With my collection Transitory due out in August, I’ve set up a site focused on my writing at tobiascarroll.com. I’ll still be making updates here as periodically as I always have–but I also wanted to have a space with book information and things like that that isn’t beholden to over a decades’ worth of posts and updates. So that’s there, this is here, and…yeah. Sounds about right, right?
I have a new short story up at Revolution John, titled “When We Came to City of the Stars.” It was, like “The Wenceslas Men” before it, written for a Halloween-themed reading; like that story, it get a bit weird. (And right about here, I should give credit where credit is due, and thank Eric Boyd for publishing it and Alex Houstoun for asking me to be a part of the reading to begin with.)
[UPDATE: due to a number of reasons, this story is now located at Medium.]
This story is, in its own way, a kind of extension of something I’d tried out in “Some Things I Botched,” which was written at roughly the same time. In there, I’d used the first person plural a few times, and figured I’d see how far I could take it. Also rattling around in my head: people relocating out of New York to smaller spaces nearby; suburbia gone weird; and a couple of odd images that have been lurking in my head for years now.
We had tired of city life, and we’d heard good things from friends who had stayed at a bed and breakfast there in the days before it shuttered. We were told that there were great views, that the river nearby was clear, that it never got too humid–something about a valley or a mountain, some quality of the landscape. We heard that artists lived there: painters and writers and filmmakers. At least,one or two lived there. Or one or two had bought property there, but hadn’t actually moved there all the way, not yet. Stories were told about an art-house theater and decent galleries. The rumor mill seemed promising.
Anyway: you can read the whole thing here.
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.
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.
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.
It is, apparently, my turn to take part in the “answer a few questions about your process” interview series. Huge thanks to Hannah Sloane, who tagged me to take part in this.
1. On what am I currently working?
In terms of fiction? A couple of short stories. A novel that touches on hardcore bands in the 90s, making art, a small town in northwestern New Jersey that never quite clicked, and storytelling. My story “Nearsighted in Northern Cities” is–as of right now–part of it; Åsa Morgan, who’s mentioned a number of times in the story, is one of the novel’s three central characters, and her father surfaces throughout as well.
I’m also working on a weirder project, that I’ve been calling my “J.G. Ballard meets stress-eating at a suburban Applebee’s” novel. I’m not quite as far along with that, though.
2. How does your work differ from others’ works in the same genre?
I think everyone comes from a different place, and in theory their writing affects that. I haven’t lived in New Jersey in fifteen years, but bits of my hometown are lodged in what I write. They will probably always be there, in some form or another.
(Or maybe the next thing will be what finally purges them from my system. I have no idea.)
3. Why do you write what you do?
Sometimes it’s to explore a particular sensation or experience. Sometimes I’ll find a scene or an image and will want to build something around it. I think it boils down to understanding–whether it’s of myself or of some aspect of the world around me.
4. How does your writing process work?
These days, I usually do my first drafts on a tablet and then edit on a desktop. I’ve recently made the jump to full-time freelancing, so I’m not sure how that will affect this–the use of the tablet was, in part, based on me doing a lot of writing after the work day had ended, in coffee shops and bars. Now, that may well become “write in the living room, edit in the office.” We’ll see.
Tobias Carroll lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York, where he is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn. His fiction and nonfiction have been published by Tin House, The Collagist, Underwater New York, The Paris Review Daily, Necessary Fiction, Bookforum, The Rumpus, The Collapsar, and Joyland.
Hannah Sloane has been published in CHEAP POP, Freerange Nonfiction,Fwriction: Review, Litro, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. Her story The Wives recently featured in Wigleaf’s 50 Top (Very) Short Fictions 2014. More of her essays and fiction can be found at:www.hannahsloanewrites.com or say hello @hansloane.
Jane Liddle grew up in Newburgh, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her stories have appeared in Two Serious Ladies, Cactus Heart, Whiskey Paper, Specter magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @janeriddle or at liddlejane.tumblr.com.
Lauren Spohrer is a writer and public radio producer living in Durham, N.C. Her fiction has been published in NOON, Unsaid, the Mississippi Review, GIGANTIC, and some other places. She’s the founder and editor of Two Serious Ladies, an irregular online magazine to promote writing and art by women. She also makes a true-crime podcast called Criminal.
Annie DeWitt’s writing has appeared in NOON, Guernica, BOMBlog, Esquire’s Napkin Fiction Project, The Believer Logger, art+culture, Everyday Genius, The Faster Times, elimae, and Dossier Magazine, amongst others, and is forthcoming in Tin House and the American Reader edited by Ben Marcus. Her work was recently anthologized in Short: An International Anthology of 500 Years of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, edited by Alan Ziegler. Ann holds a B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia School of the Arts. She was a Founding Editor of Gigantic: A Magazine of Short Prose and Art in 2008. She currently teaches in the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia University. For more of her work, please follow her column at The Believer: http://logger.believermag.com/tagged/various-paradigms
Rae Bryant: Rae Bryant is the author of the short story collection The Infinite State of Imaginary Morals (Patasola Press 2011). Her stories, essays, and poetry have appeared in print and online at The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, McSweeney’s, Huffington Post, New World Writing, Gargoyle Magazine, and elsewhere. Her intermedia has exhibited in NYC, D.C., Baltimore, and Florence Italy. She has won prizes and fellowships from Johns Hopkins, Aspen Writers Foundation, VCCA, and Whidbey Writers and has been nominated for the PEN/HEMINGWAY, Pen Emerging Writers, the &Now Award, and multiple times for the Pushcart Award.
Rosebud Ben-Oni is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists’ Collective, 2013) and a CantoMundo Fellow. Her work appears in The American Poetry Review, Bayou, Arts & Letters, Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, Dialogist, B O D Y, Lana Turner Journal, Slice Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and elsewhere. In 2010, her story “ A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor’s Prize in Camera Obscura. Please read more about Rosebud at rosebudbenoni.com She does good things at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.
Tessa Fontaine graduated from the University of Alabama’s MFA program and joined a traveling circus sideshow. As an instructor for Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project, she taught creative writing and performance in prisons across Alabama. More of her work can be found in Creative Nonfiction, The Normal School, Seneca Review, DIAGRAM, Pank, and more. Stay tuned for more updates from the road
Luke B. Goebel is the author of Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours (FC2 2014). He won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for innovative fiction for the above-mentioned novel. He is a fiction writer and an Assistant Professor. His fictions are forthcoming or have appeared in The American Reader, PANK, The New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Elimae, The Collagist, Greenmountains Review, Gigantic, and elsewhere. He won the Joan Scott Memorial Fiction Award in 2012.
Recently, I got to write about two things I enjoy for The Classical’s Books issue: the novels of David Peace and the game of soccer. Specifically, I wrote about Peace’s two novels about soccer, The Damned Utd and Red or Dead. (The latter is presently on my list of the year’s best books; there are some things it does with structure and repetition that were, to me as a reader, absolutely amazing.) And now it’s up on Deadspin as well.
As with most of his work, Peace draws heavily from history; for these two books, 2006’s The Damned Utd and 2013’s Red or Dead, his protagonists are real people. (Both are due out in the US in new editions from Melville House later this year.) The former focuses on Brian Clough; the latter, on Bill Shankly–both considered to be among the greatest managers in the history of English soccer. As with much of Peace’s work, politics play a role, here through the fact that both Shankly and Clough were, each in their own way, socialists. Each makes use of a very particular structure, and each—particularly Red or Dead—provides an answer to a question that might occur to anyone whose interest involve both soccer and literary fiction. How do you translate a compelling game of soccer into vivid prose?
This week brings with it the third story of mine to be published in the past month. I was asked by Nicholas Rombes to contribute a story related to film for his month-long residency at Necessary Fiction. What I came up with is a short work called “Last Screening of A Hoax Cantata.“
Everything about it seemed truncated: there was a ghost of a note in the opening credits that seemed absent; the title itself — A Hoax Cantata — hovered a beat too briefly, the text wavering and elliptical. Maybe that was what first drew us to it: its damage; the unknown names; the fact that it always seemed to exist in a hazy VHS world, a dub of a dub of a dub even in its first generation.
If “An Old Songwriter’s Trick” was my film-school story, this is my story about stumbling one’s way into becoming an enthusiast for something weird. I’d also love to do an annotated version of this, as there are a couple of odd references embedded in it, some of which may not make sense to anyone but me. But, yeah — it’s a kind of love letter to falling in love with music and books and films that were passed down via flawed copies, and all of the weirdness that came along with that.
You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so inclined.
Another year older, etc.
Been at work on a couple of projects. I was hoping to be able to invoke both today — an appropriate thing for a kind of symbolic “past and future” maneuver, but getting the latter right has been a bit harder than I’d thought. As a wise man once told me: “You do a half-ass job, you don’t get paid.” This was, admittedly, told to my younger self after I’d done a horrible job of cutting the front lawn, but it’s stuck with me, near the top of my “words to live by” page.
Anyway. I’m starting to get some of the interviews I did in the late 90s and early 00s for my old zine Eventide online. Right now, six are up, with more to follow. Why? Because a lot of the bands I talked to back then are bands whose music still resonates with me, and because this was just before a point in which a lot of music coverage was happening online. So I’m trying to push back against that; the bulk of the zine’s interviews were on a series of zip discs in my apartment, and I thought it couldn’t hurt to make them more widely available.
That second announcement should be coming in the next week or so. As always, thanks for reading.
A quick note: if a hunt through this blog’s archives is any indication, today marks my tenth anniversary of writing in this space. It doesn’t mark my tenth anniversary of blogging per se — before this, I’d had a blog named for a Wonder Stuff song, because, hey, pop music.
And now, I’m here. And it’s a fine thing. Somewhere in the past few months, I figured out what I could use The Scowl for these days; looking at my earliest posts here, most were annotated links, the sort of post I’d be more likely to use Twitter for these days. I’m still incredibly proud of the Thursday Agitation series of interviews that I did in 2009, and I’m happy with what I’m doing here. And for all that the past few months have seen the rise of “what is the future of blogs”-type think pieces, I feel reasonably confident in the future of this one. As always, thanks for reading.
So! Mairead Case tagged me in the Next Big Thing interview thread, and thus: I am answering some questions about works in progress.
What is the working title of your book?
Reel is the short novel I’m currently trying to find a home for. The novel I’m working on writing doesn’t have a title as of yet — the folder it’s saved in is called Untitled New Duchess Project. I’m writing this in pieces right now, and there isn’t one overarching image that lends itself to a title. Or, at least, there isn’t yet. It’s still a ways from being in any condition that would merit showing it to people.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’ve got a novel sitting in a drawer called The Freestanding. Chances are pretty good you’ll never see it. There are things about it that I love, but there are also parts of it that flat-out don’t work — ultimately, I think I plotted it a little too heavily, and the end result was something that never quite felt…right to me. That said, the first third or so — about a guy gradually losing his shit and surrendering to a particular set of masochistic impulses — is work I’m still really happy with. (I keep thinking about whittling it down to a novella, but the brighter, shinier, newer work keeps taking precedence.)
Reel was written as a kind of reaction to that — a much more improvisational style of plotting, basically, to see where that led me. I’d had the scene that opens the book — two people meeting and immediately clashing at a Seattle punk show — stuck in my head for a while, and somewhere I have a folder full of false starts. A version closer to what eventually made it into to the novel appeared on Vol.1 Brooklyn a couple of years ago. There were a few other scenes that I knew I wanted — including one sequence where one of the two central characters takes a train from New York City to Charleston, South Carolina — but largely, I didn’t really know where the narrative was going, and that was liberating.
The New Duchess project is a little more organized, structurally speaking. I keep filling up Field Notes notebooks — I’m using the County Fair editions for this, because it’s a very New Jersey-centric project. I’m writing a lot more about punk and hardcore in this one. If you go even further back into the “books in my drawer” category, there’s a novella about the slow disintegration of a friendship set against a backdrop of VFW hall shows, hardcore, and the like. I realized that, aside from a few short stories, I hadn’t really returned to that world.
What genre does your book fall under?
They’re both literary fiction, I’d say. Reel has some pulp-y elements, but I wouldn’t call it anything other than a novel.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m not really sure. In the back of my head, I kept thinking of one of the main characters of Reel as looking somewhat like Kathy Foster of The Thermals
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Reel: The parallel lives of two people who meet at a Seattle club and immediately clash.
The New Duchess book: The rise and fall and reinvention of a trio of friends who came of age in a small New Jersey town’s punk scene.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
With respect to Reel, I’d like to see it come out via a publisher, large or small. I am proud of it; will that pride mean that I’d self-publish if a publisher couldn’t be found? Maybe. But I’m not necessarily qualified as a designer, or a proofreader, or as an editor — and if I was going to set up that kind of structure for something, I’d want it to be for purposes beyond just getting one short novel out into the world.
In terms of the in-progress New Duchess book, I’m nowhere near done — it’s possible that, at day’s end, I’ll have a lot of loosely connected short stories as opposed to anything else.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Reel took…maybe a year and a half? Two years? There are a bunch of rough starts to it sitting in old folders on my hard drive. In one of them, I coined the term “brunched econo,” which I suspect I might go to some sort of punk rock hell for.
What other books would you compare this story to in its genre?
For Reel, I’d cite William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and the novels of Javier Marias as being very influential — especially in their ability to blend proper thrills with heady concepts. (I can and have raved about Marias’s All Souls and Your Face Tomorrow to nearly anyone who’d listen.) I also think that, in retrospect, Rick Moody’s novella “The Carnival Tradition” inspired certain structural elements.
For the New Duchess book? I’m not totally sure. It’s a novel about music, but I’ve tried to steer clear of books that have touched on the northeastern hardcore scene — working on this book is why I haven’t yet read Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints, for instance. And I’m still not sure if some of the weird structural things I want to do with it will actually hold up as I start revising it.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve wanted to write about Seattle for ages, and the bulk of Reel is set there. (I hope I’ve made a reasonably accurate portrayal of the city.) But it also let me riff on a lot of things, from characters’ desire to travel to mixtapes to the pleasures and anxieties that come from wandering through a city.
And one of the main characters is, basically, hyperaware; were this novel actually a pulp detective story, his powers of observation would make him the hero, but since this is more or less the real world, he’s a recluse who gets drunk most of the time and occasionally starts fights at punk shows.
In terms of the New Duchess book, I missed writing about hardcore, and New Jersey. But I also wanted to write across the span of a number of years. Reel is very, very condensed in its timeframe, and while I think that worked for that particular story, I was also eager to show relationships play out over a longer period of time. (Working on the story “An Old Songwriter’s Trick” reminded me of how enjoyable this could be — and how effective.)
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s got punk rock, bad tattoos, strange art, and mysterious antiques. Reel does, anyway. Admittedly, the book in progress has several of those things as well, and a lot more Jersey. And, as of now, a section mentioning both the Hartford Whalers and Coney Island High. Why not?
So I started a zine column at Vol.1 Brooklyn.
The first was about zines dedicated to Black Flag and Neutral Milk Hotel. (Not at the same time, mind you.) The second looked at zines made by members of Blessed Feathers and Case Studies. The third focused on the return of Rumpshaker and Chickfactor, and the fourth examined travel zines.
As of now, the column runs every other Thursday — though there are also certain features that this led me to that I’m not sure I’d have done otherwise. (My chat with one of the founders of the APRIL Festival, for instance.) Right now, it has me reading a lot more unexpected works; I’m curious to see where it’ll go from here.
I’m happy to announce that I have fiction in the second edition of Joyland Retro. Specifically, the story “An Old Songwriter’s Trick,” which appeared on Joyland a few months ago. If the first edition is any indication, this will be a handsomely-designed print edition; if you’d like to order it at a discount, you can do so here, with the code 9HK4J57J.
Last week, I read at Manhattan Inn with Karolina Waclawiak and James Yeh. The event was the first installment of Hearken, a new series started by John McElwee. It was a pleasure taking part in this event alongside Karolina and James, as both are remarkably nice folks whose work I also enjoy reading. And delivering one’s work in the round made for an interesting and unique experience.
And now, Kai Tammoh at Electric Literature‘s fine blog The Outlet has posted a recap. For the record, I will gladly accept the adjective “Homeric.”