Bringing to an end this long drought of new stories in print and plentiful rejections, I have two new shorts out this summer. One is the previously mentioned “I Am Emergent,” a story about two computer scientists, their life’s work in artificial intelligence, and the lengths to which we’re willing to go to save someone we love. This one is out now in the anthology WHAT REMAINS from Inked In Gray Publishing, which you can find here.
The most recent one is a story I’m particularly fond of. “The Only Memorial You Can Ever Have” appears in vol. VIII of Deracine Magazine. It is one that I set out to challenge myself with in every conceivable way. From perspective to tense to narrative voice to narrative distance to character perception and beyond, virtually everything in this story is something I’ve never even attempted before. And after everything, I think it works, and it moves me powerfully. I hope you check it out and agree.
Of note, I think, is that I don’t think “The Only Memorial You Can Ever Have” would have come out of me if not for the MFA program I’m currently in. We often talk about the value of MFA programs, and I think, in those conversations, they’re viewed as whether they’re necessary or whether they produce writers of greater caliber. After two years in one, I think that’s the wrong way to look at MFA programs.
The value of my MFA program, to me, is in this story. It provided me the environment to experiment and take risks. It offered the support structure that held me up when I took those wobbling steps. If I hadn’t pursued an MFA, I’m confident this story wouldn’t exist, because I wouldn’t have pushed myself in ways I needed to push myself for this one to come out.
That isn’t to say I think MFA programs make better writers, that they’re always good, or that they’re even necessary. It’s just to say this is a story that came out of my MFA program that I’m proud of and demonstrates how my writing has grown, broadened, and evolved.
Thanks to both Inked in Gray and Deracine. I hope you check them out.
The short version is I was accepted into George Mason University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. I’ll be starting this fall with full funding, including tuition remission, a stipend, and a GTA position. For the next three years, I’ll be taking classes, writing, reading, and teaching full time.
In November, Lithub republished a list of ten rules for novelists by Jonathan Franzen that had originally appeared in the Guardian in 2010. It apparently raised a stink on the Internet. Reading the list now, I see why it was divisive. Some of his rules are obvious. Some are preposterous or pretentious. Overall, it’s just not a helpful list.
All of this is in my humble opinion, of course (this is my blog after all). Franzen has accomplished far more in his writing career than I probably ever will, but I see reflections of some broader issues in the literary community here that I feel the need to comment on.
To be clear, this isn’t really about Franzen’s list. This is about the impetus of some of his ideas. And admittedly, it probably reveals more about my own philosophies than Franzen’s, so take it for what it’s worth
Last week, a young writer asked if I had any insecurities about my writing. My initial response was, yes, of course I have insecurities. I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t on some level insecure about my writing (and in general about everything for always and forever).
However, after some retrospection, I realized I’m in a much better place than I was when I started.
The lady and I recently watched Netflix’s The Staircase, a docu-series about the novelist Michael Peterson who was charged with murdering his wife in 2001. Similar to Making aMurderer, it’s another fascinating investigation of the American justice system. I highly recommend both of them.
A bit of a disclaimer, though: these are not mystery stories. They are not about whether the suspects did or did not murder the victim (I realize the marketing image I chose to plop down to the right of these words poses that very question, but it’s the most compelling way Netflix could find to sell you on it).
These docu-series put the American justice system on full display, exposing its flaws. They will make you question your faith in the fundamental tenet of American justice that a defendant should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and they will make you question our very humanity, especially given the context of the cruel times in which we live. If you watch them, they will anger and sadden you because the reality they portray is not one we confront often, or maybe because it’s one which we are increasingly forced to come to terms with.
If you’re friends with me on social media (or you’re that damned stalker I almost caught in the tree outside my office that one time when my wife said, “it probably was just a couple of squirrels making that rustling sound,” and I said, “I know what I saw,” and she said never you mind what my wife said), you may have seen me mention this anthology, “The Will To Survive.”
If you’re not friends with me on social media, that’s fine, I guess. *kicks rocks
But this isn’t about us, friends, non-friends, and frenemies. This is about an anthology for hurricane relief.
I know last fall seems like ages ago, but it was, in fact, mere months, and if you recall, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria pounded the Southeastern United States, Virgin Islands, and Caribbean in rapid succession. Damage estimates are in the billions of dollars, and still, five months later, parts of Puerto Rico’s electric grid remain down.
In case you need a translation on that, those are U.S. citizens who don’t have basic utilities five months after a hurricane.
Before I picked up Neverwhere, I’d never read any Neil Gaiman. I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I went for Neverwhere because American Gods seemed like too much of a commitment (but I’ll get to it), and it intrigued me as an archetypal urban fantasy novel, a genre I’m trying to get more into.
Everyone seems to love Neverwhere. It seems to occupy a space of underground reverence (no, that’s not a pun). All of my friends on Goodreads have given it five stars, and nobody will dare utter a bad word about it.
So I will. I’m sorry to say I thought Neverwhere was just okay.
I’ll probably keep this much shorter than most reviews. Andy Weir’s follow-up to his mandatory-reading sci-fi novel The Martian is just okay. And you know what? That’s okay. It would be unrealistic to expect any human being to replicate the utter brilliance of a novel like The Martian. Its shadow is long, and its influence is broad. Not even Barry Bonds hit a home run every time he came to the plate, and he was on drugs.
There are many arguments to make for Artemis, and if we didn’t already know what Weir was capable of with The Martian, Artemis would be a standout novel in its own right. The world-building is utterly fascinating. The science is authentic but never exhausting. And Artemis still contains Weir’s nerdy, amazingly fun wit, not to mention the atmospheric charm that we’re reading something written by a guy who legitimately loves the playground he’s playing on.
Where Artemis falters is, perhaps, in something Weir took for granted with The Martian. The premise of The Martian is so immediately gut-wrenching: Astronaut Mark Watney is caught in a storm during an emergency evacuation, and his team, thinking he is dead, leaves him behind. But Mark is not dead. He is alive, and he must survive until his rescue.
In many ways, The Martian is an inferior story. It’s clearly a premise intended for Weir to play with survival scenarios on Mars. Those are fascinating in their own right, but they are not a narrative.
PULLING STRINGS is easily one of my favorite novels of 2017. Not only is it smart and meaningful, but it’s also fun as hell. It is a novel in that place where genre fiction and literary fiction blend, a novel you might see a literature professor and his or her student run into each other and discover they have something in common.
The synopsis goes something like this: Agent Colt has a psychic ability to fire kinetic mind bullets from her fingers. She’s a legend at the Department of Scientific Investigation (which doesn’t exist … but it could!), and she has led a storied career that the new recruits talk about in hushed tones. Now, however, she’s approaching retirement, working a cushy detail out of a field office in Middle America. It’s boring compared to her heyday. Then a new case comes in, and she thinks it could be her swan song. Little does she know the target she’s hunting is the most dangerous psychic she’s ever encountered.