Archive for Short Story Collections

Hello, 2013!

So, 2012 saw the arrival of Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, winner of Main Street Rag’s 2011 Chapbook Contest.  This past year was also the year that I tackled the 100 rejection goal — a goal I failed miserably.  I didn’t even get 100 submission packets out the door.  By my tally marks, I only sent 56  submissions out.  Out of these submissions, I received 33 rejections and 15 acceptances.  I had to withdraw 4 submissions and I still have 4 submission packets out for consideration.

For those of you wondering about my exploration in other genres, I’m still writing.  I have written two short stories (flash fiction — both stories were under 1000 words). I sent both out, and got two rejections notes (included in the tally above).  However, I’m doing more reading of short stories.  I learned to write poetry by reading poetry, so I’m assuming that it works the same way with fiction. Right now, I’m reading What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg, a collection of short stories about lives revolving around extraordinary things (Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc).  It’s a wonderful read!

Goals for the new year?  I know that I have several friends who are hinting that I get a full length submission packet ready to go.  I’m trying, I really am.  But for now, I’m going to keep it simple.  Writing Resolution One: Post one poetry book review per month.  Writing Resolution Two: Once again, try for another year of 100 rejections.  At the very least, I want to beat my goal of 33 rejections from last year.  And, in doing so, hopefully, I will send out more submissions! Writing Resolution Three: Continue my exploration into other writing genres.  I would love to post more about what I’m doing with short stories, but the process still feels so very new to me.

Happy New Year Everyone! May all of you be happy and safe and productive (if you want to be productive, that is) in the months to come!

Dabbling in Autumn

The first frost has come and gone.  I watch the forecast for snow, but the days have been warm and just a little wet from Autumn showers.  We have had snow in October, I have been telling myself.  But so far, there has been no sign. 

I’ve been reading some old posts, and I realize that most of the time I sound like an optimistic person — and I admit that the persona I place on my blog is pretty much true.  I try to be optimistic.  But lately, I have to admit, I haven’t been writing a whole lot, and I haven’t been optimistic about my writing.  No, this has nothing to do with rejections.  I get rejections.  I get acceptances.  That is part of the writing life I have learned to accept. It’s something else.

I used to get up every morning at around 5 am (sometimes, the cats let me sleep until 5:30!), make myself a cup of coffee, and sit down to the computer to write.  Then, of course, time would run out and I would have to get ready for work.  Still, I used to get a good hour’s worth of writing done.

However, this past month or so, I haven’t done a whole of writing.  The routine is the same.  I still get up early and drink coffee, but then I stare at the computer screen.  I write lines and then erase them.  I finish a poem and then realize that it sounds a lot like one that was published last year.  I love a poem one day and then the next, I read the same poem and hate it.  Sometimes, I have awful feelings that I have nothing left to say.

Then, I have the more baffling feelings.  Some of my poems seem to be telling me that they want to be short stories.  Now, when I was an undergraduate, I had dreams of becoming a great novelist, and I wrote short stories.  I still have those short stories I wrote when I was 21 or so.  They don’t make me run from the room screaming, but they certainly aren’t very good.  Still, in the past month or so, I’ve been thinking more about the short story, scribbling down ideas, wondering about the process of writing a short story.

I have been thinking about my history with poetry.  As long time readers of the Scrapper Poet know, I don’t have an MFA.  People often ask me if I am self taught.  I don’t really know what that means. I had undergraduate courses in creative writing and I take workshops.  Plus, I have friends and mentors who read my work and give advice.  I’m always grateful for their support.  Still, I think I have learned the most from reading.  I have always been an avid reader, and in many ways, I’m more of a reader than a writer. Reading has taught me how to write.

So, what else have I been doing in the last few weeks besides staring at a blank computer screen wondering about my poetry? Buying collections of short stories.  Reading short story collections.  Re-reading collections I have enjoyed in the past, such as Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage and Alex Taylor’s The Name of the Nearest River.  Right now, I’m finishing From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet by Patrick Michael Finn.  All of these collections explore the various aspects of the working-class world.  The authors’ works are gritty and raw. There’s ugliness and violence hidden in beautiful, lyrical language.  There’s resilience in the characters.  There’s familiarity in the settings.

It’s funny that I somehow tricked myself into believing that only poetry could capture the world I want to write about.

100th Book!

Press 53 is celebrating the publication of its 100th book!  Take a look at their website to see the terrific sale they are running. For a limited time, choose any two short story collections or poetry books for $10, plus shipping and handling.  That’s $13 total!  (I have already placed my order.)

What I Read in 2010

Last January, I made a note on my blog that I wanted to list all the books I read in 2010.  Not only did I remember to keep up with the list, but I was actually a bit surprised at some of the results.  Total Books Read: 196.  Now that includes everything from books over 800 pages long to chapbooks that are around 20 pages.  In a year that included buying a new house, moving, and teaching extra classes, I didn’t think  I really spent that much time reading.

 I mostly read poetry.  According to my list, I read 81 collections, including chapbooks.  What did surprise me is that I read just as many fiction books as nonfiction (memoir, history, etc…): 46 in each category.  I also read 23 young adult books.

In the past, during this time of year, I usually posted my favorite poetry books of the year.  Today, however, I am going to do things a bit differently.

Best Nonfiction Book I Read This Year: It’s a tie!  I really liked the book, Half the Sky: Turning oppression Into Opportunities for Women by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  I didn’t think that a book that explored the world’s crimes against women (rape, violence, sexual mutilation, poverty) could be an uplifting read, but it was. This book offers portraits of women survivors around the world — while some parts were hard to read, I have to say that as a whole it was a wonderful and inspiring read.  I also loved, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  Over 60 years ago, Henrietta Lacks died and her cells were taken from a cancerous tumor in her body.  These cells, considered to be the first “immortal human cells” are still alive today  and have helped find treatments and cures for both viruses and different types of cancer.  Skloot’s account of this woman’s life (and her death) is part history, part memoir, part biography — a fantastic read!

Best True Crime Book I Read This Year:  Fans of the Scrapper Poet may not know that I read a lot of true crime books, and this year, thanks to a different public library in my new home town, I brushed up on a lot of my true crime reading.  I really enjoyed Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen and I Am Murdered by Bruce Chadwick, but my favorite read was The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall.  Imagine trying to forger an Emily Dickinson poem.  Then, imagine almost getting away with it!  Worrall’s exploration of criminal Mark Hofman is fascinating.  I admit that the whole book does not dwell just on the Dickinson’s forgery, but dives into Hofman’s shady background and his own personal vendettas against the Mormon church (something I found less interesting than the material about Emily Dickinson).  Still, all in all, an interesting read.

Best Book of Fiction:  I have to say that I did read a lot of fiction, but when I looked over my list, all I remember is being very unimpressed with most of the novels.  However,  I found the book, The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent, to be a great exploration of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. 

Best Collection of Short Stories:  Last summer, I mentioned how much I loved American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell, and that book is still my favorite short story collection of the year.  However, I have to say that The Name of the Nearest River by Alex Taylor comes in at a few close second.  Taylor’s book includes depictions of rural poverty and violence so graphic that it was hard for me to turn away.

Longest Book Read:  Stephen King’s Under the Dome at over 1,000 pages.  Was it worth it?  I’m a King fan, but I have to say, No.

Biggest Disappointment:  Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  I waited forever to get my hands on this book, and then I could barely drag myself through it.  In spite of the critical praise and the glowing recommendations from friends, I really had to drag myself through this novel.

Best Young Adult Book:  I have always enjoyed young adult books, before I was a young adult (when I was in elementary school, and young adult books were supposed to be too hard for me to understand) and now that I am an “old” adult.  Many of the books I read were fantasy or science fiction genre.  I started reading a series by Susan Beth Pfeffer — the first book titled Life As We Knew It about the world in a small Pennsylvania town after the moon gets hit out of orbit by a meteor.  I also read a dystopian book titled The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan about a young girl living inside a village who has only known a world protected within walls against the greater “universe” of zombies.  Now, I am not a zombie reader — but I thought that Ryan’s book was a great read — somehow the book reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s latest work.

But recently, I finished Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddox, a historical fiction look at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The book doesn’t just explore the fire, but the trials and tribulations of striking girls and immigrant life.  It’s a great book to add to my working class literature collection.

Best Collection of Poetry:  Of course, my readers know that there’s no way that one book is really going to stand out as the best.  2010 gave me new collections from some of my favorite poets, including Brandi Homan, Barbara Crooker, Jake Adam York, Jehanne Dubrow, Pamela Gemin, Allison Joseph, and Carrie Shipers.  However, I was also introduced to many other poets’ work that before this past year, I did not know, including fellow bloggers January O’Neil, M.J. Iuppa, and Diane Lockward.  I’m going to take the stance that I just don’t have time to list all the great poetry collections I read this year.

I’m going to keep a list of books read for 2011 — I am not trying to break any type of personal record.  I just want to see if my reading patterns change at all in the upcoming year.

A Soggy Sendoff to Summer

I know that summer is not really over yet — but considering that I was in the office most of last week, and I start classes tomorrow, today’s soggy Sunday seems like the end of another summer for me.

But it was a great ending.  I help co-run a writing contest at Chautauqua, and we announced the winners today.  I got to hear poet Ansie Baird and historian Bruce Chadwick read today. (I’m halfway through Chadwick’s book, I Am Murdered — a fascinating account of the historic murder of George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and close friend to Thomas Jefferson.  It’s basically a historical True Crime book).  I also got to meet Sherrie Flick, a prose writer and judge for one of our contests.  I have longed for Sherrie’s chapbook of flash fiction I Call This Flirting, and I was able to pick up a copy today — along with her novel, Reconsidering Happiness.

So  tonight I am settling in to read, relax, and listen to the rain.  I’m ready for the school year to begin.  As crazy as the semester is sure to get, I welcome a schedule.  Every summer I find myself drifting away from my writing (for some reason July and August are bad writing months for me.  I work wonders in June).  School always puts me back on track.

Nicole Cooley, Kirk Nesset at Chautauqua

I celebrated the Fourth of July at Chautauqua, walking the ground, visiting the awesome bookstore (best poetry selection in Western New York), and attending a reading by poet Nicole Cooley and fiction writer Kirk Nesset.  I have forgotten how hot Chautauqua gets in the summer — I just love meeting great writers when I am sweaty and tired.

But I digress.  Nicole Cooley read from her collection, Breach, a book  about the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans.   Cooley, who is originally from New Orleans, gave a lot of background information about each poem which really added to the reading — I could tell that a lot of people in the audience were either from New Orleans or visited there often and appreciated her stories and poems. I have a special interest in poetry and catastrophe and have read other books about Hurricane Katrina (See my review of two other “Katrina” books here), and I must say that Breach ranks right up there. I also picked up her book, The Afflicted Girls, a poetry book about the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Kirk Nesset is a local writer (local by rural Pennsylvania/New York standards).  He read two stories from his upcoming manuscript, and I was able to pick up his collection, Mr. Agreeable  — I stayed up last night reading his work.  So far, my favorite stories are “Snakes Having Babies” and “Scream”.  In many ways, he is a minimalist writer — his work reminds me of the book I just read by Rusty Barnes, except Nesset seems to focus more on character than sense of place.

My booklist is still growing. It’s going to be a hot week, so maybe I can find some nice shade and get some more reading and writing done.

Dzanc Summer Sale

It’s that time of year again — bookstores and publishers everywhere are breaking out their red sale stickers.  Check out Dzanc’s summer sale — good deals all around. 

Breaking it Down on a Tuesday Morning

When I was an undergraduate, I took a fiction writing class (I know — what happened to turn me towards poetry — it had nothing to do with the class, except that all my short stories seemed to turn out like soap opera scripts), where the professor taught a lot of minimalist literature, focusing on Raymond Carver. Since that time, I have been fascinated with minimalism, and/or literature that uses Hemingway’s “iceberg principle”. 

I have recently discovered a writer who makes use of the iceberg principle, an idea that suggests that more is underneath the surface than what can be seen on top.  Rusty Barnes’ Breaking it Down is a book of flash fiction which explores the lives of rural working class/poor characters.  Products of their environments, the characters often seem to be  motivated by sex and violence.  For example, the main character in the opening story titled “What Needs to Be Done” tolerates her loveless marriage by having an ongoing affair with her husband’s youngest brother. In another story, “Thunder & Putsy” the main character loses his hunting dog in a violent “accident.”

There’s a toughness in Barnes’ characters — it’s as if every character is all tough sinew, rugged muscle, taut skin.  We never really know for certain what makes these characters do the things they do, but we can certainly guess from their actions — which may be perceived as desperate or sad.  It’s as if every character is operating in survival mode — and survive is what they do: simply making it through each day seems to be the common goal of all the characters found in this collection.

Barnes’ work is so new to me that when I googled his name, I was pleased to see that he grew up near Mansfield, Pennsylvania, which is only a few hours away from where I live now.  (In rural Pennsylvania, three hours is relatively close).  I was also pleased to find his one website that he maintains, Fried Chicken and Coffee, which is a blogazine that explores rural and Appalachian literature.  Since my interest in working-class literature often intersects with Appalachian literature, I know that this is a website I will be visiting often.

The Short Story & American Salvage

When I was 18, right around the time that I discovered contemporary American poetry, I fell in love with the short story.  I had always been a reader, but up until the time I went to college, I read mostly popular fiction (horror, especially Stephen King) and of course, all the teen lit one person could get a hold of.  At college, my professors introduced me to the contemporary American short story, and I entered the worlds of Raymond Carver, Sharon Dilworth, Barry Hannah, and Donald Barthelme (yes — I know all these writers are very different, but I had a lot of very different college professors).  Later, in my 20’s when I was jumping from job to job, in and out of grad school classes, etc.  I fell in love with the work of Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson.  Then came Lorrie Moore and Melanie Rae Thon.  And then, oddly, (and rather suddenly, I think), I stopped reading short stories.

Why? Perhaps it was because my favorite short story writers went on to write novels.  Or maybe it was because I found a nice steady and stable job, and had more time to read so my attention turned to novels.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that my shelves of short story collections got boxed away.  When I moved, and had extra space, I found room for them once again.  And then, just recently, I purchased a collection that will win me back to the short story genre.

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell  captures the lives of working class/small town people who live in rural Michigan.  In many ways, I think of her stories as a masterful combination of Sharon Dilworth and Raymond Carver.   Capturing both the violence and poverty of her characters’ everyday lives, the author shows how these people live in what most of us would consider bleak and hopeless conditions.  Yet, the characters never come across as mere stereotypes — just painfully real. This little blurb, of course, is not a formal review of this wonderful collection.  Jay Robinson, on his blog, did a wonderful job describing this great read.  Take a look here.  Then, find and read this book.  And finally, if you are a short story reader (and/or writer), please drop me a note to introduce other great collections I am missing.