Filed under writing

“The Norton Anthology of Self-Destructive Behavior”:

This story was one that unfolded itself gradually over time. It started with the title which came to me one day during a residency NewImage for my MFA. I wrote down the title and even got so far as writing down a list of self-destructive behaviors, but put it aside for a while after that.

I picked it up again a year later and wrote the first draft pretty quickly and painlessly. The “zeroeth-person” point of view of the story was something that just evolved as I wrote the story when I was about halfway through and realized that I hadn’t written in first, second or third-person, exactly. Pretty much everything emerged from my subconscious in the writing process.

Then I put the first draft away and didn’t look at it for three years. When I worked on the rewrite, I found my self thinking that I had something really good here and I worried about ruining it. I spent some time revising it and then in May of 2018 I sent it out on submission.

It got rejected, but it had a very high level of positive responses. I let it lie fallow for a while longer, and then pulled it back up once I was back in a writing group. Probably the single most important thing was identifying one of the sections, “Violence towards others” as problematic. That was enough to, I thought, make the story perfect or at least close to it. It garnered a few more rejections, but now I was getting personalized rejections from journals who had only ever sent me form letters before. Eventually, it was picked up by Meniscus, the Journal of the AAWP.

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Writerly resolutions: June status

Progress has slowed but not stalled on the novel.NewImage Rewriting chapter 26 is a challenge since I’ve also been reading multiple books about the Exodus 1947 which is at the center of the chapter which has often revealed details that required rewriting scenes as well as occasional direct contradictions between one source and the next.

Rewriting the short story is also progressing slowly and I have just one week to get it done and revised if I want to have it for my next turn up with my writing group.

And the most recent acceptance has also turned into a publication. Meniscus is the journal which was the first to publish one of my poems, so it was nice to return to their pages in a different genre.

Writerly resolutions: May status

I continue to make progress on the novel,Progress on the novel—steady increase through the first half of the month, then a complete 1st draft, and the rest of the month I've been reading what I have for the 2nd draft rewrite with the first draft of chapter 26 done. It’s a big chapter—28 pages—so reading what I have in preparation for the second draft rewrite is taking a while and I keep making changes as I do my research (this is probably the best-documented historical event in the novel so there’s a wealth of material to use).

The rewrite of the short story is progressing, albeit more slowly than I would like still. The rewrite draft is revealing things I didn’t know before which is a good problem to have. I did miss my writers’ group deadline with the rewrite (maybe this month?) so I pulled another story out of my backlog and have a big rewrite to do on that one too.

The “publication soon” happened. And there’s another acceptance in the mean time. I love my writing group. They’re an outstanding bunch of readers with great insights into my work and its deficiencies.

“Saint Anthony in West Hollywood”: The Story Behind the Story

My newest story, “Saint Anthony in West Hollywood” is up now at The Rappahannock Review.

I began with a vague notion of a saint in the modern world, or perhaps someone who was delusional and just thought he was the saint, leaving the trStatue of Saint Anthony holding the Christ Childuth purposefully indeterminate. I had no idea which saint or where. Then little by little, things came to me. Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, and West Hollywood, which gave me some idea of the other protagonist of the story.

I have a bizarre fondness for second person, partly because my first published story was in second person, and partly because for this piece, it’s planned as part of a collection where the POV has a subtle coding to something about the story and “Saint Anthony in West Hollywood” fits into neither category. Just as well, I think that the second person fits it nicely.

There’s an interview with me (my first ever) accompanying the story.

Thanks to those with whom I’ve workshopped this story, Aaron Frankel, Paul Gee, Diane Gilette, Davy McNell, Laura Nelson, Gwen Tolios and Matt Zakosek. The first draft of this was begun at a writer’s retreat hosted by Sister Julia Walsh where, for the first time, I read in public an unpublished excerpt of my work, in this case, the opening scene of this story.

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Writerly resolutions: April status

I continue to make decent progress on the novel. graph of progress on the novel for april, steady progress with a big leap in the last week of the month till perfect on my goal of working on the novel every day. I’ve cracked the 85,000 word mark on the novel and chapter 26 is currently at 6,800 words and counting. I think my guess that it will hit 10,000 words is not too far off.

Thanks to looking at the footnotes on the Exodus 1947, I found Aviva Halamish’s The Exodus Affair, which was exactly the book I needed for research on chapter 26. 

I got to an end on the short story. at about 8,100 words so now it’s time to do a complete rewrite on what I have. I have a better idea of the aboutness of the piece so it should go a little faster and with luck I’ll have a version I can workshop in time for my next turn at writers’ group.

There will be a publication update soon. 

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Writerly resolutions: March status

Another month has come Graph of progress on the novel in Marchand gone and I continue to make decent progress on the novel. I have yet to miss a day’s work so far this year. I’ve finished the rewrite and revision of chapter 25 and done a lot of writing on chapter 26. I’m pretty sure that this chapter is going to be the longest in the book, I’m guessing around 10,000 words. This month’s graph of the progress ends up looking a lot like a skinny apatosaurus. 

I’ve also gotten into a big pile of late research. I stumbled on Nelson Peery’s memoir, Black Fire, by a bit of serendipity and that’s led to a whole host of background research on African-American soldiers during World War II. 

Short story work? It progresses, but the story that I’d hoped to have ready to workshop back at the end of January is still not finished although I can see the end of the current draft looming. Right now it’s 7,766 words long and the current draft may hit 9,000 words but I think that this should be a story at most half that length. The rewrite process is going to be a lot of cutting. Meanwhile, I’ll need to dig something up to workshop next week.

Still no acceptances on the stuff that’s been sent out this year. I have gotten at least one tiered rejection from a journal that had previously only ever sent form rejections, so I feel confident that that piece in particular will see an acceptance before the end of this round of submissions.

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Writerly resolutions: February status

2021 continues to be a good year for writing. Graph of progress on the novel.: It shows the first draft of chapter 25 finished and the rewrite of the vhapter almost done.It was even a good year for physical fitness for a while with my hitting my move goal every day until we had an extended cold spell this month which broke my streak. 

On the novel, I finished a first draft of chapter 25 and am almost finished with the rewrite of that chapter. I’m perhaps not progressing at my ideal pace, but I’m reasonably happy with the rate of my work. I’ve realized that chapter 26 is likely to be very long, most likely longer than any other chapter in the novel so last month’s estimate of finishing the first draft of the novel in February or March was definitely optimistic.

I’ve been making solid progress on the story that I want to workshop with my writing group, but right now it’s still twenty pages of hot mess that needs a lot of rewriting before it can go up for workshop. Since my deadline is Thursday, I think I’m going to end up pulling a revision story forward for this month’s workshop. That said, this current story, which has been kicking my ass for some ridiculous amount of time (the oldest draft has a creation date of December 2009), is finally coming together and I think I finally know what it’s about.

Rejections continue to slide in, a mix of form and tiered rejections. One of my 2019 submissions is still lingering at the bottom of my Submittable.

Writerly resolutions: January status

2021 has gotten off to Graph of progress on the novel for January 2021. a decent enough start. I’ve worked on the novel daily without fail—the first part of the month was spent digesting comments on two excerpts that I workshopped with my writing group, then I returned to the chapter I’d left dangling in November, managed to finish a first draft, a rewrite and a revision before starting on chapter 25. I also have a clear view of where the last three chapters after this one will go so I should be able to finish the first draft of the novel in the next month or so.

Short story work has progressed a bit more slowly than I would like. I’m making good progress on the story I’d hoped to workshop in February, but I don’t think I’ll have it ready to submit for the February meeting so I’ll have to pull out one of the stories that I’ve finished but need some revision work for the current meeting and submit that instead. It would have been my May workshop piece so it’s just a matter of reshuffling.

I’ve returned to submitting and gotten two rejections on novel excerpts already (one form, one tiered) alongside a long-delayed tiered rejection on some poems I submitted in 2019.

It looks like the Nelson Algren Literary Prize is endangered

The first clue was when my submission to the 2020 version of the contest disappeared from Tribune Tower Chicago Illinois 9181667444 cropped ubmittable without notice. The administrators of the prize tend to be not so great about closing out submissions on Submittable, so I didn’t pay much attention to it (in past years I’d had some marked “completed” a few “decline” and some were just left hanging until I marked then “withdrawn”).

It wasn’t until the end of the year that it occurred to me that my Google news alert on “nelson algren literary prize” had never come up with an announcement of the winner. Digging a bit deeper and I found this:

The Nelson Algren Literary Award contest has been suspended for 2020-21 as we review the program.

Coming at the same time as buyouts in the Chicago Tribune newsroom with architecture critic Blair Kamin and music critic Howard Reich being two of the latest high-profile departures.

There seems to be an overall gutting of the newspaper by the current owners. Starting with the selling of the storied Tribune Tower and continual cuts. The death of the Algren Prize, assuming that this warning sign is indeed a herald of such a thing, is a relatively minor thing in the grand scheme of the despoliation of a once-great newspaper, but it marks the end of one of the richest short story prizes in the United States and a launching pad for a number of great writers. 

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Writerly resolutions for 2021

Last year, I wrote:

2019 was a disappointing year on many fronts, so I figure 2020 can’t help but be better.

Ah, the naïveté of 2019.

My goals for the year:

  1. Work on We, The Rescued daily until I’ve got it ready to pass on to other eyes to look at (which means finishing the first draft, doing the rewrite draft and then a revision draft after that).
  2. Workshop a new piece of fiction monthly now that I’ve got a writing group to keep me motivated.

As with last year’s resolutions, I’ll check back in with status reports each month. Since 2021 has already started, I’d note that I’m on track with item 1, but behind with item 2.