So many exciting things happening!
On the fellowship front, I was once again honored to receive support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for FY2019. I also recently learned that I received a part-tuition parent-writer fellowship from The Sustainable Arts Foundation to study at the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing this summer.
On World Poetry Day, the Rocky Mountain MIRECC (a part of the VA) released a podcast in which I discuss the process of transitioning out of active duty military service and the importance of finding community. You can find a link to listen under the "Appearances & Press" tab. Additionally, I participated in a panel discussion at the church I attend on the topic of faith and the arts. I may be writing up what I shared. It was the first time I ever publicly read "All Saints' Day," one of the first poems I ever had published. I was crying; other people were crying; it was actually great to share that one in that setting.
Finally, I'm in talks to give an introductury-level one-day poetry workshop at an incredibly exciting venue here in Washington, DC, sometime this summer. I can't wait to share more, but as soon as the details and the date are firm, rest assured I'll be promoting the heck out of it.
Happy spring everybody, when "a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love" (thanks Alfred!) and when poets can probably be found standing in graveyards, looking up at budding leaves. As we do.
I still find the world of poetry publishing mystifying. Sometimes I write something and I just want it in the world. But trying to find a home for a piece of writing can be a real challenge, especially for someone who has jumped genres as I have.
And so: for the past several months, I have been, on occasion, taking those most urgent poems without homes and publishing them to a public Instagram profile as tiny multimedia art projects: part poem, part collage.
You can visit this project at https://www.instagram.com/scratchpaperpoem/.
Grab your free copy (optional donation!) from Ghost City Press! I'll also have a limited number of signed hard copies for sale at the launch party at East City Bookshop in Washington, DC on September 19.
Ghost City Press has selected Navy News Service to be a part of its Summer 2018 micro-chap series. Look for it to be released in early June as a pay-what-you-will downloadable! All sixteen poems in the chapbook were created by redacting portions of press releases I wrote several years ago in order to make tiny poems from serious prose. And I'm using my deployment-honed doodling skills to create the cover artwork.
On April 13, I was honored to read some of my work at New Spire Arts in Frederick, Maryland. The audience included Yumi Hogan--accomplished painter, arts advocate, and the First Lady of Maryland. In May, I'll be returning to Frederick for another reading. Tickets are available here.
I am excited to share that I was selected as a humanities fellow by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities! You can learn more about the many types of DCCAH fellowships available here. DC does a great amount to support its artists, and I feel so lucky to be in a city like this one.
I'll be reading at Artomatic 2017 this Sunday in Arlington! The story I'll be reading from was published by Viewscreen, a wonderful magazine that is preparing to relaunch later this year and that seeks to explore policy proposals through fiction.
Because of the plans to relaunch, "A Story Told Over Dinner" is not currently accessible through the Viewscreen website. However, you can find the full text here in the interim.
I spent three days this month attending the AWP conference for the first time ever. It was here in DC, so how could I miss? I enjoyed seeing many of my favorite poets and writers read from their work. I was also excited to sneak onto the bookfair floor with a poem in The Writer's Guide and in the form of a bookmark produced by Barnacle Mountain Press.
Will I attend again? Hard "maybe." But I'm glad it came to town.
On December 8, I got the exciting news that I was a finalist for the 2017 Kathy Fish Fellowship, an annual offering from SmokeLong Quarterly.
This was my second year applying. Last year I made it through the first round of applications--78 of the approximately 300 SmokeLong received that and every year--so I decided to give it another shot this past fall.
While I didn't win, making it into the final 13 this time around was nevertheless quite a boost. (The winner will be announced in a day or two.) And, because the application included both published and unpublished work, I can tell you where to find some of my close-but-no-cigar stories. Surprisingly for this digital age, all of them came out in print/e-book format--not on websites!
"The Gun Season," Midwestern Gothic
"A Spell for Salvation," Candlesticks and Daggers
"The Swing Set," Unrequited
In fact, because "A Spell for Salvation" was picked up while my application for the KFF was out, only one piece from the application remains unpublished! I'll be sure to update you if it finds a home, though it could be a while--it is, by far, the oddest of the quartet.
I've had a run of good luck in the game of submissions! Just as my "forthcoming" section was down to one last item, I was pleased to receive several pieces of exciting news:
My poem/prose hybrid titled "A Spell for Salvation" will be published in Candlesticks & Daggers: An Anthology of Mixed-Genre Mysteries in late 2016. This will by my fourth appearance in one of Kelly Ann Jacobson's anthologies, and I couldn't be happier to get the chance to work with her again!
A short story, "Fruits," will soon appear in matchbook. Guys, matchbook pays, which is such a rarity, especially among online journals. Will I get rich from "Fruits"? No. But I will be able to buy fancy coffees for a week on the basis of a weird little story about produce, and that is pretty exciting.
"Dear Mr. Bortle," an open-letter-style essay, will appear in the fourth edition of Politics and Prose's District Lines. After appearing in the first two volumes and striking out with my submission to number three, I'm so excited to be back in these pages. District Lines launches are amazing events! Crossing my fingers that I'll get to read from my piece...
Another short story, "The Underdeveloped Character She's Been Spending Time As," is slated for publication in HOOT. If you don't know this magazine, they send out tiny stories on postcards and also publish them to their website. I have had a subscription for just over a year--it's a total delight.
Update: the streak continues. My poem "A Day or Two Before" was acceped for the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of The Writer's Guide, published by The Writer's Center of Bethesda, MD. The issue will be available at AWP this February.
I can't wait to share these pieces with you! Follow me on Twitter @jacib--that's likely to be the first place you'll find the links to read online or buy a hard copy!
I'm firmly of my own time period. I don't really long for a simpler time; I don't think any time has been simple, and I'm a champion worrier, so I think I'd be fairly anxious in any given historic period.
But I do sometimes regret living in an age when people don't read aloud, much. Sure, I get to read plenty to the small fry in my life (and I'm not afraid to read chapter books to preschoolers, or Jane Austen to napping babies), but people over the age of five or six don't really sit around reading long books to each other, chapter by chapter, do they? It's faster to read silently, and easier to just flip on the telly.
That may be why I've suddenly become an avid amateur audiobook reader. Librivox is an all-volunteer operation, recording books in the public domain and making them freely available to listeners on the Internet.
Ok, so it's not sitting next to a fire reading Dickens of an evening, but it's good fun. It's the equivalent activity for our time. It's sharing a literary experience...only the living room is a lot bigger.
You can find my page of the Librivox catalog here.
I am in love with this. Canese Jarboe, editor-in-chief of gorgeous new poetry mag [velvet-tail]1, turned my poem into a picture. Be sure to check out the winter solstice issue of this beautiful journal!
If you've been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I spent Thanksgiving weekend live-tweeting my reading of Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction. This new collection, edited by the talented Kelly Ann Jacobson, features 19 scifi shorts unified by their epistolary nature.
My story "Countdown (My Dear One)" is one of them!
Most often (at least in my experience) writers write things and then try to find a home for them. This story came about quite differently. I saw Kelly's call for submissions for Dear Robot and wrote the story in response. And to my happy relief, she accepted it.
I knew right away that I wanted to echo the countdown that signals the launch of a spacecraft. I also knew that the duration of a flight to Mars is roughly ten months, because I have written other stories about Mars missions (you can read another example here). It's also roughly the length of time it takes to gestate a human, something I recently did for the second time. I put all these things together, and the tale of Ethan Reisender, doomed astronaut, came out.
Initially I wrote it moving chronologically through time, but reversing the time structure was always my intention. I did, however, scrap the romantic notion that he was writing letters by hand and jetissoning them into space; my scifi-loving husband helped me kill that darling, and a quick conversation with him led to the memo that opens the story. And I got to fold in some authentic memories of my time in the Navy, which was also great fun (even if the resulting story is far from what most people would categorize as "fun").
For a chance to win a copy of Dear Robot and read it for yourself, comment on this or any other Dear Robot blog post by my fellow contributors or Kelly herself by midnight on Friday. Include your email address in the post (deconstructed as, for example, dearrobot (at) gmail dot com to thwart the spambots!). You can also check out Goodreads for another chance to win. Or just go ahead and buy a copy; it works out to less than fifty cents per story!
Political intrigue. Civil rights. Ethnic clothing. This is A Shade of Difference by Allen Drury.
"I believe in giving his head to an opponent who's riding for a fall," the President said. "It makes the tumble that much more emphatic."
The state of the project: If you're still with me and the New York Times Bestseller Project, I have two things to say to you: why? and...thanks, maybe? This review is not only well overdue, being that I finished reading this book a couple of months ago, it's also not the one I promised would come next. 1962 was apparently the year of my reading bete noir: the character list. Two of the three bestsellers that year are absolute bricks of books populated with so many characters that their respective authors mapped the whole lineage out up front. I've always been intimidated opening a book to a character list and am doubly consternated when I'm reading on my fairly old-school version of the Kindle e-reader, making "flipping back" for a refreshing peek all the more difficult. At this point, I have been pulled in so many directions with my reading list (speculative fiction! book club picks! manuals on housekeeping! meditation primers! everything Mo Willems has ever done! I have kids, after all) that I'm just hoping to get in the balance of '62 before the end of '15 and then start fresh in '72 in the next new year.
How I got the book: I purchased a Kindle e-copy.
The writer: Allen Drury was a political reporter turned successful novelist. Check out his Wikipedia page for a full profile.
The book: A Shade of Difference is the sequel to Drury's best-selling,Pulitzer-Prize-winning Advise and Consent, and here we come to an unforseen issue introduced by my way of approaching this particular set of books in this skip-hop way: had I just worked my way chronologically through the bestsellers, starting in 1942 and then following it with 1943 and 1944 and so on, instead of skipping from '42 to '52 to '62 with the intention of circling back to '43 after completing '82, then I would have read Advise and Consent first. You know, as Drury intended.
I was lucky that it was not strictly necessary to read the first book in the series first, although having read the second one first will certainly remove an element of suspense since the events of Advise and Consent are discussed in A Shade of Difference. (Then again, it will be years before I make it back to 1959's best sellers.)
This book's dual centers are the United Nations in New York City and the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government in Washington, DC. "Terrible Terry," the prince of a small fictional British colony in Africa, has come to the UN to force a vote for immediate independence for his country, and while in the United States inserts himself into the school desegration battle and the broader fight for civil rights for African Americans.
If you are a fan of political novels (not a subgenre I frequently traverse, myself), you will immediately see why Drury is still considered one of the finest American novelists in this arena. The book is filled with vividly-rendered wheeling-and-dealing that gripped me despite my relative lack of interest in the sausage-making side of politics. The novel is also a rich portrait not only of race relations but also midcentury gender roles, with the wives of the powerful wielding tenaciously the soft power of gossip and gatherings while the system as a whole is underpinned by an army of mostly undifferentiated female phone-answerers and nurses and typists.
And given Drury's previous career as a political journalist, the reporters are there in force, identified only by their newspaper or magazine (Washington Post says this, Ebony says that) and functioning in some way like a Greek chorus, providing an overlay of commentary and judgement throughout the novel.
What I couldn't get over, though, was how familiar it all seemed. Sure, the racism and sexism were more blatant and the concerns were Cold War-era, not asymmetrical Global War on Terror stuff, but it was all there. Even just the sheer noisiness of it all. They didn't have the twenty-four-hour news cycle in the sixties, but they did have morning and evening editions of the newspaper and those pages had to be filled. We haven't come a long way, baby.
Next up: I will attempt, for the third or fourth time, to take Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter out of the harbor. I have a Kindle e-copy and a hard copy out from the library in an attempt to deal with my inability to mentally juggle all the characters/toggle back and forth electronically between the novel and the character list that prefaces the book.
You can read my short story "All That's Left of Cuba" on Midwestern Gothic's website. It's a finalist in round 1 of their summer flash contest!
The story grew out of a bunch of childhood memories, though it is, ultimately, fiction. What it really grew out of, though, was the magic combination of a prompt (provided by the magazine) and a deadline. When you have a 2.5-month-old and a 2.5-year-old, that kind of motivation can't be bought.
I'm excited to share that I recently received an honorable mention in Easy Street's "Great American Sentence" contest. This result is officially the best I've ever had in any writing contest ever, so suffice it to say I'm jazzed. You can read my sentence, along with the other honorable mentions, finalists, and winners, here.
Now I just need to come up with [x] many more sentences and string them all together in just the right way...
I write really short fiction. This is probably because the element of writing craft I find most difficult is plot. I think this stems from my personal aversion to conflict, but that's another post for another place (like an entry in a therapy journal or something).
Usually I just try to write and revise and not worry too much about any single aspect of craft. I'm not a "credentialed" writer--I don't hold a degree in creative writing, nor am I in pursuit of one. (That this lack of a degree seems somehow rebellious probably says something important about the American literary scene; I'd rather not get into that.) But sometimes, instead of just mucking about and seeing what happens, I do try to work in a more formal way on the weaknesses I perceive. Other times, though, I find calls for submissions and contests that make writing mostly very short things a strength, and that can be a lot of fun.
Two such recent opportunities came in the form of the Great American Sentence Contest, still in the judging phase, from Easy Street, a new online journal of books and culture, and a call for "Ad Stories" from online flash fiction magazine matchbook.
What are Ad Stories? They are stories that fit the requirements to run in the Google AdWords program: three lines, maximum 25 characters on the first and 35 (spaces included) on the latter two, followed by a link. matchbook has now published three rounds of such stories, which they do in fact run as advertisements, and I was excited to have one my ad stories, "Madeline And The Shark," chosen for Volume 3.
In all I wrote probably half a dozen of these stories, and submitted four. The biggest challenge in a form this unforgivingly brief is finding a way to fit in some sort of traditional narrative arc--some hint of plot--into a character span so short that it can be hard even to write an entire sentence. Still, I figured, trying to do so would both capitalize on my writing-short-things strength while exercising my sad little plotting muscles.
So I wanted to share how I tried to write these tiny stories, while also sharing my three leftovers.
First, the one that's currently live as a potential Google search result: "Madeline And The Shark." If you go to the matchbook website, you'll see that this story does not, in fact, even consist of a complete sentence. It's a title, plus a sentence fragment. This is the last of the Ad Stories I wrote prior to submitting, and it works entirely by implication. Based on what I've given you as the reader, you can make a few assumptions: 1) Madeline was the victim of a shark attack. 2) Madeline survived the attack (because the story is the act of remembering it). 3) Madeline is haunted by the attack (the memory of the attack seems to be sensory and its recall involuntary).
Here are the other three stories I submitted:
While at the time I was just writing, as I do, and striving to meet the technical requirements of the call for submissions, I've enjoyed looking at how each of these functions differently in restrospect.
"From When The Fish Died," for example, is essentially character-driven. You get a snippet of speech here, which is fairly revelatory (I think) of who the speaker is. You get the hint of a scene: at least two people, standing around a toilet, trying unsuccessfully to flush a dead pet. And you're left with a little something extra--while the speaker seems to be saying that either the fish or the silent owner is unlucky, he or she is having to deal with a toilet backup.
"History Lesson," meanwhile, works by massively compressing and simplifying a story that spans millenia: nothing less than the beginning and end of the world, with a single intervening event. Of the four, this was my personal favorite, and bears some similarities to another longer-but-still-very-short story I wrote last year and am working to place. Playing with time and the relative importance or unimportance of human events, plus thinking through the implications of mortality: some of my favorite things to do as a writer.
"Mirror Image" is my least favorite. Like "From When The Fish Died," it's character-driven, but without the speech element, I think we learn a lot less about the "he" in question. The "she" is completely reduced to an object, something to look at (or not). Still, we can get an idea of the relationship between these two people, and predict an unhappy future.
After reading through the other fourteen stories published alongside "Madeline And The Shark" a few times, it's been instructive to go back and more closely examine how other writers rose to the challenge. And looking at them again, I'm struck by how important the titles are, how even the title has to do a good deal of work to set up the story.
So that's my little miniature self-tutelage in writing super-short stories and trying to get them to arc. If you want to seek out "Madeline And The Shark" in the electronic wild, try these search terms: shark, shark attack, feeding frenzy, shark week, shark frenzy, shark sounds. If you do find it, please, take a screenshot and let me know; clicking on it costs money that will run out and cause the story to go into retirement, so try to avoid doing that! And thanks for reading.
Last night, frustrated that I couldn't find any gender-neutral clothing options for new baby siblings, I opened my second Skreened shop: Completely Neutral. In it you'll find exactly what I couldn't: tees and onesies that celebrate the birth of a new baby (whatever the gender). Enjoy!
Suicide. Prostitution. Murder. Love. False accents. True wisdom. This is East of Eden by John Steinbeck.
"She's in Heaven," said Aron. "Why would Father tell a lie?"
How I got the book: the Steinbeck Centennial Edition has been on my bookshelf for an embarassingly long time and had not been read until now. Flog away, all ye better readers/human beings.
The writer: John Steinbeck. He probably doesn't really need to be introduced, at least not to anyone who took an English lit course in an American high school in the last several decades, but: a major American writer of the 20th century; wrote numerous bestsellers and won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prizes. For more, click through the link above to his Wikipedia page.
The book: it seems like something of a pointless exercise to review East of Eden, a book pretty much universally hailed as a timeless work of art, and so I'll keep this brief.
In short: this is a novel that should not work.
It has too many characters, many of whom are tangential to the main plot (such as it is) or are introduced very late in the story. It has a first-person narrator who is usually invisible to the point that you forget about him and think you're reading something written in the omniscient third, and in fact the narrator seems to be the author himself. It has a few long sections that are completely focused on landscape, and many of the incidents that occur are as lurid as anything you'll find watching a daytime soap--in some cases, a lot, lot worse.
And yet, it does work. Steinbeck pulls all of these loose threads and more into a whole that seems to capture the pointless, doomed, beautiful, necessary nature of life itself. There's a reason this book has been read, re-read, and re-issued, and that reason is pretty darn hard to explain.
In short, again: read it.
Don't be like me and purchase a copy only to let it languish on your bookshelf for years until you are forced to read it by means of an asinine project you've dreamt up for yourself. Don't be put off by the heft of over 600 pages. Just read the dang book.
Next up: WELCOME TO 1962! Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter is the next stop on this ride, and I've already got a copy out from the public library.