Category Archives: Writing

storySouth Million Writers Award Finals

The short-list for storySouth’s Million Writers Award has been released and is now open to public voting.

I’m happy to report that my story, ‘The Grinning Man’, published by Eclectica Magazine, has made the cut. Please go check it out and, if you are so inclined, place a vote through this GoogleDocs Form. I’d greatly appreciate it!

Thanks to the judges! And Eclectica’s editors Tom Dooley and Anne Leigh Parrish!

Also, in other news, the Sententia Books website has been redesigned, and my short story–one of the favourites I’ve produced–“Conversations with the Rest of the World” has been put up online. Thanks to Paula Bomer and Adam Robinson for allowing me to share this story with the world, and in so many different mediums!

What I’m Working On Now

But first, it appears that I’ve made the long list for storySouth’s 2014 Million Writers Award twice. Once for “The Phantom Harlot” at Big Lucks and once for “The Grinning Man” at Eclectica Magazine. It looks like there’s a lot of genre work on this long-list, so I’m not entirely sure how these pieces might measure up (easily the most fabulist of stories I’ve written, but still quite realist), but fingers crossed! It was really just a pleasant surprise. Thanks to the editors at both journals for sharing these works! I’m also really just happy to be listed alongside Celeste Ng, whose debut novel EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU I’ve recently just started. It is phenomenally crafted, from what I can discern in just the opening chapters. Great attention to detail, vivid and unique uses of imagery.

Anyway, I wanted to share a little bit about what I’m doing and thinking about now. The novel is still in-progress, but a little hung up. This has more to do with me being busy and not putting the work in than it does with me running dry on ideas or how to move forward. It will get done, but for now… there’s the day job to worry about; there’s my last MFA workshop (tomorrow!); there’s revising the thesis; there’s finishing my craft essay and outlining my seminar; there’s a lot of work.

All said, I do have a couple of potential story ideas germinating (and how do I miss short stories!). There’s also an idea that I’m not sure if I want to do as an essay or as a work of fiction, which has to do with Street Fighter (the arcade game) and social class / racial politics. They’re connected, trust me. haha. I’ll let it stew a bit longer before try to put anything to paper.

With that, adieu, good friends. 🙂 Work hard.

Gargoyle #61 and Other Updates

I’ve made my selection for my week of guest editorship at Smokelong Quarterly. It wasn’t easy; there were a number of really great pieces. Even pieces I could see myself loving very deeply, had they not had a fatal flaw or two that said to me they weren’t quite ready for submission. The selection I made was everything I look for in a piece of flash, was elegantly executed, closed in a way that resonated back through the rest of the piece. I’ll be excited to see it up.

In other news, a short story I’ve waited nearly a year to see released has come in Gargoyle #61, along with many other great writers and friends. This was one of most dear pieces to me, one of the first times I wrote candidly about racial shame. There’s a strange and fairly universal phenomena in being a visible minority, since you live your whole life being compared against the dominant culture, and that’s a deeply-seated sense of shame for being born the way you are. Everyone grows out of it at a different rate, but that shame can manifest into guilt, into rage, into self-hatred. I wrote a character that experiences all of this well into adulthood, and has to come to terms with his own racial identity. Plus, there are squid and lots of linguistic playfulness. The result is titled “The Message of My Skin.” Order a copy, if you feel so inclined.

I’d also like to an extend a very heartfelt thanks to editor Richard Peabody, who recently let me know that my story was one of Gargoyle‘s Pushcart Prize nominations. I’m incredibly honored, not only to be included in Gargoyle’s rich history in American independent literature, but to have my work represent it for the Pushcart. I can hardly believe it, really.

Lastly, a recent piece of mine has been picked up by another indie press I’m rather fond of. More on that later. 🙂

Two Stories!

Update: Turns out I see the release of two stories today. The e-book and Kindle version of Sententia: The Journal’s Issue 5 has been released (print version to come in July). I really love the piece included here, entitled “Conversations with the Rest of the World.” It’s an exploration of my own personal life fantasy: to communicate with a great ape through American Sign Language. I don’t know ASL, though I’m trying to learn. In this story, a young girl is born deaf, ASL being her “native language,” and she discovers during a zoo trip that she can communicate with the gorillas. I owe Paula Bomer and Adam Robinson a tremendous amount of gratitude for picking this story up and sharing it with others.

Original Post:

My friends over at Big Lucks have put up a fun little short story I wrote. I’ve just recently joined the masthead at what I think is one of the most stellar indie presses at DC, but long before that, I had this piece accepted by these lovely and amazing people. “The Phantom Harlot” is, in essence, a ghost story that stemmed from an idea I originally had for a novel: a couple moves into a haunted house and begins conducting recording sessions in a particular room, hoping to capture what’s known in ghost hunting circles as “electronic voice phenomena” (EVP). These are disembodied voices captured on recordings that were inaudible at the time of the recording itself.

It’s a really fascinating phenomena to me, this EVP business. I wondered what it’d be like to have a consistent call-and-response with a ghost in this way. You’d give a sort of monologue, leave the recorder running, and listen to the response the morning after. I thought, If people can fall in love with each other solely through emails and the written word, why not a “letter exchange” through spoken word? The novel itself didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to. The idea wasn’t large enough and I was forcing it, so I rewrote it as a short story.

Hope it’s an enjoyable read. Thanks so much to Mike and Mark for publishing this!

The Collection Moves Forward

For the past year, I’ve been making edits to, arranging, and re-arranging my short story collection into some form that I’m happy with. Every detail has been considered, stories pulled and replaced, older pieces revisited only to get slashed apart and reconstructed into new experiences, and the sequence of stories–oh, the sequence! I wrote each title on Post-It Notes and arranged a horizontal line on my wall. I flipped the first and last stories a hundred times over. I read everything I could find on arranging a collection.

And then I began to submit and to enter contests. Each response I’ve received has been utterly elating, whether just a small friendly comment like ,”We liked this. Good luck,” accompanying a rejection letter or a response to a partial asking for the full manuscript.

Press 53 announced yesterday the ten finalists for the Press 53 Award for Short Fiction, and I am happy to say I’ve made the short list. I won’t find out until May 3rd, but to even be a finalist is surprising, unexpected, absolutely wonderful. Thanks so much to Kevin Morgan Watson and Christine Norris! I’ve got my fingers crossed. 🙂 I did take a peek at some of the other finalists’ work and it is all very good, so a pre-emptive congrats to whoever wins this year.

I made the Best American Essays 2013’s Notables list

The Best American Short Stories 2013 details have been posted and it looks really good. Laura van den Berg has two notable stories (as well as a notable in Non-Required Reading too!) and Lauren Groff has a story on the Notables list for each too. Karen Russell made Non-Required Reading! I’m really excited for both anthologies.

This, of course, led me to Best American Essays 2013’s details page. I did a quick scan of the authors who made it and then I immediately popped over to the Notables list. It was a long shot and I didn’t have high hopes, but I also really believe in the worth of my essay, so I clicked and scrolled. And there it was. Right at the bottom of the page. My name. My essay.

Heart-stopped, stunned, I stared at the screen for a good ten minutes. I stopped all work. I couldn’t process anything. I haven’t been writing seriously for very long, even if it’s something I always knew I had to do, so no part of me expected to make a list like that so soon in my career. I cannot thank non-fiction editor Nick Anderman and the Carolina Quarterly enough for running my essay. I’m really just in awe right now.

I guess this counts, huh? I’m on the right path in life, moving in the right direction.

Update: I’ve also placed a story in the Southern Humanities Review. Whoo!

Now I’m Just Babbling…

I suppose, from time to time, I might actually use this blog as a proper blog, though my general busy-ness is a great preventative measure there. Lately, I’ve been reviewing the manuscript I wrote, a novel on the shorter end of things about college-aged ghost hunters. There’s always been some disquiet about this piece because, thematically, I really love it. I can’t help but to, even if I’m exhausted of it at the same time (the curse of any novel-length project, I imagine). I kept thinking that there was something off on a structural level, something missing in the first part of the story (which I wrote several years ago) that lacked motivation, drive, stakes for the characters or the readers.

Still, the structure seemed okay to me. Rereads went on and I still liked what I’d produced. So what was wrong? When I decided to go ahead and write a synopsis out, I saw pretty quickly. There’s something about condensing a whole chapter into a single sentence and seeing those sentences side-by-side that make you think, Oh… well… how the crap do these two ideas follow? How did we get from there to here at all? I could see the gaps. And I could also see how I had neglected one simple thing.

When I approached this novel, I wrote an outline. This outline changed a lot and it existed as a perpetual Gmail draft so that I have no record of what the original looked like nor even what the final looked like (the outline was deleted). So I always had a relatively clear idea of where I was going, but not necessarily how I got there. I think that as things changed and shifted and moved, the original stakes were lost (in fact, the original narrative is nothing like the final) and I simply forgot about it. With the synopsis, I can see very clearly what the stakes should always have been. It’s so simple that I feel really dumb for not seeing it before. And it requires only a very minimal retouching of some lines here and there, and suddenly, everything makes sense and the narrative is cohesive (enough anyway).

I’m debating whether to continue calling this a work of literary fiction or to start marketing it as “young adult.” Maybe I’ll query it out as both and see what bites first.

Anyway, lesson learned: write your synopses.