A Reading in Montclair

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So I read in Montclair last night, as part of the Halfway There Reading Series. It was the first time I’d read fiction in the state where I grew up–I’ve done a few author Q & As at WORD Jersey City, but that’s been it. I opted to read “Last Screening of A Hoax Cantata,” as (a) it’s arguably set in New Jersey; and (b) I knew that it was a good length for reading in the timeslot given. Seems to have gone over really well, which made for a good night.

The reading as a whole was a good night: the four of us who were reading were coming from different stylistic places, and the audience had good questions to ask at the end of the night. And a good chunk of my family stopped in from various parts of the state, which was also great to see.

After everything wrapped up, I wandered over to the train station, and ended up getting a pint at the adjoining bar. All told, it was a good way to spend an evening, and an indication of good things happening in the Garden State.

***

Joyland has a write-up of contributors who have books due out in 2016, and my collection Transitory is among the books mentioned. I am referred to as “Brooklyn’s literary chameleon,” which I am totally putting on my business cards.

New Fiction, With Bonus Transit Surrealism

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Late last year, I was asked to read at a holiday-themed edition of The Difficult to Name Reading Series. And so I did, and wrote a story around a strange image that had been living in my brain for a while. “Why I Was Not in New Jersey For Christmas in 1997” is the result. It’s a kind of conjoining of two different experiences, one half-dreamt, and one drawn more or less from life. The original draft went a lot more into the latter, but it seemed out of balance, making the transition into the surreal a little more abrupt. So:

I got to my friend’s apartment, handed off the book, got some more stares, and found my way to the subway. Hello, Broadway-Nassau. Hello, stairways up and down and unclear signage. I spent ten minutes on one platform before I realized it was the wrong one; I found my way down some more stairs, and stepped on board that train when it came. In the initial announcement, it sounded like the conductor was saying it was the E.

You can read the whole thing here. Thanks to Ryan Sartor for the invitation.

Late October Weather, Late October Writings

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After a weird gasp of almost-summer-ish weather, Brooklyn seems to have veered back into appropriately autumnal weather, which I wholly support. I’m heading out to the Rockaways tomorrow for a solo “I am getting older” trip, which I am hoping will prove to be a good idea. Then? Watching smart readers in conversation at WORD on Saturday; watching marathoners dash past on Sunday morning, and possibly cheering until my hands are sore. (This is what happened in 2011.) I’m guessing coffee will also play a part, as it often does.

***

At OZY, I interviewed novelist Nuruddin Farah.

At Biographile, I wrote about Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence.

At Dusted, I wrote about Terry Malts’s Insides EP.

At Vol.1 Brooklyn, I interviewed No Other about their new 7″ and Edward Carey about his new novel.

New Fiction at Everyday Genius

IMG_20141026_132322In other news, I wrote a story called “Some Things I Botched,” and Dolan Morgan published it at Everyday Genius.

This one was written in the middle of a lot of things. I’m pretty sure I’d given notice at my old job at the time that I started writing it, and it was very much intended as something to counterbalance something that was much more dense. This ended up bringing together a lot of ideas that had been rattling around in my head for a while–one image for well over a decade.

Also noted: the faun I nursed back to health. He lay beside the highway one night when I drove by. Feeding him wasn’t so hard; house-training was harder. Harder still was hiding him from the hunters: that sound of hounds barking outside, the sequential knocks skipping from door to door, the horns in the hallway.

This is somewhat of a piece with two other stories I’ve been working on. One of them is the one that I read at WORD’s night of scary stories–there was a riff on the word “we” in “Some Things I Botched” that I wanted to develop further, and that ended up veering into said story. There’s another story I’m working on involving lower-division soccer and abuse of one’s ability to officiate weddings that’s also in a similar realistic/not-realistic vein. Hopefully one or the other will find a home somewhere before long.

Anyway! Back to “Some Things I Botched”–if you’re curious, you can read the whole thing here.

 

Things I Wrote, Mid-to-Late October Edition

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This week, I’m going to see a lot of live music. I spent Sunday night at a sold-out show at Silent Barn, where I got to see Radiator Hospital play what was perhaps the strongest set I’ve seen of theirs in the last year; also on the bill were Girlpool, who took familiar musical ingredients and reassembled them in a way that felt incredibly fresh. Tuesday evening, I saw Monomyth, who tapped into a fine legacy of woozy-sounding Halifax indiepop bands. Tonight, I’m off to see Protomartyr and S and Obits play a show, and I’m mightily excited about that. It’s looking like I’ll be seeing live music at some point on each of the next four days, and I’m even more excited about that.

***

I wrote an essay on horror and genre expectations for Electric Literature. And I used a Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace reference in the title, which I am eternally grateful to editor Lincoln Michel for keeping in.

At Tin House’s blog, I talked with Akhil Sharma about his novel Family Life, which is terrific.

At Hazlitt, I got to write at length about Kerry Howley’s fascinating Thrown and, more generally, the phenomenon of academic and intellectual writers delving into visceral subcultures.

At Biographile, I wrote about Emmanuel Carrère’s Limonov, which offers both a smart look at expatriate Soviet literature and the factors that caused the book’s subject to make a move towards fascism, and the new anthology Come Here Often?, in which numerous writers discuss their favorite bars.

Some Recent Writings

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I’m turning 38 at the end of the month, which is weird. As I commented to a friend yesterday, this puts me formally in my late 30s; I no longer have the “I’m in my mid-thirties” line to fall back on. And this is probably okay. I’m trying to do a better job of defining myself by, well, mostly anything that isn’t my age. Going for a prioritization of things done rather than years lived. Is that always easy. No. The “I’m getting old” line is an easy one to fall back on, especially in a city; especially when you go to a DIY show and worry that the person at the door wonders if you’re an undercover officer or something. (This might be my own paranoia, to be honest.)

This essay by Alexandra Molotkow helped to put a lot of things into perspective for me. The whole thing is eminently quotable; this one, from the end, seems apt as I type this right now.

“Being relevant” is just the effort you make to know what people who aren’t you are caring about.

It’s a good way to think of things, I think.

***

At Wondering Sound, I talked with Brooks Headley about his excellent new cookbook and his time drumming in bands like Universal Order of Armageddon and (Young) Pioneers.

At OZY, I interviewed Vikram Chandra about his terrific book Geek Sublime.

For Biographile, I talked with James Essinger about his biography of Ada Lovelace, and wrote about two new books that create fictional riffs on the lives of some of the 20th Century’s most distinctive artists.

At the Jewish Daily Forward, I wrote about Ronna Wineberg’s novel of Jazz Age Chicago, On Bittersweet Place; and about Brian Morton’s novel focusing on an aging radical writer, Florence Gordon.

Notes on “Airport Hotel Ghost Story”

This week, there’s a new issue of Midnight Breakfast, and one of the stories found there is by me. It’s called “Airport Hotel Ghost Tour,” and there’s a story behind it. Maybe two. Maybe three.

In the fall of 2011, I traveled to New Orleans for the first time. I was there for what had been billed as an engagement party but turned out to be a post-wedding party (not a bad surprise, as surprises go), but as I was only there for a long weekend, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked.

I had an early-morning flight back to New York City on Monday morning, as I’d decided that I wanted to try to get in to work rather than use a vacation day. And so, rather than stay somewhere in the city as I’d done the two previous nights, I found myself staying at a hotel near the airport, having a last dinner of comfort food. As someone who grew up in central New Jersey, I have nothing against comfort food, but relative to some of the meals I’d had in the past forty-eight hours, it seemed a huge disappointment.

“Well, maybe I can work this into a story sometime,” I thought.

That notion rattled around in my head for a year or two. Somewhere along the way, it combined with another memory from a previous vacation, involving signs for a ghost tour and a lonesome man standing, waiting for someone to arrive who’d go on it. And basically, that memory and the memory of the airport hotel dinner came together, and this is what emerged.

The hotel hung low-slung like a truncated letter U. There was a long stretch with two abbreviated wings facing out over an emptied pool, around which yellow caution tape had been half-assedly strung. To Marco, it seemed less a warning than someone’s beshat detritus, or a celebration’s weather-worn aftermath. From the second floor, it seemed like a giant’s grave, waiting to be filled.

 

The hotel’s outline reminded Marco of a kind of fortress, designed to obscure the adjacent takeoffs and landings. It seemed to Marco that this had been a failure. Though the planes’ ascent and descent was cloaked, their sound was not; removed from the accompanying visuals, there was only that sort of terror, the sound of nearby engines and metal, hurtling or falling less than a mile away. The sounds and sensations that this shelter released could only summon sharp anxiety and catastrophe’s illusion. Who needed ghosts, Marco thought. He continued up the stairs, following Otto.

If you’d like to read the whole story, you can do that here.

Teaching a Course at LitReactor

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A quick pause for self-promotion: this December, I’ll be teaching an online course at LitReactor. I’m especially excited to join the list of writers who have taught there, which includes D. Foy, Grace Krilanovich, Vanessa Veselka, and Lidia Yuknavitch. Here’s a quick bit from the description:

Writers cut their teeth on short stories. It’s where you learn the importance of good submission practices. It’s where you build your name and your reputation. It’s where most writers get that first taste of holding their own words in a bound, printed format.

But getting your stories published in a quality literary magazine takes more than just emailing 2,500 words to a dozen email addresses. A successful submission must be sent to the right publication and must hook the reader—but people who read for writing magazines aren’t normal readers.

While you can find blogs and books devoted to creating characters and showing instead of telling, it’s harder to find advice on the elements of story that get them past the gatekeepers.

You can learn more, or register for it, here.

Notes on Amazon, etc.

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Late last week, Alex Shephard wrote a long piece for MobyLives about the current clash between Amazon and Hachette, and how authors have taken sides. The whole thing’s totally worth reading, but particularly this section:

I make no bones about the fact that I think Amazon has been bad for literary culture in America, but I don’t want to take it away from anyone. If Konrath and other self-published authors are happy with the way Amazon is working for them, then that’s great for them and it’s great for literary culture. I just want Amazon to also work for publishers and I don’t see why that’s a problem. The goal should be to grow literary culture, not stifle it. There’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution and this certainly isn’t a fight to the death.

Or at least it shouldn’t be.

***

For my money, I used Amazon for a while in…say, the early-to-mid 00s. Then I started realizing things: I was obsessive about getting free shipping, but generally ordering two trade paperbacks would take me just below the $25 threshold for that, so I’d end up ordering more, so in trying to get free shipping, I’d end up spending $10 or $12 more than I’d planned. And inevitably, shipping would still take the better part of a week. So I started heading to local indies: when they were around, Coliseum Books was located a few blocks from where I was working at the time. Then I started spending more and more time at McNally Jackson (then McNally Robinson). And then WORD opened about five blocks from my apartment. And I noticed that–regardless of any other factors–ordering a book through a bookstore was going to take roughly the same amount of time as going through said online retail giant. Plus, there was the added bonus of interacting with people. Smart people. People who, in many cases, have become friends of mine. For me, this wasn’t a hard decision at all. Since then, I’ve  embraced the idea of supporting independent bookstores wholeheartedly; there were also, though, entirely practical reasons for me to make that first move.

***

Shepard also goes briefly into the question of bookstores not selling Amazon Publishing books. I can only imagine that there’s got to be something frustrating about being on the Amazon Publishing side of things: many of the books that they’ve done seem like the sort of work that would be designed for handselling–but it’s not surprising (and very understandable) that indie bookstores want nothing to do with work coming from a corporate entity that has its eye on supplanting them. And it’s also worth noting that Neal Pollack’s recent defense of Amazon ended up being more of a defense of Amazon Publishing than anything else.

I have bought two books that Amazon Publishing’s done: Benjamin Anastas’s memoir Too Good to Be True, and Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho, both of which I enjoyed. For the record, I got the former as a Christmas gift, and ordered the latter via Powell’s. (And, at the time I’m typing this, I see that Vestal’s book has won the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize; I’ll be curious to see if this changes anything with respect to how bookstores handle it.) I’m also planning to pick up Nicole Haroutunian’s collection that Little A is publishing when it comes out next year–I like her writing (we published one of her stories at Vol.1) and her work with Underwater New York (who, full disclosure, have also published one of my stories.) Where I’ll get it remains to be seen, but I’ll certainly be handing money over to someone for it.

Flashlight Below My Chin, Speaking Ominously

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Last year, I was asked to take part in a cosmic-horror-themed reading at WORD. The result was “The Wenceslas Men,” a story of which I’m especially proud. It looks like this will be an annual thing, and I’ve been asked back for this year’s edition, at WORD in Greenpoint on Wednesday, October 22nd. Here’s the official description:

Get ready for Halloween with Christopher Buelhman (The Necromancer’s House), Tobias Carroll of Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Michael Cisco (Member), and Katherine Howe (editor of The Penguin Book of Witches), who will do their best to give you nightmares with a joint reading and signing.

I’m especially excited to be reading with Michael Cisco, whose novel The Narrator was a head-twisting work unlike anything I’ve read before. And now: to write.

Read a Bit Last Week

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Read last Thursday at Pacific Standard as part of The Disagreement Reading Series. I was asked to read “The Wenceslas Men,” and thus did. It’s funny–I’ve been working on a story that I thought would suit the series for a couple of months now. It’s one of the most overtly comic things I’ve written (and, in writing it, I’ve had to restrain myself from basically doing a bad Kingsley Amis impression.) Amusing, then, that the story that I did end up reading at the series is one of the bleaker things I’ve done.

I’ll be at it again this Wednesday, at Cakeshop for the Mixer series. I’ll likely be reading part of a longer story that I read an earlier version of earlier this year (if that makes any sense at all.) Either way, it should be fun–and I really like the idea that I’ll be reading in the same space where I’ve seen a lot of friends of mine play music over the years.

A Fragment, and Another Reading

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Worked on some editing and some revising yesterday; ended up reworking a very short, possibly comic piece that I’d begun earlier in the summer. I ended up pulling this bit out of it, as it didn’t quite fit; figured I’d post it here because it stands on its own pretty well.

Home reaction test kit, and that desire to discover limits. A night of striking myself in the elbow and knee, waiting for the twitch. No twitches came; bruises were raised the following morning. The week that followed involved inching past stray objects; the fortnight of flinching. Sold the mallet to a neighborhood kid four months later. He had his Viking act ready to go, he told me.

Also: I’ll be reading next week in Brooklyn. Specifically:

September 11 at The Disagreement Reading Series at Pacific Standard, beginning at 7 pm.

Upcoming Events: Two of Them, Both in September (Plus One More)

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Greetings. It’s September, and summer seems to be pulling off one final reminder that it’s out there: temperatures are lurking around 90, the humidity is grotesque, and the sky is occasionally just awash with haze. Apparently, this is my week for listening to the new Radiator Hospital album Torch Song, which is growing on me quite a lot, as well as Freaking Out, the debut from Attendant (aka the project of Radiator Hospital bassist Jon Rybicki). It’s a very classicly autumnal indie rock album: there’s some of the moodiness of Dinosaur Jr. and Beat Happening in there, and I’ve been enjoying it quite a lot.

I’ve got a couple of fall events coming up. These are the first two, and I’ll be announcing more as formal announcements go up. (And by “formal announcements,” I pretty much mean “Facebook event pages.”)

On September 17th: I’ll be reading at Cakeshop as part of Mixer. Also reading? Lev Grossman, Porochista Khakpour, and Dia Felix, with music from Russ Marshalek. The Facebook page for that is right here

On September 22nd: I’ll be interviewing Luke B. Goebel at Greenlight Bookstore about his terrific debut novel Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours. Should you want to RSVP to that on Facebook, you can do so here.

I’ll also be moderating a panel on the second day of this year’s Slice Literary Writers Conference, with a focus on editorial meetings.

More soon.