“A Smooth Shallow Cut” in Smokelong Quarterly

If you know anything about me and my online reading habits or if you’ve paid a little bit of attention to the  Go Read Something posts I’ve shared over the course of this blog, you know how strong my devotion and love is to Smokelong Quarterly.

Which is why I’m completely thrilled that a story of mine was accepted by them a few months ago!

A Smooth Shallow Cut” first appeared as a weekly featured story back in January and now it’s in their most recent issue for spring, Issue No. 55. Also in the issue is an (only slightly awkward) interview with me.

My story appearing in Smokelong is definitely a highlight of my writing life so far. And the other stories rounding out this issue are great, making it all the better! Check the issue out if you like!

Two new stories out in the world!

As 2016 turned into 2017, two of my short stories were published.

Issue 205 of Crack the Spine came out right around Christmas and featured my short, short story “Taxidermy.”

And, on January 1, 2016, Pithead Chapel published Volume 6, Issue I, which included the winners of the Larry Brown Short Story Award. My short story “Recuerdos Olvidados” was selected as runner-up by judge Kyle Minor.

Both are stories I’m extremely pleased have found such wonderful homes.

So long, 2016

Saying good-bye to 2016 was something I’d long looked forward too — even while the impending doom of what’s to come in 2017 is not without its own anxiety and worry. I realize that, technically, the date changing from December 31 to January 1 is no more different than the change from September 3 to September 4. But still. There’s something about changing one year for another that just comes with some bit of closure. And when it comes to 2016, I think we all needed a little closure.

I’m looking to 2017 with realistic optimism. I think the worst parts of 2016 were the ones that blindsided me, that exposed my own complacency and the complicity that resulted from it. I’m a big fan of acceptance and embracing the realization that I can’t change others, I only can change myself, is something I’m clinging to mightily these days.

Despite the various shitstorms that 2016 rained upon us, there were many bright spots. There were babies born and children (and adults) who continued to learn and grow. There were friends made and relationships strengthened and risks taken, for better or for worse.

In my writing, I accomplished a great deal. Of the 93 submissions I sent out (yes, 93), eight resulted in acceptances (and 10 are still pending). That might not sound like a lot, but two of those eight were competitions: one where my story placed first, and the other where my story came in runner up. Not to mention that five of the eight acceptances came in December. FIVE. Getting five acceptances in one month was quite a boon to my confidence, albeit short-lived (ah, the self-doubt is strong). I also put together my first ever short story collection, compiling 12 of my flash fiction pieces into a chapbook length collection. That’s been a goal of mine for several years, so making it happen meant a lot.

2016 was a disaster. And the hits kept coming right to the bitter end (New Year’s Eve night at the emergency animal clinic with two kids and a kitten is exactly as much fun as it sounds). But the clock struck midnight, and it ended like all the others, making room for the clarity and perspective that hindsight allows.

And I welcome 2017 — its challenges and all — with open arms and, more importantly, an open mind.

Go read something!

Back by popular demand. Or … just demand. Or … just back.

It’s been a loooong time since I posted a Go Read Something, and I’ve got oodles of stories and poems and essays that I’ve gathered to share! I’ve just been slacking on posting them because … life.

I’m trying to get back on track, so please enjoy!

For this week’s return to “Go Read Something!” please enjoy Rebecca McKanna’s “A Chain of Tiny Disasters” from “Narrative” magazine.

Good-bye to 2014

Near the end of 2013, I created a list of goals for 2014. They were all professional goals related to my career (writing goals, editing goals, teaching goals). Early in 2014, I check in on that list periodically, but somewhere along the line, I lost track of checking in on the items listed there in favor of actually pursuing them. A very good thing.

Of the fifteen items on the list, I accomplished eight. Of the remaining seven, four fell by the wayside because of some new professional opportunities that arose (thereby making the ones on the list moot). So, I consider those a wash. Another was something I made the conscious decision not to pursue in favor of something else on the list (they were really competing goals), and another was something that I decided to hold off until 2015 because of some other more time-sensitive commitments in 2014. That leaves one goal that was missed, and there’s no excuses on it. It was a simple one that I should have stayed on top of, but I just didn’t. Nonetheless, I’d say I did pretty damn good for the year.

A goal that I discussed here, and that wasn’t on the list, had to do with my reading: My Year of the Short Story, which I wrote about back in March. I’d say this one was a success; of the ~47 books I read in 2014, 28 were short story collections (and four others were writing/craft books). That means about 60% of what I read were short stories. And, back in March, I said that my tentative goal “was to just make sure I’m reading more short stories than non-short stories for the year overall.” Boom. Another goal accomplished in 2014.

In addition, the experience of reading more short stories in 2014 also exposed me to several authors I wouldn’t have likely found otherwise (because they have only published in the short form). In fact, I ended up reading multiple collections by a few authors because I loved their work so much. I also found myself identifying with what I was reading in ways I haven’t before. In the past, most of my reading left me saying to myself, “Why do I think I can do this?” But the books I was reading this year—at least the short story collections—left me thinking, “I think I just might be able to do this.” In what I was reading, I found similar perceptions. Similar language use. Similar ideas and concepts. It was inspiring and, surprisingly, empowering.

The experience also let me reclaim my love for short stories. Through “forcing” myself to read more short stories, I remembered why I loved them so much. It’s such an amazing form of writing. So compact. So powerful. It left me feeling really good about writing (exclusively) in the short form at this time, and it has even spurned me to push myself to write even “shorter” going into 2015 (more on that later).

All in all, while I don’t have a ton of publications to show for 2014 (only two, with five submissions still pending), I did do a lot of writing and reading. I accomplished the most important of the goals I had for 2014, and I feel like I’m moving in the right direction. My writing is improving, my confidence is growing, and I’m ready to make some more goals for 2015.

Go Read Something!

In a writing workshop I participated in this past spring, this story was recommended to one of the other students. The recommendation was made in regard to a family dinner scene the student was trying to pin down, and it just wasn’t working. The workshop instructor recommended this story as a great example of a compelling dinner scene. She was right. But, man, the story was so much more than that.

Go read “North of,” written by Marie-Helene Bertino and published by Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.

Marie-Helene Bertino
Marie-Helene Bertino

Marie-Helene Bertino

Go Read Something!

As the internet wildly proclaimed this summer, The New Yorker opened their archives. Did you catch that? The New Yorker opened their archives. This means that all of The New Yorker‘s pieces were available to read for free. But, it’s only for a limited time. So, I’m not sure if this link will continue to work…

This piece, published as debut fiction in 2000, was available to read for free prior to the opening of the archives, so I’m hoping the link remains active into the future. If not, well, hunt down the story elsewhere perhaps. It’s worth it.

Go read David Shickler’s “The Smoker” published by The New Yorker.

Writer’s Reading Review of “Chase Us”

Basic information:

Chase Us is the first collection published by author Sean Ennis. This collection of eleven short stories focuses around the same group of boys growing up in the outskirts of Philadelphia. Themes that dominate the collection are captivity, maturation, sex, friendship, loyalty, fear, and a desire for more than we have. For the most part, the narrator appears to be the same for all the stories, and as the stories in the collection progress, the characters age and (attempt to) mature. For someone like me who devoured Judy Blume and Linda Lewis, it was interesting to read about tween and teen boys; to see how they experienced some of the same fears and insecurities. (Although this collection is clearly darker and more for an adult audience than either of those two women I mentioned.)

Reaction/review:

This collection started out with great promise. I greatly enjoyed the first story in the collection and the interesting situations and details that are woven together. The voice and tone is spot on for a young pre-teen boy, and the family dynamic was heartbreakingly accurate. Stories that immediately followed this one were equally as compelling.

As the boys in the stories aged and matured, however, it felt like the stories did not. Where Ennis had such a solid grasp on the voices of the boys at ages 11, 12, and 13, when they approached manhood—high school, college, marriage, parenthood—the stories seemed to take a surreal turn to avoid confronting a failure to really grasp their growth, their adult voices. On some level, I realize that the narrator and the other characters were under the influence of drugs and alcohol in these later stories in the collection, and this did flavor their experiences and the narratives. However, the stories’ movement out of the real and into the surreal felt like a crutch to avoid showing how life really shakes out for these men. Rather than carrying on with the harsh reality that stories like “Going after Lovely,” “This is Pennypack,” and “Saint Kevin of Fox Chase” portrays, stories like “This is Recession” and “Chase Us” introduced elements of surrealism and unresolved plot points that left me scratching my head and wondering why I couldn’t see what “really” was going on. Why were the stories hiding the “good stuff”?

Take away for my writing:

I’ve accepted I’m not a novelist. I am a short story writer right now. But I think one way to move from short stories to a longer work is to connect my stories together. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a collection of interlinked stories (which I would classify this collection as). What I hope to take away from Chase Us is the importance of keeping the tone and style similar across the board. I think this can be important for all story collections, but when the stories are so closely related, it becomes of even greater importance.

The collections I have loved the most have been the ones that don’t necessarily share characters or locations or even time period. Instead, they are the ones that share tone and style. The progression of the stories feels natural as I read them and the themes are universal and valuable throughout. With this collection, however, the later stories felt significantly weaker. By tracing the growth and aging of his characters, the author didn’t do any favors for those characters or for the readers.

Strengths: well-wrought characters; strong capture of youthful voice in narration
Weaknesses: failure to grasp older characters with same strength in voice; surreal elements felt gimmicky and contrived

Favorites: “Going after Lovely,” “This is Pennypack,” “Saint Kevin of Fox Chase”
Least favorites: “Chase Us,” “This is Recession,” “Dependents,” “This is Tomorrow”

Go Read Something!

Earlier this year, I accepted a new position as the Production Editor of fairly well-known literary magazine. It was an amazing opportunity and it has worked out better than I could have hoped.  I get to work with some amazing people, read some wonderful stories, and help produce a fantastic literary magazine.

So, in the interest of shameless self-promotion, go read the stories in Carve magazine. All of them.

Okay, not really all of them. But all of the stories published from 2007 to the present are available to read online for free, so go make the most of it! Read ’em all until you’re cross-eyed. Or, read two or three. And subscribe to the print-based premium edition (which is what I help to create) because it has even more awesome features, including author interviews, in addition to the stories.