to publish my best work and am more and more comfortable not having pieces swimming in the slush pile. I’m okay taking my time now.

So. “I Know You Know Who I Am” will keep looking for its home. But until it finds it, I’m back to work revising a story that’s one part Newlywed Game, one part crucifixion, and, like, four parts trying to save what is fated to be lost.

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Good News!

The past few weeks have brought some great news. A ten-dollar bill on the ground. A few kind, encouraging personal rejections from my favorite journals. Congratulations from one of my all-time favorite writers. Flourless chocolate cake. You get the point.

Another great thing: Tin House recently accepted my brief piece, “The Vanishing,” which is set to appear online in April. I credit my father with giving me the idea for the story. He’s a surgeon, and once, he heard from a colleague about a sword-swallower who actually had a sword lodged in his throat. It had happened during a performance. I was interested in how that violent act might resonate with the narrator’s inability to move forward in his life, the things and disappearances that are similarly paralyzing him, rendering him a mute player in his own life. What an honor to have this piece appear in such a fine journal! Many thanks to Masie and Thomas, editors extraordinaire.

I wrote a post about AWP Seattle for Indiana Review. I’m excited for you to read the new issue. Be sure to check out Annie Harnett’s story, “Cheek Teeth,” in its pages. It’s, in a word, astonishing.

See you in Seattle? See you in Seattle.

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Cryptic News, Crossed Fingers, AWP!

I’m up to something. It’s exciting and involves bringing readers and writers together in a new way. It’s also expensive. I’m working hard to make it happen, because I want for it to be big and beautiful. That’s about all I can say right now.

There are, like, four things I’m crossing my fingers about right now. If you have positive energy in great supply, consider sending some my way! But really. At this point, I’m losing circulation.

I’ll be at AWP Seattle, buying more literary magazines than responsible, attending readings. Looking forward to meeting many great folks and seeing some old(er) writer friends. Always a highlight!

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Story Acceptance & Other Good News

I was recently informed by the good folks at Columbia: a Journal of Literature and Art that they’ll be running my story, “Master’s Thesis.” The piece will go live on Catch & Release, their online supplement, in early March. How cool–and what an honor.

And then this happened, like it always does. My biannual freakout over Slice Magazine‘s cover art. My excitement about this is only compounded by the fact my short story, “Aim for the Heart,” will appear in its pages. Behold. Many thanks to Beth, Celia, and Maria!

I have some other irons in the literary fire right now. Fingers crossed!

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End-of-Year List & Thanks

I’m not drawn to making lists, especially lists that seem to rank creative work, but as 2013 comes to a close I find myself thinking of stories that have mattered deeply to me. These pieces all have big hearts and haunt long after the first read. Here they are, in no particular order, the breathtaking gems I found in 2013:

Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” from Narrative Magazine

Vincent Scarpa’s “I Hope You’re Wrong About Scottsdale” from Hayden’s Ferry Review

Brian Evenson’s “And Yet” from Granta

Jen Michalski’s “Houdini” from The Summerset Review

Laura van den Berg’s “Acrobat” from Necessary Fiction

Mary Miller’s “Pearl” from Electric Literature‘s Recommended Reading

Catherine Carberry’s “Jawbone” from Word Riot

Carol Anshaw’s “The Last Speaker of the Language” from New Ohio Review

Karen Dietrich’s “Pierce to Vent” from SmokeLong Quarterly

Chin-Sun Lee’s “Show Me” from Slice Magazine

Dina Guidubaldi’s “At Home in the World” from Prairie Schooner

Matt Bell’s “Dredge” from Hayden’s Ferry Review

I’m thankful for a great year of reading, to have met and be around so many talented writers, to be challenged and inspired and pushed by the wealth of literary talent being published today. Looking forward to what greatness 2014 brings from these and other writers.

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South Dakota Review, Pushcart Nominations, and Story Submission

I received my contributor’s copies of South Dakota Review‘s fiftieth anniversary issue! It’s stunning. Thanks to Lee Ann Roripaugh, R.B. Moreno, Sara Henning, and the rest of the great SDR crew for including my short story, “Slow Exposure,” in its pages. And let’s freak out about this cover for a second, OK?

Yeah. It’s gorgeous.

I’m honored to have two stories nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Thanks to the good folks at NANO Fiction and Wichita State’s Mikrokosmos Literary Journal for their time with my words. How cool!

I’ve been revising a few stories and just started sending them out into the world, by which I mean submitting them to my favorite literary magazines. Fingers crossed for more good news soon!

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