Monday, November 30, 2009

Today's Guest: Roxane Gay

Blog Entries About Infomercial Products That Somehow Did Not Yield a Book Deal

January 1
I just finished reading Julia to Julia by Julia Powell, a charming book about a woman who decides to cook her way through a Julia Child’s cookbook over the course of a year. I don’t see why I can’t do the same thing only different.

January 7
It came to me while I was watching late night television. For the next year, I’m going to buy infomercial products and write about them and how they affect my life on this blog.

January 19
It’s cold this time of year. It is only fitting that the first product I should write about is the Snuggie. I was skeptical at first—a blanket that keeps your arms warm while you change the channel or walk to the mailbox? That’s the stuff of the future. Still, I ordered my Snuggie and it arrived yesterday. I got the zebra print. It matches the carpet in my living room. As promised, the Snuggie is warm and soft and the sleeves are the cleverest things I ever did see. It is so cozy to snuggle up on the couch wearing my Snuggie, changing the channel without getting goose bumps. And because it is buy one get one free, I gave my boyfriend a matching Snuggie. The look on his face was priceless!

January 28
I’ve been eyeing the Aero Garden for quite some time. Like the Snuggie, it is so futuristic. I live in an apartment but I have a bit of a green thumb. I’ve also been reading a lot lately about eating local, organic food. The Aero Garden is the perfect solution. In a few short weeks, I’ll have fresh produce and herbs with which I’ll be able to make delicious salads. Perhaps this is the start of something greater—kitchen counter farming with an indoor gardening appliance.

February 4
Not much progress yet with my kitchen counter farm. Some green buds have sprouted in the pod but I have yet to see evidence of anything edible. In the meantime, I saw a wonderful infomercial with the Sham Wow guy. He demonstrated the Slap Chop and in the commercial he said, “You’re going to love my nuts,” so of course I had to buy it. My Slap Chop arrived yesterday and since then I’ve been chopping things and putting them into little baggies. At one point, I got so excited, I chopped the tip of my finger. It’s mixed in with some carrot bits. Hopefully, I don’t accidentally eat it. Would that make me a cannibal?

February 11
Is it indelicate of me to discuss body hair? I was in Sally’s Beauty Supply where I found the Smooth Away. I didn’t have to order it over the phone. Huzzah! When I got home, I opened the package, adhered the flex crystal pad to the large applicator and began vigorously rubbing it along my arm. After a few minutes, my arm began to tingle uncomfortably. There was a strange smell. It took quite some time, but eventually I was able to remove all the hair. The skin there has now taken on a grayish tint. I’m very worried about smoothing away more sensitive areas, particularly that place so popular in Brazil.

February 12
Had to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night. It was ill advised to attempt to use Smooth Away between my ass cheeks. I’ve been lying on my stomach all day. I’m fasting because what goes in must come out.

February 19
Still wary of eating solid food. I bought a juicer and have, for the past several days, been juicing all my meals. I don’t recommend juicing pasta with marinara sauce. It has a discomfiting consistency. The kitchen farm is not progressing. The little buds are growing, but slowly. This agrarian project of mine is taking much longer than the instructions indicated. Eating local is harder than I thought. I now understand how hipsters are able to fit in their skinny jeans.

March 1
Did you know there is an As Seen on TV store in the Mall of America? When I heard the news, I got in my car, drove all night, and when I got there, it was like I had been called to the happiest place on earth. I told the salesperson I wanted one of everything. He even helped me carry my bags to my car. It’s true what they say about Minnesota nice.

April 9
I now have a greater understanding of the dangers of opening Pandora’s Box. I bought the Silver Sonic XL, which promises to amplify sound up to 90 feet. My boyfriend, let’s call him Mr. Ex, was on the balcony on the phone while I was in the living room wearing my new toy. I have a small apartment. I’m sure you can imagine the rest. I heard him talking to some skank, saying the filthiest things you could imagine. He also made unkind statements about my mental state, which I assure you, is just fine. The infomercial didn’t warn me that some things can’t be unheard. I’ve had better days, friends.

April 21
Big day today. I decided to soothe my heartache by buying a Sleep Number bed. It was delivered today and even though I have no one with whom to share it, I invited my best friend Sally over. We poured eight or nine glasses of wine, set them on the edges of the bed and started jumping up and down in the middle. Not one of them tipped over. It was just like the commercial said. Afterwards, we drank all the wine and made out. My spirits are much improved.

May 7
I went on a blind date tonight and decided to do a little something different with my hair by using an EZ Comb. My date complimented my hairstyle but later, when he tried to remove the EZ Comb while we were making out, it got tangled in my hair and there was a whole scene. It pretty much killed the mood. The EZ Comb is a total cock blocker.

May 31
Things are looking up! There are signs of life in the Aero Garden. In the meantime, now that I’m single, I have more time to workout. I bought the Thigh Master to improve my leg tone, but as I’m squeezing the contraption, I can’t help but think about how much Mr. Ex would enjoy watching me use it. I miss him.

June 28
It is a dark day, friends. Billy Mays has died. I adored his enthusiasm, the way his signature blue shirt brought out the color of his eyes, and his perfectly trimmed beard. When I called my mom to talk about it she said, “He was probably on drugs.” Don’t worry, gentle readers. I told her, “Mom, that’s simply not possible. Billy Mays isn’t enthusiastic about the products he sells because he’s under the influence. He’s enthusiastic because he believes. He has faith.” Then I hung up on her because she’s a Godless sinner. She’s probably going to burn in hell.

July 2
After a lot of soul searching, I’ve decided to end this blog sooner than I originally planned. Although there are many products still out there for me to try and share with you all, I don’t know how to move forward with this blog in a world without Billy Mays. To be honest, my life hasn’t been so great since I started this blog. I’ve lost my boyfriend. I haven’t been able to harvest anything from my Aero Garden. The Sleep Number bed isn’t that comfortable. I’m still suffering from the effects of that unfortunate incident with the Smooth Away. I haven’t gotten a book and movie deal yet and if it hasn’t happened after seven months, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. I know when to say when. Thanks for reading and in the immortal words of Billy Mays, “Act fast. Time is running out.”

To learn more about Roxane Gay, and read more of her work, go here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Now Read for Hobart Print

and am struck again and again by how "easily" I can see what is, and what isn't, working in others' work, but struggle to evaluate my own stories.

I know time and distance help with objectivity, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to "see" my work the way I can others' -- Is that kind of ease of objectivity ever really possible when evaluating and revising our own work? I've been told by some very fine writers that such wisdom will come, but I don't know ...

I just got a rejection from The Collagist that hurt like a kick, despite the fact that Matt Bell is one gracious guy. I thought this last story would do it. This is my third rejection in the past hour from three excellent journals.

Right now, I could put my head down on my desk and stay there for a long, long time. Instead, I'm going for a long walk in the sunshine with my daughters. With my daughters, at least, I always know I'm in the right place, doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The World According to Ethel

BIO is a dirty, three letter word.

Obsessively/compulsively checking one's blog, twitter and email accounts, others' blogs, in particular HTMLGiant, Fictionaut, Duotrope, Google Reader, and Zoetrope Virtual Studio can drive one insane.

This is funny. Or maybe it's sad.

This is sobering. I LIKE Lee Klein.

Meg Pokrass's first ever chapbook LOST AND FOUND, a collection of her elimae stories, (with stunning artwork by Cooper Renner) is now available here.

Sending out repeated calls for guest posts to my blog and getting little response does not mean that I am unloved.

The need to write is a gift. The need to be published is an affliction.

Repeated rejection can be soul-destroying, or at the very least depressing.

A snapshot of my mind on a good day: Happiness is a choice, like ranch or thousand island.

A snapshot of my mind on a bad day: Yeah right.

This is a bad day.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Today's Guest: Caleb J Ross

A Willing Army of Readers
By Caleb J Ross

The morning my chapbook was set to print, I received multiple emails and Facebook messages from buyers saying that their preorders had been inexplicably refunded. Panicked, I checked my email. The editor of the press had suddenly—after months of editing, design work, preorder campaigns, and nights spent straddling the border between excitement and nervous breakdown—canceled the book’s production due to personal issues. This left me with one real option: take everything on myself.

As marketing becomes more and more the responsibility of the author, I was prepared to do everything in my power to help get my chapbook to readers. But when marketing suddenly becomes the responsibility solely of the author, perspectives and priorities shift.

After getting the printing issue straightened, I dove into what would ultimately become a humbling experience, one that revealed to me the importance of online networking in terms of book promotion, but more-so in terms of the personal relationships that networking allows.

Over the years, beginning well before I considered any of my words to be publishable (or even postable), through to today, when a few of my scribbles manage to impress lit zine editors, I have been weaving myself into various online literary communities in hopes of both camaraderie and commiseration. I joined and participated in book discussion forums, followed like-minded Twitter-ers, became involved with writing critique groups, and most importantly, did all I could to show my genuine interest in the literary community at-large. These were people who loved what I loved, from books to beer and all the delicious vices in between. We’ve read each other’s work. We’ve praised and shit on each other’s work. We’ve met for drinks. During these years, I wasn’t actively searching out promotional leverage; I was searching for friends.

But when the unexpected printing mishap happened, these friends suddenly became a willing force of voices to dampen what could have been a very destructive fire. They RT’d (re-Tweeted) my blog posts about the incident. They shared my Facebook messages. They even assured voyeurs who had not preordered that they could order, without worry; that all issues had been taken care of. In short, these friends became my temporary PR department, and with their help, over half of the first printing of my chapbook, Charactered Pieces: stories, was sold during the preorder period. This, all starting with a moment of fear that the book would never even happen.

Booksellers say that word-of-mouth is better advertising than any in-store campaign, any author tour, and any online banner-branding promotion. This is no coincidence. Book readers are a fairly cloistered group, where relationships, much like those multifarious, interlinked relationships of the characters we worship, are complex and serve a final end. Our end: to share a love of words. And ultimately, our relationships are stronger than those built upon passive or professional interest alone. Readers are a passionate bunch. As a writer, nothing delights me more than to see a bit of that passion focus on my project.

Thanks to everyone who helped, and continues to help, spread the word of Charactered Pieces: stories.

Caleb J Ross has been published widely, both online and in print. He graduated with a degree in English Lit and a minor in Creative Writing from Emporia State University in 2005. Charactered Pieces: stories is his first sole-author collection.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Call For Guest Blog Posts

Please submit guest blog posts to Posts can be on any subject, but ideally should be of value to readers/other writers i.e. on the writing life, writing process, road to publication, electronic versus print pubs, flash/short/novella/novels etc. etc. etc. Be interesting.

Posts received will run every Monday. I'll send the fifth writer to submit a copy of the Los Angeles Review Issue 6.

Have at it. Thanks.

ALSO: Read this from Randall Brown. It brought a lump to my throat. I WANT.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's Up Wednesday

Issue 6 of the Los Angeles Review is now available for order. The issue is dedicated to Wanda Coleman. It's not cheap, but it is packed with great writers, poets, and reviewers, and promises to be an excellent read.

The dazzling line-up, in no particular order, includes: Michael Czyzniejewski, Lydia Davis, Barry Graham, Naseem Rakha, Deborah Ager, Alex Lemon, Jee Leong Koh, Randall Brown, Stefanie Freele, Nicole Lalime, David Erlewine, Ravi Mangla, Kyle Hemmings, Tania Hershman, Rachel Mehl, Antonios Maltezos, Jeanne Holtzman, Alicia Gifford, Tai Dong Huai, Shellie Zacharia, Steve Almond, and many, many more. Phew!

I'm honored to be included in the issue. Please support Los Angeles Review and order your copy here.

This is funny.

Yesterday I received in the mail from Keyhole Press NOW PLAYING, stories by Shellie Zacharia. I'm excited to read this collection. Read Shellie's "Maybe The Moon Fell" at Everyday Genius.

I also very much enjoyed Alan Stewart Carl's "Whatever Happened to Sue Ellen?" over at Staccato Fiction. Why did I immediately think of Sue Ellen from Dallas? This is NOT about Sue Ellen from Dallas.

My favorite line from J.R. Ewing from Dallas: "Sue Ellen, you're a drunk, a tramp, and an unfit mother."

Praise be, I can never be accused of being an unfit mother ... :-)

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Good Buoy Is Hard To Find

Last week I finished Dan Chaon's AWAIT YOUR REPLY. Nothing could have pulled me away from those last forty pages. Nothing. Okay, my daughters' needs could have, but that's it. I give AWAIT YOUR REPLY two thumbs and all my toes up.

Next, I look forward to reading Nuala Ni Chonchuir's short short story collection, NUDE. More on that soon.

In a perfect world, I could nap right now.

Mel Bosworth is RAZZ-TASTIC.

Recently, I've received four encouraging rejections from print magazines I greatly admire: hand-written notes from editors inviting me to send more work. I'm grateful. I'm encouraged. I am. I'm also disappointed and frustrated. One response was for a submission I sent over 200 days ago. It's possible I will be ninety or expired before I hit jackpot. ALMOST in this instance hurts. It's like getting five numbers in the LOTTO. It feels not like coming in second, but like coming in second LAST.

On a brighter note, PANK November is with us. I have yet to read the entire issue. Thus far Ravi Mangla's "Summit" most touched me. Ravi can write. The tenderness and delightful quirkiness in his work reminds me of Myfawny Collins's wonderful writing.

The November Collagist is also with us. Thus far I've only read Chad Benson's "Amazing Peter"--a story that feels just right for November/Thanksgiving. I LOVE the last line.

Here's my last line for this post; alas if feels most uninspired:

I need something nice to happen to me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What Do You Know ...

Barnes and Nobel caved. Well done, Lauren Becker. The planned reading will go ahead. Gulp! Now I have to figure out just what I can read to a high-school audience. I don't consider my work kid-friendly :-)

Just the other day I overheard my seven-year-old daughter tell her friend "My mom's a writer, but you won't be able to read her work. It's ADULT material." I can only imagine how that was interpreted by the little friend's parents!

I am almost finished reading Dan Chaon's novel, AWAIT YOUR REPLY. What a brilliant stroke to open with that horrific scene. As I read, I always have that palpable tension in the back of my mind, knowing that the story will come full-circle and back to the torture scene.

I just hit on that inevitable torture scene last night. I had to stop reading, afraid I wouldn't be able to sleep after. Now I can't wait to get back to the book. The urge is so bad I don't think I can wait until tonight. It's like the tired but true scenario around the car crash: where you don't want to look, but you just can't help yourself.

I love AWAIT YOUR REPLY on a number of levels. It's imaginative, gripping, and well-written. It's characters are fascinating. Issues of identity especially capture my imagination. Who are we really? What is real? What's not? Haven't we all, at some point, just wanted to walk right out of our current life and start over, become another person entirely? The idea is equally strange, frightening, and exhilarating.

I have long felt fixated on who I would be now if "X," "Y," and "Z" hadn't happened to me in the past. This is particularly true of the abuse I suffered in childhood. Who would I have been if I wasn't abused? For the longest time, I believed I would be a better, happier person. I refuse to believe that any longer. I refuse to bail on myself any more. It's not about what happens to us, it's what we do about what happens to us, right?

How about you? Ever want to be somebody else? Trade places? Start over?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Barnes & Noble Don't Want Me

and others to read as planned at their Fisherman's Wharf store here in San Francisco this coming Saturday. The event is a fundraiser for a local high school. Their objection is because we haven't yet published books. Lauren Becker invited me to read, and is fighting the good fight on our behalf. Maybe B&N will cave, but I doubt it.

Speaking of Lauren Becker, I like her article, and the comments that follow, over at VIPs on VSF.

Another interesting Monday guest blog post over at today.

The wonderfully talented Kyle Hemmings introduced me to a new and interesting lit mag: fourpaperletters. I really like their aesthetics and the great work they publish. Congratulations, Laura Issacman, Editor. Submit!

I feel like there has been a bit of an "Ethel Explosion" of late. A lot of new work just published. The latest two are a short "Killed" over at Writers' Bloc (Rutgers), with Greg Gerke, Jim Harrington, Sherri Collins, and more. Another great job on this fifth issue, Kevin Dickinson. I also have a guest blog post today over at PANK. Thanks, Roxane. I'll leave it at that.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I am thrilled

to be in wigleaf. Thank you, Scott Garson!

You can also read my wigleaf postcard here.

As always, thank you for your interest and reading time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How Great They Art

Michael Kimball on Adam Robinson here

November Hobart here. It's another great issue that includes, among others, more rocking work from Roxane Gay. Amy Minton also has a great interview with Victor LaValle on his spectacular new novel, BIG MACHINE.

I took three classes with Victor while he was the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College. He was also my thesis director for a time. He is a fantastic writer and person. He was incredibly encouraging of my work, and helped me in more ways than he'll ever know. I love his advice in this interview: "be riveting."

The fabulous Kathy Fish here

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Food Ugh! and Way To Go

I rarely watch TV, but I do love movies. Last night I rented Food Inc. There's too much government in our lives and crap in our food (literally). Watch this movie. Take back our power.

This afternoon, I did something even more out of my routine and watched a second rented DVD "Away We Go" written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida -- funny and moving. Watch this movie, just because it's good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lines I Can't Get Out of my Head

from stories I can't get out of my head:

At first I see everything so sharp. The white looks like gold. My eyes see little bits of gold shining all over the ground, and then it starts moving, like fishes swimming in and out of my head. Then the blurring begins. I'm dizzy, there's a pain behind my eyes, but I keep on staring. I'm not going to shut them until it's done.
Tania Hershman, "The White Road," THE WHITE ROAD AND OTHER STORIES

I stay in bed and watch as my android gets ready for his day.

Once the crows detect a human--once alarmed and on their way--you use the death call. It sounds like rippling of bones around them. It says, "I'm dying, right now, and will you help me?" As true as Wednesday, the crows reappear, and you get that final image, spiraling frame, buckling of wings and heart, the curvature of returning. But I never use the death call.
Sean Lovelace, "Crow Hunting," HOW SOME PEOPLE LIKE THEIR EGGS

She hears deeper breathing again and speaks before he can fully fall asleep. "Are you sure I'm the raisin and not the loaf?" "I am the loaf. The oaf is the loaf." This must be his apology for earlier. She lets more of her weight ease onto his chest.
Stefanie Freele, "You Are The Raisin, I Am The Loaf," FEEDING STRAYS

You stay because you realize you never really leave, no matter where you go.
Angi Becker Stevens, "Simpler Disasters," Emprise Review, Volume 11

There is dinner to prepare. But first, dishes need to be done. The name was the name of a Hindu goddess. The name meant something to me back then. Now, it is just a word―it is my daughter, with all her wonders and quirks and teenaged layers, and it will always be her, no matter what she calls herself.
Andrew Roe, "Apology," Twelve Stories, Issue 2

I want to tell my husband there is still truth between the two of us, still lips that close a circle and share a breath. In a photograph, his arms, in my sweater, lock around my waist. I’m fatter then, but happier. I have a blue scarf in my hair and black bangs. We stand on top of a mountain, wearing each other’s clothes and posing in the wind.
Lydia Copeland, "Across The River," Twelve Stories, Issue 2

At some point during these documentaries about extraordinarily fat people, there comes a time when a surgeon has to cut away chunks of belly or upper thigh and the fat person is lying on the operating table, vulnerable and spreadeagle. The surgeon uses special tools to spread and pull and dissect. Then, the surgeon triumphantly raises the bloody, excised body parts and shouts out how much they weigh. Everyone in the room gasps frenzied-like. It’s painfully obvious that they’re all really turned on and after they’re done sewing the patient back together like they’re channeling Mary Shelley, you get the impression that one of those surgeons is going to pull one or more of those nurses into a supply closet so that they too can have Thank God We’re Not Fat Sex.
Roxane Gay, "This Program Contains Actual Surgical Procedures," Twelve Stories, Issue 2

Nobody comes to the circus anymore. Hemingway, the last elephant, trumpets a sad note as his girlfriend is packed away into a truck to be sold. All us clowns line up in front of the big top to wave goodbye. My wife, Lulu, takes it hardest. She won’t even put on her make-up anymore. Last week, she crushed her rubber nose under her heel and it squeaked apart into two pieces. “What’s the point,” she said, “if no one laughs?”
Matthew Salesses, "Cirque de Recession," Twelve Stories, Issue 2

It’s the third layer that unsettles, making sleep hard to hold. The cry is that of an angry cat. A cat with its tail caught in a meat grinder. Someone is slowly but efficiently cranking, pulling the creature in, shredding flesh and fur.
No healthy baby should ever make a sound like that.
The feral shrieks jolt Arthur awake. He blinks again, turns onto his side, disentangles his legs from the top sheet. His brain merges the child’s cry into a dream—he’s riding a ferry across a choppy sea, holding to the rail at the rear of the ship, watching the baby’s crib being tugged by a heavy rope, while above her ten or twenty sea gulls glide on arched wings.

Bob Thurber, "The Baby's Name," Rumble

Monday, November 2, 2009

DZANC Best of the Web 2010 Nomination

I received one, for my micro "Circling" in BURST. Kevin kindly wrote, I selected "Circling" because you said so much in so few words, and you said it in a way that was original, captivating, powerful, and sincere. Thank you, Kevin!

The Medulla Review

I'm also thrilled to be in Issue One of The Medulla Review, alongside Eric Beeny, Heather Fowler, Adam Moorad, Karl Koweski, J.A. Tyler, and others. Congratulations, Jennifer Hollie Bowles and Gindy Elizabeth Houston, Editors.

As a girl in Dublin, we lived close to the Royal Canal. The canal flowed past Mountjoy Prison, and a group of us made the greenbelt in the shadow of the prison our stomping grounds. Swans shared that space with us also, and are a bird and image that loom large in my imagination. Maybe that's why J.A. Tyler's short made my throat tighten, or maybe it's that it's powerful writing that speaks to me. It's both:

And these swans here in this lake, they are like Susan, the opposite of dirty, just surrounded by the mud. And maybe that is how I am. Maybe at heart I am clean and pure, like my mom sometimes calls me, SNOW WHITE YOU she says. But there is just too much mud around, too many chances to get dirty.

The swans don’t blend into this lake, they stick out, and I am the same way sometimes.

J.A. Tyler, "The Swans" [excerpt], TMR, Issue One

The Emprise Review

And again, I'm excited and grateful to be included in Volume 11 of The Emprise Review, an outstanding issue packed with great work by writers I deeply admire. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Must Reads that Hurt Just Right, and One That Didn't

Twelve Stories
I followed a link on Andrew Roe's blog to his story "Apology" in the recently released second issue of Twelve Stories, edited by Molly Gaudry and Blythe Winslow. I then read the entire issue in one delicious sitting, starting with the first short "Across The River" by Lydia Copeland all the way through to "Wedding Vows" by Eric Vrooman. The stories touched me deeply, and quality blew me away. As a whole, it's one of the best magazine issues I've read in a long while. Congratulations to the contributors, and to Molly and Blythe. Take a deep bow, all.

I would also direct you to the latest issue of Rumble, and in particular to Molly Gaudry's interview with Claudia Smith and to J.A. Tyler's review of Claudia Smith's story collection PUT YOUR HEAD IN MY LAP from Future Tense Books. I recently finished reading this collection, captured from the outset by the tender, provocative title and bright, delightful cover. What lies behind that great title and between that great cover doesn't disappoint either. The collection shines light on relationships and the everyday, and its sense of transcendence despite loss, disappointment, and heartache moved me deeply.

Please also read Bob Thurber's "The Baby's Name." I just loved it. Bonnie ZoBell and xTx are also in this issue. P.H. Madore and Ellen Parker co-wrote "Headless Horsemen." I love FRiGG (who couldn't?), and have long admired Ellen Parker from afar. This piece surprised and, frankly, disappointed me. Fine they're angry and frustrated and feel they've got something important and valid to say about anonymous editors, particularly those behind >kill author, but I don't think this is the way to voice it. Go. Now. Read. I'm curious what others think.
I also highly recommend Randall Brown's latest post over at "Thursday Craft: Eleven Essentials of Writing Great Flash Fiction." The post ends with a list of recommended Flashes to read. I'm on it, Randall, thank you.