Friday, March 29, 2013

Adopt a One Story Story

Amazingly, One Story is about to turn 11. 

For more than a decade now, they've been publishing individual short stories every 3-4 weeks. 

I was lucky enough to have my story "America's Finest City" published there a few years ago. 

To help secure the magazine's future, the One Story crew has undertaken a novel fundraising approach: allowing people to "adopt" a story.

Here's Sam the dog enjoying "America's Finest City," which was adopted by his owner:

There are still some stories left to adopt if you'd like to support this wonderful magazine

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Farewell Transmission

I'm always suspicious when something begins "There are two kinds of people..."

But here goes anyway.

You might say there are two kinds of people: people who listen to music and say they like music and occasionally go to concerts and listen to the radio as they drive and so on.

And then there are people for whom music means something more, something deeper. It's part of the texture of their days, their nights. Not just a soundtrack. But more. Much more. More like a lifetrack.

William Boyle is the latter type of person. He wrote this article after hearing the news that Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co.) died at the very young age of 39.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Obligatory (and Belated, and Fairly Long) AWP Recap

Last week I attended my very first AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Boston. And several days after returning home, I’m still recovering. The experience was pretty much what I expected: overwhelming, inspiring, humbling, exhausting. 

There’s been a fair amount of pissing on AWP. On the one hand, I get it (the crowds, the hipsters, the pecking order). But I went into it not wanting to “get” anything other than meeting people I’ve always wanted to meet and just soaking in everything and enjoying the company of other writers and like-minded souls.

And I’d never been to Boston.

And my agent was going to be there.

And Don DeLillo was making a rare appearance.

Anyway. Here are some highlights, recollections, observations, etc. 

  • There were a lot of people. Something like 12,000 folks converging on the Hynes Convention Center and its surrounding area. This was both heartening (writers! people who love books! people who read literary magazines!) and overwhelming (writers! people who love books! people who read literary magazines!). As Roxane Gay put it in her recap: “The place was lousy with writers.” I’ll never forget, after the long flight from San Diego, arriving at the Sheraton around midnight and seeing a massive scrum of writers surrounding the hotel bar. As you might have heard, writers tend to favor the drink.
  • Then there were the people that I actually saw/spoke with. It was wonderful to meet so many writers and editors who I’ve known only via the Internets and email, but had never met live and in person. People who have generously supported my writing over the years. People like (warning: here’s where the excessive name-dropping begins) Andrew Scott and Victoria Barrett of Freight Stories and Engine Books (sorry again, Andrew and Victoria, for being late—and I didn’t realize three hours went by during our swell time hanging out in the Sheraton lobby); Colleen Donfield, Andrew Snee and Tim McKee of The Sun; Roxane Gay of Pank; Matthew Salesses of The Good Men Project; and  Lauren Becker of Corium. Additionally, I got to briefly reconnect with Rob Spillman of Tin House and Hannah Tinti of One Story as well as Roy Kesey, Will Allison, Bonnie ZoBell, and Scott Doyle. It was also great to meet Sara Lippmann, Myfawny Collins, Robin Black, Ben Percy, Tawnysha Greene, Matt Bell, Brian Gresko, Ben Tanzer, Lara Wilson, Courtney Elizabeth Mauk, and Lincoln Michel. (Apologies if I’m forgetting anyone.) Of course there were people I was hoping to see/meet, but it didn’t work out (only 12,000 people were milling about, remember; overall, I think I did pretty well). Key takeaway here: People are nice. They're really, really nice.
  • And I got to spend some time with my amazing agent Michelle Brower. Her agency, Folio, hosted an author breakfast on Friday morning. I met Michelle’s fellow Folio agents, Jeff Kleinman and Erin Harris, as well as Jason Mott, a great guy and another client of Michelle’s (Jason’s first novel, The Returned, is coming this fall, and a TV pilot is currently being filmed for ABC!). After the breakfast, Michelle and Jeff were on a panel called “The Right First Book.” During the Q&A, someone asked what the panelists had been reading lately that they really liked. When it was Michelle’s turn, she started talking about Believers and how she first contacted me (back in 2007) after she read one of my short stories and how she patiently waited while I finished the novel. She went on to say that the author was here in the audience and she introduced me and then suddenly I had 200 people looking my way and clapping. Quite a moment.  Afterward, I told Michelle, “I guess you outted me.” “Get used to it,” she said.
  • Michelle also gave me the good news that the first foreign rights for Believers (see post below) sold in Poland. Did I mention that Michelle is amazing?
  • Yes, there was snow. Lots of snow. More than 12 inches, I believe. On Thursday night, I walked from the Sheraton to the Sweetwater Tavern (about a mile) for an all-star reading. The snow was practically coming down sideways, blasting into my face.  Since I’m a Southern Californian tenderfoot, I loved it.  I also went for a fairly long walk on Saturday. The storm had finally stopped by then—it was sunny and cold and invigorating. I wandered around the Back Bay and Beacon Hill areas—a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of the conference.
  • And speaking of breaks: Yes, I needed breaks. Periodically I’d retreat to my hotel room and breathe and look out the window and watch the falling snow.
  • Harpoon I.P.A. Yes.
  • As has been noted elsewhere, facial hair and black horn-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans were in abundance.
  • Richard Bausch’s cure (via poet William Stafford) for writer’s block: “Lower your expectations and keep going.”
  • My DeLillo moment. All previous joking aside, I did not stalk Don DeLillo. But I did attend his reading. Dana Spiotta also read, while Nan Graham, who edits both DeLillo and Spiotta, served as a moderator. They read from their first novels (DeLillo’s Americana and Spiotta’s Lightning Field), answered some questions from Graham, and then read from their most recent books (DeLillo’s The Angel Esmeralda and Spiotta’s Stone Arabia). Both writers described the physical environments in which they wrote their first books. DeLillo said he lived in a small one-bedroom apartment while writing Americana, which took four years. There was a refrigerator in the bathroom (this detail appears in the opening paragraph of his story “The Starveling,” by the way). He also talked about an object in the room—I can’t remember if it was a clock or paperweight or whatever—and he said, “I still think about that [name of object]”. People laughed. He was funny. He was DeLillo. You could sense the reverence in the crowd. I was also impressed with Dana Spiotta. Not an easy task to appear onstage with a giant like DeLillo. Then, the next day, Saturday (I think), I needed to print out my boarding pass for the flight home. I was standing at the front desk in the lobby. I turned to my left and saw Dana Spiotta. Wow, I thought, there’s Dana Spiotta. She was waving to someone across the lobby. I looked to my right. And there was DeLillo. Coming right toward me. The man himself. He had a baseball cap on, pulled way down. I think my mouth opened a little. He was getting helped in the line next to mine. “Can I check out here?” he asked the front desk person. I walked over to the computer area to print out my boarding pass, my mouth still open. Total fanboy moment.
  • Cheryl Strayed. This was the second time I’ve heard her read the title essay from Tiny Beautiful Things. It’s such a brave, beautiful, heart-gurgling piece of writing. In the panel discussion, she talked of how she used to go on writing jags by checking into hotels nearby her home and just writing like mad. Away from life. Away from the kids. She wrote her first essay, “Heroin(e),” that way.
  • Question I was most often asked: “Do you teach?”
  • The “New Media and Storytelling” panel—it was exciting to see innovative forms of storytelling, such as Kevin Moffett and Matthew Derby’s The Silent History (an interactive novel for the iPad and iPhone) and Kenneth Calhoun’s Big Swing.
  • At an Irish bar called McGreevy’s, which bills itself as “the world’s oldest sports bar” (now really, can such a claim ever be proven?), I simultaneously watched a Red Sox and Celtics game.   
  • Did I mention the Harpoon I.P.A.?
  • Coming home—I missed my family. A lot. It was the longest stretch of time I’d ever been away from my kids. My wife valiantly held down the fort. (Thank you, Maria, for that.) Here’s what I found in my suitcase when I got to Boston:



Tuesday, March 12, 2013


While I was in Boston for AWP (recap hopefully coming soon), I got some more good news about my novel BELIEVERS: the first foreign rights were sold -- in Poland.

Very happy about this!

Friday, March 1, 2013

24 Bar Blues

I'm very happy to have a story in the newly released anthology 24 Bar Blues: Two Dozen Tales of Bars, Booze, and the Blues.

My story is actually an excerpt from my novel Believers. It's the second chapter, which introduces one of the main characters.

Here's how the story, called "Lonely Man Sitting at Bar," starts:

"It’s one of those bars where there are only two kinds of music on the jukebox: country and western. The best of Waylon, Willie, Merle, Johnny, George, Hank. Men—and it’s always men in bars like this, no Patsy or Loretta or Dolly allowed—identifiable without a surname, the true gods, who have been to the clich├ęd and well-traveled edge and found their way back. And don’t even think of making the suggestion of possibly maybe broadening some musical horizons with a token smattering of, say, classic rock or a tasteful soul compilation: That’s not what this place—technically The Wishing Well but known to its dedicated regulars solely by the truncated The Well—is about. Here, there’s nothing but reliable songs of lament and loss (and of course drinking) that fit right in with the clientele’s collective state of mind. And that suits him fine tonight. That’s why he chose The Well. Tonight he’s up for plenty of authentic lamenting and losing. And drinking. So why not have the appropriate soundtrack?" 

Published by Press 53, the anthology was edited by Andrew Scott (thanks Andrew!) and includes work by many fine writers, including Robert Boswell, Roxane Gay, Chad Simpson, Karen Brown, Kyle Minor, Holly Goddard Jones, and many others.