31 December 2007

dear reader

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Half Life by Shelly Jackson, Anxious Pleasures and Nietzsche’s Kisses by Lance Olsen, The Jiri Chronicles by Debra Diblasi, American Genius by Lynn Tillman, Frances Johnson by Stacey Levine, VAS (still), by Steve Tomasula.

These books gave me piss shivers over the last years, because, in their various ways, they unmasked the totality of the authority of capitalism--the glitz and grind of all our consuming—and reflected back to us the importance of art—that it can be an erotic exchange.

But I don’t really want to talk about books and authors just now. I want to talk about readers. Instead of listing the top ten authors or books of the last years, I’d like to list the top ten desires I have of a reader. Maybe it’s a dream reader who doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s a reader who really is out there, and I just haven’t quite written my way to her yet. Or maybe it’s a reader we play a part in creating—like people in intimate relationships do—unmaking and remaking each other. I don’t know. But lately I have developed an oceanic impulse to reach her, and the writing I am doing is different than any other writing I have ever done because of it. It’s very urgent, this feeling.


1. Let her hair be made of fire. Her wonderous mind let loose finally, without permission or limit, burning with its desires and violences.

2. Let her hands breathe. Put the child to bed. The dishes are washed. The lover is sleeping. The lines near your eyes are the map of a life; ssshhh. Your fingers carry the crouch of dreams. Your hands are a world.

3. Let her heart beat. Not the dull thud of a good citizen but the wild rage of a love breaking open the very walls of story.

4. Let beauty come from inside the turmoil of her body. Where the blood gushes. The menses. The placenta. The cunt. The ass. The guts and shit of it—that transformational thing, that animal lunge, that tender rush of pulse, the body.

5. Let her knowing come in waves. Not what we’ve been told, not how we’ve been told to understand it, but with closed eyes and a body floating in warm water. Still the intellect open.

6. Let her transgress. Break any law here. I am waiting for you on the other side.

7. Let her mouths be what they are.

8. Let her tricks and fragments make pieces of things. I will let you be someone else and then yourself and then change as many times as you like. I will not tell anyone your secrets. I will carry your lies with the loyalty of a dog.

9. Let her come in my mouth. These words. I made them for you.

10. Let reading be a radical act of lovemaking.

12 December 2007

Book Recommendations

Hi, All --

Can we put together a list of books from the past year(ish) that we'd recommend? And maybe ones we look forward to reading?

I'll start with just a few (sorry if I actually *got* some of these from our past lists):

Half Life, by Shelley Jackson
B., Jonathan Baumbach
Anxious Pleasures, Lance Olsen
Europeana, Parik Ourednik
Tetched, Thaddeus Rutkowski
American Genius, Lynne Tillman

I plan to read Only Revolutions, by Mark Danielewski

I'm sure I'm forgetting many more.

22 November 2007

Experimentally Friendly MFA / Ph.D. Programs

Hello Everyone,
About this time of year I usually have someone ask, 'What schools are good for someone who's interested in experimental, conceptual, hybrid, avant-garde, postmodern (etc.) writing?' I thought it would helpful if we could put our heads together to come up with a list of schools/programs where like-minded students are working on this kind of writing (either as authors or critics), could find a mentor to work with, or at the least, find an atmosphere conducive to this kind of writing. Just off the top of my head, I'd start with the below list. Can you make suggestions or additions?--add you and your school if so inclined. Refine the listing, i.e., by filling in if the school offers an MFA or Ph.D. or whatever other info might be helpful to someone trying to sort out where to go?....

Lance Olsen at U of Utah
Brian Evenson, Robert Coover, Carol Maso at Brown
Ben Marcus at Columbia
Kate Bernheimer and Michael Martone at U of Alabama
R.M. Berry at Florida State
Jeffery DeShell and Elisabeth Sheffield at U. of Colorado
Naropa in Boulder, CO.
Steve Tomasula (fiction); Joyelle McSweeney (poetry) at U. of Notre Dame (MFA Program; the Ph.D. in Poetics is very experimental leaning: Check out Romana Huk and Stephen Fredman).

Suggestions more than welcome to this very sketchy start....

16 November 2007

ellipsis press

I'm delighted to announce a new innovative press on the block: Ellipsis, founded by by Johannah Rodgers and Eugene Lim, is interested in novels that are structurally innovative.

On the press's website, the editors write: We like: novels that look normal but aren't (more than those that look weird but are actually quite normal); those that are successful at bypassing or evolving the seemingly necessary but often tired elements of character and/or plot; and those that respond in some way to the history of the novel as genre and form. Writers who have studied the traditional elements of the novel and experimented with them to emotionally moving and/or extraordinary ends are invited to submit for publication.

Live long and prosper . . .

15 November 2007

What Rocks Cris Mazza’s World (and Other Stuff She Won’t Tell Just Anybody)

Hey, look at me, I'm proxy-blogging!

Kat Meads recently sent me this interview she'd done with Cris Mazza. It appears here for the first time. Thanks, folks. - TP

CRIS MAZZA, director of the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, published her ninth novel, Waterbaby (Soft Skull Press), this fall. She is also the author of four short fiction collections, a collection of personal essays and the co-editor of two anthologies of women’s fiction, Chick-Lit: Postfeminist Fiction and Chick-Lit 2 (No Chick Vics), both from FC2. A Southern California native, her first novel, How to Leave a Country, won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award, judged by Studs Terkel and Grace Paley. She has lived outside Chicago since 1993.

KAT MEADS’s most recent novel is The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan Benedict Roberts Duncan (Chiasmus Press).

KAT MEADS: Labels. Over the course of your career, your work has been called experimental, alternative, post-modern, feminist, postfeminist, and more. Labels. A good thing or a bad thing?

CRIS MAZZA: It’s chic, hip, the writerly vogue to be anti-label. And yet it distresses me when doctors and CPAs write crime novels in their “spare time” and call themselves novelists. Next time someone says this to me, I’ll say I’ve been performing some brain surgery in my spare time.

KM: So you’re not entirely anti-label.

CM: Already, as a novelist, I’ve been labeled and accepted a label. It’s the word before writer that exasperates. I could easily say: “I’m not a postmodern writer, and all the real postmodern writers will agree with me that I’m not.” But would I be putting a lot of other people into the boat I just got out of? No one wants to be known as a mystery writer, a historical fiction writer, or a young adult lit writer, any more than an actor wants to be known by only one role he or she played, like Batman, Superman, or one of the Brady Bunch. Why not just categorize the fiction? Why not just say: “I wrote an alternative collection of stories,” or “I wrote a novel with a historical component,” or “This novel has a feminist sensibility.”

KM: Woman writer. I forgot that one.

CM: There’s no parallel man writer. It even sounds stupid. Even those labels that might seem harmless at first, experimental or alternative, mark you as untouchable to a whole world of editors and as unreadable to a whole world of readers. They’re exclusionary (“intended only for smart, offbeat intellectuals”). The same is true for feminist writer (“boys keep out’) and postmodern writer (“you’d better have a PhD”). The postmodern label was the most difficult for me because I don’t understand Derrida, Foucault, and the other boys-of-theory and have decided to leave it that way. I’m not really interested in “the heady fun of learning deconstructive theory,” as one former student expressed it on a blog. So how could I wear the postmodern label proudly?

KM: So if Cris Mazza were labeling Cris Mazza….

CM: “You don’t have to be a student of an era to be the product of it.” That’s my label.

KM: After co-editing two Chick-Lit anthologies back in the mid-1990s, you seem to have become the ‘go-to’ commentator on how that genre has evolved (or devolved). Anything you haven’t said on that topic?

CM: How about that it was originally Clit-Lit and Jeffrey DeShell, the co-editor, and I were laughing so hard neither of us took either title seriously. We both thought the publisher would change Chick-Lit. When that didn’t happen, we were a little worried, but decided to remain audacious. That’s how we viewed the pieces inside, the attitude the anthology radiated. But the rationalization that the new commercial chick-lit “at least gets more people to read”??? Before the advent of personal VHS players in the early 80s, pornography got more people to read.

KM: At 27, you won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award for your first novel in manuscript, later published as How to Leave a Country. What did (or didn’t) that award do for your career?

CM: It didn’t do what the award was designed to do: discover an unpublished novelist and introduce his/her work to the world and NY publishers. It felt like every editor in NY asked to see the manuscript, but they all had the same response: not commercial enough. My “major-award winning manuscript” took eight years to find a publisher—an established independent, not-for-profit press.

KM: Which was a different kind of success story.

CM: A different kind of publicity story. “Award-winning novel takes eight years to find a publisher.” Because of that twist I enjoyed some exposure in Publisher’s Weekly, NYTBR, and other industry-favorites. Not too many years thereafter, the PEN/Nelson Algren Award was discontinued. Nobody ever told me why, but I assumed it had to do with the basic malfunction in its mission: the award was meant to discover new, interesting writers, and the respected-writer judges chose winners based on what they thought to be artistic quality. But the publishing industry wasn’t interested in the manuscripts of the “discovered.” This is no reflection on individual editors. In fact one editor who loved the book voluntarily sent the MS to other editors, essentially acting as my agent. I’ve never forgotten that small act of literary passion in the midst of a commercial enterprise.

KM: By any standard, you’re prolific: eight novels and another forthcoming, four short story collections, a collection of personal essays. A totally unfair question, but do you have favorites among your brood?

CM: As soon as I say I like one book over another, I feel sorry for the one(s) I put lower on the list. I have a certain fondness for each of my books, based on different aspects of their characteristics and personalities, each kept in a different place in my mind, based on nostalgia for the era in which they were written. At least one book and several stories I would very much like to revise because I know they can be better. Someone once told me a book is never finished, the writer just gives up. On at least one book I gave up too soon.

KM: An after-the-fact judgment.

CM: Of course. Typically, I think the book I’m working on is my best yet. Which is a fortunate outlook. To think, this is the best I’ve done, while I’m writing, whether it’s true or not, certainly is preferable to, wow, I used to be better than this. That would be reason enough to shitcan that particular project.

KM: A sentence from your published work that makes you think: yeah!

CM: “I’d been assigned to him, not at all by accident, to do my practice teaching in his classes, under his supervision, before I was granted the secondary teaching credential I never used—put away the day it arrived in the mail, with only wry thoughts of Mr. Wood and what I had hoped to learn but, ultimately, hadn’t.” Oh, you said published work. It’s not a true sentence, but I kind of like this one from Disability: “Hotdogs & mashed potatoes & wet carpet & industrial disinfectant & plastic toys & usually pee & sometimes poop.” And a short one that, for me, summed up an era: “They were, by then, fearless and nonchalant.” And from the ‘who needs first person to know the character’s voice?’ file: “Wannabes and pervs, didn’t it seem like that was all she’d ever worked for?”

KM: If someone locked you in a room and said you couldn’t come out until you’d written something, would or wouldn’t that faze you?

CM: If the “something” was a sentence, maybe a paragraph, that would be OK. But I’m the one who already IS locking me in a room—at least until I escape too often to get coffee or change a sprinkler in the garden.

KM: Do you maintain a ‘writing schedule’ per se?

CM: I almost always feel that I must be lazy, that I have no discipline, because I don’t often work on a novel past noon. Or feel guilty if I work on other kinds of things during my “novel working” time in the morning—preparing stories or excerpts to be sent out, researching lit mags, or answering interview questions like this, which I am doing at 9:30 in the morning when I should be working on the end of a novel-nearing-completion. I used to get out of bed, eat, have coffee and sit right down at the computer, not even change out of my sweats. But recently I’ve started taking a dog to field training two or three days a week, which means I meet with my master trainer at 7 a.m. somewhere—a pond, a cow pasture, a hayfield, a forest preserve to toss dead frozen ducks for the dog to retrieve. After that, I come home, get my second cup of coffee and try to settle in at the keyboard by 9, which is what I did this morning. I’m already needing a nap, but striving for self motivation.

KM: Dog training and novel writing—any similarities?

CM: Even if a dog has the instinct, the drive, to herd sheep, you can’t explain to a dog why he’s wrong when he scatters the flock instead of gathering, and how to do it right the next time, the way a good editor/reader helps with a MS-in-progress. Dogs learn initially through shaping: the trainer shapes their behavior by way of repetition, treat “bribes” and behavioral “corrections.” Eventually the dog (1) learns what a command means, (2) learns to obey the command without a food bribe and (3) learns no matter what else is going on, when it hears the command, it better do the behavior. Can you imagine that applied to writing a novel? What would the shaping be? I will shape the behavior of your mind to think of an interesting idea by … what? Hypnosis?

KM: Food bribes?

CM: The hypnotic suggestion of food. Every time you get a good idea, you smell chocolate, something like that. And if the idea you come up with is stupid, there’d be an electronic collar and you’d get a shock correction.

KM: Like a bad review.

CM: Like a really bad review. The kind that makes you think you never again want to write anything in the same vein as what got blasted.

KM: But when you do screw up your courage and take another shot at this thing called a “novel,” what’s the start-up process like for you? Do you (generally) begin with a visual? A sentence? A vicious conflict?

CM: Once a novel’s well under way, and particularly once I’m revising it, and especially when it’s finished, I can’t remember what I started with. There was one, Girl Beside Him, probably the only one, that I started with an image, and a stolen image at that: the helicopter bursting from over the jungle cover in Apocalypse Now. Except I substituted a lone sharpshooter aiming at coyotes in the grasslands of the West. Other ways to start: a character has recurrent memories, begins to question “what might have really happened,” and the novel develops from there. A revisit to my past can also start me off. Pretty much anything can incite me to spiral into the past, and while many of my characters share this emotional defect, usually their pasts are more interesting then mine.

KM: That comment is going to open you up to charges of Mazza is her character and her character is Mazza. Care to launch a preemptive defense?

CM: I’d actually be flattered if anyone thought that. My characters seem to have richer, more evocative experiences that I do. Of course, that’s one difference between real life and novels—few of us live dense, braided, comprehensive, complex dramas, and those “dramas” we do experience aren’t often related to each other nor as meaningful as what we find in novels. That’s why we read them, isn’t it, to have more heightened sensations, emotions, profundity, and drama than our own pitiful lives can provide? That said, when I do use my own experiences, it is often a vicarious reliving and revision of a situation, with a more complicated character—more useful for the drama at hand. By the way, that helicopter image had nothing to do with my past—probably the reason it’s the only novel that germinated out of a picture. I get too airsick to ever ride in a helicopter, so never will, except in writing.

KM: Why are your short stories short stories and your novels novels? Do you know? Do you care?

CM: I always tell students a piece needs to be as long as it needs to be. Sometimes it’s in the no-man’s-land length of novella or long story, and if so, so-be-it. I’ve never started a story that ended up a novel, nor started a novel that ended up a story. So there must be something different about my approach or mind-set, a rhythm I get into. Two years ago I wrote five stories to join five much older stories and create a complete collection. But I didn’t feel any difficulty turning the ideas into stories instead of novels. Perhaps the real answer is that some of my stories have played with formal qualities—like a story I created out of a timeline, or stories that used imbedded boxed text, or two columns, or a faux playscript. That kind of thing—called a gimmick by those who are irked by it—really can’t be sustained through a whole novel. (That would irk me too.) A story can be a testing ground, a place to showcase how an alternate form or narrative approach works. But you pretty much know how it works, what it produces, in the span of a short story. Why extend it 300 pages?

KM: The bulk of your work is fiction, but in 2003 you broke wide with a collection of autobiographical essays, Indigenous: Growing Up Californian. Why a nonfiction approach to that particular material?

CM: I had an agent who wanted me to write a nonfiction book. (Don’t they all?)

KM: But you published many of those essays, individually, in the San Diego Reader before they became a collection.

CM: The features editor of the San Diego Reader was one of those editors who could evoke work out of a reluctant writer. She asked me if I had any essay ideas for the Reader about San Diego. I said no, I didn’t really, that my life had been fairly uninteresting. She started asking questions: what did my parents do, how did they meet, what did our family do for recreation, what were my hobbies as I got older, and in answering her, I realized that as unspectacular as I’d thought my life had been (compared to the child-abuse, incest, addiction memoirs that were coming out then) there was something I could write about.

KM: Many readers of Indigenous were amazed that your childhood in Southern California came off so rural.

CM: Our family entertainment activities in San Diego County all involved hunting and gathering: hunting, fishing, gardening, even scavenging.

KM: Was disabusing assumptions about “the California experience” a motivation?

CM. For some of the essays, yes. When I had enough essays to make a book, I had to look for a way to unite them, so the subtitle, Growing Up Californian, did that for me after-the-fact. Not every essay is directly involved with “California-ness,” but all are part of “growing up,” or finally becoming adult, which can be a longer, more drawn-out journey for those of us who have chosen not to have children.

KM: Because of your indie rep, do you feel under obligation to produce a particular kind of “risky,” non-commercial book?

CM: The only thing that makes a novel successfully commercial, as opposed to being designated non-commercial, is a substantial print run, a publicity campaign that lets the general reader know the book exists, and the availability of the book in a majority of bookstores at an easy-to-find location. And it wouldn’t matter how “risky” the book was, all that readers would have to do is be able to find it, and hear that it’s worth reading, and they’ll read it. I believe that. So I don’t use the term “non-commercial.” I understand that some of my novels don’t conform to standards of traditional realism, but that doesn’t mean the experiences they depict can’t be vicariously experienced by the reader as realistic. As far as my subject matter being seen as “taking risks,” there’s been some applause but there’s also been some eyebrow raising at things I did but never with any thought that they were “risky.”

KM: For example?

CM: For example to develop a female character who’s weak, who is the source of her own weakness, and instead of having her overcome and end up “victorious” at a manifested place of individual strength and independence, she only comes as far as self-knowledge. Doing something with her new awareness is up to her outside the covers of the book. It’s this kind of “not-happy” ending that may be the real essence of “non-commercial.”

KM: How did we arrive at the presumptive “happy ending”? Literature is rife with unhappy endings.

CM: Past and present. Look at Susan Minot’s Evening. No happy ending. Not really done in “straight” narrative storytelling fashion. And no one said: “This isn’t commercial.” The book was available, and people read it. Tim O’Brien, Mary Gaitskill, A.M. Holmes, Annie Proulx, Jeffrey Eugenides, I can see types of “risks” in all of their work. Readers are adaptable and flexible; there just aren’t enough of them. If people who read know about a book, and the book is widely available, it will get bought. Getting bought (and hopefully read) is what makes a book commercial.

KM: For your new novel, Waterbaby, you have a new editor (Richard Nash) and publisher (Soft Skull). Will Soft Skull broaden the Cris Mazza audience?

CM: The whole atmosphere at Soft Skull is never-say-never. There’s so much shit piled up here … there must be a pony somewhere! Every optimism-first, rid-yourself-of-negative-vibes cliché you’ve ever heard can be applied to Soft Skull Press. So I’m catching that optimism. Trying to catch it.

KM: Waterbaby has a ‘historical’ component. That’s new terrain for you, isn’t it?

CM: Historical component with a familiar Mazza riff. A character who isn’t interested in doing “real” archival research to discover whether or not a 19th century family legend is true instead invents, and lives vicariously, an extended story she constructs starting from the legend. In “real life,” she’s also trapped in a “real memory” cycle. She’s a character disabled by a past that she feels has impaired her life, when it’s only her obsession with that past that hurts her. Whew, those three-sentence summaries are difficult!

KM: But that 19th century Maine legend intertwines with your own family history, correct?

CM: Yes. My maternal ancestry comes down from lighthouse keepers in Maine. My great grandfather and great-great grandfather, and several of each of their brothers, were lightkeepers. My great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were keepers of the same light for a combined 54 years. Therefore the legend, the story of “Seaborn, the shipwrecked baby” starred my great-great grandfather as the lightkeeper who supposedly rescued a baby who washed to shore bundled between two featherbeds after being tossed overboard from a sinking ship. The story qualifies as legend because no one knows what became of the baby. Like most legends, it was repeated by those who heard it from somewhere else.

KM: Any other plot secrets you’d care to divulge, pre-publication?

CM: There’s stuff involving the main character’s semi-estrangement from her immediate family, her history as a young competitive swimmer, a love affair she abandoned because of her interfering, bi-polar brother. And then, in what I call the “current” story, she finds a baby (I won’t say where), then “rescues” it, then hides with it in—where else?—a lighthouse. Sounds like a mess, but I did (and do) feel completely in control of it.

KM: So when the Critic on the Shoulder sneers: What’s a California native doing writing a novel about Maine? your response is…

CM: I think I already took care of that critic when I wrote Girl Beside Him, set in Rawlins, Wyoming. I’ve handled the Maine novel the same way I handled the Wyoming novel, by having the main character not be a native of the novel’s setting—a stranger-in-a-strange-land. Because, believe me, it makes steam come out my ears when a California transplant tries to write a “California novel,” and either sets it in or dresses it up with beaches and fast cars, or the Hollywood/Sunset Strip drug culture, or the Valley high-school culture. It breaks my heart that California is becoming a caricature of its own clichés. There’s still a lot there that the popular media, as well as most transplants, and in fact a fair percentage of natives don’t see, or don’t want to see. But I realize the same is going to be true of Maine natives who don’t want yet another novel about the romantic life of Maine lighthouse keeper, or the mystery of a lighthouse ghost legend. I was pre-alerted to this attitude when the local newspaper in Boothbay Harbor ran a series of articles trying to debunk the lighthouse legend that involves my relatives. The writer-historian was insulted that tourists were so interested in legends; she wanted them to be interested in “real history” instead. I was interested in the “realness” of the fact that the legend refused to die.

KM: What kind of research did you do for the book?

CM: When I started in the late ’90s, I had only the legend—called a “complete fabrication by a Maine writer-historian—and a “genealogical list” of my family. I knew the shipwrecked baby, Seaborn, wasn’t on the genealogical list, but that didn’t mean that my great-great grandfather hadn’t, in fact, rescued her. I eventually discovered that family lore suggested he gave the baby to a local doctor. So the historian’s effort to prove the entire legend was false intrigued me to the point of wanting to go further into the material. My first “research”—and I use the word lightly because I can’t claim to have dived into-the-archives—was to compare the different recitations of the legend and note dates, shipwreck details, details about the lightkeeper’s family. And then the crucial ones: 1) the lightkeeper and his wife had recently lost a baby; 2) the lightkeeper and his wife had recently lost a first baby; 3) the lightkeeper and his wife adopted the rescued baby; and 4) the baby was the daughter of a Swedish land baron.

KM: The daughter of a Swedish land baron—that’s quite a detail.

CM: And preposterous. That one came from a potboiler novel, published around 1900, that had all the elements of the story of the shipwrecked baby, plus the Swedish heiress twist. My genealogical list told me that my great-great grandfather’s wife was born in Sweden. The writer-historian used the existence of the novel to prove that the story originated in a novel, and therefore was all false. But couldn’t a local novelist have heard elements of the story and facts about the characters and used this legend to write a novel? That is, after all, one way novelists work.

KM: Did you also go to Maine?

CM: I did. My most important research was to go to Southport Island, Maine, and visit the small cemetery where my descendants are buried. Right beside the stones for my great-great grandfather and his wife there sat a stone for one of their children who had died at four years old, and it was a name that did not appear on my genealogical list. So there was a dead child, and it was around the same time as the shipwreck. My research turned up another surprise: that the dead toddler had been the twin of a woman who was on the genealogical list. This started my imagination running as to what her life had been, after the death of her twin, and she became the principal person whose life my character co-opted, imagined, fabricated, and lived vicariously.

KM: So you got to play, as a novelist, with a “19th century voice”?

CM: Pseudo 19th century voice. “This is a fixed, sturdy, faithful place, a place seething with strength yet surrounded by uncertainty, violence.”

KM: Current writing projects?

CM: Back to California, back to the border where development meets backcountry. I had read about the sex slave trade in California and Arizona, where girls are abducted from Mexico, Central America, and farther south, brought to the U.S. and forced to be prostitutes, mostly for the migrant workers, but sometimes for rich gringos. When law enforcement started rousting them out of rented houses, they took the business outdoors and began offering the “services” of these girls in the chaparral just outside the border.

KM: Not quite the same kind of research you undertook for Waterbaby.

CM: No. One thing I felt I couldn’t do was track down the activity and see it up close, even interview one of the girls. The literal danger was too high. So I knew I couldn’t write a novel that starred an abducted victim or a pimp. So once again, I gave the experience of discovering this activity “in her own backyard” to a character whose particular past makes watching and reacting to this particular horrific situation, more consequential than a simple journalistic “outing” of the story.

KM: And now for the writerly influences question: Who/what has had the most influence on Cris Mazza’s writing?

CM: I read Fear of Flying in college, several years after it was released. It kind of rocked my world. Nowadays I’d probably think its use of first person was an unnecessary distraction, but I think in order to do what it did (not just to me, but to women’s writing in general) it had to be in first person at the time. So Jong directly influenced my writing. Intimate confessions about sexual issues decidedly from a female POV. Sex not always being the fly-me-to-the-moon experience male writers had wanted to assume for women. Other than that? Maybe Nabokov. At one time, Carver. Recently, like 2 months ago, I read The Golden Notebook for the first time. It crystallized and validated some issues I’ve had with how to best use first person to its optimum potential. And a lot of it re-rocked my world.

25 October 2007

B'Byes to the Prize -- an open letter

To whom it may concern,

After five years of sponsoring an annual contest for works of innovative fiction, Starcherone Books has decided to discontinue our annual Fiction Prize for 2008-09.

We make this decision with a mixture of emotions. In its five years of existence, the Starcherone Fiction Prize fulfilled our highest hopes of finding wonderful new talents on which to bestow our prize and offer publication. All five winners of our blind-judged prize have been first-time authors: Aimee Parkison, Nina Shope, Sara Greenslit, Zachary Mason, and Janet Mitchell. Three of these books have been published to date. The fourth, Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey, is in production for Spring 2008 release, and the fifth, Janet Mitchell’s The Last of This Day’s Light, will appear in our 2009 season. We could not be prouder of our choices, all of which splendidly exhibit inventiveness, idiosyncracy, and artistic bravery. It was our contention at the birth of our contest that mainstream publishers’ moribund fiction offerings today were missing out many of the most significant young talents – writers who took chances not rewarded by a strict “market” approach to publishing. We feel this list of our prizewinning books is a small gesture in proof our case.

Our prizewinning authors have gone on to enjoy other successes that validate our decisions, including Nina Shope’s having won the Italo Calvino Prize for Innovative Fiction, and Aimee Parkison’s winning of the Kurt Vonnegut Prize from North American Review and a fellowship from the Isherwood Foundation, in addition to other awards our writers have received in the wake of our selections.

Of equal importance to the legacy of the Starcherone Fiction Prize is the record we leave behind of unimpeachable ethical behavior. During a period when several national contests were accused of questionable practices and more than one absconded with funds or otherwise left its entrants feeling betrayed, Starcherone’s contest reputation was never called into question. In 2005, we participated in CLMP’s development of a set of contest ethics, both to combat the negative perception of contests and to ensure that our own contest would always be conducted with the highest standards of responsibility. We then went the CLMP statement one step further, defining what constituted “conflict of interest” in a blind-judging procedure, and posting these guidelines as well on our website. Part of these additional guidelines was the offer to return any entrant’s contest fees upon request. Receiving over 900 entries over a five-year period, we were asked only once to return a fee, which we promptly did. More notably, over these five years, we received countless thankyous and congratulations for offering writers of innovative fiction a venue for their work to be read and have a chance at publication outside the who-knows-who world of agents, writing programs, and the insider-deals of big publishing.

Several factors unrelated to our successful experiences with the contest have made us decide to offer it no longer. First, we have come to a recognition of our size and the resulting limited ability we might have to singlehandedly change the contemporary fiction landscape. We have done our part, but now we have a strong stable of authors we would like to continue to support while turning over some of the work of discovering new talents to other small presses. We hope to return to reading new manuscripts sometime down the road, but at present have all the projects we need, at least for the near future.

As well, we have found (to our dismay), running our contest – despite its clearly articulated rules, history of ethical conduct, and success in locating new talents previously unknown to us – has made it difficult for us to attract grant money needed to insure the success of Starcherone Books over the long haul. Specifically, the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA) has never approved of our or any other publisher’s contest, for reasons we have never ourselves found convincing and, indeed, inconsistent with the positions of many other state funding agencies. We have endeavored for several years to try to obtain NYSCA funding while also offering the contest, which we contended (and demonstrated) helped bring many unknown writers into print. Alas, NYSCA and Starcherone never saw eye-to-eye on the subject. As said above, we are small, and have decided it is now time to discontinue fighting City Hall.

Finally, the time commitments of running the contest have finally proven too much for our dedicated but small staff. Reading for the contest (leaving out the processes of advertising, cataloging entries, etc.) annually consumed two-and-a-half months out of our yearly schedule. Since our staff readers have always been volunteers who were almost universally writers themselves (as well as workers, teachers, parents, etc.), and despite what we see as the overwhelming success of our half-decade venture, we breathe a collective sigh of relief at concluding the contest process. Personally speaking, I have given myself over to contest judging, full-time, for the six weeks between May 15 and July 1, five years running – a total of thirty weeks of my life! It will be nice to get that time back in my life, even as I will miss the thrill of hitting gold after endless hours of digging and panning.

Starcherone Books remains an active publisher of innovative fiction, with a slate of four titles scheduled for 2008 and several books under contract for 2009 and beyond. We thank our many supporters and urge those interested in new fiction – who may have entered our contest many times before or be reading about our contest here for the first time – to make the effort to read new works of innovative fiction. Particularly, we recommend the books (three published, two in the offing) that have won our very competitive prize since judging first began in 2003.

Best wishes,

Ted Pelton, Executive Director, Starcherone Books

12 October 2007

Multicultural > Romance, or, How to Pleasure a Sister

Oh, we are all such busy people! Who has time to blog? But friends, let us not forget what brought us here. No need to write essays every time out of the box. But we should continue to talk about why we think innovative/avantgarde/experimental/heterodox fiction is what we all have said it is: a potential antidote to the stupidity of American hegemony in 2007! to the mindlessness of a society that knows of many ways that it's going in the wrong direction but seems powerless to stop itself!! to the simplistic selves we're told we are by advertisers politicians law enforcement officers and many many others!!! an art form at a time when books are commodities and Bertelsmann Murdoch Time Warner etc. has nearly secured its victory over us and we're at the point of near-irrelevance!!!! -- It's important to keep talking. We are not against tradition. We are a version of the tradition that's being edited out.

Or: Fuck, it's Friday afternoon & I'm home from work & no one else has been writing so I will.

A funny thing happened to me this week. I am promoting my novel Malcolm & Jack during the month of October (and so the smartest among you are now saying, oh, I see, this isn't a legitimate blog, this is just part of his marketing strategy ... but I'll just leave that thread alone ...), and have it linked on amazon.com with Jack Kerouac's new "Original Scroll" version of On the Road (See promotion here). This has made my sales rise ever so slightly (and not nearly enough to pay for the cost of the promotion).

Anyway, my novel is called Malcolm & Jack (and Other Famous American Criminals) and is centered around a conjectured meeting between Malcolm X and Jack Kerouac. It's a novel about history, underground characters during the beginnings of American empire, improvisational poetics & politics, etc.

But this bump in sales had it challenging this past week in the top 100 in sales in the "Romance > Multicultural" category. It reached as high as #56. (This corresponded to about #50,000 overall.) What other kind of books are in the "Romance > Multicultural" category? When later in the week I was #69, here were the rankings between #60-70:

60. Shattered Trust
by Leslie Esdaile (Author)

61. Jared's Counterfeit Fiancee (Silhouette Desire)
by Brenda Jackson (Author)

62. Solid Soul (Kimani Romance), by Brenda Jackson (Author)

63. The Honey Well, by Gloria Mallette

64. Bodyguard (Indigo)
by Andrea Jackson (Author)

65. No Apologies (Indigo: Sensuous Love Stories)
by Seressia Glass (Author)

66. Let's Get It On (Love Spectrum Romance)
by Dyanne Davis (Author)

67. The Politics of Love (Noire Fever)
by Giselle Carmichael (Author)

68. Baby Momma Drama
by Carl Weber (Author)

69. Malcolm & Jack (and Other Famous American Criminals)
by Ted Pelton (Author)

70. Somebody's Gotta Be On Top
by Mary Morrison (Author)

The plot of Jared's Counterfeit Fiancee is

"In the real world there was no way flower shop owner Kylie Hagan would ever meet up with millionaire Chance Steele. But the world of single parents and teenage hormones brought them together the first time -- and a simmering passion they both tried to deny wouldn't keep them apart for long.
"Chance made her think of hot, sultry Southern nights. Kylie had him imagining satin sheets and soul-stirring kisses. But in the cold light of day, they had to resist each other. There was no way they'd let uncontrollable desire ignite their carefully protected hearts.
"But some things they couldn't ignore.…"

But I like Somebody's Gotta Be On Top even better:

"So says Darius Jones. At twenty-two, he’s grown…but he hasn’t necessarily grown up. He still thinks the opposite sex exists purely for his satisfaction. Not that he doesn’t know how to pleasure a sister; he just doesn’t want them telling him the way it’s going to be. But trying to be on top all the time only gets him into trouble with the women in his life—including Fancy Taylor. With a regal bearing and skin like brown sugar, Fancy’s definitely intriguing. Darius is sure he’d enjoy sampling what the lady has to offer, but that’s all. Fancy’s past precludes her from being serious relationship material. Yet fate has a way of stepping in and putting the wrong people on the right path…
"Caught between pride and the call of his own untrusting heart, Darius has a lot to learn: about life, women, and what it takes to find and nurture real love. And if he’s not careful, he might just end up on the bottom of everything…."

Evidently, merely having Malcolm X as a title character in my novel Malcolm & Jack is enough to put it in the hot black sex soft-core. It seems to me that this was something Malcolm complained about during his lifetime, at least 40 years ago -- that the mere image of the black man sent the white establishment into a frenzy of sexual fantasy.

What do you see as the moral or lesson of this tale? Dear readers, what say ye all? Do we yet still know each other?

29 September 2007

kore press chapbook competition


Lydia Davis


31 October


The 2008 Fiction Award Winner will receive $1,000 plus publication as a stand-alone short-story chapbook.


This competition is open to any woman writing in English, regardless of nationality.

Please submit one copy of a previously unpublished short story, a cover sheet, and a $15 reading fee payable to Kore Press. Please make sure your name, address, phone numbers and email address is on the cover sheet (see below).

All entrants will be notified of results via email. If you wish, you may send a self-addressed stamped postcard to confirm we received your manuscript. Please note that manuscripts cannot be returned.

Cover sheet should include:

  • name
  • address
  • daytime and evening telephone numbers
  • email address
  • title of manuscript

Manuscripts must be:

  • a minimum of 4,000 words and a maximum of 12,000 words
  • on standard white paper, doublespaced
  • paginated
  • unbound
  • anonymous (do not include your name anywhere on the manuscript)
  • original fiction written by the applicant (translations are not eligible)
  • unpublished at the time of submission

If the story is accepted elsewhere during our deliberation process, please notify us immediately.

Send submissions to:

Kore Press, Short Fiction Award
P.O. Box 3044
Tucson, AZ 85702-3044

a word about the judge

An American virtuoso, Lydia Davisis an innovator of the short story form. She is the author of four collections of short fiction, including Varieties of Disturbance (2007). Her fiction has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories and Best American Poetry, and has been published in literary journals ranging from The New Yorker and Harper's to Conjunctions and McSweeney's. Davis is also the translator of numerous avant-garde French novels, memoirs, and volumes of literary criticism.

for more information

Click here.

16 September 2007

the writer's edge 2008

Please take note, and please help pass that word: the third annual Writer's Edge conference will be held Friday through Sunday, 25-27 July, in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Sponsored by FC2 and hosted by Portland State University, it will feature five workshops on innovative fiction, two panels, a faculty reading, two open mics for participants, and myriad conversations about experimental prose.

Here are descriptions for next year's workshops, as well as a list of the faculty teaching them. For more information, please click here.

Fairy Tales Almost Blue
Kate Bernheimer
“At an early age, children are weaned on the marvelous, and later on they fail to retain a sufficient virginity of mind to enjoy fairy tales,” André Breton wrote in 1924. “There are fairy tales to be written for adults,” he continued. “Fairy tales almost blue.” (Perhaps not coincidentally, Andrew Lang’s first fairy-tale collection, published in 1884, was The Blue Fairy Book.) This workshop will ask us to transform our minds into virginal ones, to seek the marvelous, to be almost blue, to discover what almost blue means. We will read short fairy tales, with an eye toward abstraction, from Hans Christian Andersen, Angela Carter, the Brothers Grimm, Mohammed Mrabet, and others. We will inspect their language, their motifs. We will discuss intuition and form in fairy tales. We will seek to be weaned on the marvelous, to see where it takes us in writing. We will leave the workshop having written a short fairy tale for adults, and, hopefully, an appreciation for the avant-garde nature of fairy tales.

Usage is More Powerful than Reason
Noy Holland
“Now is the night one blue dew,” James Agee wrote in A Death in the Family. We are urged by many to choose the right word, but, having chosen it, where do we put it? This is a class about syntax and sound—it’s about the music of sentences, the visceral effect of the language. We’ll exercise a poet’s attentiveness to cadence, to where the stresses of syllables fall, to the beauties of repetition. Some of the most glorious sentences in the language are composed of humble and familiar words. Some of the most glorious paragraphs and pages in the language are composed of humble and familiar words. The labor, then, is in the arranging, in the rightly misplaced adjective, in the dissonance produced by concentrations of sound and stress as with “one blue dew”—which, while it describes the loveliness of twilight, surges with something terrible and portentous. The chemical affinities between words are greatly altered by distance and proximity; that is, we manipulate those affinities via syntax, and by this do our work on the body of the (bless you) receptive reader.

The Mosaic Mind: Fiction as Collage
Lance Olsen
Collage is an aesthetic and theoretical gesture committed to liberation through juxtaposition, conflation, fusion, confusion, patchwork imaginations, cyborg scripts, centaur texts, narratologically amphibious writings, the mosaic mind that embrace a poetics of beautiful monstrosity. Through mini-lecture, conversation, and three writing exercises, we shall examine the history of this form in the arts, then visit several theories of the collage, including those posed by Picasso, Duchamp, Lévi-Strauss, Derrida, Burroughs, Ronald Sukenick, Donna Haraway, and Shelley Jackson, exploring how, through the very process of cutting up and cutting off, collage in fiction (and painting, and body modification, and . . .) opens up and out, often calling attention to the sensuality of the page, the canvas, the skin, the surfaces it inhabits. In preparation for this workshop, please read the following: Blood & Guts in High School, Kathy Acker; Snow White, Donald Barthelme; My Body, Shelley Jackson (a hypertext available online); The Last Novel, David Markson.

M(M)MW: Multi(Modal)Media Writing
Steve Tomsula
Anytime a medium goes through a time of flux, exciting possibilities open up. This is certainly the case with writing today where authors can employ visuals or sound as never before. M(M)MW will take up what can be called multimedia, or multimodal, writing: fiction, poetry, e- and hybrid works, both print and electronic, that incorporate visual and/or audio elements, and yet still foreground language as their main material, and are experienced primarily through reading. When is an image gratuitous or only an illustration and when is it part of the fabric of a story? How is a graphic novel different from a film? That is, why write at all? Why not just make an animation? The goal is for everyone to formulate their own M(M)MW poetics: What makes a word-image text good? Bad? Ugly? How can you incorporate this poetics into your own writing? Before the workshop convenes, students will be asked to become familiar with several M(M)MW works, and arrive with a completed, short M(M)MW writing exercise.

Wrestling the Novel
Lidia Yuknavitch
It’s 2008-9. The novel in America has reached an unfortunate kind of product pinnacle, in that what gets named and legitimized as a "novel" either wins a buncha academic prizes, makes a lot of money through its entertainment value and mind-numbing massagery, or makes it onto Oprah. My question is this: what else can the novel be, right now, right here? Using the novels listed below as case-studies, we will explore NOT what is killing the novel, but what IS MADE POSSIBLE by the formation, deformation, and reformation of the novel in America. We will discuss the hardships/challenges of longer work, and we will put ourselves through three writing crucibles in an effort to rescue and engage novelistic writing strategies, the last of which we will use to create a collaborative undoing of the novel by the end of the weekend. Using a framework I am borrowing from the collaborative novel I co-wrote with Ken Kesey and the grad students of the University of Oregon, we will create an undoing of the novel. Our collaborative undoing of the novel will be published by Chiasmus Press. To prep: get your hands on and read around in these books:

VAS/Steve Tomasula
Anxious Pleasures/ Lance Olsen
AVA/Carole Maso
Dra-/Stacey Levine

07 September 2007

Marco Breuer at the Von Lintel Gallery

For those of you in New York City, check it! You can still make the opening. Breuer creates exquisite 'camera less' photographs by physically manipulating (scratching, tearing, abrading) I wrote a short accompanying text to his installation last year. Here are some images:

More can be found at:

Or, for those not in New York, check out his book, Early Recordings:


02 September 2007

chiasmus press podcast #3

Long-time friends Virginia Patterson and Ryan Smith joined The Chiasmites on August 31 to record episode #03. Here's what we discussed:
Chiasmus Fight Song Contest :: Virginia's role as Chiasmus publicist :: Ryan's role as box-lugger, burrito-buyer and switchblade-packer :: How Ryan paid Harold Jaffe's mini-bar tab :: Raymond Federman :: Lidia and Virginia reminisce about Those Days Of Yore At Pacific University :: Mark Amerika's new book (BUY IT NOW!) :: Alt-X :: Zombie Chic :: Gamer Chix + Boiz :: Virginia's 20 year love triangle with Mario and Link :: Grant Morrison's The Invisibles :: Ryan hails King Mingo as "Honey" :: Lidia explains the artistic tragedy b/k/a Seung-Hui Cho :: Nick Mamatas :: Madness, art, and higher education :: Andy explains how Larry Craig's penchant for fine footware in public bathrooms is Totally Not Gay :: Trevor attempts a half-assed comparison between Craig and Cho :: Andy's new blog :: Ryan abuses a stripper during a recent shoot for The Iconographer (free greasy T-shirts!) :: Team America: World Police :: Snake hunting in Estacada :: A room full of overpaid professors whine about having to go back to work :: Ryan compares and contrasts adjunct and EMT work :: Trevor's fever dream about team-teaching with Lidia ::

Let us know what you think and what you want to hear in future episodes by sending us an email at contact@chiasmusmedia.net. You can also leave us voice feedback via Skype; our username there is chiasmuspress. We're also on Facebook and MySpace. Click here to subscribe via iTunes.

Keep those knees bent.

29 August 2007

Mullen's Murmur

Quick notes being all I’m capable of at the moment, here’s one about a terrific book (I’ll even call it a novel) I read over the summer. I’m not yet convinced writers who write primarily poetry can produce interesting narrative, but Mullen manages to ask the questions in fascinating, skillful and elegant ways. I’m quite interested these days in the tensions between individual moments (sentences, images, glimpses) and the larger (external?) demands of narrative, and Mullen’s book seems to worry similar knots and problems. She works the questions of genre so rigorously and authentically that I begin to imagine the as yet untapped possibilities of liminal prose (or at least I begin to imagine such possibilities as positive, and drop my ‘neither fish nor fowl’ objections). Still, I have some investment in calling this a novel, as the language refuses to refuse narrative momentum, refuses to rely on (mere) revelation, and offers instead a dark and obscuring tale, at once familiar (a murder mystery) and deranged. Delicious.

19 August 2007

chiasmus podcast, take two

Pimped/name-dropped/discussed in episode #02 of the Chiasmus Press podcast:
:: Chiasmus on Facebook, MySpace and iTunes :: Chiasmus Battle Hymn Contest :: Writer's Edge redux :: Lance Olsen :: Andy's film shoot at Magic Gardens (Lidia=aroused!) :: Andy Blubaugh's Scaredycat :: Trevor's shirt that didn't get him laid :: Fiction Collective Two :: Lily Hoang's glittering genius :: Steve Tomasula's raging egomania :: Notre Dame's prima donna MFA program :: King Mingo holds court :: Colette Phair sells her body :: Eraserhead Press :: How a college education = meh :: Hal Jaffe :: How Andy romanticizes Eugene lumber yards :: Ken Kesey's debt :: Creative economies :: Lidia and Michelle totally ruin the Harry Potter books for us all :: Aesthetics =/ Market :: How 300 was "totally not gay" :: Brian Evenson :: Graphic novels =/ Films =/ Sentence and Paragraph novels :: Top Shelf :: Dark Horse :: Oni Press :: VAS: An Opera in Flatland :: Anxious Pleasures :: Do filmmakers get to have sex with their novelist wives? :: Alan Moore :: Trevor frustrates Andy with The Big Vocabulary :: The blessings and curses of the 48-hour Film Project :: Oulipo :: Andy frustrates himself with his own double-talk :: Willem de Kooning :: Lidia's codeine-fueled flatulence and spankin' new blog :: Authorship as fiction :: This podcast emulates stupid college radio ::

Let us know what you think and what you want to hear in future episodes by commenting on this post or sending us an email at contact@chiasmusmedia.net. You can also leave us voice feedback via Skype; our username there is chiasmuspress.

13 August 2007

Some Classics Overheard in the Classic City

So I've spent a not insignificant amount of my summer vacationing in Athens.

Georgia, that is.

Among the things I like about the place are its restaurants—especially Five and Ten. But I also appreciate the interesting variety of programs on the local NPR station. Today one of those programs—To the Best of Our Knowledge—had a show on Tristram Shandy, the book and the movie. That was the hook. But really, the show was about metafiction. Several familiar names get mentioned here: Cervantes, Chaucer, Borges, Coover, Barth, Gass, Pynchon, Calvino, Marquez. The show ends with an interview with hip hop artist Saul Williams, author of the Dead Emcee Scrolls, as a representative of metafiction's future. In an earlier segment, journalist Steve Paulson reminisces about a 1983 interview he did with Borges. Some nice audio from that interview is included with a few readings from Borges' work. Paulson returns, then, with a more recent interview with Robert Coover.

I appreciate that a radio program would spend an hour considering something called "Metafiction," but there remains throughout a tone of bewilderment, perhaps even frustration, at the works and their creators. Metafiction is still weird and confusing, a bit too clever for its own good, Shandy (the book) a slog one might be "forced" to read in English class, Borges a player of games. And, tacitly, it seems like kind of a dude thing this "metafiction." Coover is the only person to mention a female writer by name (Angela Carter) while also pointing out that there was a general refusal of received narrative style by his generation, resulting in a variety of different approaches, not all of them "metafiction." He's given credit, as a professor, for influencing young writers, but there's little discussion or evidence of this influence otherwise. A shame. What an opportunity this might have been to demonstrate the lively and spectacularly varied legacy of a "movement" that's too often dismissed as a literary dead end, a relic in the shape of a phallic ivory tower. Here it kind of feels like one as the show tends to buy into the rhetoric of a perplexed, even resistant (rather than healthily skeptical) student.

Presenting Williams (whose work I first heard on DJ Spooky's Under the Influence) as a future of metafiction was certainly an interesting choice, though, and I think there's a lot more to be said about the relationship between the DJ and contemporary narrative. Just would've liked to hear some discussion of one of our many literary compatriots, as well.

07 August 2007

writer's edge readings

Someone crammed a camera into the room during the Writer's Edge faculty readings in Portland last weekend...

Lucy Corin: YouTube | iPod/MV4

Brian Evenson: YouTube | iPod/MV4

Lance Olsen: YouTube | iPod/MV4

Lidia Yuknavitch: YouTube | iPod/MV4

Trevor Dodge: YouTube | iPod/MV4

04 August 2007

the writer's edge 2007

I've just returned, settled in, and got my brain back on straight after the awesome second annual Writer's Edge conference held Friday through Sunday, 27-29 July, in downtown Portland, Oregon. Sponsored by FC2 and hosted by Portland State University, the gathering was composed of five workshops, two panels, a faculty reading, two open mics for participants, and myriad conversations about innovative prose. Last year 50 participants from around the country attended. I'm happy to report that this year the number was 65 and we fully expect to see 75 next.

Lidia Yuknavitch and I served as co-sponsors, and our overwhelming impression was one of creative and intellectual good-spiritedness, invigorating energy, and a thoroughgoing committment to the notion of collectivity. We've already begun working on next year's conference, whose faculty will include, in addition to Lidia and me, the remarkable Kate Bernheimer, Noy Holland, and Steve Tomasula. Even as I write this, cyberguru Aaron Waychoff is proving himself divine by setting up a discussion space for past and present participants to come together to talk about their interests. More on all of this and more soon, but right now just a few of the highlights from this year's gathering of the tribe:

At the core of the get-together were those five workshops I mentioned. Lidia Yuknavitch led one on "Corporeal Texts," exploring the interstices between the body and writing where meaning is always in flux. Trevor Dodge focused on hybridity in creative nonfiction. In "Small Fictions in a Row," Lucy Corin posed such questions as: "How many different ways can a writer, who supposedly has one 'voice,' distill narrative and language within limited space?" and "How 'big' can you make a small thing?" Brian Evenson invesitgated the variety of ways in which contemporary writers can and do respond to writers who have come before them in "Collaborating with the Past." "Fiction as Architecture," the workshop I led, interested itself in the question: "How it is both illuminating and stimulating to conceptualize fiction's structures and discourses as spaces one lives in and moves through as one might, for instance, a Bauhaus building, a tenement, an emergency room, a funhouse, a cathedral?"

The Simon Benson House, site of our communal dinner on Saturday evening, as well as a snippet of the Portland State University campus.

Faculty reading: Lidia Yuknavitch.

Faculty reading: Lucy Corin.

Faculty reading: Brian Evenson.

The above panel, featuring Trevor Dodge, Lidia Yuknavitch, Lucy Corin, Brian Evenson, and me, addressed trends in experimental writing. A second panel, featuring innovative film makers Holly Andres, Grace Carter, Karl Lind, Andy Blubaugh, and Andi Olsen, addressed experimental film and narratology.

A photo of faculty who seem puzzled when a camera is pointing at them: Trevor Dodge and Lance Olsen.

And a gargantuan thanks to one and all for helping make this year's coming together startling and thrilling and warm and reengergizing, but most of all the epitome of what an intentional community can and should be.

25 July 2007

david markson : the last novel

david markson, 2007

Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage.

I do not see why exposition and description are a necessary part of a novel.
Said Ivy Compton-Burnett.

I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors and paste man.
Said Joyce.

ronald sukenick, 1975

This novel is based on the Mosaic Law the law of mosaics or how to deal with parts in the absence of wholes.

david markson, 2007

A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel.

And thus in which Novelist will say more about himself only when he finds no way to evade doing so, but rarely otherwise.

lance olsen, 2007

Which is to say: both the structuring and the reading of collage fiction often involves an aleatoric component that recalls not only the Cubist work of Braque and Picasso, but also the Dada and Surrealist work of Duchamp and Breton: interest in the found object, the readymade, the chance encounter.

It also recalls Lévi-Strauss’ notion of bricolage, as Gregory L. Ulmer points out, foregrounding concepts of already-extant messages, severing, discontinuity, and heterogeneity.

Ulmer goes on to argue that collage is a form of citation “carried to an extreme …, collage being the ‘limit case’ of citation,” and Derrida reminds us that “every sign, linguistic or non-linguistic … can be cited, put between quotation marks; in so doing it can break with every given context, engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable.”

Collage, then, through the very process of cutting up and cutting off opens up and opens out.

By appropriating and quoting out of context, the form releases new and often unexpected contexts, recontextualizations that can surprise the author as well as the reader.

shelley jackson, 2003

In collage, writing is stripped of the pretense of originality, and appears as a practice of mediation, of selection and contextualization, a practice, almost, of reading. In which one can be surprised by what one has to say, in the forced intercourse between texts or the recombinant potential in one text …. Writers court the sideways glances of sentences mostly bent on other things. They solicit bad behavior, collusion, conspiracies. Hypertext just makes explicit what everyone does already. After all, we are all collage artists.

ronald sukenick, 1994

You need to understand that understanding is an interruption. Understanding is always an interruption of which you understand in the form of the cryptic. You need to interrupt yourself.

david markson, 2007

Novelist's personal genre. For all its seeming fragmentation, nonetheless obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax.

david markson, 2007

Jacques Derrida failed his entrance exams to the École Normal Supérieure. Twice.

lance olsen, 2007

Collage fiction draws attention to the sensuality of the page, the physicality of the book, and therefore draws attention to writing as a post-biological body of text. This point is evinced, for instance, in Steve Tomasula’s novel VAS: An Opera in Flatland, and Shelley Jackson’s web-based hypertext, My Body.

Replete with three-color graphics, foldout pages, wild typographic play, diagrams, doodles, drawings, and disparate citations, the former involves an expansive comic plot about a man named Square living in a (literally) two-dimensional suburban world with his wife, Circle, and their daughter, Oval, and Square’s struggle over whether or not to undergo a vasectomy. But it is the structure of that plot—that is, the body of the text about the text of the body—that makes Tomasula’s collage fiction an unforgettably unique reading experience.

In the latter, the reader chooses which parts of Shelley Jackson’s critifictional autobiography to read by clicking on various parts of her body in a schematic sketch. The sound of lungs inhaling and exhaling in the background provides musical accompaniment to much of the reading experience.

david markson, 2007

Nobody comes. Nobody calls—
Which Novelist after a moment realizes may sound like a line of Beckett's, but is actually something he himself has said in an earlier book.

david markson, 2007

Thinking with someone else's brain.
Schopenhauer called reading.

lance olsen, 2007

Since discovering Wittgenstein's Mistress perhaps a decade ago, I haven't been able to write without writing through Markson.

I wouldn't want it any other way.

Which isn't to say Markson's moves in The Last Novel may not have begun to seem faintly familiar to those who know his last two non-novels.

But, still: what gorgeous, exciting, invigorating moves.

david markson, 2007

My old paintings no longer interest me. I'm much more curious about those I haven't done yet.
Said Picasso, at seventy-nine.


I met up last week with Andy Mingo and Lidia Yuknavitch to record the first episode of a brand-spankin'-new podcast for Chiasmus Press. Here's who and what we pimped/name-dropped/mentioned in ep #01:
Lidia's new novel and her boxing match with Stacey Levine :: Andy's new film, The Iconographer :: Mark Amerika :: Lou Rowan :: Davis Schneiderman :: Carlos Hernandez :: Strippers and donuts in Portland :: 2007 Writers Edge Conference :: Lance Olsen :: Brian Evenson :: Lucy Corin :: Magic Gardens :: Miranda July :: Holly Andres :: Grace Carter :: Andy Blubaugh :: Karl Lind :: Kill Me Tomorrow :: The White Stripes' one-note show :: Prince's "free" album in England :: Lidia tangles with The Oregonian :: Writing as a dying commodity :: How James Frey is a fucking liar :: How Andy loves the Iraq War :: Jean Baudrillard's "The Persian Gulf War and Other Fictions" :: Trevor's stupid conspiracy theories about mainstream publishing :: Noam Chomsky :: Curtis White's "The New Censorship" :: Cindy Sheehan :: How Jon Stewart is totally a bourgeois genius :: How Stephen Colbert is totally a 21st century Jonathan Swift :: Andy's love/hate relationship with the poor :: How Kathy Acker, William Burroughs and Charles Baudelaire are posers :: How the Harry Potter books reinforce Anglocentrism :: Andy's hatred for American film-making :: The possible redemption of Robert Rodriguez :: Hal Hartley :: David Lynch :: Jim Jarmusch :: How Lidia craves schlock :: Trevor's obvious declarations about punk :: How YouTube and blogs are community more than commodity :: How, in declaring that "The Matrix is pure!", Andy gets cut off for at least a week :: How Chiasmus Press is an elitist, hypocritical enterprise worthy of everyone's scorn
You can subscribe to the podcast by copy-pasting this feed into your favorite RSS aggregator or by clicking here if you have iTunes.

14 July 2007

last lines

American Book Review published its 100 Best First Lines from Novels in its January/February 2006 issue. I recently heard from co-publisher Charlie Harris that, in the wake of that issue's success, not to mention the good time had by all the participating editors, writers, and critics, next January ABR will publish a companion list: the 100 Best Last Lines from Novels.

Should you want to try your hand at the game yourself, here are the few rules Charlie lays out: "Only lines from novels or novellas count; short story collections arranged as a series that unfolds like a novel (e.g., Winesburg, Ohio or Lost in the Funhouse) count, but not typical short story collections (e.g., Nine Stories). A novel's final line will usually consist of a single sentence, but not always."

"It's interesting how much longer many of the nominated last lines are than the first lines were," Charlie emailed me as we began to think about this a little aloud. "Several . . . consist of more than just one or two sentences. One reason for this, I think, is that first lines are more or less context free, whereas final lines carry the contextual burden of the entire novel and, for maximum effectiveness, often need several sentences to do their work."

My obversation back: "That strikes me as exactly right. Too, last lines often carry what I think of as a sort of rhythmic burden, a sort of aural crescendo that depends on the lines just before them to establish the right rise and fall, or rise and rise and rise, or ironic brake or trap door."

Here are a few contenders from my list, in no particular order:

  • There was only the Viewer, slumped forever in his sour seat, the bald shells of his eyes boiling in pictures, a biblical flood of them, all saturated tones and deep focus, not one life-size, and the hands applauding, always applauding, palms abraded to an open fretwork of gristle and bone, the ruined teeth fixed in a yellowy smile that will not diminish, that will not fade, he's happy, he's being entertained. —Stephen Wright, Going Native, 1994.
  • Are there any questions? —Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, 1986.
  • The others listened with interest, their naked genitals staring dully, sadly, listlessly at the yellow sand. —Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, 1979, trans. Michael Henry Heim.
  • The aircraft rise from the runways of the airport, carrying the remnants of Vaughan's semen to the instrument panels and radiator grilles of a thousand crashing cars, the stances of a million passengers. —J. G. Ballard, Crash, 1973.
  • Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead. —Don DeLillo, White Noise, 1985.
  • Another failure. —Ronald Sukenick, 98.6, 1975.

Which one or five or seven, I'd be interested to know, might you add? What captivates you about them in particular? About the notion of last lines in general?

21 June 2007

The Struggle for Independents (from Salon.com)

The struggle for independents

The bankruptcy of a book distributor sent shock waves through the indie publishing world, leaving small presses like McSweeney's struggling to survive. Can the Internet help keep them afloat?

By Priya Jain

Jun. 21, 2007 | McSweeney's is holding a garage sale of sorts. An e-mail sent out last week announced that, "for the next week or so," the publishing house founded by Dave Eggers would be selling its new books at 30 percent off and its backlist at 50 percent off. It is also, by way of eBay, auctioning off donations from its more well-known contributors: One could bid on an original Chris Ware comics page, a personal tour of "The Daily Show" guided by John Hodgman, or a "one-sentence apology to your boyfriend/girlfriend, written and signed by Miranda July."

But the excitement stirred by the McSweeney's e-mail had less to do with the booty on offer than with the alarming news that McSweeney's needed to raise money at all. For fans, and for those who follow book-trade news, the e-mail raised the possibility that the much-beloved publisher could become another casualty of a bankruptcy saga that has engulfed the independent-publishing world for six months.

The bankrupt company in question, Advanced Marketing Services, was the parent company of Publishers Group West, which distributed books for more than 130 independent book publishers. "For us the timing was particularly bad," says Eli Horowitz, the publisher of McSweeney's Books, which has lost about $130,000 in actual earnings as a result of the bankruptcy. "We had a new Nick Hornby book and [Dave Eggers'] 'What Is the What', which was our best seller of all time."

McSweeney's is far from the only publisher that's taken a hit: As a result of the bankruptcy, either directly or indirectly, small publishers Soft Skull, Hugh Lauter Levin and Inner Ocean have been acquired by larger publishers, and Carroll & Graf and Thunder's Mouth, two Avalon Publishing Group imprints, have folded. Tiny punk-rock publisher Re/Search puts out two titles a year, but this year it'll be lucky to release one; publisher V. Vale was planning to update and reissue a book on William S. Burroughs for its spring title, "but we didn't have the money even for the down payment on the printing cost," he says.

Not every publisher is hurting so deeply, but the bankruptcy has left the small-press world at least temporarily wounded, and has probably changed it for good. "This was the biggest bankruptcy that's ever happened in publishing history," says Munro Magruder, the associate publisher of the new-agey New World Library, which publishes Deepak Chopra's books. "And its implications are going to be felt for some time."

Horowitz says that part of the problem is the tenuous nature of the business. "For all of these publishers, it's a break-even business at best; you just try to stay afloat to do what you love to do. If we found ourselves making money we'd probably take on more ridiculous projects we'd want to do. It's not really a business that's equipped to absorb a big chunky loss."

The fact that AMS/PGW's financial troubles could affect publishers so dramatically also serves as a reminder that, despite indie publishing's do-it-yourself ethos, the one area in which it hasn't been able to escape the middleman is in distribution. You can't sell a book if no one knows where to find it, and in helping them overcome that problem, PGW had become indie publishers' most indispensable partner.

"The beauty of PGW was that it allowed the publishing and editorial people to focus on publishing and editorial and not worry about being a marketing and sales organization," says Charlie Winton, who started PGW 30 years ago and sold it to AMS in 2002. PGW also allowed bookstores to find independent book publishers easily and helped small presses put together large shipments they wouldn't have been able to handle on their own. And it helped turn books like the Earthworks Groups' "50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth" and Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain" into bestsellers.

Ironically, PGW -- the largest American distributor of independent publishers -- was by all accounts having its best year ever, and the financial troubles of AMS, a corporate giant that mainly distributed to wholesalers like Costco and Sam's Club, brought it down. AMS filed for Chapter 11 on Dec. 29, a result of being unable to bounce back from SEC and FBI investigations into its advertising accounting practices -- which led to three executive indictments -- and a class-action suit on behalf of its shareholders. As Horowitz points out, "It wasn't the indie distributor; it was a big, old-fashioned corporation with accounting problems."

Or, as Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash puts it more bluntly, "The independents got fucked by the Enron of publishing." When AMS filed for bankruptcy, PGW's assets were frozen, which included book sales for the last quarter of 2006 that belonged to its clients. Instead of receiving that money on Jan. 1 as expected, publishers were left uncertain as to when -- or if -- they would get paid, an especially panicky situation considering that the sales in question covered the holiday season, the most profitable time of year for any publisher.

Then, at the end of February, the Perseus Book Group successfully took over the majority of PGW's accounts, rescuing PGW's employees and paying the publishers 70 percent of what they were owed. Although many publishers were quite happy that Perseus -- a group that, like PGW, is focused on independent publishing -- had taken over their accounts, they found themselves losing 30 percent of their sales for the fall of 2006.

Even for those publishers who could take the fourth-quarter hit, the new deal with Perseus meant shifting over to a different payment schedule, which will leave many publishers virtually penniless until August. "Over the very, very long run, it's no big deal," says Nash, "but in the short run it is, and the short run is how smaller independent publishers live."

Nash, who has been running Soft Skull since 1993, was one of the publishers who couldn't bank on the long run. "I remember seeing the new contract and thinking, This is going to be a pain, but not realizing the impact until putting numbers into a spreadsheet and [seeing that] I was going to be a quarter of a million in the hole by September and October," he says. "Around then I started talking to Charlie Winton." In May, Winton bought Soft Skull for his new publishing house, Winton, Shoemaker and Co., LLC. "For Soft Skull itself," says Nash, "we ended up in an incredibly lucky version of an incredibly unlucky situation in that no one knows how to operate an independent business profitably better than Charlie Winton."

Winton sold PGW to AMS in 2002 so that he could focus on his growing publishing house, Avalon Publishing Group. "People ask, 'Do you wish you had kept PGW?'," he says now. "At some point that question becomes personal, but the business had gotten so big that it was necessary for PGW to go to a new place." In a feat of serendipitous timing, Winton was in the process of selling Avalon to Perseus when AMS/PGW went bankrupt. "The PGW bankruptcy occurred just as we were going into final papers in the Avalon sale," he says, so "part of the opportunity was the fact that they were already in a deal mode with me." Winton, however, couldn't save Carroll & Graf and Thunder's Mouth, two Avalon imprints that Perseus axed after buying Avalon from Winton. "I've been on the record that I've been very disappointed with the outcome there," says Winton.

All of the publishers Salon spoke with were happy to be working with Perseus, which has kept the PGW sales and marketing team intact, thus making it easier for the publishers to transfer their businesses smoothly. The odd thing about this salve, however, is that it has forced independent publishing distribution to conglomerate like a big corporation. Perseus' distribution arm now owns both PGW and Consortium, another independent-press distributor, which means it distributes books for more than 300 publishers.

If the demise of one corporation, AMS, could hurt indie publishing so badly, what does it mean that the majority of the indie-publishing world now relies on Perseus? "Not necessarily by intention, but by outcome," says Nash, "in the Texas hold 'em of independent press distribution, American independent publishing had collectively placed its entire pot in Perseus. If Perseus goes under, who knows what will happen."

For those that survive, the AMS/PGW/Perseus story serves as a good reminder that independent publishers are best off when they're self-reliant. Felice Newman, the co-publisher of Cleis -- which specializes in sex and gender books from authors like Tristan Taormino and Violet Blue -- estimates that Cleis lost about $100,000 in the bankruptcy and takeover, and had to sell off discounted books on its Web site and "cut everything to the bone," she says. Thanks to the fact that Cleis also sells direct to sex-positive stores like Good Vibrations, and wholesale distributors, they were "able to go on without any distributor for a few months," says Newman. "Cleis has been able to bounce back completely -- which means if this hadn't happened, we would be flush now."

The best tool that indie publishers have is the Internet, of course. McSweeney's was inspired to hold its online sale by a similar, successful move that comics publisher Fantagraphics made a few years ago when its distributor filed for Chapter 11. Like McSweeney's, Cleis appealed directly to its readership and offered discounted books on its Web site. "We got this outpouring of love and support from our authors," says Newman. "We asked them to send people to buy direct from our Web site, and sales increased a lot." Munro Magruder says that New World Library, which acquired the smaller Inner Ocean as a result of the bankruptcy, was lucky in that "we're a larger publisher, we've been around for 30 years, we simply had the financial resources" to deal with the bankruptcy. But it too asked some of its authors to do an e-mail blast and urge readers to buy directly from the publisher.

In this, at least, independent publishing is retaining its intimate, DIY flavor. Horowitz, who says McSweeney's has received "thousands of orders in the last few days," quips, "I don't think Bertelsmann can send out an e-mail saying, 'Hey, guys, we need to sell off some books so we can put out some more.' In a way this feels like a whole town coming together, and to me, this is all of a piece with what we're about."